Occasional thoughts on my spiritual journey
Life in Christ
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
St. Patrick (5th-Century Ireland)
It is Christ who gives us the power to walk,
And he is himself the way;
He is the lodging where we stay for the night,
As well as our final destination.
St. Nicolas Cabasilas (14th-Century Constantinople)
In Part 1, I began this examination of my spiritual journey by looking at the church through the eyes of a historian. My concern was the historical witness and continuity of the church, or rather the lack of it I experienced in my own religious heritage. I hope those observations were not too polemic in nature, as I am trying to curb the worst excesses of my “convertitis.”
The historical witness is indeed of vital importance. In every step of my journey, it has served as confirmation of the truths I have been absorbing. Yet, this is perhaps not the greatest concern, or at least it wasn't with me. Rather, the determining factor in my journey thus far has been what I like to simply call “Life in Christ.” This is an admittedly expansive term that encompasses much. But I suppose what I intend in this regard is something fairly tangible and measurable: my own transformation. That, it seems, has been what has been nagging me for years—my complete lack of growth, the lack of real closeness and communion with Christ, the lack of true spiritual fervor. I could put on a good show of it, but I always knew nothing much had changed inside. The person I presented to the world was not my true self as I actually was, and was certainly not the person God had created me to be--as Thomas Merton would say, a "false self."
I suppose what I was looking for was authenticity. I like the connotation of the word "authenticity," and I will probably overuse it horribly in coming posts. In John 17, Jesus prayed to His Father that we would all be one, as He was in us and the Father was in Him. St. Paul taught much about being "in Christ:"
to the Corinthians--“do you know know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”
to the Galatians--“Christ lives in me”;
to the Colossians--“your life is hidden with Christ in God,” and
“Christ is our life," and
“Christ is all and in all”
to the Phillipians--“to live is Christ.”
All these scriptures and dozens more speak to the need to live a life that is truly "in Christ." I quess I was seeking a faith that was as Christocentric as the one Jesus prayed for and the one Paul described.
I have found that kind of faith in Holy Orthodoxy. But what I am trying to describe is my passage from evangelical Protestant (albeit of the Restorationist slant) to Orthodox. To be critical of what I have now left would be neither difficult nor noteworthy. The fact that I have left, in and of itself, already speaks to my dissatisfaction with what I once was. So, I should be cautious in what I say, not judging the spirituality of anyone, or the authenticity (there's that word again) of their faith.
That being said, I have always been dubious of cheap sentimentality. The Protestant world of my background seems awash in it, or if not in cheap, then certainly easy sentimentality. Here in the South, what passes for Christocentricity often seems to be just an endless variation on the old evangelical mantra of "all you've got to do is just accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior." Just??? The mystery of our reconciliation to God through Christ--just??? Anyway, you get my point.
This easy sentimentality lends itself to a more subjective view of "life in Christ." Though I am admittedly painting with a broad brush here, life in Christ in popular Evangelicalism is at its root, more juridical than experential. Everything revolves your status--are you "saved" or not? You are "saved" because you have accepted the mantra (above) and since you "feel it in your heart," it must be true, right? Confirmation of "life in Christ" is exhibited by the warm fuzzy feeling you get during a praise service, or how many times you can say the word "Jesus" in the chorus of a "praise song."
Now it is easy for me to be a little sarcastic in all this, as my own heritage church traditionally took the opposite approach. They shunned runaway emotionalism and did consider salvific issues more objectively. Yet, status was still all-important, just with a slightly different set of entrance requirements. We spoked in terms of "obeying the Gospel." "Life in Christ" often just translated into knowing more things about Christ, willing yourself to follow Him more closely, memorizing more proof texts and running yourself ragged in the busyness of the "work of the church." Somehow this approach didn't seem to be quite while St. Paul was talking about either.
Thinking back now, it is almost amusing to remember that in my Protestant evangelical/fundamentalist heritage church, we could never, ever, in any bible study or class, have quoted from the two sources at the top of this post. The words of either St. Patrick or St. Nicolas Cabasilas would have been highly suspect and undoubted brought down a rebuke from a self-appointed guardian of Church of Christ orthodoxy. The reasoning goes that since the church supposed “fell away” soon after AD 100, nothing was noteworthy, and everything was suspect until our guys got around to “restoring” the church some 200 years ago. Gentle readers, I am not making this stuff up!
Occasionally, “trouble-makers” like me would sneak in quotes such as these, always dropping the “St.” to cover ourselves! But seriously, what I hear in these two quotes-separated as they are by a thousand years—is a continuity of the same Christocentricity expressed by Paul and the other Apostles. That was the life and authenticity I was looking for and had not found in my evangelical heritage.