“When you come out of church do not begin to be distracted toward vain and useless matters,
lest the devil come and find you occupied with them. It is as when a crow finds a grain of wheat
on the plain before it has been covered up with earth and picks it up and flies off. So the devil
removes the memory of the words of the catechesis from your hearts” (St. Simeon the New
Theologian, The Discourses, Ch. XXX, 1)
There are many ways to state the same problem: How does one retain the peace, joy, inspiration and faith accrued within the mind and soul? What can be done to hold onto those glorious gifts of grace from the time I drive from the church’s parking lot until the next time I enter? Like the song of Elton John for Lady Diana’s funeral, “Candle in the Wind,” many of us hardly make it home without surrendering our spiritual selves to some passing motorist or the checkout clerk in the supermarket. We blow up when cut off on the road or when treated discourteously.
One must work at self control. In a culture that encourages us to “let it all hang out,” whatever that implies, or to “be in touch with your inner self,” the implication is that we should feel free to express our emotions and disregard the effect it has on others. We are a self-indulgent people and rarely excuse ourselves for bad behavior. This is in opposition to the person we must become if we dare call ourselves Christian. Read slowly the Sermon on the Mount chapters 5-7 in the St. Matthew gospel to find what it is our Lord expects from us.
We are capable of continuing the uplifting emotions that charged our spiritual batteries while in church. You may say that you are easily distracted and that may well be; however, it shows that you have to take control of your thought patterns. St. Maximus the Confessor wrote that we are like riders on horses. We are the rider. We have a mind, a memory, and a plan for where we wish to go. The horse is like the irrational passions that want to control us, set the route or have no route, and act in an arbitrary fashion. Who is in control?
A third element in connecting the spiritual high one feels when in church from one church service to another is to pray continually. Much has been written about this controversial and even frustrating demand from St. Paul [I Thessalonians 5:17]. Some even try to explain the order away, such as saying that work is prayer. But St. Paul meant it literally. It is possible and worthwhile to develop a constant consciousness of the Holy Trinity. When the Bible and church fathers ask that we have a fear of God, they mean that by the awareness of God’s omnipresence we are cautious, even fearful, of acting or speaking in ways that offend His presence.
We all know that prayer takes several forms. We soon memorize certain psalms and those prayers we say mornings and evenings. And it’s always proper to begin with them. We may go on to lift up personal prayers for our immediate needs: For the ill, the needy, those in some circumstance that calls for our concern, and we move on to contemplation, enjoying the feeling that overwhelms us after we pray or even without verbal prayers, when we imbibe the grace of the Holy Spirit like warm water flowing through our souls.
What happens when we lose those exquisite feelings of being in the Lord’s presence? It happens when we say mean, vulgar, silly words to others or even to ourselves. Or when we stew in some real or imagined feeling of anger, dejection, rejection or grief. That is when it takes both courage and grace to be humble enough to realize that we are alienated from the loving Lord, to beg forgiveness, and to reconnect with the energy of the Holy Spirit “present everywhere and filling all things” and to fill us again with Himself.