Tag Archives: repentance

The old child at the heart of him.

Morning light was filtering through fog as I read this passage from Luke Chapter 11:

No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.

Soon enough there began to play in my mind a hymn that I haven’t sung since childhood in the Presbyterian Church, “Open My Eyes, That I May See.” I looked up the hymn in one of the several hymnals our household has collected from previous generations of my late husband’s family, and the lyrics contain the essence of a humble prayer.

But though spiritual sight must be part of what Christ is talking about, twice He uses the words, “whole body full of light.” Pause and think on that! What can it even mean? We can theorize about it, but Christ, Who called Himself “The light of the world,” is not an idea or a theory or a spiritual practice. He will have to teach us what this means by experience. Our yearly Lenten effort is our effort to return again and again to that lifelong process. And He has many ways of opening our eyes and bringing us to Himself, customized to each person’s unique situation.

In The Princess and Curdie, we meet Curdie again not long after the exciting events of The Princess and the Goblin, during which he learns a lesson on humility. But already Curdie, in his young teens, is losing some of his youthful goodness. If our lives are like mirrors that are meant to reflect the glory of our Creator, his mirror is not doing that very well; it has gotten dirty by slow degrees and not even his parents understand why their son does not bring them joy as he used to.

One reason for his not being “in a good way,” our narrator describes like this: “As Curdie grew, he grew at this time faster in body than in mind – with the usual consequence, that he was getting rather stupid – one of the chief signs of which was that he believed less and less in things he had never seen.”

MacDonald sermonizes more in this book than in The Princess and the Goblin. But his little sermons are wise and kind, so I don’t mind them. I do wonder if children would make much use of them, however. He contrasts what is happening to Curdie with the ideal:

“The boy should enclose and keep, as his life, the old child at the heart of him, and never let it go. He must still, to be a right man, be his mother’s darling, and more, his father’s pride, and more. The child is not meant to die, but to be forever fresh born.”

Looking at Curdie, I am reminded of why we are on our Lenten journey: so that we can by some small effort cooperate with God as He does whatever work is necessary to bring us back home, as the Prodigal Son came home, to the “old child” of our heart.

For Curdie, the means involved a white pigeon:

“Curdie had made himself a bow and some arrows, and was teaching himself to shoot with them. One evening in the early summer, as he was walking home from the mine with them in his hand, a light flashed across his eyes. He looked, and there was a snow-white pigeon settling on a rock in front of him, in the red light of the level sun.

“It was indeed a lovely being, and Curdie thought how happy it must be flitting through the air with a flash – a live bolt of light. For a moment he became so one with the bird that he seemed to feel both its bill and its feathers, as the one adjusted the other to fly again, and his heart swelled with the pleasure of its involuntary sympathy. Another moment and it would have been aloft in the waves of rosy light – it was just bending its little legs to spring:  that moment it fell on the path broken-winged and bleeding from Curdie’s cruel arrow.

“With a gush of pride at his skill, and pleasure at his success, he ran to pick up his prey. I must say for him he picked it up gently — perhaps it was the beginning of his repentance….”

As the pigeon lay bleeding and limp in his hand, and looked long and wondering at him, Curdie’s heart began to grow very large in his bosom. What could it mean? It was nothing but a pigeon, and why should he not kill a pigeon? But the fact was that not till this very moment had he ever known what a pigeon was.”

The drama of the next moments captures the storminess of a human heart when it strives against the pain of self-knowledge, and the temptation to despair. In the Curdie stories the white pigeons figure as messengers and angels of the divine Love, and after an indefinable time out of time, which may be less than a minute, our boy comes through the storm with clarity, and proceeds with his repentance.

With clarity… under the influence of that Light that wants to fill all the dark corners of us, to make us radiant with Himself. It does seem an impossible image, until we remember that our personal task is to respond to the light we are given, respond to the Light Who is Christ, in this moment, and do the next thing that we are able, to “clean the dirt from our mirrors.”

During Lent, the Orthodox Church gives us many tools for this holy work, and one of them is the Holy Unction service. In addition to the one I described here, another General Unction service is often held during Lent in which anyone prepared may participate, whether or not they are gravely ill, and I am looking forward to being the recipient of its healing grace this evening.

May we all make good use of our sins,
and of the lights that come to us,
and Dear Lord, fill us with Your Light.

Does a child see herself grow?

Father Michael Gillis describes himself as a grumpy old man who struggles to stay near to God; he evidently succeeds enough to be able to report, in his latest blog post, “…I think God loves so much those who reach out to Him that he tricks me into saying something to help them.”

He shares portions of an email exchange with a young woman who is discouraged at always having to confess the same sins. Why isn’t God changing her? I found it encouraging: “Just” Waiting on God.

About the queen of the passions.

“What shall I say about the belly, the queen of the passions? If you can deaden or half-deaden it, do not relent. It has mastered me, beloved, and I worship it as a slave and vassal, this abettor of the demons and dwelling-place of the passions. Through it we fall and through it –- when it is well-disciplined -– we rise again… always eat too little, never too much. For when the stomach is heavy the intellect is clouded, and you cannot pray resolutely and with purity….

“If you eat too much, repent and try again. Always act like this –- lapsing and recovering again, and always blaming yourself and no one else -– and you will be at peace, wisely converting such lapses into victories, as Scripture says… To eat again after reaching the point of satiety is to open the door of gluttony, through which unchastity comes in.”

–St. Gregory of Sinai, 14th century

You will be their terror.

Met. Anthony Bloom

“Beginning [this week], Orthodox Christians abstain from meat; has it any meaning apart from the ascetic, the disciplinary? Yes, it has, I think. There is a frightening passage in the ninth chapter of Genesis. After the flood, when mankind has become even weaker than before, less rooted in God, more tragically alone, more tragically dependent upon the created because it has lost communion with the uncreated, God says to Noah and his people:

‘From now on all living creatures are delivered unto you as food; they will be your meat, and you will be their terror….’ That is the relationship which human sin, the loss of God in our lives, has established between us and all the created world, but particularly, in a particularly painful, monstrous way with the animal world. And our abstention from meat in the time of Lent is our act of recognition; it is also — oh, to such a small extent! — an act of reparation. We are the terror of the created world, we are those who destroy it, we are those who mar and pollute it, yet we are called originally to be its guide into eternity, into God’s glory, into the perfect beauty which God has intended for it.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov

“We were called to make of this world of ours God’s own world, God’s own Kingdom — in the sense that it is His family, the place where He lives among His creatures, and where the creatures of God can rejoice in Him and in one another. Let us therefore, to the extent to which we are faithful to the call of the Church, remember that apart from being an act by which we try to free ourselves from slavery to the material world, our fasting is an act of recognition of our sin against the world and, however small, a real attempt to make reparation for it, bring a testimony that we understand, that we are heartbroken, and that even if we cannot live otherwise, we live with a pain and a shame, and turn to God and to the world, which we treat so atrociously, with a broken and contrite heart. Amen.”

-Metropolitan Anthony of London, reposed 2003

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