For my non-theological (not canon law) “enjoyment” reading, I’ve started a book entitled The Great Fire. It explores a time, place and incidents in history of which I am shamefully and abysmally ignorant. The book itself is a recreation from official documentation, reasoned speculation as well as excerpts from personal diaries about an American attempt to rescue folks from one of humanity’s first well planned and executed attempts at genocide: the atrocities against Armenian and Greek Christians who were caught up in the onslaught of Turkish nationalism during and at the end of World War I.
In one sense it is better explaining to me how none of the issues of hate that were at the cause of “the war to end all wars” were ever dealt with. So we ended up with a World War II. What a surprise!
It reminded me how perceived wrongs and injuries in the name of “religion” can metastasize into unending revenge – decades or even centuries later – as much of this story seems to me at least to be some kind of payback for religious wars that had occurred long beyond the memory of (but never with the hope of forgiveness from) any of the participants.
Of course, only “important” people leave their mark in history – right? I’ve read about one Greek national living near Smyrna – a teenage boy who will by sheer luck survive this massacre. His name was Aristotle Onassis, and years later he would become a wealthy man who married the widow Jaqueline Kennedy. I am reading about the exploits of journalists who saw a humanitarian slaughter unfold, but who could say or do little to help – including a very young “cub reporter” just beginning his writing career named Ernest Hemingway. But what of the “unimportant” millions who leave no mark? They just endure. Who speaks for them? Who cares about them?
This book is hardly “fun reading.” It is about pain and death and cowardice and religious hatred. And it is all true. Not a novel! Not the makings of a Tom Cruise Mission Impossible film. It is just another true story of how it is so easy to hold on to the pain: those injuries and hurts that others cause. We always remember them. The good that people may do for us is so easily forgotten. Too easily forgotten.
Taking this down to the micro level: why not spend this day remembering the “good” that someone may have done to or for you. Thank her or him (again, if you already did so – or for the first time, if you ignored their kindness). Appreciate the good of others. And if you can take any lesson from history, learn to let go of the hate filled memories. They always destroy! Even if you never act on them, they will destroy you – from within.
So if I am learning one thing (beyond this terrible story itself), it is how easy it is to forget the kindnesses, and how easy it is to recall the pains that people in our lives cause. And it is so not worth it to hold on to that pain!
Last week our border collie endured a major oral surgery as the result of having shattered a back tooth chewing on … no one is sure what, and she’s not “fessing up!” So in the span of less than one year, two priests and a dog have undergone major medical procedures. (I alone was not put under general anesthesia – I got to watch them fix the access to my heart in “real time.”)
The past year has been a reminder that all our assumptions about being “healthy” are so foolish. The older we get, the longer the time on life’s path, the more chance (or inevitability) that we break down. So the eyes don’t focus as they did, and the hearing can be (selectively?) spotty. The back plays games and the legs can no longer speed us through the city blocks (or country miles) we used to run. Even now, as Abby fights off the effects of the pain killing medication intended to help her feel better, she tries so hard to do things with that machine of a body that Borders possess, but simply cannot – at least for the time being. And what is done efficiently, by the dog or her doggie “mommy” or “daddy,” is slower and still Advil driven.
“When I wore a younger man’s clothes…” (to quote the great Billy Joel), the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection was a matter of faith, but it never carried any personal message. We believe, as Christians, that Christ has overcome death. Such is Easter. All well and good. But what about me?
Now each Easter’s liturgy brings more than a reminder to acknowledge the most important tenet of the Nicene Creed. It reminds me that as I (and all those who journey through life with me: those I love and those I serve, and even she who races on all fours and would spend the day rounding up sheep) move closer to the end of allotted time here, there is that promise for those of us who keep faith that there is “more” and there is “wonderful” beyond the termination of bodily health and life. There truly is existence beyond existence. “I believe in the resurrection and the life of the world to come.” My faith affirms this. My breaking body waits in hope! Such is truly part of the beauty of this feast!
– Fr. Joe
The spiritual journey can be so difficult. I so wish that the upbeat feelings that stem from beautiful Holy Week liturgies and the warm communal spirit they create in us were easy to maintain. But like anything else, Christian life is not lived within the confines of a church building listening to the sounds of wonderful music, taking in the scent of incense and candles or even attending to the proclamations of Good News from young voices.
Why was it so easy to behold the unappreciated gift of snow on the day after Easter and then to allow my language to deteriorate into a string of blasphemies as if this could prevent an iota of a flake from falling? Why did I allow satanically inspired thoughts of revenge fill me on Tuesday when, seeking to find a parking spot reasonably close to the center where I endure “physical therapy,” I happened upon a bright gleaming silver Mercedes (w/ beautiful black interior) angle parked to take out not one or two but three parking places. Why was I so immediately tempted to angle park myself behind the car to block that car for the next 1 ½ hours… or perhaps leave the driver a consoling note thanking him/her for this thoughtless act and perhaps making a reference analogously to that body part that is necessary for a bowel movement!
My point is simple: joy, warmth, and all the fuzzy good “feelings” that most associate with a life well lived – being a Christian – while among the fruits of the Holy Spirit, are not enough. One can slip into anger, annoyance, crankiness, cynicism or despair quite easily. It is not the initial moment of grace but the sustained effort and openness to receive that grace which is the hallmark to life in the spirit. It is a wonder to have that experience of love. It is far more difficult and yet more wondrous to live into a vocation to love.
The risen Christ calls us to love one another as much as he loved us! His was a love that took him to death, and then through death to life. I am whining about lack of parking and inclement weather. The spiritual journey can be so difficult – but worth it!