I have taken this discussion of life in a “one-storey” universe to that of language, precisely because I think that much of our language (as we presently define it) presumes “two-storey” meanings. One of the places I will press language is our speaking of God’s Providence.
In the “Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina,” we have a version of a prayer that can be found in similar form by other names within Orthodoxy, but certainly a prayer that expresses a very common thought:
O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will. At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will. Direct my thoughts and feelings in all my words and actions. In all unexpected occurrences, do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee. Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone. O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take plce during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen.
Though the prayer states that “all is sent down from Thee” I would not necessarily describe this as “two-storey” language, though it could easily be taken that way. More to my point is the assumption of the prayer that God is indeed, “everywhere present and filling all things.” Equally that, “in Him we live and move and have our being.” There has been something of an abandonment of the concept of providence in many theological corners in modern times – probably brought on from the crisis within theodicy (the technical word for the understanding of the relationship between God and evil – or the question, “How is God just?”) Events of the 20th century, particularly the horrors of modern war and the like, have tended to push the question of God’s providential involvement with the everyday world to the outer realm of theological discourse. When I attended a modern Protestant seminary back in the 70’s, not once was the subject of Providence even discussed. It simply had no place at the table.
Of course, if we are to speak in a one-storey manner, Providence, God’s involvement with everything that is, cannot be avoided. Interestingly, it is not only not avoided by contemporary Orthodox spiritual teaching, it remains very much in the fore. The late Russian elder, Fr. Ioan Krestiankin, speaks constantly of God’s providence in his recently published letters. This language, interestingly, comes from one who spent part of his Christian life in the Soviet Gulag. Such mindless suffering seems to have had no effect on his perception of God’s providence.
However, many are appropriately nervous when they read accounts such as those of the monks at St. Antony’s monastery in Egypt (in my first posting on this topic). The hucksterism and spiritual delusion that are rampant in some Christian circles can easily and appropriately make people shy – who wants to live in delusion?
Thus, I think that as Christians we approach the abandonment of a two-storey universe slowly. Above everything we begin to move our Christian life out of the realm of abstraction and into the realm of living. We pray rather than think about prayer. We trust God rather than discussing the concept of trusting God. We act on the basis of faith rather than spending time talking about the importance of faith. We make every effort to embrace God as good and at work in all things.
I suppose this is a return to my writing about the small things – the immediate things. But this is where we live – and it is where we are being saved. So much of the Orthodox faith has this very concrete character about it. I have come to some fairly simple practices in my life as a priest. When someone calls me at Church to ask for prayer – particularly for matters of great moment – I leave the office – go in the Church – and offer a Molieben (it’s a short service of prayer, designed particularly for just such occasions). It takes about 20 minutes – but it’s what I was asked to do – to pray.
By the same token we bring our faith into this blessed first storey (indeed probably the only storey of the universe) by doing here what we were commanded to do – pray, give, forgive, love, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc. It is in such straightforward activities rather than in the abstractions that would call us away that we will find Christ, the saints, the angels and the whole of our faith.
God is with us.