Close to Home:
I was greeted yesterday morning by three different news stories on my e-mail homepage: there was the hot off the presses report of a buxom, racily clad pop singer who had secretly wed an R&B musician and now they are still insanely rich, like before, but also married; a little further down was a piece about the passing of 98-year-old Irene Sendler, a former Polish social worker who had risked her life in the early 1940s, enduring torture and arrest, to save 2,500 Jewish children from Nazi death camps by sneaking them out of a Warsaw ghetto and giving them false identities; finally, next to recently emerging photos and statistics, was an update on the earthquake in China that buried thousands of adults and children under the twisted steel and crumbled concrete of collapsed buildings. Within just a few seconds, as my eyes scanned spastically from one account to the next, I felt annoyed, inspired, and horrified. I heard loudly and simultaneously three opposing messages impossible to either separate or make sense of as a whole: Be distracted. Be motivated. Be anxious.
I’ll tell you the truth, I am miserable when segmented, when I jolt through my days in a series of whiplash-like stops and starts – now materially ambitious, resentfully claustrophobic, or steely with determination to exude love then whoosh in a heartbeat, dumbfounded by the potential of sorrow and shivering with a sense of foreboding. When my trust rises and falls with the tide of current events, I lose joy and my Orthodox perspective. Comfortable. Bored. Optimistic. Jealous. Empathetic. Insecure. Remorseful. Like a roller coaster ride is my identity if I choose subtly, by way of unconscious knee jerk reactions, to forget God.
I am thankful for where I came from and I am humbled by the dedication of those within my former faith community who serve with graciousness and selflessness their enemies and neighbors, but the issues prompting my exodus were not so inconsequential as, or limited to, the simple need for a change of scenery. What I traded in everything for was a broader and less culturally relevant worldview, a get out from behind the microscope and marvel at the hugeness of it all, kind of difference. Please forgive me for politely disagreeing with the assumption that assurance, devotion, and understanding can be conjured forth from out biased and imperfect minds. I nearly rendered my faith impotent by trying to neatly stitch together a sort of logical and consistent pattern out of suffering, grace, and difficult scriptural passages that defied being pinned down or summarized, at least not without changing the rules a bit (Too abstract for your taste? Try switching your tune from literal to symbolic). I wrestled with loose ends and became tongue-tied making excuses for what seemed to be faulty and even sometimes cruel craftsmanship. I got all knotted up in my own and what appeared to be, at least from a human standpoint, God’s inconsistencies. Weekly lectures and worship songs were not enough to override a belief that ebbed and flowed with my fears and ability, or lack thereof, to stay focused on feel good ponderings. It was the sacraments in the Orthodox Church, with their Christ instigated power to transcend my fickle reasoning that finally permeated my skittish spirit with indefinable confidence.
Founded on spiritual experience and not being a part of rationalism and scholasticism, wrote Hieromonk Hilarion Alfeyev in “The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to Orthodox Dogma and Spirituality,” Orthodox theology is a living entity in our day no less than hundreds of years ago. The same questions have always confronted the human person: What is truth? What is the meaning of life? How can one find joy and peace of heart? What is the way to salvation? Christianity does not aim to dot all the ‘i’s by answering all the questions the human spirit has to ask. But it does open up another reality which transcends all that surrounds us in this earthly life. Once this reality is encountered, the human person leaves behind all his questions and bewilderment, because his soul has come into contact with the Divinity and falls silent in the presence of the Mystery which no human word can convey. Yes, yes, yes and Amen.
He’d been picking at his food and not sleeping. I had never before seen this side of my usually stoic husband and it unnerved me. Troy was fighting a personal battle, one I couldn’t solve with hugs or good advice. There was a time when he and I both would have speculated on what exactly had gone wrong or what steps we could take to more speedily gain freedom from this trial. But now our default reaction was just to be, to accept this challenge in front us knowing only that God is good and that every encounter with disappointment and injustice is a chance to be purified of our stubborn and egocentric passions. Troy’s endurance and courageous choice to use this opportunity as a means for growth had a rippling effect, arousing in me, a mere bystander to his pain, a resolve to pare down the many distractions that keep me anchored to a limited field of vision. Stillness and patience are at serious risk of extinction in a world that chooses to remain ignorant by way of busyness and theorizing. It is instinctive to become flustered by the side effects of mortality, to start to panic and lose our hope in the face of tragedy. But in a crisis, our feelings and preferences are mere hotbeds for rash decision making and so we cry, as Orthodox Christians, only “Lord have mercy!” We sob with those who are grieving just as Jesus wept and mourned at the tomb of Lazarus, acknowledging loss and sadness within the context of the Resurrection - offering not explanations but calmness and a firm foundation of peace amidst uncertainty.
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