Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 17, 2011

Normalcy through The New Year

Perhaps I’ve never been a normal guy. It’s just something I missed, or at least never achieved… if it’s an achievement… and I think it is an achievement of sorts. If something comes with difficulty for us, I think we imagine that it must be easier for someone else somewhere. Since for most of us, I’m not so sure this is true, I still list normalcy… or being normal as something of an achievement.

The thing is that in our society, normalcy comes at a price. Again, not being normal, I don’t know what that is.

My experience is that I spend much of my life wondering what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. Self-awareness has its limits as a tool for normalcy. Is it really normal to not have much in the way of an instinctive approach to life? I suppose it’s not only because so many other folks don’t seem troubled by these wonders. But I don’t read minds, and I do read the newspapers where I discover that there are unseen, unknown and unimagined depths to toasters, lampposts, and probably even Britney Speers’s ABC gum (there was a wad for sale on eBay that went for $1,000 or more once that sticks in my “not normal” memory).

So there’s a question that comes to mind as an Orthodox convert: “What is normal Orthodoxy?” which is swiftly followed by “What’s a normal Orthodox guy/girl look like? and what do they think about?” I have no idea. I wonder about it though. Some suggest it’s someone who’s been born Orthodox. Others, that this is precisely the LAST criterion.  I see a lot of blogs where there seems to be a certainty about what it is and how all the rest of us converts don’t measure up… and he’s got that right in my case at least. Seems that’s the secret most of us “other” bloggers won’t admit. All I know is that being Orthodox seems to involve a heightened awareness in so many of us who are already so overly self-aware… that the process about becoming “normal” remains an intellectual concept and maybe for some a desire or “passion”… which suggests some danger in the process.

And then there’s the other aspect: “What will normal Orthodoxy be like… if I ever get there?” And since you wonder if this means that you suddenly find your spiritual senses worn out, over-wrought, and strung out like some burned out rock musician… you begin to think being a normal Orthodox dude might not be a good thing. So you think to yourself: “Maybe this sense of I can’t get enough of Orthodoxy isn’t great, but it’s all I know and the something else makes me wonder whether it will mean I lose my zeal for God. Or is that God with a small “g”, because it’s an idol of God rather than the real God… an idol of me adoring the image of me loving the image of a god… which is really just loving myself. So there you are… or at least maybe there I am. And it’s still clueless.

But maybe as well we might find some sense in which this awareness can be stilled within but without giving it up entirely. Maybe it can be quieted by putting it to the side under control of prayer. I’m not sure how to do that, but maybe I can find a space to make way for other things without stopping this god-awareness by focusing more on the little things and less on those larger. Don’t know, but maybe that’s why we might give this a try, but keep the fire hose handy.

So the navel-gazing continues. And while it continues in silence for so many of us that I’m left wondering maybe that’s normal or at least healthier than giving it voice, I’ll voice a bit of it… so you don’t have to. And maybe that’s no more than a thought, but it may also be the beginning of real escape and real change.

Might be the stuff of a new resolution… for this year and the next.


  1. I am going through a very similar experience right now, thinking along the same lines. Just going through a lot of doubts at the moment, it seems like we come up with elaborate schemes to explain why “God is absent”: faith isn’t magic, God honors our freedom, miracles only happen from time to time, He’s everywhere but we don’t have eyes to see Him, etc. So it seems to me at the moment that everything we have constructed is to substitute this void, to “interpret” the absence, so we have the eucharist (His body and blood as bread and wine), the bishop/priest (God’s spokesman, embodying God’s presence in his person), the creeds to explain it all etc. etc. It seems all very absurd at the moment, for if God’s wants to unify us, heal us, be with us etc. etc., then why is it not more evident? Instead I see furthering fragmentation (a la 1054 AD and so on) and the occasional rumor of a miracle. Thanks for listening, and sorry.

    • Robert… thanks for writing. If maybe you’re wondering whether you’re getting anywhere sometimes… then I’m with you. My doubts have more to do with my limits than with my faith. And I suspect it is a sign of the resistance hard wired within me… resisting what I think comes next: the stilling of the old man by making space for the new. And doubt is simply resistance to this process. Disguised… but the effect may be the intent.

      Don’t be sorry. I think the Church is the tool of salvation… not an end in itself, but the tool to get there. It’s fine that we so often come to love the church, but the fact I think is that we love the process of salvation… and this love allows us to keep on going when it feels like we’re not getting anywhere. The Church is also her people… past and present and to come. The process is prayer, confession, communion… and then stepping into living it in everyday life by helping others. If it seems circular at times, it’s because the spiral of ascent many times is such a slight slope that it’s almost imperceptible… or we just stumble. Maybe that’s the successful part of our humility… that we can no longer recognize our progress.

      So think of discouragement as the tool of the other guy. Look for the everyday miracles… as one periodical used to bill itself: “Magazine of the achievable dreams…”, so too, do I think this is what the average lay life is about. No, not becoming some super hero christian… but something more humble. Books and monastics and all that seem to be more often about the super hero guys… and its great. There’s lots of little tips here and there that are useful even for us ordinary folks. But if you’re not a super hero… so what? Don’t be discouraged. You may in fact be the key to someone else who will become one. Be encouraged. Most of us… we’re all taking smaller steps and letting everyone else get to heaven… maybe if we see it as our gift to NOT do it, to NOT have to, then instead of looking for all the accolades of cleverness, of virtue and all the like, we can do the dirty work that needs doing rather than being afraid of getting soiled.

      Does this mean I don’t get confused, and wonder about the noise in my head? ‘Course not! Still there. Yet if I can get SOME stillness… what great rest that will be!
      As St. Silhouan said, “Keep thy mind in Hell and despair not.”

  2. Normal for me was/has been/probably always will be ‘dysfunction.’ Get on board. The train’s a coming…whatever.

    As for the rest, my husband and I are learning to stop questioning, stop examining with a magnifying glass or telescope and to just say ‘Lord…have MERCY already would ya?’ A bit irreverent…well, okay a LOT irreverent…but there you have it. We both love the Church and tolerate (on a good day) Her people – us included in the ‘people.’

    Kyrie Elesion! And Happy New Year!

  3. I’ve always been of the mind “Why be normal” but then what is a definition of normal seems to be more and more lost in our generation, what with all the “celebrate diversity” stuff. A “normal convert” to Orthodoxy? I think the ones who don’t adapt an affect are the ones I put my money on. They seem to be few and far between. As for Robert’s issues, those are just “life” and not particularly “Orthodox”. Been there and on and off go back there. After 58 years I’ve come to the conclusion we are all muddling through faith, some people just put on a better public show than others.

    • Yep. A friend once said, “Normal’s boring. Who wants to be that?” Dates me, huh?
      Well… yes… the whole Normal Convert to Orthodoxy thing is a bit of an oxymoron, now ain’t it? Your whole parish converted… but that’s rare I think. Most of stream in by ones and twos. Sometimes a family here and there. But whole churches? Probably not.
      A good Methodist friend said, “So you becamse Orthodox, huh? Seems down my way most go Catholic. Not many going there, though. Not in our parts.”
      So I guess that makes us all some sort of Six Sigma events. Kind of special sound to it now? Cool.
      Finally… as to putting on a show… if there’s one thing I ain’t never had it’s stage presence. Zero show. But you knew that.

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