It’s Not Just the Details – It’s the Particulars

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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 this 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!

Comments

  1. Reid says

    Well said! In general I can bear pain and discomfort just fine, but not the particular pain I feel at the moment. In general I am extremely patient, but not with the particularly annoying man in front of me while I am suffering from this particular headache. In general I believe in the regular practice of prayer, but at the moment I am particularly busy with something more important. And many days I am particularly busy with important jobs at every particular moment and the day ends without my having offered any particular prayers at all.

    Perhaps what you say, Fr. Stephen. is the point of Proverbs 17:24, “A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.” The wise man, taking a journey, watches the path in front of him. The fool stumbles again and again, looking off into the distance, not noticing where he is putting his feet.

  2. says

    I’m not sure of the citation either – but it sounds very much like what I mean here. Our lives are mostly made up of small things. The big things only come ever so often, and even then it is largely just a very important small thing. :)

  3. Reid says

    “Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” Zechariah 4:10

    The general context is the remnant of the Jews returning to Jerusalem from exile, under the leadership of Zerubbabel (of the line of David), to rebuild the temple and the city (thus the reference to the plumb line). I suspect the point of “who despises the day of small things” is the contrast between the one-time glory of the kings of Judah and the humble position of Zerubbel, holding not a scepter but a plumb line, leading not a mighty nation, but a ragtag group of Jews, returning from exile but still subject to the Persians (I think that’s right) who graciously allowed them to return.

    Chapter 4 of Zechariah seems in some ways prophetic of the Messiah and the Apostle John, in the Apocalypse, picks up some of this imagery. This is also the chapter with the well-known phrase, “not by might nor by power but by my Spirit.”