On this day one year ago, a man who asked me every Sunday for years to give thanks to the Lord, fell asleep. In my life I am sure will hear many people speak these words, but his voice will always be the voice hear. Memory Eternal, Father Deacon Michael.
Look, what has happened there
Time has bent another year.
But to recount the passing days
Would sadly distract our gaze
From the reason we are here.
I will not sing to pass the time
Nor commend these seasons in rhyme.
For what I seek to celebrate
Is much more than passing fate
But the joy of your life in mine.
I swear my words will only sound,
My harp play, or my drum pound,
To share my heart’s one love
God’s gift and my only dove
As the earth turns silent round.
It might surprise how oft your smile
Does fill the room with graceful style.
And against the night outside my door
You labored in prayer, on the floor
Granting me strength to stand my trial.
You may ask how man finds joy
Without falling to cunning ploy,
No other answer have I
But to gaze with tearful eye
On her whom God would I enjoy.
Here’s the code to paste into the bookmarklet:
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
From Kurt Vonnegut’s Introduction to Mother Night
This is a comment I offered on a website I frequent called “Front Porch Republic” which seeks to be a meeting place of like-minded folks who largely call themselves conservative or some more or less precise term.
So we have seen an exhausted thread here which represents the exhausted FPR, a mere symptom of the exhausted conservative movement (or at least I am exhausted and so all the light that passes through my eyes is colored so).
By exhausted, I do not mean without vibration; there is still momentum, movement, agitation, excitation, but there is no light from the heat, no illumination of a path forward, no cohesion. And this is as it should be, in fact, it must be.
For conservatism isn’t. It cannot be. You cannot have a coordinating movement of persons from different communities; especially those so fluid as to require a base democratization, a pandering to those who have free association available to them as a weapon, and a distortion of the social contract which can only come about by a man believing he has no debts if he is not paying usury.
It is the truth that Fusionism is a lie and a repulsive lie at that. It was fabricated out of what was believed to be a political necessity, and existential threat to both man and state that was represented by militant, totalitarian communism. But that is only the beginning, for other words used in FPR are also lies. Christianity is one of them.
As fond as I am of the Roman Church, there are those who could articulate with subtly I cannot (and possibly without offense) why my Orthodox brethren and that body remain divided. Certainly each Protestant in this forum has heard at least one sermon in their lifetime on such a topic, even in the most adoring forms of insipid Anglican Romantic cucumber circles.
Moreover, though some of you also work, as I do, in what is called “Higher Education” this too is a lie. My institution’s mission statement, while not presupposing the inferiority of your institution in any explicit way, necessarily stands in opposition to many of the institutions represented here.
I live in a marginally above standard community, economically and aesthetically, which has no center whatsoever. Not only can it not defend itself against the loss of its nature, it whores out what little germination of community can be found to those who would only sleep within the confines of its borders; preferring to work, Church, shop and perform other acts of life far out of its memory.
The only thing I can admit is that I see no hope of anything better except for each to share in correspondence, as was the tradition in a more civilized age, between one another the essential matters of necessary research into the essential and diverse natures of human community and foster it where and as we can as all men hope toward God’s salvation.
We are not, nor should we see ourselves as, prophets of a better age. Even as the golden headed Nebuchadnezzar himself was only a king, his state built by conquering blood, upon brutal slavery and maintained by the subjugation of God’s people.
We are rather poets, who having (I hope) fasted and prayed, scrawl out some meaning in words, some code that can be passed among the faithful whom we neither know nor know of. This will bear the fruit that all poetry does, reflecting the reader upon themselves, convicting the soul.
We are not right, nor righteous. We are fell creatures of this age. But that which we are, we are. This is why the conservative movement went wrong, because it is no movement at all, but a voice crying out, make straight the path! I do not know the way, though I have witnessed what seems to me to be the way in the lives of men and women I might dare call holy or good.
I don’t think to speak of myself, but of those who seem to see clearer than I do–here and elsewhere.
I have no interest in political machinations. In the success or failure of tyrants who would rule in my name as opposed to ruling in the name of my enemies. I would have no enemies, though I am sure this poem of a post will remind a few that they believe I am theirs.
For the totalitarian instinct is in the right, the left and all points between. And a man who refuses to join the glittering unholy army of self-ascribed righteousness is as much a foe as the ones they march to meet on the battlefield. In fact worse, for he appears to be an infection within the ranks themselves and a traitor to the cause.
