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.
Every Sunday there’s a pulse in my life, a once a week heartbeat on Sunday morning. It’s been that way since before I was born and it’s rarely skipped a beat. A kind of timeless rhythm that ties everything together, two hours or so to live in a different world, to be in church.
It’s not about it being pleasant all the time. There are times I’ve been to church when I wanted to be a million miles away, my body present but my heart in a far away place. There have been times, even as a Pastor, where I just wanted to pull the covers over my head on Sunday morning and sleep until Monday. There were times when just being in the building made me feel guilty and unholy.
Still, every Sunday if you want to look for me I’ll be there and a large part of it is because it’s there that I also find a quiet place often distant from a confused and crazy world. It is there, as well, that the timeless river of faith has a home. It is also there that I have heard words that heal me and mercy beyond my own brokenness. It’s in holy temples that God shares life with me.
I suppose that’s why I’ve dedicated the larger part of my life to service in and around the church. I’ve been hurt in the church, for sure, but it’s also the closest I’ve been to heaven. An idealistic part of me has never stopped believing it it’s potential for good not so much because of the people inside but rather the One in whom the Church really is rooted. When the world around me darkens it is my, and I believe the world’s, refuge, a place that even the world at its worst cannot completely ruin.
One day, I suppose, it will also be the last building you’ll find me, one last time before going to where every day is Sunday.
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.
that’s just the way of things. A human life is marked by a series of endings as one chapter moves towards another. And, of course, at the end, is the end as we understand it.
Of course, when things are painful we hope we move quickly towards the end. No sane person desires endless pain and suffering. In our misery we cry out to God “When will this end?” Our question is reaction to our discomfort, our boredom, our suffering, and the sense that in it all time has stood still and we are without escape.
It’s the opposite when things are good and right. It is then we say “I hope this moment never ends.” It’s at that point where we would like to hold everything as it is and in place so that the peace, joy, and happiness we’re feeling would never cease to be. When it does come to a conclusion, as all things must, we are filled with a kind of melancholy for what might have been had that good moment in time not faded away.
Both of these things, I think, become more intense as we age because we realize as time passes that the opportunities to bounce back after a hard time or hold on to a pleasant time are increasingly limited as the actual span of our lives decreases. It is not very long into a human lifespan before we realize there is more behind than ahead and the time that remains is moving quickly. Sometimes that makes the painful times more intense and the leaving of precious moments more heartbreaking.
I think that this is perhaps the greatest gift of heaven because all that is hard and difficult in this life, even the things we brought on ourselves, ends as it is extinguished in the presence of Love itself. All that is good remains and enriched by that same Love. And until that day when heaven becomes real for us I think the only way to endure a life of endings is to live already, as it were, in heaven, to live eternally in the middle of time. If the endings still touch us, as they will, at least we have the knowledge that there is so much more than any moment in time, there is a forever and a timelessness that can give perspective and rest to those who understand and embrace it.
There’s a very worthy ministry in Ghana I would like you to consider. St. Peter’s is an Orthodox secondary School in Larteh (Lar-tay) Ghana with the ambitious goal of providing an elite level education in an Orthodox context for all, even people who may not be normally able to pay the usual school fees. There will be more information here to come but for now there’s an unofficial “Friends of…” Facebook Page to start to get the word out. You can find it here…
in the night as the sun sets over St. Paul. The pavement is hot because the July sun baked it then frosted it with oil and tire rubber, but the air quickly begins to cool as the tall buildings push themselves in front of the waning sun.
I used to ride my motorcycle at times like this. In part it was because the traffic was lightening up and the road seemed more free and then, again, it was also a good time to see and hear and smell a city settling in for the night. As the sun descended lights would turn on one by one and a kind of calm would fall.
As a younger person I remember coming to St. Paul while my dad was commuting each week from our home in Wisconsin. Everything seemed so tall, so large, so much more of everything than where I was from. It still is that way and there are times when it all seems so noisy and oppressive and hot and full of people crawling around like ants. Yet it has also become my home, the beauty of it, the quiet tree lined streets and even the places where it would be wise to leave before the street lights come on.
When we moved here more than two decades ago we came because we could find places we could afford and we came because we wanted to live, serve, and minister in the city. Older now, we sometimes think of selling and finding a townhome in the suburbs where someone else will mow our lawn and shovel our walks. Yet we are still here, most of the neighbors who were there when we first came have come and gone and the lady across the street who was there before us is thinking about selling and taking up an apartment somewhere. Yet we are still here.
Sometimes I like to drive through the city with the windows down and take it all in. If we ever leave I will miss the sights, sounds, and even the smell that comes up Swede Hollow from the Mississippi. Sometimes at night when I’m awake I just pray for my neighbors, and the city; pray for God to take care of us all in the night and that peace would fall on our little patch of a sometimes crazy world. For the most part everything has been good.
One day its almost certain that a truck will come and take our things and ourselves away from this place. That’s the way of life. Yet here we are on a hot July night in this place we’ve made home, this place where a church was started, this place that we can move away from any time but never leave. That’s also the way of life.
God, in your mercy, wherever we may travel in this life please keep an eye out for St. Paul.