Archive for February 14th, 2007

The Great Mystery of Everything

February 14, 2007


I have written earlier that I am an ignorant man. I am now translated into Romanian and French on that very topic. Apparently my 15 minutes of fame will come as an ignorant man. That’s doubtless a good thing.

But as we near the time that Orthodox Christians approach one another and ask forgiveness (Great Lent), we do well to remember the utter mystery that we confront. No one knows the things of a man save the spirit of a man that is in him, we are told in Scripture. It is obvious from even the smallest observance that we do not know ourselves. Least of all do we know God.

We thus stand surrounded by mystery. And not just the mystery of what is not known, but the mystery of the wonder that is another human being. I have always had a sense that one could largely understand how hurts and wounds can make people bitter or neurotic or all sorts of things. But in my experience I also meet many people who have suffered far greater things than others and are essentially healthy human beings.

In the town in which I live there is a woman, now in her later years, who spent time in Hitler’s camps. She tells her story willingly, has written books, and is simply pleasant to be with.

I can understand the wounds of evil, but I marvel at the sheer wonder of goodness that can be found where you would not expect it. It is a life such as Fr. Arseny’s that lives the contradiction of the cross. In the midst of a man-made hell he lives like an angel. Standing through the night in prayer, forgiving the unforgiveable. He stands as a witness of the resurrection because he is not the product of cause and effect – at least not the cause and effect of man’s world. He bears witness that the cause of all things lies finally beyond our control. Joy is found where it should not belong because God has put it there.

And this, it seems to me, is the great mystery of everything. Not that much that I encounter isn’t as I would have expected. But that so much that I encounter is completely unexpected. The incarnation of God and his inexplicable love are just such unexpected things. What must the soldier have thought when he heard the words of forgiveness spoken from the cross? What mystery is this?

And this is the great mystery that enfolds us day by day, drawing us ever deeper into itself. Speaking peace to our angry hearts, calling us out of the tombs of complacence, raising us up from the death of mess that we make for ourself.

Such mystery cannot be fathomed let alone explained. It can only be bowed before and adored as the wonder of wonders. That I stand before the mystery of another man or woman and say, “Forgive me,” invites me to step inside the mystery and become one with it. This is the great mystery of everything. May God give us such grace each day!

The Dread Judgment Seat of Christ

February 14, 2007


Though we do well to spend time speaking of the heart it is also important that it not be somehow viewed separate from the rest of us. The heart is not only the seat of our encounter with God, it is also the place where our own evil thoughts may emanate. What comes from the heart reveals the heart.

In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus offers the parable of the Judgment:

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

It is not the heart that is mentioned here, but deeds. But they are deeds that are deeply revelatory of the heart. It is interesting in the parable that neither the good nor the bad had any idea that they were doing something for Christ. Both seem equally surprised when told they had done something for Him.

This equality of ignorance does a marvelous job of removing the false image of religion from the equation. For the sake of God, many people will do many things, just as they will do many things in His name. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is quite evil. God’s name is invoked rather equally by the good and the bad. Witness any political season in our nation.

But God does not hear our rhetoric. He sees our heart. And nothing reveals the heart more clearly than the actions that flow from it. It is not a case of one group having done actions that earned them some special consideration from the Son of Man on his glorious throne. Indeed, they have acted with no thought of earning whatsoever. Had they thought of earning anything they would not have been surprised at the kind judgment they received nor would the wicked have protestested so loudly at their condemnation.

It is simply the case that both acted according to their hearts. One fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison and so forth and the others did not. The explanation between the two is that one acted out of the goodness of the heart and the other acted out of the hardness of theirs. And this is the truth of judgment – not just before the dread judgment seat of Christ but everyday in every situation.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his Gulag Archipelago:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

And, of course, that is the truth of our situation. One day we clothe the naked and the very next we turn our backs. Our hearts are frequently a mass of confusion, both good and evil, each day bringing its choices before us.

For this reason it is all the more necessary that we take ourselves to God, who alone can heal our hearts, and yield them to Him. The course of Lent is precisely this effort. Yielding our heart to God in the fullness of honesty, telling Him the truth about ourselves (and telling ourselves at the same time) and seeking for the healing that alone will give us integrity of heart.

And so it is that we will fast (for the heart is not a stranger to the body) and we will pray (from our hearts) and with our bodies we will make prostrations (bowing our hearts before God). It is always a long forty days – though if we knew it, the whole of our life here were a Lenten exercise that we might stand without fear before the dread judgment seat of Christ.