Archive for April, 2007

Speaking Ecumenically

April 24, 2007


A recent note from a young Orthodox acquaintance referred to me as “irenic” in my writings. I was grateful for the description and glad that something I actually intend is also actually conveyed. I learn a lot from other Orthodox bloggers or frequent posters on other sites where the discussions can get heated (I think especially of my dear Catholic friend, Fr. Al Kimel’s Pontifications).

I have always intended to write and respond in an irenic (it means “peaceful”) manner primarily because I doubt the efficacy of anger or diatribe. Don’t get me wrong – I believe in defending the faith – but I believe it is best defended irenically. Sometimes you have to wait and cool down before you write something. When I am writing in a “defender of the faith” mode, I tend to mash the delete button several times before I’m finished.

Having said all of that – what about dialog with other Christians? Specifically dialog that is looking at differences between Orthodox and others. I had a professor who once offered the following observation (the topic was marriage counseling but it applies to ecumenical dialog as well):

As long as one person perceives there to be a problem, then there is a problem. It’s not unusual in a situation of marriage counseling to have one person say, “We don’t have any problems,” while the other spouse says, “Oh yes we do!”

In those counseling situations it is at least true that one or more persons are not listening very well. If someone perceives that a problem exists then they should be given the chance to describe their problem.

This is frequently true in conversations with others about doctrine. Some Orthodox can be overly critical of anything “Western,” which is probably overstating the Orthodox case. But it can also be frustrating to have someone tell you that the problem or difference that you perceive isn’t really there. If I perceive a problem then there is a problem – even if the only problem is within my perception. Sometimes I perceive things incorrectly.

Orthodoxy has a long habit of not articulating certain matters of doctrine. Our habit has always been to avoid Ecumenical Councils (which is why the last one was in the 8th century). Though we celebrate the Seven Councils with their own feast day, we do not look to repeat them. Councils are the result of failure on someone’s part. If it’s a heresy we are addressing, then woe to us all that some of us have fallen into heresy. And in this matter we should be like God who only chastens us for the purpose of bringing us to salvation. Councils and their decisions do not exist to condemn the unfaithful (I say this being fully cognizant of the “anathemas” pronounced at all of the Councils). But if we do not love heretics, then we are demonstrating that we do not know God – for He makes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Which brings me back to being irenic. I know many stories about saints who spoke and acted in a less than irenic manner. Their conduct does not negate what I have said. Several serious ruptures, even schisms, in the life of the Church through the centuries have been far more the result of belligerent behavior and so-called “bad blood” than true truth-denying heresy. This was certainly the case in the early split with the so-called Monophysites. The lack of love between Christians renders it impossible for us to even say the Creed properly.

“Brethren, let us love one another that with one mind and one heart we may confess God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” This is the Deacon’s bidding to the Nicene Creed in all Orthodox liturgies. Even within the household of faith, within the same parish, we must speak irenically and strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Without such actions and speech we will not be able to properly confess God for Who He is. We may say the words, but they will be empty within the hardness of our hearts.

Thus it is that we should speak irenically. State the truth – defend the faith. This is a Godly thing to do. But doing so in peace is as important as doing it at all. According to St. James, “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

But within the boundary of peace we can do much good, and even benefit others and ourselves when we disagree.

More Thoughts on a Metaphor

April 23, 2007


Some metaphors are just that: metaphors. Images that are useful for thinking or working our way through something. They are a roadmap – not the road but the map. The image of Christ’s Descent into Hades, though it provides a metaphor, is more than a metaphor. Christ truly died, truly descended into Hades, truly trampled down death by death, and truly rose again from the dead. I have to say that lest anyone think that referring to the Descent into Hades is merely a metaphor.

But as metaphor, it is also descriptive of Christ in our lives – or Pascha as we live it day by day.

Several observations:

Christ descended into Hades without an invitation from those in Hades.

Christ smashed the gates of Hades without asking permission.

Christ “bound the strongman” (Matt. 12:19) and “spoiled his house.”

Christ made a way for all in His resurrection from the dead.

If I take just these few observations then I can draw as well some conclusions about Christ in my daily life. For it is also true that my daily life (metaphorically speaking) is very much like Hades, at least in certain aspects of my sinfulness.

