Sunday, March 04, 2007

Persecution



My son, Elijah, has a heart as big as the moon, and he wears it on his sleeve for anyone to delight in or to carelessly crack in two. In Chicago we had neighbor boys who made sport of his innocence, luring Elijah out to play a game of hide and seek only to leave him counting and searching for the playmates that had snickered and scattered away with no intention of returning. Needless to say, their cruelty was infuriating and I warned Elijah not to go out when they called him. “But why, mom? I don’t care if they only play for a little bit.” And his pleading eyes, lonely eyes, begged me to give the boys another chance.

Elijah and Priscilla were out riding bikes on the sidewalk one afternoon, while I nursed the baby and kept my eagle eye on their every move from the front steps. I immediately tensed up when I heard laughter, adolescent boy laughter, as ominous as dark clouds before a storm. My son’s trusting face lit up with the possibility of playing with anyone besides his own sister. As the boys neared our house Elijah ran to meet them, talking incessantly, I assumed, about Star Wars, his current obsession. From my post I glared at them, daring these kids to cross me by teasing my son. As they all came closer, I heard the actual one-way conversation, differing vastly from six-year-old musings on Darth Vadar. “Do you guys know Jesus?” Elijah was asking. “You should know Him! He loves you. Jesus is your Savior.” I couldn’t take it, them rolling their eyes and exchanging knowing glances. “That’s enough Elijah,” I called out “Come on inside.”

It is said that the Emperor Nero tied Christians to a stake and burned them like torches for the amusement of his party guests. I wish I could say that such accounts brought me courage, but they actually make me nauseous and sad. What is worse is that the tears welling up as I read about Saints enduring brutality and torture for the sake of their faith are, quite honestly, tears of despair. They are tears for myself, tears of fear, tears of weakness and shame. I try to picture it: me in front of a ruthless ruler who is demanding an answer to the simple question, “To whom do you pledge your allegiance?” And I look around me, honestly, at all of the accumulated things and plans competing for that prestigious honor. With so much at stake, with so much to lose, no wonder I am very afraid.

My full belly, warm bed, and opportunities for success are jewels I wear guiltily, feeling garish in front of those so unadorned. I assume of course, with pity, that these gaudy gems are everyone’s desire - like a child relishing a lollipop might feel sorry for his poor parents who must dine on only wine and roasted lamb. But those who have lost everything have nothing left to lose, so they run, sprint, and race for the finish line unencumbered by fear or the weights of this world, pulling and luring and dividing allegiances between earth and heaven. I, on the other hand, must move slowly and cautiously so as not to misplace or have stolen even one of my precious gems, so heavily and precariously fastened around my neck. Here, in my utopia of an existence, it is my intellect, my possessions, and my reputation on the line rather than my flesh, so pale and tender. What I haven’t lost, as of yet, keeps me paralyzed with trepidation.

I am scared to put my dollars in the candle box at Church because I might want them later for coffee. I am scared to approach my lonely neighbor because she may need more from me than I feel up to giving. I am scared to abandon our efforts toward attaining a comfortable lifestyle because I really, really like to be comfortable. I am scared to love boldly, or to support with zeal the tenets of my faith that have become irrelevant and unenlightened in a culture where the word “no” is synonymous with stupidity. I am scared of the rolling eyes and exchanging glances. But I am mostly afraid of standing side-by-side with faithful martyrs in front of God and His heavenly hosts, stuttering my way through a lame explanation while weeping and groaning with regret.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Blessed are they who untangle themselves from time-wasting, self-protecting, soul-crushing fear and run and run with freedom. Blessed are they who could never be confused for anything or anyone but a follower of Jesus Christ. Blessed are those who impress upon their children the importance of being uncompromising witnesses to the Gospel. Blessed am I for not being denied despite hiding my offering money, ignoring my lonely neighbor, and chastising my evangelizing son. May I be so fortunate for the opportunity to express my gratitude through sacrifice, to carry my cross with conviction.

Photo by Josh Parrish

4 comments:

HarlemBrown said...

I don't know where to begin, Molly. I'll begin with a "thank you". No. I believe a "thank you very much" is more in order.

I just read your March 4th entry today, and it convicted me of more than a few things. Things I need to convicted in. It also carved a nice piece in my heart for Elijah. May God bless him and keep him as he is as long as He can.

I came across your blog via Ancient Faith Radio's web site. Though my own blog focuses on things technical, I didn't hesitate to link to you. You're doing something wonderful and very needed, my sister (I'm Greek Orthodox, though I'm actually from Harlem, NYC, and currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. What are the odds? lol), and I pray that the curious click on your link often.

Just thought you should know I'm grateful, and I'm reading.

May God bless you and yours,

Ken J. (Panagiotis)
http://technicalities.blogspot.com

Rebeca said...

Thank you for this. My son, at four, loves to ask people if they know Jesus, if they love God, if they know about the Holy Spirit. Mostly, I think because he's so young, people humour him, but I know the time will come when they won't.
I so relate to your words. Comfort is so, well, comfortable. It's easy for me to live with little when I'm camping or traveling with my backpack (pre-children days), but when I'm home I begin to settle, wanting the next nice thing to make my home beautiful. As I write my husband and a friend are finishing the installation of our new floors. There is a line in one of my son's books where a mother and son are talking about heaven and one of their conclusions is that being here on earth is a bit like camping. But it's so hard to remember that.
Talking with our priest after Forgiveness vespers, we admitted to being a bit afraid beforehand. He gently reminded us that knowing the perfect love of Christ casts out all fear; it is His love that caused the martyrs to go to their deaths singing.
How far I am from it, how ridiculous that I can fear knowing that love!
Rambling thought, but there they are. Thanks again.
Rebeca

Rebeca said...

Me again... In answer to your question, I'd love to read your thoughts on it. I'll stay tuned.
Rebeca

Holly said...

I love your blog! It has been a wonderful inspiration to me, in this my second great Lent as an Orthodox Christian. I'm intrigued by this picture. Can you tell me are these your hands? Are the tattoos permanent?

Holly Olszewski
Traverse City, MI