Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | November 23, 2009

A Thoroughly Thurifying Sensibility

Yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Please forgive me.

Sometimes the complexities of life, the ins and outs, the hectic schedule… these just don’t offer enough of a chance to slow down and come up with something useful to others beyond the dome on my shoulders. Yes, there’s much out there worth comment, there’s much that shakes the filament and heats it into light, but one of my vows has been to  try to keep this blog as much as possible on a even and positive keel.  I’m enough of a whack job to not need to give the guys with the funny white jackets, nets, and padded rooms more reasons to chase me and they already have enough spotters helping them that I don’t need to inspire more. And my dissatisfaction with some of the negatives abounding in parts of the Orthodox blogosphere… let’s just say it’s not helping.

For me, joy is a such a key thing and a protest against the darkness both within and without that if I forget it, if I forget the joy we have…  I think all too readily the darkness closes in. But sometimes it takes an enormous amount of energy to transit from the identification of a problem, a puzzle or curiosity through the various reflections to a point where we can find the humor in our fallen humanity, in our frailities and gain perspective, and offer this brokenness back to God and the broader Body. For it’s at this point that inevitably, we see almost wryly that we’re called to far more than just curmudgeonhood.

And as much as I love our Church, our priests and deacons, our bishops, monks, nuns and hierarchs and people, it ought to be pretty plain I’m just a guy. My ambition has never been more than to be a layperson. I can talk a game, and I can imagine the priesthood and the monastery, but I suspect God had other plans, or let me follow mine until he brought me here.  My wife reminded me once that in college I talked about becoming a priest, but I have almost no recollection of that…. but apparently it had a traction with the prospective in-laws in terms of chalking up “the damn Yankee” to not even measuring “at least he’s a good provider”. Nix nix to the churchmouse. And then there was the architect thing… like that would have been different. So I followed the family business thing, and that’s worked okay and been a priesthood of its own… or at least if you will, the ticket for my Dad and I to enjoy twenty plus years of co-suffering… and some sweet moments of co-suffering love… once we finally figured “it” (each other) out.

But God gathered me here by hook or crook. And He didn’t seem much interested in asking, nor did I do much questioning, nor even wondering why it took Him so long. LOL! Only He hasn’t been all that specific since, so my guess this is something of a parking place. He’ll let me know what comes next, but at least for now, seems pretty clear I’m to keep on doing what I’m doing or stop cold turkey and build an ark or something. Makes sense. Some of us just aren’t going to: 1) Save the world, 2) Save the Church, 3) Save anyone other than by simply serving as a link in the chain to someone down the road…. if we’re lucky. Might be a space there for me… in the invisible-at-the-time thing. Is it so different? Why do we expect promotion from steerage to first class just because we joined the Church? The Body is key. The genealogy offers many obscure names which by virtue of Christ, became essential.  We too, are made essential wherever we are by Christ, and maybe  we’re that one critical link ourselves or as supporters or friends of  those  who are, and that ought to be enough.

Perhaps this seems a justification for a poverty of ambition. I’m not sure even I believe it… I mean the sin of pride is pretty well known in my bailiwick. But perhaps this is the simple reality. Do we really do ourselves any good by our ambitions to be a “somebody” in the Church? Moreover, do we do the Church any good, or those around us? I’m not convinced. And I’m certainly not convinced that ambitions of this sort – if we are candid with ourselves – necessarily amount to more than adopting a posture unconducive to our professed aspirations. Sainthood as an aspiration for ascension could perhaps be more clearly understood as a path of descent… not into nothingness, but from the sinful false images we erect of ourselves and toward real personhood.

So these are my thoughts as I end the day of my first service as Thurifer… the guy who swings the incense around the place so thick you can’t see what’s going on. And though I wasn’t quick enough to plant all those hand-off kisses on the celebrant’s right-hand, most of the rest seemed to go well enough… even if one of my handlers suggested I looked at one point as if I’d been transported to Ash Wednesday ( charcoal from finger to itchy forehead?). But at least I didn’t burn down the place, or as my wife delicately put it, “End 2,000 years of the Christian Faith in a single errant swing of the Thurible.” And at least more than one said, “Lot’s of smoke…. E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-T !!”

“Let my prayer arise in thy sight as incense, and let the lifting up of my hands, be an evening’s sacrifice.”

And so as we come to this night, it is my prayer that for all those in need, for all those ailing, for those who serve them, for those on whom they wait, and all those who share suffering in their love, that we might ask our most Holy Immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary offer her protection, and intercede in asking that in the love of our Lord, He might help all to find peace and rest from these burdens, and if it is His will, that their healing glorify His holy name. Amen.


  1. A post worth waiting for. Indeed few really aspire to decend except as a posture to be elevated from. Been there, done that, but if you assume the posture of being beaten down, sometimes God will see to it that it becomes reality…for your own good. And sometimes He will tempt you with a small thing to see how much in inflates your head, or whether or not you can be faithful in it without looking to the next step. sigh. May you be the best Thurifer God has ever sniffed.

  2. Sigh. These words echo inside me. Thanks for that.

    Kyrie Elesion.

  3. I could have written this post today! Exactly thoughts.

    I have grown tired of the endless critiques on the AFR, the Antiochian fiasco, and the like.
    As interesting and important as some of this may be, I am asking myself how this is helping my healing/salvation/theosis?

  4. SP: Thanks! I still keep that post from “Pillar and Ground of Truth” quoting the “This was from me!” which is powerfully along these lines. But doncha know… if I can just wiggle to the right and dodge the fly swatter…

    Athanasia: Kyrie Eleison! Thank you.

    SP and Athanasia: You have both witnessed much these past few months in your love within the shadow of the death (or feared death) of your parents. My thanks for your example and sharing. Seems a common course for those of us with aging parent… even if the pace varies. Dad’s been hit with cancer # 2 in combo with parkinson’s these past few motnhs… and today’s biopsy report won’t be in for a few days. But so far, he remains upbeat… but in a quiet way I know the discomfort and actor beneath. Like SP, there’s a space you want to reach and the gift of faith you’d give… but as perversely as I could be taught by so many others more readily than by him, the same holds here, and I’m powerless to help. And yet, I’m sure the difference in our relative distances to this shadow means that they know as well that I have not really been tried. I accept that, so perhaps God will reach them on His own. Maybe He’ll let me help… or watch. We’ll see. “Presence. Presence. Presence.”

    Robert: Thanks, too! Yes, while we struggle to not let our struggles define us, some seem to positively revel in this – as if unaware how negative this becomes and leaves us despondent, longing for a little more simple christianity in our churches. But then I look at myself and know our problem. Sigh.

  5. or as my wife delicately put it, “End 2,000 years of the Christian Faith in a single errant swing of the Thurible.”

    Could you hear me laughing all the way from Georgia!

    I am 100% with you. I would say more but I was a Lutheran for 15 years and have already done my time accusing everyone else of being wrong. 😉

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