Take thought of your thoughts

Warning: this is a religious post. You Have Been Warned.

For some of us, we are deep into Lent. Orthobros, you’ve not even started.

Lent, or the Great Fast, is a time to get rid of what you don’t really need, to turn towards God, to cleanse your pantry and your heart. I do it every year even though I keep not doing it right. Today I came across a bit from St. Theophan the Recluse:

“Pride goes before destruction, and folly before a fall.” Therefore, do not allow evil thoughts to come in, and there will be no falls. And yet, what are people most careless about? About their thoughts. They allow them to seethe as much and however they like, not even thinking to subdue them or to direct them to rational pursuits.

It’s your thoughts that are the problem. There is a meme on X about people not having internal monologues. Perhaps there are such people. Dear reader, I bet you do have such a monologue, a running series of thoughts that go this way and that, and often lead you into resentment, spite, lust, or other sins. Maybe you aren’t ready to think in terms of sin. Ok, but your thoughts still lead you into trouble. What do?

The fathers of the Christian Church came up with a way to deal with this, building on St. Paul’s advice to pray without ceasing. You take your inner monologue and make it be prayerful, a continual conversation with God. There is a tradition of monologic prayer which involves finding a phrase and, whenever you think of it, praying that phrase. It can be even timed with one’s breathing, so that rather than running around thinking about how dumb the president is, or how beautiful that girl is and wouldn’t you really like a piece, or how you can’t stand those people at work and someday you’d really like to get even, you just think “Lord Jesus” or even the fuller form “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” Rinse, repeat.

The immediate point of this sort of prayer is a custodial practice on the soul, on the nous, so that it doesn’t go off into random or bad directions. Think about it: your mind is the source of your actions for good or for ill. Shouldn’t you take care what your mind does?

There’s a classic of the Russian spiritual tradition called The Way of the Pilgrim which gives an introduction, should you want to read more.