There is a story on Mount Athos, that center of Orthodox monastic wisdom for centuries, of the circular cloud that forms on a regular basis at the top of the mountain. The science is easy. The warm and humid air from the sea is forced by the curve of the mountain up toward the cooler air at the peak and clouds are formed. But many monks have seen in this cloud formation a powerful metaphor to teach others a central truth and intent of Orthodox Christian wisdom. You are the mountain, not the cloud. Your true self isn’t the temporary ups and downs common to every life. No, your true self is waiting to be discovered. Your true eternal reality is lying into there covered over by the “clouds” of twisted passions just waiting to be healed by a serious commitment to discover your true self in the Face of the only true image of a real human – Jesus Christ. You are the mountain, not the cloud!
But how many times has my life, my attention, my time, my strength been diverted from their true identity by my confusing myself with “clouds” of delusion and distraction! To be honest we you, too often.
So, what is the answer? For the timeless faith and wisdom of the Christian way of life, it begins in the Face of Jesus Himself. It is no wonder we Orthodox insist on the incarnational theology of icons. We are meant to truly “see” our real selves in the theology painted for us in these images that reflect an authentic truth of the Only true image that has ever existed, Jesus Christ. And in His Face we are invited to discover our true face as well. It all begins in that timeless theology that God created us and all we see and said “This is very good.”
But we have observed and experienced that life is now, all too often, not good. So, we return to the timeless wisdom of the way of faith and discover that this world has now been gripped by a “Fall.” This Fall from that good place is all tied up in our confusion of just how to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ” as our Epistle Lesson calls us to live today.
Listen to the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Church (not a building, but the people) in Phillipi: “BRETHREN, I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
“To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Wow, do you believe that is true of your life? The key to overcoming the twisted passions, actually, the better way to say it is the twisted addictions, of your daily struggle is to reorient your mind and life to get to that place in your life; to discover your “mountain” and not be fooled into focusing on the “clouds” of the addictions that should never define who you really are.
But how does one begin to do this life-reorienting journey? I begin by repentance. I begin by recognizing I have confused my identity with the clouds of temporary illusions rather than the rock-solid truth of the Face of Jesus Christ! I begin by recognizing I am going the wrong way!
Today, my dearest, stop, even if it is just a moment, and reassess your self identity. You are really not the sum total of your addictions, your mistakes, your sins. You are meant to allow the grace of God to clear away that cloudy delusion and to reveal the real you as the “mountain” created in God’s image to be made into His likeness. It doesn’t matter that you may have wasted years gripped by this illusion. The only moment that truly matters is now, in this moment you know the Truth and you stop, and begin turning to go the opposite direction. God’s grace is strong enough to help you turn from focusing on the clouds and bring you to your true self.
The glorious truth about this new way of life, this purposeful Orthodoxy, is that when you have the courage and strength to abandon the clouds for the mountain, you will give light and strength to those around you to do the same. So your journey of faith to discover your true self ripples through your family and friends and offers them the same joy you know as you leave the twisted and temporary folly of delusion for the clear skies of your true self seen in the Face of Him Who made you in the first place.
Today, you are the mountain, not the clouds. Today, your true identity is seen in the Face of Him Who loves you more than you, yourself, know how to love. Today determine to begin again. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve stumbled in the past. It doesn’t matter how many times you feel you’ve failed in the past. Today, now, in this moment, begin to walk this journey again, and keep making that determination by God’s grace moment by moment until all your moments are forever!
Remember, you are the mountain, not the clouds.