Orthodox Thought for the Day


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Holding thorny hands

February 29, 2016 by Fr. Michael Gillis

A couple of weeks ago, a disturbed young man got onto the metro train in Vancouver and began acting erratically and shouting and cursing.  As people in the car began moving away from him, one woman did the opposite.  A seventy-year old woman moved toward the man and reached out her hand and gently held his hand.  She just gently put her hand in his.  The man immediately calmed down, and then, sitting on the floor, began to cry.  Then after a little while, he got off the train saying only, “Thanks Grandma.”  You can read the story here.
It’s amazing to me how little we really have to give each other, and how much that little means.  It’s as if a touch, a word, communicates the whole heart.  And that’s what we need in this crazy world: someone else who can tell us that we are OK, despite the insanity that slips out, someone else whose heart understands that often insanity is the only sane response to such an insane world.
St. Isaac says that we cannot see the Word of God radiating from the created world except by divine vision.  This is a gift of God that comes only to those who live in repentance, and then only gradually.  To see the beautiful and true and real poking through like spring crocuses here or there, surrounded by the mud and dead grass and woody, thorny branches that hold so much potential for new growth, flowers and fruit—if only spring would come.  And spring never seems to come.  It seems the world is trapped in an never-ending February, never-ending cold and wind and unforgiving brutality.  But our hearts long for June.  Somehow we know we were created for June.  And were it not for the few crocuses, there would be no hope at all.
I have not had much experience with divine vision: just enough to notice a few crocuses here and there.  And this is what I hang on to.  I can’t make the thorny branches of the rose bloom.  In winter the thorns are particularly vicious.  Most of the thorny realities—or false realities—that surround me will not see Spring (they do not want to see Spring) until the Creator comes again and says: “You are rose!”  Then, as Jesus said, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, not—at least according to the vision of St. Isaac—because of punishment, but because of love spurned, because of a lifetime wasted in thorny winter refusing to believe in Spring, refusing to see the crocuses, refusing to breathe the warm air of the resurrection.
St. Isaac says, “Until we find love, our labour is in the land of thorns, and in the midst of thorns we both sow and reap, even if our seed is the seed of righteousness… in every hour we are pricked by the thorns….”   St. Isaac tells us, that the only hope in this world, the only means to divine vision is to “eat” Christ, “the bread of love, which is Jesus!”  This of course refers to the Eucharist (St. Isaac apparently celebrated the Eucharist daily), but it also refers to a eucharistic life, a life pervaded by love: “He who eats of love, eats Christ, the God over all, as John bears witness, saying, ‘God is love.’”  Christ is love and love is Christ: to eat love is to eat Christ. He goes on to say, “Wherefore, the man who lives in love reaps life from God, and while yet in this world, he even now breathes the air of the resurrection.”  Yes, that’s it: the air of the resurrection, the crocuses, “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen” (Heb. 11:1).
And so it is in the hope of Spring, a Springtime we may not see in this mortal life, it is in that hope that we lovingly tend the rose bushes, despising the thorns (despise in the sense of not giving them, or the wounds they cause us, much thought) knowing that in the Spring it will be worth it, finding hope in the occasional crocus poking through the mud.  This is the labour of love in this world, this is the sowing of righteousness.  And this is why we reach out and gently hold a crazy man’s hand.  This is why we hold each other’s hand, even when it hurts, even when we seem insane.  Perhaps especially then.

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