Becoming a Healing Presence
Becoming a Healing Presence by Albert S. Rossi
Ancient Faith Publishing, 2014
My priest highly recommends this book. Reading it multiple times has been most edifying. Dr. Rossi somehow expresses the heart of ancient Orthodox wisdom in a way that is digestible and easy to read. The following quotations are just a sampling of this book's riches:
Our elders tell us that the person seeking inner stillness is someone who has embarked on the journey into his own heart . . . . As St. Basil said, we return to ourselves; and having returned inwardly, we ascend to God.
The high price for not being still is the possibility that we might not know God. If we don't know God, we don't know ourselves, because we are made in God's image and likeness. That's who we are. Hence, today many people are looking for their identity, for their place in the world, for who they are. The only place we can find who we are is in God.
So, a healing presence is, in a sense, a conduit of fire. The fire of the Godhead, hotter than the sun, goes through the clay conduit, and out the other side as fire to another human. We simply allow the fire to go through us. But it is a healing fire nonetheless.
Breathing the Name Jesus
"Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath." (John Climacus)
What do we breathe? We breathe the name of Jesus. His Person is mysteriously encapsulated in His name. His name is His presence.
As we slow down to hear our breathing, we can become aware of an inner vastness opening up, a new dimension to our awareness. This is the beginning of an awareness of the holy presence of God.
We think our memory is a storehouse of valid, static information, rather like a computer's memory. However, that is simply not the case. Memory consists of encoded chemicals that continually change.
Humility provides an antidote to a prideful belief that our mind can think and remember with certainty.
And our breath gives us the opportunity to remember Christ, not our thoughts and meandering memories.
As St. Gregory Palamas said, "That is why some teachers recommend beginners to pay attention to the exhalation and inhalation of their breath, and to restrain it a little, so that while they are watching the breathing, the intellect, too, may be held in check."
The Healing Heart
The healing heart is one that is a chapel for Jesus, for His Name to dwell in.
I once visited the Monastery of the Holy Dormition in Rives Junction, Michigan. Father Roman Braga, the founding father of the monastery, was there, vibrant as ever. During the few moments I had with him alone, he said that when he was in the Romanian concentration camp, the officials tried to destroy the intellectuals by putting them in solitary confinement without their books. The theory was that this would break the intellectuals' spirit because it would remove their stimulation and their connection with each other. Father Roman said that for him, there was "no place to go." He didn't have anything outside himself for solace. He then made a startling statement: "So I went into my inner universe." When I heard that, time stood still for me. I knew I was in the presence of mystery, in the presence of a man who had been somewhere I had never been.
The physical heart is where we place our awareness to enter into the realm of the spiritual heart.
Our task in prayer is to unite the intellect and the heart, to find the place of the heart and draw the intellect down into it.
It is not a matter of getting the mind to have no thoughts. St. Diadochos of Photike noted that there is a dimension of the mind that is always doing something. So we give it something to do by repeating a short phrase gently and regularly. He tells us we can give our intellect nothing but the prayer "Lord Jesus." We concentrate on these words within our inner shrine. "Lord Jesus."
Vocation as a Way of Life
Within each singular vocation, each person is called in a different way to love God fully and her neighbor as herself, uniquely.
Christ provides everything in our quest to be a healing presence. He provides the opportunity for us to have encounters with others, the heart-awareness to know what to say and do, another person to be a healing presence for, and the life-energy to actually make a difference with another person.
My task is to find gratitude in all circumstances, including negative life situations.
If I put all things in God's hands, I will see God's hands in all things. That's my vocation, to see God's hands in all that I do and say.
Naming Others as a Vocation . . . . We heal others by saying the Name of Jesus over them.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has a profound insight to offer us: Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to him. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty. (from a homily preached on August 14, 1983)
Father Schmemann said, "A Christian is one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. This joy transforms all his human plans and projects, decisions and actions, making all his mission [vocation] the sacrament of the world's return to Him who is the life of the world."
Blossom Where You are Planted . . . . We stay where we are planted unless God, through the approval of our spiritual father, clearly wants us to move on.
Gentleness as a Mindset
Mother Teresa also said, "Accept all He gives and whatever He takes with a big smile. For this is holiness - to do His will with a big smile."
Mother Teresa said, "I will never understand all the good a single smile can accomplish."
Listening is love delivered.
Active listening absorbs the meanings and feelings behind the other's words and demonstrates, to the satisfaction of the other, that we actually heard what was said. Our response is usually a short declarative sentence.
