We’re in the home stretch of Lent now, the final weeks before the last push of Holy Week and the dawn of Pascha.
A certain amount of the novelty and energy of the season has worn off and the askesis of the time becomes more like work. At the same time a certain sense of peace and purpose emerges. It doesn’t take long, some experts says 21 days, to establish a habit and its amazing how a person can adjust to new ways of eating and carrying on with life in a short time.
Perhaps that is one of the wisdoms of Lent, the understanding that we can and do adjust and we’re not doomed to continue to live as the world demands. In a few short dedicated weeks we can start to be something different, to see the world differently, and to live differently and our system actually reacts quite nicely.
In fact some people have a certain kind of let down after Pascha when the fasting is done and life returns to its old paces. The sense of closeness with God can disappear and the peaceful flow that comes with a life directed towards the things of the spirit and the good of others fades away. The hope is that Lent gives us a sample of what can be and that having once tasted this goodness we would continue on.
I try to imagine such a world, a world where the pace of things was set by the richness of faith. Not some rigind theocratic thing where the call to prayer goes out and all are commanded to obey but rather a world where people choose to reorient their existence towards the presence of God. A world where the taste of joy and holiness that come with a good Lent flow in and through all that is like a melody of unearthly beauty. A world where the Cherubic Hymn describes, in one way or another, all of life.
Realistically this will not be our lot, even in our own lives, until Christ returns but such a hope helps us through as we come into the home stretch of Lent, and always.
100 years from today the idea that marriage and sexuality are whatever we want to make of them will be viewed like we see eight track tapes now. Time, nature, disease, and social trauma will have taken their toll and the wisdom of history we so easily dispose of will return with a clarity enhanced by pain.
Nature cannot be denied. Nature cannot be legislated away. We are biological creatures built of the same raw material of the Earth and subject to its laws, the rules established by the One who brought it into existence. Gravity will not go away no matter how hard we wish and neither will the standard of one man and one woman for one lifetime. Everything different will be less because such an arrangement is tied into the very fabric of existence.
Sadly we don’t believe that much anymore and we are paying a terrible price. Forgetting any moral or religious arguments the simple cost of our illusions regarding marriage and sexuality in money, social disruption, and medical necessities is staggering and grows. We are both profoundly involved in sexuality and venereally diseased. We know thousands of possible “intimacies” but often feel alone and used. We can find dozens of ways to climax but rarely know true love.
We are who we are, human beings created by God as male and female designed to complement and fulfill each other in a lifelong union of body, soul, life, faith, hope, and spirit. 100 years from now anything less will still be less and anything different will still bring chaos, pain, dysfunction, and death. Sadly it might take 100 years to relearn what people 1000 years ago already understood.
Abdur Rahman may be on trial for his life.
Some 16 years ago he converted from Islam to Christianity and now he stands charged with a crime in Afghanistan. The penalty for his conversion, if he refuses to recant and a court finds that he is sane, could be death.
And we whine because we can’t eat hamburgers in Lent.
This weekend means a run to Fargo, North Dakota and service at All Saint’s Mission.
Fargo isn’t anything like the movie “Fargo” which is actually set in Minnesota. Over 150,000 people live in Fargo and the surrounding towns that straddle the Red River on its journey north to Hudson’s Bay. There’s a symphony orchestra there, a domed football stadium, and no one walks around town with a piece of grass in thier mouth. There is a beautiful wildness to the open prairie unfolding to her west but Fargo has long ago ceased to be a cow town.
There are Orthodox Christians there, immigrants and thier children, converts who who have joined with them, and cradle Orthodox who by the sheer movement that is part and parcel of modern life have found thier way to the Dakotas. For over a decade they wandered, as missions often do, from place to place setting up and taking down and living the nomadic life of a community waiting for a home. Visiting Priests and Deacons would drop by from time to time bringing precious gifts, holy things for the holy, while the people watched and waited and hoped as they do to this day.
To be Orthodox in Fargo requires a certain amount of will that one cannot always find where things are more convenient. The normal things that hold a community together are not always there and the challenges of creating something new and real where it did not exist before are profound. Some churches wallow in excess, All Saint’s Mission is lean. Some Orthodox complain of the number of services in Lent. All Saint’s may have two or three and while bells will ring all over the world on Pascha, All Saint’s may be dark and still on that holy night.
