Monday, December 16, 2002

Tell me an inch and I'll walk a mile

Well, as most of you can see, I'm not the most consistent of bloggers. This often isn't for lack of time, or even lack of desire, but in many ways (incoherent rambling alert!!) it is from lack of something to say. This is not to mean I don't have a lot of things on my mind. In fact, usually, I have a ton of things on my mind, things I would even like to share with the rest of the world. The problem is, how to say it without making a total jack-ass out of myself. As usual, I do better explaining things in story form (at least in my own mind).

Blogging takes time. I have a lot of things to say, but saying them takes time. If I don't take time with it, I usually end up having to take half of what I said back, not because I didn't mean what I said, but because I didn't say what I meant well enough. I open my mouth, and then realize that something happened in between the brain and the tongue. It's the damndest problem. Sometimes I wonder if it'll take becoming a monastic with a vow of silence to fix it. There is something seriously wrong in the wiring of that inch or two in my head. Brain to tongue, how hard can it be, and yet it rarely works out right. So I compromise, and try not to speak till I know how it's gonna come out (which helps, in the manner of putting a band-aid on a chainsaw laceration). I told you it was going to be incoherent, then I told you I was gonna tell a story to explain, then I explained and didn't tell a story. Go figure.

Anyway, bear with me, something is coming.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Practice Makes Perfect

Today, while reading The Brothers Karamazov I came across this line spoken by the feeble-bodied and sickly Elder Zosima, apparently just before his death (he hasn't died yet in my reading, but it seems imminent).

"So many years have I taught you and, therefore, so many years have I spoken aloud, that I have almost acquired a habit of speaking, and of speaking in order to teach you, until it has come to the point where silence would almost be more difficult for me than speech... even now in my present enfeebled condition."

What is interesting here to me is not so much his ministry, though as an elder monk it is interesting to read. What is interesting, however, is the way in which doing good, loving his brethren, entreating them to maturity, has become such a habitual practice that to do other would be more difficult. Here is the example of a man who has practiced holiness for so long, has warred against the temptations of the flesh so vigilantly, that now, even when his body is week, when it attempts to keep him from loving God and his brethren, his being (his whole being, which encompasses much more than just the body) is more comfortable living in Godliness.

What an amazing story. I often wonder if I will ever be free of the chains and struggles that make war with my soul, if I will ever be able to comfortably live in righteousness. What is wonderful about the Orthodox praxis, is that it provides a means for attaining holiness, and not just a "system of beliefs" that we have to determine how to work out on our own. Indeed, we must practice holiness. It is not something that innately comes from us once we understand what the truth is. Knowing truth is not enough. Even knowing how we ought to act upon it is not enough. It is not enough to know we are wrong, or even to know and then see where to correct. We have to actually practice, over and over and over, to the point where we truly deny the desires of our fallen selves, to the point where in reality, our being has been transformed by the grace of God. We have to see it through to the very end.

This transformation, in Orthodox terminology, is theosis, whereby, by living in communion with Christ and His Church, we practice holiness. It is interesting to note, that while the Elder was speaking on his deathbed, many were gathered around not just to hear his last words, but in fact eagerly awaiting some great event. They had perceived in his life how the grace of God had literally transformed him. It's not just a transformation of the "inner" man, but in fact, affects the whole self. The elder was now a being of the sort where the physical part of his being was less influential to his actions than were the others. This is the kind of transformation to which I aspire. This is the understanding of the Christian life in Orthodoxy. Quite literally, practice makes perfect.

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