from the Orthodox blog, Ancient Christian Wisdom
January 13, 2013
“God has given you one face and you make yourself another.” (Hamlet, Shakespeare)
The human heart is so complex; we hardly know ourselves, let alone another human being. Yet, we spend a great deal of time analyzing and judging the actions and words of others, seeking out their secret motives and basically guessing in the dark. There are a number of reasons why we do this. Part of it is in order to predict what others will do, to protect ourselves in the future, to exonerate our own misbehavior, and to feel somehow superior to them in the present, since we really understand what makes them tick. Obviously, none of these aims helps us to grow in humility. We are like Ham thoughtlessly uncovering Noah’s nakedness, but carefully covering our own. Another reason for prying into the secret motives of others is that we prefer to avoid thoughtfully examining our own lives.
Self-examination takes effort, silence, and faith. The focus within requires more effort than letting our gaze wander on things around us. Self-examination requires silence and slowing down, for the noise of daily life and motion distract us continuously. It also requires faith, because we all fear what lurks inside our hearts—our secrets—those things that we scarcely even admit to ourselves. However, these are the depths to which the Gospel calls us. We are called by Jesus Christ our Master and Lord to plumb the depths of our own heart. He alone can command us to do this, for He alone knows the heart of man, knows its depth, and knows how splendid the heart can be when filled with His light. Saint Ambrose wrote, “The Lord knows all things, but he waits for your words, not in order to punish you, but to pardon you.” But how can we even confess our secret sins and perhaps unknown passions, unless we look deep into the secret recesses of the heart in order to really see them and know them?
It takes courage and receptivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to quiet our own heart and look within. Saint Macarius the Great teaches us, “The heart is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are lions also; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. There also are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices. . . For our Lord Jesus Christ came for this reason, to change and transform and renew human nature and to recreate this soul that had been overturned by passions through the transgression. He came to mingle human nature with his own Spirit of the Godhead.”
For the complete essay, please go to the blog