Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Year of Living Reclusively #3

So, I've written, edited, deleted, re-written, deleted, re-re-written, re-edited and deleted several posts.

I think that is a sign of my niggling dis-ease with my life right now and my ability to neither describe my symptoms nor self-diagnose the underlying illness, if indeed it is an illness.  Like "muscle pains" it could be (*could* is a big IF) signs of atrophied muscles being exercised.  But I know better than to flatter myself so.  I am not convinced being uncomfortable with one's life is a sin. It is possible it is a sign of repentance taking place. In my experience, being comfortable is more an indicator of spiritual problems. All that said, I'm just in a place that I'm not sure is good or bad. It may just be that I don't like it... or I like it and I "FEEL" I'm not supposed to be liking it.

No, I don't trust my feelings, whether they are pleasing and affirming or unpleasant and condemning.

My reclusive life for the past 18+ months has meant no contact with anyone old and familiar for counsel, confession and advice.  In years past I've gotten spiritual counsel in and out of a confessional relationship with parish priests, monastics, abbots, friends both Orthodox and non-Orthodox and Christian and non-Christian. 

If anything, I am willing to seek counsel.  I believe what St. Dorotheos said, "A man has a fool who has himself as a spiritual guide."  I have gone to confession as a child and as an adult, sacramentally to priests, secularly to therapists, and desperately and casually to friends. Even though I'm willing to seek advice, I've never had a single person that I have trusted exclusively and implicitly with my life.

The problem is, I know myself and human nature too well.  I don't follow advice blindly, though I will try out counsel that doesn't make "sense" to me at the time. I'm not easily impressed, so I don't take someone's advice just because they wear black, have alphabets behind their name or are famous.  In my experience neither a college degree, an ascetical lifestyle nor ordination magically bestows wisdom and discernment on a person.  Reading books, practicing self control or fooling a Bishop into laying hands on you doesn't make one wise, merely credentialed in someone's eyes. The reality is, passing tests is easy (and in most cases a "D" stands for "diploma"), the demons never eat and even Judas was chosen by Jesus Himself.  There is more to a spiritual/therapeutic relationship than the perceived qualifications of the therapist.  How I regard my therapist may say more about me than him/her. That's why there are cults.

The best confession counsel I ever got was from a "no name" priest. After my confession he said one sentence that I still remember after 12 years, verbatim, because it was only six words. It still applies to the very core of my life's spiritual disease.  (In fact I just practiced his "penance" again last week, and it is still hard.)  I know if I can eventually do only this one thing well, I have a chance of becoming a real human being.

It has been almost two years since I've attended a parish council meeting, talked to a Bishop, met with a priest and discussed the present or future of anything to do with "church".  I am very content to be away from "Ortho-drama" at the parish, "American Orthodoxy" and global levels.

I feel like I've detoxed from church and Ortho-drama.  The decision to stop going to church was a "drama" decision, yet I still think a necessary one for the sake of our Mission. But now that I've been gone, I've had to admit to myself that church drama has been a lifestyle for me since the 1960's and my conversion from Catholicism to the churches of Christ.  Since becoming Orthodox, being involved in several rocky Mission start-ups, being on the "Ortho-net" and visiting a lot of places, I came to realize church drama is addicting.  And I realized I was an addict.  My addiction is partly the reason I've endured the past fourteen years of my Orthodox church life.  It was energizing to be in the middle of crises, conflicts, persecution and uncertainty. It was a constant inner conflict to be regarded as a leader and to be both falsely humble and sometimes be truly humbled by it. Dysfunction often masquerades as strength. Ego often endures even hell. God knows if any of the fruit of all of that will endure.

In a sense the waters of my life apart from "Church" have become still.  The dirt is settling to the bottom and I can see deeper. Without the disturbance of "church drama", I am left to, as the Desert Fathers say, "Look to myself".  The question for me now is, if I am willing to really look, and deeply, what will I see?


John said...

Read Matthew Mark Luke and John and run with it. Then read Isaiah and the Psalms and go with that. Reread about a few dozen times and then pick up the rest. If God commands us to grow then surely He allows it. May God bless you.

JD said...

