Silent Shouts of Joy: Thoughts that Recall the Divine (1/3)


Silent Shouts of Joy

Remember thy Lord in thy soul, humbly and fearfully, not loud of voice, at morn and eventide. [Quran 7:205].

Where can we find real joy — joy that is lasting and completely satisfying?

To be always joyous is not to feel happy all the time, but to have an inner peace that maintains a constant smile in our heart. elderly-woman-reading-bible2

When you have become penetrated with the joy of God, all of your sorrows will turn into joy, all of your trials will be graces; you will recognize your faults, you will be sorry for them, and they will be forgiven so that they may become happy faults. They will remind you only of the goodness, the tenderness, the joy with which God forgives them. [Louis Evely, in Living by the Fruit of the Spirit by Don M. Aycock, p. 38].

Captive Consciousness

Emotions are such fragile things. A comment, song, a photo, a passing fragrance can quickly change our state of mind, producing sadness or happiness. To experience true joy, we need a deeper consciousness that is not so easily distracted or so readily captivated.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [Romans 14:17].

Our joy must be immune to sudden, temporary and whimsical fancies. It cannot come from being dazzled by a celebrity or enchanted by technological wonders.

Are there not periods of life when we feel so glad that we would dance for joy? Let not such exhilaration be spent upon common themes, but let the name of God stir us to ecstasy…. There is enough in our holy faith to create and to justify the utmost degree of rapturous delight. If men are dull in the worship of the Lord our God they are not acting consistently with the character of their religion. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Psalms,  p. 374].

Our contentment cannot be arbitrary or irrational. Our state of mind cannot depend on the capricious changing of media channels. Open-head-Q2

The reality of our joy cannot vacillate between comedy and drama, or sports and news.

I cannot understand why those who have given themselves up to God and His goodness are not always cheerful, for what possible happiness can be equal to that? No accidents or imperfections which may happen ought to have power to trouble them, or to hinder their looking upward. [Francis de Sales, Letters, p. 152].

Remembrance of God

We do not find happiness by avoiding unpleasantness, poverty or hardships. Joy is not the absence of difficulties or the presence of affluence. True satisfaction is not an emotion evoked by physical conditions, by material success or by worldly possessions.

Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God. [Robert Schuller].

Ceaseless remembrance of the Divine Reality shields our inner consciousness from being beguiled by trivial amusement and transient pleasure.

When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, For You have been my help,  And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. [Psalm 63:6-8].

Not a Secret

A miserable, chronically joyless life reflects a mind that has forgotten the Divine Reality. Remembrance of God liberates us from gloom and depression. It is a foretaste of God’s promise of peace and joy that we can relish in the present.

Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. [Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, pp. 120-1].

At times, we may actually choose to be miserable, as an option that wins us pity from others or as misguided self-affliction to show repentance. When we avoid joy by choice, we are indulging in egocentric mutilation of our soul, not in trying to please our Lord.

… and this [is] the secret of joy. We shall no longer strive for our own way; but commit ourselves, easily and simply, to God’s way, acquiesce in His will, and in so doing find our peace. [Lent with Evelyn Underhill, p. 83].joy-bird

Inner peace and complete rest require that we reconcile our compassion and love with the injustice and suffering that appears to envelop the world. Our certainty that justice and mercy ultimately prevail under Divine sovereignty must relieve our grief and ease our pain.

Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life. [Paul Sailhamer, in  Donald E. Anderson, Keep the Fire!, p. 191].

Divine Thoughts

We must remember that our joy rests on consciousness of the Divine Reality. Physical pleasures and material comforts are secondary, since true pleasure comes only when the Divine is present in our thoughts.

. . . when the spirit is enraptured with the pleasure of observation, the tongue keeps silence, eyes are closed and ears no longer receive sounds; everything is voiced with the tongue of the heart. Pure thoughts and feelings envelop man as vapour of joy and excitement, and, in the face of such dazzling spectacles, the spirit feels as if walking in gardens of paradise. [Fethullah Gülen].

To find the peace and contentment we seek, we must change planes. We must disembark and enter a new joy-ocean2dimension. Our current reality does not contain what we are looking for.

For there is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this is it, and there is no other. For they who think there is another, pursue some other and not the true joy. [St. Augustine, Confessions, Ch. 22].

May God forgive our selfish desires. May He open our hearts to true joy, and may He, alone, be our contentment.

… He guides unto Himself all who turn unto Him — those who believe, and whose hearts find their rest in the remembrance of God – for, verily, in the remembrance of God hearts do find their rest. [Quran 13:27-28].


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Fasting of the Heart: Resisting Worldly Temptations

Fasting of the Heart

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster… [Joel 2:12-13 (ESV)].

Fasting is a private war within our inner self for control of the will. It is a struggle against seductive appetites and transient pleasures that take on the guise of necessary and vital activities.

