“Watchfulness is a spiritual method which, if sedulously practiced over a long period, completely frees us…” St. Hesychius, Watchfulness and Holiness
In recent years, the term “mindfulness” has found its way from meditation centers and academic classrooms to everyday conversation, but because of its supposed origins, new-age observances, or psych counseling, it is often rejected out of hand. Mindfulness is thus guilty by association and as a result, is mostly ignored—or worse, rejected through ignorance. Yet mindfulness can be seen as a modern term for the practice of watchfulness written and preached about in the 5th century by St. Hesychios the Priest.
In his writing, Watchfulness and Holiness, St. Hesychios commends to all Christians a discipline of prayerful focus on Jesus. He writes:
Continuity of attention produces inner stability; inner stability produces a natural intensification of watchfulness; and this intensification gradually and in due measure gives contemplative insight into spiritual warfare. This in its turn is succeeded by persistence in the Jesus Prayer and by the state that Jesus confers in which the intellect, free from all images, enjoys complete quietude (7).
Watchfulness is the practice of being self-aware and dedicating that awareness to God in order to be elevated from the mundane to the spiritual.
The term mindfulness can be defined as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. It is the moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment with openness and curiosity, with the intention of rising to a better state. To achieve this, mindfulness techniques include focused relaxation, meditation, conscious review, a very close mirror to silence, awareness, and prayer.
St. Hesychios writes:
Just as the richness that comes from moving closer to God is evident in the angels, so love and intense longing for God is evident in those who have become angelic and gaze upwards towards the divine. Moreover, because the taste of the divine and the ecstasy of desire make their longing ever more intense and insatiable as they ascend, they do not stop until they reach the Seraphim: nor do they rest from their watchfulness of intellect and the intense longing of their aspiration until they have become angels in Christ Jesus our Lord (201).
Mindfulness, or watchfulness, as a practice for people of faith, draws us closer to God by being aware of the self and offering all aspects of the self back to God.
Joy in Lent
Lent is a season of reflection and repentance—but also of a curious type of joy. In Lent, we reflect upon our sin and brokenness and the fleeting stability and reliability of life. We also practice repentance, which moves us past regret into action; an attempt to be obedient to God in the things which we find ourselves lapsing. This gives Lent a bad reputation: an accusation of being a killjoy season. But that would be a hasty deduction at a great expense to this season’s benefits. There is joy in Lent, but it is the kind of joy that comes in being made whole; the sort of peace that arrives in taking a drowning man and hauling him on the deck of a rescue ship. If Easter were to come to life and be a type of personified joy, we might envision it as a dancer. “There goes Easter, round and round in pure ecstasy, unstoppable and unable to let anything slow it down!”
Lent is a different kind of joy. It’s the joy that comes in serenity: the joy of being rescued and realizing there is another day ahead of you. It’s the joy of holding the hand of a loved one as he or she passes peacefully into the arms of Jesus. Lent is the joy of insight or understanding; the joy which accompanies self-reflection and awareness: wisdom’s precious advent. Lent isn’t bombastic; it’s a time when mysteries stabilize into greater faith; a season where the crooked lines ever so gradually connect into symmetry. In Lent, joy isn’t decorated in celebration but with confidence and expectant sobriety.
Lent is the time offered for us to experience and achieve self-reflection and repentance. We don’t realize this simply by the tearing of our garments, we rend our hearts so that God Himself can fill them up and make them anew in the Good News of Jesus Christ. The curious joy of Lent is that for those who live awaiting God’s consummation of all things, there is a Man who walks beside us in the here and now. This Man invites us to cry the tears we dam up behind pretexts and platitudes. The joy of Lent is not a dance; it’s the peace of rescue, the application of Good News, God’s presence in suffering.
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Father Bill Burk†