Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: A Review

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer:  A Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality
(DVD) 114 minute documentary, narrated by Norris Chumley and Rev. Dr. John A. McGuckin. 
 Language: English  1 Disc.  Released May 2011.

Because I’ve made several blog posts about meditation, I wanted to end this series with a review of “The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”(DVD) because it provides an insightful perspective on silence & prayer, thus aiding meditation.
This documentary is not just for those Christians seeking to understand the Jesus Prayer:  “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  It is for anyone who wants to learn more about Christian church history and the beginning of monasticism.  “Why do monastics remove themselves from the “world”?  “Why do they value silence so much?” These questions and more are beautifully addressed by modern day monastics in the Middle East, Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and Russia.
Norris Chumley and Rev. Dr. McGuckin have created a superb work in bringing the heart of Christian spirituality from the Ancient Faith into a format for our homes and churches.  It’s a moving work, in that the audience gets to hear, first hand, from those who have devoted much of their life to prayer and contemplation.  Those who are mastering their passions and experience internal peace;  something the West craves.  This documentary provides a goldmine for people who love Christ and seek a deeper connection to Him through prayer and stillness.
I enjoyed the rhythm of this film, too.  It provides a pace that makes you slow down, take notice of the visuals, the sounds... the blessed silence within communal living.  And I loved the accompanying soundtrack, which included music and sounds of nature from each locale.  Rich Devletian did an outstanding job in creating a harmony that lends depth and texture to support the documentary. 
The cinematography is very good and English captions are provided during some interviews where either the voices are hard to decipher or they are speaking a foreign language.   I watched the film one evening with my son and then the following day reviewed some scenes that I wanted to absorb deeply.  One of those was from the first monastery visited, in Egypt.  
The monk speaking to the narrators talks about external peace vs. internal peace.  About how the first is easier to find, but isn’t lasting... the second, internal peace, is much more difficult to acquire, but much longer lasting.  He said, [paraphrase] ‘in this way, when you acquire inner peace, you can be in the heart of Manhattan and have absolute peace.’  His words resonated with me.  They were words I needed to hear.
This is a film for young people as well as adults. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is a documentary for classrooms around the world.  Christian history is world history, too, and affects people of all race, color and creed. Discretion may be advised for very young children, as themes of death and burial are discussed.   
A friend loaned this DVD to me, but now I’ll be purchasing a copy of my own to watch again and again...and pass on! 

Watch the trailer here: 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives

The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica:  A book review.  
Soft-cover, 212 pages, including maps and black & white photos. Published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2011
I bought this gem from our friends at Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV, the title catching my attention.   Are my thoughts really that powerful to determine the course of my life?  Surely some are more potent than others?  Who is Elder Thaddeus?
Hooked, I picked up the book to read the back cover and saw this quote:
  “We must bear everything patiently and forgive all.  If we have good thoughts and desires, these thoughts will give us peace and joy in this life and even more so in eternity.  Then we will see that there is no death, that the Lord has vanquished death, and that He has given us eternal life.”  -Elder Thaddeus
I learned that Elder Thaddues was a very respected spiritual mentor and monastic, living in Serbia during the 20th century.   He lived during a time that brought many trials to his life, including imprisonment by the Nazi occupation of Serbia.  Being born in 1914, he witnessed two World Wars and the 1999 NATO bombings.  Remarkably, by the grace of God, Elder Thaddeus remained a pillar of peace, love & hope to his fellow countrymen.  Over the years, many people made a pilgrimage to speak with the Elder, seeking his wise counsel and prayers. 
He passed onto heaven in 2002, but thankfully, his teachings on the spiritual life in Christ have been preserved in this book, compiled by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood;  translated by Ana Smiljanic.
The book is divided into two parts: The Life of Elder Thaddeus and the lengthier second part, The Teachings of Elder Thaddeus.
I have discovered this work to be fascinating in it’s simplicity and profundity.  Isn’t it often true that when we discover a “new” concept, we often remark, “Of course!  Why didn’t I see it before?”  The prince of this world, however, is King of distraction and making our paths crooked.  Praise God, through the work and living witness of his saints, those paths are made straight.  Elder Thaddeus has given to me, through his teachings, a greater awareness and goal.  That goal is to master my thoughts and to realize how they affect my actions.

Photo by Goran Veljkovic
For example, in one account from his life, he was speaking with a woman who came to him in order to ask why her neighbor hated her so much and treated her badly.  She claimed she had done nothing wrong, but this neighbor was always giving her grief.  Elder Thaddeus then asked her, “Why are you always quarreling with your neighbor?”  And the woman replied that she had not so much as uttered a word to her evil neighbor.  But the Elder insisted that she was waging war with her neighbor because she was always thinking about her and anxious about her next move.  He instructed her to turn her thoughts to prayer for this neighbor and the issue would end in peace. (pg. 70)
Reading this account was a light-bulb moment for me.  How many times have I “waged war” with someone, including my loved ones (!) in my mind?  How much negative energy have I generated because of a perceived wrong?  Even more, how often do I  approach an issue with a negative mindset?   Why do I expect good results in resolving a conflict if I cannot even master my cynical thoughts about this person?
If you’ve read much on my blog, you’ll know that one of my many sins is having a quick temper;  a short fuse.  It’s a sin because it can cause me to act with haste which leads me to regret my words and actions.  I’m at a point in my life where I’m seeking peace, not just externally, but internally.  It’s a battle for me to keep the doors closed when anger wants to barge through... but at least I have a goal that keeps me moving in the right direction.
I know what I want.  I want to be a wellspring of peace and joy, most especially to my household.  I know that I enjoy being in the company of peaceful, wise souls.  By the grace of God, maybe He will help me to be that sort of person to others someday.   Elder Thaddeus said, “A spring of clean water attracts the unclean and the thirsty, who hasten to bathe themselves in it and drink from it.”   This is food that nourishes my soul;  if I desire to share the love of Christ, it is in becoming a woman of peace that so touches and ministers to another.  
Elder Thaddeus’ teachings have given me a greater awareness of how my thoughts dictate actions, for good or ill.  And how God will aid us when we have a desire to control our thoughts and be victorious in that battle of the mind.
Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives is a book I recommend for anyone aged 14 years and beyond.  It’s pure spiritual nourishment : )

To God be the glory for all things †

Related Posts with Thumbnails