Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Orthodoxy?

About a year ago, on occasion, there appeared a young man in our small parish.  So tiny is our little church that the presence of a visitor never goes unnoticed.  And always is appreciated.  I had occasion to speak with him.  I miss him.  For he was a genuine seeker.  And longed to convert.  Yet his wife was, for reasons I won't go into, securely wedded to the roman catholic tradition. 

This young man was studying for a Master's Degree in Religious Education.  At a nearby catholic institution of higher learning.  He was in a quandary.  For when he compared the tenets and scaffolding of the roman church to those of the eastern church, he found the former full of such conflicting doctrines that he was at a loss for how to present them in succinct and convincing form.  Even to himself!  And this, of course, was the subject of his studies, his future career as an educator.  On the other hand, he found Orthodoxy simple and coherent in terms of both his own understanding and his ability to present and explain.  I believe he was doing a paper on this - to make matters more pressing.  A stark comparisonSeveral times he made this clear to me.  Along with his dilemma.  What to do?

Now at the time I was a mere babe within Orthodoxy.  Whereas now I might be considered a toddler, I suppose.  At 67.  But his words and his conviction have stayed with me.  I am saddened at his departure.  I might have learned a great deal more from this young man.  Torn between communions.  Torn as a husband.  And father.  And future teacher.  One of life's mysteries is to lose touch with people.  And maybe never know....  (One can only imagine how his dilemma has been magnified by recent events.)

God works in mysterious ways.   It's evident in scripture.  It's evident in one's own life.  So much of the spiritual path occurs in darkness.  The daily humdrum.   But every once in a while things fall together.   And when that happens it seems like an illumination across one's life, across scripture - into the heart of Holy Mystery.  Like a glimmer of certainty.  Like a sign or a mark that yes, this is the path.  And yes, the same path whose markers have been glimpsed before.  Such an event discloses meaning - personal meaning for one's life, together with cosmic meaning - Life as inner and outer.   A rapid succession of insights as more and more falls into place.  A sense of God's Guiding Presence.  Across a lifetime.  Across so many dimensions.  

One book has clarified this.  And I've hardly started it.  A book on Origin, the early Christian writerSpirit and FireHis method of biblical theology so familiar.  So close to my own inclinations.  Even his themes as set out by von Balthasar.  And the astonishing connection to themes and writers we studied in college.  During the time of Vatican II.  Resurfacing in the past few years through my new connections to Orthodoxy.  But also evident in Cistercian writers influenced by Orthodoxy.  Or converted to Orthodoxy.   The confluence of authentic catholic spirituality (in the widest and deepest sense).  This book's introduction speaking of tents and wells - images I've used in past and recent posts.   Origin's method of asking questions on the basis of anomalies, then searching scripture guided by the rule of faith, so in tune with my own approach.

It's like finding an archeological site and recognizing your own deepest yearnings mapped out already long ago.  Waiting to be rediscovered.  Laid out like a kind of blueprint for spiritual writings read and pondered over the years.  

It's kind of scary when this happens.  "Holy Fear" a man of holiness used to tell me.  For my signpost signals:  Go ahead.  You're on the right path.  I am with you.  Do not fear.


Dave said...

"But every once in a while things fall together. And when that happens it seems like an illumination across one's life, across scripture - into the heart of Holy Mystery. Like a glimmer of certainty. Like a sign or a mark that yes, this is the path."

Very nice. I am happy to hear some folks have such insights. Not everyone does.

TheraP said...

Hello, Dave. I looked at your profile and I can see you are a seeker in earnest. In my experience it is necessary to commit to one specific path, even if one reads and absorbs the insights available in other paths. Such a commitment involves "practice" and not just reading or thinking. And "practice" can feel boring or "hum-drum" - for a very long time. An insight or a glimmer is a gift. It comes without warning. And it might seem trivial or inconsequential and thereby one might miss its significance.

Because of the humdrum nature of so many stretches of any path, every tradition I know of stresses the communal aspect as a necessary "support" for continuing one's practice. For example, in Buddhism a person vows to "take refuge" in the 3 "jewels" (or treasures) of Buddha, Dharma (teaching), and Sangha (the Dharma group). Or in Christianity it would be a commitment to indwelling prayer of the heart with Christ, Gospel, and Church being the necessary "firmware" on the path.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the wisdom of Ruth Burrows (likely in spiritual partnership with Sister Wendy) who realized that when it comes to "enlightenment" some people travel ALWAYS in darkness, while others are illumined. And she is convinced that God gives insights to some (like Sister Wendy) in order to strengthen others. So... if I am (at rare times) a humble recipient of such, the stream MUST flow "through" me. A gift given - to be given away. (That is the meaning of the pearl of great price.)