Active listening is not judgmental or critical or patronizing or advice-giving. Active listening does not try to fix problems. It is simply being fully present to the other as the other speaks and showing the other person that we heard what was said.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Father Zossima provides a deep insight for us: "At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of men's sins, asking yourself whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, 'I will combat it by humble love.' If you make up your mind about that, once and for all, you may be able to conquer the whole world. Loving humility is an awesome force, the strongest of all, and there is nothing like it."
We don't control our interactions with other humans. God does. St. Barsanuphius said, "Do not forget that without God there is no healing for anyone."
We can achieve nothing - and certainly will not help another at all - by ourselves. . . . But when we surrender to Christ, all things are possible with Him.
As St. Irenaeus said, "We relax in God's hands."
The Sacrament of the Present Moment
As St. Simeon the New Theologian said, "Do not worry about what will come next; you will discover it when it comes."
Achimandrite Meletios Webber speaks eloquently of the mystery of the present moment . . . We can only meet God in the present moment. . . . The mind, the rational mind, cannot trust the present moment since it cannot control it. . . . One of the important functions of prayer is to bring us into, and to assist us to remain in, the present moment.
What can we find to assist us in our quest to enter the present moment more fully? Prayer is the perfect way. Beyond prayer, there are at least three basic ways, all of which have to do with altering our awareness.
First, we can be attentive to our breath and our heartbeat.
Second, we can choose to be more aware of the specifics of our current environment.
Third, we can become more aware of our bodily sensations, the distinctiveness of this moment's "data" as awareness of our bodies.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann spoke glowingly of drinking orange juice as a human act that paralleled the Eucharist. He spoke about savoring the orange juice, making the ordinary act into a sacred act. Savoring and cherishing are part of taking delight in the present moment.
God has you and me right where He wants you and me. This is hugely liberating. We don't have to analyze, squint and squirm, or figure everything out.
By contrast, we can begin with the assertion that our time is not our own but the Lord's. We adjust our expectations. We ask, "Lord, what do You want me to do now?" Better said, "Lord, what do you want to do through me now? What kind of fire do you want to bring through my behaviors that will eventually make me more of a healing presence for others?"
If we are sensitive to each moment as God's moment, we can be grateful for interruptions, because God often moves in unexpected ways.
Our freedom consists in embracing all that happens to us, negative and positive, pain and pleasure, disappointment and joy, as a blessing in divine disguise. Metropolitan Philaret's prayer has been quoted often: "In unforeseen events let us not forget that all are sent by You."
We have all the time we need to do all the things God has us here to do, in a peaceful way.
Suffering and Death
We simply try to be humble enough to know that there are some - no, many - questions we can't answer.
Our sufferings are not unknown to Christ and can be of great benefit to others and ourselves. We can become a healing presence simply by being alive, believing as best we can, and offering our sufferings to Christ.
If we are going to be a healing presence to others and ourselves, we need to be clear about our attitude toward the ultimate reality - namely, death.
As Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said in Living Prayer, "Death is death with all its tragic ugliness and monstrosity, and yet death ultimately is the only thing that gives us hope."
My wife is buried in a plot of ground for two people. The tombstone has a base and an upright. On the upright is a large inscription of our last name, Rossi. There are flowers carved in the stone, and a banner across that says, "Thy will be done." On the left side is a rectangle with her name, birth date, and death date. On the other side is a rectangle with my first name, birth date, and a blank for my death date.
I have a photo of the stone on my smartphone. With my phone I can spread my fingers and enlarge any part of the photo. I sometimes expand the grass on my side of the tombstone. I say to myself, "He, fella, now you are looking down on the grass. The day is going to come when you are looking up at that grass. That grass is going to cover you. That's the grass that already covers your wife." These thoughts might sound macabre and gloomy to some people. I would answer, "I don't think so." We need to realize that we are going to die and that God will take care of us.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers for every question, but to progressively make us aware of mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as He is the cause of our awe.
So, for an adult with some maturity, a tolerance for ambiguity is translated as (a) I know that I don't know; (b) I know that Christ knows; (c) I trust Him. That's the beginning of mental health, sanity, sanctity.
St. Gregory of Nyssa said, "God's Name is not known. It is wondered at."
We know that we don't know why others do what they do. There is an entire universe of reasons why people behave as they do.
Embracing ambiguity requires an attitude adjustment. We need to drop our mental burdens and "cast our burdens on the Lord."