Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Iaask

“Contemplate God’s providence continually and insatiably in the books of the divine teachers, for in this way the mind will be given guidance in perceiving the marvelous order in God’s creation and in knowing His works. Thereby, the mind is strengthened and forms, through its profound study, sensations and thoughts which glitter with light; finally, the study of the books of the divine teachers helps the mind advance with spiritual purity to the deepest knowledge of God’s creation.

“When you study, take care to be calm in all things, free from excessive worldly concern and from commotion, which the various events of life create in the soul. Only then will you be able to enjoy the sweet taste of the understanding of these writings. The soul will feel their deepest sense and, being carelessly impressed by them, it will rejoice mystically.

“Reverence the books and teachings of genuine writers, and do not think of them as you would of works which have only external worth and disregard divine words, so that you do not remain blind to the end of your life and live in want of their profit, so beloved by God.

“Devote yourself to the reading of divine writings, which reveal to man the way to the clearest vision of divine magnificence, even if, immediately, you do not taste the sweetness of these sensations, your mind not yet having been cleansed and not having been removed from the material.

“When you get up for meditation and your rule of prayer, instead of the worldly occupation of your mind with all that you see and hear, dwell on the deepest understanding of the sensations about which you read in the divine writings, and forget concern over worldly things; thereby, your mind will begin to be cleansed. And this is the meaning of the saying: ‘The soul is aided by reading when it stands in prayer and, in turn, it is enlightened in reading by prayer.’

“Until a person receives the Comforter into his soul, he has need of the Divine Scriptures, in order to imprint on his heart the remembrance of all that is good, and, through continual reading, to renew within himself an impulse toward good. In this way, the soul will protect itself from the subtle paths of sin, it still not having acquired the power of the Holy Spirit to remove from the mind forgetfulness, which erases remembrances beneficial to the soul and compels the mind to scatter itself and roam in fruitless things.

“For when, at last, this power of the Spirit seats itself in the faculty of the soul, which operates with the aid of this Spirit, then the commandments of the Spirit, instead of the law of the Scriptures, take root in the heart, and thus the person learns mystically by the Spirit, without having need of perceptible material in his task of spiritual building” (Abba Isaak).

An invitation to read, no, let me rephrase.  An exhortation to read is right up my alley. Were Abba Iaask with us today, I am confident he would tell us to turn off the TV, take out those earbuds, cease to glue our eyes to our cell phones, stop listening to pop and rock, and read books by those who teach us about God and living the spiritual life.

He would have us concentrate, truly absorb what we are reading.  “Learn, mark, and inwardly digest” is how Thomas Cranmer would express it a few centuries later. Make it part of ourselves. All of the great spiritual writers teach us that when we concentrate on the words, et them inside, those words effect an ontological change in our being tht is reflect in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  We begin to think, speak, and act Biblically. Jesus is communicated in every thought, word, and deed.

Abba Isaak begs us to replace things of this world with the things of God, to replace the sensations  and experiences of this world with the Holy Spirit.   My gosh, isn’t that better than anything we could ever watch on tv, read in facebook? To hear the voice of Jesus instead of the distractions of this world?


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