|20 - THE CHURCH'S BIBLICAL THERAPY OF THE SOUL, Jan 24, 2021
Colossians 3. 4-11
National events have conspired with the ‘pandemic’ to traumatize us this year; our souls have been wounded. The roots of sins that lay hidden in our soul beneath the veneer of normalcy have been exposed, presenting themselves chiefly, from my observation and experience, in fear and anger. Because the wound is to our soul, hidden, hard if not impossible to ‘see’ especially by worldly eyes, it goes far deeper than what any mere ‘return to normal’ can touch. What’s needed is a spiritual healing that penetrates to the division of soul and spirit to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [Heb 4:12 NKJV]. Our Scripture lesson this morning gives us the Church’s program of spiritual therapy that would heal our soul.
The Church prayed at Matins on Thursday, “O Holy Virgin Theotokos, who gave birth to the Light, illumine my soul which has been blinded by the passions and entreat Him, with the apostles, prophets and martyrs, to deliver me from all sin, all harm and all the malice of the enemy.” (Tone VII, p. 53) With this, we hear the cry of the blind man this morning, crying to the LORD Jesus for healing, for illumination, so that he can truly see.
Again, at Matins last Thursday: “O Mary Theotokos, Lady of all creation, utterly free my lowly heart from the enemy who shamelessly seeks to gain dominion over my heart.” With this, we ‘see’ what spiritual forces they represent who rebuked the blind man for crying out. They represent the enemy trying to gain dominion over us to silence our soul so that we will not cry out to the LORD and be healed. They would be the earthly members that St Paul exhorts us to put to death in our epistle lesson this morning; they are the soiled garments of the old man he urges us to take off.
Note that these earthly members are not our body parts. They are those spiritual forces—the Church calls them passions—churning inside of us, seeking to gain dominion over our heart to keep us in constant inner turmoil and agitation, so that we are blinded in our soul, unable to see into the deep, beyond all things, unable to see into our heart to discern the deep wound that no return to normal can heal. The earthly members St Paul lists include fornication, impure and lustful desire and greed, foul talk, lying and all the other deeds of the old man; but this morning I focus on anger which, as I said, is the primary presentation of the wound that has traumatized us. I believe, it lies, in fact, inside all the passions.
When anger or any one of the other passions gain dominion over our heart, we go ‘berserk’ to whatever degree. We lose ourselves to the passion that takes over our soul and blinds us to our heart. The anger tastes sweet as it throws us into bitter enmity with those around us, even loved ones, and as it cuts us off from our heart. Like blindness of the eyes, the spiritual wound of the passion does not go away simply by willing it to go away. Like the blind man, I discover that I do not have the power to heal myself of the anger once it has gained dominion over me. Indeed, it only gets bigger to the point of consuming me and now I am no longer me: I am anger. I am the blind man. I am the “first of all sinners.”
From here, let’s turn to the Psalmist. For, here, I believe we see what was going on inside the blind man’s soul as he sat by the side of the road, crying out: “LORD, have mercy on me!” Here, I believe, we see before us the biblical ‘program’ of spiritual therapy that heals the soul. I take you to Ps 25/26: “Judge me, O LORD!” This is the first step in the healing of my soul, and it is a huge step: LORD, you and you alone judge me! Look to yourselves and see if, when mastered by a passion, you are not judging yourself, either excusing yourself and so leaving the wound unhealed, or condemning yourself and so making it worse. “You judge me, O LORD. I go about in my innocence; for, if I hope in the LORD, I will not be moved.” I go about in my innocence clearly does not mean that I am innocent, for the Psalmist says immediately: “Test me, LORD, try me, purify my reins and my heart as with fire.” I go about in my innocence, therefore, I take to mean: I turn away from the anger seeking to gain dominion over me and, with the blind man, I choose to come out of the city to plant myself “just as I am” on the path that leads up to Jerusalem, to wait for the LORD as He makes His way into the tomb of my heart, into the bridal chamber of who I really am, the place of my innocence, in the deep beyond all things, including and especially the passions (Jer 17.9 LXX).
This is an interior movement of my ‘mind.’ How do I do this interior movement? Anger, as are all the passions, is extremely powerful and I feel helpless against it! Yet, listen to the Psalmist: “I do not sit with the company of evil-doers. I do not fall in with godless men.” The passions are powerful; but, they are not more powerful than the image of God that I am in my heart. They gain dominion over me only when I choose to give in to them. Yet, as we see in the Gospel of the Gadarene demoniacs, even when they do gain dominion over me, there is still deep within my heart, beyond the anger, something by which I am still able to choose in what direction I will turn my eyes.
And, where do I turn my eyes? I turn them away from my own judgment of myself to look on the LORD’s judgment of me. For then, the LORD who is my life, as St Paul says, appears before my eyes in His mercy.
The Psalmist continues: “LORD, I have loved the beauty of your house, the place where your glory dwells!” What is this house of the LORD that is so beautiful, this place where His glory dwells? Is it not your own soul, made in the image of God? This is the “innocence” I want to go about in, in which I want the LORD and no one else to judge me. Created by God, this house of the LORD, the image of God in which I was made, cannot be ‘cancelled.’ This house is the something in which I am able, even when anger has gained dominion over me, to turn my eyes to look steadfastly on the mercy of the LORD, like this blind man who was free even in his blindness to come out of the city, to ignore those trying to silence him, and to fix his eyes on the True Light the darkness cannot overcome and on the Life that destroys death by His death in the tomb of our own heart. In the real hope that filled the blind man’s soul from the expectation of that vision, his soul was given the power to sit unmoved by the side of the road, so that far from being overpowered by the rebukes to keep silence, he was able to cry out all the more: “LORD, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the LORD healed his blindness. As the Psalmist says, He forgives the ungodliness of my heart! But, to be healed of blindness is to be illumined, baptized into Christ; and to be baptized into Christ is to be clothed in the New Man and to be renewed in the knowledge of the Icon of God, Christ, who created me. (Col 3.10)
But, let me take you now to the 31st Psalm to see what it is precisely that opens the eyes of our soul so that we are able to see the mercy of the LORD before us. “I acknowledged my sin (my anger),” it says. “I did not conceal my ugliness (for the Greek, anomos, because law, nomos, is everything in harmony, in right proportion; and so, it is the shape of beauty). I said, I will bring forth the ugliness that is hurting me and set it before the LORD. And you, O LORD, forgave the ungodliness of my heart!” (31.5 LXX) Here is the interior movement of the soul in repentance and confession. I acknowledge my sin that is hurting me. I do not conceal it. I bring it forth and I set it before the LORD, and I ask Him to judge me in His mercy. I do not judge myself; for, if I do, then I am turning my eyes away from the LORD and onto myself. This is prayer; it is sitting, in my soul, at the side of the road, unmoved, my eyes fixed firmly on the mercy of the LORD, waiting for Him to judge me and in His judgment of me, to act in His mercy.
For, what I cannot do—gain dominion over the passion that has dominion over me and so heal my soul—the LORD can do. The Psalmist says: “A king is not saved by his great army. A giant is not delivered by the greatness of his strength. A horse is useless for strength, neither shall he be saved by the greatness of his power. Behold, the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him,” who turn to Him in repentance and confession, “who hope in His mercy to deliver their souls from death,” to purge as with fire the anger from their soul. And so, “Our soul waits for the LORD. He is our helper and our defender. Our heart shall rejoice in Him for we have hoped in His Holy Name!” (Ps 32 16-22 LXX) Amen!