Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | September 5, 2011

Hebrews Eleven

Some people watched “Ocean’s Eleven” and thought it was great. Others of us read “Hebrews Eleven” (at Fr. Stephen’s suggestion) and said, “Oh yeah!” See, the thing is, I may not be much into contemporary music like I once was, geezing as I am. But maybe it’s that this sort of thing is just my kind of rap. Again, faith is not something we think or we feel, but something we do… we live faithful lives and from time to time, this leads us to do hard things. There’s an image of the faithful man or woman that does them great disservice in my view…  and it trivializes their humanity. In burying their internal struggles and assuming that because of what we choose to remember as an outer projection of serenity that somehow their faith was uncomplicated and for them the struggles, the pull of this world and the love they have for those here in it is just easy. “Easy for you to say!” is our common discount. And so we shoehorn them into an icon that remembers their devotion to God as if it were one or two dimensional rather than incarnate with the whole of flesh and blood and complexities of living in the real world. And though that sounds as though it were a complaint, it is instead thankful recognition that the icon venerates their glory but in a way that relies on prayer to tell us how… and thus leaves us the freedom to work out our own salvation by their prayers rather than providing a cookbook as if the christian life were some paint-by-numbers simplicity. Simplicity is not bought easily, but something wrenched from the complexities of life by blood, sweat and yes, many tears. So the truth is that all those ennumerated in Hebrews Eleven struggled with these decisions, struggled with their faith and wrestled with what God would mean in their lives and to give Him the honor of life within their own. Without words other than their names, the stories of their lives are instead written in this same blood, sweat and tears and recorded in paint as an inspiration and celebration of the challenge that lies before each of us… to learn, to live and to love. For it is oddly in some ways the story of the saints that what we remember is less about their texts, and more about how they loved Christ and shepherded those sheep He placed in their care… as He places so many in ours.

Yet it is also Hebrews Eleven that cautions me on filling in these words. Asked whether I seem to rush through a text, to get “it done”, to read for my own purpose, I have to answer, “Sure”. Some texts virtually beg for this. Yet it doesn’t seem right… looking at our icons, to think of the words of Holy Scripture in the same way as though they were some Biology or Alegebra textbook, an economics tract or historical novel. Like the icons, the puzzle of the words of scripture is that they have been handed down to us whole… and it should be obvious that loving care has preserved them not as fragments, but set in context. And the fact that the whole of the image… not just the underlined or red words, not just the outlines or the faces alone… but the whole… the image as well as the frame of the story has been preserved, and this should tell us something. And perhaps the message is that these fillers actually may be just as important in guiding us to the heart and worth more pondering than we give them credit for in our determination to look for something, some one, or some passage that serves our purpose. Sure, that’s fine… do that. Serve our purpose. But then, how much do we think or offer that these words and images might also serve God’s purpose in our lives… or better, make ours and His congruent – if each time we approach as though in a rush?

For here again there is no freedom if we simply take away what we think we came for. Icons, whether in flesh, paint or word… offer us a serendipitous encounter that engages the mind and heart to provide context based on where we stand, what we see, and what we don’t. And it is less the context of the story or person that is central, but how they both project into our space and what changes we would make in our lives to accommodate and give them the honor, dimension and space needed to change this Our World in the direction of the Kingdom. And if this does not seem to be worth anything to us, fails to engage anything within us, then perhaps we might benefit with something simpler in the meantime… something as simple as the complexities of the Jesus Prayer and it’s cry for mercy, for time, for space, and another chance. Yes, I realize the Jesus Prayer is anything BUT a space filler… but on the other hand… maybe that is precisely its intention. Maybe.

Anyway, that’s a thought for the day.

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