The nihilistic worldview of which I wrote in the last blog post is a formidable adversary to psychological and spiritual well-being primarily because at the root of nihilism is pride, the greatest of all lies and the most luciferian expression of evil. (One will find in my book that the spiritual and psychological run along parallel and not dissimilar lines and therefore I often refer to them in conjunction). That is why the antidote proposed in the last post was the humble remembrance of God. Traditionally, this is done in two ways: 1) the prayerful recitation of the Psalms and 2) the focused stillness present in the use of the Jesus Prayer. Together, the Psalms and the Jesus prayer are the wings that enable the believer to ascend to a vantage point where the meaning of life and God’s providence for the world can be perceived. It is also a vantage point from which the nihilistic worldview can be seen for what it is, a choice, a foolish choice to proudly curse at the darkness, rather than humbly light the candle of prayer.
The Psalms are especially important and serve as the backbone of the Orthodox prayer life because they are a rule of prayer, a guide to speaking to God, humbly submitting oneself to Him, and perceiving the world as did the Psalmist. One can not read the Psalms without noticing God’s grace as omnipresent, and ever active through His energies. This is tremendously helpful in cultivating a remembrance of God. After a certain period of prayerfully reciting the Psalms, one finds that they “spring up” to consciousness throughout the day. For example, one mourning for his sins will recall and mediate upon Psalm 51. One who is struck by the beauty of a sunrise or sunset may find Psalm 113 coming to mind. In the midst of enjoying the companionship of a good friend, Psalm 133 may rise out of the depths of the heart. This is not only the remembrance of God in practice, but the firm establishment of the good thoughts of which we’ve written in previous posts.
In another age in which piety was stronger and holiness more common, the use of the Psalter was widespread with results that were occasions for wonder. Saint John Chrysostom in his homily on repentance writes,
“If we keep vigil in church, David comes first, last and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last and central. O amazing wonder! Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart. Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous; in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land, he excites the praise of God. In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last and central. In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary; in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world, who live their life in heaven with God, David is first, last and central. All other men at night are overcome by sleep. David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into seraphic bands, he turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.” (PG 64.11)
The rise of nihilism in our age is indeed a call to arms but not the armaments of disputation and physical action. It’s a call to the spiritual armaments of stillness in which the mysteries of the psalter and the power inherent in the name of Jesus become apparent as the soul, nourished by God’s providential love and goodness, returns to a state of pristine spiritual health in which the nous functions properly by the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit.