[Abba Arsenius] said: “If we seek God, he will appear to us: if we hold him, he will stay with us.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.1

Taking a short break from my series on the four forms of prayer, I wanted to reflect on this simple and striking saying of Abba Arsenius. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of persistence.

In particular, this saying recalls to my mind two passages from the Scriptures on the same subject:

[Jesus said,] “I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:9-11)

[St. Paul said,] “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us….” (Acts 17:24-27)

In the first, Christ instructs his disciples with regards to perseverance and persistence. “Seek, and you will find,” he says. Such a simple, yet profound, statement should not be read too quickly. He is speaking, in particular, of the things of heaven, indeed, of the Maker of Life himself: the Holy Spirit: “how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” This is not the place for detailed theological discussion, but suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit is the third of the three members of the Holy Trinity, i.e. he/she/it (depending on the language the word “Spirit” may vary) is God by nature.

And in what way do we seek?—like a son asking his father for food. Despite our flaws (“if you then, being evil …”), we know the right thing to do. Good human fathers provide for their children, how much more so our Father in heaven? It is much the same as the saying of St. James: “ You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3). So long as our requests are for what truly matters—virtue that brings true joy, rather than pleasure that slips away—we have nothing to fear. Indeed, we even begin to shape our hearts in virtue through the asking itself.

In the second passage, St. Paul tells us that all the different peoples of the world were made and put in their places on earth, “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him.” And lest, once again, we despair and do not persist, he adds, “though He is not far from each one of us.” The word “grope” here, it was pointed out to me be a classmate at one time, is the same word in Greek that denotes a baby groping for its mother. Having been a father myself now for a year and seeing how Brendan reaches for Kelly when he needs her, this picture has become all the more vivid to me.

God is a faithful Father who does not turn his children away. God is like a loving mother, for whom we, like infants, ought to grope in total dependence. It is just as Abba Arsenius said, “If we seek God, he will appear to us: if we hold him, he will stay with us.” Indeed, there must be something of this in yet another saying of the Son of God: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Little Brendan has been sick today. But what a trooper! He is truly a model for the spiritual life. He has been sick to his stomach, but still smiley as can be, still sweetly clinging to Kelly and me. He trusts us implicitly and in so doing he is able to endure such a trial of life. Lord have mercy that I might trust in God in the same way, be converted, and become, in spirit, as a little child. Paradoxically, such is not a sign of immaturity, but spiritual progress: may we all, in such a way, grow up to be little children.

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