The Physical and Emotional Toil of Sleeplessness and Praying About Sleep

The ancient Christian writer, Archaelaus, once referred to the pressure caused by lack of food and want of sleep as “two of the most trying things people have to endure” (The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes). Such trying things and pressure can wear us down and wear us out. Anyone with insomnia knows this. Proper rest is as important as proper nutrition and exercise in maintaining sound physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  When someone experiences chronic sleep disturbance or deprivation there is a concomitant physical, emotional, and spiritual toll. The physical … [Read more...]

Taking Captivity Captive: The Role of Mindfulness in Overcoming Mindless Compulsions

In our busy world we often perform routine tasks without giving them much thought.  We’ve performed them so often that after the rote tasks are completed we often wonder to ourselves, “I don’t remember doing that” or “I was so deep in thought about work or family that I don’t remember the drive to work this morning.”  This isn’t to say the work was done in a sloppy fashion or the drive to work was reckless.  It does tell us however that we didn’t have our focus on what we were doing at that particular time.   Most of the time there aren’t any adverse consequences in “spacing out”.  Yet, when … [Read more...]

Anger and Incompatible States: Attending to the Body and Attending to the Spirit

In addition to the time-out, there are other beneficial anger management strategies that cognitive therapists recommend.  One such strategy concerns relaxation through a deep breathing exercise.  The authors of the Anger Management manual correctly note, “An interesting aspect of the nervous system is that everyone has a relaxation response that counteracts the stress response. It is physically impossible to be both agitated and relaxed at the same time. If you can relax successfully, you can counteract the stress or anger response.” The deep breathing technique offered by these therapists is … [Read more...]

“Running with Patience the Race Set Before Us”: Asceticism and the Spiritual Life

Lent is referred to so often as a journey that it has almost become a cliché. Probably, the word marathon would be more descriptive, for the ascetic life that Lent encourages the faithful to embrace calls us to move a significant distance and at quick, but steady speed. There are times when the way ahead may seem discouragingly far. There are times when we would rather walk leisurely, than run, but as bearers of the Gospel, we have a message far more important than Plutarch’s Phiddipides, that in Christ we can be transformed, that in Christ we can move mountains, that in Christ we can “run … [Read more...]

The Sunday of Orthodoxy: The Victory of An Iconic Way of Seeing

“Come and see,” the invitation of Phillip to Nathaniel, is so simple and yet so profound. Christianity is about movement and about vision, but movement and vision in another sphere beyond the physical realm and even the dominion of the mind, beyond sensory perception and reasoning, yet never totally disincarnate from those areas. According to the fathers, the heart or nous moves and sees properly when overshadowed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. This blessed movement and vision is the victory of truth over falsehood, life over death, and eternity over time. The feast of the restoration of the … [Read more...]

Finding the Place of the Heart Through Praxis and Theoria

Some years ago, there was an interesting study that measured how helpful were individuals in various groups by using a psychometric test known as the Social Interest Scale with potential values ranging from 0 to 15.  The mean scores hint at an underlying relationship between a stance towards God, a stance towards others, a stance towards self, and finally actual behavior in the world. The highest scores were found among nuns (13.3), adult church members (11.2), and charity volunteers (10.8). The lowest scores were made up of professional models (7.1), adult atheists and agnostics (6.7), and … [Read more...]

Distractions During Prayer and the Place of the Heart

Many sincere Christians have experienced distracting thoughts or even bad thoughts during prayer and are naturally distressed when this happens. After all, their intention is to communicate with God, not to talk to themselves about things mundane or even worse!  Some have become so discouraged by such thoughts that they give up on prayer altogether.  And yet, seeking to find the Lord Jesus even when He seems lost in an unruly crowd of our distractions and bad thoughts is very much a part of our struggle as Christians. The presence of these unwanted, yet to be honest, not totally rejected, … [Read more...]

Great Lent: A Time for Morality or a Time for the Heart

There is certainly nothing wrong with people trying to do the right thing and to be moral and upstanding citizens. The problem is that salvation and transfiguration are not a matter of morality. The publican and the prodigal were not moral people. They did all the wrong things, but yet they came to themselves, they discovered their hearts, and in so doing found the way, not just to moral goodness, but to holiness, to righteousness, and to feasting in the Father’s household. In the West, many speak about Lent as a period of struggle whose goal is for Christians to become better people. For the … [Read more...]

Vigils: Training in Patience

Time moves differently in a vigil than it does outside of liturgical services. It slows down as psalm after psalm after psalm is read and peace descends upon Israel. And then it speeds up like rapids approaching a roaring waterfall as it draws closer to that mystery before which Angels shield their hallowed eyes. And then, when the Lord so wills, it as though time stops entirely and eternity enters the soul filling her and the darkened Church with another light, not from the candles, not from the oil lamps, but from the presence of the Giver of Light Himself in the midst of His faithful. And … [Read more...]

Some Initial Thoughts About Vigils

Vigil, throughout the night, was an ascetic practice instituted by our Savior, valued by His holy Apostles, and continued by Christians throughout the ages. Saint John Chrysostom pointed out to the faithful that Christ frequently went up into the mountain to pray in order to teach us to keep vigil in a special place where we can be alone with God and at a special time in which distractions are less intrusive (Homily on Matthew). In other words, praying during the night is divinely-ordained ascetic practice given by the Lord Himself to the faithful. Saint Jerome likewise noted how the Apostles … [Read more...]