The Anchor of the Soul: Hope and Abiding in God

In St. John’s gospel, Jesus repeats and emphasises that He must abide in us, and we in Him. In John 15, He leads us deep into this mystery of abiding in Him as branches on a vine, so that we may bring forth fruit—that is, love—and that we may be filled with joy. I encourage you to read this chapter (which is part of the great discourse of chapters 13-17), but here I want to contemplate the word ‘abide’ to give us a better understanding of one of the main themes of St. John’s gospel. 

Further up, and further in!

In Greek (the original language of the New Testament writings), the word used in John 6:56 and 15:4 means to stay in a given place, state, relation, or expectancy. It means to abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, or tarry for something. In the KJV and RSV, this is translated as ‘abide’, which I find especially beautiful. ‘Abide’ comes from Old English, from ā, ‘onward’, and bīdan, ‘remain’. So to abide in Christ is to ‘onward remain’. This wonderfully captures the paradox of the Christian spiritual life, for we are running a race, heading towards the great goal of Heaven: perfection, excellence, divinisation—being like God. We strive to form lives well-lived, moulded by virtue, guided by wisdom, ever increasing in love. Jesus commands us to hate our lives, to store up treasure in Heaven so that there our heart will be also. Hence we must be a people of hope, ever looking unto Heaven. And Heaven, which is union with God, is the true home of the Christian. So our ‘abode’, our home, is in Jesus Christ. 

‘If only we would permit ourselves not to see the present, but to gaze steadfastly with hope at things a little more distant!’

St. Basil 

Yet this hope keeps us steadfast, so that we remain in His love: ‘hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.’ (Hebrews 6:19-20) As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical Spe Salvi (which I recommend as an excellent and short read on what Christian hope is), our hope is not just a future thing we look forward to. The hope of Heaven, of union with God and infinite happiness, is already made present in us today. The reliable promise of God is transformative. ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2) Our new life has already begun. Heaven is not an escape, but the fulfillment of goodness, beauty, and truth as reality. C. S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce that the Blessed in Heaven will find that they had ‘never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost who chose Hell and damnation will say, ‘We were always in Hell.’ For Hell is isolation from reality, from others, from one’s true self; but ‘[h]eaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains.’ So if, in this life, we ‘onward abide’ in God’s love by seeking to know Him and striving after virtue, we become more perfectly transformed into who we are meant to be. We become more perfectly filled in every aspect with His love. 

How a man spends his time, he spends his life

We run this course toward friendship with God and with others, for these are the two greatest commandments: Love God, and love others. ‘If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’ (John 15:10-11) To do this we need hope, because hope anchors us. An anchor keeps a ship from drifting with the to and fro of the sea and bustle and tussle of the wind. How much do we experience this today? How many things grab at our attention, push us down, stomp on us when we’re down, and seek to discourage, worry, amuse, distract, or pull us apart in multiple directions in the form of a job, school, homework, taxes, chores, relationships, TV, social media, Netflix, the news, sports—and on goes the list till we feel like we are divided into a dozen parts, or else ‘stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.’ The key is interior stillness, which is to abide in God who is most present in the depths of our souls. And we do this through prayer. 

This is why daily meditation, reading Scripture, and praying the Rosary ought to be written into our daily routine. Through daily meditation, we take time to stop, sit in silence, and spend time with God. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote, ‘Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.’ God has given us the Bible as the story of His love for man. It is, simply, the greatest love letter ever written. If we want to know God—which is what eternal life is (John 17:3)—then we need to know what He has said to us. ‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.’ (John 15:7-9) 

And if we want to know Jesus, we need the help of the Holy Spirit, for ‘no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.’ (1 Corinthians 2:11) And the Holy Spirit works through Mary: Through Her He conceived Jesus, brought Jesus into the world, introduced Jesus to the gentiles (the Magi) and to all of us in need (the shepherds), and gave Jesus to those who wanted and expected Him (Simeon and Anna). In John chapter 2, it is Mary’s prayer to Jesus that begins His public ministry, at which point ‘His disciples believed in Him.’ And when Jesus was on the Cross, He gave John to be Mary’s son, and Her to be John’s mother; at which point, in the original Greek, John took Her into his own self—into all that comprised himself, his ‘idia’. He took Her into his physical home, his interior life, and his soul. John wrote that this was not for him alone, for in Revelation 12 he wrote that the Mother of the Son was also mother ‘of all who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.’ So if we want to know Jesus, abide and continue in friendship with Him, the best way is through His Mother, our Mother. And so Mary gave us the Rosary, which is the school of Mary. When Mary taught the Rosary to St. Dominic over 800 years ago, She instructed him to preach a point before each decade of the Rosary. The Rosary’s purpose is not rote prayer, but meditation, contemplating Jesus’ life, knowing God. She who raised Him as a child in Nazareth leads us to know him, and makes us more like Jesus. We can pray the Rosary with Scripture, the writings of the saints, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or any good writing pertaining to God. Another resource I’ve benefited from is Dr. Mike Scherschligt’s daily Rosary podcast. Each recording is about 25 minutes long, with an excellent meditation before each decade. 

‘Courage, dear heart.’~ Aslan

I want to close with an analogy of the stillness our soul can experience through trust in God. Imagine a helmsman on a ship, standing firm on deck in the midst of a storm. It is all he can do to remain upright, hands grasping the helm, which threatens to spin out of control. Wind beats at his ears, the spray of sea blinds his eyes, and he is hardly aware of where he’s going. Yet he stands firm, and does not doubt that the ship will hold against the great waves. And he is not alone, for there are oarsmen to help, and a captain to give him commands. He knows that the storm is temporary, that in the end he will arrive at his destination. And when the seas die down, and the sun breaks through the clouds, he will find the shores of his homeland is sight. Indeed, he may even find that the wind moved the ship faster toward its destination. In each of our lives, we have the Holy Spirit (which is also ‘wind’ in Greek) for our guide, Jesus for our captain, and the angels and saints of Heaven and earth to help us on our way to the Fatherland. In a way, each of us is a helmsman, capable of steering our lives, and it’s our choice whether to keep our hands on the helm or to abandon it for other concerns—wherefore the seas—that is, the world, the Devil, and our own selfish inclinations—take us where they will. But if we want to be happy, to have friendship with God in Heaven, then we can accept with faith the hope Jesus offers, to anchor our souls in His love. This is really simple: All we have to do is want it. God will provide the guidance and strength, but He needs our will, the helmsman. Regardless of when the sea blinds the intellect and tosses the emotions about, we have the ability to choose, and we choose what we want, what we desire. The Catechism in paragraph 1817 thus says: ‘Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” “The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” [Heb. 10:23, Titus 3:6-7]’ 

‘Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.’

St. Teresa of Avila 

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