Finding the Place of the Heart Through Praxis and Theoria
Some years ago, there was an interesting study that measured how helpful were individuals in various groups by using a psychometric test known as the Social Interest Scale with potential values ranging from 0 to 15. The mean scores hint at an underlying relationship between a stance towards God, a stance towards others, a stance towards self, and finally actual behavior in the world. The highest scores were found among nuns (13.3), adult church members (11.2), and charity volunteers (10.8). The lowest scores were made up of professional models (7.1), adult atheists and agnostics (6.7), and convicted felons (6.4) [Crandal, J. (1981). Theory and measurement of social interest: Empirical tests of Alfred Adler’s concept]. We can describe the members of these groups in a number of ways. One Christian parsing would group them as those who strive to fulfill Christ’s commandments, those who are preoccupied with their image, those who reject God, and those who reject Christ’s commandments. The closeness of the scores for felons and atheists is particularly striking (.3), as is the distance of the nuns from the next closest group (2.1). What is clear is that what one believes and how one behaves support each other in the best and worst of cases. The fathers were well aware of this connection and described it in terms of theoria and praxis. This connection is also important for learning to pray from the heart.
Prayer is about theoria, which at its root means a way of seeing. But it is also intimately related to praxis, which at its root means a kind of doing. Many who admittedly pray with their minds nevertheless desire to pray with their hearts and from the hearts. And although there is much patristic counsel on how to pray with a humble and contrite heart, we need to realize from the onset that we cannot hope to pray with the heart in Church and at times of prayer alone, if we live outside of the heart during the rest of our daily activities. We cannot hope to keep our attention riveted to the face of God when we pray, if we do not keep our aims attuned to the will of God when we act. To live in the heart, we need to genuinely care for and love others, not for what they can do for us or give us back in return, but for no other reason than that it is good to love and care even as our Lord loved and cared for every soul. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, being there for the lonely, and visiting those who others cast aside or punish—all help us to think about others with the immediacy with which we experience life’s basic needs. To think about others and to act on those compassionate thoughts softens our hearts not only at that time, but also for those times in which we turn towards God in prayer. In other words, each of these actions that the Lord declares will separate the sheep from the goats, done whole-heartedly and unselfishly, in turn helps us to find our heart. That place in which we genuinely love our brother and our sister is the same place in which we are to love God by prayer. If we find that we do not pray from the heart when alone or in Church, it may be good to ask ourselves if we love from the heart outside of Church. If we have trouble attending to God in prayer, we might want to ask ourselves if we really attend and listen to our brothers and sisters when they speak to us, or are we just thinking about what we will say next. If in this area, we are found wanting, let us take heart for the time of repentance is at hand. Let us make that godly effort to love our neighbor and to attend to our neighbor with whomever is closest at hand.
—Hieromonk Alexios Karakallinos