In my sinfulness I find myself in prison, in the dark, in torment, with no sense of how to get out. (If your experience of sinfulness is different than mine, I hope it’s better).

But looking at Christ’s descent into Hades I can conclude that though I find myself in prison, there is Another who has entered my prison even though I may not have invited Him.

Whatever gates there may have been that “trapped” me in that prison have been smashed even without my permission.

Whatever “strongman” has kept me bound in my sinfulness, he has been bound.

And best of all, there is a way out by Christ’s resurrection.

Putting all of that together says that my experience of a personally created Hades is but a delusion. The gates are smashed, the strongman bound, and the way out exists. It is left for me to follow Christ into the joy of His resurrection.

As a metaphor this is very useful. It makes it quite clear that God’s action in saving us is initiated by Him and not us. for “Christ first loved us.” He is for us and not against us. I even have some sense that I can say (pray) “Drag me out of here,” and He will hear me.

Drag on, Lord Jesus. Drag me home!

Watch Your Metaphors

April 21, 2007


Metaphors are very important when thinking about any aspect of our salvation. People can sometimes state what they believe as doctrine very precisely without thinking about what their beliefs imply about God, the world, or themselves. Metaphors can work in a very hidden way – particularly those that are referred to as “root metaphors.” A root metaphor is the over-arching imagery that generally governs how a train of thought goes. It provides the logical or image-driven framework upon which later thought will be built.

Excellent illustrations of this are found if you look at the doctrines related to the Descent of Christ into Hades. The article by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ Descent into Hades, which was recently referenced here, notes contrasts in how the understanding of Christ’s Descent into Hades developed in both East and West. The development, starting in the 4th or 5th centuries eventually resulted in very different understandings. But the underlying issue was not the Descent into Hades but the metaphors which came to dominate the thought of Christian teachers, East or West.

Bishop Hilarion cited a passage from Cyril of Alexandria’s Paschal Homily (7th Paschal Homily, 2) and noted:

The doctrine of the descent of Christ into Hades occupies an essential place in the works of Cyril of Alexandria. In his ‘Paschal Homilies’, he repeatedly mentions that as a consequence of the descent of Christ into Hades, the devil was left all alone, while hell was devastated: ‘For having destroyed hell and opened the impassable gates for the departed spirits, He left the devil there abandoned and lonely’.

This imagery is also found in St. John Chrysostom’s famous Catechetical Homily: “And not one dead is left in the grave.”

Bishop Hilarion contrasts this with the Descent into Hades’ development in Western Christianity:

The general conclusion can now be drawn from a comparative analysis of Eastern and Western understandings of the descent into Hades. In the first three centuries of the Christian Church, there was considerable similarity between the interpretation of this doctrine by theologians in East and West. However, already by the 4th—5th centuries, substantial differences can be identified. In the West, a juridical understanding of the doctrine prevailed [emphasis added]. It gave increasingly more weight to notions of predestination (Christ delivered from hell those who were predestined for salvation from the beginning) and original sin (salvation given by Christ was deliverance from the general original sin, not from the ‘personal’ sins of individuals). The range of those to whom the saving action of the descent into hell is extended becomes ever more narrow. First, it excludes sinners doomed to eternal torment, then those in purgatory and finally unbaptized infants. This kind of legalism was alien to the Orthodox East, where the descent into Hades continued to be perceived in the spirit in which it is expressed in the liturgical texts of Great Friday and Easter, i.e. as an event significant not only for all people, but also for the entire cosmos, for all created life.

An excellent example of the sort of development in the West which Bishop Hilarion describes is found in the work of Thomas Aquinas. Bishop Hilarion offers this observation:

Thomas Aquinas was the 13th-century theologian who brought to completion the Latin teaching on the descent of Christ into Hades. In his ‘Summa Theologiae’, he divides hell into four parts: 1) purgatory (purgatorium), where sinners experience penal suffering; 2) the hell of the patriarchs (infernum patrum), the abode of the Old Testament righteous before the coming of Christ; 3) the hell of unbaptized children (infernum puerorum); and 4) the hell of the damned (infernum damnatorum). In response to the question, exactly which was the hell that Christ descended to, Thomas Aquinas admits two possibilities: Christ descended either into all parts of hell or only to that in which the righteous were imprisoned, whom He was to deliver. In the first case, ‘for going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin (pro solo peccato originali detinebantur in inferno), He shed the light of glory everlasting’. In the second case, the soul of Christ ‘descended only to the place where the righteous were detained’ (descendit solum ad locum inferni in quo justi detinebantur), but the action of His presence there was felt in some way in the other parts of hell as well.

