The Righteous Reaction

Sister Vassa, for those not in the know, is an American-born, Anglophone Russian Orthodox nun/scholar/podcaster/blogger living in Vienna. She dispenses bursts of good spiritual advice while deadpanning about her mostly imaginary production assistants and “zillions” of adoring fans.

Saturday’s blog hit me where I live (turn down the volume if you don’t like Little Drummer Boy):

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” (Mt 1: 18-19)

As I prepare for the upcoming feast of the Lord’s Nativity, let me reflect a bit on Joseph’s surprisingly “quiet” reaction to Mary’s as yet unexplained pregnancy. We see no shock or dismay in this righteous man, who was confronted with a situation that, – let’s say it like it is, – looked very, very bad. And yet all Joseph wanted to do in this situation was: 1. protect Her from public disgrace, and 2. dismiss Her “quietly.” 

So this is a “righteous” reaction to the perceived sin of another human being. Today let me gratefully contemplate Joseph’s humble and quiet discretion, lest I be tempted to display shock and dismay at any perceived amorality or sinful behaviour in my surroundings. My shock and my dismay is neither righteous nor helpful. In fact, when I am judgmental I become utterly incapable of being helpful; when I try to play God’s role of Judge, I close myself off from His grace-filled mercy. I also display an infantile lack of self-knowledge, but I’ll elaborate on that point some other time.

During this Nativity Fast let me abstain from shock and dismay, that I can make my journey toward Bethlehem with a proper focus. Let me “make straight the paths of the Lord” in my own heart, that I may greet Him in the same way He is born, in quietness and humility.

(Italics added)

I assume that protecting from disgrace is not necessarily the order when

  • the disgrace has a victim or victims other than the bad actor; or
  • the disgraceful behavior is already public and others are applauding it.

But gossip about a truly private moral lapse is unwarranted.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.