St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Precepts on the Pathway to Spiritual Life

Abandon all pre-conceived content to the word “God.” God is never a past experience, but always a present reality.

Recognize that “God” is more a verb than a noun, a word used to describe the action of symphonic movement of reality in a personal way.

Acknowledge that all religious discourse or description is ultimately inadequate. Just as you cannot understand a butterfly by killing it and tacking it to a board, so you cannot ultimately understand God by studying about God. Words serve only as guides to the experience of the Divine.

Begin with intellectual assent to the Faith. Seek out the best spiritual doctors of past and present within the faith. Avoid charlatans.

Withdraw into pregnant silence; do not speak, but listen. Above all don’t expect miracles. In fact, don’t expect anything.

Become aware of the ways you justify your hang-ups by incorporating them into a religion. This includes sex, race, fear, and insecurity, among others. Ask that demons be exorcised.

Ignore the external differences by which people separate themselves one from another, such as age, sex, race, creed, or status.

Know that belief and faith are not the same things. Belief is an accumulation of data that gives a static equation of support or credibility in something or someone. Faith is a process of relationship with reality and is thus dynamic and moving.

Realize that any religious experience that separates you from others and leads you to judge them as inferior is false.

Understand that any religious experience that changes you into someone you are not is false. Religious experience changes you on a deeper level to become the person you already are. Transformations move toward the fullness of humanity, not away from it.

Do not get hung up over forms and methods used to seek a contemplative mood. Form is of no importance in relation to content and is, at best, a vehicle. Do not confuse form with content.

Do not worry that those who profess no belief in God use religious techniques for self-help. Many people use meditation forms because they are beneficial to their lives. There are a variety of techniques on the behavioral level that enable people to become freer without considering any content.

Utilize the best of the Tradition. This includes people-resources and spiritual directors. There are people who know how to help you move, though this is uncommon to western mentality and especially to the almost irrational individualism of the American consciousness. Guidance can help you avoid pitfalls and blind alleys.

Do not go it alone. The liturgical life of the church is not a substitute for contemplation and prayer; it is the deepest corporate form of prayer and acts simultaneously as a check and balance for your individual perceptions.

Be careful of artificial inducements lest you be duped into thinking or believing you cannot get to the level of perception they provoke or provide without them. Prayer and meditation are not escapes from life but aids to enter more deeply into its flow, and hence into the flow of one’s own true life.

Avoid false conceptions of prayer, especially those that suggest prayer is telling God about something God doesn’t already know, or begging for things inconsistent with the true growth of the self.

Undue emphasis on survival needs, creature comfort, or material security bar us from the path. Take a look at your real needs; they are different from your wants, most of which are culturally conditioned.

Go beyond appearance to reality. Things are not what they seem. Seeing is only vision when it touches the level of reality, and God is always below the level of social constructions we call “reality.” “All religion is but a looking,” said Simone Weil, and that is what we seek – vision into the nature of reality.

God works within the material realm; there is no “higher level” to move to. There is only depth where once there was superficiality.

published 02 Sept 2011/originally published in Fall 1972 as part of a campus ministry program of pamphlets for students.