Thursday, May 23, 2013

Upon My Heart

Sometimes I read something so profound that it is incomprehensible to me, and other times, to my great chagrin, I read something that is so very simple, that I cannot get my mind around it.  This journey through life is full of twists and turns, and ups and downs, and through it all, I have clung to the hope that my faith provides, the hope of union and wholeness and joy in the next life.  The difficulty, for me at least, has always been one of ideas  - for a truly authentic Christian life, I can't simply seek to understand intellectually, though that is a good thing in and of itself, but I have to go further, much further and somehow take that intellectual understanding and turn it into being.  This is called theosis, where humans, through their love of God and relationship with Him, become more and more like Him.  This is the sticking point for me.  I just can't seem to get beyond the intellectual part.  So, I am the Apostle Thomas - I can't seem to believe without demonstration in a manner that I can understand.  Yet, Christ says that those who believe without seeing for themselves are blessed.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Maybe that's why I find the idea of obedience so interesting, at least how it is practiced Orthodox style.  Obedience to God does not require understanding.  It requires acquiesence.  I don't really like the modern negative connotations to the word, submission, so I use acquiesence instead.  You have to willingly allow God to be active in your life, and this requires giving up at least some degree of self-determination.  I am reminded of the rich young man who asks Christ, "What must I do to have eternal life?" and Christ replies, "Sell all that you have and follow Me."  The young man is unwilling to do this, and sadly, he walks away from Christ.  Isn't that me?  Aren't I unwilling to give up my own self-determination and my desire to understand before I can believe? So, I read.  A lot. I read about God.  I pray, too, every single day.  I pray beautiful words written by someone else, someone who knew God.  I pray the Jesus Prayer every single day, using my prayer rope, and each "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" is an arrow I shoot at God, hoping that one of them will hit the target.  I all of this because I am clinging to the idea that if I keep searching in this way, I will find God.  Yet, I have this nagging sense that God cannot be found by my human efforts.  I have this nagging idea that God can only be found by love - if I love Him, He will be more present in a way that I recogize, like Mary Magdalene recognized Christ in the garden.  But, God's presence is not contingent on my recognition of his presence.  He is there whether I "know" it or not.  My issue is how can I love Him when I don't really know Him?  What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

My flopping around in this ocean is exhausting, and sometimes I think that I might be happiest if I ran away from it all to a monastery, where I can focus better, and where I will be forced to deal with my will.  I think about it, more since my life blew up a couple of years ago.  I realized then that there was no one relationship in my life that was necessary to my well being except the relationship I have with God.  Trouble is, that is a non-relationship in some ways.   Yet, there is an element of running away in my desire to go to the monastery.  It is easy to run away from my life in the world, but I cannot run away from me.  I am common denominator in all my problems, and I will be in the monastery, too.  So, I wait.  It is a trial for Mother Thecla, who wishes that I would hurry up and get there already, and that breaks my heart.  But I wait because I am unsure.  I don't want to walk away like the rich young man, so I stay rooted where I am instead, until something happens.  I don't know what, just something that points to direction my life should take.  I am desperately trying to keep my deep dissatisfaction with my work life out of the equation, so I wait.

I read this today, and it is so simple and so profound that I wanted to keep it where I can read it often because I need this reminder.  I don't read the Bible every day, and maybe that is the crux of my non-relationship with God.  Maybe when my heart has broken, and it has, there were no words to fall in.  Food for thought, eh?

Excerpt from "The Bible and the Land of Shades:
Divine Justice and How We Read the Bible" by David J. Goa

The pupil asks the rabbi, “Why are we told to place these words 
upon our hearts? Why does it not tell us to place these words in our 

In fact, the question already lives within the differing translations
of the text. The Hebrew, al-levavekha, means “upon your heart,” but in
the vast majority of the English translations it is rendered as “in your
heart.” It is as though the translators, like the pupil in the story, cannot
understand why it is said “upon your heart.”

Why, then are we not told to place these words, these root
words of the entire teaching, in our heart?

The rabbi answers: “Because,” he replies, “we are unable to put
these words into our heart. All that we can do is to place these words
upon our heart.”

The pupil waits. He has come to understand that the teaching is
about himself, myself, one’s own being. The ideas are about me, here, in
front of the question of myself. Hearing the rabbi’s reply, more of the
question begins to form on the pupil’s lips: Then what am I to do? What
are we to do? But before he can speak it, the rabbi answers.
“Our hearts are closed. All we can do is to place these words
upon our heart. And there they stay . . . ”

“. . . until one day the heart breaks . . .and the words fall in."