there is no perfect place, no perfect job, no perfect church, no perfect life. In everything and everywhere there will be moments of joy and moments of challenge and nothing will ever be just the way you imagined it would be no matter how hard you try.
There’s a kind of disappointment in this. Surely one thing in this existence could be at least close to what you imagine it’s supposed to be. Yet, while some things may come achingly close, nothing will ever be “it”. In fact the closer they come the greater the disappointment when the flaw that mars comes to the surface. Just when you thought you won the prize, the reality of life does something to pull it from your fingers. It’s, perhaps, one of the most maddening things about being human.
There’s also a freedom, though, in this realization. Accepting there is no perfect anything on this Earth and in this life gives the gift of wisdom, of patience, and a release from the tyranny of perfection into the cool waters of grace. One can be set free to enjoy that which is beautiful and release that which is less so when you realize that a normal life will have parts of both. The good can also become more precious and the harsh can be more temporary when you realize all things pass and see life through this window.
And then there is heaven which seems, as I grow older, to be less like any image I have of it and more like an existence where I can simply “be” as I was meant to be because the presence of God will fulfill all my expectations and heal the imperfections and unrealities of my life. One of the great gifts of getting older is that having seen so much of the world over the years one realizes the quiet ache in your heart on even the best of days is a sign there is more and better and it’s closer than you think. Stepping through that door you realize you’re more at home there than any place your travels in this world may have taken you. Every beauty here is a sign of a greater one to come and every challenge is a reminder of a larger day when all such things will pass.
question any parish can ask is actually rather simple, “Are we doing what Jesus wants us to be doing?”
Now that question should actually be obvious. Surely if we claim to be followers of Christ we should be doing our best to do the actual things that Christ commands. They’re not hard to find, a simple reading of the New Testament will reveal any number of places where Jesus directly tells us what to do and in very basic and simple terms. He also tells us that there will be accountability for our doing, or not doing, the same.
So why not do just that? Why not, for example, when we have parish council meetings start out with a simple question “Are we doing and being what Jesus asks?” and with that as the standard then proceed to seek God’s face for the wisdom and guidance to make what Jesus tells us real in everything we do. Although the implications for many parishes could be profound, the actual process is quite dimple and direct.
Now some would say “But we have all these things we need like keeping the lights on and such…” and all of that is true but what did Jesus say? Jesus said that God knows we have these practical needs and he urges us to seek FIRST the Kingdom of God in the assurance that all the other things we need will be given to us. The truth is we often have things backwards. We seek the things that Jesus says God already knows we need and ignore the things that Jesus tells us will make us the sons and daughters of God.
In the end we’re the ones who lose. Our parish life becomes an endless series of meetings and projects about keeping the building open rather than the Spirit filled adventure of impacting the world and transforming ourselves into what God would have us be. Hands and hearts that God could use for doing great things grow idle or occupied with the trivial and fall into a kind of spiritual listlessness. Faith turns into formalities.
There’s better. There’s more. The question, I suppose, is to what extent we let Jesus be Lord in his own church.
I ask myself is “Do I love God?” I wouldn’t have been able to think of that question myself but over the years, and especially reading the lives of the Saints, I’ve found myself asking the question on more than a few occasions.
I think there were times in my life when I was afraid of God. There were times when I tolerated God. Some times I needed God like an alcoholic needs another drink. If the truth were told there were times when I felt like I didn’t much need God at all. As many possible emotions and states as there could be I suppose I’ve felt that way about God at one time or another.
But do I love God?
For the Saints and holy people of times past one of their qualities was a genuine love for God. They wanted to be in relationship with God. They wanted to be present to God. They valued God’s company and craved Him when they felt He was distant. It was at that point where they went from tolerating God, or honoring God out of fear, or seeing God as some kind of escape from the painful realities of life that they began to love. It was also at that point where they began to be transfigured into something numinous and holy.
So do I love God?
The answer is “I am trying.” I would like to move from lesser relationships with God to love and though there are often fits and starts I would like to think that one day, perhaps, I can return to God a tiny fraction of the love He has for me and for the whole creation. Even the attempt, I suppose, to do this is considered by God to be a kind of love but often it seems so little returned for so much given.
Still, the answer, however feeble it is some times is “Yes”.
In our American context the word “revival” has a special kind of spiritual significance. If you watch Christian television there will always be some kind of “revival” planned or happening or coming and much of it has to do with some kind of charismatic speaker and people becoming emotionally charged as a sign that they are being “revived” by the Holy Spirit.
These moment, more often than not, are temporary and when the shouting and singing are done and people leave the arena very little may have changed. In fact, sometimes people actually wander from place to place seeking out the latest “revival” almost like an addict seeks the next fix. The spiritual life becomes, in a sense, a series of mundane days only broken up by the next big thing and so on and so on.
That’s not really revival, though, because any good speaker can get you to jump up and down but only the Holy Spirit can help you change your life towards Christ in the day to day world that marks most of our existence. It’s actually more of a mark of revival in the Church not so much when people fall on the floor in an emotional outburst as it is when the entire moral tenor of a place is transformed. Real revival means bars have less customers, business people are moved towards ethics, and the people themselves become holy in a deep, profound, and long lasting way.
At it’s core revival is really about a rediscovery of love for God and all the good things that flow from that love. This isn’t love the emotion but love, rather, as an act of the will where the person who loves seeks the genuine good of the other. If we love God our hearts will be drawn that way and our life will be colored and transformed by that love. And when our love tires from time to time because we are human we need to do that which rekindles it in ourselves whether that is our love for a person or for God.
If there is to be true revival in our culture it’s not going to be about emotions per se but rather about a rekindling of something more important, our love for God in response to His love for us. Those caught up in the emotions of a moment are transformed for that moment. Those who are caught up in love for God are transformed for eternity.
I would leave the house in the wee hours of the morning. A little latch release here and a small push on the screen and I was out.
I meant no harm. I simply walked the streets of my town and enjoyed the alone and the quiet. The dark was cool and pleasant and while the rest of the world was asleep I was awake with my thoughts, my dreams, and the shadows.
Often I still wake up in the earliest part of the morning and while I most often don’t leave the house I will quietly slip out of bed and think about the world. It can be a time of prayer as the stillness of the hour lends itself to such things. I think of people, they dance in and out of my mind, and I mention them to God. Some are close to me and within my day to day life. Others I haven’t seen in decades. Yet the names come to me and I think of where they are and what they’re doing and how life has been for them and give God their name. He knows what I do not and He can care for them in ways that time and distance prevent me from doing.
This may be one of those nights, a night when God nudges me awake at a time when the cares and noise of life are few and far between and there is time for us to talk. While the quiet settles over St. Paul and the old day becomes the new is a holy hour, a gift better than any dream and rest beyond sleep.
in a post truth culture. We can frame our positions and arguments for the Orthodox Faith by the strictest rules of logic and people will say “So what? That’s your truth.”
We live in a post authority culture so simply saying “This is what the Church has always taught” may have little or no weight with the larger society.
We live in a post knowledge culture and people may not even have the slightest idea of the words and terms we use or their context. How will we be able to speak of, for example, “Salvation” when the average person may have little understanding of what that word means, and especially how we mean it?
But people will, if they see what we believe demonstrated by the tangible outworking of our lives, at least have something solid to grab a hold of as they try to understand what we are saying in a world without truth, authority, or knowledge as they have been formerly understood.
In the end, therefore, perhaps one of the most profound and useful things we can do as Orthodox is to actually be, Orthodox.