Hit PAUSE (Maybe STOP)
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:43 AM [+]
Holy Week again...almost done now in fact. For many we have rightfully hit the giant PAUSE button on life. What possibly can compare? Outside the world carries on in its "normalcy" while we are in an intense state of preparation. Services abound as we pray and sing together and as always, each year I find new layers of beauty which I had not perceived in years past - what a treasure we've been given and I grieve over times that I have neglected it. The flesh is weak and sometimes the spirit less willing than I should like.
Last year I blogged about trying to explain Holy Week to those who know little to nothing about our practices. This year I've found myself trying to explain it to folks who have little to no religious belief at all - particularly at work - who ask me what my plans are for this "vacation" I'm presently taking. How can I explain it? No trip to sunny locations and sipping of poolside fruity drinks for certain. I'm open about my faith, but I suspect most see it as "my religion" which is to say: what I do from time to time on a semi-regular basis inherited from my ethnic parents. The looks become humorously quizzical when I explain that I CHOSE to be Orthodox and it was purely an "accident" (or not) that Slovak great-grandparents were also Orthodox.
As our priest briefly described last night, after the service of Lamentations (Matins of Holy Saturday), our "religion" is what we keep in a box on an upper shelf that we take down from time to time, dust off, and open to dabble with as needed. Hopefully, this is not what this whole affair is to me. Hopefully it spills into my everyday life and that I am DIFFERENT and CHANGED because of it. Therefore, I don't want to just hit PAUSE. I want to hit STOP.
This intense beauty that surrounds me: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings, the dedication....it needn't end. It's my choice to touch that stupid PAUSE button and return to the world and its insane normalcy. Let me try that again: *MY* insane normalcy. I'm not talking about escapism or "dropping out"...I'm talking about keeping my "religion" out of the box. Last night I had minor flashbacks when our priest (who's never even been a protestant) said something very reminiscent of popular protestant sound-bytes and bumper stickers: "It's not a religion, it's a relationship." (my paraphrase). For those converts who would eschew everything that remotely reminds us of our past, I would simply suggest that you let go of that baggage. The fact is, there are many things quite good about protestantism and this is certainly an example. Yes, they take it to an extreme, but the fact remains that if we have all this fancy religion ("outward trappings" many protestants would say) and no relationship with Christ, then what the heck does it profit us? Combine that protestant zeal for relationship with the unimaginable beauty and depth of Orthodoxy and I would suggest you have a very potent combination that IS IN FACT DECIDEDLY ORTHODOX to begin with.
Sound theology aside, perhaps: If you cannot hear in the words of St. John Chrysostom's Paschal homily the same sort of intense zeal many of us converts have heard in the most powerful of protestant altar call sermons that had us on our knees weeping, then I'm going to suggest you are not listening. Tell the truth, those of us from a charismatic background: Have you not imagined that Paschal homily being delivered in a style reminiscent of an African-American preacher in an old-time, urban, pentecostal Church of God church? I confess I can almost hear the joyful shouts of "Amen!" and "Mmmm-hmmm!" and "preach it!"
I know that the Fathers have warned us about too much zeal being like a lampada flame burning out of control which is short-lived and produces a great deal of unprofitable soot. Wisdom, let us attend indeed. However, we should be careful not to use this truth as an excuse for remaining mired in our comfortable and familiar way of being. Should we not at least have enough zeal to do more than "go through the motions"? Enough zeal to make an effort at keeping the fast? Enough zeal to earnestly seek a relationship with God as opposed to simply attending obligatory services now and then? Enough zeal to hit PAUSE on life and ATTEND all/most/some of these glorious Holy Week services? This is a zeal of priorities that I know I OFTEN have misplaced. May we have enough zeal to see this Holy Week and Pascha - by our participation in it - CHANGE us. Enough zeal to hit STOP and to change tapes before hitting play again.
That's my prayer for me this year.