What is of interest to me is looking at what is happening on the metaphorical level in these two treatments of Christ’s Descent into Hell. In St. Cyril’s preaching, as well as in other Fathers of the Eastern Church, the root metaphor of Christ’s Descent into Hell is literally that – Christ’s Descent into Hell. Gustav Aulen, the Swedish Lutheran theologian, would later dub this imagery the “Christus Victor” model of the atonement. It is placing Christ’s defeat of Satan and destruction of Hell as the dominant image that is pressed throughout its preaching and its use in doctrine. The East never broke the metaphor up (nor did it ever offer an analysis of Hell itself as in Aquinas’ four distinctions). A number of Eastern Fathers, indeed the majority, will labor somewhat to state that not everyone will be saved in a “happy” sense, but they have to labor to reach that conclusion because the overarching metaphor of Christ Descent into Hades can easily lead one to see Hell as empty – and if Hell is empty, then all are saved. (I personally love Cyril’s description of Satan being left “abandoned and lonely.”)

In the West, it is not the metaphor created by the Descent of Christ into Hades that controls the development of thought on the subject, but an alternative metaphor – that of the forensic, or legal world, as Bishop Hilarion noted. Thus Christ’s Descent into Hades is analyzed by reference to a metaphor outside the event and made to conform, ultimately, to that metaphor.

Thus it is today that we find the Roman Catholic Church re-examining the doctrine of limbo. My dear friend Fr. Al Kimel has posted an article on the current work of Catholic theologians on Pontifications. It is worth a read – but I would note to any reading it, that from an Orthodox perspective, what is going on is a reexamination of the legal metaphor and the possibility that some other approach might yield different results. It did in the Eastern Church – and will in the West if theologians there will let the event speak for itself. 

I will add as an additional observation, that the controlling or root metaphor in the West was not simply drawn from the legal world itself. Rather, an analysis of the Adamic fall and the use of some of St. Paul’s imagery with that fall, come to be the dominant metaphor. Original sin therefore plays a role in the West that it never did in the East. It is worth noting that the thinking and doctrine concerning salvation which followed or were driven by that metaphor come to see the Descent into Hell as problematic. Rome treated the problem by subjecting it to scholastic analysis. For much of the Protestant tradition, the Descent becomes so problematic that it is virtually forgotten. Anglican Prayerbooks (even in 1928) offered optional versions of the Apostles’ Creed in which you could say, “He descended into Hell,” or “He went into the place of departed spirits.” At the most, the Descent into Hell was limited to a freeing of the “righteous.” The alternative metaphor of original sin and juridical salvation gave little or no room for a salvation from Hell from within Hell itself. For a large number of modern Evangelicals, it is no exaggeration to say that there is no awareness at all that Christ ever descended into Hell (Hades, etc.). The metaphor which dominates their thoughts on salvation gives no room nor necessity for such a descent. This absence is similar to the absence of sacramental understanding in which Baptism and Eucharist play a role in salvation. They are reduced to memorials or ordinances because the controlling metaphor in modern Protestant thought has no room nor necessity for either.

The ending of Chrysostom’s Catechetical Sermon is a fitting end to these thoughts:

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.


With Heart and Mind

April 20, 2007


When mind and heart are united in prayer and the soul is wholly concentrated in a single desire for God, then the heart grows warm and the light of Christ begins to shine and fills the inward man with peace and joy. We should thank the Lord for everything and give ourselves up to His will; we should also offer Him all our thoughts and words, and strive to make everything serve only His good pleasure.

St. Seraphim of Sarov

St. Seraphim’s statement points us to prayer with attention. Uniting heart and mind is the very core of praying with attention. It may well be that this is done with difficulty and only for a short period of time. But such directed union with Christ is deeply beneficial to our lives. Here is a description of St. Seraphim’s “Little Rule of Prayer” from the site Orthodoxphotos. I might add that there is much helpful material on this site as well as the photos.