To experience the intimate relationship we seek to enjoy with our Creator we must offer our undivided attention. Unfortunately, temporal and material desires often dominate our thought process and obscure the full dimension of the Divine Reality.tech-addiction2

With our thoughts congested with transitory interests and laden with episodic concerns, we remain mired in mundane trivia. We continually react to momentary passions, while constantly renewing our recurring discontent.

When you are going to fast, observe it in this way: first, avoid any evil and desire, and purify your heart of all the vain things in the world. Your fast will be perfect if you do this. [The Shepherd of Hermas, Fifth Similitude].

Get Serious

In the hectic pace of modern existence, less time is available for private moments of tranquil and pensive contemplation. The ever-intrusive media, our commercial endeavors, domestic and social demands, and our indulgence in recreation and entertainment leave little time for any serious thinking.

The more we are distracted from the truly significant aspects of our lives, the more we sink into inconsequential pursuits, spiritual confusion and unsatisfying relations.fasting-heart1

… Samad refers to Allah’s absolute transcendence from the material world. In fasting the observer disengages from his body and transcends his material needs in emulation of God. Through the sublimation of the need for food or drink, in fasting one assumes the quality of samad; a divine space is carved in the heart of the faithful. Observing Ramadan as such modulates to an inner religious experience; Ramadan is the fast of the heart . . . This renunciation of pleasure, the fast of the heart, is to be understood as an act of love and as a personal offering to Allah himself. [Dr. Ali Qleibo, Ramadan: Fasting of the Heart].

The Fasting Heart

Fasting of the heart seeks inner peace by discarding self-deception and egocentric desires. The intellect is silenced while the soul listens for Divine instruction — submissive, obedient.

Contemplation of the Divine Reality brings our existence in proper perspective. During such periods of spiritual consciousness, we can better focus our mind on thoughts of higher import and elevated awareness.

Yen Hui: What is fasting of the heart?
Confucius: The goal of fasting is inner unity. This means hearing, but not with the ear; hearing, but not with the understanding; hearing with the spirit, with your whole being… The hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens.
There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind. Fasting of the heart empties the faculties, frees you from limitation and from preoccupation. Fasting of the heart begets unity and freedom.
Yen Hui: I see. What was standing in my way was my own self-awareness. If I can begin this fasting of the heart, self-awareness will vanish. [The Way of Chuang-Tzŭ by Zhuangzi, Thomas Merton, p. 52].

Spiritual Armor

We fast with our stomach when we don’t put food into it. We fast with our heart when we contemplate only the Divine. The fasting heart abstains from desires of the world and is filled solely with the love of God.fasting-heart5

Stand only near the man who fasts, and you will straightway partake of his good odour; for fasting is a spiritual perfume; and through the eyes, the tongue, and every part, it manifests the good disposition of the soul. [John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Statues, Homily 10.2].

Fasting shelters the believer. When the sincere belief in God permeates our heart, we are protected from external corruption. Fasting of the heart reinforces our spiritual armor to resist worldly enticements and sensual temptations.

A fasting heart is able to make the tongue fast with it, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”… Therefore, if your heart abstains from sin, your tongue will abstain from every evil word. He who fasts the heart, can also make his body fast. Therefore, what is important is for the heart and thought to abstain from every wrong desire assisted by the fasting of the body, which is the least of all…. Control your thoughts and yourself. [H. H. Pope Shenouda III, The Spirituality of Fasting, p. 90].

Eternal Consequences

Why is it necessary to have moments of profound thinking and remembrance of God? We must establish a sacred place within ourselves where we can take refuge from transitory concerns to better meditate and contemplate our Lord. We seek to remove distractions, dissipate illusions and vitalize the process of Divine contemplation.

Fasting offers the intellect a rest from secular stimuli, a way to transcend perception and a key to spiritual awakening.

We fast to remove the mind from mundane concerns of everyday reality, and instead to focus on significant matters that have eternal consequences.qrn-reader-window2

The Fast of the [spiritually elevated] Elite means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. This kind of Fast is broken by thinking of worldly matters, except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the Hereafter and are not of this lower world. [Abu Hāmed al-Ghazālī, The Mysteries of Fasting the Month of Ramadan].

Willpower & the Power of God

Fasting is a spiritual exercise that complements all religious rituals and liturgies. It adds a personal dimension to our faith that disables the profane and enables the sacred to penetrate the heart.

As our piety increases so does our trust in the complete power of God. Tranquility then begins to prevail. When we rely on this all-encompassing force, we find ourselves transformed.

Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love. [Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 100].

May Almighty God give us strength of will to fast. May our fasting be with sincerity, seeking only Divine pleasure. May we grow in faith and purity from this fasting of the heart, and may it bring us closer to our Lord.

The reward of God is best for those who believe and work righteousness: but this none shall attain, save those who steadfastly persevere. [Quran 28:80].

