One danger in offering your testimony is getting the sense that you’ve arrived, at least at some monumental point in your life, fundamental and unalterable. This is not to say that you consciously believe you have stopped growing and maturing, or have no longer any need for further maturation; you simply don’t see it, though the truth of the matter should be as plain as day. This is the trap into which I fell when I wrote God Approaches in 2013. Not that I had any delusions of grandeur; I just felt very deeply that I had assuredly reached an important point in my life from which I would not turn and could, therefore, proffer something beneficial to others. Perhaps my testimony has been helpful to others. I certainly hope so, and I can say with complete integrity that I have never turned away from the “point” at which I found myself two years ago so much as I’ve simply discovered there was not so much of any point.
Is there now? Have I reached some significant point in my life that now drives me to write? To testify, as it were? Maybe. I certainly crossed some kind of Rubicon recently that taught me more deeply than ever before the primal necessity of God in one’s life, in my life. I am careful now, however, to say unequivocally that either I have not really arrived at any significant point in my life or, what’s probably better, all of life is filled with “points” along the way, some greater than others (surely) yet each noteworthy because the next point could not be reached apart from the previous ones. We grow up and out from what we were before, do we not? This is the very basic idea of maturation, right? Is it not stating the obvious to say we don’t grow from someone completely other into the unique person we are now? I may very well be wrong, of course, but for now I’m going to assume – yes, knowing the danger of making assumptions – that I am correct. The only other remark I’ll make on this is to say that the person who believes in Christ, repents and confesses Jesus as Christ the Lord is really and truly “born again” into new life by the Spirit of Life. In this sense, then, the Christian takes on an entirely different personhood.
Now, having said all this, why is it so imperative that I write an addendum this April 2015? Because many incidents have occurred over the course of the last two years; much experience has been gained; growth and maturity have, thankfully, continued; consequently, I have something more to say that might be as beneficial as the whole of God Approaches, if not more so. After writing God Approaches I made several horrible decisions that cost me dearly and hurt me deeply, but those painful experiences became the fulcrum for change, necessary and life-saving change. If I never really knew before, I know now that God truly does “discipline those whom he loves.” (cf. Heb. 12.7) What were these horrible, foolish decisions I made? To be honest, I’m reluctant to confess them openly. Thankfully, there really is no reason to go into any detail anyway, except to say that each one involved alcohol.
On second thought, I will say this much more: My self-incurred punishment for these decisions included loss of any contact with my children for several weeks, loss of my own transportation plus hospitalization, and further deterioration of my character and reputation. Separation from my children for so long without even being able to speak with them made me aware of the fact that the good relationship I had with them was a privilege that I abused; consequently, I’m afraid, I have lost that good relationship … for the most part. Of course, it baffles me that someone else – false, adulterous, manipulative and materialistic to the core – can seemingly maintain an unweakened bond with my children while I suffer their renouncement, but dwelling on this does no good. I also had to come to the realization that in many ways I had made idols of my children, that I had put them on pedestals, that no one is so very important that another cannot live without them – and, after all is said and done, this really is true – and that their rejection of me is ultimately liberating, not depreciating. I have not, after all, been such a horrible father that I no longer deserve their love and consideration. If they choose now – undoubtedly influenced to some degree by the poison of two, if not three, significant people in their lives – to turn their backs on their father, to have nothing more to do with him, then I have to be willing to say, “So be it.”
The loss of transportation was good and necessary. I am stuck, for the most part, and thus unable to skirt about town, going anywhere I like, getting drinks here and there, and whatnot. It is humbling, as well, to have to rely on others, especially being a middle-aged man. So far as my reputation is concerned, I cannot say I don’t care; this would be an outright lie. I do care what others think of me, but I finally came to a position where I had to care far more what God thinks of me. With this I also had to realize that what God thinks of me is far, far more important than the opinions of others. Of course, I’m not exactly unfamiliar with being tarnished, ill-reputed, and cut off; my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy about 20 years ago disenfranchised me with some people. I suppose now I honestly have to say I’ve simply given people better reasons for looking down upon me.
