we choose death

We Choose Death by Seeking Pleasure

“Beguiled from our original state by the deceitfulness of sensual pleasure, we choose death rather than true life. Let us then gladly endure the bodily hardship which puts such pleasure to death. In this way the death of pleasure will destroy the death which came about through pleasure, and we shall receive back, purchased with but slight bodily hardship, the life which we sold for the sake of sensual pleasure.

“If when the flesh has an easy life the force of sin tends to grow stronger, it is clear that when the flesh suffers affliction the force of virtue will also increase. So let us bravely endure the affliction of the flesh, which cleanses the soul’s stains and brings us future glory. For the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.

“When physicians are treating the body they do not administer the same remedy in all cases. Neither does God, when treating the illnesses of the soul, regard a single kind of therapy as suitable for it and effects its cure. So let us give thanks while we are being created, however great our suffering, for the result is blessed.” ~the Philokalia

Beguiled by Pleasure

Pleasure is a great thing, but also a deceptive one. It can feel good but is often keeping you away from something better. It is like stopping to pick up a dollar bill on the sidewalk and missing out on the pot of gold up ahead. So it is deceitful because it gives you the idea that it is helping you, but it is really stopping you from moving forward and claiming the real treasure of life.

Bodily Hardship

If you have ever watched documentaries of real treasure hunters at work, you know that the hunters don’t just casually ride up to a suspected location in a luxury yacht, dive down into calm and pleasant waters, and come back up clutching bags of gold and jewels. They are on some old boat with tiny, uncomfortable cabins, they face storms, breakdowns, sharks, and other perils before they realize there is no treasure their and move on to another spot. They go through similar experiences in that location and the next. After several stops, they finally find the treasure, having earned it through hard work and strain. That is the way it is with seeking the real treasure, the treasure of eternal spiritual life. Continue reading “We Choose Death by Seeking Pleasure”

lower thought

Lower Thought Prevents Spiritual Growth

“Too much association with anyone of lower thought may lessen your natural power to attract. You may carry a part of their selfish, cynical, gloomy, or other evil thought with you wherever you go. You put it out with your own. It is felt as a disagreeable alloy with your own.

“Your value and charm for others, as a companion, depends far more on what you think, than on what you say. If your thought is all pure, clean, bright, confident, and courageous, you are a value, and an increasing value wherever you go.

“People will always be glad to see you. When you bring yourself (your thought), you bring an actual pleasure to people. You bring also a power and strength to them. Your thought helps to strengthen their bodies. They feel better for seeing you. You are a fountain of health and pleasure wherever you go. You can disarm the sourest temper, and the person most opposed to you. When you can say in mind, ‘I refuse to look upon any person as my enemy,’ you will have no enemies. When we talk of ‘having enemies,’ and keep on, in thought, looking on certain people as enemies, we are making them enemies.” ~Prentice Mulford

Anyone of Lower Thought

Mulford has an interesting idea of what constitutes “lower thought”. I’m sure we can all agree that thought of murder, rape, theft, and other forms of violence are lower thought, but Mulford goes beyond those obvious kinds of lower thought. He adds to that list selfish, cynical, and gloomy thoughts. I think we can say that he would consider the rampant greed, me-first attitude, and lack of consideration for others among certain groups today to also be lower thought. I agree with him, those are all types of lower thought. And he wisely advises those of us seeking spiritual growth to avoid those of lower thought as much as possible. Obviously, that also means we should try to avoid having such thoughts ourselves. Continue reading “Lower Thought Prevents Spiritual Growth”

heavenly treasure

Heavenly Treasure is Better than Earthly Treasure

Heavenly Treasure from God

“If a man is very rich in this world, and possesses a hidden treasure, out of that treasure and wealth that he has he purchases whatever he has a mind to purchase. Whatever rare articles in the world he fancies, he readily amasses them, relying upon the treasure, because by means of it he easily procures any piece of property he fancies. In like manner those who seek at God’s hand, and have found, and have the Heavenly Treasure of the Spirit, which is the Lord Himself shining in their hearts, accomplish every righteousness of virtues, and every acquisition of goodness commanded by the Lord, out of the treasure of Christ in them, and by means of it they amass a yet more abundant heavenly wealth. By means of that heavenly treasure they effect every virtue of righteousness, relying upon the multitude of the spiritual riches within them, and easily work every righteousness and commandment of the Lord by means of the invisible wealth of grace that is in them. The apostle says, Having this treasure in earthen vessels, that is, the treasure which it was granted to them in this life to possess within themselves, the sanctifying power of the Spirit; and again, who was made to us Wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctifications, and redemption.” ~St. Macarius the Egyptian

