God, grant me the wisdom...
During Lent, a gift to seek is greater serenity. The word comes from the Latin serenus, meaning clear or unclouded (skies). By extension it thus means calm, without storm.
Serenity has become more used in modern times with the advent of many 12-Step programs, which use the Serenity Prayer as an important help to their work.
Perhaps the closest Greek word to serenity is γαλήνη(galene=calm) and it is used most specifically to describe the incident when Jesus stood in the boat and rebuked the storm, bringing about a great calm, a serenity (cf Matt 8:26). In this sense we can see how true serenity must come as a gift from God. For the storms of life can overwhelm and overpower us. So we need to seek serenity from God and receive it from Him.
My own personal experience with serenity is that it is a calm, confident, peaceful joy; a feeling that everything is all right, that everything is in God’s hands. It is a feeling that I know what is mine to do and what belongs to God.
I would like to examine four sayings that are related to serenity. I’m not exactly sure where I first got them, but I recently discovered them in a collection of old clippings I have from years ago. These sayings describe serenity itself (often without using the word) as well as its sources. Let’s look at them one by one (with a little commentary by yours truly). The sayings take the form of the stories of the desert Fathers but I am quite sure that they are actually modern reflections put into the older form.
1. The disciples ask the master, “Are there ways for gauging one’s spiritual strength?” “Many,” said the master. “Give us one,” beseeched the disciples. And the master responded, “Find out how often you become disturbed in the course of a single day.”
The normal Christian life is to be increasingly free from anger, anxiety, and disturbance. This results from the increasing trust that faith begets. The closer our walk with God and the more we experience His love for us, the more inconsequential to us is the hatred of the world, the insensitivity of others. We are increasingly untroubled when we are not praised or promoted because more and more, God’s love is enough for us, we experience it as real. We are less obsessed with what others think of us. Our fears give way to a powerful experience of God’s loving providence and His capacity to make a way out of no way.
Anger and inner turmoil abates as we leave vengeance to God and are less prone to anger in the first place. This is because most anger is rooted in fear, and as fear gives way to trust, the cause of much of our anger is gone. Gratitude for the graces we have received makes jealousy and envy less possible. Disturbances diminish overall.
Yes, serenity is a true indicator of spiritual progress. The increasing lack of disturbances in our day is a sign of God’s work in our soul. Here is a gift to be sought.
2. Sometimes there would be a rush of noisy visitors and the silence of the monastery would be shattered. This would upset the disciples; not the Master, who seemed just as content with the noise as with the silence. To his protesting disciples he said one day, “Silence is not the absence of sound, but the absence of self.”
It often happens that even when we pray in physical silence, our minds are still filled with many concerns. The deepest prayer is to be caught up in God, to be gifted with contemplative silence. This silence is within and cannot easily be disrupted by the physical noises of the world. It is a deep, inner, spiritual serenity that envelops the soul. It is a peace that the world did not give and thus cannot take away. Here, too, is a gift to seek from God: deep, inner serenity. It is a silence focused on God and absent from ourselves and our egocentric concerns.