Letters to Jesus (Unhelpful Mindsets and Attitudes) -8
St. John Climacus has said that whenever we grow warm with good feelings about our spiritual progress - that is the work of the demons. While I don’t think he’s saying we shouldn’t be pleased with what progress we perceive ourselves to be making, I do think he’s speaking against complacency and self-satisfaction in the spiritual life. The quest is constant. When one small goal is reached, another perpetually takes its place. Life is this kind of quest. The full attainment of what we seek in this life is outside our grasp, yet we are compelled in moving toward it.
It is the work of the enemy to settle us into the conviction that we’ve done everything we can. This is what St. John Climacus is talking about. In no way is a sense of completion in this quest conducive to a spirit of reaching higher. I see the signs of such self-satisfaction in my own journey when I catch myself in spiritual ruts that have grown comfortable. I need to revise and refresh the vocal prayers with which I begin and end each day so they don’t become thoughtless mantras without which I would not be able to start my day in the morning or fall asleep at night.
Unless I have spread wide the gates of my attentiveness to what is transpiring before me in the Mass’s “liturgy of the word,” and then the “liturgy of the Eucharist,” I rest in the complacency of just “attending” Mass.
In many ways the greatest pragmatic source of spiritual satisfaction that I experience comes from spiritual reading and from writing these letters. I think the reason for this is because the thrust of both is toward a moving on in the quest – a moving forward. But there can also be a demonic satisfaction in this when I credit myself for insights gained.
To understand and come to grips with the demons of self-satisfaction and complacency we need to consistently examine how life and its circumstances comes between the reality of ourselves and what we want to be. Very often the events of life are not under our control and, especially in regards to those that are unpleasant, we devise strategies, games, and postures that will give us the best feeling and the most comfort in a bad situation. We often do this with a sense of survival and a lack of concern for others. Habituation of such practices is what shores up complacency and self-satisfaction. We cannot climb the ladder by stepping on the hands of others and casting them off as they make the same ascent. Within ourselves we can never feel good about this. It is our unavoidable feelings and emotions that our demons play upon most. The stoicism that might seem so necessary to combat them has the side-effect of becoming a barrier to compassion. You grace is our hope and Your compassion is a grace