From The Blog

Mission Monthly – March 2005

“The Kingdom of God is [within] you.”

St. Luke 17:21

At the top of Hill 17 at the Peninsula State Park golf course is an opening overlooking the beautiful waters of Green Bay. While on vacation last month as our final afternoon of sledding came to a close, and as I prepared to take my final run of the season, I took one more lingering moment to gaze at this breathtaking view. The depth and expanse of this horizon – like all horizons—revealed to me a sense of the divine, eternal and free, compelling not only to my eyes but to my inner man. When these moments inspire and sooth the inner longings of my heart, I am thankful to God who has created all things “both visible and invisible.” I am also cautious of these moments, fearing that I become more attached to the beauty of the natural world than to its reflection of God’s love and beauty. I then strive to give glory to the Author and Creator of all beauty and to seek a greater understanding of the purpose of His creation: to draw us closer to Himself.

Yes, I do love the horizon. I am always inspired by a view of the expanse of sky: sunny, cloudy or filled with night stars. I remember feeling this as a kid while camping, hiking or just laying in the sun at the city pool. I remember in college sitting on the edge of the bluffs overlooking the city of LaCrosse and the Mississippi River. I remember the night sky at Camp St. Nicholas in Frazer Park, California in the mountains above (and out of the smog of) Los Angeles (there one might feel as though they were truly living among the stars). I have always been freed by such “heavenly” visions, where my inner man is momentarily unchained by an uninterrupted line of sight, leading at least to the feeling of being free from earthly constraint.

I was again intrigued by these thoughts while on vacation, but I am also intrigued by these thoughts as I prepare for the season of Great Lent. From the extreme of looking so far outward, soon we will be asked to turn our outward, earthly gaze to the extreme of the inward horizon of the heart where the only true sense of freedom can and should dwell. What will we find there? We must wait and see. However, I do sense a level of excitement coming from the people of this community. How could I have ever imagined as a boy or young man that one day I would be a priest of a community that actually looks forward to Lent? I am so thankful though I digress.

Consider for a moment the examples of some of our great monastic saints. In particular I recall St. Seraphim of Sarov after he was no longer able to live alone at his wilderness hermitage and moved back to his monastery, where he lived virtually alone in his monastic cell for many years, rarely ever leaving or seeing anyone. His only earthly “horizon” was the interior of his tiny cell; it was there, the tiniest of earthly space, where he entered a true heavenly horizon. Through this voluntary “confinement” (and years of consistent effort) he was able to receive a complete connection with God; becoming by grace, as the holy fathers tell us, what God is by nature.

It is important to note that these thoughts are in no way a condemnation of the world as “bad”. St. Seraphim certainly did not see sunsets and starry skies as “bad!” Rather we make ascetic effort to deny ourselves earthly pleasure in expectation of heavenly pleasure. Spiritual discipline is not about escaping the world as the agent of sin, but rather learning proper usage of the world as an agent of grace.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature”(2 Peter 1:3-4).

At the Divine Liturgy on Pascha we hear the beautiful passage of St. John’s Gospel proclaiming the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God and how His own people did not receive Him. This choice of darkness over light, of falsehood over truth, of sin over virtue, of death over life still faces us today. At this time of lent we make special effort to increase our devotion while restricting our foods, entertainment and non-essential activities, not necessarily because they are bad (though in some cases this may be the case), but rather that greater meaning might be given to all that is good and consequently that we might live more fully with Christ, in Christ and for Christ. While we wrestle with “thorns and thistles” for our daily bread (Genesis 3), so too we wrestle with our sins in pursuing the Bread of Life.

Yes, I will probably always love earthly horizons but as I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I am learning how those moments, though beautiful, can only provide momentary freedom, while the true freedom of the “heavenly” horizon is gained only through the “sweat of [the] brow” (Genesis 3). So I choose to limit my horizon this Lenten Spring that within my heart, rather than by something external, I might experience the Kingdom of God in our midst.