I extend my blessing upon you and your search. With the hope that you may keep on seeking - and practicing with lamp lit - until the door opens.

Be assured, Daved, that you too can experience the promised land and its fruits.

Dave said...

Hello, TheraP. Thank you for taking the time to write so many kind words. I have come to think that there are some people who simply lack (access to) a spiritual side, or "right-brain consciousness" as some people started calling it. It is probably a combination of social, cultural, and individual agency driven influences in conjunction with biological inheritance that shapes such outcomes in development.

Given the fact of neuroplasticity and how it seems that our thinking reshapes our brains and reinforces a particular set of states of mind, it is probably true that focusing on certain images, feelings, and forms of awareness through various rituals and practices can in a sense "rewire" how and what we experience in the world and open people up to more "spiritual" forms of perception. Hence the emphasis in all major sacred traditions on finding a particular path and practice and sticking with it, and after the mind opens then it really doesn't matter which tradition you wish to cite or draw from.

And yet even strongly suspecting that all of that is true, there are simply those such as myself who just can't pick something and stick with it for some reason. When that is true even community can't help, because the individual doesn't really feel any deep bond or obligation to the community. I don't have any answers for such people, nor any wise words of encouragement. In the end they have to make a choice and a commitment, and if they are unable, they will continue to drift. No wise teacher or saintly sage will be able to stop them from continuing their indecisiveness.

The current Dalai Lama, when teaching a group of Christian monastics, said of the matter (paraphrasing): "There are basically three types of disposition for those on a spiritual journey. The best is one who is very intelligent AND who has a laser-like focus of faith. The next best is someone with a rock solid foundation for faith but who isn't as bright. The worst are those who are intelligent but who are so skeptical and cynical that they are always second-guessing everything and have trouble choosing a path and staying focused on a practice."

Perhaps some people are just too caught up in ideas of expectations and outcomes or disturbed by the obnoxious by-products of what is often called religion. Perhaps there is an over-emphasis on naming, labeling, analyzing and measuring when it comes to approaching spirituality. Or perhaps some folks just lack the basic capacity to see and experience the world in such poetic and intuitive terms. I can't say.

Thanks again for your kindness. Be well.

TheraP said...

Dave, what a wonderful comment!!! Every bit of it! And for anyone reading here, Dave's comment is worth rereading. For it functions like its own blog. And contains much wisdom.

Your insight into how "practice" affects the brain is so true. Not only that, the brain affects practice in this way: Exquisitely sensitive "mirror neurons" (I believe) facilitate "insights" when one is powerfully struck by the deep meaning of a specific ritual. For example, in Orthodoxy the Feast of Theophany (which means revelation of God and refers to Christ's Baptism by John - and subsequent revelation of God as Trinity) includes the dipping of the cross 3 times in the blessed water - EXACTLY the same as the Baptism of a baby into Orthodoxy - where the child's arms are held out in the form of the cross as he or she is dipped 3 times into the blessed water.) When you 'SEE' something that way... well! The structure of the brain and its function thus support and - as you say - are literally CHANGED by - one's spiritual experiences. (or any type of education, practice, etc. within the world at large... travel and so on)

On the other hand I can see that in the modern world where so much is available to us it is very difficult to focus or choose. And, as you say, there may be individual quirks within each of us (or our individual histories, whether genetic of environmental) which pull us in one direction or another. And I can certainly affirm, what I have long believed (going back to childhood) that some people in every society (as I've come to think of it) are powerfully drawn to spiritual matters while others simply pass on by - or are intrigued but ...

No matter what comes of your searching, in and of itself, I am sure it is beneficial. On some level which perhaps you are not in touch with. But it keeps tugging at you... that's really all that matters.

May you be richly blessed! In whatever you do. For canoeing or rock climbing or any pursuit leads one deeper. And a focus on performance... yes, that's the killer! Peak experiences come when you are drawn "out" of yourself. Not when you're focused "on" yourself.

You are a wonderful reader! And responder! As you may know, a woman mystic of medieval times, Julian of Norwich, spoke words similar to your "sign off":

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Yes, Be Well!

Gregor Zap said...

Welcome to the Ancient Faith! A cadle Orthodox now self-limited to Pashas, or an Easter Orthodox. :-{)>

TheraP said...

Hello, Gregor Zap! Your presence here is deeply appreciated and warmly welcomed!

Namaste. Peace. And every good wish!