Perhaps I am in an introspective mood – but I find myself lately going back and reading my earliest posts – they only go back to October of 2006 – though there have been nearly a thousand of them. It is an exercise in consistency and in growth. Would I have said something differently now than I said then? This is among my earliest efforts and remains as true to me now as it did when I wrote it. Indeed, it has been something of a litmus test for writing. To proclaim from the beginning of my effort, “This blog doesn’t matter.” This is not to say it is not worth the effort, but to say that the effort only has worth if it serves a proper end – in this case the knowledge of God. It is a reminder not to take myself too seriously but to take God very seriously. Nothing has changed about that. I offer it here again, unchanged.
God matters and what matters to God matters. I know that sounds very redundant, but I’m not sure how else I want to say it. There are many things that do not matter – because they do not matter to God. Knowing the difference between the two – what matters to God and what does not requires that we know God.
And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.
Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.
Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He isperson. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.
It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.
Knowing God is not a distraction from knowing other persons, nor is knowing other persons a distraction from knowing God. But, like God, knowing other persons is not the same thing as thinking about them, much less is it objectifying them.
Knowing others is so far from being a distraction from knowing God, that it is actually essential to knowing God. We cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see, St. John tells us. We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (1 John 4:7-8).
And this matters.
This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.
Fr.Stephen – I am enjoying your posts but I have one very troubling problem. I find them – all of them – at once enlightening, confusing, scary, troubling, frustrating, encouraging, helpful, etc. The Orthodox faith is very different from my ELCA background and I am obviously being led to pay attention to a different paradigm. This scares me, but I am determined to press on and persevere. Not a day passes that I don’t visit this blog and feel that knot in my gut as I read. The ‘One-Storey’ vs ‘Two-Storey’ Christianity series has been an eye-opener! I am a fan of Bishop N T Wright and C S Lewis (hardly Lutheran reading) and find that they don’t disagree entirely with your concepts – perhaps that is what they were trying to get at in the first place. Anyway, please – carry on and I will suffer along until the Holy Spirit does something with me. Life is definitely not boring!!!
Terry M. – Welcome to the club, and please be assured that you are not alone. After all, aren’t we supposed to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Philippians 2:12
May God continue to keep your life interesting and give you the grace to bear it. I have to say that since the beginning of my conversion to Orthodoxy – life has not been boring. But I think I would rather stand “at the edge of the abyss” as Fr. Sophrony calls it, that point where belief in God actually carries consequences and where the absence of God would mean the end of all things (or the end of me), than to dwell somewhere – anywhere else.
I believe the “knot in the stomach” (and the fact that you come back to it again and again) is evidence of its truth. God help us!
Fr. Stephen – to dwell anywhere else than “at the edge of the abyss” in the company of God and the saints would mean total destruction of body and soul. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.
Amen. Welcome to the edge. Don’t bump me. 🙂
Fr Stephen, that last comment made me literally laugh out loud! 🙂
Terry M, as noted above, some others of us here are (or have recently been) where you are. A common theme in my thoughts these last 3-4 months has been “Are we crazy?!” And yet we’ve left our protestant church, regularly attend an Orthodox mission, and look forward to someday becoming catechumens in the Church.
Are we crazy?! People who stand on the edge of the abyss might be considered crazy. Knowing what we are learning now, if we don’t become Orthodox, we’ll walk just away from Christianity. They are one and the same; and there’s no going back.
I had been reading your blog, on and off, for about a month when you re-posted this same post in mid-January ’08. Something huge clicked for me when I read it, and I knew, I *knew* that Orthodoxy was where I needed to be. I knew then that within this Faith is the fullness of the Truth that I’d been thirsting for.
A few days after reading your post, I wrote to a friend (who was to be baptized on Holy Saturday) that I was feeling as if I’d “been flipped upside-down only to find out that I am now, actually, right-side-up,” however disorienting it seemed at first. This past Holy Saturday my husband and I were baptized, though I am admittedly still learning to fully orient myself. Lord have mercy!
