There is an excellent Orthodox book out on spirituality entitled “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.” This is indeed true. But I wanted to stress another point: our habits determine our lives. There is a strong emphasis in America today on healthy bodily habits such as eating healthy food or the importance of regular exercise. These are indeed very important – but what about healthy habits for the soul? The soul is eternal and ultimately much more important than the body! Our Lord Jesus asked “What does it profit a person if he gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” You can have the perfect body – of an Olympic athlete, be a millionaire, etc. but if your soul is dead – you are dead! So what spiritual habits are we talking about?
It is not my intent to go through a list of spiritual habits. Rather I would like to focus on the most important. But first I would like to point out the somewhat obvious point “You need God”. You need him like you need air! Constantly! Without him, we are dead while yet living. In the words of the Akathist Glory to God for All Things: “ How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on You; how life-giving Your holy Word. To speak with You is more soothing than anointing with oil; sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to You lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where You are not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, become sorrowful; where You are, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!” St. Augustine wrote; “You have formed us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” And our Lord Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
You need God, and you need Church. Why do you need Church? Very simply because the Church is the place where God is. Truly God is everywhere – but the Church is the place of his presence par excellence. God is often present in Church in a palpable way, in a way he is not in other places. So if you want to fill your need of God, the best place to go for this is the Church. In the Church we come in out of the storm, out of the rat-race, into the eternal presence of God. Our lives are often so out of control, so busy, so filled with anxiety - that church may be the only place where we can truly quiet our souls and rest in God. Yet for many of us, our habits cut us off from God and his blessings for us. The devil is very happy with this state of affairs. Rather than discuss our negative habits, I want to focus on positive habits that we can cultivate, which will eliminate some of our bad habits. For the best remedy for a bad habit, is to form an equivalent good habit! Next week I will continue with Part 2 – concerning the single most important spiritual discipline.