“…against beasts in the form of men…”

loose interpretation

Well, the big push to sort of “corner” or “corral” my stuff is upon me.  A very dear friend, and the godmother to our youngest son, is flying in tomorrow to spend the weekend with us before we relocate “outta” here.  And right now, as I explained to her, there is not a single room that is neat and tidy.  There is nothing on the walls any longer, but what was once there is stacked against them.  The bed she will be using is stacked with things off the dresser and the wall, as well as all the linens that go with that bed.  I have been trying to get a handle on how much “stuff” I really have, so I know what will fit and what has to either go or be shipped.  And I really have cut down on things, but there is still a lot around.  And I am one of those people who can deal with clutter for a time, but then it gets to me and I scour the place spotless.  My youngest son, while always dealing with his ADD tendencies, leaves part of himself all over the house.  During the best of times, this may be lego-creations here and there; airplanes of one type or another laying around; a stray book or art project here and there.  He just sort of forgets where he sticks things.  And he then walks away.  His new jacket for rain and snow has been missing for about two months (take note of which months it has been missing…yes, that would be the ones with rain and snow) and he found it two days ago…underneath his scouting pack for ice camping, stuffed into the back of his closet.  It is amazing what you uncover when you start packing and tossing things.  And sometimes when my nose is right in it, I ignore the chaos or step around it.  Today, I am determined to corral the chaos!

Now I am sure that reading thus far, you are thinking this is a post about moving woes and the woes of the mom of a 14-year-old son who leaves his things all over the place.  But no, it’s not; but it is illustrative of something on my mind.  Thinking about all the chaos and how close I am to the chaos, made me think of authority figures and people who are “in charge.”  This could be corporate presidents or CEOs, pastors of large (big box or densely packed) churches, mothers of homes with lots of kids and/or things to organize.  And I thought of how we view our Church, our faith.  We view it from where we stand.  We stand inside our parishes and look at the icons on the walls, the altar at the front, and those standing with us.  It is from our little, community perspective, tucked away someplace in the USA.  And many of us view our faith from an even tinier perspective…specifically about how we feel and how we interpret our belief system.  Some of us have developed these perspectives without the benefit of a spiritual father to guide us, and have come up with personal interpretations we heartily defend.  When I quoted Cokie Roberts in a previous post about her wanting the Cardinal to be sure to “represent” the American Church to the Conclave, I was sort of thinking along these lines.  She is seeing a Church of billions of believers, from her spot on the pew; from her American perspective.  The Pope, on the other hand, he is seeing things on a global scale, which is a completely different scale.  And the issues facing our Church are global, not American.  Christ told his Apostles to go out and baptize “all” the nations; he did not tell them to stay in Jerusalem and mourn their loss of Him.  All nations is not American; it is also not purely a Roman perspective, either.  And it is certainly not from my pew.  The Church is for ALL people, of ALL nations.  Abbot Tryphon wrote today about the Orthodox churches accepting newcomers and not being cultural or private clubs. Some ethnic Byzantine parishes are most definitely private clubs; their emphasis is not in welcoming newcomers, but rather ensuring nothing changes from the “old country” and their traditional ways.  And to a newcomer, especially one raised in the Latin, or “western” mindset, it can be a little daunting.

My point is, however, that I can easily see how these disagreements about so many things happen.  When we look at things from a global perspective, more often than not, we can see where something would make sense.  For example, when I stand on the landing of my staircase, I can see where the boxes need to go and what needs to go inside what, but when I am standing amongst them all, I just want to throw my hands up in despair of making sense of the mess.  And sometimes our disagreements about faith are just like that – we are in the middle of the mess and cannot see with the same perspective as the person we are disagreeing with. I told someone recently that their perspective was limited and that although they felt well-informed about things, as well as having “heard it all before,” they had not been privileged to be introduced to other perspectives and/or a spiritual guide of some sort; they were the ones off on their own tangent.  Therefore, from where I was sitting, their statements were limited in their scope and they could not (would not) see my point of view.  It’s like former smokers and converts – they can be so annoying in their enthusiasm for their new-found freedom from an annoying habit or new knowledge, that they thrust it upon you all the time.  I am, unfortunately, though the years, both!  I think I tend to be annoying in that way, because I am discovering all sorts of new things, and I have been where that other person once was.  I feel that I have grown and learned, and I am pursuing, actively, my salvation, and they have not been blessed to be introduced to the eastern philosophies or theology – and I know I have just dipped my toe into it all and that much more awaits me. This new-found enthusiasm and my blogging about it,  is creating great friction between us.  Now, however, rather than respond in kind (or my normal behavioral pattern), I took a page from Elder Thaddeus and took a step back and just breathed deeply and prayed for them.  In one of the posts I authored, I said that we do not have to interact with those who hurt us; I still believe that.  In a post this morning on Facebook, there was this:  ‘I guard you in advance against beasts in the form of men, whom you must not only not receive, but if it is possible not even meet, but only pray for them, if perchance they may repent. . .’  St. Ignatius of Antioch. One of my friends responded to this post with this: “Wow. I always assumed we had to be hospitable to everyone, regardless of what they believed or how they lived. I’m glad to know that we can just pray for them from afar and not get into any conflict with them.” (LB).

I think that perhaps dealing with things that are personal and hurtful by looking at them from afar, even if they are people, is “putting on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 and also used as the Pascal refrain in Eastern rites and in the Orthodox Church).  Christ knew what He was doing when He sent his Apostles out into the world.  He wanted the world to know Him and He was fully God, so He knew what obstacles there would be, and are, in sharing His Word with the world.  Oftentimes sharing the faith does not go well.  In the Bible, Christ told us: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'” (Matthew 10:34-36).  And for most of us, it is not a surprise.  I know of a few families who are totally intact in their relationships and in their faith; all their children practice and all their grandchildren are also being raised in the faith.  But those types of families are rare.  The world tugs us all in many directions and the pull is very difficult to fight. We can “forearm” our children and then we can just pray and be there for them in their struggles; the same holds for friends and other family members.

The interesting thing for me is that I am being pulled back into a more devout mindset and outlook, and a far more eastern-perspective.  I find it refreshing, rejuvenating for my faith-life, and peaceful.  My journey, however, has engendered others to look at me in askance, not understanding where I am going, nor why.  And so, rather than “attack” in a way of defending myself, I am letting the air out of my own balloon and emitting a long sigh…and then I am praying to God for them.  Elder Thaddeus showed me a glimpse of the peace that awaits me and I cannot wait to get it back by re-focusing myself.  I know that God wishes for us all to find Him, and we cannot look to our brothers to do it for us; each of us must journey on our own.  But as we look over at our brother’s journey and their personal struggles in life, I am hoping we can all take a more “universal”, “holistic,” or “global” look at where they are coming from – when we “put on Christ,” and not be angry nor judgmental, but rather more prayerful for them and on their behalf.  Sometimes avoiding the conflict is actually winning the battle!  Perhaps all we can do is plant the seeds and allow the Holy Spirit to do all the work.  It may not be something we see in our lifetimes, nor may it be a fruit we get to enjoy on this earth, but that eternal happiness is worth the planting and worth the step back, deep breath, and prayer.

“We all have to die, beloved brethren, and it will be hard for us if, while we are in this world, we do not love each other, if we are not reconciled to our enemies, whom we have offended, and if one has grieved another, if we do not forgive him. Then we will not have eternal blessedness in that world, and the heavenly Father will not forgive our sins.
(St. Peter of Cetinje, Letter to Radulovichs, 1805)
St Peter of Cetinje 1805
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