Fr. Stephen Sunday

 

  1. Not the God-whom-I-want
  2. The myth of national consciousness
  3. Existential despair

1

God is not obvious. That which is obvious is an object. Objects are inert, static and passive. The tree in my front yard is objectively there (or so it seems). When I get up in the morning and take the dog outside, I expect the tree to be there. If it is autumn, I might study its leaves for their wonderful color change (it’s a Gingko). But generally, I can ignore the tree – or not. That’s what objects are good for. They ask nothing of us. The freedom belongs entirely to us, not to them.

This is the function of an idol – to make a god into an object. He/she/it must be there. The idol captures the divine, objectifies it and renders it inert and passive.

The God of the Christians smashes idols. He will not stay put or become a passive participant in our narcissism. He is not the God-whom-I-want.

When I was nearing the point of my conversion to Orthodoxy, a primary barrier was finding secular employment. It’s hard for someone whose resume only says, “priest,” to get a job or even an interview for a job. That search had gone on, quietly, for nearly two years. It was not an obsession – rather, more like a hobby. But one day, a job found me. The details are not important here. But the reality is. The simple fact that a job was likely to happen, that I only had to say, “Yes,” was both exciting and frightening in the extreme. If I said yes, then everything I had said I wanted would start to come true (maybe). And everything I knew as comfortable and secure would disappear (with four children to feed). And if everything I said I wanted began to come true, then the frightening possibility that I might not actually want it would also be revealed! I could multiply all of these possibilities many times over and not even begin to relate everything that was in my heart.

But the point that had found me was the beginning of the true search. The risk, the reward, the threat, the danger, the joy and the sorrow, all of them loomed over me, frequently driving me to prayer. I made the leap and began a tumultuous period in my life. But my life, like most, eventually settled down and slowly became obvious.

I “studied” Orthodoxy for 20 years. All of my friends knew (and often joked) about my interest. Many said they were not surprised when I converted.

I was. I was surprised because I know my own cowardice and fear of shame. If you liked Ferraris, your friends wouldn’t be surprised if you had photos and models, films and t-shirts. But if you sold your house and used the money to make a down payment on one, you’d be thought a fool, possibly insane. Seeking God is like that.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Why Does God Hide?)

2

In 1415, there was little difference between a farmer in England and a farmer in France. They were both Catholics, and attended the same Mass in Church. “England” and “France” were words used by Royalty but not yet a primary part of the common man’s life.

The rise of the nation state (something largely coterminous with the Reformation) was also the rise of a “national” consciousness. National Churches (a hallmark of the Reformation) helped reinforce this new self-awareness. Of course, nothing had changed to differentiate farmer from farmer across the Channel. Their lives, though now separated religiously, remained largely indistinguishable.

The myth of national consciousness has never abated. The modern nation is an abstract concept, reinforced by massive propaganda and martial law. We are taught to think in terms that were once foreign to our ancestors. It is also foreign to the Kingdom of God.

Henry V’s speech [before the battle of Agincourt] suggests that the average guy in England, unfortunate enough to have missed the battle, would rue the day. The implication, of course, is that “this battle is important.” It is another way of saying, “I am important.” And this is patently untrue.

The Scriptures describe a different view of history:

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are… (1 Cor. 1:27-28)

The narrative of history offered in the Scriptures is not the tale of kings and battles. The most important characters are utterly obscure: a shepherd, a girl, a slave, a fisherman, a carpenter, a vine-dresser. The word of a young girl, just past puberty, is later described by a Church father as the “cause of all things.”

Our culture magnifies the narrative of political, military, and financial power. In the stories it tells us, we imagine ourselves to somehow be participants in their lives. But that is to dwell in the realm of imagination. The truth of the world can be found in the words of that young girl:

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. (Lk. 1:51-53)

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Of Kings and Things and What Matters)

3

[I]n the past year, my writing was described as full of “existential despair.” I certainly hope it is.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Senselessness of Suffering and Death)

Yes, he does explain why.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.