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.
We are all amateur birdwatchers around the farm, and in our year and half here we have enjoyed observing the multitude of varieties of winged critters that frequent the area. They range from Bald Eagles to hummingbirds. Out front, on and around the porch, we several feeders setup for the birds and when we gather at the dinning room table we can watch them.
One of the most common little fellows that we see I once thought were just a brand of sparrow, but have since learned that they are actually Chestnut-Backed Chickadees. In watching them I notice that they are terribly skittish. They approach the feeder with extreme, seemingly neurotic, caution; looking to and fro for any potential threats. Once upon the feeder they still continue to demonstrate what seems to be a terrified nervousness, and many will simply grab a seed and fly off to the relative safety of a nearby treetop only to return after executing the same cautious ritual of absolute fear.
As I was watching them the other day, I thought about how difficult such a life of perpetual worry and fear must be for them. Can you imagine while heading out to your car in the morning constantly looking over your shoulder and running a zig-zag and sporadic pattern from cover to cover in the hopes of maybe arriving safely? It is difficult to relate to a wild animal that lives relatively low on the food chain since we generally live in such comfort and lack of fear from the world around us.
But then I was reminded of some of the Fathers' teachings on inner watchfulness and that in reality we do live in an dangerous invisible world for which we ought to have a certain healthy dose of "worry and fear." Chestnut-Backed Chickadees must always be watchful for bigger birds, cats, little boys with BB-guns, and innumerable other predators. In similar fashion we must ever be on the lookout for innumerable passions that would do us in. Now as I see those birds, I see a literal example of the Church's exhortation for us to be AWAKE and AWARE and WATCHFUL.
God grant that I be as watchful as the Chickadees...much more is at stake.
One thing I used to do with chickadees was to take away the feeder, and stick my hand out the window with seeds in it. They are one of the few species trusting (or stupid) enough to light on your hand and take the seed. I don't think the spiritual metaphor can be worked into this, but it's fun to do nonetheless!
I must disagree with an important part of the metaphor. I can think no patristic or ascetical writings that advise a "healthy dose of 'worry and fear.'" In fact, worry and fear undermine watchfulness. Worry and fear lead to despair, which is the ultimate victory of the evil one. Worry and fear are egocentric. The Christian spiritual life is about becoming Christocentric. The account of our Lord walking to the apostles' boat in the storm is a wonderful example of true watchfulness. While Peter faced Christ, he had no fear, and he walked towards Him. When he looked away because of worry and fear(troubled by the wind) He began to sink.
A poor choice of words on my part. Instead of "worry or fear"...perhaps "concern"?
Something akin to what we hear in the Great Canon where we are exhorted to AWAKE our sleeping souls for the time is short is what I was aiming for here.
The emphasis being that we have some awareness of needing to be aware? Does that make sense? Not afraid, per se...but concerned enough to keep our eye on Christ as we brave the waters as opposed to what I normally do which is to ignore the waters and our Lord beckoning me to get out of the boat - seemingly ignorant to the danger around me that could be rendered null by a bit of focus.
It's like a denial issue. The birds know the reality of the dangers around them, while I suspect I largely ignore the dangers around me that ought to be driving me to Christ.
I'm so often improperly focused on the other side of the selfish spectrum that I neglect the importance of avoiding despair, worry, or fear. It's like those portions of "The Unseen Warfare" where the author discusses the danger of being OVERLY sorrowful of your sins: I've never understood that (intellectually, yes...but not internally), because I've never been one to be sorrowful enough as far as I could tell.
Anyway...thank you Father for this reminder, it certainly is a place where the metaphor fails and I could have steered it differently.