How to Pray When time is Short
Which words to use when praying? What should one do, who does not have enough memory, who through lack of learning did not learn the most important prayers, and finally, those (and this life situation does occur) when there is simply not enough time to stand before the icons and read the compulsory morning and evening prayers? This question was decided by the great elder Seraphim of Sarov. Many visitors of the elder faulted themselves for praying very little, that they did not read even the mandated morning and evening prayers.

St. Seraphim established for such people the following easily accomplished rule:

“Upon rising from sleep, let each Christian, standing before the holy icons, read the prayer “Our Father” thrice, in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. Then the song of the Mother of God: “Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos Mary, full of grace…” also thrice. In conclusion the Creed: “I believe…” — once. Completing such a rule, let each Orthodox engage in his duties, to which he is assigned or called. During his work at home or along the way anywhere he should quietly read “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner,” but if others surround him, then, while busy with his duties, let him only say in his mind “Lord, have mercy,” — and thus until lunch. Right before lunch let him repeat the morning rule. After lunch, busy with his work, let every Christian read just as quietly: “Most Holy Mother of God, save me, a sinner.” When preparing for sleep, let every Christian again read the morning rule, i.e., “Our Father” thrice, “Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos Mary” thrice and once “I believe.”

St. Seraphim explained that, keeping to this small “rule,” one can attain a measure of Christian perfection, because these three prayers — are the foundation of Christianity. The first, as the prayer given by the Lord Himself, is the pattern for all prayers. The second is brought from Heaven by the
Archangel upon greeting the Mother of God. The Creed contains in itself all the salutary dogmas of the Christian faith.

In addition the elder counseled reading the Jesus prayer during activities, while walking, even in bed, and as confirmation used the following words from the letters to the Romans: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10: 13). For those who have time, the elder suggested reading the Gospel, canons, akathists, psalms.

Praying with Icons

April 19, 2007


In one of our recent services (Paschal Vespers as I recall) we had a handfull of visiting Russian Nationals. I’ve noticed this before – it’s sort of a cultural distinction – but the women (they were all female) came in, and stood for extended lengths of time before the icons, as if waiting for something, and then lit their candles.

It is not universally true, but I have often noticed that we Americans, and maybe “we American converts” especially, tend to rush through our entrance into the Church. Managing candles and children at the same time is enough of a struggle, and so I will spare them. But frequently, greeting the icons and lighting a candle can seem like a chore that must be performed and done quickly.

I have no way to judge the piety of another person. But I was struck that Sunday by the time and attention that was spent before an icon. It seemed clear that something was passing – from parishioner to God, or saint, and from God or saint to parishioner. As I say, some of this is cultural, but much of that cultural difference comes from a culture that remembers to pay close attention and respect. These things can come hard to a culture schooled in democracy, where greetings are pretty perfunctory, at best.

When people ask me, “Why do you kiss icons?” I have to remember that we Americans come from a culture that does not kiss in general unless it is a very intimate relation (wife, husband, offspring, etc.). Hollywood is an obvious exception as are several ethnic groups within our culture. But we kiss icons for the same reason that two Greeks kiss upon meeting (or two Frenchmen, etc.). “Greet one another with a Holy Kiss,” the last time I checked, was a Scriptural admonition.

But it is more than the kiss. It is the time and concentration. I know all too well when it’s the last two minutes before the Liturgy begins and the vast majority of the Church is arriving at the same time, kids in tow, etc.  It’s hard not to want to rush because the lines are getting long and you want to let others make their greetings.

All of this simply argues for getting to Church earlier and being sure that I have time to collect myself and properly put myself into the place of prayer – to attend to God and to my heart.

Worshipping at St. Seraphim Cathedral this week, where the icons cover everything, there is very little excuse for me not to direct my attention somewhere. But the key is to direct my attention. Of course a great battle can ensue when I want to direct my attention somewhere and something else is forcing me to direct my attention somewhere else. Those parishes (like my own) where the number of young children is growing can be particularly challenging. And yet, with the noisiest of distractions, I can always pray for the source of the distraction (not praying for it to go away but praying for the richness of God’s blessing to be with them). And praying for others is always pleasing to God.

Our gathering for Liturgy can be many things. I can recall stories from Bishop Kallistos Ware in which he speaks of worshipping in the cave of the Revelation with 2 monks chanting, and three mice watching. That lends itself for one kind of attention. Where 90 or more souls are pressed into little space, and thirty of them are beneath the age of 8, some hyper, some with attention deficit, some autistic, concentration will have to be defined differently. But God surely does not judge us for our kindness and care for children.

