Saturday, August 3, 2013

Like her

On the drive home from work one evening, I happened to notice a homeless person slowly pushing his cart uphill along the busy avenue. It’s been overcast for several days, and temperatures cool, and this young man—for he looked to be about 30 years old—was clad almost in a kind of autumn uniform and seemed rather too grand to be a homeless person, a street person. He seemed to be a prince among them, if he was, or perhaps he was homeless by choice. His hair was long and black, wavy and tied in a ponytail behind his back. He wore at least a leather jacket, though he seemed to have other black leatherwear about him, decorated with silver studs. He wasn’t pushing a grocery cart, but some kind of wheeled cart, that was filled with personal effects, but neatly. Then, he stopped and instead of pushing, switched to pulling it behind him, and that was all I saw of him as the traffic signal turned green, I drove off.

The impression that stayed in my mind’s eye like the remnant of a bright light, was that of a man pulling all that he owned behind him, as his portable home, everything that he had collected so far in his life. It made me see that everyone is doing what this young man seemed to be doing, dragging his life behind him, consisting as it did of whatever he’d been able to scrounge or snag from the world’s clutches, only we do it on a larger, apparently more permanent, and systematic scale. The psalm verse came to mind, “I am Your guest, and only for a time, a nomad like all my ancestors” (Psalm 39:12b Jerusalem Bible). I saw in a flash that we are all street people, all homeless—at least when we are racing against time to acquire as much of this world’s goods, even intellectual property, as we can. Like ancient Egyptians, we are saving to adorn the interiors of our own tombs, which we hope will be safe from grave robbers.

It made me consider the saying of brother Giles of Assisi. “This world is this kind of field: he who has a larger part of it has the worst part.” Although I try to live simply and frugally, having only enough to offer help and hospitality, I also fail. We are people who think that it will benefit us somehow to accumulate goods more and more as we are heading for old age and the grave. This just doesn’t make sense! It seems to me that we should live our lives wanting not to amass more for ourselves, but to give away as much as we can. This would be much easier to do if we saw even a few others doing likewise, but because we seem to live surrounded by people whose god is their bank accounts, their houses and cars and fine clothes, we are afraid that we’ll lose our footing in the rat race, and slide away into oblivion, or worse, into real homelessness.

Yet the Truth is clear, that God is our provider, and the more we give away, the more He gives us. I’m not talking about ‘prosperity gospel’ pledges and tithes that enmesh our hopes with the mechanistic god of the whore of Babylon, so that like her we come to resemble corpses with death masks, with powdered wigs and faces, trying to ape youth and disguise decay. No, not that! If we are Christians, faith, not religious conventions, is what God has given us as His first gift which, if we accept it, will make us recipients of such abundance that we will rejoice to give it all away. Speaking of earthly treasures, Francis of Assisi cried, “All of it! All of it, my brothers! Throw it all away! It will only make you miserable!” Can anyone deny that he is right?

We still have to live, of course, and do best with what God has provided us. We cannot and probably should not go about as completely moneyless beggars, that is, unless we are one of those rare souls whose call is to do exactly that. But unless you are called to that lifestyle, to imitate it is just another possession, another decoration for your future tomb. Like Mary of Nazareth, the Theotokos, we should live our lives in such a way that when they look into our tomb, they will find nothing, not a trace, nothing even to show that we passed this way. Like her, we have found the greatest Treasure, the Son and Word of God, whose friendship is the greatest wealth, who clothes us with His righteousness so that we can claim absolutely nothing as our own. Like her, we “have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land” for His sake. Repaid a hundred times over? And also inherit eternal life? How can we not? For He is eternal Life, and we are His.

Such were my thoughts, as I drove home, and I wanted to share them with you, brethren, not that they are anything special, but just as an encouragement to you, and to myself, to “set your hearts on His kingdom first, and on His righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well” (Matthew 6:33), and like the saints of all times, especially like Mary of Nazareth, the mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to free ourselves from the work of “gathering into barns,” but to go forward to meet the Lord as she did, having set aside the cares of the world, and so like her, to receive the King of all, and be received by Him. It may be true that there are ‘no pockets in a shroud,’ but for those who trust in the Lord with all their might, there need be no shroud, as Jesus says, “Unbind him, let him go free!” (John 11:44)

NOTE: By the way, it is virtually impossible to find an Orthodox ikon of the Virgin Mary alone, without Christ, except for those in which she is depicted before His birth, such as the Annunciation ikon, or that of her own birth. The reason for this, is that Christ makes her the Theotokos, the "God-birthgiver" and her ikonographic presence is never sought apart from Christ, who makes her what she is.

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