Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Living Peacefully in a Broken World

O Lord, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and faintheartedness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.

Grant instead to me your servant the spirit of purity and humility, of patience and love.

O Lord and King, bestow upon me the grace of being aware of my sin, and of not judging my brother, for you are blessed forever and ever. Amen.

O God, purify me a sinner and have mercy on me (3x)

O Lord and King, bestow…
The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

Reflection – Our slow reading of this prayer, which is so central to the Byzantine Lenten spirit, and which we have adopted in Madonna House as part of our daily Lenten prayer, has taken us to the line of patience and love.

If purity and humility had to do with the right inward and outward ordering of our energies, these next two virtues line up as concerning a certain negative and positive response to life.

Patience concerns the reality that we live in a world that is deeply flawed, where there is much happening in us and outside of us that is unpleasant to us, and may in fact be quite wrong on one level or another. There is moral wrong to contend with, and physical wrongs—the aches and pains, stresses and strains of daily life.

By moral wrong, I am not especially thinking of great and terrible evils and injustices, but what is more often the case—the painful reality of living with people who are alternately irritable, selfish, thoughtless, lazy, too loud, too quiet, messy, uptight, greedy, foolish—and that’s just my brother priests at MH! (Kidding!) Not too mention our own terrible persistent moral failures and sins, which despite our bestest efforts (which, let’s be honest, are not always there), just keep hanging on.

And then just the physical difficulty of life in the world. Especially as one gets older, there are the aches and pains of the body, but of course there are any number of such things—hard toil and terribly difficult circumstances and situations, where perhaps there is little or no moral fault to be seen, but great pain and distress nonetheless. We in North America live with a surfeit of the world’s goods, but many in the world live with at least some hunger and a degree of difficulty in daily life that we in the prosperous West find hard to imagine.

The virtue of patience is simply that of being able to live peacefully and gently in a world where there is a great deal going on in and around us that is wrong. That hurts us. That we would change, if we could, but we can’t. Patience is a very deep thing, even if it has an essentially negative aspect—that is, it consists in itself in a certain passivity of being which is hard for us. We like to fix things, to tackle problems and solve them.

The problem is that, when confronted with a problem we cannot solve (which is quite often not a problem but a person) without the virtue of patience we want to just get rid of it (him, her). And so we have the trail of broken promises, broken commitments, broken relationships, broken lives in our world today. No matter what, no matter who, no matter how, if you commit yourself to a marriage or a community, patience is utterly and vitally necessary for perseverance in that commitment. We simply have to learn to ‘put up’ with each other.

And in that putting up with each other, we enter into a deep mystery of God and of Christ. First, there is the mystery of God’s permissive will—He is allowing this thing, this situation, even though He knows it hurts us, even though it may be excruciatingly painful. There is some kind of call to awesome trust, to awesome faith, to a depth of vision of God’s action in our lives, especially as we are confronted with insurmountably difficult situations. Is God good? Does He love us? What is going on here? Patience delivers us over to these most profound spiritual questions, and pushes us to go deeper into them, and into the mystery of God.

Then there is the reality of Christ—the patience of God made manifest. When we are called to simply endure wrongs patiently, to ‘take one for the team’, there is in that, even when it may be a small thing (that person I live with who has this bad habit that Drives! Me! Crazy!), or maybe not such a small thing, a profound call to identify with Christ and his bearing the wounds and sins of the world in his person. Patience, in other words, naturally yields and bears fruit in love, the next petition of the prayer.
But of course there is a lot to say about that, and I am out of time and space today. So, tomorrow! To be continued…

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