Saturday, March 31, 2007

I Run Alone

There's something that happened several months back that for some reason seems significant to me.

I went to the high school track near my home to run one evening. It was just past dusk so the only light I had was the street lights around the track in a relatively quiet residential area. The spectator stands on the east side of the track had two large floodlights on opposite ends. Overhead, I don't remember exactly at what cycle the moon was in, but some light was offered this evening.

I have run many times on this track and also done stair climbing routines many a day and night here as well. I prefer to run alone for the most part because when other people are there, I contend with other thoughts besides the normal ones that have to be overcome during my run. I end up inadvertently competing with some unawares person on the track or attempt to impress some pretty lady. Not outright either. This battle is submerged somewhere in the consciousness of wanting acceptance or approval through performance of a duty well done. It is a self-centered turn of my attention away from the moment into the imagined thoughts of others.

I don't particularly enjoy running to begin with. Three days in my workout cycles are for cardiovascular exercise. So running one day along with stair climbing on another and a high impact jumping jack routine fill out my three respective "cardio days" interspersed throughout the whole cycle(my workout schedule and cycles are complex and there is no need to bore anyone with their details).

This particular evening, I took to the track and had it all to myself. Before the actual run I take a walk around the track, praying as my ability lends itself. Then I begin.

I do not consider myself a good runner but my pace is not bad either. I've not timed myself in years but I judge from the times others have been on the track with me, so I know on the average, when I'm there, I mean business in my run.

My breathing I regulate and my aim is that my steps should fall rhythmically, machine like. Doing this, I complete the first mile on a planned three mile run. At the end of each mile, at the quarter lap point I sprint it out, giving it all I've got only in the last quarter of the third mile. On the first and second mile , I hold back a slight reserve in the sprint, saving some for the rest of the run.

Running, I completed the first mile in this manner .Then on the first lap of the second mile as I turned the corner I saw in my peripheral vision another runner about to step on to begin his run. His presence at this point bothered me not one bit as having completed the first mile with its sprint and now into my second mile, my thoughts were reduced to only pushing the body forward. I passed the beginning mark of the lap into my second lap of the second mile and he began behind me to run, staying at a perfect distance about ten or so feet from me, each of his steps falling with my own. (Plmph,plmph,plmph....)

We exchanged not one word yet I knew his aim was to measure me in this run. So I ran. He stayed with me for two whole laps in this manner, just at the same distance. I found his rhythmic company welcome, actually. We entered into the fourth lap of the second mile when he gave up, seeing my pace was determined, not willing to slow down or stop. Know more mimicking steps behind me. I was alone in my run again.

I was disappointed not only for the loss of company, but he hadn't seen anything yet. I had yet to sprint the last quarter lap of this second lap. As I turned the corner I searched the open dark landscape and saw no one. I looked to the parking lot to my right and a car was leaving, my running companion in it , I presume.

This memory gives illustration to me of one of my observations about this pilgrimage in this world. Tonight as I was driving home from being out with friends, I reflected on several instances where a pact between friends was made. In one, I at one time was terribly addicted to chewing snuff. Two of my friends and I gave up our habits together; I, snuff, they, cigarettes.
To this day I am nicotine free. They after temptation returned.

In chastity, just in the last year and a half, a similar pact by me was entered on with another set of friends. I today am the only one standing from this group.

My own awareness of who I am is gradually unfolding itself into my heart, the very center of me. I am all the time becoming more truly me. I have followed a very severe form of discipline at times, driven from untold desires and aspirations. The price I have paid for making me into a thing, divorced from normal human fallibility, has been staggering. I have built a life of aloneness which only in the last several years has a turn around begun, entering the rightful falleness which is my proper state among my fellow pilgrims, contributing unselfishly and being contributed to as others seem fit.

And yet, I can't help believing that the journey, though impossible not in communion with others, is at some deep level very personal. A decision must be made that in the pace our Lord would have us run the race set before us, many will begin but not all will finish, and their not finishing must not deter us from the prize which is the upwards calling in Christ. If needs be, we run alone.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

If I Turn from Thee

O LORD, if I turn from Thee, what will become of me?

I have nothing to draw with, I have no hidden reserves.
I have spent myself on the vanities of this world.
I have despised Thine image in me, I have turned my back upon Thee,
Yea, I have spat upon Thee.

