Friday, 2 July 2010

How to pray Chapter 4 by Evagrius of Pontus

Chapter 4
Moses, when trying to approach the burning bush on earth, was prevented until he had taken the sandals off his feet; so when one wishes to see and converse with him who is higher than any ideas and feelings, should one not remove every emotional desire? 
Translated from the Greek by John de la Tour Davies

According to Evagrius, as well as to other great writers on prayer over the ages, 'desire', both passionate and also emotional, is one of the great hindrances to prayer.  Evagrius explains it in more detail in later chapters.  But his meaning seems to be that just as Moses was required to remove his sandals which had presumably been tainted by the dust of the desert and the detritus of the sheep he tended so that he could draw near to the holy God, so also, in order for us to encounter the God whom the Letter to the Hebrews says is 'a consuming fire', all that is unholy and impure in us needs to be stripped away.  For Evagrius, this is particularly true of our desires which can so often distract and distance us from doing what God wants.

One of the stories about the 3rd century monk and so-called 'desert father' Joseph of Panephysis has relevance perhaps to chapter 4:
'Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and he said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”'

Abba Joseph had learned about that of which T.S. Eliot wrote (Little Gidding part IV) in relation to the receiving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts Chapter 2)

'The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

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