Wednesday, April 6, 2016

We shall be safe

When I was ‘saved’—yes, it happened on a particular day in time, but only from my point of view: from God’s, it was before time began—when I was saved, I was twenty-four years of age. I was christened as an infant in the basement chapel of a local convent, St Mark’s in Chicago. The evangelist has been a patron saint of mine ever since. I even named one of my sons after him. I love his lion emblem, and the city of Alexandria in Egypt is very dear to me.

By Church teaching, I was saved at my christening, or baptism, but I still had to be instructed. Had I died as an infant, I would’ve been assured of heaven. Baptism is indelible, they say. What God says, though, is what matters in the end. With Paul I cry, ‘we must be content to hope that we shall be saved—our salvation is not in sight—we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet. It is something we must wait for with patience’ (Romans 8:24-25 Jerusalem Bible).

But baptism is some kind of preservative. Isn’t that why salt is placed on an infant’s lips? I didn’t remain the infant I was at my christening—at least I hope not!—but I feel like I haven’t aged a day since my personal theophany at age twenty-four. Forty calendar years, χρόνος ‘chrónos’ time, in Greek, have been added to my physical body, but as far as καιρός ‘kairós’ time, I am still the age that I was when the Lord ‘found me.’

He appears to be a very faithful God, who says through His apostles, ‘remain as you were when God first called you’ (1 Corinthians 7:17), and through the psalmist, ‘like a tree that is planted by water streams, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves never fading’ (Psalm 1:3). I left out the last part of the psalm verse, ‘success attends all he does,’ because I do not want to boast—or to scandalize the brethren, who can see my life is anything but successful, at least from the world’s point of view.

But when I was saved, my life was very different from how I live today, and the same is true of my thoughts. Having just escaped ‘the world system’ I was a constant and constantly thankful reader and student of the Holy Bible. I ate it more than I ate physical food, knowing that ‘you are what you eat.’ I wanted to be the kind of man who would bleed not blood but the word of God when wounded. I wanted to make Christ’s word my home, to be His disciple.

Because of the promises, yes, that He would come to me and make His home with me. I was scrupulous to follow the commandments in every detail. I tithed my ‘tithe of dill and cumin’ and tried very hard not to ‘neglect the weightier matters of the Law’ like mercy and kindness. Yes, I tried, but the former were far easier than the latter. I often trampled a flower while planting an evergreen, a zealot in religious observance and studious righteousness, but a failure in showing mercy.

That’s how it can be with new converts, isn’t it? I failed to notice that the people I sometimes corrected and called to task were my elders, who probably knew more, and did more, than I but were loathe to show it. I mistook their silence, acquiescence, and humility as a kind of ignorance. I delighted in tormenting not only my body and soul with ‘spiritual’ exercises, but also looked on the lax losers around me with disdain. Secretly I thanked God that I wasn’t like them. Lord, have mercy!

Such are the sins of youth, my youth, anyway. Some waste their youth in licentious living like the prodigal son. I wasted it by trying to be more spiritual than God. Of course, the Church, I thought, was beaming its approval at me, when they were simply bored to disgust but too merciful to let me know. Filled with the ‘blows against the empire’ spirit, I wanted to be counted among the martyrs for my ‘sufferings’ and made enemies where I should have remained a friend.

The faith of the God of heaven, our Father, revealed in its totality by the God of earth, His Son our Lord, Jesus Christ, settles slowly on us, falls gently on us like a soothing cool evening rain after a scorching day. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. You cannot rush love. Not His, but ours. You cannot pretend, though it is precisely by starting out in pretence that, by the mercy of God, we arrive finally at the safe harbor of invincibility, incorruptibility, through ‘grace in return for grace.’

Yes, someday we finally become, I finally became, Christian, though the least of the disciples and, as we pray before receiving the Holy Mysteries, of sinners the chief. Saying the words over and over for years, the ears must be so dull that it takes a lifetime for them to sink in. Longing to count and venerate the skulls in a monastic bone room, we lose the opportunity to count and venerate the living souls that surround us, unadorned by lampadas, weeping not myrrh but real tears.

O gracious God, Savior, Lord, Master, only Lover of mankind, and my most loving Friend, how great You are! How magnificent Your mercy, how priceless Your poverty, how redeeming Your righteousness! You take us by the hand, one by one, and lead us to the Kingdom You have prepared for us, to the Life for which You created us before the world ever was made. Glory to You, O God, glory to You! For the sake of even one soul You gave Your life, and You lose no one who comes to You.

Yahweh Sabaoth, bring us back, let Your face smile on us
we shall be safe.

Psalm 80:3 Jerusalem Bible

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