Damnation to Brutus yes? Cassius still? And Judas yet in the maws of Hell’s coldest fiend. Would you but know the nature of such a condition you would not seek it for a single man, but open your heart to each man you chance upon to meet as we go about our plans to rule a world with rulers who cannot rule even themselves.
I am tempted even now to curse those who would seek to form an ideology, or movement, even within the ephemeral walls of this astral realm off bits and bytes; but rather, knowing their sin is also in my heart tenfold; I ask for God’s providence to guide us both and have mercy on our souls.
To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
From G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy
Finally, on the matter of silence by way of an example:
The following video is a dramatization of one of the most dangerous passages penned by the human hand. If you do not discern the knife blade at the throat of eternity while watching this video, perhaps it is for the best. Even though I love Dostoevsky, I rarely encourage people to read his works. It is too easy to forget that the medicine for a man suffering from an iron deficiency could, if given to another, poison his life.
But such as it is, I offer it here. Set aside some time and a clear mind, this is not one for viewing as a chance encounter. If it does you more harm than good, forgive my poor judgment.
I do not like the special effects at the end of the production, but such is my gratitude at the rest that this is easily forgiven.
What then does this humility look like, what does this wound feel like, what does it sound like? Silence.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
Consider Christ. Contemplate his silence in the presence of scorn and at the hand of wounding; a silence well-pleasing to God to bring about the reconciliation of the world. It was not the Sermon on the Mount that ended enmity with God, but Christ crucified. The efficacious Word of God was silent.
I seek a humility which pardons my brother before he asks for pardon. And if I cannot do good to those who do me evil, at least I will flee those who offend me. If I cannot flee, I will practice silence.
Neither should I judge myself unjustly, because it does not always prove useful to pray against sin. For my struggle is not against sin, rather it is towards God. Pride might build a fortress in such a prayer, for pride tempts by virtues gained in striving. I have prayed, Do not permit me to sin! and yet I sin. My only unspent weapon is silence.
If I wish to share the nature of Christ, when I am accused falsely I will not answer word for word, neither will I ask, What have I done? As the stones fall, I must not cry out. I will shut my mouth up with the smaller stones, but I will learn silence; remembering the soul has no need of oratory.
Silence receives. What hope have open ears apart from a closed mouth? A friend of silence comes close to God. In secret he converses with Him and receives His light. (John Climacus)
It is time to become uprooted from the settled life of noise and strike out into the wilderness of silence. In a battle of echoes only silence disarms the powers–only the silent wastes can expose the things shrouded in urban clamor.
In this interior kingdom, I experience the anguish of my flesh and the bitterness of my narrow bowels, where alienation bakes the dust and the horrors of my hatred of myself and of others is flayed open.
But if there is no cover for my grief, neither is there any longer a mask obscuring God’s presence. For the Resurrected Christ dwells here in this desert, the conqueror who broke the very gates of Hades, the Evenstar who sets fire to the boundless horizon, He who turns all endings in that place to beginnings. This wilderland is revealed as a green country and the sunset a swift sunrise!
So mindfulness of death thus transfigures as remembrance of God; and suffering to trust, burnt herbs into balmy incense.
This then is the incorruptible reward of silence: communion with the Living God.
When this post was first written, I had in mind to speak about the topic of silence as a way of seeing more clearly the way of being good. This relates directly to other recent posts about humility as something which is not self-abuse but a lack of self-consciousness through watchfulness. Silence is essential to this watchfulness.
Some way into the writing it became obvious that quotes and introductory material should be included before writing on the main topic, so silence became the title of tomorrow’s post. After rereading this post it seemed incoherent to me–merely a string of precursory thoughts and quotes. So it has been rewritten. What follows below the line is better preparation for tomorrow, and stands on its own.
First, two definitions and then a question.
The human will is the faculty by which we act. This is not to say that it is some some sort of personal prime mover, but it is the agency by which we can chose to do take action based on our experiences.
The human will operates in two different modes, one is limited by human understanding and degraded by such things as fear, envy and pride; the other is unlimited and in harmony with the will of God. We call the later the natural will and the former, lesser operation the gnomic will.
This is the question proposed: How will we do the good and turn our minds from the purely pragmatic and limited gnomic operation of the will? Or said differently, how can we be like Christ, living in harmony with the Father though the power of the Holy Spirit? How does this actually work?
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is unclouded, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is dark, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
If the human eye is clouded, if human beings cannot know perfectly how to act and in fact often react in fear or out of other psychological malfunctions, how can we possibly do good? Of course, the short answer is revelation from God. God says one thing is good and the other is bad; but it does not take a great deal of investigation to realize that persons of good intent still disagree on what God says or how to apply it.
