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.
Malleable Man Part 2 Desire and discipline changes us because the human heart is malleable. What you do, and where you are. What do I mean?
A good deal of potentially incoherent rambling to follow...not proof read even:
Why can’t I change? This is a question I often ask myself. Many issues surround it, from my spending, my parenting, to my laziness. Heck, name nearly any facet of my existence and there is an application of this question readily available.
Being overweight in school was terribly difficult and I can remember many a night spent in bed, unable to sleep and committing in my mind over and over and over again that the next day would begin a new day of weight loss effort. The beginning of a life long change of habits. You know how that all worked out: envision a plane in flames barreling toward the ground of reality.
Commit, fail. Commit, fail. Commit, try for a day, then fail. Repeat ad nauseam. You all know pop definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Now, I’ve spent time here complaining about my evangelical days and how despite tearful prayers for change, I never really saw all that much change. As I noted previously…it would seem I was all desire and no discipline. But, I think I need to spend far less time thinking back to what was missing then and consider what is missing NOW. Frankly, having been Orthodox for nearly 7 years I cannot say that I have made any great progress. Personally? I think I’ve lost desire!
I’ve got some discipline, but how much more would I have were I to have the fuel of desire behind it? Do you ever stop to think: do I really believe what I claim to believe here? Because it would seem if I did, my life would be ASTONISHINLY different. Radically different! Where is the love that should be flowing from my heart and into the works of my hands and the words of my mouth? Where is that “River of Life” flowing out of me? Where is that Paschal Joy, so much more richly remembered and celebrated (by magnitudes) by Orthodoxy, in my everyday life?
So, the question is: how does one recapture desire? I can remember being desirous of God…it is like that faint memory one may have that they cannot quite place. Was it a dream? Did it really happen? Have I fallen too much in love with the IDEA of God and in so doing lost the Person of God? I have no sense of need to run toward my prayers. But I want to have that desire. I want to wake up and instantly sense joy and desire to get downstairs before the icons and send up my praises.
Evangelicals talk about having a personal relationship with God and we Orthodox will often chide such notions as being belittling of God. But maybe we should take care that we are not instead holding up an ideal with which we have a personal or communal relationship. Balance is to be found, I think.
Effecting change must begin by cultivating desire. How? Asking for it, for certain...but also working for it. We used to tell kids when I was involved in youth work that during “dry spells” when we don’t feel like praying and we don’t feel like worshipping, that we do it anyway. In an odd sense we were telling them to do what evangelicals often criticize us Orthodox for doing: just going through the motions.
Is there perhaps some circular relationship between desire and discipline? I think so. Again…we are molding our heart here. Much more to ponder. Thoughts?
I asked my confessor once which comes first, prayer or right intentions? He said the first. It confirmed what I already suspected. In one of the discussions on prayer in The Way of a Pilgrim they say that when we don't feel like praying, we should do it anyway because prayer will gradually work down in us and change us, so eventually we are doing it with a full heart. Doing the right things with no thought whatsoever is the big evil I think. But even if all we can do is the right things with the desire for the desire then I think that's still something. Just a thought.
I am a late-stage alcoholic, Orthodox Christian. Some of you might know me personally, and when I see you in person, I have amends to make to you. However, that doesn't really matter in terms of what I'm about to say.
While there is still time, while my mind still functions well enough, I want to tell you what it's like for me. I do this, not because I want pity --- although, if that would help, I WOULD want it ---, but because I think alcoholism is a particularly clear illustration of what happens when desire and discipline get disconnected. In my experience, alcolhol is the solvent that weakens and finally breaks that connection. For others, other things are the solvent. There's the vicious circle: The only hope is to recover from the very addiction that causes or at least facilitates the disconnect. But damn it, it's an ADDICTION, you know? That is why, in the AA teaching, a vital spiritual experience that lifts the obsession of the mind (which, in the alcoholic, is also an allergy of the body) is the one and only hope, period. How, then, do we get this vital spiritual experience? I'm told that it comes by total transparency, which includes abject humility, willingness to make amends, willingness to let go of all resentments, and so on. Well, there's that will thing going on again. My will is broken; usually, I think it's broken beyond repair. Indeed, the first battle I have with myself every day is whether or not to go on living. Therefore, if the will's proper functioning is the condition of my survival, now what? Perhaps we can now see the true magnitude of the needed miracle.
In Fr. Webber's book, Steps of Transformation, he describes the drinking alcoholic as an "icon of suffering humanity." As you read on, you discover what he means: Alcoholism is just a particularly trenchant and harrowing instance of all besetting sin. Its uniqueness is that it's progressive, incurable (although one can recover, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic), and ultimately fatal, and the only glimmer of hope and foundation for further recovery is total abstinence from the only thing on Earth that makes me feel better. I work at a job that bores the hell out of me, followed by AA meetings that also bore the hell out of me, and come home to self-created alienation, loneliness, suspicion, and distrust. Then I get up the next morning and start the same dreary cycle all over again. I don't know how many more of those kinds of mornings I have left in me, but I know it's not very many.
And so what is to be done? I suppose the basic 12-step thing has it right: Essentially, admit that Sin XYZ is making our life unmanageable, come to believe that God can restore us to sanity, seek Him, and do what He says. My problem is that I fear I've done enough damage that my most necessary faculties are inoperative. I hope not, but it might be too late for me; after all, there is a point of no return with some substances, and maybe even some behaviors that are not substance-related. If this were the last thing I would ever write, it would be something like what I just wrote.
Alcoholism is just a particularly trenchant and harrowing instance of all besetting sin. Its uniqueness is that it's progressive, incurable (although one can recover, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic), and ultimately fatal, and the only glimmer of hope and foundation for further recovery is total abstinence from the only thing on Earth that makes me feel better.
I really can relate to this...at least to a degree.
The single most successful weight loss program I was ever involved in was OA. We used a great deal of materials from AA and I truly believe the 12 steps are amazing...inspired. Compulsive Overeaters wear their sin on their bodies, but they are "lucky" in that they can binge on the object of their addiction and still function...the binge neatly hidden away from those around them. A single binge for the alcoholic can be devastating...but for the Overeater...well...they can go on and on and it doesn't interfere much in their relationships, their work etc. And, it takes decades for the health issues to begin to really weigh heavily (pun intended). CO's will often engage in very similar behaviors as alcoholics to hide and perpetuate their addicition...doing really insane things: stealing food, hiding food, binging on astronomical portions...embarrassing portions.
My brother...my struggles with food do not compare with the addiction to alcohol...I know. The chemical and physical side of the addiction is not comparable. But while I am not completely sure of your identity that doesn't matter...I offer my prayers (humble as they are) and my assurance that there is no need for you to make amends to me - whatever the issue, I forgive as I hope and need to be forgiven for all of my failings.
I'm not sure we are ever beyond hope, though. Some of us surely have allowed ourselves to reach a point in which return is difficult...but I really do believe in a God of miracles. This may sound trite...I'm sorry for that. But, if even death is conquered...well...what sting remains in ANYTHING, really?
I hope and pray you are well, my brother. We're all in "this" together.
I don't want to turn this into a referendum on the various kinds of abuses we can subject ourselves too, but the thing with alcohol is that it is a personality changer --- so much so, that I don't even know who I am any more. In many ways, I'm starting all over again. It is a true exercise in apophatic theology.
AA is not enough. For the first 30 days, at least, I need to physically prevent my access to alcohol, so that my mind/nous/soul/whatever has a fighting chance to return to some kind of sanity. I have ways of doing that.
I look forward to talking to you man-to-man someday.