I love this line from Shakespeare:
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?” (Hamlet, V.i)
It is such a powerful image of our own mortality and the foolish habit we humans have in trying to hide from that one, universal, reality.
But the first part of the line also strikes me, “I knew him.” What wonders we embrace when we work to know something or someone well. The discoveries I make about my own self as I work to learn, to grow, to deepen authentic relationships pays such spiritual and emotional dividends as to be unmeasurable in their worth.
No wonder the Orthodox Faith always brings us back to the confrontation of relationships.
Look at our Gospel Lesson for today in Matthew 7:21-23:
The Lord said, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’”
You see, an authentic relationship with Christ always has clear and unmistakable “tells.”Knowing about God through the acquisition of information certainly is helpful, but the defining reality is actually “knowing” God to the level that this “knowing” affects your actions and priorities. The difference is between simply “knowing about” and actually “knowing.” You know this difference; it is like reading about being in love and actually being in love to the point you know each other so well you finish each other’s sentences. And that kind of “knowing” takes intimacy, time, effort, and desire.
So, how do we build intimacy with God? How do we come to not just know about Him but to KNOW Him? Well, there isn’t some magic formula that “poof” makes this happen, no matter how many times you’ve heard it happens in an instant. Intimacy with God is no different than building intimacy with another person. You have to invest your time, efforts, and diligence. You have to first desire this kind of relationship with God. And that desire builds the more you come to know Him. After desire comes investment; an investment of priorities, time, and sacrifice. You have to so prioritize this intimate relationship that it gets your best efforts, your time, and your focus. Just like any relationship, you have to work at it.
And our Orthodox faith has been building this type of salvific intimacy with God for centuries. What have we learned in all this time? We’ve learned that a daily prayer rule works. We’ve learned that fasting keeps my desire for God pure and focused. And we’ve learned that generosity, almsgiving, breaks the back of that destroyer of intimacy and closeness – my own self-sufficiency. When I hold my life loosely in my hands, when I am generous with my resources, I am free to prioritize eternal things over those temporary “pleasures” that actually steal intimacy from me!
Today, do you “know” God in this closeness and intimacy? All the wisdom of the faith is meant to foster this kind of intimate relationship with God; the Liturgy, the prayers, the hymns, the candles, the incense, the vestments, the movements, the rhythm of the year, the disciplines, the scriptures, the theology; even the opportunities to give all of this is meant to enable you to “know” God so well that the family resemblance is unmistakable! It’s why we have seasons of fasting like now. It’s why we are invited to truly know ourselves in challenging times and suffering. It’s why the Faith is set up to always force an Encounter with Timeless Wisdom and the Loving God! It makes me Orthodox on Purpose!