When I was five, I started a thing called “Transition”. Most folks got to go something called Kindergarten, and I suppose if I’d been more normal, that would have been the thing. But no, life’s next turn wasn’t going to look at all our short-legged lives as though we were plants stuck in the earth and needing only a mild amount of water, fertilizer and tending, but focused more on this metaphor of our lives and growth as a journey. Fact is for the longest time, I didn’t even know other folks went to Kindergarten, but simply thought it was another place on a different planet… kind of like 1st or 2nd grade. Each to their own, but the truth is, I’ve always wondered about kindergarten and so my kids in their time… they had the good fortune to go that more well-known route.
But as it goes with schooling, with blogging and life as a whole, I guess I’ve always been in some sort of transition. Here is no different. Time had come to stop playing both with writing and material as though it were all some sort of whimsy, and put both to better use. In my earlier Under the Dome blog, I had a chance to renew and regain some footing as I struggled to settle into the Ancient Church, the church more familiarily(?) known as the Orthodox Christian Church – whether Antiochian, Bulgarian, Coptic, Greek, Russian, Serbian or whatever… even American. Seemed to me that after seven years of regular attendance, and over six since my chrismation, the process of initiation and settling in has at last been completed, and it’d come time to push for a longer term focus. So I intend here to turn away from “what is this place, this God, this church, and who are all these people, their faith and their traditions ?” and towards expanding on what I can find in it that instills a sense of ourselves as a people of inheritance. For this is the sense that brought me here among so many other lines of inquiry… and in turning back once again renews my interest as well.
Initially, I discovered Orthodox Christianity as a place where the faith of the Apostles was still preached. And I was drawn to understand how a tradition is lived in the flesh rather than as a book of rules, dry formulas and rituals, or a matter of going through the motions. Truth is that all these stale denials of Orthodoxy’s traditions seem far more true of the world of protestant innovations I came out from – as much as we’re usually told the opposite. So forgive me for putting that ribbing here as it’s meant for no more than the irony of its misdirection. For there are, always have been and always will be many good and fine things in our protestant ways, as well as many, many good, wonderful, fine and faithful children of God in these and all other places. We should be thankful for them all, for even with any and all the deficiencies and defects each may have or perceive in the other – just like us, they nevertheless attest to the good intentions of lovers of God…. may they each in their way come to know and serve the truth. For the meantime, the atheists and detractors among us are right to point to our defects as obscuring the love and good we profess to bear. Nevertheless, I come more and more to believe that in the Orthodox way – if it can be recovered in its fullness – there is greater balance and more what is true so that there is more of what folks seek… or at least what I needed and continue to need for myself: a vision of calm in a disordered world that re-orients my heart towards doing good and resisting harm; and challenges me to experience a different life within myself, within others, and within the heart of our faith…the Life of Christ. This has been a great and wondrous gift… and if only I could share it with you, we would both be blessed!
But let me say that for my part, as one who came to faith in family that left it up to each of us on our own, I struggled in myself to understand what it was that constituted living the christian life. It wasn’t easy, and so in my time, I narrowed it, distorted it, and just plain out got much of it wrong. And a little clarity offering goes a long way… that and the energy to seek it, test it out, and begin incorporating it into one’s life. And I say begin with as much emphasis as I can give it. So following my curiosity about all of this, I found there were new, strange and wonderful places. And at the beginning the sheer unknowns and unfamiliarity were quite daunting and almost over-powered my desire at times. I even became aware of a priest following the same path into the Orthodox Church for whom the stress became unbearable… and he had a heart attack and died… may God have mercy on him and his family. But for my part, my family encouraged me as they could, and so I kept on. And hard and lonely as it would frequently appear at times, it seemed as though I “knew” that somewhere there must be a reward that made it worthwhile.
Fairly, I didn’t check all places but focused on the catholic traditions for two reasons. First I wanted to find the original, unchanged church and see if I could fit into a program that had been built slowly but surely through one saintly witness at a time into a collective continuum that I could step into as a stream coursing down the mountainside. I was tired of following folks with divining forks setting out to look for water and then promising to dig and if we kept at it, that somehow we’d wash. But they were never quite clear what the purpose was… only that water had something to do with it and it ought to be a good place to start. And while there’s an immediacy there that I admire, as time wound along, I tended to prefer a more proven path. And I felt the catholic traditions, both Roman (or Latin) and Orthodox, had a unique hold on this. And though my family was and remains put off by the whole of this in ways I’m still not sure I understand, I am thankful for their encouragement at least in word, for the truth is that my heart could do no other. This cost much and for a time seemed even a radical self-indulgence, and yet thankfully, my family persevered with me, forgave my wandering, babbling and rambling ways, and loves me still as I love them – though I’d insist our love is better, more full and sweeter and deeper than before.
Secondly, I was drawn (or thought I was) to a more comprehensive, demanding, compelling and incarnate faith in all things. When I was young, I was always drawn towards the monastic traditions – not because I wanted to forsake the world, but because the mindset of seeing God in everything was so appealing. And I can remember reading how in Zen there were two types: the sort that withdrew from the world, and the sort that embraced it. Both found enlightenment. Though my path followed that of a lay person in the Orthodox Church rather than that of Zen, and though Orthodoxy elevates the monastic life, nevertheless, there remains a firm acknowledgment of the holiness of the non-monastic vocations. Yet we’re a bit handicapped by our historic tendency to entrust the deposit of our faith and record of our people to the monastics and their natural enthusiasm for their own sort at our expense . No matter how unintentional this may be, it remain what it is, and attests to work we have to do and in some regards inspires my thought.
So the efforts here begin as a thrusting out of one’s chest as though to catch a second wind on a long run to uncover the non-monastic faith in the Orthodox Church. In this of course there’s the risk that we end up wheezing, all puffed out without the benefits of the extra kick in our step we sought to speed us along our way. All that preparation and training, and all the rest that’s gone on before, if it pays no dividends when asked, leaves us simply as a bunch of gas bags clogging the course. My hope is to offer better.
As to the title of this blog… it’s simply the inspiration I found in reading through Genesis, Exodus and all the rest as my wanderings began nearly a decade ago, when I first began feeling the pressures and burdens of modern, middle age life as they bore down, and my desire for guidance pushed upward in return, searching for real pathways. For the fact is that unless you want to get somewhere, the endless yakking, the constant innovation and novelty, the search for vitality and intensity, as well as the pretense that there are no answers and we only need to discover the right questions – all this sad masquerade that passes for much of religion in contemporary society serves only to put us off from any concrete steps, and accommodates our own sense of self-sufficiency. No, we already know this can’t be right. Even many false religions get this one right. And fairly, true religions readily shrink from the nerve of telling their people the truth, hiding instead behind the half truth of becoming no more than a loosely bound gathering of folks just slightly more intentional than a coffee house discussion group, and as unlikely to see themselves as a people of God as any I know. And so rather it seems the task of meeting us where we are often becomes mired in forgetting where we’re meant to go or that we’re even meant to go somewhere or anywhere at all in the first place, become something or someone, and know someone…. in short, we stay where and as we are rather than live in truth.
And so I share the words that drove me forward as I started… for in coming back to them, I still feel their power, energy and strength. May you do so as well.
“The Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.” Deuteronomy 4:20