Spiritual vocabulary, spiritual perception

Eskimos really do have over 50 words for snow. In total, there are around 180 words for snow and ice … The reason, of course, is simple. If the information about snow and ice are a matter of survival, human beings develop a vocabulary sufficient to cover their need. They also develop a keen eye for snow and ice. They do not see better or different than anyone else, but they pay attention to certain things that others would ignore.

… [M]odern language is extremely impoverished in its spiritual vocabulary. The culture has been overwhelmed by the ideas and concepts of psychology, pushing aside an entire vocabulary of human experience …

Where words are absent, the ability to perceive is reduced. Language and perception work together. There are many things you cannot see until you are taught to see them. Having words for such things is part of the process of learning to see.

All of this is by way of introduction …

Our culture champions the mind … In point of fact, we have narrowed the focus of our attention and are probably among the least aware human beings to have ever lived.

Our narrowed focus is largely confined to two aspects: the critical faculty and emotions. The critical faculty mostly studies for facts, compares, judges, measures, and so forth … This way of experiencing the world is largely the result of living in a consumerist culture. We not only consume things – we are constantly under a barrage of information geared solely towards consumption. We consume everything … Even religious notions are governed by consumption. We “like” or “don’t like” Church. We find it useful, or of no interest. People are even known to “shop” for Churches.

… The modern struggle to experience God often fails because it is carried out by consumers. God, the true and living God, cannot be consumed, nor can He be known by the tools of consumption. Consumerist Christianity peddles experience and ideas about God. It has little or nothing to do with God Himself.

… By and large, people in our culture are looking for a God who can be experienced by the critical faculty. In short, we want a God whom we can consume. Do I like Him? Do I want Him? Will I give Him my life? Do I choose Him? This is largely accomplished by substituting the idea of God for God Him ….

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, A Noetic Life) There is much more there, including three “spiritual vocabulary” words — so thoroughly missing, and so misleading when translated (because we lack the perception because we lack the word and so on) that Fr. Stephen resorts to the original Greek.

I have been told by atheists more than once that their lack of belief is God’s fault. “If God wants us to believe in him,” they think, “then He should have made things more obvious.” However, God is a good God and does not give us what is damaging to the spiritual life. The kind of knowledge being demanded (objective) is of no use, and would indeed be spiritually harmful if it were given.

Christ said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is not a statement that declares that good people will go to heaven. It is a statement about the nature of spiritual sight and spiritual knowledge: it is directly related to the heart …

The nous is not a substitute for other forms of cognition, but other forms of cognition cannot substitute for the nous. The ascetical practices of the Church are seen as the primary tools for the healing and development of the noetic life. When the disciples asked Christ about their failures in an exorcism, Christ told them, “This kind only comes out with prayer and fasting.” Such practices, together with generosity and kindness, repentance and confession are essential to our life. They are not a “style” of Christianity – they are necessary to the wholeness of the soul.

This noetic training in the traditional practices of the Orthodox faith is the meaning of the “solid food” described in Hebrews:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb 5:12-14)

It is commonplace in Orthodoxy to describe evangelism as “Come and See.” I have had more than a few visitors in my parish who clearly came to “look” at Orthodoxy. However, you cannot “look” at a way of life. Rational arguments, discussions, explanations, personal stories and the like certainly have the power to attract (and sometimes repel). But none of them represent communion with God. At some level, true salvation begins in a noetic experience between the soul and God. And this cannot be forced or managed. It is an intrinsically holy action in whose presence we can only be silent. St. Paisios noted that a person could be converted at the sight of a fox or a bear – the matter belonged, he said, to the “disposition of the soul.”

The life of solid food is often strenuous and people are tempted to substitute easier quicker things ….

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Seeing and Believing – A Noetic Life Part 2)

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.