Snow can never emit flame. Water can never issue fire. A thorn bush can never produce a fig. Just so, your heart can never be free from oppressive thoughts, words or actions until it has purified itself internally. Be eager, therefore, to walk this path. Watch your heart at all times; constantly say the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me’. Be humble, and set your soul in quietude.
—St Hesychios the Priest
As I begin the morning with some measure of renewed purpose, I find this quote to be perfectly expressive of my path over the many months. This is the month of Spring. May it be thus for my soul as well.
I realize the journey I walk is not unique to me. The particulars and purpose might be unique, but it is the same Spirit who works in men and women throughout history and throughout this world. Sometimes we see glimpses of this in others, a glimpse which brings joy and sadness. The joy comes from the shared potential, the knowledge that others pursue God and are pursued by God. The sadness comes because of what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
He who rescues us blesses us. This is a profound lesson that is only learned through suffering… be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, and often all of these together.
The problem comes in that our generation doesn’t teach these depths. We are told of feasting without the fasting, the celebration without the mourning, the victory apart from the struggle, and resurrection without first dying. We are told of David’s victory over Goliath but not of his years hiding in caves. And it is the story of the caves which marks the spiritual journey through life. Not a single character in the Bible found God devoid of finding suffering… so why do we expect to find joy without first finding sadness?
We are told to sell the Gospel with all its bounty and blessings, but in order to sell it better we have forgotten the depths of heartache which comes from traveling far down the road. The struggles are the meat, the protein which makes us strong and able to endure all things.
So, I look back over the last six years and wonder what I’ve learned and realize I’ve learned the lessons of the mountain. When I began writing online about some details about my spiritual life there were mighty pines outside the window. The wind whistled through these giants, they shaded the sun, gave access to birds and beasts, a home to some elusive flying squirrels even. But they were dead and dying. They had been killed by the bark beetle and were brown.
Now they are gone, cut down by men with chainsaws who with ruckus and noise emptied the mountain of 100 year old giants so that the mountain could grow and heal. Now small pines and cedars and firs are outside my window. They are a small home, good enough for the juncos and chipmunk, find for the quail to hide under, but not quite strong enough for a raven’s nest. But they are alive and growing, and so the mountain that was filled with death is now full of life, a life which blossoms from historic rain that no one predicted. The dead pines would have sucked energy into their brown limbs. Now, the new can grow.
I’m gone too. Outside my window now are other apartment buildings, lots of concrete, noises, busyness. I’m in the city. And I’m married to a wonderful woman, looking at the day and the year and the next many years with a significant hope for not only spiritual growth but also joy and delight in a life shared with another.
So, with loss comes growth, with death comes new life, with emptiness comes filling, with heartbreak comes hope. If we let go and trust the Spirit is working.
I’ve written less, lost some of my noticing eye, not followed my 1000 words a day habit for too long, and otherwise feel myself farther away than ever before. But, in my soul I know I am closer, and know that God is closer, and know that those who walk with God, for God, are closer.
And that is something.