For reasons not always at the time explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unexpected; so that, before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careening unconsciously down the slippery avenues of eternity. (Anthony Powell, The Buyers Market, page 274.)
While recently rummaging around for something, I came across my commonplace book from many years ago. Though undated, I was able to deduce that I started it in 1996. The last entry was dated 10 January 2004. These two dates bookend a number of noteworthy milestones in my life: my mother's death (the last of my immediate family), the deaths of two much-beloved uncles, our son going off to college, my 2nd-6th trips overseas, the beginning of a side career of teaching, 9/11 and its aftermath, appointment to a position of responsibility at our local church (soon followed by a scandal/crisis), some sobering financial reverses, and most pivotal of all, my encounter with the Orthodox faith in June of 2003.
Of the 218 pages in this particular journal, only the last 50 pages or so fall after that aforementioned date. Reading back over what I had recorded before then was an eye-opener, to say the least, for it raises doubt in my mind as to the self-narrative I have so carefully crafted. In my telling of it, I have always emphasized the unforeseen nature of being confronted with Orthodoxy--I often say that I "stumbled" into it. I found the whole "seeker" posture to be too affected, or self-deferential, or narcissistic, and ultimately mostly ridiculous. In my case, I arrived in the Balkans only half-aware even of their Orthodoxy. Yep, you might say the Faith blindsided me.
And while I still believe this to be largely true, this narrative fails to acknowledge just how receptive I was to receiving Orthodoxy. My jottings from 1996 through 2003 certainly indicate that something was going on. To be sure, no discernable "Road to Orthodoxy" emerges from these early writings. My readings were unfocused and undirected, and my writing was equally undisciplined. But taken as a whole, the restlessness of my intellect during that time is almost palpable. (I think restlessness is the right word. I was not disappointed with my life, for I had--and have--a very good one.) My writings betrayed, however, a gnawing realization that there simply had to be some larger and more significant drama playing-out, one of which I had not even begun to grasp the meaning. So yes, when Orthodoxy "found" me, you might say that I was primed and ready for it.
At some point during Holy Week, in the midst of one of those interminable services that run together in our memory, I was doing my regular bit as an altar server. During one of the processions, in-between chanting and trying not to mess up, I clearly remember thinking to myself, "This is life." That's all. "This is life." In this ritualized worship that is so strange to our region but so alive to me, I am being disciplined, my passions are being worn-down (albeit much too slowly), and yes, I am participating in that larger drama I half-sensed many years ago, the one that transcends time and space.
Anthony Powell's passage at the beginning of this post applies to a fictional character, a young man starting out in life. His words resonate with me, though I was middle-aged even at that time. No matter. I have taken them to heart, as I careen--though consciously and intentionally--down the slippery avenues of eternity.