We hit the Porter County Fair this past weekend. Once again, it was everything our children hoped it would be: loud, vibrant, sweaty, waffle cone scented. First we headed for the animals. There were cows, of course, goats, horses, a litter of rascally nursing piglets and rabbits so bizarrely fluffy they had us laughing out loud. At the 4-H display, we ogled homemade evening gowns, exquisitely decorated cakes, Lego creations, scrapbook pages and a ginormous latch hooked Jesus. There were more exhibits I was hoping to browse through but the kids were anxious to keep on moving. The fair was bursting with new things to stare at, taste and touch (thank goodness for hand sanitizer).
By five pm, we’d attended a magic show during which Mary was chosen to assist with a trick involving toilet paper, participated in a wiggle car race, ran into school friends and soccer friends, and stuffed ourselves with greasy offerings from a few of the endless food booths. Finally, now that our tummies were good and churning, it was time for the bestest part of all: bumper cars, roller coasters, The Tea Cups, The Carousel, The Fun Slide, The Scrambler, oh my! Earlier in the week, I’d purchased discount wristband vouchers from the YMCA enabling the kids to ride all the rides they wanted as many times as they wanted while Troy and I held their water bottles and gawked at the proudly displayed body tattoos of fellow fairgoers.
My sun burnt sons and daughters were having an all-American small town blast! It made me happy to see them squealing with delight. “Again, again!” They’d yell immediately upon exiting the gate of any and every ride they’d just been on. Two hours passed quickly and the sun was starting to set signaling a new vibe at the fair, one that brought with it hordes of teenage girls in impractical sequined tops and platform wedges, and just as many skinny jeaned boys to nonchalantly chase after them. It was getting crowded, Troy and I were just about all fair-ed out. “Pick your last ride,” We told the kids.
They were deciding between 101 Knots and The Spider when suddenly from behind us we heard an ear piercing “POP, POP, POP!” I, and everyone else, flinched. In the aftermath of the violence in Colorado, the worst was easily assumed. I was relieved to jerk my head around and find only the residual smoke of recently launched fireworks, but also frustrated by my gut wrenching impulse to grab my children and take cover. What a messed up world we’re stuck in, it becomes tempting to think when being randomly gunned down in public becomes a real possibility. It’s getting harder and harder not to surrender completely to the jadedness caused by trying to digest news story after news story of chaos, murder and hatred.
How then should I live? I pondered on the drive home. And, more importantly, How should I teach my children to live? in an age where weapons are easily accessible and frighteningly sophisticated, and the political, religious, and moral divisions among us are becoming ever increasingly heated and intense? “Why, mama, would someone do that?” Asked my oldest daughter, Priscilla, upon being confronted on the radio, the television, the newspaper and internet by the grizzly shootings at the Aurora movie theatre. And I saw fear in her eyes, fear and utter confusion.
Uh-uh, heck no! I decided right then and there anxiety and trepidation would not be even subconsciously propagated by this mother, who is prone to anxiety herself. Thus, I marched us to our icon corner and we prayed for those victims and their family members – we prayed for their healing and the courage to seize each day in front of us, the courage to cast out fear with love. At Divine Liturgy the next morning, we prayed again, as a community, that the whole day would be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless, for an angel of peace, that we would complete the remaining time of our lives in peace and repentance, and for a Christian ending to our lives: painless, blameless and, yes, you guessed it, peaceful. Let us depart in peace! Said our priest during the litany of Thanksgiving.
How then should I live? Here was my answer!
‘Let us go forth in peace, is the last commandment of the Liturgy, wrote Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not merely a comforting epilogue. They are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, and the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.
This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, everywhere sees Christ and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.
To be boldly at peace and be an instrument of unconditional peace is the message and example I’m actively choosing to pour forth all my efforts into leaving behind for my children. And where can I find such miraculous peace when challenged by evil or selfishness? In the arms of the Church. And how will I preach this peace? Via love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Is there anything on earth more satisfying or rewarding in the long run then obtaining and spreading Christ‘s peace? Uh-uh, heck no! Not money, not respect, not answers, not ease and comfort, not proving someone wrong, not success, not anger, not resentment. And, God willing, despite my numerous flaws and frailties, I will doggedly pursue but this one heavenly ambition all the rest of my days – in faith that God is merciful, confident that nothing else matters, and on guard for those tricky distractions that try to lure me from the perfect simplicity of this holy aim.
If you would be simple-hearted like the apostles, said Elder Leonid of Optima, would not conceal your human shortcomings, would not pretend to be especially pious, if you would walk free from hypocrisy, then that is the path. While it is easy, not everyone can find it or understand it. This path is the shortest way to salvation and attracts the grace of God. Unpretentiousness, guilelessness, frankness of soul – this is what is pleasing to the Lord, Who is lowly of heart. Except ye become like children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 18:13).
For the sick and the suffering, for the scared and lonely, for the weak and tired, for those who love us and those who hate us, for those who are hungry for the peace and hope we have the power to provide through Christ Jesus (if we’d only put aside our egos and self-centeredness), and for one another, let us ceaselessly pray to the Lord!
Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace!