It occurs to me that after my last post on the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God and how this is an example to us, some of my readers may think that death to this world means that we do nothing in this world, that we don’t care, that we don’t act. This is perhaps due to the skewing that takes place by focussing on one aspect of anything, it gives the impression that it is the only thing.
If you look at most Orthodox icons of the Annunciation, you will notice in Mary’s left hand a spindle and small distaff of red wool. In the Temple of God, with Her heart and mind completely submitted to God, Mary is working with Her hands. She is spinning the thread that will be woven into the Veil of the Temple, the very Veil that tears in two at Christ’s Crucifixion.
Dying to this world and returning, or attending, to Christ in our hearts does not mean that we no longer seek, ask and knock. Dying to this world does not take us out of this world, not at least until we fall asleep. Until then, we are in the world, but not of the world. We labour, work and love; we suffer, sweat and bleed; we heal the sick, raise the dead and cleanse the leper, each to his or her capacity and according to his or her calling and circumstances of life. We work, but it is no longer just our work: we are co-labourers with Christ.
The problem lies not with the labour, but with the heart. St. Paul says that we are neither better nor worse off by eating/not eating meat sacrificed to idols because the essential matter is not this or that food. The essential matter is in our hearts and getting the idols out of our hearts, and getting the claws of worldly habits and addictions out of our hearts, and attending to Christ in our hearts. And we do this inner work while we must eat this or that food. The food becomes important only as it is a stumbling block to peace for me or someone else. And as it is with food, so it is with work.
In this world we all have work to do, we all have responsibilities. We must be faithful to these. But as we are faithful in the world, we do not forget that we are merely co-labourers in God’s work. I cannot cleanse a leper, I cannot open someone’s mind, I cannot save anyone. God heals, God illumines, God saves. I merely do my best to speak faithfully, act responsibly, and live myself the way I believe God has called all mankind to live. I fail miserably, of course. I’m just a beginner at this. But this, too, is in God’s hands. God is saving me even as He is letting me participate in His saving of others. What a Mystery! What Grace! God’s hands are so big that I cannot fall out, and my blunders and stupidities and sinful selfishness can’t push others out. God’s hands are that big.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide [anyone] from You, But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
And so, like our Great Example, the Mother of God, we sit in the temple of our hearts at peace. And to the Angel(s) God sends our way, all that we don’t understand, all that doesn’t fit into our scenario, our image of what and how we would do things, we say to these Angels, “let it be.” (Or at least we try to say, “let it be”; we learn to say “let it be.”) And as we do this work in our hearts, we also spin thread with our hands. We spin the thread God has given us to spin, the work and responsibility that we find at our hands to do. And Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles, sometimes something good happens. Sometimes a little Light shines in the darkness. Sometimes a little kindness, or goodness, or faith or love is evident. Sometimes we get to see with our earthly eyes what we are learning to know by faith in our hearts: that God is at work even in the darkness of this world.