“Don’t be surprised if sometimes those we consider the ‘worst’ sinners advance more quickly in this work of contemplation”

So, if you want to recover the purity you had but lost to sin, and if you wish to gain a well-being pain can’t puncture, choose this path. Do the work patiently. Accept its pain, whoever you are, whether you’ve led a life of sin or not.

It’s hard for everyone. Both sinners and those innocent of huge sins find it tough going, but it’s much harder for the person accustomed to sinning, which only makes sense.

However, don’t be surprised if sometimes those we consider the “worst” sinners—I mean people who’ve done horrible things—advance more quickly in this work than those we regard as relatively “innocent.” These are merciful miracles of our Lord. God is generous with this grace, and the world looks on, astonished. I sincerely believe that Judgment Day will be bright, because we’ll clearly see God and all of his gifts. On that day of ultimate truth, many of the “nobodies” of this world, now despise and neglected as lowlifes and hardened sinners, will claim their right to sit besides God’s saints in God’s sight. On the other hand, some who now seem so holy, and who are honored as if they were angels, and who perhaps never did commit a deadly sin, may find themselves sitting beside hell’s devils in complete misery.

My point is—don’t judge. No person on earth should be judged by another. Nobody can say whether what someone else does is “good” or “evil.” That said, yes, you can scrutinize a person’s actions, weigh them in your mind, and determine whether the deeds themselves are good or evil, but you cannot judge the person.

So—I ask you—who can judge another’s actions? Those invested with authority to care for others’ souls, and this authority can be granted publicly by the command and ordination of the Holy Church or privately by the Holy Spirit, who may inspire a person to shoulder this responsibility in a loving, mature way. We all need a reminder here, however. Never casually assume that you’re meant to take on this power. Don’t rush to judge anyone’s mistakes and don’t be a faultfinder. Only speak out if you feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit during contemplative prayer. Those who arrogate this responsibility to themselves find it’s terribly easy for things to go wrong. So beware of that. Judge yourself as you want—that’s between you and God or your spiritual director—but leave others alone.

The Cloud of Unknowing

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7 Responses to “Don’t be surprised if sometimes those we consider the ‘worst’ sinners advance more quickly in this work of contemplation”

  1. AR says:

    I love the rendering of the woman taken in adultery into a Joseon painting… the cultural connotations may be closer to the reality of Jesus’ day than a Western medieval representation, for instance. Her unbound hair clearly shows her shame.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob says:

    Why is a good Orthodox engaging the Cloud of Unknowing and the popular Centering Prayer taught by Thomas Keating which is based on the Cloud of Unknowing. Orthodoxy has the Philokalia.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Bob, when I first read The Cloud of Unknowing 30+ years ago, I did not find it particularly helpful—perhaps because of the stiltedness of the translation or more likely because I simply was not spiritually ready for it. But I am finding it exceptionally helpful and instructive today—perhaps because of this new translation and because (hopefully!) a tad (but no doubt only a tad) more spiritually mature. I am confident that it was the Holy Spirit who led me to this re-reading The Cloud at this time of my life.

      Please share with us your spiritual and ascetical disciplines and which writings in the Philokalia you have found most helpful.

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      • Bob says:

        Thanks Father Aidan, for your quick response. I’ve been journeying towards Orthodoxy for a couple of years now and have read a lot of the popular teaching on it, through books and blogs Those authors always recommend not using Centering Prayer as advanced by contemporary authors Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and even true self, false self-stuff of Thomas Merton. They base their teaching on the Cloud of Unknowing. I thought to be a good Orthodox one has to spit out 10000 Jesus Prayers a day, read the Ladder of Divine Ascent along with the Philokalia and stay away from the Cloud of Unknowing and the teachings of Ignatius of Loyola. At least that’s what I come away with from Ancient Faith Radio Blogs.

        I’m an undisciplined American that isn’t much into the ascetic lifestyle of Orthodoxy, feels very legalistic to me. I get enough opportunities to die to myself through the process of growing old and suffering diminishment along the way. I draw from contemporary western writers like Richard Rohr, Richard Foster, David Benner, Merton, Nouwen , Yancey and AW Tozer. I guess I’m thoroughly Protestant when I cobble together a personal spirituality and prayer rule that works for me. I guess the bottom line is Centering Prayer “works” better for me than a daily cycle of saying Jesus Prayers. I know evaluating where one is at on their journey of sanctification could be very narcisstic.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          The Jesus Prayer has been a part of my prayer life, in one way or another, since I read The Way of the Pilgrim back in the late 70s. There have been times when I have attempted to use it in more contemplative ways, by which I mean setting apart a time during the day when I would sit in silence while praying it; but inevitably life would intervene to disrupt my discipline, and I would then have to wait months if not years for the Spirit to move me to try again. I really haven’t read much about centering prayer, though I did read Ron DelBene’s The Breath of Life back in the 80s. I suppose his suggested approach to meditation qualifies as centering prayer.

          After my son died five years ago, the Jesus Prayer became the only kind of prayer possible for me, beyond prayers, both formal and informal, for my son. I walk my dogs and I pray the Jesus Pray. I drive to the drug store and I pray the Jesus Prayer. I lay in bed unable to sleep and I pray the Jesus Prayer. I have never found it burdensome and legalistic. Nor do I find that my praying the Jesus Prayer in any way contradicts the counsels offered in The Cloud of Unknowing (compare Martin Laird’s Into the Promised Land).

          The priest who sent me to seminary, Fr James Daughtry, gave me the following advice when I first attempted a rule of prayer: Pray as you can, not as you can’t. This counsel has served me well over the past 40+ years.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Bob says:

            Thanks Fr. Aidan, You present Orthodoxy with the freedom to explore and appropriate the wisdom of the Western writers. I was hoping Orthodoxy would remove the angst of choice for me.

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  3. eayllon1 says:

    It seems to me that those who are the most impacted by hearing the gospel, those who are the most grateful and passionate about Jesus, are those who had a greater history of sin. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor.”

    Liked by 1 person

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