General Spirituality

The Ascetic Heart – Part 2

How captive are we, we fallen children, to the pleasures and passions that rule our lives. How we treasure the chains which imprison us, bestowing upon them garlands and wreathes, adorning them as friends. We sit bound by our desires, a lamentable state, yet we rejoice, for our eyes are shut fast; and as in a dream we see our confinement as freedom, our chains as wings.

The ascetic heart knows the darkness of this cell that is our fallen state, the chill of the stone walls that barricade us as if in tombs while yet we walk alive. And this heart knows, too, the cunning poison that is our joy, when founded in these walls—a poison sweet as honey, that dries the blood even as it tickles the tongue.

The ascetic heart knows the deep reality of bondage, of the lament of all creation when a human person is bound to death, and recognizes the truth of the chains that bind him. Yet for the ascetic, the chains lose their appeal, their draw—for he knows that only the yoke offered by Christ can lead upward, inward, forward to Life.

One might feel pity, when seeing the ascetic, for he whose heart is borne aloft to God is the very man whose tears flow more freely than most, who weeps in time of rejoicing and sorrows at the festivals of the day. Yet how absent from the need for pity is the man who knows the sorrow of the world, for it is only he who knows its joy! Only when the illusion of ‘life’ is seen for all its empty reality, can the space within one’s vision that so long it occupied be filled—at long last—with the vision of Truth.

The sorrow of the ascetic is not a hopeless sadness, but a hope-filled lament for all that is distant from God. It is the heart weeping for its loss, even in the same breath that it receives its gain, just as the father wept for his prodigal son even as the latter rushed with longing into his father’s arms. The tears wept in this divine sorrow are tears of purification, the divine waters of baptismal grace welling up anew from the depths of the heart, purifying flesh and soul as they ascend upward and outward, finally to fall to the waiting earth.

It is in sorrow that the ascetic heart finds the doorway to joy. A heart petrified so long by the dry passions and fleeting winds of worldly desires becomes hardened, parched, incapable of change or growth. It is this parched earth that the ascetic waters with her tears, pained at her heart’s barrenness, but stirred with profoundest joy at the knowledge that each drop of water transforms the very earth itself.

As sorrow gives rise to tears, so is the hardened heart softened. As the heart is softened, holiness is born. As holiness is born, so divine transformation occurs. And where God transforms life, there all joy and hope, love and peace are found. Thus does the ascetic sorrow, for in sorrow is the door to life.

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