We offer what we can in liturgy. But there are other times, both in Church (before and after services) and at home, when attention can be given – when my heart, the icon, and God can meet together and have the communion we have been promised.

Mostly I am convinced that we should not settle for living without that communion, somewhere, sometime.

May God multiply such opportunities in our lives and enlarge our awareness of their presence.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

April 19, 2007


Today (Wednesday) and tomorrow I am in Dallas, Texas, with my Archbishop, DMITRI of Dallas and the South (OCA). I’m here for a small meeting with him and my fellow deans. Probably more social than practical – but time will tell.

The Church in Dallas could have been pulled from the countryside of Russia. Built around 2000, it’s frescoes continue to slowly grow as the entire interior of the Church proclaims the doctrine of Christ.

Such iconography has an effect that small icons cannot have. They are as large (or larger) than life, and, typically have a way of putting the stories of the gospel together such that the whole of the gospel is proclaimed.

According to Archbishop DMITRI, he and the iconographer worked on the layout for the iconography such that the central message would be the dignity of human nature. His Eminence is convinced that the departure from the Orthodox faith that we witness in the modern world is largely an assault on the dignity of man. He thus defends it at every turn, and is determined that his cathedral will do the same with its iconography.

I hope to coaxe a tour out of him tomorrow so that I can have him “read” the iconography to me in its larger context.

I will certainly have a better feel for the cathedral and a sense of how the icons work together. Even as it is, in my ignorance, it feels as though I am standing in the midst of the Bible when I am there and pray.

I am always renewed by a visit to Dallas. Archbishop DMITRI is the age of my father (83) and among the strongest pillars of the Orthodox faith I have ever encountered. His own knowledge is encyclopedic and he enjoys teaching. Thus it is a renewal – I am strengthened by an example I would emulate and taught anew the truth of the Christian faith.

Worth getting on a plane and suffering the insults of American air travel. Glory be to God for all things.

If I get my tour tomorrow, I will write at some length on the cathedral’s icons.

The Struggle for Prayer

April 18, 2007


Fr. Sophrony relates part of his struggle for prayer and the grace he received to help others. The passage is from On Prayer.

…On more than one occasion I felt as if I were crucified on an invisible cross. This would happen on Mt. Athos when I got angry with those who vexed me. My wickedness would destroy prayer and fill me with horror. At times it seemed impossible to struggle against it – it lacerated me like a wild beast tearing its prey to pieces. Once because of a flash of irritation prayer departed from me. I had to struggle for eight months in order to find it again. But when the Lord yielded to my tears, my heart took courage and I became more patient.

This experience of crucifixion happened again later (when I was back in France) but in a different form. I would never refuse to accept the task of caring, as a spiritual father, for those who turned to me for help. My heart felt especial compassion for the mentally ill. Overwhelmed by the monstrous difficulties of contemporary life, some of them would try to insist on prolonged attention that I had not the strength for. My position became desperate: whichever way I turned, someone would be crying out in pain. This revealed to me the depths of suffering in our times, with people shattered by the cruelty of our famous civilisation. Colossal state mechanisms, although set up by men, are impersonal, not to say inhuman apparatus, indifferently crusing millions of lives. Powerless as I was to change the actually intolerable though lefitimized crimes of society, in my prayer, away from any visible imges, I felt the presence of the crucifed Christ. I lived His suffering in spirit so distinctly that a physical vision of of His being ‘lifted up from the earth’ could in no way have intensified my participation in His pain. However insignificant my experiences may have been, they deepened my perception of Christ in His earthly coming to save the world.

Fr. Sophrony writes here of “losing prayer” for eight months. This is not the same thing as saying that he did not pray for eight months as most of us understand the word. Rather, it means that he lost prayer in the sense of true union with God found in the depths of the heart. Reading this passage made me keenly aware of how easy it is in my life to settle for the perfunctory or to have “said” my prayers and be satisfied that I have done something, when I have hardly done anything at all.

Prayer, as described by Fr. Sophrony, is a gift from God, but this does not mean it cannot be sought. He struggled again for eight months to regain “prayer.” In many cases simply struggling to pray with attention is a huge step forward and a struggle worth making. This is true whether we are praying in private or in the midst of a liturgy. It is possible to direct one’s attention – not easily – and not for an hour.