Now, then, since it is the law which has forbidden us to desire, I shall much the more easily persuade you, that reasoning is able to govern our lusts, just as it does the affections which are impediments to justice. Since in what way is a solitary eater, and a glutton, and a drunkard reclaimed, unless it be clear that reason is lord of the passions? … And reason appears to be master of the more violent passions, as love of empire and empty boasting, and slander. For the temperate understanding repels all these malignant passions, as it does wrath: for it masters even this. (4 Maccabees 2: 6-7, 15-16 WEBA)
I was a fool; I have been a fool all of my life. I’ve lived from one desire to another, trying to satisfy rather than conquer each. I have not had a temperate understanding, which is the same as to say I’ve not had understanding at all; I’ve lived an unreasonable life. All of my perceived knowledge and understanding has been nothing more than an empty façade, if even that much. In all likelihood, most people have been able to see me for the unlearned, shameful fool that I’ve been … and may still be. Kyrie eléison! Yet we have the instruction and promise of St. James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (Epistle of St. James 1.5 ESV) And I have certainly asked, but it’s from my damaging mistakes and sinful errors that I’m learning this wisdom. Oh God! Would that I’d asked sooner and practiced more asceticism in my life! Yes, we can learn from our mistakes, but we can learn from goodness just as well, if not better. Falling may be inevitable in learning how to walk; however, falling 10,000 times does not mean you learn to walk better than someone who’s only fallen twice.
On this note, I can honestly say I dearly hope I haven’t “arrived” yet; that this is not the end, or even one of the last chapters; that I still have good, healthy growth and maturation ahead of me … surely more than I have behind me. And if I could leave behind the person I was two years ago, or even last year, to become an utterly new person, then I would. It’s not possible to be born again, again; this would devalue and denigrate the first rebirth, which comes only by the grace of God, so it would also be utterly profane to even ask for this.
As for those who at one time saw the light, tasting the good things from heaven, and having their part in the Holy Spirit, with knowledge of the good word of God, and of the powers of the coming time, and then let themselves be turned away; it is not possible for their hearts to be made new a second time, because they themselves put the Son of God on the cross again, openly shaming him. (Hebrews 6: 4-6 BBE)
And truthfully I almost did turn away, except for the overwhelming mercy of God, who is “rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he has loved us.” (Eph. 2.4 ESV) The Eternal One brought me down to the dust, to the dirt, and the Spirit of Life and Light and Love withdrew from me for weeks, and the pain of the emptiness was excruciating. Not only had I played the part of fool; I was arrogant, too. There was nothing in my life over which to be arrogant, mind you, but this is often the case with fools, of course. We see gold for chaff, oceans for sewers, and jewels for junk … and we boast. All of this is ours. We are entitled to these treasures. Others must be envious. They certainly respect us, right? No, of course not, but a “rebuke enters deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred lashes into a fool.” (Proverbs 17. 10 WEBA) And “what is heavier than lead, and what should a fool be called else but lead?” (Wisdom of ben Sirach 22. 14 Bishops) And so it was with me. I did not listen to good counsel, and I’ve had good counsel all of my life – yes, plenty of opportunities to grow in wisdom and discernment. Accordingly, I understand what it is to be “heavier than lead,” and to sink beneath the raging waters of my own folly, to choke on my own idiocy, to bury myself in my own absurdity.
My foolishness and debauchery was the principle reason I could not continue at Piedmont College after my freshman year. My stupidity and depravity was ultimately the reason my four-year ministry in Pomeroy, Ohio, came to an inglorious end. My idiocy and decadence is what finally ruined my marriage of ten years (although I was by no means alone to fault for the breakdown of our matrimony.) To think of the many people who, down through the years, have said, “God has wonderful things in store for you,” or “The Lord is going to do a marvelous work through you,” or “God has an awesome plan for your life;” these memories haunt me and shame me. Have I thrown away the best of divine intentions all of my life in order to drink and indulge my lusts? Have I driven myself into the ground for nothing more than alcohol, sensual desires, and vain fantasies? Have I ruined my name, my character to deaden myself by intoxication and indulge my other immoral appetites merely because I couldn’t stand to really live life? I know very well now, and the answer is a resounding “yes.”
This sounds very similar to what I thought I’d learned already, what I imagined I’d learned before writing God Approaches, but evidently I hadn’t learned well enough. I hadn’t learned deeply and pervasively enough the fundamental difference between living and merely existing. I had a heartbeat, a thinking process, a daily routine, yet I was only existing. In all candor I really could not stand to live life … the precious life freely given to me by the Spirit, in and through Christ, to the glory of the Father. It was too real. It still is, yet the emptiness of mere existence, once you have tasted real life, is more bitter, wretched and painful than the lucid awareness of life. This may sound insane, but the world is insane. We would rather exist in our own self-made, delusionary substitute for reality than to really live. Why? I honestly do not know.