Looking back through my life, I can see situations where the Holy Spirit was beckoning and drawing me, and, wow, was reading your post one of those situations. Glory to God!
I have read this link from Ora et Labora this morning and thought ‘this matters’ to be shared.
Ah, the edge of the abyss. Life only *seems* interesting when you are standing at the edge. When you are driven off it — *that’s* when it gets interesting, because that’s when you come to know the Hand that carries you safely to the other side. Thankfully, the freefall doesn’t last long before He comes and itnervenes!
When the heart is touched by God, one sees everyone in an angelic way. But when one does not have grace or should i say when our ability to sense grace is diminished, the whole business of loving your enemy is rather illogical. I find this daily grind of illogical living to be quite a handful at times. I always end up judging the other, reacting with force, responding programmatically almost without any control over my own will (what i mean is, i respond automatically, i simply do what my very first reaction implores me to do). How do i make loving my neighbour INSTINCT. Maybe lots of years of struggle will make this a reality.
Please pray for me
“The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.”…
How so true this is. When we go to church, and when it is a day to commemorate a Saint, we are going to say our prayers, ask for forgiveness and pray for a sick family member or just be thankful for all the blessings, we go also since we believe those Saints come to pray with us in church, not to miss that opportunity. But all of it is to achieve the revelation of God which Matters most.
Thank you Father.
Thank you Katia, for this 3rd day after Pascha reminder. It is a day to remember the Myrrh Bearing women who showed dedication as our priest put it on his sermon today and did what mattered. They were worried about the huge stone as to who would roll it for them, but they still went to anoint the Lord’s Body. When something is so important and it matters to us and we feel it needs to be done we will still attempt even against all the worries.
Thank you Fr. Stephen for this post and for the reminder that the only thing that matters when everything else is said and done, is that it matters to God that we know him. This is the reason that He send His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that we may know Him, (God) and His love for us. He humbled Himself unto death to show us He loves us. In the same manner, if we are to know and love others we must also humble ourselves and get rid of our pride, I know, like so many struggling Christians, this task is daunting, but with the grace of God, I have to believe that with God’s help, it is possible; for Jesus teaches us that with God everything is possible, but we have to ask God humbly to help us.
I’d like to encourage others who may also be dealing with the same struggle, not to loose heart or faith. Please continue with the task at hand “working out our salvation”. Patience with myself and others is a virtue that I’m still learning to acquire since conversion to Orthodoxy.
Thank you Fr. Stephen for letting us confront issues that matter to God and to us through your many posts. When I was an Evangelical Christian, I was aware of this commandment– to “love your enemies” but I did not know what to make of this passage. I hope, with God’s grace, I’m making progress, but I suspect that I’m just beginning to understand and if not, please pray for us.
Christ is risen!
Apparently there are only two locations “on the edge of the abyss” and “in it”. No further ZIP codes are available.
I remember one of my more terrifying thoughts of the past few years. I have always believed that I believed, but then I asked myself, “If I believe, why would I live as I do?”
David, as one who has had no earth-shaking angelic apparitions and no heavenly visitations–at least none of the variety that I couldn’t explain away in good rationalist form if pressed to the wall–I can relate to your believing unbelief, or your unbelieving belief if you prefer. I’m convinced we represent by far the majority of believers in this modern age, who are oblivious to the constant attentions and interventions on our behalf of our heavenly helpers; the Lord, the Saints and Holy Angels. On the other hand, the best place that I have ever known and yet seldom reach until I am totally at my wits end and at the end of all my own human resources (on the Edge), and which I have to constantly struggle to let go in order to attain is off the Edge and into the Abyss, where I encounter God in His love “just because” He is love and in spite of my sinful unworthiness. If I didn’t have a reasonable hope that He will be there to meet me again when (not if) I fall–because fall I will, fail I will and lose control (which to have is an illusion anyway) I inevitably will–I would completely despair. Because of my brokenness and sin, I am often tempted to think that there is some great achievement of mine that will win me the unending Communion with Christ I long for, but it is in losing myself in Him and receiving His life like a child that I am really saved. Perhaps it is partly Thomas Sunday that sent your thoughts down this road? “Blessed are those who have not seen Me, yet who believe.” As Father Stephen reminded me in his comment under another post: “His strength is made perfect in weakness.” The really profitable struggle is not in trying to understand the whys of how God works in one way with one, but not with another, but in being as deeply honest about who I am in my woundedness as I can with God’s help, neither excusing nor condemning myself, and coming as best I can in this honest and open state to Christ in prayer, in Confession and to His Eucharist. I believe that God’s hiddenness is as much because of His mercy as His Self-revelation is. He gives Himself to us in the form that is “as we can bear it” as we sing in the hymn of the Transfiguration, and as will be unto our salvation. May the Lord have mercy on you and on me.
