Bonnie’s father died yesterday, at 78 years old, after suffering many years with Alzheimer’s disease. On the one hand it was a relief. He seemed to be trying to die for many years. A couple of years ago he lost the ability to chew or swallow anything but a pudding-like paste that was fed him. It had been about five years since he seemed to recognize anyone. We had to institutionalize him about seven years ago because he kept going for walks and ending up in the ditches–and the ditches can be very deep in countryside: the ditch in front of our house is 12 feet deep. The neighbours would find him in a ditch and bring him home muddy, wet and cold. It seems mean of me to think it, but sometimes I wonder if I had been him if I wouldn’t have preferred to have been allowed to drown or break my neck in a ditch rather than to languish for seven more years safely in an institution losing my mind and being fed survival pudding.
On the other hand, death is always a tragedy, no matter how or when. Man was not created to die. And it is a deeper tragedy when one dies outside the Church, when one dies with no religious faith whatsoever, except whatever scraps of pop spirituality one may or may not have picked up throughout seventy years of conscious participation in North American culture.
Lynn was raised in a nonreligious home. His mother had been a Methodist, but had stopped going to Church much once she married. His Father hated religion of any sort, having had a bad experience with a Methodist preacher. The bad experience wasn’t due to anything immoral. Walking to town one day as a teenager, Bonnie’s grandfather was offered a ride in the buggy with a Methodist preacher who felt it necessary to impress on him the terrors of the age to come that awaited him if he would not repent and do whatever it was that early twentieth century Methodists did to evidence their adherence to Methodism. The teenage boy was so angered and offended by the preacher that he jumped out of the buggy and hated religion of any kind the rest of his life. This was the home Bonnie’s father was raised in.
During the Korean War, Lynn joined the Marines and after training was shipped off to Korea just as the war ended. Back in San Diego, Lance Corporal Sexton fell in with Four Square Gospel revivalists and married a beautiful, young pianist on a traveling revivalist team. Despite the heat of revivalist fervour, the depth of religious experience was no proof against the realities of married life: getting revived again and again does little to heal passions, promote virtue or encourage healthy communication in marriage. Soon even that form of religion fell away. Lynn always respected the religion of others, he just never got into it very much himself. Given the right circumstances, I’m sure he could have been a relatively faithful something or another, if that’s what his wife or family had been into. However, left pretty much on his own, he couldn’t seem to find his way onto any particular path of faith.
Lynn was the sort of fellow everyone liked. He always went with the flow. His strengths were beautiful–he was a very gifted watercolorist–and his vices were more or less gentle. He was never one of the sharpest tacks in the box, but he was always the one of the friendliest and most generous. When Bonnie and I had nothing, he gave us $10,000 for a down payment on our first house–back when that was a sufficient down payment on a house.
I don’t know why some people get religious faith and others don’t seem to. I understand that some are offended, like Bonnie’s grandfather. However, I wonder if the vast majority don’t see much in religion because the religion they do encounter is vacuous. I wonder if it is our fault, my fault, the fault of religiously minded folk like me for loving this world so much that those around me cannot see any difference Faith has made in my life. That’s probably part of it too. But I have one more theory. I think maybe some people are just naturally more inclined to Faith than others: sort of like IQ, only its F(aith)Q. Some people just have a higher FQ than others. That does not make them better, it just makes them more responsible to be faithful with the Faith they have been given.
A widely held misconception of monasticism is that the monks spend their lives repenting for their own sins. What they are really doing is repenting for the sins of the whole world. As Orthodox Christians we believe that salvation is of the Body: Salvation is a we thing, not a me thing. We all have gifts that differ, and just as I eat the food someone else has grown and am kept alive by it, I think we may also benefit by the prayers of others and are being saved by them. The hand does not do very well what the foot does very well. We pray, we love, we give, we care–God saves. If Lynn was better at the love, give and care part than he was at the pray part, then I don’t think God will hold it much against him. At least I hope not. I would hate for God to hold against me my cold heart and stinginess. I am happy to share some of my prayer with Lynn just has he shared some of his wealth with Bonnie and me at a time when we really needed it. Actually, I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.