A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to be a counselor at our Church youth camp. I ended up being the counselor for the oldest group of girls and there were only four of them. They were 14-16 years old! They were gems!
This year’s camp theme was based on Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
The older teens have a different teaching from those younger. We have a small enough church camp that it encompasses 7 years old all the way through 17 but we all know it is near impossible to teach that range. So, we have a separate teaching for the oldest group.
This counselor was so grateful to be in this group because I gleaned so much amazing information from our teacher, Fr. Daniel Lattier. His talks were rich, powerful, and very practical. Maybe I learned so much because he was speaking to a younger crowd and I am very much a young, young Christian with a lot to learn. During cabin talk time after each lesson, my girls would always say, “wow! I learned so much!” and “He’s so smart!”. I loved being with this age group and I loved to learn from Fr. Daniel.
Ultimately, what I learned was that our true aim in life is to learn to stay focused on Christ. That without that focus we are scattered, chaotic, and broken.
Scattered, chaotic and broken is how I have been feeling lately.
What that says to me, is that I need to find my focus in Christ before I can find the peace that I so desperately seek!
What does it mean to have God rule in our hearts? And how do we get there? Those were the questions that Fr. Daniel helped answer for these teenagers…and me. What I share with you now is what I took notes about and am hoping to put it here to share but also as a reminder to myself.
God created us to dwell with Him but sin gets in the way. Sin (distractions) draws us away from God, separating us and taking our focus from our hearts (where He dwells if we let him). We are called to grow in the image & likeness of God, and to draw our focus back into our hearts to dwell in paradise with God. (John 17:21… “for the kingdom of God is within you.”)
God has given us two powers to use to help us journey back to paradise, back into focus on Him in our hearts.
- The nous, which is the eye of our soul. Fr. Daniel tells us that if the nous is working correctly, it has only one job to do, to keep our focus on God. Constant remembrance of Him. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6)
- The logos. The logos interprets what the nous sees.
If these two powers are working correctly we are completely focused on God. But sin clouds the nous drawing us away from God and the logos cannot interpret things correctly. Tradition of the Church fathers is that the serpent was outside the garden of Eden, the Kingdom of God, paradise, and he drew Adam & Eve outside as well. In so doing we made ourselves dependent on the earth, which is outside of the kingdom. Before sin we were whole, but sin scattered us & divided us from God. Our nous is clouded, and we are easily distracted by a thousand things the world has for us.
In the beginning God put Adam & Eve into the Garden of Eden to “tend & keep” (Genesis 2:15). But when they sinned and were expelled from the paradise, they were instructed to “tend & keep” by the sweat of their brow. Through toil and pain and weeds, we now must tend our gardens. Our hearts. We now have passions to weed out of our gardens. When our passions are stirred up, our lives are chaotic and out of control and our focus is no longer on Christ.
Our aim in life is to fix this brokenness, to weed our gardens in order to bring our focus back on Christ.
Fr. Daniel gave the teens (and me!) some practical steps in order to “tend & keep” our hearts, to keep our focus on God. “We need to have positive things to help increase our desire for God.” What are these positive things, what practical things can you do to help you increase your desire for God?
- Sacraments! Especially Liturgy/Eucharist. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. We need to give thanks on the altar of our hearts daily.
- Prayer rule. Our faithfulness daily to this rule will attract the attention of God to our hearts. Check out this prayer rule he shared! I love it so much! And St. Seraphim prayed it…my mentor!
- Spiritual reading daily. Because we need constant reminders!!! (Where have I heard this before…said this before? Yes, I know I need constant reminders!!! Fr. Daniel just revived my intentions.)
Lastly, Fr. Daniel shared with us three things that Mark the Ascetic (Philokalia Vol. 1 on Ascetism) says we need to overcome:
- Ignorance of God
- Forgetfulness of God
- Idleness (which is grasping at rest before death)
So much of this was new perspective to me. Some just a revitalization of what I already knew (we need constant reminders!). But it all was truly an inspiration! And boy!, do I have a long, long way to go. I am however, filled with hope! God is truly miraculous and beautiful and an ever-present help.
May you be as inspired by Fr. Daniel’s talk as I was. My notes, I’m sure our lacking immensely but may God bring to you what is needed for you!
Now go “tend & keep” the garden of your heart and have a blessed day!