When I get rattled words like belief quickly lose their usefulness.
I was with God even when the God I understood wasn’t the real one, but of my own creation. I was with God even when I was running away from Him. I cannot avoid, escape, evade or hide myself from Him.
But what does this do for me when what I want from God is a cocktail of dopamine and serotonin and not Him?
I watched the Lord of the Rings movies over the last few days (my wife and newborn child watch alot of TV). I was in tears at the end (partly because that Annie Lennox song reminds me of the death of my son). And I thought, “What a fool I am. I spent almost 10 hours in a land of fiction over the last few days, when I could have been mindful of the presence of God.” But I had to admit that as much as I have come to enjoy prayer in front of my little home-iconostasis, prayer isn’t the drug trip that my big screen TV provides.
This is a challenge for me to consider, what do I come to God for? is it something other than Him?
This is a poem i wrote a while back which i think is a little relevant. I hope it is not an abuse to post it here.
On a rainy night like tonight
In an abandoned house like the one I’m lost in
At an unsuspecting hour like the one that just drew a circle around me
Slips from my tired and broken shoulders
And tumbles down
I don’t go looking for it
Because I know the ground beneath me
Has already opened its mouth
And I’m too fragile
To look into that picture of hell underfoot
So I try to keep my chin up
Lest I turn into salt like Lot’s wife
And I put on a blindfold
That was folded neatly for me by an old man in black robes
And placed on a chest of drawers
Next to some books
As a last resort
And in the event of a rainy day
Without a second to spare
I dive down through the small cracks in my floorboards
Charging my way
Like a freight train
Bursting through toll doors
And burning holes through the hearts and minds
Of angels and demons
Until I land on my arse
Somewhere in the abyss
It is there that I remove my blindfold
And stare blindly
Into the eyes of darkness
Until a tear arrives
Like the light at the end of a tunnel
And in that pure moment
I can see again
But my tear has fallen from my face
And flooded the entire universe
It is then that Jesus comes down from his cross
And sails to me on a raft
Pulls me up out of the sea
Offers to share his umbrella
And together we sigh and smile
Before he pulls the world out from under his sleeve
And puts it back
Into my small hands
The next thing I know
The world is sitting on my shoulders again
And I’m half frowning and half smiling
Like a Byzantine icon
The sky is clear
The house is a carnival
And the unexpected hour
Takes its keys and coat
Walks out the door
Up the street
Around the corner
And out of view
David, sometimes I find God speaking to me through movies like “The Lord of the Rings,” too–those that have themes resonating with the gospel. Though TLOTR is fiction, it probably contains more true meaning and spiritual reality than any modern documentary. I also remember watching a lot of The Learning Channel and The Discovery Channel when my first son was born (no energy for much else, nursing and all!). I’m very sorry to read you lost a son. (We lost a third child through a fairly early miscarriage and that was difficult enough.) May his memory be eternal!
Father, Christ is risen!
I don’t have your email address, so I’m posting it here as I wanted to share it with you very much:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPF1FhCMPuQ (part 1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8B1nKGIAeg (part 2)