The clash of Eastern and Western mindsets is something I have always struggled with in my Orthodox journey. With my Western mind, I like structure and exactness, and I feel comfort in knowing just what to do and when. Orthodoxy, with its beautiful ‘precise impreciseness’ and as Father John puts it, with its “both/and” paradox, is sometimes difficult for me. I’m no longer a “once saved, always saved,” but am now a “was saved, being saved, will be saved.” Wrapping your mind around that is a big deal.
The nebulousness of Church practices is an ongoing journey of understanding for me. Some say you can have eggs on a fast, others don’t eat anything all day, some refrain from meat and dairy while eating two or three ‘regular’ meals, others eat only one meal after three o’clock. Where’s the rule book when you want it, to know exactly what to do for your salvation? The Church, in its wisdom and economia, allows for many different practices, according to the ability of each. But yet, I struggle.
Recently, Father John gave an enlightening homily about Pollyanna’s Glad Game. He encouraged us to find the silver linings for which we could be thankful, as they exist in every situation. He renamed it the Glory to God for All Things Game and it was revolutionary and instrumental in my growth. I still struggle with figuring out the nuances in my practices of our faith, but I find things to be glad about, things I for which I can give glory to God. Even when things are grim, I find I can generally come up with at least one blessing for which I can be thankful.
It is a ‘nebulous rule’ I can follow. Some days, I could fill a notebook with Glory to God entries, others, I struggle to put a simple line or two. The worry about how much or how many doesn’t bother me. This realization reminded me of the book, Wounded by Love. In it, Saint Porphyrios explains ascetic differences in a clear and encouraging way. Some people are wired, or naturally have tendencies, toward certain ascetic practices such as extreme fasting, tears, even to ‘keep their mind in hell, yet not despair,’ while others are inclined to be grateful for God’s mercies towards us.
It’s a ‘both/and.’ One practice doesn’t negate the other and one isn’t better than the other. The varying degree to which a given practice is upheld isn’t the point either. Some Lenten seasons I can fast more consistently, some days I can focus on my prayers more effectively. The point is the getting up each day and continuing the journey, striving to better than the previous day, but always getting back up. The imprecise preciseness with which I struggle is actually also the comfort and the answer.
Glory to God for all things!