Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | April 5, 2009

Thoughts about… lowering a net on the other side of the boat

Benadict Seraphim writes:”….were (I) to devise a “program” of introduction for myself… I think I would have focused far more exclusively on the lives of the desert fathers and saints, on practicing various prayers….”

Yeah. There’s the way I wished had been my path into the church… and then there’s the way I followed. As my dad (still) says, “..as for the folks in our family… if there’s an easy way and a hard way… we’ll always find the hard way.” Yeah. Sounds about right.

Trouble is that I think the notion that there’s an easy way is beguiling. Maybe the truth is that sometimes there just isn’t an easy way and the whole notion of choice is a farce. I mean there’s the view that swimming the English Channel just doesn’t get easier whether you start in France or start in England… ’cause it’s still the same cold water, crazy current and waves. Then again, I imagine first words of one swimmer or another on being welcomed ashore… might run: “And to think I could have flown over in 10 minutes…”, but I’m sure they’re equally glad to have come through it and completed the challenge.

It’s just that… well.. there’s this whole bit about swimming the Tiber to Rome or swimming the Bosporous to the Orthodox Church… when  I’m thinking… y’know you could just walk in. But then if you did, would it be worth it? And if it were easy… would we appreciate it?

We all have different needs. I need to boomerang around a few places first, someone else needs to do laps, and a third enjoys surfing on the back of a great white. It’s all part of the challenge of getting here. Trouble is that a lot of us didn’t know that this was the here we were troubling to find. In fact, some of us tried diligently to find somewhere else. So it’s hard to say how you make a wandering more direct. Maybe we don’t take quite as long as Odysseus… but then again… at least he knew where he wasn’t in a rush to return to, or at least why dinner out still beat dinner at home.

And maybe that explains how it is that we don’t really know where we’re headed, and how those folks we find on the reception committees where we visit aren’t so sure our church-dar is working.. and seem stand-offish. Maybe they can’t tell whether it’s more hospitable to offer welcome and lodging, or to pack us up again and send us on our way.  And maybe some are still distracted, and not so much focused on landing another as figuring out what to do with the last one brought onboard.

And while I’ve thought about this for a while… believe it or not… I can’t seem to come to a conclusion. I think the fact is that we’re all  of the same mind. The fish for their part don’t want to be landed so much as they want to swim over  to the port side and fling themselves into the boat. And for their part, the fishermen don’t want to exceed their limit so much as catch some rays, have a few beers, and enjoy  another day on the water… so they all stand on the same starboard side together, make a few casts, tell a few stories and look the part while in truth they’re throwing unbaited, nasty hooks…. but well… you know how it is. And some call it a fishing exhibition… huh?

And so we fling ourselves into the boat. Yeah. That’s what it amounts to when you “read your way into the church”… as if you could.  Of course this is only part of it… and it’s just a short-hand for a lot more going on under the hood. But it’ll do.  And then once we’re on board, we grab some tackle and join the boys throwing the nasty hooks… you know… the whole dogma, theology, and the rest… I mean, it’s great stuff and I ate it up like the chum that I am… but it’s a headful or a mouthful or shelf full or more than most folks are prepared to digest without  at least a little marinading spirits… or venturing to say, “Is this necessary?”

And no, I’m not saying that anything is really wrong with this picure, or that as some might imply that the whole amounts to Sisyphusian effort on quicksand, but I do wonder what happens were we to allow for  something completely different. I mean.. I wonder what happens when we dress up the lines, bait the hook… or chuck the hard stuff and just drop a big honking net on the other side of the boat?

I mean… let’s get serious. Some of the reasons we get’em in ones and twos has something to do with us; something to do with the fish; and plenty to do with the water conditions, the day, and the weather. Down on the Chesapeake… I’ve sat on a dock at 9:30 at night and watched the crabs literally swim under the lights so thick and fast my buddy netted two large bucketfuls in less than an hour.  Even the watermen couldn’t believe it. But it couldn’t have been easier. Now you wait years for that sort of night… and when it comes… you’re not even planning on it, or even thinking of crabs and crabbing, but maybe you’re just down checking on the dock lines when it happens… and there you are and they’re swimming by as if they want to be caught… so what do you do? You go grab a net and a bucket and do what you can.

In the meantime, of course we’ll take the ones and twos and thank God for them. But the time will come when it’s more like this one wonderful night. And then the questions of whether we’ll be ready; whether we’ll have the gear; whether we’ll be prepared; whether we’ll be helpful, welcoming, and warm; whether we’ll see the opportunity and drop whatever it is we meant to do and take up what comes our way.. or whether we’re even there at all… we can only pray. And that may be enough of a start… and the Lord will do the rest and fill the boat as only He can.

But until that time… I guess what we have is what we have. Like Benedict, I’d like to think we could lay the distinctive spirituality of the church out as a welcome mat… rather than the usual same-old same-old. But the traditions of the place, the proven path of conversion, catechesis and growth – all seem to work the other way ’round. Maybe this is taking too much responsibility upon ourselves, maybe it’s not being loving enough… but I’m just not sure we know another way to assure that we aren’t fueling something completely different.

And so it remains something to ponder.


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