St. Nicholai Velimirovich in his missionary letters (#235), quotes a three point sermon from a monk whom he respects. The following is the entire sermon:
“I tell you three things:
First, our salvation is thinner than silk.
Second, where your mind is, there is your home.
Third, we came into this world like to a marketplace, to buy something good and take [it] home again.
The third point reminds me of the parable of the talents. We are all given breath, a life with which to “trade” in the marketplace of life. Our goal is to “spend” our life on what is good, good in God’s eyes, because heaven is the home to which we will bring this good.
“Where your mind is, there is your home.” This reminds me of “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” or “Set your minds on things above.” It is a reminder that heaven is not a place we go after we die. Heaven is the reality we live in right now–if our mind will dwell there. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you,” Jesus said. Where our mind dwells, or on what our mind dwells, where it abides, really has eternal implications. Both heaven and hell are right now. Where our mind is determines where our home is.
However the first saying, “Our salvation is thinner than silk,” doesn’t remind me of anything immediately. It frightens me. But it is not the overwhelming fear of total loss. It is the fear that comes from not being in control. It is the fear of “With the fear of God and faith and love.”
I like to think of my life and relationships as pretty much fixed. That’s comfortable to me. I like to think that my family, my church, my employer, my own self and even my relationship with God can pretty much weather whatever version of “me” I bring to the table. Sure, I could do something really, really stupid and blow up my family or church relationships, lose my job or even alienate myself from myself and perhaps even alienate myself from God. But generally speaking, I normally take most of my relationships for granted. They are solid, so if I’m not particularly careful, they can weather my storm.
Accepting this idea that salvation is thinner than silk introduces a sort of humility into everything. Life is delicate. I really do have to nurture relationships, healthy relationships with those I love, those I work with, with God and with myself. I really can hurt myself, hurt others, hurt my relationship with God through carelessness. Thinking this way produces a kind of humility, a kind of fear, a sense of dependence on God and God’s help.
I notice something inside me rushing to provide assurance. I want to provide or manipulate a metaphor that will make me feel safe. I don’t want to depend so utterly on the mercy of God. It’s scary. I don’t want to consider the possibility that I could break the thread. Fear and faith must walk together. Fear and faith and love. Love, that’s were I find peace. Fear drives me to God. Faith helps me to find God in my heart, to attend there, to abide. And then love comes. Love casts out fear. Love absorbs and dissolves fear.
St. Anthony the Great said, “I used to fear God, now I love Him.” We want the love, but we do not want to pass through the fear. Like the fifteen year old who is certain he is in love–and perhaps he is in some sort of love. We too perhaps are certain of our love for God–until doubts and disappointments, trials and disciplines and depravations come. Then our love is tested. Then perhaps we experience fear again, a fear that leads us to a love deeper than we ever knew before.
The wisdom of some of the Church Fathers seems to be to embrace the fear to dive deeper into the love.