This is a photo of Jerusalem covered in this winter’s snow. For me, it is a scene that renders me quiet and contemplative. Once again, entering into the “Silence” that is so necessary for our minds and hearts and souls to connect with Our Lord. When we become more “silent” and “hold things close to the vest” as my grandmother would say, noises seem to come at us from all directions. “Stop the world, I want to get off” is the title of a play from the early 60’s that told the story of a man who opted to partake of relationship outside of his marital vows, seeking the fulfillment he could not somehow grasp. The gist of the story is that he realized, as an old man, that the fulfillment he sought walked right next to him, his entire sordid journey, and that it was in the love from his wife. Sometimes things we seek “outside” are with us, all along.
I have often spoken to others about stuffing themselves with the things of this world, trying to fill the place in their hearts, minds, and souls that only God can fill. I see so many people reaching for physical perfection, often resulting to surgery to obtain it, and they are still left contemplating their reflection in the mirror. “Who’s the fairest of them all?” was the question the Queen asked in a famous story we often read to our children. We are sharing with them, at a young age, that the physical is far more important than the people we are. And we will quite often seek the physical, rather than spiritual cure, for our ills. We buy bigger houses, newer cars, ridiculously expensive purses and shoes, and we still are not satisfied. Some friends are always changing to a different color of hair, rather than dealing with the changes aging brings along with it. Botox and eyebrow-lifts, collagen treatments and smile enhancements. It seems that everywhere you turn, advertisers are trying to get you to buy something else that will “improve” you. And that sets up a mindset that is often in direct opposition to a life of contemplative prayer and reflection.
As Abbot Tryphon wrote today, “Heaven and Hell are a condition of relationship with God that is either theosis or perdition. The lake of fire and heaven occur within the same realm, both being not about places, but about relationship. For one who hates God such a place as in the presence of God, will be eternal suffering. The Orthodox Church teaches that Heaven and Hell are in the same realm, and that Hell is not separation from God symbolically or physically, Hell is a place chosen.”
I was trying to explain to a loved one the decision-making process my husband and I are going through and he just could not grasp the why of it. He thought in a completely different way than I do. His perspective is very worldly, in that he has no formal religious affiliation and has often stated things like, “Religion is for weak people.” In this conversation, I resorted to a “silence” and let him rant away, because I realized that no amount of explaining on my part would enable him to see things from my perspective. It was healthier for our relationship to just remain silent. I do not seek after the “almighty dollar” in my life; neither does my husband. And to someone who lives for financial achievement as their sole source of recognition and confidence, it is inconceivable that someone would opt to choose family over location, job, or income levels. And comfort is one of the top items on the list for accomplishments. So for our relationship to remain intact, I chose to keep my silence. And it was the perfect choice, because at the end of the conversation, we were able to express our love for one another and choose to speak at another time, with depth and thought, as well as the love we bear one another.
When we are faced with choices and there are decisions before us, later in life, they quite often involve more than just “self.” At these critical times, I believe that silent reflection and careful conversation goes much further in reaching a right decision, than constantly talking about it to everyone you see. And let’s be honest, we cannot please everyone and life is not about pleasing “anyone” in any way. Life is about “theosis” or the goal of being God-like to be with God in Heaven; seeking eternal perfection in the Presence of God. When Christ admonished us to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) and that we are to “do for one another as I have done for you,” (John 13:15) “for whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40) He was admonishing us to care for each other as God cares for us; that all-encompassing, Agape expression of pure love. And we should be admonished enough to know that our devotion, outside of our devotion to God, should be for those He has entrusted to us. For me and my family, that encompasses our children, our parents, siblings, grandchildren, and the like. Caring for those God has entrusted to us is a far more important an edict that chasing the “almighty dollar” and also chasing a lost youth. I enjoy, more than anything in this life, hearing my little grandson run around looking for me, calling, “Ga-Ga, Ga-Ga.” It makes my heart sing. I would prefer chasing a grandchild around any day, than chasing monetary or physical “perfection.”
A perspective that is based in the love of God, before the love of self, is something that is becoming more and more foreign in our culture. I was astounded to read so many articles in today’s news about people choosing self over others. It is endemic to a culture that is becoming less and less recognizable as one that is based on faith, the faith our Founding Fathers intended we should have. When we look around the world, living a life based on belief in God is becoming more and more scarce, and the ability to declare it, becoming often, more deadly. Our country is drifting more and more towards a socialistic state and socialism has no room for God. Our culture is money- and youth-driven, with less and less emphasis on intact families and the love for one another. And to reach others around you, who come at life, charging their way through the “ranks” with a ungodly perspective, is becoming less and less possible. When we “come at life” from a Godly perspective, we need to “stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:14-16) Because, as Abbot Tryphon stated today, “Hell is a place chosen.” As we silence the world about us and enter into a deeper communion with God, each decision and each choice before us, will be a choice and decision steeped in the love of God. It may not reflect the standards of the world in which we live, but it will reflect the eternal standards of God.
My prayer is that we can all become reflective as this cold weather takes its last bow during our winter season: that we will all try and learn in the silence of the heart and the silence of your home, even the silence of your car on the daily commute, to become intuned to the Word of God, and to listen to what He has planned for you, rather than the plans of men.
“I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jer 29:11)