Sunday, May 10, 2009

Harmful Love


WHEN WE LOVE SOMEONE our instinct is to correct them when they're wrong, which is good -- in a way.

In today's reading from the Coptic Lectionary, we are struck by how gently our Lord brought the Samaritan woman from Clueless to Evangelist.

The Fathers give us some solid advice on building others up.

St. Gregory Palamas writes,
If you wish to correct anyone from his faults, do not think of correcting him solely by your own means: you would only do harm by your own passions, for instance, by pride and by the irritability arising from it; "but cast thy burden upon the Lord,' (Ps. 55:22) and pray to God 'Who trieth the hearts and reins," (Ps. 7:9) with all your heart, that He Himself may enlighten the mind and heart of that man(1)

When I love someone, my instinct is to jump down his/her throat, to "be real," and "tell it like it is," to really "give it to him." As Americans our instinct is to dive right in and solve the problem. This is why the phrases like "grab the bull by the horns," for example, are so proudly used.

But St. Gregory warns that the "passions" cooking inside us will make things worse. Passions, according to the Fathers, are the not-so-good things stirring inside us (e.g. pride, lust, and anger). He advises that we take a moment and pray for the person (and ourself) deeply, before "taking action."

St. John Climacus adds that, once we have received this grace from God, to proceed carefully:
If you want...to take a splinter out of another person, then do not hack at it with a stick instead of a lancet, for you will only drive it in deeper.
And this is a stick: rude speech and rough gestures.
And this is a lancet: tempered instruction and patient reprimand(2)

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(1)On Prayer and Purity of Heart, Par. 3,The Philokalia, Volume 4: The Complete Text
(2)The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 8, On Freedom From Anger

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