After Prayers, Lie Cold
Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush'd mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness' and pardon's watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.
I've heard plenty of legitimate reasons why many have chosen (after nibbling on various brands of Christianity only to come away with a bitter taste in their mouths) to throw the baby out with the bath water, spiritually speaking. What kind of God, they wonder, would choose to save only some, leaving those unchosen damned by default, or condemn those never exposed to the Gospel (because rules are rules) to hell? What kind of Christ, they ask, would allow so much unfairness, or stir up devastating natural disasters to get a point across via His grey-suited silver-haired televangelist mouthpiece?
So you don't believe in a God who seems kind of stingy with His calculating mercy – a mercy tempered by the political and moral leanings of his outspoken followers? You don't buy into the kitschiness, the hundreds of conflicting messages, the dry formulism, the hypocrisy…?
Neither do I.
I used to be timid about revealing my "religious affiliation" to others for the exact reasons I mentioned above, but now I cannot help shouting from the rooftops (and if you knew me, you'd understand that shouting stuff from rooftops was never really my thing) that there is more, more, more to the Christian faith than what's been presented here in the West just these last two hundred years!
This past Lent, I was listening to a podcast by Father Thomas Hopko, an Orthodox priest and Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary. He was discussing suffering and my ears perked up when he mentioned those who have been abused or impoverished or tortured throughout their life by physical or mental infirmities, etc. standing before Christ at the Great and Final Judgement. Would their sins, their lack of faith due to such unfathomable circumstances, be forever held against them? For decades, I had wrestled with that very question, I mean really and truly struggled with it, and thus that afternoon I held my breath and waited anxiously for Fr. Hopko to offer his thoughts on the matter. When he explained his conviction that each of us will be will held accountable for what we've been given and therefore those who have suffered most will be saved based solely on the bearing of that pain, I cried with relief. Yes!! Amen! I'm certain I actually said aloud. In response, I became determined not to selfishly squander the many blessings bestowed upon me but to instead try and emulate the Good Samaritan by actively utilizing my health, my network of support, my early exposure to faith, my full tummy, my met emotional needs, etc. to shower unbiased compassion on any and everyone.
Let's face it, I've cried a lot since becoming Orthodox. I cried because it was terrifying as heck to risk losing so much (familiarity, my reputation, my pride, the approval of those I adored, my personal preferences) in a no holds barred pursuit of the Truth. I cried when discovering that on the other side of my fear of the unknown lay awe and growth and Love and fire. I cry during Divine Liturgy when our priest invokes the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ that we might consume Him. I cry because life is so, so hard for so many people and yet their pain is not in vain, it does not go unnoticed; the mystery of Eternity stretches far beyond what we can see and understand from here on earth. I cry because submissively accepting that fact is very difficult and liberating and overwhelming and necessary and purifying, simultaneously.
I am crying as I type this because, Praise be to God, in spite of everything,
He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
- Philo of Alexandria
Read more poetry HERE.