I have sought counsel within myself and have received succor from them who love themselves.
They have loved me with the love of of this world, for the world loves its own,
And what am I but a child of this world?
Yes, they love me. Thine image in me, reflecting Thyself, showing forth Thyself,
They suck out of me, for this image reflects their darkness, and in this darkness, themselves.

O great emptiness! Fill me, O LORD!

Despise not the work of Thy hands, for whom have I but Thee, O Lord?
Have You forgotten I am made of clay?
Where are You, o Lord?

My spirit groans, my soul is heavy, mine eyes are downcast.
Where once my pride filled me and I knew it not,
Now even belief in myself goes and Thou standest aloof of me.

I am so unsure, o Lord. Pressed between my former self and Thy Kingdom to come,
Nay, Thy Kingdom here. Am I showing forth fruit of death to this age?
Did Thy saints live these thoughts, O Lord, or am I deluded? Whom may I ask?

If Thou shouldst leave me o Lord, where would I go?
Thou hast made Thyself the friend of the sinner, the one lost and broken.
O LORD! I believe! Help Thou mine unbelief.

Tarry not, for if I turn from Thee, what will become of me?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"The Orthodox Church is the True Church!"

Recently, on Mike Liccione's blog, Sacramentum Vitae, I had the opportunity to banter a bit with other bloggers about Mike's post, Development of Doctrine,Fr.Louth, and Ecumenism. This post is one of several Mike has posted regarding this issue of development of doctrine, a cardinal Roman Catholic belief that allows the Roman Catholic Church to explain why, having shared in the Orthodox Faith for one millenia with all the Sees of "the East", Rome can hold doctrine today that make us Orthodox very uncomfortable, especially when the higher ups in the episcopacy get together and rumors of uniting once again seem to be increasing.
This post is not an attempt to highlight our differences, nor to discuss doctrine per se, but to ponder impressions I felt being part of the comments early on.

One of my main impressions was the discovery that, to some extent, it did not seem as if many(if any) of the bloggers were interested in dogmatic stances of the Orthodox Church spoken of as self evident facts. What the bloggers were intersted in were in statements being made that could be debated with, to be argued in a philosophical way. This is not necessarily bad in my view, but my real reason for concern was that the religious experience of one making a claim was so easily discounted.
Understandably, I can see why this is so because we can lob religious experiences at each other and never discuss the soil one is rooted in to have said religious experiences and the discussion would quickly break down. But on the other hand I detected a "Philosophy vs. Religion" undercurrent running throughout.
These are issues I will write about in future installments.

Getting back to this post, "The Orthodox Church is the True Church". I use this statement to perhaps once again highlight another impression I mused about while commenting on this site. Substantiating this claim is again not my purpose here, but to comment about reactions to such statements, whether this one or others stating a truth or what one asserts to be true.
When making this statement in debates with our "Western" friends, the immediate response is usually one of indignation and incredulity that one can be so narrow to believe such a thing.
(For the purpose of this post, all non-Orthodox Christians will be designated as "Western". The merits of titles such as "Eastern" and "Western" are not the subject of this post, but I do believe they merit discussion which will be left for the future.)
I believe the incredulity stems not from having examined the claim to judge its veracity but from a manifestation of the times: having to state ideas or assertions in a "politically correct" manner so as to not offend anyone.

Increasingly, even among our Western friends, a statement made such as the the one I chose as the title for this post arouses anger and antipathy that any such statement could be made. However, many of our Christian friends complain of the same treatment given them among non-Christians when the exclusivity of Jesus is claimed. That salvation can ONLY be found in the Person of Jesus Christ is seen as ludicrous and narrow and very "behind the times".
Now what I wish to bring to the Christian reader's attention is his own reaction to someone scoffing at his belief that Jesus is the one and only unique Son of God, and as this Person, none exist or have existed or further yet will exist ever to offer an alternative way to God. If as a Christian, believing on Him as truly the Son of God, I ask you to judge yourself; why do you believe such a thing? What behooves you to accept as true what many countless others cannot or will not? Is it because the Holy Scriptures teach you so? Does the church you attend expound on Him this way? He changed your life? Just because? Really, what proofs do you offer the unbeliever to set forth Jesus as the unique Son of God?

