Three years ago this month, a very curious thing happened to me while in an MRI machine having my brain scanned. It was the opening of one of those doors I wrote about in the prayer of my last post.
The MRI was routine because of migraine. But the experience of a brain MRI is itself anything but routine. The head is immobilized, earplugs are put in place and one’s entire body is inserted into a long tube where one must lie completely still while random sounds (resembling jackhammers) come from all directions.
And so I was prepared and inserted into the tube in July of 2012.
To move through the experience, I had planned to prayerfully meditate. I began the meditation by being on a mountain and soon learned that it was a Holy Mountain. The Lord was there with me. I do not recall making an effort to imagine this nor was it a dramatic mystical experience; I was simply there and He was with me.
As the noise of the MRI grew intense, we climbed further up the Mountain, leaving the commotion down below so that it was not so loud or bothersome. Little by little, we moved higher and higher up the Mountain. It was a peaceful and beautiful time with my Lord.
Then came the words that I have never forgotten:
“And He sang to my heart.”
I was taken aback – indeed, overcome with both the tenderness of these words and my unworthiness to receive them. What did they mean?
After the test was over and I had returned home, I continued to ponder these words. It occurred to me that I didn’t recall ever hearing a reference to God singing.
Reflecting further, I did recall that Aslan, the mighty Lion of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, sang as He was bringing a new world into being.
I decided to Google “Aslan singing”. What resulted from that online search was a door opening, a life-changing movement of God in my soul.
Through Google, God led me to an article by Fr. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox priest I had never heard of – I had barely heard of Orthodoxy – and his blog glory2Godforallthings.
As I started reading, I was intrigued. It was not so much that what I was reading was new or different but that it was true. This is not to say that what I had learned about Christianity up to that point had not seemed true. Rather, it was that the words before me expressed the Truth with such clarity that I could not stop reading them.
At that same time, I “met” through comments on Fr. Stephen’s 7/12/12 article, Fr. Aidan and Christine Kimel, who had just lost their dear son, Aaron, to suicide. Though I knew nothing about them, I felt compelled to share with them the words given to me on the Holy Mountain of my meditation. The words were intended for them.
This moment of sharing was so blessed that it seemed to transcend time and space. I could feel a door opening in my soul but, at that point, I had no idea where it was leading. I only knew that I had to step over the threshold to the other side.
For the next two or more years, I became a regular reader of Fr. Stephen’s blog, frequently commenting as I struggled to integrate into my soul what I was learning about the Christianity that I thought I knew.
Further, I became consumed with reading the Orthodox books suggested by members of this online community, thus becoming acquainted with contemporary elders and saints that won my soul to Christianity all over again. Reading the words and biographies of such great souls as Sts. Silouan, Porphyrios and Paisios of Mt. Athos, I discovered that what I had thought was a solid faith in my soul was but a tiny flicker.
This door-opening had another dimension as well, one so beautiful that it almost defies words. I will attempt to write of it a bit later…
I am back and will try to write again. May God help me.
One of my earliest readings in Orthodoxy was Christ the Eternal Tao, by Hiermonk Damascene. My first attempt to read this book was slow and I ended up becoming distracted and set it down, something that often happens with spiritual books I am not ready to read.
However, I was moved to pick it up again later and then could not put it down. One of the many gifts this book gave me was a broader understanding of God’s movement across human history and cultures, an understanding derived from the work of Fr. Seraphim Rose. This is something I’m sure I do not understand adequately nor can I summarize it – but I have a reason for citing it here.
It seems as though approximately five thousand years before the birth of Christ, there were two great thinkers in two different ancient cultures who could not have had any knowledge of one another.
Heraclitus, one of the earliest philosophers of ancient Greece, wrote of the “Logos” (a word meaning the “Word”) which he described as “…the first principle of existence, that unity of the world process that sustains it as a process.”*
At approximately same time, in ancient China, Lao Tzu wrote of the Tao (a word meaning the “Way”) which is “the Pattern of Heaven, the Course that all things follow.” He admitted, “I do not know its name.”*
It occurred to me, as I read this, that God saw all of the people of the world as His own – and they were lost because of the ancestral sin. He wanted them to know Him again and so He revealed Himself. He did not reveal Himself in just one time or place. It was as though He was laying a sort of groundwork throughout the world.