So Friday night means the journey begins. We travel away from the congested city, out on to the open farmland, and then on to the edge of the Dakotas. Vespers, confessions, Matins, Divine Liturgy, and then home. How can a person do everything that needs to be done, bring every gift that needs to be shared, give all the things deserved, and meet all the needs that need to be met in one weekend? It can’t be done. But they are worth the attempt.
The evidence is in but you won’t hear about it because the conclusions would call for an admission of error and change and quite frankly there’s no money to be made in it.
Christianity is good for you. I’m not talking just about the life to come, but right here, right now, lower your cholesterol kind of good for you.
Think about it for a minute. Following the Christian way of life calls us to an existence of moderation, of care for our body, of purpose beyond the rat race, of community, of peace, of sharing, of family, of living in easy cohabitation with the natural world, almost everything that is counter to our hyper-competitive, consume all you can, sleep with whoever you want, be famous at all costs culture that goes through our lives like a chipper shredder.
Basically every scientific study out there dealing with human wellness affirm what the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Christian faith have been saying all along. And yet our delusions won’t
let us see it. We are convinced that if we push just a little farther we’ll reach that promised whatever that all of our pushing so far has not revealed. Why is it that no one will stop for a just a second and take a look at the body count? Where is the voice shouting “My God, we’re killing ourselves, and our children, and our future, and for what?” A new car? A better office? Our hope of that elusive spectacular orgasm?
Some day the pain will be too much to bear. The body count will be high enough to pierce our daydreams and the sickness will not be be able to be masked by our medicines. And then, maybe, just maybe, we will listen to the still small voice of God in the words of Jesus “Come unto me all you who have heavy labor and I will give you rest.”
God make that day soon.
Our small Parish of St. Elias in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, celebrated the Sunday of Orthodoxy yesterday and as the weather was warm for this time of year and the ground dry we we left our temple and made procession outside holding our icons, led by our cross, the smell of incense in the air and the ancient song “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal…” on our lips.
In months of firsts since by the grace of God or the madness of the Church or some combination I was made Priest this was the first procession. Of course I have been in others, you can’t be Orthodox without processing around something sometime, but this was the first as Priest and there was a holiness to it that escaped words as we circled the little church building in the rough part of LaCrosse.
The grass was gray as winter still held a grip and the wind swirled down the valley and over the river but there was a sense of being removed from all that and drawn in to something ancient and beyond us. All over the world in small wooden churches like ours or grand cathedrals people were holding icons, led by the cross, smelling the incense, and singing the timeless songs. And as we walked we told the world that by the grace of God we still believe,
still remember, still hope, and still call the world to heaven.
There is a formal Sunday of Orthodoxy with its liturgies and rituals reminding us of the official pronouncements of a long ago Council restoring the veneration of icons to the faithful but in truth the triumph of Orthodoxy is also written in the hearts of all those who through the ages have kept the faith alive often under grievous circumstances.
Our small procession lasted just a few minutes but in those passing moments all of what had gone before, all of what we faced in these times, and all of what we long for in the Kingdom of God became present. So, too, did the memory of all those who have gone before us, the tall shoulders on which we stand.
And as they pray for us we walk on through Lent and towards resurrection sustained by what has been given to us, the faith that established the universe.
These seem to be times given to fear. Fear simmers underneath our consciousness and it has become the great unseen hand behind the events of the day.
Fear has made us vulnerable because it tears us apart inside, sunders the bonds that hold person to person, and makes us vulnerable to manipulation by those who desire power and need our fear
so that we will give them what they desire. Fear calls us to exist at a mere emotional level, it takes away our capacity for rationality, and replaces thought with reaction. And as we give power to fear it grows as the solace we expected from it diminishes and we find ourselves, in the end, both captives and more fearul than ever.
Fear has much to do with where we place our hope. The Scriptures warn us not place our trust in princes and the sons of men (Psalm 146) because all of us are flawed and transitory and every thing we create is subject, despite our intentions, to the same mortality that touches all our life.
Hope, which is a cure for fear, needs something beyond itself to attach to or it is no better than sentiment. In this the human heart since time has been recorded has reached out the the Infinite, to that which we inherently understand as exisiting and yet beyond us, to God. Our instincts to limit our trust in ourselves, who we are, what we know, and what we can create, are accurate and have honed by millenia of painful experience. But we sometimes forget, and these days seem to be a time of particular amnesia.
Until this changes we will have only ourselves and our fears to make sense of it all.