In this series of posts I have been exploring the idea of morality within the Christian tradition. In the first post I quickly discussed basic morality and how it progresses into altruism. In the second post I explained how morality is not the end goal of the Christian life but the fruit of that life. I pointed out how sacrificial love is altruism par excellence and mentioned it may not be completely selfless if we are still hoping for an eternal reward. Our goal as Christians is to realign our will with the will of God and it is only then where altruism is actual and complete, but there seems to be a disconnect between morality “because God said so” and the selflessness made possible through oneness with our creator.
Like every journey, the journey of the Christian life must have a beginning. If our only goal is to simply “make it” into heaven like the robber crucified next to Christ, we will have missed out on the many promises offered to us. Don’t get me wrong, part of the power and glory of Christ is His willingness to accept even the condemned sinner hung next to Him, but we are presented with so much more than this minimalist salvation. As we progress through our life of faith, we first go through a period of purification, or what the Church fathers referred to as katharsis.
One of the most well-known teachings of Jesus was the Parable of the Sower. In this story, Jesus likens our reception of His teachings to a farmer planting seeds in a garden. Some seeds fall on fertile soil and grow into healthy fruit. The rest of the seeds fall among thorns, rocks, or are eaten by birds. Anyone who has ever tended a garden knows that seeds do not just grow easily in fertile soil; there is much labor required to bring soil to the proper conditions needed for healthy crops. The purification of our spiritual lives is the tending of the soil in this parable. It is only by pulling out the rocks and thistles, and chasing away the birds, that our lives can produce the fruit of Salvation.
Just as it is in gardening, creating a receptive and pure spirit is by far the most difficult and painful process in the growing process and it is where we spend most of our lives. The purification of our spirit is called a katharsis because we empty ourselves of everything that has become an obstacle to our union with God. In the words of Yoda, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” We empty ourselves of all the cares and desires (what we call passions) which only serve to redirect our minds from the One who gives us life. The passions include greed, gluttony, lust, anger, fear, and envy; they will never be satisfied and as a result draw us further and further from our divinely created nature. The purification of our spiritual, and physical, body and mind (what we call the heart) is recognizing these passions as “not God” and continuously casting them aside; just as the diligent gardener must continually pull out the weeds and chase away the birds. It is only through learning to recognize what God is not, that we can move closer to what God is.
The purification stage in our life of salvation is the most difficult and painful experience we go through because we are learning that we do not know what we thought we knew. Here is our perfect exercise of faith in that we act simply “because God said so”. This is a tribulation because we desire to feed our insatiable appetites and fear letting go of our autonomous self. Though as we are purified, through prayer, fasting, and repentance, our spirit begins to become illumined to the reality that we are bound by our passions and will never fully realize divine freedom until our will becomes one with the will God.
“What then will I do when the Lord brings me to trial and visits me? How shall I answer Him?” Job 31:14