In Eastern Christianity, an important part of our seeking the Lord involves cultivating what the spiritual masters call “stillness,” or dispassion. The idea is simple enough. They view fallen human nature as being in a state in which the human person is ruled by disordered patterns of thinking, feeling, and desiring. This lack of harmony is characterized by a confused state of agitation and restlessness. The trajectory of mastering and conquering these disordered tendencies begins with a renunciation and a turning away from all that keeps us chained to them. This renunciation, which involves a variety of spiritual disciplines and practices, leads to a gradual reordering of our interior life, one that opens us to God’s activity.
Although cultivating stillness begins with a renunciation of the disorder contained within our interior life, it also involves an embracing of a greater reality made possible through Jesus Christ. Through his Incarnation, Christ opens a greater horizon of spiritual freedom and communion in which the individual is able to be liberated from the confusion caused by sin. Such freedom does not take place solely within the detached intellect of the believer, but is a holistic renewal in which the totality of the person is brought into the light of God’s activity.
Thus, in learning to cultivate stillness, we embrace a transformation which incorporates all aspects of our existence. In this regards, we can talk about stillness in a four-fold manner: physical, psychological, moral, and spiritual. Through spiritual discipline and intentional effort, we can create the conditions whereby we learn to receive the gift of God’s grace. In doing so, we can cultivate a heart that is open to God’s grace and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and this constitutes the path of Christian perfection. The goal of Christian living is not simply moral behavior nor is it superficial conformity to rules and regulations. Rather, the proximate goal that we must always hold before our eyes is communion with God made possible in Jesus Christ.
Communion with God is the proximate goal because it is a participation in and a foreshadowing of the glory that awaits us in the life to come. Through cultivating stillness, we can prepare ourselves to receive the gift of heaven in this life, and so to allow our actions to be guided by the kingdom of God made present in our lives. As we experience intimacy with Jesus Christ, that experience becomes the touchstone of our activity. In this way, we learn to walk with the Lord in all things by a kind of spiritual instinct.
In the course of the next couple of articles, I will be exploring the four dimensions of stillness. I will be highlighting a pathway of spiritual growth that I hope will be accessible and understandable to all people. In this way, I hope to inspire in people the deep desire to cultivate stillness so as to receive the glory of God.