However, it seems that the most that even the wisest of us humans were ready to accept at this early point in history was an Idea. There was some sort of pattern, principle or order to life.
Much more time passed before God’s revelation found a readiness in humanity for something more: an openness to understanding Him not just an idea or pattern but as Person. Moses heard God speak and he asked His name. One does not talk to an Idea – only to a Person.
And God confirmed His Personal nature to Moses, “This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). “I AM” is a statement of Being, of Personal Being.
While this exchange still left a great deal unknown about God, who will always be mystery beyond our knowing, it began an era of understanding God as wanting a relationship with His people. He was not a distant or indifferent Being. On the other hand, with the exception of holy leaders like Moses, the relationship was with His people as a community rather than as individuals.
With the Incarnation of Christ, the ultimate revelation occurs. The Word (the “Logos”), written of so long ago is made flesh to live among us. The man, Jesus, now declares, “I am the Way” (the “Tao”). All that was foreshadowed across cultures is now fulfilled in human history.
As incredible as this is, still something more has happened with this development. God is now more than just Presence guiding His chosen people. He is Being with and among us. He may, in fact, be sitting right next to me, eating, drinking and conversing with me as one person to another.
Even though He now has billions of people on the earth, through the human personhood of Jesus, the God-man, He might choose to converse with me as an individual.
He can look at me, touch me, call me by name. He can look into my eyes and tell me my sins are forgiven. He can heal the diseases of my body, my mind, my soul with a word or a touch.
I write in the present tense because God, having entered human history in Christ, never leaves it. Though historical Jesus has ascended, with Eucharist and the gift of the Spirit, the presence of God remains a Person so personal that there can remain no doubt of His desire to touch me as an individual, personally and intimately.
It is late. I will take another break and return.
I have returned, to edit and write some more, by the grace of God…
Jesus knows He is about to be betrayed and killed. His disciples do not fully understand this but they know that He is in danger and that this Passover is different from all of the others. Jesus is sharing deeply with them – washing their feet, breaking the bread – it is His body? And now this…
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15: 15, NIV)
He has always made it clear that He loved them. He was Master and Teacher. But mostly they could not resist following Him because of His love. Yet these words – these words were the ones that bound their hearts to Him and one another like nothing before.
He called them friends and was speaking to them plainly. He was revealing the Father in and through Himself:
“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” (John 14:11)
Not long ago, I published a post about being God’s servant, with a recording from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (To be God’s servant). I ended by proclaiming, “Yes, I want to be His servant…”
And, of course, I do. But I entitled this post “Servants no more” because we are invited to so much more. We are not like those those compelled or employed to do a duty. We are like those in love.
As God revealed Himself to His lost children, at first He was perceived to be an Idea, then an Almighty Deity who wanted to lead His disobedient people back to the Truth. And these perceptions were not wrong so much as they were incomplete.
In Christ, He has revealed Himself as Lover, intimate Lover of our souls.
It is the way of lovers that they find joy in serving one another. And He taught us this while in the flesh.
For He did not demand to be served but delighted in serving each and every individual He encountered, no matter how damaged he or she was by sin or disease.
And He invites us all to be lovers as well. Lovers of Him, lovers of each other. There cannot be one without the other… Lovers whose hearts overflow with an abundance of Divine love.
Once again, it is late and I must rest. I believe there is a bit more to be written…
Once again, I return, asking God to help me write of things I know not how to write of…
Up till now, I have been writing more in generalities than is my usual way. Perhaps I have needed to tell some of what I have learned in ideas first. How else can I explain it?
I will try, knowing my words will be most inadequate.
I have come to know – I am just beginning to understand – that the Lord does indeed sing to my heart.
