Now that summer is well under way, most of us are pondering ways to cool off and rest up from the stresses of life. In order to have the best summer recreation experience possible, it’s important to be careful of things that could detract from it. Sometimes, in the midst of our vacation rest, it’s tempting to let our spiritual life cool down. It’s all too easy to imagine that taking a vacation should also include a requisite getaway from Church and from our relationship with God. Phew! Can you imagine if God took such a respite from His offering of love toward us? We need to be re-energized. So how do we get the spark of divine life that we so urgently need this summer?
“A brother once said to Abba Pœmen, ‘Give me a word,’ and he said to him, ‘As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly, nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the [Christian]. As long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him.’”
Anybody who’s ever worked around the restaurant business knows that keeping food at the correct temperature before it’s served is essential for the safety of its patrons. The health department has very strict guidelines for food temperatures because, if there’s not enough attentiveness, there’s a great danger that the “little creatures” we now know as harmful bacteria can enter that food, making us ill. As Abba Pœmen suggests, this is no less true for the spiritual life. If our spiritual lives are allowed to cool off, then our enemy, the demons, enter. Thus, they overthrow our lives with illness for their ultimate goal of our destruction.
This is where it’s important to realize that, although attending the Divine Liturgy weekly and participating regularly in the sacramental life of the Church is vitally important to us this summer, it’s certainly not the extent of keeping our spiritual vessel over that fire. God has something much healthier in mind for us.
In his letter to the Christians in Colossae, Saint Paul tells them and us, “Whatever you do, whether you’re speaking to someone, or merely performing some task, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Saint John Chrysostom says that this also means, “…asking Him to help you…in everything, praying that God would take hold of your activity for His sake. Are you speaking to others? Then pray about this beforehand. Even if you’re merely eating or drinking…give thanks to God beforehand. Do you offer your opinions in dialogue on matters of the day? Then invite the name of Christ into it. Do all in the name of the Lord and it will be to your benefit and the benefit of others.” He goes on to say that, “…there will be nothing polluted, nothing unclean, whenever Christ is called upon. If you eat, if you drink, if you get married, if you travel, do all in the name of God…calling Him to help you: in everything. First pray, then conduct your activity.” Saint John Chrysostom is essentially telling us how to keep the pot over the fire, so that nothing harmful can get in.
So, it’s important to remind ourselves that giving someone a smile and a friendly conversation while we’re waiting in a frustratingly long line at Disneyworld. Offering encouragement to someone who looks like they’re having a rough day. Cleaning up after a messy baby. Cooking a meal for someone, or even refereeing arguments among our kids. When we elevate them all to a prayerful participation with Christ’s ministry to the world, they each become ways in which we’re able to invite the spark of God’s grace—to keep the pot over the fire. If we choose to prayerfully elevate those activities in Him, they each become marvelous opportunities to be energized by Him. This is the liturgy after the liturgy, where we invite our Lord’s Divine Presence…and we choose to offer our real-life in service to Him. It’s lighting a spark in each human heart that our Lord has put in our presence.
Through this God will begin transforming our life in meaningful, impactful, lovingly fruitful ways. As we begin to look for Jesus in the eyes of every person, we engage and we offer them tangible love as though we were offering to Jesus Christ Himself, we become transformed in Him. As far as recreation goes, this continued approach is its very definition—because it re-creates us each time we participate with God in it.
So, for the person on vacation—when we intentionally invite God’s presence, trusting that He will faithfully enter in His divine grace, helping us to become an offering of love—the Lord receives it as sweet incense. Keeping it all over that fire, God will re-energize us with true re-creation.
Rev. Father Gabriel-Allan Boyd, Proistamenos
Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church
San Jose, California