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As I referred to the writings of C.S. Lewis in the post below, it seems fitting to borrow his imagery to talk about the way  this Lenten season has started to shape itself in my mind.

You see, in my readings and meditations I think I am starting to get a much clearer vision of the Higher Ground (or should I say the Next Higher Ground, since the Mountain never really has a top in this life, does it?) and the path that leads to it.  And I think I see now, much more than ever before, the totality of the commitment I am expected required to make in order to attempt to reach it.  (Key word: attempt.  Do not for an instant think I am trying to stick on side here.)

Now for me, this is both dizzily wonderful and quite a bit unnerving, but at the same time it also seems really rayther natural.  Somehow or other as a child (most of all thanks to the Mothe, with a little assist from St. Rita I imagine), the basic notions of The Faith were planted in my brain, along with the desire to practice that Faith.  These stayed with me, albeit often hidden in my misspent yoot, eventually beginning to stir again in my early 20’s, and finally manifesting themselves when I started attending Church again on a regular basis round about the age of 30 or so.

Now at that point, I confess that I was still a pretty shallow, ignorant Christian.  (More so than now, I mean.  I’m still pretty durn shallow and ignorant in the greater scale.)  For me, actual (more or less) weekly attendance at Church was a mighty big step.  At that point, I never dreamed of doing much else: no personal prayers, no sacramentals, no outside reading, no real consideration of the larger picture of Creation and the relationship of the Trinity to it, the interplay of the natural and the spiritual.  And more importantly, I think, no sense that I needed to drive myself much further to embrace these matters.  To borrow from Lewis’ image again, it was as if I was on that first pleasant lawn in Narnia and thought it Good Enough.

Now this went on for a number of years, with only occasional flickers of conscience that something wasn’t quite right.  I’d look about me and sometimes see other people who were obviously much deeper into the Faith and say to myself, “Well, that’s just the way they are.  I’d love to be there, too, but I’m not made like that, so I can’t expect ever to get to their level.”

At some point, however, things began to change.  I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint it exactly, but my recollection is that the process started some time in my later 30’s – certainly by the time I hit 40.  Complaisance no longer seemed good enough.  It was time to move forward, higher.  To this end, I became active at RFEC, attending much more regularly, serving on various committees, eventually landing on the vestry.   I figured that these activities would help me in what I was beginning to understand as my search for the path up toward the Word, and that by embracing my church, I would in turn receive all the guidance and help it could give me in that search.

Well.  For a while I was again content, thinking that I was on the right path and all was fine.  And again, I felt some complaisance:  Here, I thought, is ol’ Robbo finally taking his place within the ranks.  I’m getting to be known by the clergy and mixing with the Important People.  Keep it up and perhaps I could expect to be an Important Person myself in the not-too-distant future.  Not too bad, eh?

But after a bit, the questions started coming back again: Hey, wait a minute.  What about the path?  What about the Word?  This stuff is all well and good, and it gives one the warm fuzzies, but when do we get to, you know, seriously worshiping God and stuff?

My first sense that things were more seriously amiss came when I took those questions and started trying to answer them in the context of what I was doing and the people I was working with.  It became increasingly apparent to me over time that there seemed to be two basic answers to what one might call the religious side of Church:  Either, “The Word is whatever you feel comfortable with it being – who are we to impose values?” or more often “You just concentrate on being nice to people.  Let’s not get caught up in worrying about anything supernatural.  It’s not like we believe in any of that stuff literally.”

I paraphrase, of course, in a somewhat hamfisted way.  (This is what comes of trying to compress years of observation into a few paragraphs.)   And I say nothing against the good works that we, in fact, did and do.  But I began to get downright dismayed:  Some of my fellow parishioners seemed to have no clear idea of the theological reasons for why  they were at Church to begin with; couldn’t say with any real assurance what they actually believed, just that they, you know, did somehow.  And the clergy seemed content with letting the flock meander about in this state, pushing the outreach business as much as possible, seemingly just going through the motions on Sundays and surrounding any outside discussions of theology with so much fog as to make them essentially meaningless.  At first I thought this was just what’s meant by “Low Church”.  After a while, however, I began to suspect it was something more closely akin to a fuzzy Deism or even a kind of God-Is-Us humanism.

All this really came to the crisis the summer after the Old Gentleman died.  I suddenly realized that by sipping what Lewis called “Christianity-and-water”  up to this point (which I realized was what I was doing), I was not only blinding myself to the path upward, I was in serious danger of turning about and stumbling on to another path going back down without even realizing it.

And that, in short is what finally pushed me to swim the Tiber.  I was tired of the pretend, disillusioned with the compromise and finally ready to give myself up to the Real Thing.  (Disclaimer to all you Non-Conformists out there:  I’m speaking within the Establishment context, given that this is my background.  I tell you truly that what I would have done had I thought Orthodox Anglicanism won’t be dead in a few years, I really couldn’t say.  Had I gone there, it probably would have been no more than a layover, however, because (among other things) if one takes the Book of Acts and the Nicene Creed seriously, it seems to me that for the disaffected Palie there is only one logical destination in the end.  But don’t take what I’m saying as any kind of bashing of other people’s efforts to find that connection outside this context, because I’m also mindful about the Lord’s house having many rooms.  That is not my intention at all, at all.)

The rest, as they say, is a work in progress.

But that’s not what I really wanted to meditate on here.

No, as I say, this path for me, although challenging, is in the end not an alien thing, given my background.  The question instead is this:  How do I help those around me for whom it might be?

We had a very good homily from Fr. S this past Sunday about St. Joseph, the virtue of modesty and the importance of working for the Faith behind the scenes.   As I’ve said before, I think, the more I contemplate Joseph, steadily plodding along as he did and sticking to his post with no thought of award or fame or even recognition, the more I love him.  And the more I feel that it is my responsibility to emulate him in my own life as much as possible.

But how to do so?  One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that I have very little talent as a teacher or an explainer of things.  Too impatient.  Given this, what steps can I take to fulfill what I consider my obligation to ensure that those nearest and dearest to me don’t end up thinking of Christianity as “something you do on Sunday morning (if you feel like it)”; don’t think that they only need to accept God on their own terms; don’t, in fact, wind up tottering down the wrong path in that same Christianity-and-water-induced haze that I finally managed to dissipate from my own brain? Lead by example?  Prayer?  I try to do both, but is that enough?  And as I say, at least I have the general background already.  How do I communicate these things to those people who don’t, especially given all the cultural forces out there essentially saying just the opposite?  What do I do when I find that we barely even speak the same language, spiritually?

It’s a complicated biznay, and maybe there is no right answer.  But as I slowly work my way up the heights, not only can I see a bit farther forward, I am also more and more aware of what an awful drop it is behind.  And the more and more I feel the pressure to try and help my loved ones not to go tumbling down the slope, even if they can’t see the danger themselves.


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March 2010