To Walk in the Spirit
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
It is not enough that Christ is risen. We too must rise with him. Our Lord’s Ascension paves a road for us: inviting us to lift up our hearts from the drudge and vanity of this world and to become heavenly minded — to learn to see, breathe, and walk in the Holy Spirit.
Twice, St. Paul invites us to walk in the Holy Spirit, in the 5th chapter of Galatians.
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).
The first time, he uses the word ‘περιπατεῖτε.’ This literally means ‘wandering’ or ‘walking about’ and refers to the day to day manner that we live. The second time, St. Paul tells us to ‘στοιχῶμεν’ in the Spirit. This means ‘putting in a row’ or ‘marching in a line.’ The first word is circular, the second linear. Every aspect in our life should be aligned with the Way of the Spirit.
Christianity can never be watered down to Sunday attendance, saying a few prayers, and trying to be an ethical person. Christianity means total consecration. Our thoughts, our vision, the way we eat, the way we arrange our daily schedule, all of it — God wants our life to become a Holy Liturgy centered around the Altar.
This is our battle. In the same chapter that St. Paul tells us to walk in the Spirit, he describes the war between the flesh and Spirit.
“The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would…And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:17, 24).
Before leaving my monastery in Greece, the monks warned me. “Monasticism is the easier life,” they said. “It is harder to live in the world.” They were right. We forget that we share the same vocation as the monks. We are charged to become equally spiritual, to pray no less, to fast no less, to sacrifice no less. Here in the world, we simply have more distractions. We have more things tugging at us and we lose our purpose.
St. Theophan used to write letters to a group of nuns. In one of these, he reminds them of their first vows. “I wish you only one thing,” he said. “Continue as bees — not weakening, remembering that the end crowns the work and that only he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 24:13).” “What steam is for a machine,” he continues, “zeal is for a God-pleasing life. When there is zeal, all labors go smoothly and any labor is not laborious. When there will be no zeal, there also will be no strength, no labor and no order…Thus, do not become weak in your labors.” Read the lives of the saints, he said. “Collect in your memory how people of God tirelessly labored — men and women, not sparing their strength, not even their lives…you too should be like them.”
The monks were right. It is harder in the world. If we really get why we are here, if we can begin to understand the degree to which God wants our all, we will recognize the challenge this world presents us. But even in our busy lives, God offers us a path.
“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12).
The Spirit of God really did come to the Church. The Holy Spirit filled the hearts of men and women and taught a way of life: it is called contemplation.
I hate to say it, but this is where we really struggle in American culture. We can read the bible every day. We can go to church on all the Holy Days of our whole life. But most of the time, we still do not get it. We all breathe in the air of the times, after all. We pick up norms in our society and assume they are normal, and we base our image of the “Christian life” on the way we see it lived out in the people around us. But our normal is not normal.
In a first century document, the Didaskalia, we see that the early Christians attended church services every morning and evening. Traveling historians observed this pattern throughout the centuries, where Christians built their villages around monasteries, and the field workers bowed at the toll of bells, and slipped into Vespers after a day of labor.
This life began to wain with the Protestant Reformation and was nearly suffocated in the Industrial Revolution. After World War II, a German philosopher wondered if we would ever recover a life of contemplation. “Is it possible,” he asked, “to reconquer the right and claims of leisure, in face of the claims of ‘total labor’ that are invading every sphere of life…The world of the ‘worker’ is taking shape with dynamic force — with such a velocity…one is tempted to speak of demonic force” (Joseph Pieper).
Even as late as the 1960’s in America, Catholic schools and hospitals were run by monks and nuns who interrupted their daily work with hours of contemplation. This continues to be the norm in Orthodox nations, where stillness, prayer, and pilgrimage are just part of life. It is so foreign to us.
We are too busy, we say, building, conquering, accomplishing, squeezing. We do not have time to pray any more…
Another philosopher, an American this time, mourned the tragedy in modern Christianity. He writes in the 1980’s:
“Even those of us in the active life are called to a tithe of the contemplative as well. The strictly cloistered monk and nun lead that life in the highest degree, but each of us in his station must pay his due.” The monastics pray eight hours a day, the priests are to pray four hours, and the laity no less that two or three — it sounds rather radical does it not?
“Everyone will say at once, it can't be done,” the man continues. “Where has the time gone? Well, for the one thing it has gone into useless work… [and] complicated, expensive, time-consuming, unproductive and destructive ways of recreation…We are in a downward, reciprocally causative spin: because our work is disordered, there is not time to pray, and because there is no time to pray our work grows worse…Work needs prayer as dry cracked leather needs oil” (The Restoration of Christian Culture).
“Now I am going to him who sent me…If I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:5-14).
It is hard that Christ had to ascend. We want him here with us, in the flesh, now. But he rises up to heaven to pull us up with him — paving a road for us — saying: “Lift up your heart.”
All around us, everything is praising God. Beauty praises God. Truth praises God. Goodness praises God. The whole universe is pulsing in harmony to one cosmic hymn — you might say, it is “walking in the Spirit.” What prevents us from joining in too? This is the life to which God has called us.
We can join in too.
Christ is Risen!