Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | August 20, 2011

Wholely on Vacation… it’s Holy Ascension!

There is a travel blog in here somewhere, but this is not it. Fact is that I ventured down that path, and it is a wonderful path, but cannot begin to capture the sense of joy… the sense of being outside of time that I was blessed with this past week, both together with my family, and with my brothers and sisters in Christ on my visit to Holy Ascension in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

In our eyes there is a past that recalls the joys of raising our children. Now that they are grown and venture trips home only occasionally, it is a past that is treasured as it was from the first when we stored up all those wonderful moments of their first discoveries, of their early words, of all those wonderful things they got wrong… and yet somehow their wrong was more right than our own “knowing better”. Ah… the adult world is so awkward in it’s usual ways that the joys that God sends us through His little ones reminds us of just how fresh and new all of this is meant to be for us, every moment. And so these memories seared in our hearts are greater treasures than any others we might find and know. Yes, on vacation at a family friendly place… as we visited, you can see shadows of this joy being lived in other families, and you can see even that they see your acknowledgment of this wonder, but surely they cannot know… as you know what has been given to each of us so surpasses what we can offer. We may say to one another, “What a wonderful child!” or “Enjoy!” but we cannot even begin to communicate what we mean, and the love we would wish for them.

In our eyes there is also a future… a future which is part a dream and part a memory. It is a future where we may hope to find and build and preserve a space where new memories may be made and seared into our hearts. This is a venture into an unknown, but where we nevertheless look for something familiar… odd as that sounds. This may simply be familiar because it conforms to a memory we have built of these possibilities, or it may be an actual memory recalled and breathed to life once again… different, but nevertheless wonderful. We bring our children forward with us as we can, and though the tiny little girl is now a full grown woman, though the little Buster Brown boy now a full grown man… we nevertheless see them as they are, as they’ve been, and as they might be…. even as we see ourselves. And we love them now as we loved each of their past, present and in fear of God, future lives.

This is out of time, and it is as plain and ordinary and yet horribly precious at the same time. It is as real and possible as a life lived under a rock in a downtown apartment where a whole family may live in one room as it is at a beautiful resort with plenty of room for each to have their own. Do the settings matter? Yes and no. Yes, they matter because if there is anything to “Beauty will save the world”, then it matters… though I think it is equally important not to lose sight of the sort of beauty we mean here. Because no, it doesn’t matter so much  as we think. Yes, it’s easy to be out of time at a place where the surrounding visible beauty helps transport your heart, but many folks never manage that transport no matter how many resorts they frequent, nor no matter how long they spend there. It may lie in where we seek to go within these spaces, or where we are, or what we ask of ourselves when we’re there. And yes, others seem to find that beauty within themselves and within the others they are with no matter how simple or even desultory their surroundings. I have visited both places and seen both, but cannot say I have lived both, so that story will have to remain someone else’s to tell… yet it seems somehow appropriate to acknowledge and not seek to claim anything special for having been blessed to see one or the other when my experience scarcely skims the shallows of my limited awareness.

Yet it is from this base that I think we intend to ascend… from within time to that point that is neither in space nor time (the two are inextricably linked), but wholely beyond. This is the vacation I think we find each Sunday, each Divine Liturgy or Vespers…. each time we enter the church as a member of her Body… and lay aside all earthly cares.

And so it transpired this past week, that on transporting ourselves to Charleston, South Carolina, for one of the most wonderful times together, I managed as well to slip off to another wonderful place equally out of time: Holy Ascension in Mt. Pleasant. This is a truly remarkable church with a truly remarkable story I’d discovered some years ago surveying new churches for a possible renovation to ascertain my then-priest-at-the-time’s understanding of what an Orthodox church should look like (icons by Alexander Chernyy of Moscow and Dmitry Shkolnik of California help! as do materials chosen with special care and laid in place with the loving hands and sweat of the parish). A handcrafted faith does indeed desire a handcrafted church… and here it is. Yes, Holy Ascension has that “look” as well as a congregation that seems to fill it the way it should be filled, and leadership that seems to lead it the way it should be led…  out of time and place and towards pure prayer. I attended a Wednesday evening Vespers, and enjoyed a quiet worship together. Much was familiar, and some was not. Memory was useful, and eyes and ears for the present… even more. I thought to take pictures, but instead endeavored to sear another set of moments into my experience. Indeed, it was an experience of restful, joyful silence broken with beautiful voices and a feast for the eyes. The choir had only two voices that evening, but somehow, everyone was in tune with each other and softly inviting the ears to listen closer and closer. Though at times words were lost, their meaning was not… nor the intention behind them. Saying more than this almost seems to intrude my clumsiness into the picture of beauty I’d rather leave you with.  Here indeed, God dwells among men, and yet the good priest, Fr. John Parker, was mindful in his homily of the one thing needful to this place: Hearts that will turn the words of God here offered into living witness through deeds worthy of the beauty of these prayers. How easy it is to be hearers of the Word rather than doers… let us instead be worthy of our Orthodox faith, worthy of our love for Christ, and offer whatever we can to live an incarnate faith… a real Orthodoxy.

Grant it, O Lord.

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