An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I read Clifton's blog regularly and have found myself particularly touched by his recent dealings with a major door seemingly being closed in his life. We've all had doors closed, some more significant and heart wrenching than others and I am sure we have all dealt with them in different ways. By Benedict Seraphim's pondering of the fact that both of his patrons walked away from academia and how this might apply to his door closing has gotten me thinking more directly about my own life and about my dreams that were "shut out" and how those dreams have since changed.
What's life really all about, anyway? Where do we focus our energies and what do we hope to accomplish? I've had my share of vocational dreams such as being a youth pastor, a preacher, a theologian, a priest, a professor, an astronomer, an author and a farmer. In reality, of course, I will never be any of these...not fully anyway. My time to make great career advances /changes is pretty much over and I watch the up and coming students run through our lab and move on to medical school with bright eyes and bushy tails ready to make a difference, whether it be in the lives of others or in their pocket books, while I remain in the lab doing what I've generally done for a decade now. Not to say I don't see promotions or anything, but I recognize that in a scientific career from my vantage point the natural and only way to really advance yourself is to advance your degree. Well, it's not going to happen and I'm not really sure I want it to happen anymore.
I could, I suppose, find some way to go to graduate school and get some upper level theology or biology degree and become a really lofty thinking professor or scientist...or perhaps even become a priest! But...I just don't have it in me anymore. I turn 40 years old next year and my future path seems pretty well set for me. Though, one never knows...the farmer dream is likely the most open door for me to pass through at this point, but we'll see. It may close, it may remain open...in the grand scheme, it too doesn't matter. I am content with my little 2.5 acres and the work I am doing there. Being content is a holy thing, I think...even if one can only find it in regards to specific issues. One step at a time.
As I was saying, I've reached a point in my life where I realize that certain doors are closed to me because, really, there isn't enough time. There simply isn't enough time. It really is a serious turning point in my life to realize that any number of things I've considered doing in my life simply isn't going to happen.
Clifton notes that his patron saints left the world of academia and became monks. Clearly neither of us are going to be doing THAT anytime soon and so he asks: "what can I take of their examples for my struggle for salvation?"
Well Benedict-Seraphim (aka Clifton) is a great deal smarter than I and he has some pretty insightful thoughts into how he might answer the question. Perhaps his academic door is not completely shut, but for me it surely is and I am wholly reconciled to this fact and here is the rationale of that reconciliation:
My "monastic" escape from the closed doors of the world is found in my heart, in my home/farm/family, and in my Parish. As I noted, there is so little time left to us and I have so very much left to do...to purify my own heart and in so doing purifying the relationships I have with my children and my wife, and in serving as best as I am able the people of my faith community.
While I may not be a highly credentialed professor: there are four eager students waiting for me to come home each and every night. Who not only need my knowledge, but also my devotion, my love, my dedication, and my LIFE. I cannot count the ways I have failed them - not because I'm a crazed workaholic, but because I'm a selfish jerk. I have work to do...THE MOST IMPORTANT work.
While I may never pray the Anaphora prayers at Liturgy, I am the priest of the parish in my home. I need not detail the sacred duties this entails and neither will I bore you poor readers with another admission of my failures in this regard. I will however remind myself that time is short.
Furthermore, I may not hear confessions and I may not minister to people in a priestly role. But I can commit my talents to the Church as they are. I can strive to serve in any and every capacity that I am able: whether that be cleaning the bathrooms or chanting the epistle. It matters not...it's about service. It is a sacred thing.
I guess, when I look at all I could have been and then look at what I am, I can no longer see that the former would be better or more important than the latter. On the contrary actually. We ALREADY hold in our hands the greatest vocations there are: father, husband, teacher, mentor, priest, doctor, vet, pirate, farmer, soldier, theologian, barbarian, Royal Navy Captain, friend, brother, son, carpenter, author/storyteller, plumber, electrician, astronomer, meteorologist, and on and on the list goes. In the noisy home filled with children, there is no end to our vocational duties. We should take them all with as much seriousness as they are sometimes silly.
In the end, I do not want to be on my deathbed and be surrounded by people who were impressed by my speeches, my books, my lectures, or my witty homilies. Good as all these things are, I should be most content to be surrounded by people who genuinely love me and believe very surely that they are better for having done so. And THIS dream, is going to take real work. Time is short.
I have come to believe that my closed doors are God's way of directing me to abandon the world for the sake of being wholly devoted to the salvific life of marriage and family. All else that I do is going to be burned up in the end.
I appreciate your thoughts. I tend to get into trouble when I get out of the moment...I become even more of an idiot to my wife, kids and friends and so on...so in the words of Chevy Chase in that great movie, "Caddyshack," "...be the ball."
And just 39...I remember that age. Enjoy it. You're still young and many adventures could be in your future. When I was 39, we had a house in Hansville and I was working at Microsoft. Since then -- I'm 51 now -- I've left Microsoft, picked up and moved the family to Walla Walla, remodeled a house on 2.5 acres, I've had one picture book published and a novel set for release this spring, I've been blessed to be part of the lives of my three kids as they've grown from grade school into teenhood (and one is now a sophomore at Gonzaga), I've done consulting work, been director of web services for a publishing company, and am now CEO of the Walla Walla Symphony. I intermitently play jazz in a local combo and my wife and I in a few weeks will celebrate our 30th anniversary and we're closer than I ever thought possible. So I don't list all of this to toot my own horn but to just say that many wonderful possibilites are still out there for you. I had no idea what adventures lay in store for us when we were 39. Not much time, indeed, and yet we only have the moment we're in...everything else is in God's hands.
You are absolutely right Mike, and thank you. I've no idea what the future holds and I shouldn't be so quick to give the impression that I think life won't take more turns or that I myself will not be the dreamer of those actualized dreams.
Just a dose of reality, I suppose, that there's not enough time to live every dream...though it may seem silly to only recently come to this realization.
My wife and I are always inspired by stories of folks older than us packing up and heading off to do crazy things like raise cattle in Montana. We took a very small dose of such craziness and we met yet take a deeper plunge in the years to come.
In the meantime, I will focus on my many vocations I already have. And I will finish that old novel I've been tinkering with...though whether its ever published is a non-issue.
We'll also be checking out your work now that we know about it!