Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 6, 2012

Orthodoxy: A Recovery or Rescue Operation?

If you wonder sometimes how this boat stays afloat, how this life keeps up on the surface and we keep moving… you’re not alone. I mean… Nicely Nicely got it from somewhere, didn’t he?

So becoming Orthodox isn’t an invention, we don’t have a patent, and we’re not trying to restrict its practice. I know it seems that way sometimes… and so the question comes to mind… not just does it have to be THIS hard, but is it hard?

And I’m not sure there’s a good answer to that, or one that in some measure doesn’t inadvertantly say or suggest more about the person answering and the person asking than is in fact the case. But let me take a crack at it… given that I’m happily a nobody and no one will mistake that if there’s a boat to somewhere, like Nicely Nicely, I’m in the drink rather than safely on shore or on the boat. And as any folks who know the water will tell ya’, if you’re in the drink, we’re less about rescue and much more about recovery. And though they sound similar, they’re not the same. The simple distinction begins with the idea that when folks talk about lifesaving, what they mean is that if you’re dry on a boat or on shore, you’re safe. But if you’re wet, if you’re overboard, you’re literally …dead. So the whole works back from focusing on being serious about conditions one and two and avoiding outcome number three.

And yes, there’s an inescapable sense in which Orthodoxy – while still involving water – is just a different sort of lifesaving. But the question of “Is it fun?” just isn’t the right question any more than saving someone’s life as a lifeguard is “fun”. I mean of course it beats the alternative, but there’s no escaping that it’s a hard, messy business if you really think about all that’s really involved in bringing someone back, giving them mouth-to-mouth, dodging what they cough up, and all the rest. Exhausting… actually. And surely, as parents, we’ve all seen the complete opposite… the deep tan, buff guys and their hair-and-nail focused female fatale equivalents that leave you wondering whether anyone who actually needs saving actually has a chance… I mean would these folks actually spare a moment from their barbells or recuse themselves from drying their makeup …long enough to get ‘er done? I mean, isn’t distraction the mother of disaster?

So I guess no matter where or who or even what you are, surely life is hard. Orthodoxy doesn’t change that…. rather it just (re-)opens our eyes to how hard it is to make that life good, see all around us as good, and give thanks for that which is truly truly good. Maybe in some cases, Orthodoxy even has a few ideas about how to go about living… whenever we’re ready… I mean really ready and serious about starting down that road… but it realizes as well we may need to pause here and there for refreshment.

And oddly perhaps, I wonder that we’re not like sharks… in that we breathe in a spiritual way only when we’re in motion, and whenever we  stop these spirits moving, we start sliding down another path. Silence and stillness are active, and motion in the spirit… even though they tend to look like the complete opposite. And so the hard thing for me about this Orthodox bit… is simply that for the longest time, it seems so counter intuitive… until it’s not. It’s like suddenly a bit flips over on the implanted programmable chip we call our brains, and all at once we’re going about things a different way as though things seem to finally flow better. Thus with prayer, confession, and liturgy… it may even start to become more of a second nature. Maybe not our first nature… nah, not mine at least… but that may be asking too much for those of us coming at this late in the game. But second is still good.

And so eventually… we can steel our resistance to that section within our walls that oddly relishes the struggle to make the Christian life even harder than it has to be as though asceticism should be an aerobic equation where pain equals gain, rather than something we engage almost effortlessly.. and with great joy. Okay for some, and as a reminder and all that… but as long as we don’t venture into struggling more in our heads rather than our hearts, or toy with some sort of “look at me, I’m Orthodox!” bit …which can be fine and all as an odd sort of starting point… but adds little… and doesn’t seem the sort of self-effacing thing we’re supposed to move towards… which as I take it is supposed to be more about living as though we venerate silencing that part of ourselves which must decrease, and voicing that part wherein the Holy Spirit increases as we our honor truth, offer kindness and serve the needs of those around us to the Glory of God.

We were Protestants once, yes.. and no matter that we may have become Orthodox, our origin is nothing to be ashamed of… for it gave us a notion that there was a way of living in the world that was meant to be the a way of entering the Kingdom. And this is not just good, but great and a great challenge. I think this was at least one of the points where the Reformation as it started… focused on the notion that holiness wasn’t confined to the clergy and monastics… but as much a part of the priesthood of all believers as of any other vocation. Only somehow inadvertently, we took a turn here and there and the snares of the world tended over time to fetter and belay us into embracing the world rather  than the persons and all of God’s Creation within it… and this tendency only became more pronounced as the errors and wars of the twentieth century compounded into exhausting our spirits as a people… and left us vulnerable… to every whatever which way.

So I don’t know but here we are. And fairly I don’t know whether Orthodoxy is engaged in a rescue of our people, or merely a recovery operation. Fact is, one can readily turn into the other. But let’s assume it’s rescue… and of course that’s joyous… and thus what we need is to share that joy and muzzle the rest. And so to close a circle, let me sound my own resolve for more joy and less rant, and to increase that joy… that it might balance out the rest… and if that’s not meaningful… heavy or deep, fine. Let someone else take that bit who knows it better. Frankly I don’t know how to share the notion that there is indeed joy within sadness… when and as it comes. And it comes sometimes, but not always. And of course there are times that are just sad and puzzling, too. But let us try to remember even those if we can for the moments where the joy that is more readily shared. And if I can, I’ll do that… even here. And maybe that would be good.


  1. Bravo!

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