Worldly Treasure

Having wealth isn’t necessarily an evil thing, but having worldly wealth, a wealth of material possessions often develops into a desire for more and more material wealth, and at any cost. That is how it becomes evil. It is why the Essene leaders, including Jesus, required members of their community to donate all their material wealth to the community as a whole and do not claim ownership of anything. That is why the Essenes were often called “the poor,” and this is what Jesus meant when he told the wealthy man who wanted to join his community that he would have to give all his wealth to the poor. He meant to the Essene community of which he was the Rabbi, not some random poor people found in the streets. Continue reading “Heavenly Treasure is Better than Earthly Treasure”

gift of miracles

Gift of Miracles: a Sufi Allegory

“There is a Sufi story about a man who is so good that the angels ask God to give him the gift of miracles. God wisely tells them to ask him if that is what he would wish.

“So the angels visit this good man and offer him first the gift of healing by hands, then the gift of conversion of souls, and lastly the gift of virtue. He refuses them all. They insist that he choose a gift or they will choose one for him. ‘Very well,’ he replies, ‘I ask that I may do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.’ The story ends this way:

“The angels were perplexed. They took counsel and resolved upon the following plan: Every time the saint’s shadow fell behind him it would have the power to cure disease, sooth pain, and comfort sorrow. As he walked, behind him his shadow made arid paths green, caused withered plants to bloom, gave clear water to dried up brooks, fresh color to pale children, and joy to unhappy men and women. The saint simply went about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light and the flowers scent, without ever being aware of it. The people respecting his humility followed him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles. Soon they even forgot his name and called him ‘the Holy Shadow’.” ~Rachel Naomi Remen

Gift of Miracles

This Sufi tale has one great flaw: in reality, the angels would have understood that the gift of humility was the greatest gift God could give the man, or that he could give himself. But then it is just a tale, a parable, intended to make a point. Like most scripture, it is not history and is not intended to be taken as literal truth.

God understood when he told the angels to ask the man if he wanted to be given a gift of miracles. The man did want to do good, as he probably had been doing for a long time, but he didn’t want to know he was doing it. The reason is humility. He knew that if the angels made him a miracle worker, it might puff up his ego and he would lose the important gift of humility. Virtually all spiritual schools teach that humility is necessary for any significant spiritual advancement. We must be doing it for the good of all, not just to give ourselves the idea that we are better than others because we have developed our spiritual facilities and gained in some way, the gift of miracles.

Three Specific Gifts

The angels offered the holy man three specific gifts: healing, conversion of souls, and virtue. This is a curious group of miraculous abilities. First, spiritual healing usually is just a matter of awakening in the other person the ability to heal themselves. Although there are cases of individuals having the ability to channel God’s healing energy through them and into others, it is rare. Further, it comes at a cost, like everything in the material realm. Those who do channel healing through themselves may find that they get the illness also, at least for a while. In other cases, channeling that energy may shorten their own lives. Because of that, those who truly have the gift to channel healing into other use it sparingly and only to help those who are truly deserving.

As for the conversion of souls, it is unclear what is meant by this. If it simply means getting people to believe in a particular faith or church, that is dealing more with the mind than the soul. The soul needs to be awakened, not converted, and that we must each do ourselves with the help of God. A spiritual teacher or holy person can only guide us to the correct path, not do it for us.

As for the gift of virtue, that is a vague one and includes the others. Certainly, spiritual healing is a virtue, as is the ability to help others awaken their souls. Yet the continuation of this Sufi tale gives more ideas about what is meant by this particular gift of miracles.

The Holy Shadow

When the angels give the man the gift of virtue in his shadow, we see that where his shadow touches, plants grow in bad soil, dry land becomes wet again, flowering plants burst into bloom, etc. This is way beyond what we generally think of as virtue. This gift of miracles is not just allowing the holy man to heal sick people, but to heal all of nature. This is indeed a great gift, one I have never heard of any individual having in real life. But then, this tale is an allegory for the importance of humility to live a truly holy life and have the real gift of miracles. For more about the importance of humility, click here to read an older post on the subject.