The more time I spend in this church, the more I understand how tremendously I underestimated her wonders. This is not saying that I came into her with anything less than the best expectations you as you would expect at any marriage, but only that my expectations were far too modest. The wonders have been far greater than I could ever have known or anticipated. If anyone had tried to describe them – and no doubt someone did somewhere, I would have probably been turned off… as if the speaker were in fact no more than a “foamer” (train nut term for slobbering, fanatic freak), and nothing and no one could be that good . After all, there’s a reason modesty is a virtue, and the best virtues often withheld and hidden until the intentions and commitments are more clearly made one to another, and can be safely shared.
Were (and are) there warts? Certainly. Plentyfold. But the important thing is to not let these get in the way of a developing, nurturing relationship. And as what remains to me of this life is likely far less than what has already run, the time for a commitment to the people in a place here and there – least of all my church – has come to mean something more than it might have. My commitment is of course to the people I know in my parish as I’ve found them, but more than that, to the saints who have walked through her doors through the centuries everywhere and left their legacy for me to find, their prayers with which to pray, their hymns to sing and harmonize, and their Spirit… to humble me as no other has allowed.
And so in some respects, love makes you feel like a kid again. And old kid perhaps with stiff knees and body parts that don’t work so good. Worn and in need of tweak, a kick and some extra fuel to get started in the mornings, but the day is still long and the old windbag ain’t dead yet. Nah, it’s the inside that thrills to the challenge, the demands, the change and being taught and formed in ways that are always new. And it’s this that perhaps makes a difference: Where do we allow ourselves to be humbled and taught? By what and by whom? If not God, then whom? If not by His people and their commitment to love one another, then by what values? But more than that… what spirit will we nurture and protect so that others might in turn one day, coming after us, know that history isn’t written on paper but lives in traditions kept by men and women like those of us who struggle with ourselves along a Way to becoming a people of God?
There are other choices. We can choose not to. Some would even say we never made this choice. That it was in the genes like some defective programming (that’s usually what the implication is), or some “gift” (if they’re feeling generous to us), or some brainwashing ( if they’re not) that allows us to do what they cannot or will not. Surely they’re right about one thing: It’s not by our own power alone, but by the prayers of others, the saints, our blessed and most glorious Lady Theotokos, and Christ Himself. And if that’s all a delusion, then at least it is a wonderful, beautiful and glorious delusion of great joy… and I’m happy to be a fool and all that comes with it rather than one that sneers and sees the foibles of others as somehow indicative of lesser beings. My God smiles at our foibles, weeps at our disappointments, tears his heart out when we stray, welcomes us back when we climb back on board, and most of all, lifts us with His love… not by ourselves and alone, but with all and for all. Why and how could we not lay down even just a part of our lives for such a one as would do this – all of this – just for us?
So it is that in reading Abbott Tryphon’s remarks from his blog, “The Morning Offering” and the piece from October 13th, “Heavenly Worship Must Enter into the Heart” caused me to smile:
Every time we Orthodox stand in worship, we must take in the words of the service, and make them our own. Merely observing the service is not worship, as we must enter into Divine Worship with our heart, and give attention to the Word of God that permeates the whole of the services. We must breath in the Word of God, and let the action of the Word take root in our heart. The Word of God is a Living Word, imparting God’s grace.
The Word, as heard in the readings of the Epistle and the Gospel, and prayed in the liturgical texts, is meant to transform us, as God is making us His holy people. This regeneration takes place when the Word has entered our heart.
Abbot Nazarius of Valaam, taught that we must strive as well as we can “to enter deeply with the heart into the church reading and singing and to imprint these on the tablets of the heart”. This is why it is so important for our spiritual progress to drive out distracting thoughts that confront us, while in worship.