Sunday, October 6, 2013

"For great is your reward in Heaven."

"The problem is that we have come to redefine humanity as something autonomous, independent and individual, where our own wills are paramount. But we were given free will so that we might choose love by choosing God, because love cannot be true if it is not free. God does not control us as puppets."

I sit across from the parish priest thinking, Where was this when I was growing up? We talk of Revelations, the end of the world, when "God will unite Heaven and earth, and all of creation will join in eternal revelry." The end of all ages. "We are in the seventh and last age of this world," he tells me calmly, "And Christ will return at the end of this age."

Where was this when I was growing up?

Where is this now?

I sit in the body of the Church, on a wooden chair opposite the Father who, with his white hair, resembles something of a sage, or at least this is the image I have come to associate with spiritual wisdom--white hair, bushy beard, warm yet quiet eyes, somehow alert yet distant.

I sit in awe of the alacrity with which he answers my questions, vain and complex as they are.

"I feel that, if I can't be perfect in the eyes of God, there's no point in trying."

"No, no! Danger Will Robinson!" chuckles Father. "No one is perfect except Christ."

Oh, right. I forgot.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says "You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?" Similarly, a a few verses later he says:

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 

A city on a hill, like, a Church?

Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

And in case the crowd wasn't too keen on metaphors, he continues:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. If you were wondering what was the meaning of life, this is it.

All these thoughts ran through my head as I spoke with Father. My eyes wandered to the new icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov, who sits clothed in white robes feeding rabbits and bears amid tall pine trees. Snow White wasn't the only one with an affinity for forest creatures.

"Sometimes I feel like I can't do everything I want to do in life and be a Christian."

I said this to a friend earlier. "I feel that every day," she responded.

The truth is, I've failed, terribly. I judge people, and I judge the Church for hiding from the world, when really I should be judging myself, because sometimes all I want to do is run away, run away from the world, run away from its challenges, run away from the awkwardness of meeting someone and not knowing what to say, run away from the insecurity of thinking that I'm worthless in this person's eyes, run away from the blatant reality that I am not perfect and no one else is either. I go out into the world, and I get knocked down every time, because it turns out that the world really is full of evil.

Sitting in the Church sanctuary, my soul is at peace and my burden eases off my shoulders, which makes so much sense when I remember the words "come all ye heavy laden and I will give you rest." I hope this happens for all those who come, and I believe it does, which is why people return to Church every week. But then, sometimes we don't go to Church. And while it seems to me that this absence makes our burdens weightier, what about all the millions of people who don't even know this Church exists, or who can't come because of physical ailments, or financial constraints, or hardened hearts, or stubborn wills?

Every day I feel like I live in two separate worlds. The first is my school world, the world of pseudo-academia, where I'm taught to deconstruct texts, avoid positivism, challenge the hegemonic worldview, and critique all authors. There is some truth to this; the American historical perspective suffers from severe positivism and from the little I've read it's clear that the world is NOT progressing along a straight line. Not only is this theologically incorrect, but it's historical fallacy.

But there are several modes of thinking that disturb me in this world. The first is the all-or-nothing dynamism that essentially strips away academia from its core, which (should be) the search for truth: "If anything is true, then nothing is true" and "If everything is correct, then nothing is correct" and so on. Or even worse, "truth is relative." Or, to go back to quote Doestoevsky "Everything is permitted."

Sometimes I really do think that if we all read the Brothers Karamazov, the world would solve all its own problems.

But that's not the case. And how can truth be relative if Truth is Christ?

But not many people know Christ. I don't. Not in the way that I should. And who am I to tell anyone else what he or she should know or believe? It's not my place.  I'll give a mostly unrelated example: I tutor a few freshman students, some of whom are reluctant to study, and one in particular doesn't go to class. If this student continues to skip class, the student will fail. If the student fails, the student might not be allowed to continue in school. A leads to B leads to C. This is the direct consequence of an ill-conceived action. It is certainly not the desired outcome, but the outcome has potential all the same. Is it my place to tell this to my student? "If you don't do your work, you could fail. And if you fail, you could lose your scholarship and have to drop out of school." That's not tough love--that's reality.

The student could, however, and I predict, will refute my seemingly logical argument, by saying that grades are relative (which seems not too far from the truth anymore) or that she can charm her way into getting to keep her scholarship.

Has the student, then, lived with integrity? No. Has she gotten what she wanted? Yes, for now. Could I have saved her from this potentially humiliating feat if I had forced her to do her work? Possibly. Would she have learned how to do the work? Most likely not. What, then, was the point? Was I of any help at all? It doesn't feel like it, since I am a horrifically result-oriented person. If I can't see the positive outcome of something I did, I feel like a failure.

Imagine how Christ's disciples felt. Do you think they were feeling like they were changing the world when they watched their beloved Teacher being hoisted onto a wooden plank and stabbed with nails for all the world to mock?

Hardly.

This leads me to my second world, the world of modern Orthodox Christianity, which sometimes seems as terribly backwards as deconstructionism seems awkwardly futuristic.

I thought that Faith was about me--about my journey towards Heaven. Like Pilgrim, I painstakingly record in my brain all my faults, defeats, cedes to temptation, and failure to follow doctrinal rules; I fall off the ladder, cry, and struggle to get back on. Life is a journey, so people say. And what actually is the point if I know I'm not perfect and will continue to fail and sin?

I'm not a theologian. I'm not a Divinity student. I don't even have my bachelor's degree yet.

But I am a Christian, however terrible I am at that, and I want to continue to live a Christian life. But that's the thing--I have to continue to live. 

I can't sit in a dark corner waiting for Christ to return. And I don't need to. I'm not hiding from the Romans, and I know my Lord is Alive. Frankly, when the world reaches its end, it will end. I think the sheer fact that the world still turns this very moment means that there is work to do in God's creation.

The world is the result of God's love, and mankind is that manifestation. Frankly, the Gospel's couldn't be any clearer if they tried. Well, obviously..they're the word of GOD.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. 

Here's the conflict: Do I hide in a false church of pretend perfectionism and chastise the world for evil, or do I fall away from false dynamism--in the secular and canonical worlds alike--and try my hardest to live according to the Gospels' teachings?

It sounds a bit renegade, I know. But then, so were the Apostles. Not that I want to evangelize--an Orthodox priest told me once that we should evangelize not with words or doctrines but by living exemplary lives. That's a lot of pressure. But that is the point.


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