Thinner Than Silk

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.
Amen”

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.

7 comments:

  1. It is a fearful thought that our salvation is thinner than silk. It is hard to hold fear and love together, but your words are very helpful.

    Thank you, Fr. Michael!

  2. I do not understand the fear of God. I simply dont.
    Is God perfect, unending love? Is He doing everything in His power to unite us to Himself? Is He not the one who leaves the flock to find the lost sheep? Who falls on his neck when the prodigal returns?
    I do not understand what to fear in this imagery.

    So we might say, "fear your own unrighteousness."
    Okay- yes. I do fear myself.
    But what of that? I try- and fail. What should I do? Fear the Lord? I dont understand.
    I dont fear God. I turn to Him, beg Him for help. How can I do what I cannot do? I cannot. So I must again call on God, ask His help, and trust that He loves me and will heal me, and enable me to do what I cannot do.
    How does fear serve me in any way in this process?

    I have never understood the fear of God. I sort of say, "okaaaaay, I guess" when pastors try to explain, or I read it in the scriptures. But I have no connect with it in my experience of God, or my experience of life in God's hands. God is good! He is awesome! But He is GOOD! What does it mean to fear him?
    I fear those who wish me harm or evil things.

    It makes no sense to me to fear God, apart from empty words I cannot say that I do.
    Help is welcomed!!!
    -M

  3. Hey, M, this reminds me of the end of a passage from "A Grief Observed" (C.S.Lewis):


    The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then those tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren't.

    Either way, we're for it.

    What do people mean when they say, "I am not afraid of God because I knew He is good?" Have they never even been to a dentist?

  4. Thanks Michelle.

    Though I would say Lewis's line of reasoning is yet another demonstration why we should not fear God.

    I may fear pain- but I want what is good for me! Those who do not really believe what Lewis teaches- perhaps they can feel free to fear God (thinking Him bad, temperamental, or vindictive). But Lewis' argument (and yours) for me has the opposite effect of defending the classical pious "fear of God."
    For me, it has always only demonstrated that we need never fear God. That he need not be feared in any way, precisely because even when we do not understand the good, God is the Good! So why should a faithful person fear? Fear seems to be related to punishment, and God who is perfect love drives it out.
    I just simply do not fear God, and do not understand the fear of God.

    Thank you for offering a perspective. I have observed over the long years of my attempted-pious life, that I try to "make myself" believe things through these sorts of rationalizations, that I really do not believe experientially. They are typically 'theological teachings' that I think I'm *supposed* to believe, but I have no honest connection with them. I am increasingly losing interest in 'thinking' or believing something about God that just simply is not related to my experience of Him in any way.

    God help me if this is mistaken, and I am open to assistance.
    Love;
    -Mark

    -M

  5. Hey Mark! 😀

    We're in good company. I too find it hard to be taught to "think" something about God that is "not related to my experience of Him" and I guess most of us do.

    I know I wince at the thought of really facing myself when God holds up a mirror (I speak casually and metaphorically, forgive me) to show me what exactly I've been. So in that sense, yes, I'd say I'm *terribly* afraid of God, the way I have been afraid of a piano teacher I really loved and admired, when I would go to a lesson sure I haven't practiced enough, dreading the moment of the truth being exposed. Even when the teacher was sympathetic and wanting only to help me, the truth hurt. That isn't the same thing as "punishment" in my mind. Truth-exposing isn't retribution, but it is painful. I'm afraid of pain. (I note, too, that it's precisely the teachers I loved the most that I was the most afraid of, when I knew I hadn't practiced well.)

    Far be it from me to disturb your peaceful state. 😀

  6. Mmmm.

    this has been a helpful exchange, thank you Michelle.
    I think the secret is, that I do not *really* love God. I am comparing my casual "ya God loves me, what's to fear?" with my very palpable fear of confession. The more I am loved by my confessor, the harder it is for me to admit and expose my disfigurement and failure before him.
    I am not sure how to cultivate a similar genuine relational love for God, but I see that it is probably a lack of this genuine love and experienced relationship that makes me so 'unfeeling' of any fear of Him.
    God help me!

    and,
    Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our "YES"~!

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