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The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it
Friday Book Pick: The Spiritual Life: And How to be Attuned to It
by St. Theophan the Recluse
With a greater demand for good spiritual directors than supply, various spiritual support alternatives might be attractive to those of you who don’t have a personal spiritual director. One such support is good spiritual reading, and today’s book pick is an optimal choice. The Spiritual Life: And How to be Attuned to It is a book authored by a spiritual director. He is also a Saint, and better still, the content of the book is letters of spiritual direction.
We have a young woman from Moscow to thank for this masterful book. She was plagued by the bigger questions of life—immortality and her ultimate purpose—and decided to write a letter with her questions to Father Theophan the Recluse. Thankfully Fr. Theophan (1815-1894), now Saint Theophan, took the time to respond to this young woman’s letter, and thus began a lengthy exchange of missives. Through the letter writing of her saintly director, this young woman was greatly helped in her quest for deeper prayer and a more authentic life. Eighty of St. Theophans’ letters to this young correspondent, who later became a nun in the Russian Orthodox tradition, have been compiled and published as The Spiritual Life: And How to be Attuned to It.
This is a book to get you on the right footing in your prayer life. St. Theophan insists on the necessity of prayer coming from the heart, and he also emphasizes the value of memorizing psalms and other prayers. He is a monk living an eremitical life—he is called “the Recluse” after all; and yet, he seems to understand perfectly the struggles his pupil faces out in the world. This master of the spiritual life is not peddling methods and techniques, rather he is warning that without struggle, there will not be growth. A person has to want it. Just like anything worth having, it has to be worked for. It remains true that ultimately our “spiritual life is an accumulation of gifts extended to us from the hand of God,” to quote another great master of the spiritual life, Fr. Don Haggerty, but that doesn’t negate the necessity of being prepared to receive those gifts that are lovingly extended to us from the hand of God. Discipline is the preparation, it is the plow that makes the field ready to receive the seed—and the harvest.
The Spiritual Life: And How to be Attuned to It is not a book to be ploughed through and set aside, rather this is one to ingest slowly and systematically, one to keep and return to. Its 80 chapters cover topics such as: Emptiness, Spiritual Slavery, The Supremacy of the Spiritual Life, Inner Concentration, Unceasing Remembrance of God, Various Causes for Spiritual Cooling, Inner Peace, Guiding Hearing and Sight, and Depression and Fear—just to piqué your interest.
You may not have a spiritual director and perhaps you don’t need one. While you consider that possibility, also consider these recommendations:
Go to daily Mass and prepare for Mass by praying the Rosary. If you cannot go to daily Mass, try to pray with the daily readings 15 minutes each day.
Additionally, take a prayer time every day that includes silent time to listen. Work at it. Take control of your unruly thoughts, and pray from the heart.
Go to Confession every month.
Do 15 minutes of spiritual reading every day.
Join some kind of Catholic group for mutual support (a prayer group or a service group).
On point 4, spiritual reading that is done in a truly ponderous and recollected manner can lead to prayer, and prayer leads to intimacy with God, and intimacy with God leads to His will being done on earth as it is heaven—something to consider. St. Theophan the Recluse – pray for us!