“When God the Logos created human nature, He did not make the senses susceptible either to pleasure or pain; instead, He implanted in it a certain noetic capacity through which men could enjoy Him in an inexpressible way.” (St. Maximos the Confessor)
It is impossible to experience God’s presence in any measure if we do not have some degree of stillness of body and mind. Noise disrupts the stillness of mind, and busyness, or pace, disrupts the stillness of body.
The Power of Silence
Noise is a barrier. It blocks us from God. It comes in so many forms today, and it takes a very disciplined person to manage it and shut it out. Many people are addicted to the various forms of noise and may not even know it. With today’s social media, 24-hour TV, iPads, and smartphones, we are in an ever-increasingly noisy society. It is a formidable challenge to achieve inner silence and stay connected with God. Noise creates a disturbance in our mind and heart. In Orthodoxy, we understand the mind and the heart to be something more than just a brain and an organ that pumps blood. We understand when the New Testament writers and the Holy Fathers wrote about the mind and the heart, they meant something we call the nous, the “eye of the soul,” the part of us that can experience and comprehend God.
Have you ever wondered how the ancients acquired so much knowledge and wisdom yet lacked our modern technological and other advancements? They could perceive reality accurately because they were able to contemplate, to be still, to create conditions in their nous that opened them to revelation about God and His reality. This is called noetic knowledge. Today, most people think acquiring knowledge is solely through effort put into intellectual study via the Internet, apps, books, and Universities. But that is often just intellectual knowledge that goes into the brain that never connects to the heart due to the noise we succumb to that keeps us from prayer and contemplation.
If we are not living sacramentally, prayerfully, and contemplatively, we are not creating conditions within ourselves where we have fertile hearts. Without fertile hearts, what comes to the brain stays there. Because the Apostles and Holy Fathers spoke and wrote about the nous as our deepest selves where essentially what we think of as the mind (i.e., intellect and brain) and heart are one integrated whole, we must always work to ensure our mind and heart become one. If they do not, we may be deceiving ourselves thinking we know God when all we know is about God. We tend to live by our brains and intellects. We come to Orthodoxy through the mind, and it takes a long time for it to sink into our heart.
Pace is also great obstacle to this mind/heart integration in Christ but it is a different type of obstacle. Where noise is more about the mind, pace is more about the body, which of course greatly affects the mind. We live life in a hurry, always rushing, always moving, yet we are physical and spiritual beings (Genesis 2:7) and need to realize a noetic experience is not possible without learning how to still our bodies first. When we learn to still our bodies, resist cramming our schedules full of activities, we will likely begin to still our minds as well.
We need to be patient with ourselves, realizing that attaining stillness of body and then mind takes time as we grow spiritually. St. John Chrysostom reminds of this steady slow growth when he writes, “do you see how we learn all things by gradual advance?”
As we deepen our relationship with Christ and learn to still ourselves, the heart draws the mind into it and we begin to experience life—reality as it truly is—illumined by the light of Christ.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 45:11 LXX (Psalm 46:10)
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