Essays















A footnote on my essay, how to pray, and other matters

The original essay is polemical, and rightly so. I can’t apologise for that. Where it is said that praying while controlling the breath, and controlling the heart, and watching one's thoughts is the correct way in which to pray, then there something true and useful has been said. This must be done in secret, with total surrender to the activity, with the intention of ridding oneself of personal thoughts, emotions, and fears.

I practice as follows, daily: sit or stand in a quiet place, at home, preferably. Offer forgiveness to everyone I know, individually, and offer them my verbally expressed statement that I offer them love. And, after this short litany, an offer of love to my enemies.

Then, forget about the dangers which surround me, and trust to God while performing the sacred act of attuning oneself to the other world. I hope to find the calm of God, and know that I have come near to him for a short time in this particular day. I submit to do this for about twenty or thirty minutes.

Immobile in body, I pin my thoughts to the movement of air into my nose, and out. And I repeat to myself (as often during the day), the words: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, by the Mother of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I watch other thoughts inevitably accost my consciousness. However, my consciousness is so reduced that the thoughts appear large, and I recoil from them, wondering why they will not leave me alone. But, as part of the prayer’s movement, I do not force my attention back to my breathing; rather, examine the thought , as if it were a fish come up from the depth. It departs then, without any effort. Gradually, within minutes, my mind has started to watch itself; indeed, it is at this point that it becomes a higher consciousness, able to see itself.

To some remarkable extent, in this kind of state of existence, I am now no longer the same person. For that remaining ten or twenty minutes, I no longer care for my body, or my future, or my loved ones, or myself. It is the absolute silence of utter nothingness, as far as earthly existence is concerned.

And so, willingly, and as part of a ritual act of almost self-immolation, what remains of me is, in the time period of a meditation, free to be attacked by something outside. There is the possibility for the one who carries out the willingly undertaken act of prayer, in the belief that it will benefit oneself, that he will be able to move into the presence of something higher than the merely human.

At least, he has opened himself up to his ‘best self’. That is, somebody who has learnt not to be afraid of dying. In this state, he is entirely conscious, but he has given up his body. Although extremely conscious and aware, he is also not bothered by his money, his property, his wife and children, his country, or anything else. And, this is not a callous and cynical overturning or rejection of everything meaningful, either; as if such a man who meditates can say, on his return: ‘nothing matters, I’ll do what I like; it’s all hopeless now.’ He would not say this because he has also given up his own will and his own sense of self. He returns to the world after his prayer at least as ‘his best self’, looking on others and their claims on him dispassionately, and with a new sense of justice. Those people who are by nature close to him, his children and wife, he loves better and with more loyalty, for instance, precisely because, when you return from the act of prayer, you recognise that you return to the world of practical necessity, where, for example, I was given my life, my human form, and my human obligations, which as a man I must of necessity concern myself with – and nothing should distract me from them, while I am a man.

This is how morality accompanies and thrives in the one who prays regularly.

But morality is like the burr on a piece of metal after you have cut it. Once I become aware of the truly spiritual world awaiting me in prayer, I am actually cut off from the world, and true morality is a side effect. The true purpose of it, and the true meaning of life, is to love God, and the other world.

I speak in the first person, of myself, when discussing these things. This is by choice. I aim to make a demonstration, and to teach. Speaking in a third person and theoretical way is possible for me in an essay like this, but not profitable. It is more to the point to put your own reputation and honesty at stake in a matter as a witness, than to speak in the mode of what is possible. I speak, rather, of what is actual, and provide evidence.

Now, my polemical essay was centred on an objection to Fr Seraphim Rose, who said that practices like the one I have just described invite demons into the mind. He says: in the interval between my self as a common unsanctified man on the one side, and myself as a rarefied spiritual thing praying and awaiting God on the other, a demon can insinuate itself. He implies that if we willingly submit ourselves to God, and we call out, however feebly to Christ, then a demon of some kind might possibly make itself known in us; and so, we should avoid prayer of this kind which makes us open. But it is my thinking that with this, a more direct expression of a total lack of faith in Christ would be hard to find; does God actually abandon people who deny themselves and approach him? I say no more about it.

