I wrote recently of the genius of both Solzhenitsyn (who is pictured here lying at rest in Christ) and Dostoesvsky – that both refuse to genralize about the nature of the human struggle, but bring the entire struggle for salvation down to the existential level, to the level of the human heart and its encounter with God. This is not simply true of these great writers, but is also true of the Orthodox faith. In an excellent article, The Ocholophobist has noted the importance of this reality for Orthodoxy and its teaching. Thus Orthodoxy cannot simply be described as “pro-life” but rather as opposing abortion because it is the taking of a particular human life. I commend his article.
Reprinted here is an older article of mine on the nature of the particular and the faith. I hope you find it a good read (or re-read). My health is starting to return and I appreciate an opportunity to “reprint” for a day.
From February, 2007. Reference to my travels are to a trip I had just taken to the Southwest.
I wrote earlier of the details – and my own wrestling with the details of my travel.
Slowly, I am decompressing and regaining my own composure. The difficulty of life is not really found in the details but in its very character as particular.
I think people do very well in general – that is to say – with things in general. When we think of things on the general level we’re not really talking about much other than our own ideas. Arguments can be had on this level, but not much is really at stake – just ideas.
Mankind, in general, is easy to love. Indeed Ivan Karamazov (by far the most sinister of the brothers) argued that it was only in general that we could love mankind. Mankind in general is easy to make plans for, to create bold utopian experiments and the like.
But then comes the particular. To feed 5,000 people is generally a large thing to do, but it comes down to the actual feeding of 5,000 particular people. The details of such an undertaking is enormous. I don’t know how we manage to seat the 5 of us living in my house now!
In local parish life – it’s almost never the general things that trouble us – in general we are all Orthodox and agree (in general). It’s only when we talk about what setting of the tropar we will use (or the myriad other choir decisions that must be made) or how we will actually do so many other things that can be measured only in particulars, that we find trouble.
In concept, the idea of a single, unified jurisdiction for Orthodoxy, is easy. But when that day comes (which it most surely will) the difficulty will be found in the particular.
This is always the test of love (not do I love man, but do I love <em>this</em> man).
This is the level of every struggle that is true and significant. Here the Gospel of Christ can come into its fullness. It is finally only in the fullness of each and every particularity that the Gospel is fulfilled.
And it is only in each and every particular that you and I lose our souls, that we despair of succeeding, that we actually come to know our need of God. In general, we do not need God (because of how perverse the “general” is). But we need Him in each and every particular.
This tells us how important prayer is in the smallest things. In the largest things (things in general) prayer is almost perfunctory. Not how do we feed the world, but how do I feed my family and the stranger at my door?
And it is in the smallest things that we fail.
Thus it is that the focus of our life must turn from the general, and from the largest things, and to the smallest details. I know and can know nothing of tomorrow or even 10 minutes from now. But what am I to do with my neighbor here and now as they stand in their particular need (or irritation or sin)?
“He who is faithful in small things, I will give to be master of much,” (Matt. 25:14) Christ says.
A little prayer, a little patience, a little humility, a little kindness, a little cry for help and all can be fulfilled. It is for want of the little things that our lives slip away into something less than what they should be. And it is in the little things that saints shine forth as the stars of heaven. God give us grace!