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Lust, Fasting & Self-Control: Weaning the Soul from Desires

Lusts: Insatiable, Fleeting, Unsatisfying

There is no satisfying lusts, even by a shower of gold pieces; he who knows that lusts have a short taste and cause pain, he is wise; even in the [supernal] pleasures [of the devas], he finds no satisfaction; the disciple who is fully awakened delights only in the destruction of all desires [The Dhammapada 14:186-7].

Lust is a common trait of the human character and has a long, sordid history: for “every inclination of his [a human’s] heart is evil from childhood.” [Genesis 8:21]. In spiritual terminology, lust in synonymous with temptation and perdition, being one of the seven deadly sins of Christianity.lust

Unrestrained immersion in physical pleasures produces an insatiable craving for more and more — a desire to increase the volume, amplify the intensity and heighten the emotion. The resulting passions overwhelm the mind, destroying restraint and leaving us enslaved to our lust.

Our reckless cravings do not stop, even when we have all we want. We are not satisfied by any amount of indulgence, so we seek additional depravities to reach our illusory satisfaction.

Our mind becomes a numb spectator, barely remembering the past, staggering between rebellion and arrogance.

So if a man live in any way of lasciviousness, the more his impure lust prevails, the more sweet and pleasant will it make the sin appear, and so the more will he be disposed and prejudiced to think there is no evil in it. [Jonathan Edwards].

Modern Lust

The environment of today’s prodigal society incessantly prods and entices our appetites, arousing passions that overwhelm our spiritual convictions. We find ourselves forgetting our basic beliefs while succumbing to prurient desires. We disregard spiritual progress and the promise of a higher existence for transient pleasure.

Many of us are in captivity, chained to a dissolute lifestyle of sexual desires and perverted appetites. Our modern captors include a wanton consumerism that taints our moral fiber and a faithless relativism that debases our integrity.

Modern lust is a highly advanced strain. Chemicals, pharmaceuticals and technology have added new dimensions to our desires. Packaged with other popular pleasures and commercially marketed in sports and desires-lustsentertainment venues, lust is now globally exploited. Its availability, variety and low cost make it a favorite of everyone, even children.

It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness. And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money.  [Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, p. 148].

Disease of the Mind

Lust seeps into the void left by the absence of God. Thoughts of self-restraint vanish beneath our rationalization and self-delusion.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. [Romans 8:7].

Lust then becomes a hunger that takes control of the mind and makes it heedless of proper conduct.

For temperance, sobriety, and chastity, which we are wont to oppose to luxury, drunkenness, and lust, are not emotions or passive states, but indicate a power of the mind which moderates the last-named emotions . . . But, in reality, avarice, ambition, lust, etc. are species of madness, though they may not be reckoned among diseases. [Baruch Spinoza].

The carnal inclinations of our mind produce distorted impulses that misuse the natural needs of the body. Eventually, lust becomes an attitude, a state of mind that we willfully adopt and to which we knowingly succumb.The_Scream2

Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own lust? Wouldst thou then be guardian over him? Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle – nay, but they are farther astray?  [Quran 25:43-44].

Weaning the Soul from Lust

Fasting is a natural antidote against lust. Whether we fast for spiritual or therapeutic reasons, the absence of nutrients in our body sends us into a uniquely disciplined pattern of self-control.

… every wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections. [John Wesley, The Sermons of John Wesley, Sermon 27.4].

Fasting heals the soul overwhelmed by lust. During the momentary intermission between intemperance and overindulgence, before we again feel the pull of our lustful desires, we can take steps to prevent the recurring excesses.

A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting. [Leo Tolstoy, The First Step, The Works of Leo Tolstoy].

By fasting, we temporarily tame passions and subdue cravings. With reduced nutrients diminishing physical passions, our heightened spiritual awareness helps us sublimate worldly appetites.

For he who fasts, is light and active, and prays wakefully, and quenches his evil lusts, makes God propitious, and humbles his proud stomach. And he who prays with his fasting, has two wings, lighter than the winds themselves. [Saint Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea (or Golden Chain): St. Matthew].

PrayerEntering into Your Self

A fast proclaims our freedom from lust and self-destructive passions. It is a manifesto declaring that the physical world no longer holds us in bondage.

We become sober when we fast. Our demeanor resembles a person in pain or ill. Trivial pleasures and amusements have little attraction.

We eat for God so that our body may gain strength to serve God and perform our duties and responsibilities towards others. It is also for God that we hunger, to subdue the body lest it sin against God, to control and not be controlled bodily desires and lusts so that they may not control our actions. We behave in accordance with the spirit, not the body, for the sake of our love of God, and the fellowship with His Divine Spirit. Fasting for any other reason, is rejected by God. [H.H. Pope Shenouda III, The Spirituality of Fasting, p. 58].

By diminishing sexual desires, fasting facilitates discipline and self-control. We exchange material and transitory physical pleasures for unrestrained trust in God.

Turning to a higher consciousness harnesses our unrestrained passions and strengthens our resolve. Ultimately, the mercy of God frees us – and God is most merciful.

Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself. [St. Augustine, “On Prayer and Fasting,” Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas].

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