The Arrow and the Shepherd

[Note, June 2016: This post was written right at the start of the time when the first flickers of faith were starting to reappear in my life after a period of spiritual desolation. I leave the post here as is out of respect for my journey and the rightful place of doubt, questioning, and wrestling with God in all of our spiritual journeys.]

It’s funny. It’s been quite a while now since I’ve been able to consider myself a Christian, yet this quote from Fr. Alexander Men (a Russian priest who was killed at the cusp of the fall of the Soviet Union) is still so close to my heart that it’s the closest thing I have to a manifesto or creed:

Only near-sighted people can suppose that Christianity has seen its time. Christianity has only taken its first, I would say timid, steps in human history. To this day many of Christ’s words are incomprehensible because we are still moral and spiritual neanderthal men. The gospel arrow is aimed towards eternity, and that which we call Christian history is in many ways a series of clumsy and unsuccessful attempts to bring Christianity about.

Those who have known me for a long time will know that this quote has featured prominently in every blog I’ve ever kept. And while I certainly believe it to be true of Christianity (Christ’s teaching seems to be as elusive as ever in the lives of far too many professed Christians), it’s also very true of anyone and everyone. It would be just as true if I were to replace “Christianity” with “Goodness” or simply “Humanity.” No human tradition has figured out how to truly be together.

While I can’t say anymore that I “believe in” God or Christ, yet I remain as drawn as ever to and as impressed as ever by the person of Jesus of Nazareth as he is revealed in the Gospels. I find myself challenged more than ever by his call to transcend moralism and convention and live out a life of genuine goodness, compassion, and grace. There is an obvious irony in that in my position it is often his followers to whom I must try to learn to extend that compassion and grace as so many choose to view me as an enemy or are willing to write me off as deluded because my experiences run contrary to their (heck, and formerly my own) religious expectations. But be that as it may, I still retain an unshakable sense that in some way, whether reflective of some mystical reality I do not comprehend or simply because old habits die hard, this Jesus fellow is still my Shepherd and I still in many ways love the Shepherd’s voice.

And so, Fr. Men’s words about Arrow of the Gospel pointing towards eternity, endlessly provoking and urging us forward in Goodness still resound powerfully in my soul as much now as they did eight years ago when they first drew me towards the Orthodox Church. Really, we could all do a lot worse than to listen to the voice of a man who himself defied religious expectations and even turned Scripture on end to push us all out of our safe, comfortable answers and towards eternity.

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