Monday, February 19, 2007

Hungry for Righteousness

I have fallen for this before: the giddiness of filling my cart with all things meat and dairy-free, the euphoria of rising early to bulk up a rule of prayer thinned out by inattention, the welcoming of silence. I have fallen for the romance of Lent’s inception like a lover falls hard for her idealized notions of intimacy, untested by time or turmoil. Initially, my passion is what inspires me to attempt the unthinkable. My spiritual adrenaline is what fuels my desire to turn my back on what is valued by a culture obsessed with immediate gratification. My yearnings for escaping myself hurl me straight into the arms of the Church.

For a few glorious moments I am tuned in to the contemplative nature of this Fast, spending days in prayerful awareness of Christ and His sacrifice for me. It is natural and good to take pleasure in a honeymoon, as long as the pleasure is enjoyed for the fleeting, tingling happiness that it is. See, here is where I take the bait, where I am lured by the faulty impression that only pleasure equals substance. Somewhere, I picked up a debilitating habit of losing interest when the sparks die down, and the fireworks fade into puffs of smoke barely visible in the heaviness of an evening sky. I know this about myself, and yet it continues to be an effective tool for crippling my progress and blinding my vision. Because hell is unaccustomed to these pursuits of transcendence, it attacks me with viciousness using subtle diversions and twisted truths.

It is usually about three weeks into my Lenten journey that the hunger overwhelms me, when my cravings for variety simmer slowly with resentment. Like the Israelites I pout at my portion of manna, and grumble despite the promise of Milk and Honey. At that point, my strength gives way to weariness. Thus I arrive at a fork in the road. Two choices lie mapped out before me. What will I do with the hunger?

Having emptied myself of enthusiasm, my thoughts become ravenous for a distraction. If I could just take a break from the intensity for a while, turning off the meditations chewing through my insides like a termite, then I could find myself again and seek out the original warmth of Lenten satiety. Inevitably I turn toward the wide and easy, where questions of life and death seem too extreme and counterproductive, where I shake off the burden of restraint in exchange for a regrettable indulgence in the sugary, empty promises of secularity.

But what if this time I expected the starvation? What if I separated my feelings from obedience? I would know then that stumbling upon a fork in the road did not mean I had failed, but rather had arrived at Lent’s climax. We are never told, “Blessed are those who can take or leave righteousness.” Christ needs my emptiness, my desperation for nourishment, in order to bless me with complete fulfillment. What if I took that burden to Him, handing over all of my guilt, fear, resentment, and weakness, without a single ounce of regret? What if this time, at my lowest, I took one more step down that narrow path, in faith, and discovered the “pearl of great price”?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Blessed are they who have been disappointed by the flimsy offerings of wealth, lust, power, and beauty, and are longing now for something solid and secure. Blessed are they who come to that fork in the road, and cry out to the Lord for mercy. This Lent, by the grace of God, I will pace myself through the mountains and valleys leading upwards to Pascha. This Lent, I hope to revel in my honeymoon and then focus in on the eternal rewards of perseverance, of laying aside everything for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Click HERE to listen to this reflection. This is a service of Ancient Faith Radio.


Nicole said...

My husband was just reflecting on something he heard in a nun's talk on AFR. The fasting is supposed to make us weak so that we are more inclined to sin and therefore can see our faults. I had never put that together.

Theophilus said...

Until a moment ago, I had never heard of you, but I want to thank you so much for these words you shared on AFR.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Don't let it go to your head, but I will be meditating on this for a few days at least.

Thank you again.

Emanuel said...

Dear Molly,

I read your reflections on Lent with great interest. FYI, I am 51, have been a choirmaster in the Greek Archdiocese for over 30 years and am also a chanter, and have finally decided to study for the Holy Diaconate.

I have often felt as you do, especially being attacked by the devil, and especially now that I have made the decision to seek ordination. Sometimes I have even been attacked with evil thoughts while waiting to approach the Holy Chalice. It is then that we have to realize that as Christians who have the Holy Spirit within us, we have the power through Christ to say "Begone, Satan!" just as Jesus did when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Also, when I have been at my lowest, that is the time that He has always been there for me. I can't tell you how many times I have felt so desperate about certain things but somehow God has always seen me through. And I freely admit that I am a sinner. That is the key. The Jesus prayer is it! You spoke of hungering after righteousness. What is the purpose of Lent to begin with? I once asked one of my very best friends, who is now a Deacon, what he fasted from since he is a vegetarian. He told me something very profound and wise--that Lent, and fasting in general, is not just abstaining from certain foods. it is also (and perhaps more importantly) abstaining from SIN.

The Gospel readings of the Triodion period leading up to Lent provide some insight into what I have mentioned and into a lot of what you said. The first Sunday of the Triodion is that of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18: 9-14). If you recall, the publican "went to his house justified" because of his humble prayer and asking for mercy and forgiveness, while the Pharisee boasted and bragged that he was better and not like other people. Perhaps you have never heard this before, but this directly relates to Rev. 3:14-18, the passage about the church of Laodicea. Like the Pharisee, that church is full of haughtiness and self-confidence, and in their delusions of perfection, don't see the reality, and because of their lukewarmness, God spews them out of His mouth. The point is, a "cold" person like the publican, who hasn't known faith, can more easily believe and repent than a "lukewarm" person like the Pharisee, who is totally satisfied with himself and doesn't acknowledge his own faults. The Lenten period is a time for reflection, repentance, and NOT being satisfied with one's self spiritually, so that we can become "hot" and live accordingly (which is also one reason for the "Zeon"--the hot water the Priest pours into the chalice). So, if we are "cold", we are "swallowed" by Him like a cool drink and made hot; if we are lukewarm like lukewarm coffee (unpleasant to drink), He spits us out.
The 2nd Sunday of Triodion is devoted to the Prodigal Son. The message here is obvious--that God welcomes back a sinner who truly repents. But on the following Sunday, that of the Second Coming, we are reminded of the other truth--that the Lord is also our judge. Notice the emphasis on almsgiving here--"you gave me no did not welcome did not visit me...", etc. I think this is one of the greatest teachings of our Orthodox Faith--the balance between prayer, fasting and almsgiving--something that many of us forget about during Lent and other times of the year.
On Cheesefare Sunday, we commemorate Adam and Eve's expulsion from paradise, and I think the troparion of the day says it better than I can: "O Master...strengthen and enlighten my heart. Give me the word, O Thou Who art the Word of the Father, for behold I will not restrain my lips from crying to Thee: Have mercy, Merciful Lord, upon me a backslider." And that is the attitude we should have. Ask God to strengthen you during this time.

I hope what I have said here is of some value to you.

In Christ,


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