There must be a way–a method or approach, not to perfect instant knowledge, but to being perfected in Christ though a way of knowing. This is more than baptism, communion or keeping rules (though these are essential elements). This is about the way to live our lives in Christ. And we know this way must be available to all, for He calls sinners, little children, and fools.
Here there is an important philosophical aside.
There are two popular philosophical positions which state that if God is to be considered good, free will must be crushed; and the contrapositive, if free will is to be preserved, God cannot be perfectly good. These positions arise from the problem of evil and whether or not God is responsible for it.
But these assertions both assume that the goodness of God is simple, that it is singular. Christ shows us that is not the case in the scriptures, for He asks that the cup pass from him (Christ certainly did not will an evil here) but voluntarily submitted (emptied Himself of his equality) to the Father.
This is critical. Christ willed something different, but that difference did not constitute opposition. This frustrated the early Greek Christians until they realized that the One wasn’t simple, but infinite (apologies to the Neo-Platonists). That is there are limitless goods in God which all His images fulfill (this is why Orthodox Christians are synergists).
This too is how healthy communities can function. That each member might retain his will for the good of the community, but submit that will to harmony. We need not solve the problem of individuality with absolute oppression (just as we do not need to solve the problem of salvation through Monergism).
I do not accept that there are two alternatives, oppressive preexistent authority and chaotic unfettered individualism. It is possible to have cooperation through voluntary submission.
Here the philosophical aside ends.
To illustrate this way of going about living in Christ, these quotes and comments round out my introduction to tomorrow’s post about silence. They are offered for your consideration:
First, a quote about our need for a cure.
There are some who would like to discover pure and unchanging truth by themselves before believing. But only a heart that has been purified can enable them to contemplate it. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Otherwise they would be like the blind men thinking they can be cured by turning their unseeing eyes towards the sun. Who can possibly contemplate its light before recovering his sight? (Augustine of Hippo)
And then about what this cure is, that is being wounded by love:
The Bride says, ‘I am wounded by love’. By these words she designated the arrow that sinks deep into her heart. [God shoots his chosen arrow, his only begotten Son.]
Thus the soul is uplifted by this divine elevation and sees in itself the sweet arrow of love with which it has been wounded, and glories in its wounding in the words; ‘I am wounded by love’. (Gregory of Nyssa)
Christ’s life wounds us. In fact, we must be wounded unto death itself. As the scriptures say, we must die with Him to be raised up with Him. And again they say, we must suffer with Him to share in His glory.
Now from the sayings of the desert fathers, concerning what is good:
Many have ruined their bodies with no discernment and gone away without finding anything. We may have evil-smelling breath because of our fasting, we may know the Scriptures by heart, we may recite all the psalms and still lack what God is looking for — love and humility.
Such a quote is not so different that Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians that without love all our other feats of righteousness and virtue are worthless. So then we come to this next point by John Chrysostom, that the mixture of sin and humility is worth more than the mixture of virtue and pride:
Imagine two chariots. Harness virtue and pride to one, sin and humility to the other. You will see the chariot drawn by sin outstrip that of virtue. To understand why remember the Pharisee and the publican, one relied on his own righteousness, the other needed to say only a few words to be free of all his sins. This is precisely what Christ wanted to demonstrate when he said, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’.
Isaac of Nineveh called humility the ornament of the godhead. That Christ clothed himself in our flesh in humility made our knowledge of God (that which was impossible) possible. Christ’s humility was the first step in the curing of our spiritual blindness. The second step is our own humility in concert with Christ, In His presence make no pretence of knowledge. Approach God rather with the heart of a child. Go into His presence to receive the loving care with which fathers look after their little children.
And so we find the key to set free on our will from its clouded bondage, When God sees that in all purity of heart you are trusting in Him more than yourself, then a strength unknown to you will come to make its dwelling in you. And you will feel in all your senses the power of Him who is with you. If we depend on our own strength to will the good, to keep virtue, we will fail; but if we voluntarily submit in humility then it will be to us as if our greatest feats are mere trifles. If we are wounded by love–If we are silent.
This is the righteousness reckoned of Abraham and exclaimed by James as the proof of faith, that we are able to work goodness. That it is possible, by faith to live in accordance with the will of God. Not by being perfect, but by submitting to being perfected by His power.
With this rewritten version, I believe the groundwork is better prepared to address silence tomorrow. And I thank and apologize to those who read, or attempted to read, the first version.