Water is life. Too much water is death.
Gregory of Nyssa likens the distractions of life to a rushing torrent uprooting trees and pushing boulders out of its way. A huge part of the struggle of those living in the world is to learn not to let the water–life with all of its “demandments”: obligations, expectations and responsibilities–rush too violently into their souls. Otherwise, the Tree of Life and the Rock of our Salvation may seem to be swept away in the torrent.
This is one of the big draws of the monastic life according to St. Gregory. The flow of life is regulated (in a healthy monastic context) so that there is enough of a flow of the messiness of life for virtues to grow, but not so much that it threatens to wash away the inner garden.
Those of us in the world, however, have very little protection from the deluges of life. And it seems that the more prosperous one is in the world, the more rushing and gushing the demandments of life are. This is probably one of the reasons why it is so hard for a rich person to be saved, why it is so hard for just about anyone who is doing OK in the world to be saved (for there are many ways in which a person can be rich–money is just one of them). The rich attend to the screams of the urgent and have no attention left for the whispers of the important. The rich are driven by the needs of the immediate and have no energy left to walk in the garden of the eternal.
And yet we are not without hope. I asked someone recently how she was doing and she said to me,”I’m sad, confused and a little hopeful.” That sums things up pretty well, I think. Life in a fallen world is nothing less than sad and confusing. However, there is hope. There is light in the darkness. When His disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” after Jesus had said how hard it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus answered, “With human beings this is impossible, but with God nothing is impossible.”
God gives miracles to those who ask, to those who seek, to those who knock. God gives miracles. Occasionally, the miracle is outward: a sudden change of circumstances or health or relationships. But most often the miracle is inward, and always the miracle is for salvation: to change the heart and the mind. Our salvation is to become like Jesus. So even a wealthy person–through a miracle of the Holy Spirit–can learn to be generous, which is like Jesus who gave everything. And even a well educated person–through a miracle of the Holy Spirit–can learn to be humble, which is like Jesus who humbled Himself even to death. And even a gifted leader–through a miracle of the Holy Spirit–can learn to serve the least of all, which is like Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.
But miracles like these do not happen without our asking for them. And generally we do not ask, not really ask, until we are certain of our need, of our total inability to save ourselves (much less those we love). And nothing convinces us that there is no hope except in God so well as this sad and confusing fallen world. It teaches us to cry out, to cry out in desperation, to the God for whom nothing is impossible. And the God for whom nothing is impossible touches our hearts, changes our minds (i.e. grants repentance), gives us a step, an act, or a small obedience that in spite of the flood begins to change our souls. It is as though we are raised somehow a little above the flood. The terrible flood rages by–“a thousand may fall at my right hand”–but the Tree of Life and the Rock of Salvation remain firm in our hearts.
Very few of us ever actually see the Uncreated Light of God, but everyone can see the effects of that Light. It is the light of the Light, the light that shines in the darkness. It is peace in the midst of the storm. It is gentleness in the face of rage. It is patience (suffering a long time) or generosity or kindness when others think we’re crazy. It is the light of the Light of Christ shining in our hearts.