Believing on Jesus in this manner, in so narrow a way, is not hip, not cool at all. It seems to fly in the face of the sensibilities of the modern man approaching anything which purports to be true in and of itself. "That's your opinion" is a common response to making any kind of an assertion of truth. Contextualizing a statement, placing it within a grid where when plugged in the statement comes alive, pulsating with the energy of its atmosphere, seems to be far removed a task for us moderns. The hard work necessary to verify a statement is a great deterrent to seeking out truth. Pat, easy answers, the homework done by someone else is the rule of the day, their conclusions so easily accepted.

"The Orthodox Church is the true Church" statement falls from the same barrage of indifference and political incorrectness. Never mind that parallel with what has been handed down as accepted history runs another telling of the story, unknown and hidden to seekers of the easy way. Never mind that Her Faith is contained intact, full, unchanged from the beginning and that faith is itself that context which the human person may enter into, "plug in". Living in this atmosphere, breathing the fragrance exuded by the Spirit, a man may come to know the Ancient of Days as He freely roams about the garden, fellowshipping with the man. Here the man truly becomes, translated from the realm of shadows into that substance and fabric of which Immortality is fashioned, being healed of death.

No, I say, never mind. For you always seek proof. You have stopped your ears. You do not believe me. You are not willing to believe that maybe, just maybe the truth I tell you. The Christian life to you is just another category of your existence taken down from the shelf at your leisure to discuss, to intellectualize.

Never mind that those who most perfectly realized the perfection to be found in Christ have born witness to His Resurrection, living His Life and have left to us much to inculcate the belief deep down that this life is not for the wise but for the simple, that to live His life I must needs only repent and throw myself upon His mercy.
No. Never mind I say.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Nation of Nothing Behind the Eyes

Eye in a bowl
Originally uploaded by Dogen.

Its funny. When I meet someone , their eyes tell me a lot. The soul is revealed through the eyes, its state manifest publicly, naked before scrutiny. I search to penetrate with mine, I want to see what is there. I want to know you.
I have observed much; in others and also in myself. I have become a student of myself, observing my reactions as one who stands outside himself, searching the depths of my own being. But often in darkness I plumb as the illumination of the Lord I scorn, preferring my own light. Huh. The Master warns me to beware that lest the light in me be darkness. And darkness it is, my own pride blinding me to my own lostness.
But I digress. I began speaking about the eyes of others.
I notice that when I speak with someone with light behind their eyes, a certain presence emanates from within them. They too are probing me, looking deep within me, searching, perhaps reasoning and asking inwardly, "What kind of man is this?"
I noticed too another kind of man, empty, the light gone or flickering. Their gaze averts mine, unable to endure the disclosure. Here, there ,they look, but not into me. Perhaps this man has lost hope. Life didn't pan out as he expected. He is embittered, seeing no more pure good anymore but all he experiences is tainted by expectation of more of the same. A closed circle of existence.
I noticed yet another kind of man. I look into his eyes and I see the world. This man's eyes have never beheld anything of Heaven. If Heaven has impressed itself with any weight on this soul, quickly this soul has caused Its flight, so that no lingering fragrance remains. He is animated by the world. The world is his home. The world has blinded him and he is enamored by its beauty. Eternity does not bestir him to rise; to lift his eyes upon Him that He may have compassion upon him, for he beholds Him not.
The Holy One is not reflected by the world, but rejectes Him, asking instead for the murderer, that deceiver of old, a murderer from the beginning. The world asks once again for him rather than the Healer, the lancer of the pus of our being, for He penetrates. Deep. Too deep. So deep.

But godly sorrow produced by the Great Physician leads him to repentance, to abandon and shed the old man.
Ah, but the world. He loves his home.

Everywhere I turn, in so many faces, I see the same eyes. A nation of nothing behind the eyes.

"Save me, o Lord."

I look and look and I see the world. These eyes that show me the world; its shadows and illusions. Froth on top of every cup I'm bidden to drink at its beckoning, discovering there is no substance. The same trick gets me every time.

These eyes are mine.

What fate awaits me? What is behind my eyes?

"Do You look, o Lord, and see me among those with nothing behind their eyes?"