Steve, for whatever I hope it works out for you. I listened to almost everything you and Bill put together during "the day" and learned more there than I've ever learned in an official church setting. So I have to thank you for that. I have to ask is Bill doing okay? I know no other to way to ask it. You guys had so much fun doing that you might go back and listen were having fun.

Anonymous said...

When a staretz cannot be found, perhaps the words of a no-name priest are all a person needs.

James the Thickheaded said...

Wish I could say "I know what you're going through..." but those words never quite get at it as well meant as they may be... especially if we feel inclined to test them (which we shouldn't). Fact is we geezers are in a tough patch sometimes, and at this point in our lives... more times than we might care for. Sounds to me as though you've got the first half nailed of Archimandrite Zacharias's line, but need to quickly add the 2nd half: "Keep your mind in hell, but despair not." Recommend a little levity, a little mirth... as coming in handy. But FWIW, I like the step back, and think you're actually on the right track. Good for a while... but not forever. Don't forget to drop back in with the real you... whoever that is. And yes, I don't know who the real me is either... but that's 'cause it's above my pay grade.

Drewster2000 said...


These past few posts have been a soothing balm to my soul. I don't have the words to explain, but maybe it's the fact that you are expressing moments of genuineness, being one in whom there in no guile.

They sound like the words of a person around whom the dust is indeed settling. Seeing reality is the hardest thing to do - but also the best if you can stomach it.

And all that's required for you at that point is to be - nothing else.

s-p said...

John, Wisdom. Sometimes we converts forget to read the Bible. :) or :/

JD, The radio program was a good time. It had its opposition and issues but we kept it "clean" and refused to use it as a platform. We both wanted it to be something we'd not look back on and regret. (Except for perhaps innocent ignorance.)

JtTH, Anon and Drewster, I'm finding what I "need" is far less than what I've wanted. In a big picture I'm finding contentment in simplicity of life, relationships and commitments to someone else's agendas, goals and dreams. (But that's another post...) Geezerhood is not all bad. After all, we get senior discounts at Denny's and McDonald's.

s-p said...

Oh, BTW, JD... Bill is doing fine. Since I got my new job and haven't been at our Mission I don't see him much anymore. He has become the "protos" Reader at the Mission in my absence and is manning his post admirably. We are both grandparents now, trying to squeak out a living in a dubious economy and keep thinking of getting back into the basement catacomb studio but know it probably isn't going to happen but for the grace of God.

JD said...

Call me crazy, but I loved that show and really got "in focus" when the intro kicked in....hoping for God's grace for you guys to go catcomb on us for old times sake.

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Bulwark said...

Another 'Our Life in Christ' listener...
I waited eagerly; each week to download the latest podcast. Inspired me to purchase a book about the Hesychast controversy and encourage my Baptist Bible study group to read it. The leader did not share my enthusiasm. Ironically, it was a book labeled - Classics of Western Christian Spirituality??
Anyways, I have always wanted to simply say thanks to Bill & you..still listen to your impromptu radio debate with James White.
Generally Australian Christianity looks to American Evangelicalism for its lead. The Baptist regime was a horrid experience, I never knew anything else existed.
Went through RCIA three years ago and currently attend Mass regularly. RCIA was the fulfillment of a long journey.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

When I became Orthodox, my spiritual father told me to stay strictly OUT of church politics. I've never regretted that advice. You CAN go to church without getting tangled up in the politics. You really can.

I feel sad you haven't a confessor to discuss this with. A simple, ordinary, no-name priest is just fine if he's holy, because it's God giving him the wisdom to help us.

Sending lots of love.

Elaine said...

Steve, so interesting to read your post today. I recently moved to a place North of Muskogee, where Orthodoxy is unheard of. Spent 9 years in the Dallas area, deeply embroiled in Church politics and controversy. Due to a ridiculously long drive to Church, my husband and I (with a secret sigh of relief) opted to start attending the local RC Church. No 'conversion' necessary. The Priest accepts us as fully Catholic. I can't belive how lovely, simple, and reverent Church can be. What a breath of fresh air! And such a surprise to find that all of the anti-Catholic propoganda we heard at Church was just that. Propoganda. Like other commenters here, I was an avid follower of your talks. I look forward to hearing how this all evolves for you. Keep writing, please!