Great Lent

February 16, 2010 at 15:15 (Orthodox Christianity, Philosophy, Religion, Society)

Lent has started for us Orthodox. One thing this season does is reinforce to me something that I have been pondering the last few months anyway. I have a hard time with balancing spiritual and worldly concerns. Either I work a lot and worry about the family and am unavailable for services, etc, or I push the family hard to get where we need to be on schedule regardless of whether anyone is tired or sick or sore and push back against work so I have more time. I can’t find a balance at all. Some of it is because I cannot force myself to do anything half way. I have to do it at full speed ahead to the exclusion of most other things. Which is why I haven’t been more proactive as a prospective reader – I can’t dedicate myself to it fully, so while I recognize the desire to do so, and recognize the importance of the function liturgically, because I can’t dedicate myself to it 100% I find it hard to do so at all!

Secondly, I have a LOT to do, and a lot of conflicting schedules, interests, disabilities, etc to balance just to get to the grocery store, much less attempt Theosis! For example, if my son (who has autism) has a bad day, or my wife has something wrong and doesn’t want to go to church, or I have to work, or something similar, I have a problem obviously. But moreso than one might think! Because not only in those cases are they not going, but they will inevitably not want me to go, whether it be to get me to help with work, to help take care of my son, or to do whatever. So what do I do? Draw a line in the sand? That inevitably starts conflict. Do I cave? That inevitably leads to more of the same and the expectation of more caving in the future.

Aside from that, the other part of it is that I see clearly the magnitude of my sins and, as Paul so eloquently states at least once, can’t seem to force myself to follow what I know to be the correct path. Nothing can be done to make myself more deserving, because I can never, ever attain to a level of spirituality (for lack of a better word) that God truly deserves. I can never love enough to match His love. Of course Christ came and did indeed die for MY sins. Not for mankind in general, but MINE specifically. And that sort of thing requires that we dedicate ourselves wholly to fasting, prayer, readings, services, and a spiritual life. How can I do that at the level it deserves? How am I to carry that into the world? It seems usually to be the case that people just make an effort to kind of do the best they can, and pray and repent and fast and read and continue on. But I pass through life getting angry frequently, finding myself frustrated with people in particular and upset and disappointed in mankind in general. I’m lucky if just get to church occasionally!

I have shed tears during prayer and reading at home, understood the meaning of ‘gnashing of teeth’, felt the presence of God in all things, saw a figure I KNEW to be St. Herman out of the corner of my eye as I read the Thanksgiving Prayers at church, and I have glanced at the sun and known all in a heartbeat, before it was taken from me just as quickly. And yet while the Church says otherwise, I also see the need for the death penalty. I see the need for a vigorous defense of people and family, including deadly force, and yet I also see the spark of the divine in us. I have compassion for those poor fools in the Middle East, and yet I believe that their ‘religion’ must be fought tooth and nail in the physical arena as well as the spiritual and moral. How can this contradiction exist? How can we balance any of it?

Add in the attacks of the world and the prince of this world, and we end up in worse shape than we started! People cut you off in traffic, insult you, abrasive people abound, and good deeds at best get you indifference. Family get lazy and want to sleep in, or don’t understand the ‘obsession’ with theology. And of course the more spiritual muscles one exerts, the worse it all feels. As soon as one starts to get some understanding and illumination, and as soon as that vague illumination starts to be put into practice, the world seems to attack from some side or another. All of which is probably why monasteries exist – to shelter people from the world and give them time and experience to reach those highest spiritual states so that they can bring it back out into the world. Well that’s great for them, but what of the rest of us? Are we condemned to just do the best we can over and over? Is there not a better way? Sure we can lead sheltered and quiet lives and progress spiritually, but how to truly integrate that into the real world? Surrounded by lunacy, pestered by idiocy, hounded by cruelty and horrors, how can we be what we are supposed to be? One would of course reply to not worry about those others and that becoming a light yourself would illuminate those around you, but I wonder if the world is so desensitized and dysfunctional that the light would have any impact outside of the heart rending emotional local interest segment on the 6 o clock news.

Given that our ultimate goal is Theosis, how can we even begin to approach close enough to that goal to so much as see it over the horizon? I really do find it a bit discouraging! This is the season of bright sadness, and maybe this is why!

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