Mother Melania’s words about harmony and disharmony remind me of the advice of Elder Sophrony who said that when we find ourselves gazing over the precipice into hell, we should take a couple of steps back and have tea.
There is much in life that leads to hellish experiences. There can be the hell of judgementalism, tormented by what’s wrong with others. There can be the hell of despair, tormented by what is wrong with yourself. There is also the hell of impotence, the seeming inability to do anything to help others, especially those we love. There is the hell of confusion, not knowing what is right, who to turn to, what to trust. There are lots of ways hell is a part of our life in this fallen world.
However, whatever form of hell one encounters, I think the words of Elder Sophrony and Mother Melania provide the only practical and (in my experience) effective strategy to find hope. We find hope by taking a couple of steps back. We step back from the edge; we step back from the intense focus on the problem. We step back and we have tea: we chill out, we trust God–if for no other reason than that we know we are powerless to change anything ourselves.
The hell does not go away, but we change. Both thieves crucified with Jesus experienced the hell of crucifixion, but only one also experienced Paradise. Christ descends into our hell transforming us so that even in and through the midst of hellish experience we enter Paradise: the peace that passes understanding, the knowledge of God that surpasses knowledge, the comfort that sustains us through and despite the deepest pain.
And here’s the hope: if I, even I the most miserable and uncooperative, can be touched by the Saviour and experience a teeny bit of Paradise in my hell, then certainly God is able to reach and touch and help those I am worried about, those whose meaningless pain or foolishness or recalcitrance concerns me most. If God can touch one thief, he knows how to touch another–even if it may take a bit longer, a bit more suffering, a bit more hell.
Now, how all of this plays out in eternity, I don’t know. But that’s not what I’m talking about now. What I am saying now is that the only way we can help others escape hell (now and later) is to escape it ourselves now (and later). How do we escape hell? We escape hell by walking away a little bit and (in our mind) sitting down, trusting God, having tea. Martin Luther put it this way, he said that faith in God is like learning to float in the middle of the deepest ocean: you just roll over on your back and trust God. And breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. And with each breath say a little prayer: Lord have mercy.
I admit that I am not yet ready for the deepest ocean, but at least I can start working on floating in the little tub of my life.