by Gwendolyn Brooks
And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him
After so lengthy a
Session with shade?
Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years—
What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?
Shall we not shudder?—
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.
The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.
I’m reading a riveting story for book club about an Olympic athlete turned army hero during World War II. It’s called Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I cannot put it down, nor can I imagine how utterly frightening it must have been to become suddenly immersed in a world war, where a generation of young men and women were drafted into active duty leaving those behind who adored them in a constant state of loss and worry. All the big and little liberties you took for granted would become heart wrenching memories revisited over and over again in the dark of night, in the dark of day. Everywhere you went, every plan you made would be accompanied by burning thoughts of your own, and your loved one’s, mortality. You couldn’t escape death if you tried.
I’ve never been exposed first-hand to the horrors of war, poverty, a fatal illness or persecution, making it irresistibly tempting to postpone or muffle the difficult questions born of not assuming tomorrow is a guarantee. I’m in danger at every moment of becoming sedated by the luxury of freedom, to eat when I want, worship how I want, say what I want, entertain myself however I want, to hold my healthy children in my arms. My current unconstrained lifestyle easily lends itself to a “Christ and...” mentality, meaning Christ defines a part of me, as does motherhood, writing, photography, the Midwest, etc. I am dedicated to all of those aspects of my person, like I am dedicated to good oral hygiene or eating a protein-rich breakfast every morning. What I’m missing you see is a sense of urgency - the kind that culls the eternal from the temporal - a sense of urgency not concerned with reputation.
Everything in this life passes away, wrote Father Seraphim Rose, – only God remains, only He is worth struggling towards. We have a choice: to follow the way of this world, of the society that surrounds us, and thereby find ourselves outside of God; or to choose the way of life, to choose God who calls us and for whom our heart is searching.
For a chronic people pleaser like myself, this greyless suggestion we draw a clear and permanent line in the sand is awfully hard to swallow. Most of us are leery anymore of that which seems too “extreme.” We like ourselves a little bit of wiggle room, to debate, justify our positions and reprioritize as our impulses see fit. I squirm at the idea of aligning myself so completely and unapologetically with Christ, not only because that kind of commitment is very demanding but also because it pretty much guarantees I’ll be lumped in by society with those who’ve done and declared ridiculous things, unloving things, in His name. I like your Christ, said Ghandi, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.
I’ve done my share of backpedaling, distancing myself from fundamentalism, and from various church scandals, explaining, “Oh, I don’t believe that either... I’m Orthodox.” Or “That’s not my parish, not my country, not my jurisdiction.” Oh, goodness...how prideful of me to think it’s my duty to protect Christ from the various skeletons in Christianity’s closet (especially considering all of my own shameful hypocrisies) or from Church teachings that fly directly in the face of what society deems as right and good.
Jesus warned us upfront in the book of Matthew we will be despised simply because of His name...no matter how likeable or relevant we make ourselves out to be. That’s part of the deal! Attempting to spin faith in Christ, for your sake, for my sake, for their sake, into something more palatable, less crazy sounding, is an utter waste of time – time I cannot afford to squander. Look, and I know I must sound like a broken record with this but I swear to you I’ll forget if I don’t remind myself like every other second, I’ve got but one single job to do:
Love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my strength, and love my neighbor as myself.
Only by living solely for loving and serving others boldly, as Christ did while on earth, thereby accepting meekly the disdain of this world, as He did, will I attain salvation (from death, vanity, fear, hatred) or ever possibly be a light in the darkness. I’m not the Holy Spirit, it’s so not my responsibility to convince anyone of anything. But I will absolutely, positively be held accountable for forgiving and being merciful to others, expecting nothing in return, as God has forgiven and been so merciful to me. Why is the truth, it would seem, revealed to some and not to others? wrote Father Seraphim Rose. Is there a special organ for receiving revelation from God? Yes, though usually we close it and do not let it open up: God’s revelation is given to something called a loving heart.
There is no making sense of the Kingdom of Heaven, no less invasive shortcut. It requires a big old sacrificial, uncomfortable leap of faith to risk everything for it regardless, discovering a mysterious peace that passes all understanding in the process. How then would I live if I knew my death or some other tragedy were imminent? How would I greet the Son if He came hammering on my door? Not like this, I hope - all scattered, self obsessed and only half paying attention. Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
Forgive me my snug unawareness.