Inside my body there is an organ called the heart, but there is also another heart within – invisible to the naked eye – a numinous heart, wrapped up in the terrible mystery of what it means to be human. There is also an organ called the brain yet, too, there is the mind. Is the mind the brain and vice-versa? I am ignorant, really, so who am I to attempt an answer … but I believe the mind is something other than the brain; psychic and also largely enveloped in mystery. I think maybe I recently began to actually feel the difference or, if I’ve always felt it, to consciously perceive the distinction. Is this part of becoming alive? I think so as “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all,” (John 6. 63a ESV) and “the Spirit is witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8. 16 BBE) Have I ever before sensed this witness? Yes, I know I have, but never for prolonged periods of time. God has been ever-faithful, full of mercy and tenderness, so good to me … I am the one who has been blind and deaf and profoundly thick-headed. Before I wrote God Approaches, I’d never become familiar with my numinous heart or my own mind. I don’t know that I really ever sensed my heart and mind – not deeply, anyway – and I don’t know that I have yet to this day, (which is why I’m careful not to make any dogmatic pronouncement on some “point” I’ve reached in my life.)
This is not really all that strange. How many people talked about “finding themselves” back in the late 1960s? Come down to it, trying to “find yourself” is the same as searching for your own heart and mind. And so many movies and dramas, over the past generation especially, have characters attempting to define what it means to be human or, in some cases, merely trying to be human. In my humble opinion, all of these productions – at least the ones that come to mind – fall short of the goal; however, there is the realization that humanity is unique, and that every individual person is unique. It all seems to come down to the belief, or reality as the case may be, that the human has an inner numinous being that gives rise to ideas, emotions, longings, passions, creativity – all that distinguishes humanity from the rest of creation. And these productions usually admit the obvious, which is that humanity is woefully flawed, but those faults and failings are also how individuals learn and grow; it’s part of the maturation process.
The one truth painfully absent in the 1960’s “search for self,” and these many entertainment productions over the past 25 years or so, is the fundamental necessity of the Redeemer to redeem us from darkness, sin and death, the Savior to save us from our own short-sighted folly and wickedness, the Life-Giver to give us true life and life everlasting. It’s wonderful to come to understand so many ways in which humanity is unique – indeed, this is as marvelous as it is true – but exclusivity is not life any more than believing in the existence of God is sanctity. The devils believe in God, of course, but they are certainly not sacrosanct, though they are unique. One has to apprehend his own emptiness and the futility of his existence before he can ever hope to “find himself,” because ultimately he can only find his true self in Christ, the incarnate Word of God, who is the Way to Truth and Life. He’ll never approach Christ, though, if he has no inkling of any need for Christ; he’ll only sink deeper and deeper into desolation and despair, which is hell.
Strangely enough, this is precisely where I found myself recently – again, of course – despite knowing my need for Christ. (Quite evidently, I didn’t know well enough.) I began to question and complain, which led to anger and bitterness, which in turn gave rise to doubts and fears, which finally brought me to the point of disparaging my faith and religion altogether. Following this I entered a period of depression worse than any I have ever experienced before. For three weeks I cried through each day, sometimes so violently my throat constricted and my chest tightened. I lost my appetite, and consequently lost weight. I tossed and turned at night. Every bone and muscle in my body seemed to ache. My head burned and throbbed. My heart felt vacuous yet filled with pain, and though I was not suicidal, I very much wanted to die. Finally I began – barely, I suppose … like an infant – to understand my great need to humble myself before the Everlasting One, to cry out to the Messiah for mercy and restoration … to find and ground my “self” in Christ … to be filled with the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit of God. I just began, only began, to see this with the eyes of my heart wide open … my mind open and supple … my soul open, hungering and thirsting for life, true life, in all of its very real reality. I am still only beginning, just beginning.
O Holy Spirit, my Lord and my God, who overshadowed the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and formed within her the most holy humanity of my Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, I adore You, and acknowledge here in Your divine presence that I am nothing and can do nothing apart from You. Come, blessed Spirit of God, and dwell in this soul that longs to be Your holy temple. Heal the lurking distemper of my heart and infuse Your grace into the well-springs of my life. (From “Devotions to the Holy Ghost” in the St. Ambrose Prayer Book, slightly altered)
And yes, I know I’m not doing God any great favors by giving myself over to him. I used to think that the Lord needed to use me for something great, to bless all of my efforts, to make me prestigious and influential… This sounds so pathetic now. It is pathetic, but at least I know now. Consequently, I don’t have to make this mistake again; rather, I can (with divine help, of course) rest in the arms of our mothering God and be content with my lot in life. It’s more than I deserve. It’s grace and, after all, I have been redeemed by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone. Of this much I am certain, whether I am Orthodox or Catholic or Protestant: It is only because God has been and is so loving and kind, merciful and gracious that I am even still breathing today, and much more that I actually do have life and life everlasting. Therefore, my life must be centered on Christ and given up to divine service, without any further thought (or craving) for what I think I want in this time in this world. No, my life is not my own; it cannot be my own. My life is totally dependent upon the One who breathed into me this life in the first place.
Kyrie eléison. Christe eléison. Kyrie eléison. Christ hear me. Christ graciously hear me. Bless and keep me ever and always in your tender, loving care. Amen and Amen.