Norris J. Chumley, Ph.D. is the author of many films, television specials, radio programs and books.  Here are samples from three of his published books, the most recent, Be Still and Know: God’s Presence in Silence, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, a companion book to the feature film and public television special, and The Joy of Weight Loss where he talks about how he lost 160 pounds and has kept it off over 20+ years, offering a prescriptive plan for spiritual weight loss.

from Be Still and Know: God’s Presence in Silence (Published by Fortress Press)

Chapter One9781451470512-BSAK-book-cover-small-opt

The Great Hesychast Fathers and Mothers

In the deserts of Egypt, in the works of St. John Chrysostom, the Cappadocian Fathers and Mother, Evagrius Pontus, and in the Apophthegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), the word hesychia and its related hesychazo (withdrawal), and anchoretism(retreat) described a practice of desert- and cave-dwelling hermits who chose to seclude themselves for the purpose of quieting the body of its desires (pathemata) and the mind of its random distracting thoughts (logismoi).  Such practices enabled the ascetic to seek an empty internal place, away from worldly stimulus and problems, for the purpose of direct perception, experience or vision of God.

Perched on the edge of the desert along the valley of the Nile, within sight of the settled land, the monks of 2nd-century Egypt stood as a perpetual challenge to the situation of hunger and of total dependence on the distant marketplace that characterized the society of a starving and laborious Near East, according to Peter Brown. They, at least, had broken the dark cycle of hunger and avarice.   In early writings we can glimpse the dreams of the early desert ascetics who knew what it was to starve. Wandering around giant stones, climbing rock mountains, walking through scorching desert sand, constantly in search of wild herbs or infrequent springs that hosted oases – the desert dwellers caused themselves to enter a state of adiaphoria.  Robert T. Meyer writes, “The boundaries of man and desert, human and beast collapsed in chilling confusion. Adiaphoria, and not physical or sexual temptations, flamboyant and deeply humiliating though these might sometimes be, was the condition that the Desert Fathers observed most anxiously, and described most graphically, because they feared it most deeply in themselves. What they sought was an ecstasy beyond physical sexuality, beyond the Church or philosophy, into the realms of spiritual paradise.

The visible effects of hesychia inspired the rumor that its practitioners had attained the delights of Paradise on earth.When a party of pilgrims compiled the Historia Monachorum, the Survey of the Monks of Egypt, around 400, the heroes they visited were men believed to have touched, and to have released for others, the huge and physical exuberance of Adam’s Paradise. The Historia relates that Angels once arrived at the cell of Abba Apollonius and his companions, to bring them giant apples, great clusters of grapes, exotic fruits, and loaves of warm white bread. It was a foretaste of the sensual delights of Paradise, granted to men who, by fasting, had chosen of their own free will to starve. This Paradise was a land without the burning heat of day or the icy cold of the desert nights. Its gentle slopes were covered with rustling fruit trees, through which wafted nourishing, perfumed breezes. It lay just beyond the horizon of the cruel desert. This was experiencing union with God, through hesychia.

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from Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer (Published by HarperOne)

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer (published by HarperOne)Chapter 5

The History of the Jesus Prayer

When Jesus Christ came to earth more than two thousand years ago, the people of Israel had already developed a profound reverence for the Holy Name of God. This name which He had revealed to Moses the Jews had come to regard as ineffable, so sacred that it could not be pronounced even in prayer. In its place, the Jews adopted the title Adonai, the Lord, but in time even that seemed too bold and so it became customary to refer in Hebrew to God as Ha Shem, which means “the Name.” In Jesus’ day, the true Name of God was spoken aloud only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem and there, all alone, pronounced the Sacred Name.

No such prohibitions were ever attached to the name of Jesus. How could it? It had been pronounced by probably thousands when he was present on earth. Furthermore, in its Hebrew form, Yeshua (Joshua in English), it was a common name. Even if the first Christians wanted to bar anyone from speaking the name of Jesus, how could they enforce it?

Nonetheless, reverence for the name of Jesus dates back to the age of the apostles. In the gospel of St. John Jesus Himself encourages his disciples to draw upon the power of His name: “If you ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name” (John 16:23) Not long afterward St. Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10)

About the year 150 a Christian mystic known as Hermas wrote down a series of visions he had received; this book is known as The Shepherd. During one of these visions an angel assures Hermas, “No one shall enter into the kingdom of God, except he receive the name of His Son.” Later the angel tells Hermas, “The name of the Son of God is great and incomprehensible, and sustaineth the whole world.”

Here we see that by the second century Christians were developing a theology of the power of the name of Jesus. If, as some believe, the Jesus Prayer dates back to the time of Christ, then these lines from The Shepherd are only expressing an existing religious devotion. But if the Jesus Prayer is of a later date, then we have found one of its earliest forerunners.

About a century after Hermas, the great theologian Origen (c.185-254) wrote of the power of the name of Jesus to calm troubled minds and spirits and change hearts; “The name of Jesus can still remove distractions from the minds of men, and expel demons, and also take away diseases; and produce a marvelous meekness of spirit and complete change of character, and a humanity, and goodness, and gentleness in those individuals who do not feign themselves to be Christians.”

St. Ambrose (c.337-397), the bishop of Milan and spiritual mentor of St. Augustine, wrote that when Christ came into the world, “He spread abroad that divine Name of His throughout all creatures, not filled up by any addition (for fullness admits not of increase), but filling up the empty spaces, that His Name might be wonderful in all the world. The pouring forth, then, of His Name signifies a kind of abundant exuberance of graces and copiousness of heavenly goods, for whatever is poured forth flows over from abundance.”


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from The Joy of Weight Loss (published by Lantern Books)

A Last Resort

There was one big turning point in my life when I was thirty-two. I was smoking three packs a day; I was about 330 pounds or so. I could barely move. My wife and I weren’t getting along. I hadn’t worked in almost a year because nothing I tried worked, and I couldn’t sell any movie or TV projects. I was a producer who was too messed up to produce. I was desperate and I knew at the core of my existence that my life had to change or I would be dead soon. I couldn’t continue living the way I was living anymore. I had tried every diet and nothing had worked. I couldn’t unravel the mystery of my obesity. My problems were beyond me.

People had told me that God would be there me if I ever needed help, but I always avoided that because it felt like being too weak or uncool. I’d heard about people being “saved” but thought that was corny and only for losers. While I considered myself spiritual and certainly believed in God, I felt that if I couldn’t solve my own problem, then I might be better off dead. I was too proud to humble myself and admit I couldn’t handle my weight problem. Until that one day, that one moment, when I just reached the end. That feeling of desperation and emptiness was too great to hold down inside anymore.

As a very final resort, I decided to go to a spiritual group meeting of people who had the same problems I did. I called the telephone number in my town and found out about that group and went. Unfortunately, there was nobody there. So I sat in a dark place in a basement meeting room all by myself, desperate and miserable. At the end of the hour, after nobody had shown up, I left. On my way out I ran into a very thin, straggly punk girl who was late for the meeting. She gave me a list of other places to go, other meetings, and other support groups.

The next morning, I went to one of them. That meeting, at a church community center, was filled with about forty people. They were mostly women, but I didn’t care. It was a ninety-minute discussion group where each person spoke about how God or their “Higher Power” had helped them. At the end of the time, I was the last person who hadn’t spoken and everyone looked at me.

I couldn’t say a word or move an inch I was so embarrassed. After an eternity, I said to myself: “Oh my God, how am I going to get out of this?” I just burst into tears and began to tremble. The whole room was staring at me.

Then I heard words coming out of my mouth: “Well, I have this problem and I can’t manage it.” It wasn’t me talking. I didn’t know what to do. Whatever happened, the situation I now felt was out of my hands, and all I could do was just sink into the chair in a pool of emotion. Me, a fat man crying out of control… this really was the end.

But another man was there, right next to me, and he put his arm around my shoulder and said I was going to be all right. Then, all sorts of people walked over to me and hugged me and gave me little slips of paper with their phone numbers on them. I was a basket case. I couldn’t believe that anyone cared about me!

I thought I’d try it, nonetheless, because I was by myself in my office. There was nothing left to lose, because I’d already lost it all. I’d already embarrassed myself, already was a failure, so I didn’t have to worry about failing again. I swallowed my pride, got down on my knees, and even though I thought it was humiliating, I said a prayer. Aloud, I said: “God please help me. I can’t do this alone.” The tears poured out of me again, this time even more uncontrollably. This time, the pain was gone. These were tears of release. This was crying for joy. Help was there, and I knew it and felt it instantly.

While I was on my knees praying, the phone rang. It was a major network calling to say they were going to give me half a million dollars to develop and produce a television movie. It was a story about Thanksgiving. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I felt the presence of God with me, handing me a miracle. God was instantly, miraculously solving all of my problems, and all I had had to do was ask. I’ll never forget that moment, and I’ll never doubt the existence, helpfulness, and love of God ever again. Man, was it ever thanksgiving time!

My Show Wasn’t Over, It Had Just Begun

Just as soon as I hung up the phone, the brownies were calling my name again. I began to realize that, even though God was with me, I had a choice, and it was up to me to make it. I could go to the bakery or I could go to another meeting. I decided to forgo the instant but temporary chocolate pleasure and choose long-term freedom and happiness. I decided to go to another meeting. At the back of the room was a table with all sorts of spiritual books on it. I happened to pick one up at random titled “For Today.” It was one of those meditation-of-the-day calendar pocket books. I looked in that book to the day, September 6, and the thought for the day was, “God is the producer of this show, not I.”

At that moment, I thought to myself: “This is another miracle happening. God is speaking to me through this book! This is no coincidence. This is God the true Producer speaking to me, reassuring me, comforting me, telling me I’m not alone. Unbelievable!”

The way was clear. All I had to do was let go and let Him be my producer. I decided then and there to do whatever it takes to let God show me the way to lose weight and get my life back.


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