At the very least, the one who prays or meditates becomes his ‘best self’. And this is good enough, in itself, for most people. But we are not most people; I generally aim to be in the top ten percent of achievers in any group. Sometimes, I have been first. And, as an individual in matters of spirituality and the intellect, I want to be the winner of the race. Now, it is clear: there is only one participant in this particular race: myself. In the solitude of prayer and the living of a life based around it, as above, we find ourselves cut off from life in general, from other people.

A controversial point: the one who sits and extracts himself from life focuses on his own thoughts which come and go like fish; he then observes the deep waters within himself. And becomes self-obsessed. And this is also exactly right. What one finds in prayer, and what one should never turn away from, I insist, is the self.

For a couple of reasons this is so. Even before becoming a Christian properly so called, I understood that in the act of prayer I set aside my human self, the temporal, always dying, and historically determined one, in favour of looking at my eternal self. The eternal self which I found can only rest inside the creation of it by an eternal Being. By praying, you do not find merely your ‘best self’, but your eternal self.

Secondly, one should supercede any purely atheistic practices of ‘mindfulness’ at this point, and ask: where does the eternal self find its creation and ground? The answer to which is, in God. And, in addition, this is what Christianity has always said.

Now, finally, how is it that human beings have been allowed to have access to the etneral world, so that, from this moment on they are merely pilgrims on earth, strangers here, fulfilling obligations to other people with justice and love, but still half way toward the other world? They have access because God himself is in some respect human.

Now, at the highest level of contemplation, we should practice prayer with the following in mind: that his Son of God invited us to be like him, and to share in God’s presence as he had it. That is, to become gods ourselves; the Orthodox term for this is theosis. But it is not some obscure part of theology reserved for academic discussion. Christ told them: the Kingdom of God is within you.

Effectively, it is essential that you meditate on yourself during prayer, once, that it, one has sloughed off all the earthly desires, thoguhts and imprecations with which we are commonly full. What is left is what St Isaac the Syrian (The Art of Prayer, Faber, p 164) called ‘the ladder that leads to the Kingdom’. And so, to conclude, examination and focus on your own self will eventually, and paradoxically, lead one face to face with God.

A final note on this presentation of God to the soul. It is not to be expected that God ‘speaks’ in words. Nor even that God comes at all. This is a matter of God responding. Whether prayer is even possible unless God first calls to you, I don’t know. In theology, this calling and coming of God is known as ‘grace’. Grace is what you receive; perhaps the Energy of God. It does not speak; but it does guide and recreate me. I suppose that one could interpret the acts of grace into a form of language which a common mind would understand. It would be possible to say: ‘During prayer, God gave me grace. He told me not to do this particular thing.’ In such a case, I would not mean that I heard the words. Rather, I would find some kind of change of heart, some intimation, which could be translated into a statement in the English language.

But the whole of existence depends on God’s grace for anything good in it. To some extent, setting things out truthfully, in English, is the word of God. But, for emphasis and conclusion, never fear that looking inside, and seeking your self is actually one of the steps toward nearness to the absolute truth and the Father.

On the Gospels as the classic ground of Conservative political philosophy

The Gospels and the New Testament in general are just about the only satisfying explanation for a Conservative party’s activity in parliament. A member of the public at a dialogue between Sir Roger Scruton and his colleague at the Spectator, Douglas Murray, (which can be seen on YouTube) expressed this point of view. Scruton, who had struggled most of his life to express the Conservative philosophy, agreed. He went on to say that Christianity is currently in the position very like that of the period in the aftermath of Christ’s ascension. Ignored, persecuted, confined to secrecy and the catacombs. And, naturally, there is no public conservative philosophy.

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar, and what is God’s to God. That is, do not put any faith in earthly rule or rulers; but do not aggressively try to become one of them, either.

By contrast, if it were asked of a socialist, or a liberal, or any of the other types of political disposition and person: what do you believe in? One would certainly get a few answers, such as ‘equality’ of opportunity, or ‘welfare’, or the like. They campaign on behalf of their group, the crowd, their movement for change. But the Gospels ask you not to believe in such things; the best we should hope for is that the rulers permit Christians to exist, and that they themselves, through the subtle influence of the Christian himself, to follow the example.

But earthly power requires force, war, and what the socialists call ‘power’; so it should never be expected that Caesar will ever become a true Christian; the government is, at best, simply the agency which protects Christianity, but cannot be part of it. A politician is a sacrifice to evil, a terrible occupation.



Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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