One of the most profound things I have learned this past year or so, I learned through reading the book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus. I know I have quoted him here and have mentioned this pivotal book more than once. I told some other parishioners about it yesterday. As Saint Seraphim is quoted as saying, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.” We cannot look to externals for verification; we certainly cannot look to the standards of our modern culture to know if we are “okay” or not. Faith is the manifestation of God living within us. It is a quiet thing, a personal thing, an internal thing. It becomes external in how we interact with those around us. Elder Thaddeus cautions us again and again that how we believe what we believe, determines what happens in our lives and around us. There is a song by the Beatles (written by John Lennon) that is titled, “Imagine.” Most of the lyrics annoy me because it is the mantra of a “free” world; but he is alluding to a world free of pretty much every line drawn or every rule…”and no religion, too.” One of the stanzas says, “…A brotherhood of man…imagine all the people sharing all the world.” And that stanza stayed with me through the annoyance of the rest of it. Because it truly is what we are – we are the brotherhood of man. We are all brothers, through the Son of Man, Who came to save us from our sins. He Who bore our sins in the stripes on His back, the holes in His scalp, the wound in His side, whilst hanging on the Cross. But we do not think that way, and consequently, we do not behave that way. The outcome is the world you see about you.
Elder Thaddeus has taught me that I can win over doubters and non-believers by silently praying for them, and behaving as the believer I purport to be. Even if I struggle liking a particularly surly person, or one who, for whatever reason, pricks some annoying portion of my soul, I can still pray for them and show them love, asking God to step in for my lacking, for God loves perfectly. We cannot look to another Christian for the level of behavior we are supposed to have for our brother; man is forever and always fallible. It is the gift of free will. We trip over that every time.
Recently, there have been disparate news items that have gelled for me into a cohesive unit of sorts. We have security leaks; we have our government spying on us; there have been articles in many Protestant circles decrying our overt sense of patriotism and lamenting the lack of fervor in our faith-life; and now we have the possibility of involvement in another war in the Middle East. But all of these things are harbingers of the shift in our culture. We have gone from a country of workers who had pride in the products they made; where factory whistles blew the hours in many, many towns. We had acres and acres of productive farmlands with cottage industries surrounding the farms. There are now countless factory towns and remote farm towns that lay empty; devoid of workers and families who have fled to the city from the countryside. But what have they fled to? Seemingly they went for a better life to be had in these cement jungles.
Children have no idea where milk comes from. Trust me. We lived on dairy farms for years and you would not believe how misinformed the local population, people who lived within walking distance of these dairies, were about what happened on a dairy. We had to block the view from the road so people who drove by could not see a cow giving birth, because when a farmer had to help his cow deliver her calf by yanking it out by its feet, animal rights activists thought it was cruel. Cruel would be allowing cow and calf to die because she could not deliver it on her own. School children think milk comes from the store. Now, this is a silly example in light of the above sentences about governmental spying on our cell phones and emails, but nevertheless, it says something about our culture. We have such narrow, specialized knowledge that we are missing out on the world. If a child grows up not even knowing where milk comes from, how can they care about the plight of farmers who own the cows? Why would they worry over food sources when Costco sells in bulk? These children, instead, have iPads, iPods, iPhones, their own laptops for schoolwork, regularly visit all sorts of social media, and dress in the latest trends. They have soccer lessons, swim lessons, they attend camps for music and get after school lessons at places like Sylvan Learning Centers (because the schools are failing our children), and with all those resources, still don’t know where milk comes from. The companies that have sold us all these goods keep tabs of our log on habits, where we view what, how we spend our money. They tie in our financials with our social information. They gather all the information on us that the government asks them for. (Note, the corporations were gathering that information for data to sell to their vendors, to improve “point of sale,” so they say). Soon the IRS will be tied into our medical records with Obamacare. We keep the 10 Commandments on the front of the Supreme Court building, but do not allow prayer in schools or even a basic understanding of the history of the world that led to the Incarnation of the Son of Man.
And all of this has created a chaotic, noisy world.
Our country does not produce much anymore, not even food products. I was speaking to an engineer from a large aerospace firm who told me that even if we did want to put a man on the moon, we lack the internal knowledge base; we lack the capability to build a spaceship of some sort, and the capacity of creativity or thinkers to create such a thing. We’ve outsourced it all. We purchase every single television set from outside the USA. Not a single light bulb is produced on our soil. Think about that for a moment. And all that is planned by the powers that be, in the sense of controlling what is done by whom, for whom. The money allocated for this or that. A loaf of bread, a new car, braces on your daughter’s teeth, a gallon of gas – prices are out of our control, as is this economy. Why?
Where is God in all of this? He is sitting in the still, quiet of our hearts, waiting for us to call on Him, to acknowledge Him, to act upon the faith that is inside of each of us. God does not allow us to fall unless we have allowed ourselves to stumble in the first place. My husband and I are at the lowest point in our 30 years together, financially. We made decisions we felt were based on God calling us in our lives to live where we are now. It is a hard thing to do, to sit back and allow the Holy Spirit to truly guide us, to have faith in it, and to rest in the Presence of God in our lives. Once again I quote Mark Hart the Bible Geek, “God’s got this.” But God only has it if we ask Him; if we allow our faith in Him to be manifest in each moment of our lives. If we do that, we influence thousands around us with our love and our peace. I know it’s a corny example, but if we show one schoolchild where milk comes from, don’t you think that during play period on the schoolyard they will share with every kid who stands still long enough to listen to their story of their day on a dairy farm?! How much more so with our experience of God?
Yesterday after Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, we had an opportunity to chat with various parishioners. One in particular is what I would call a doomsday prepper. I am not sure if they have a bunker or not, but if I would hazard a guess, it would be that they do (something not that uncommon up here). He told us he is done with politics because it is such a mess. He said that he realized it boils down to simply good versus evil. He fully believes that socialism and a one-world-government (the type of utopia John Lennon sang about in “Imagine”) is well on its way to establishing itself. He believes we will engage in war on our soil and that the enemies in our world want to wipe out the USA. He is preparing for nuclear and chemical warfare on our soil. He believes it is evil, manifesting itself in governments and their agencies worldwide. His solution is to act simply, one soul at a time, to share the faith in God and bring about change, one person at a time. It is that conversation that brought me to the computer today. Because as I stated above, the disparate things that were brought to my attention all really gel around this idea that “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and it is global in its perspective. Yes, “imagine no countries, nothing to live or die for” is what this utopia of John Lennon’s is like. The reality is not far from it. The Protestant author I recently read was lamenting that her fellow church-goers knew more national anthems than they did church hymns. Perhaps that is so and that is sort of frightening on its own. They believe, she thinks, that being American supersedes being a Christian. Which is backward. I agree…our faith should imbue all of who we are and what we do. The fact that it does not has gotten us to where we are.
I believe that each of us needs to draw closer to that sweet spot we have inside of us, that special place where our faith in God resides. The Orthodox call it the nous, and believe we hold God close to our heart, in a place devoted solely to Him. We need to acknowledge the Real Presence in each of us and share with one soul at a time; that person who we meet moment to moment in our lives. Trite as it sounds, the grocery store clerk, the postman, the hair stylist, bank teller, fellow parishioner, our children, our parents, our friends….they all hunger for the Word of God, the touch of faith, in their lives. If we truly believe “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” just imagine the world we could have and I do not believe it looks anything like where we are now.