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In Famine of Delusion

“I will send a famine into the land: not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord” (Amos 8.11).

A plague of delusion swept across the Israelite nation during the reign of King Jeroboam in 793 B.C. Psychologists today call it mass psychosis, when a society loses touch with reality. The human heart so easily falls into delusion. We have to be vigilant in our life, guarding ourselves from delusion, and straining our hearts to the Spirit of Truth.

Our Gospel today takes us again to our Lord’s last sermon. He is preparing the disciples for persecution. “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues” (John 16:2). You will be the ‘ἀποσυναγώγους’: exiles from society. Disciples of Jesus Christ will be the fringe minority — the unwanted, the rejects. You will not fit in with the world. The world will want to kill you.

Why is this? What is it about Christianity which clashes with the world? Why can we not “co-exist” as the bumperstickers say, placing Islam, Wicca, and Christianity side by side?

“Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:3, 4).

There is a startling message in our Lord’s words. The human heart can be so deluded, so closed off from reality, that we can sincerely believe we are doing good, while committing evil. Good intentions are never enough. “Zeal without knowledge” quickly leads downhill. Our ability to do good, to better this world, to love people around us, is built on one foundation: how well do we know God?

“I will send a famine into the land… [a famine] of hearing the word of the Lord” (Amos 8.11).

The Prophet Amos’ words are striking.

‘A famine of hearing God’s word.’

Their hearts were clogged up. A whole nation lost its ability to שָׁמַע (šhāma). This Hebrew word is used throughout the Scriptures to describe a kind of existential state. Adam and Eve, in their primal state, “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden.” Untinged by sin, they could šhāma. In Isaiah, God calls the whole earth to return to a state of šhāma. “Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it” (34:1).

The Israelites lost their ability to hear God. Their society fell into delusion and madness. What caused this? Amos laid three charges on the Israelites: decadence, idolatry, and sexual immorality. So where does this leave us today, in mainstream American culture? We need to walk very carefully.

Writing in the late-nineteenth century, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov warned the Christian people about the fragile state of their culture. It was just shy of the Bolshevik revolution.

“Apostasy is permitted by God - do not attempt to stop it with your powerless hand. Flee from it yourself, protect yourself from it; that is enough for you to do. Learn to know the spirit of the age, study it, so whenever possible you will be able to avoid its influence…Those who are being saved must understand this and make use of the time given them for salvation.”

We see the same signs of trouble in America today, which haunted the Israelites in Jeroboam’s time and in 19th century Russia. Decadence, idolatry, and sexual immorality are the norm. Apostasy is everywhere. Our whole civilization has lost the ability to שָׁמַע (šhāma).

We are caught up in a famine of delusion, all of us, by varying degrees. Where do we turn? In our Gospel today, just after warning about delusion, our Lord offers a wonderful promise. We are not alone. He will send us the Comforter.

“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…Ask and you will receive” (John 15:26; 16:14, 24).

The Church uses a word to describe the path to sanity: hesychia. It means ‘stillness.’ St. Paisios used to talk a good deal about the noise, distractions, and busyness of modern life. He considered it our greatest calamity. Far more dangerous than nuclear weapons and foreign invaders, the noise in modern life is our foremost threat.

Stillness is the doorway to healing. The delusion, the anger, the problems of our world — it is a menacing giant. But stillness is the tiny stone in King David’s sling. Wherever we are, we can retune our hearts to God, by learning stillness.

“Silence greatly helps in spiritual life,” St. Paisios taught. “It is good for [you] to practice silence for about an hour a day…to purify [your] heart. It is very good if there is a quiet room in the house which gives the feeling of a monastic cell…The soul warms up and the mind is transported to the spiritual realm…Rejoice if [you have] ten minutes for prayer, or even two minutes to read something… [Pursue Silence] to drive away distractions.”

Even in this busy world, we have everything we need to heal. Even with all our personal inadequacies and our deep rooted sin, even in all the craziness and delusion, the spiritual famine of our time, we can become again like Adam and Eve, walking in the coolness of the evening with God. We can learn to šhāma.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…Ask and you will receive” (John 15:26; 16:14, 24).

The Holy Spirit is with us. He is given to us freely, and he can lead us to truth. In stillness and quiet, our hearts can tune in to God’s voice and start to heal.


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