I recall last summer talking with a teenager when I was at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex. The two main services on an average day consist largely of an individual reciting repetitions of the Jesus Prayer in the candle-lit darkness of the Church. It is easy to fall asleep – easier still to let the mind wander. This teenager, speaking candidly and without any knowledge of what he was saying said, “I was able to pray for 45 minutes, but then I had to stop and go outside.” He’ll never know how much I held in awe his 45 minutes! Five minutes would have impressed me. But it was a quiet reminder to me to continue the struggle and to continue until I am able to pray.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev on the Descent into Hades

April 18, 2007


Thank you to LadyMacbeth for the lead to the following link. Bishop Alfeyev is an excellent source and worth reading!

 I commend him to you!

A Journey through the Heavens

April 18, 2007


Not to be too melodramatic, but I will be traveling today at about 20 to 30,000 feet to the city of Dallas, yes in a airplane., to meet with my Beloved Archbishop Dmitri and fellow Deans of the Diocese of the South. I have a post loaded alreday which should appear around noon.

I’ll check in on the web this evening.

I never imagined I’d be flying this much when I converted. It’s ironic – I had a phobia about planes before my chrismation – and today I positively love to fly. God gives us what we need.

Carolina in my Mind

April 17, 2007


Some readers might appreciate the fact that I was born in South Carolina. For some other readers, I think especially of our Europeans and others across the internet globe, South Carolina means little. It is “Deep South” in the U.S., with its own distinctives. Perhaps one of its striking characteristics is that it has a strong sense of place. I know many Americans who do not have a sense of place – but they are not usually natives of South Carolina.

I have been absent from the state since 1988, but I always return with a sense of home. My hometown no longer houses my parents. They have moved away for medical reasons. I have cousins and extended family there, but my parents’ absence clearly affects my sense of place. I suppose (and I am in no hurry to find out) that when we lay them to rest beneath the sod of my home county (next to my fathers’ parents and near many others whom I know) that the sense of place will become fairly fixed. 

Several years back I was invited to celebrate the liturgy in the Church where my parents (who are now Orthodox) attended. It is located in a small community that I have known all my life. Many of my ancestors lived in or near that very place. The nearby city is growing and will eventually swallow up the Church and the community where it stands. But today, it seems an odd place (rural) for an Orthodox Church in the South.

But the overwhelming sense that I had as I stood at the altar of this small Church was that I was made of dirt from very nearby. I thought, as a priest, of so many things that had brought me to that altar, things for which I should give thanks and offer the sacrifice of praise. It was a powerful liturgy.

The Scriptures are utterly marked by the sense of place. The Patriarchs literally transformed the land that God gave them as they prayed and worked, lived and died. It seems that every significant event caused a name to be assigned to a place.

We rarely give names to places for anything other than commercial reasons. Our subdivisions compete to see who can sound more English County than the next. Thus we may live in “Foxcroft” (regardless of the absence of foxes), or “Manor View,” though there be no manor nor view. And on it goes. We have virtual names, all too often, given to suggest something that is not there. Thus names do not name a place – they obscure it.

As you leave South Carolina and move further West (you can tell that I’m from South Carolina because I think of living in Tennessee as being out West), there seem to be more Native American names that survive. Thus Tennessee, where I now live, is named for a river (the Tennessee) that, I believe, is an Indian name for two brothers (the Holston and the French Broad come together to form the Tennessee). It makes sense.  But there is plenty that does not make sense – such as a continent named for a mapmaker who had nothing to do with America.

But we can only live in particular places at particular times. With so much in our life that seeks to pull us away from the particular and to live in virtual space – a great part of our spiritual struggle is the effort we must make to be somewhere in sometime.

Tonight, as I write, I am in Aiken, South Carolina, home to my wife’s family and my son’s fiancee. It is also home to nearly 35 years of memories as I have traveled here, first to convince a young woman to marry me, and later to visit her family. It is a lovely place, one that I will continue to visit if only to remember who I am and where parts of my family are from.

Tomorrow I’ll go home to Tennessee, for although I was not born there, I live there. And it is there that I must learn to be somewhere, sometime and always in the presence of God. Where do you go to go home?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.