Friday, March 09, 2007

Unto the Ages of Ages

He who has conquered Death and is alive forevermore, unto Ages of Ages.
O humanity, having left your first estate, having become mortal, you are dead. Death is your reward. Death is the fabric of your existence, it holds you, it defines you, you breathe it as air. It you run from. It you strive to postpone. It you define life by. What is life but not death? What are you, o humanity but a slave to not death?
Why, o death, do you hover over me? Why do you stick closer to me than a brother? Why do you separate me from love? Why, o death, do I have to not be?
Sin is conceived in me, o death, and I die more so, and yet you are not satisfied. Die more you want me to. I sin and die once again.
And when this mortal frame expires, I will continue to die, o death, forever. I will forevermore not be in Him who is Life.
My God, my God, who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to you, o LORD. I, a sinner, am to span eternity with You. You who have conquered death and who can die no more, I am to be found in You. You, o Lord Jesus Christ, in the community of Your Father and the Holy Spirit, forever, from eternity begotten by Him, you were when there was not any save You, o Triune God.
Thou hast been always loved by Thy Father, o Lord. Forever Thy Father has sent Him who testifies of Thee, proceeding from Him, the Fount, hovering above the waters, the earth null and void.
And I, a worthless sinner, who has broken all Thy commandments, whom You have loved, but because Your love burned me I ran, seeking my own way, am called by Thee to dine with Thee.
This brokenness only I have to offer Thee, o gracious Master, I have nought else, my beautiful Lord, lover of mankind.
But I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips.
Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, o LORD
Unto the Ages of Ages,
Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Struggle Today

Has anyone ever lived a hedonistic, sinful life where Self was on the throne and then made the about face, repenting, turning towards Life? Has anyone who has been repenting ever regret the new life, with its sometimes austerity, deprivations and pine for the old life, relishing its lusts, its memories, its wantonness? Has anyone been at those moments, having decided to believe on Him, placing faith in Him, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, having tasted of the Lord, that He is good, the Lover of mankind, and still desire Egypt? Has anyone desired Egypt, knowing what awaits those who have an evil heart of unbelief who depart from the living God, that if sin is willfully committed after having received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin remains?
Such a day I had.
Having undertaken to be counted among His disciples, by necessity much of my old life with all of its desires, aspirations, and thoughts has to be crucified that I may decrease and He increase. I must continually be made weak that He may be strong in me. There is just one problem: I don't like this. I like my former self. Had I not begun to realize the futility of this life, I would still be living it. I did not realize it though through some inherent, internal capacity to do so, but the weight of circumstances pressed upon me, bringing me to my knees, where there was no other choice.
In the midst of this new life, hidden pockets of joy are unveiled by our Lord, buttressing my flagging spirit. Because being being transformed the metamorphosis is not yet complete, the new man is not always comfortable to wear, the old man is familiar, he's snug, he fits me just right, for after all, I made him.
This new man has been created in Christ, according to His will. He cannot be put on by the force of our Lord, for He never imposes Himself on me. I must put Him on. I must be willing to die. It cannot be done for me. Here is freedom. Here is choice. Can't anyone else do this for me? Someone? I don't want freedom. I don't want choice.
The way ahead is dark, because I hold no light. I am told He is the Light. Traveling through this world of shadows, I am told He is the Way. Him, not some static, exterior to myself system that will encourage my Ego, "There, there, every thing's going to be all right, you're doing just fine." To tell the truth, I'm not doing just fine, I'm not so swell after all. I cannot see Him, I can only"see" Him, not directly, but with the eyes of my soul, but I don't know how to use these eyes that well yet, they are untrained and they are restrained in favor of the old man living his life, refusing to come to the Cross to be crucified.
So on this day of Great and Holy Lent, it's third Tuesday in 2007, a day of fasting from foods for the body and lusts for the senses and the mind, I write these things, just to air out these thoughts, hoping once again upon Him, for hope in me is dwindling.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Hi, everybody, I'm new at this. But I hope this little journey I'm taking called Life will somehow pan out. For this I hope to place my hope, my desire, my everything on Him and in Him that it will turn out so. What is faith after all but a hope in that which is not seen? But I know in Whom I have believed in, and I believe He is able to manage this vessel into harbor that I may behold Him everlastingly.
That I am a sinner becomes ever more apparent to me, not only in the big things, but more so in the small things.
I firmly believe that in the Orthodox Church rests the hope of all man. I would wish to let those that visit here know that I am not formally trained in philosophy or rhetoric and have perhaps very little if anything original to say. But one thing I offer is my heart, all of it.
All are welcome here, of whatever Confession as well as those who have none. I only ask that charity be observed at all times. This does not mean that strongly held opinions are discouraged, but I do hope that personal attacks on persons be forsworn.
Oh, and I'll try to post good stuff.