Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Redux

It's still true after all these years...

Someone recently said of marriage that it is the only martyrdom in which you get to pick the instrument of your death. Of course it is not so much a physical death, though your physicality is a part of your sacrifice, but it is also the laying down of your ego, your self will, your time, your passions, your selfish desires… all the things that are ultimately harder to give up for the long haul than your physical life in a split second.
I, like most of us do I suspect, chose marriage before I knew the true meaning of the sacrifice required. And being deluded by passion, I also didn’t know the depth of my self centeredness nor my true capacity to make that sacrifice. I look back now on more than half my life that I’ve shared a house, a bed and children with someone I chose (and who chose me). I think of all the things I have seen and done and shared with someone else within marriage. I think of the things I accomplished at too great an expense. I remember all the secret self indulgences, the wastes of time, the compromises I made and the lies I told that barely covered them. I think about the things I have failed at, the times I didn’t show up when I needed to be there physically or spiritually. I think about all the ways I’ve fallen and caused grief and pain to those I’ve loved and fallen out of love with. I think of the unforeseen twists of fate and the turns I’ve taken that took everyone around me down dark paths. I think of the joys mingled with sorrows, the regrets, and the grace of happiness unsought and undeserved. I think of the decades of day to day monotonous sacrifices I’ve endured and all the ways I’ve sinned to ease the pain. I think of all the nights staring into the darkness dragged down by the weight of things that could have been, but I know will never be, my unfulfilled goals, the hopes unrealized, the things that might have been “if only”… If only I had been wiser, if only I had been stronger, if only I had been more spiritual or even something as mundane as just wealthier. Ultimately these things are evidence that what I was I brought into my marriage, and what I am becoming is the hard work of love within it.
I wake up, I come home from work, I go to sleep and my wife is there with me. I look upon the woman I love, my chosen martyrdom, who shares our children, my table, my couch, my bed. I think of the deaths we’ve shared, the passing of best friends and of parents. I think of the people we’ve drifted away from, and of the conflicted loss of the respect and trust of old friends. I think of the friends we’ve gathered in our own history. Together we are now facing the death of friends that will come soon, and we know we will face the death of friends and family that will come out of season and in unimaginable ways. Together we share the anxious joy of our children’s new lives apart from us.
I see my wife both in my memories and in the present moment. The years have etched their indelible marks upon her skin. I see the lines of her face radiant in the morning sun. In the night as we lay together and no words are needed nor hoped for, I hold her aging hand in mine. I know the history of her skin, the silken beauty of her youth lost, the silent frailties now overtaking her bones. Time has done us both irreparable harm, neither of us are as young as we used to be.
But I have no desire to hold a hand that has not touched death, nor do I wish to look into glittering, hopeful, shallow eyes that have not seen my world. I have no longing for the false comfort and the old man’s lies of an embrace of a smooth body. I want to face the remaining days of my life with the one whose body, soul and spirit have been my faithful companion in all I’ve reveled in, longed for, ruined, loved and failed at in life.
I love you, Maggie. I still don’t know why you are the one in my bed, and I still love looking up and seeing you across the dinner table… I pray I never cease to be amazed.
Happy Valentines Day sweetie, I'm still crazy in love with you.

Audio version  HERE

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?