Archive for June 2nd, 2010

The Presence in Absence

June 2, 2010

This short post is among the first to appear on this blog – dating back to October of ’06. In the light of conversations about hiddenness – it seemed here timely to bring this back to our attention. I  have written on the topic of the absence of God (or our sense of it) since the beginning of my work. And even though conversations with contemporary non-believers can be tedious – they are very much worth having – if for no other reason than most Christians have a great deal of non-belief in their hearts. I also believe it is the particular calling of contemporary Orthodox (in this I follow St. Silouan of Mt. Athos) is to empty ourselves and enter the abyss of the spiritual hell our world has created for itself and there preach and pray – for it is there that the contemporary Adam has confined himself – and it is there that we must also find Christ. The emptiness of the secularized world – the first floor of a two-storey universe – is a man-made hell, the place in which we have exiled ourselves from God. We will not find God by looking elsewhere for it is here that He is present and filling all things. It is the mystery of our faith. I have reposted this original article without change.

There is a strange aspect to the presence of God in the world around us. That aspect is His apparent absence. I read with fascination (because I am no philosopher, much less a scientist) the discussions surrounding “intelligent design” and the like. I gather that everybody agrees that the universe is just marvelous and wonderfully put together (I can’t think of a better universe). But then begins the parting of ways as one sees God everywhere and another sees Him nowhere. Reason surely need not deny Him, though reason does not seem forced to acknowledge Him. I have spent most of my life around these arguments – one place or another. I can stand in either place and see both presence and absence.

But as the years have gone by, I have come to see something I never saw before – the Presence within the absence. I don’t mean to sound too mystical here – only that I see in the hiddenness of God a revelation of His love. The Creator of us all draws us towards Himself and knowledge of Him, with hints and intimations, with seen and yet unseen signs.

The strange deniability that He leaves us is the space in which love is born. Love cannot be forced, cannot be demanded. It must come as gift, born of a willingness to give. To give God trust that what I see is indeed evidence of the wisdom in which He made all things is also a space – one which God fills with Himself and the echo, the Yes, that the universe shouts back to us.

It is where I grow weary of the arguments – not because they need not be made – but because it becomes hard to hear the silence in the noise of our own voices – a silence that invites us to hear the sound of the voice of God that rumbles all around us.

There’s more to say – but not now.

The Apostles’ Fast

June 2, 2010

The Orthodox year has a rhythm, much like the tide coming in and going out – only this rhythm is an undulation between seasons of fasting and seasons (or a few days) of feasting. Every week, with few exceptions, is marked by the Wednesday and Friday fast, and every celebration of the Divine Liturgy is prepared for by eating nothing after midnight until we have received the Holy Sacrament.

It is a rhythm. Our modern world has lost most of its natural rhythm. The sun rises and sets but causes little fanfare in a world powered and lit by other sources. In America, virtually everything is always in season, even though the chemicals used to preserve this wonderful cornucopia are probably slowly poisoning our bodies.

The Scriptures speaks of the rhythms of the world – “the sun to rule by day… the moon and stars to rule by night…”

The rhythm of the Church does not seek to make us slaves of the calendar nor does it treat certain foods as sinful. It simply calls us to a more human way of living. It’s not properly human to eat anything you want, anytime you want. Even Adam and Eve in the Garden initially knew what it was to abstain from the fruit of a certain tree.

Orthodox do not starve when they fast – we simply abstain from certain foods and generally eat less.

At the same time we are taught to pray more, attend services more frequently, and to increase our generosity to others (alms).

But it is a rhythm – fasts are followed by feasts. The fast of the Apostles begins on the second Monday after Pentecost and concludes on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. Most of Christendom will know nothing of any of this – that Eastern Christians will have begun a Lenten period while the world begins to think of vacations.

The contemporary God is much the same as the contemporary diet – we want as much of Him as we want – anytime, anywhere. There is no rhythm to our desire, only the rise and fall of passions. There is no legalism in the Orthodox fast. I do not think God punishes those who fail to fast. I believe that they simply continue to become less and less human. We will not accept the limits and boundaries of our existence and thus find desires to be incessant and unruly. It makes us bestial.

For those who have begun the fast – may God give you grace! For those who know nothing of the fast – may God give you grace and preserve from a world that would devour you. May God give us all the mercies of His kindness and help us remember the work of His blessed apostles!


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