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.
Lent is behind us and Holy Week upon us. I am inclined to reflect upon the season thus far and how what I would have in the past called deridingly "a scheduled revival" has indeed been a period of revival for me.
I take no credit for tightening down the spiritual screws as it were, because truly it just seemed to be an altogether easy and appropriate response to what has been going on in my life. Thus, I give glory to God very specifically for the pain I am even now feeling in my back and leg, which for some reason has turned for the worse in the last couple of days. Not debilitating, but ever-present and pretty painful especially when changing positions (sitting to standing etc).
Anyway, combined with the fact that I am now in my 40th year, this little fragmentation of spinal disc material has truly propelled me to numerous mortal realizations. Yes, I know some of you will laugh at the notion of my feeling "old" at 40, but bear with me for a moment longer. You see, it's not that I feel old, in fact arguably I FEEL like a little kid in many ways (act like it too). But given my long history of back issues AND the fact that I am turning 40 this year has made me begin to wonder if my so-called quality of life (as defined by comfort and mobility) is going to improve much in the long run. After all, I am told that the discs I herniated and ruptured ages ago will likely haunt me to varying degrees for the rest of my life. Doctors I've seen have been a little less than enthusiastic in telling me I'll soon be doing gymnastics, which is too bad because I really wanted to work on my pommel horse routine. But, it's not just about my back, either.
Last week I began to experience some pretty intense heart palpitations. I've had them before from time to time, but this was consistent and ongoing; bothersome and more than a little unnerving. Initially I thought it may have been related to the meds the docs have had me on and so I dropped/changed some to no avail. Finally I noticed the worse events seemed to take place right after meals and this was an important clue to me. I've had what is known as "Hyperinsulinemic hypoglycemia" (your body dumps more insulin than you need and your glucose level crashes), but I have never had it generate symptoms like this. Anyway, to make a long story short, I have been able to control the palpitations with diet over the last few days.
On a positive note, in the last 3 weeks I have lost 25lbs. If the weight loss continues it will go a long way toward helping my back...though I'm to not expect to never have issues again. (Unless God sees fit to change the "natural" course of things.)
But, back on track: this Lent (and associated medical ailments) has had me particularly looking at my priorities and my dreams...my long term plans if you will. As I ponder my ability to even collect wood for next Winter, dreams of being a full time farmer or rancher or of getting into hunting or even just further developing this land I'm on seem awfully distant. My ability to fix things like our leaky roof, or crawling under the house for whatever reason, or hanging drywall, or setting fence posts, or felling trees...all of these things that have been so satisfying to me over the last year and a half are up in the air now. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not being pessimistic and I am not without hope that I will be able to do many of these things in the near future, but I do believe God has given me a prophetic picture to ponder. A POTENTIAL health diagnosis certainly has the potential to turn your life upside down, or at least have you examining your attitudes, your labors and the directions they are aimed.
In a sense, that is what Lent is supposed to be about, I guess. I'm sure loftier-than-I theologian types can say all manner of things about Lent...but for me it has been a simple time to get serious about my faith and about those things which truly do matter most. My relationship with God being paramount amongst them.
More than paramount. The health of that relationship is intimately determinate upon all other aspects of my life. My role as a father, as a husband, as a Christian in this crazy world, as a researcher, as a Reader, and as a human. I cannot count the ways I have failed...and failure as a father is multiplied because those failures are reborn in the failures of our children. They make mistakes (and suffer) because of my mistakes. "Mistakes"? No...they are still making mistakes, but I am willfully draining life. Sucking it up from everything and everyone around me...like a glutton (as expressed not only by my bathroom scale) I am feeding and serving myself. I am god, I think. And everyone around me, whether they know it or not, suffers from my intemperance. Our homes, where we feel free to "let it all hang out", the bile we tend to expunge flows freely. No one knows our sins better than those closest to us and sadly they suffer the most for it - especially our children.
But, I am repenting. Everyday, every hour, every minute I find is a new opportunity to change. To stop the flow of bile and let the soothing oil of love flow forth from God and spill out of onto those around us. We can be a blessing and not a curse, and over the past few years I have felt more a curse than a blessing...God forgive me. The impending JOY of the season ought to fill our hearts and thereby fill our homes with the sweet odor of incense. Sometimes I manage it and sometimes I don't, but one thing is for sure now: I have found in this pain the will to fight the fight. Realizing the supreme importance, I am finding strength in weakness to press on. In a way, God is blessing me to see past the pain and to see His hand upon it all and I believe that if I continue to travel the road I've been shown that I can come to say (and mean it) "Glory to God for ALL things!"
So many others have learned this lesson in far more profound and serious ways than me. I perhaps should not call so much attention to my health, knowing that so many are so far worse off than I am....I've no wish to exaggerate my suffering and in fact I hesitate to use the word especially having seen real suffering in Africa. How people who are REALLY suffering work through their pain remains a profound mystery to me...mine is but a small window to look through and understand a tiny bit more. None-the-less, I am sharing my heart here.
The final prayer during the 6th Hour from St. Basil has meant much to me lately. In my own interpretation I see my present pain as God's means to "Nail our [my] flesh" and to "wound our [my] souls" so that I may just begin to learn to ever gaze upon Him.
O God, the Lord of hosts, and Author of all creation, who in Thine ineffable tender mercy hast sent down Thine Only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of our kind, and through His Holy Cross hast torn up the handwriting of our sins and thereby triumphed over the princes and dominions of darkness: do Thou, O Master, who lovest mankind, accept these prayers of thanksgiving and supplication even from us sinners, and deliver us from every deadly and dark transgression and from all the visible and invisible enemies that seek to do us harm.
Nail our flesh with the fear of Thee, and let not our hearts incline to evil words or thoughts, but wound our souls with Thy love, that ever gazing upon Thee, guided by Thy light and beholding Thee, the eternal Light that no man can approach, we may send up unceasing praises and thanks unto Thee, the Father without beginning, together with Thine Only-begotten Son and Thy most holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. AMEN!
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:03 AM [+] +++
This was a poignant post, brother. I wish you and your family a blessed Pascha. Like you, I am living this week to receive the Light. Let's pray that we're all able to do God's Will with what we're given, and give Glory to God for all things.
I should also clarify to everyone that I make no claims to being a theologian and so the issue of pain and suffering (as profound as it is) is not something to which I feel terribly comfortable applying any definitive theological operations. (e.g. why do people suffer pain? Does God cause people to suffer to teach them something?)
I can only speak to how my little dose of discomfort is being practically redeemed and that I believe no matter what life throws at us we may see God's hand blessing us through it.