The God who was taught to me as a little girl, first as an idea, gradually becoming known to me as Creator, as good God…that God has now revealed Himself as the intimate Lover of my unworthy soul.
I hesitate to write this, for fear that I give the impression that God has singled me out for some special experience that others do not have.
The reality is that God has been revealing this continually, to every one of us, from the beginning of time. It is only that now, by His grace and mercy, my eyes are starting to open to get a glimpse of how great is His love.
How great is His love for my small, broken and disobedient soul. I cannot fathom it. That He should call me by name and take me, me as an individual to be His love – it is almost too much to bear…
Please pray for me. I am so unworthy.
I will conclude with a recording (and reprint) of the words of St. Catherine of Genoa, one who knew far better than me what it meant to enter into the Love of Christ. (In the Catholic tradition, when we are confirmed, we choose a saint to be our guide and protector. St. Catherine of Genoa is my saint.) **
Text from Spiritual Dialogues 1, 8 **, by St. Catherine of Genoa:
When God wills to purify a soul from self-love, he first sends her his divine light, that by it she may discern a spark of that pure love wherewith he loves her, and how much he has done and still does by means of this love.
[…] He also reveals to her that our sins can never excite his anger so far that he ceases to do us good while we are in this world.
Rather does it seem that the more our sins remove us from him, so much the more does he seek to draw us toward himself by many incentives and inspirations, in order that his continued love and his benefits may keep us still in his love.
The better to effect this, he uses countless ways and means, so that every soul, beholding what he has done for her, may exclaim, full of admiration:
“What am I that God seems truly to have no care for anyone but me?”
And, among other things, he reveals to her that pure love with which he created us;
and how he requires nothing of us but that we should love him with that same love wherewith he has loved us;
and that we should remain ever with him, expecting no return except that he may unite himself to us.
[…] God, moreover, made known to this soul that he had created man for the highest good, namely, that with soul and body he might enter into his heavenly home.
He also showed her how great an evil is sin, into which she had herself fallen, and for which there was no remedy but another manifestation of his love….
And he further instructed her in that ardent love for us of which our Lord Jesus Christ gave such proof on the earth.
[…] He allowed her to see the great patience with which he had waited for her, and borne with so many of her sins, in which, if she had died, she would have been lost forever.
[…] He also reminded her of the many inspirations he had given her to save her from sin.
Although she had not only disregarded, but even gone contrary to his will, yet in his goodness, he did not cease to send them, now in one way, now in another.
He allured her free-will in such a way that he had, as it were, forced her to do that which in his goodness he required.
And this, too, he did so gently and patiently, that no example of human love was ever known on earth, which could compare with it.
* Quotes and information about the work of Fr. Seraphim Rose were found in Christ the Eternal Tao, by Hiermonk Damascene. Citations for original texts are available there.
** Thanks to Mark Armitage and his blog, enlargingtheheart, for helping me find this particular text from St. Catherine of Genoa.
Very inspiring, Mary! It is good of you to tell your story. Mine, though more breezy and at times off track, is mysteriously similar in two points: the late-in-life learning and in the “happning upon” of Eastern Christan teaching. So I very much understand the eye-opening element you talk about. And now I have an opportunity for a fourth Catherine in my life (after a sister who also inspires me, then a warm, gentle lady at church, and finally the strong woman of Siena). I am grateful for your reading(s) aloud too!
Thanks, Al – again. It is good to hear from another who is on the same journey. We each have our own unique path but we are guided by the same Spirit.
Of course, my story would have no significance were it not for the great love God has shown for me. I think that, having grown up with the Faith, there was perhaps a lot of emphasis put on my response to God – my loving Him, serving Him through good works, etc.
There is nothing at all wrong with this. Yet I think it may have resulted in me not understanding just how great and personal is His love for me. It is not that the words were not there in the teachings of the Church – for certainly they were.
But I believe that my patron St. Catherine said something very true about God purifying the soul of self-love – something I am in great need of: that by God’s grace, the process begins with a very humbling glimpse at the greatness of His love for the soul.
Again, I ask your prayers. You, and all of my readers, remain in mine.