Years ago, in my police officer days, I got assigned to the local DUI Task Force. This was a multi-jurisdictional team of officers specifically trained to combat driving under the influence and a direct result of the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving that had formed in our community. I really loved this assignment because of our extra training and the fulfilling opportunity to really make a difference.
One of the most interesting parts of this assignment was the education I received to help me understand just how dangerous drunk driving was. And also the training in the law to apply the drunk driving statutes in my work. Many folks don’t know that drunk driving isn’t just alcohol-related. The law actually refers to “impaired” operation of a motor vehicle. That word “impaired” is where the action is because anything that impairs a driver from safely operating his vehicle can be grounds for arrest under the law. That includes any intoxicant, including prescribed medications! I never will forget a specific case where the driver fought her DUI arrest stating she had not been drinking at all, but was, in fact, taking prescribed medications that made her operation of a vehicle “less safe.” The court ruled that, in fact, she was driving while impaired and upheld the arrest.
The parallels with our spiritual lives are apparent, especially in light of the wisdom of our Orthodox faith that calls us to a sober life.
Look at today’s reading from Genesis 9:18-10:1:
The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.
Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; sons were born to them after the flood.
The story is told of Noah planting a vineyard and then harvesting and fermenting the grapes into wine. It was his vineyard and it was his wine, so he drank it. It’s an old story; he drank too much and he passed out. Well, his younger son observed his father in this drunken state and went and told his two older brothers. The two brothers came and covered their dad up with a blanket so his shameful behavior wouldn’t be seen anymore. When Noah came to, he realized what happened and became angry! Again, an old story!
But, dear one, this is the path of intoxication. It impairs judgment. It clouds reason. It makes it easy to ignore warning signs before the disaster. And it causes us embarrassment which usually leads us to overcompensate for our embarrassment by either denial or lashing out.
If this is true with chemical intoxication; it’s also true of spiritual intoxication. Those elements of our lives that impair our spiritual sobriety like anger, fear, resentment, lust, pride, ignorance, and the like; all combine to impair our spiritual development and make our operation of our lives complicated and even dangerous. We make choices when we’re “impaired” and we “wreck” our relationships, our careers, and even our relationship with God, and then we compound the damage by allowing the embarrassment of our poor choices to keep us from the remedy of our impairment through repentance. We find ourselves pushing further and further away from our only Source of sobriety because we are too embarrassed to confess or to admit we are not sober!
And yet, here we are in Great Lent with all its wisdom that precisely deals with those elements that intoxicate our lives. We are called to pray the Prayer of St. Ephrem where we specifically ask the Lord to help us overcome those intoxicating faults that enslave us to destructive behaviors. Intoxicants like sloth, despondency, lust for power, and idle talk all contribute to my spiral toward spiritual addiction and the slavery of the passions. But the sobering wisdom of the faith calls me to embrace and ask for sober behaviors and influences like chastity, humility, patience, and love. It is when I’m sober in my soul that I see clearly all warning signs and all directions that lead me to wise choices and a peaceful life.
Today, we all struggle with the spiritual drunkenness that so easily trips us up. It takes regular confession and the willingness, to be honest about our own lack of spiritual sobriety. It takes the willing choice to attend the regular meetings where sobriety is encouraged (think of worship as a Divine AA meeting!) and the path to sobriety is taught. In other words, we will not be spiritually sober until we admit we need to be, and then we follow up by learning how to become and stay sober! And that sober spiritual life is all about being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, give me the grace and the humility to stay “sober” in my spiritual life and avoid the intoxications of the passions so I won’t forget who I really am and then become enslaved to who I’m not. Thank You for You’re faithful love and grace. Amen