Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Can We Love What We Do Not Know?

Indeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity. If we realize this, then we may understand what Easter is and why it needs and presupposes Lent. For we may then understand that the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it.

How can we love and desire something that we do not know? How can we put above everything else in our life something which we have not seen and enjoyed? In short: how can we seek a Kingdom of which we have no idea? It is the worship of the Church that was from the very beginning and still is our entrance into, our communion with, the new life of the Kingdom.

It is through her liturgical life that the Church reveals to us something of that which ‘the ear has not heard, the eye has not seen, and what has not yet entered the heart of man, but which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ And in the center of that liturgical life, as its heart and climax, as the sun whose rays penetrate everywhere, stands Pascha.

It is the door opened every year into the splendor of Christ’s Kingdom, the foretaste of the eternal joy that awaits us, the glory of the victory which already, although invisibly, fills the whole creation: ‘death is no more.’

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

Reflection – OK, back to Lent after yesterday’s beautiful feast day! Although really, it is all connected. ‘We live as if He never came’ – this is the deep reason for Lent and Easter, that somehow God can become incarnate in the womb of Mary, can live and move among us, suffer and die for us, rise and ascend in glory to save us, send His Spirit upon us to live within us… and it doesn’t necessarily seem to matter much to us.

There can be that terrible ‘response’, if it’s even worthy of being called that, to the whole panoply of the mysteries of the Christian faith, of the life of Jesus and all it means and is in the world. The response of… ‘well, that’s nice… I guess… (shrug…)’ Even if a nominal faith is maintained in some fashion, we can seem to be so fundamentally indifferent, sluggish, half-hearted about the whole affair, that it’s hard to see how ‘faith’ enters into the picture.

Of course not everyone is like that, and the worst thing in the world we can do is look at anyone else’s response besides our own. How much does the mystery of Christ set my heart on fire, transform my life so that it’s a sharing in His life in every regard? To what degree are my thoughts, my affections, my energies directed by and taken up into the life and love of Christ living in me by His Spirit? Those are the questions we are always invited to ask ourselves, and not just in Lent either. It is never about the virtues or failures of the other person, but always a call to examine our own consciences.

Because spiritual torpor, spiritual sluggishness is always a peril for us, the Church does send us these liturgical seasons to stir up something in us. It remains for the local church community to make the liturgies as outwardly beautiful as they are in their interior essence, but the reality is that to simply walk through the Lenten season as the Church lays it out for us, to take the readings and prayers and make them our own, and then do the same with Easter, to allow the Church in its liturgical life to shape and guide our own life—this is one powerful way to stir up love of God and a grateful, prayerful, adoring heart in ourselves. How can we love what we do not know? The liturgical life of the Church is not the only means by which we come to know the mystery of Christ and His kingdom, but it is one powerful way to do so.

In Lent the focus is shaking off this laziness, this torpor, this terrible spiritual heaviness that drags us down into indifference and coldness of heart towards God and neighbour. In Easter it is to behold the beauty of God, radiant in the risen Christ, and to confess our faith in his victory and life over death and defeat. But in both, the movement is the same, and so as we head into this second half of Lent, let us not lose heart but continue our discipline, so that the Lord can truly be incarnate in us more deeply, and our lives can more and more manifest His life in every regard.

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