Wednesday, January 16, 2013
We Keep Walking
The exodus is a central metaphor of the Christian experience. In the feast of the Theophany that we have just completed, multiple references liken the baptism of Jesus to the exodus of Israel through the Red Sea. St. Paul says our baptism is a participation in Christ's death and resurrection. Christ's death itself is referred to as His exodus when he speaks with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. In a sense, our entire life and death as Christians is a participation in an exodus: a leaving of one place and going to another.
This leaving and going is sometimes manifest in physical actions or change, as in our physical death or in deeds and words led by the Spirit and motivated by love. However, the inner exodus, the change from darkness to light, from self-centred to other-focused, from passion-driven to peaceful rest, this is the change, the exodus, that transfigures us. And just as the biblical exodus was hindered by Pharaoh and his horsemen, so our inner exodus is hindered.
It is essential to recognize that unlike the external, historical exodus of the Israelites four and a half millennia ago, the exodus of our transfiguration is not hindered by enemies outside us. The biblical exodus is a type; it is a pattern, a schematic. It is a type that has passed through the lens of Christ. What was outward has become inward, or as St. Paul puts it, "first the natural, then the spiritual."
The enemies that hinder our transfiguration, our movement from passion to peace, these enemies are inside us. Those who are around us may incite certain fears, passions or other enemies within us, but those around us are not our enemies. Our Kingdom is not of this world. Otherwise, Jesus said, we would fight. Fighting is always a sign that we are striving for the wrong kingdom. Our Kingdom is not of this world.
And yet we have enemies, enemies that are too strong for us. How do we defeat these internal foes, these fears and false selves that lust and push and scream so forcefully inside us that we often cannot find our true selves, our peaceful core resting in the Presence of Christ? How do we defeat these foes?
I'd like to suggest that we look to the type of the Exodus, which is also our baptism, the same water that is our death and resurrection. I'd like to suggest that the water (which, by the way, is always plural in the original languages) is the world--life in this fallen world with all of its death-dealing tragedies, inequities, injustices, and forces that rust, decompose and corrupt. This is the water, the Red Sea, we must pass through to get to the Promised Land, to renew the image of God within us, to be transfigured and become full of Light. Just as the Red Sea was a barrier for the people Israel as they fled both from Egypt and to the Promised Land, a barrier impossible to cross, for if a man submerges himself into the water, he will die. Just as this deadly barrier blocked Israel's way, so too the circumstances of our lives block our deification, they seem to strangle us, to suffocate us, to keep us from making any progress in the spiritual life.
And yet we are not dead. A dead man no longer struggles. A dead man does not know that he is being resisted, that there is something to resist, that there is a light, a hope, a promise to lean toward, to seek, to flee to. No we are not dead. We are surrounded by water, but we are not drowned. We are in the midst of a miracle. God has parted the sea of this world for us--otherwise we would have no awareness of God whatsoever. God has given us a hope. God has given us a promise, a vision, a foretaste of something better to come (something much, much better).
But the sea is right there. We can reach out and touch it. We can see the monsters of the deep swimming so threateningly nearby. And all of Pharaoh's army, the voices and urges and fears that sometimes scream inside us, they are on our heels. We hear their threats, we feel the fear. Our minds play tricks on us--"Ah, for the leeks and fishpots of Egypt!" We find ourselves longing for the very things we hate, the very things we don't want. What do we do?
We keep walking. We set the promise firmly before our eyes. We call to remembrance "our most blessed and glorious Lady, Theotokos and every virgin Mary, with all the Saints." We forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead. We endure the cross of the passage of this transient age, we despise the shame--we don't think it worthy to be compared to the joy, the promise, set before us.
The crucified and resurrected Christ had scars in his hands and feet and side. We too will have our scars. None of us makes it through the passage of this life without mistakes, serious mistakes, these cause the wounds--some self inflicted, some inflicted by others. And yet He who promised, He who has parted the sea of this age for us, He it is that heals even the broken hearted. He who was crucified and bears those wounds, now healed in His resurrected body, is not put off by our wounds. We have nothing to fear, there is no shame, only wounds, wounds that will be healed.
And so we keep walking. And as we walk, we learn. We try again. We get advice. We pray. And we keep walking.