Fr. John mentioned a while back that in respect to Protestants what they assert we can generally assert as well, but what they deny we most often are unwilling to deny. I’ve been following the blog of a former dorm neighbor from NAU who is spending the year, starting in January, traveling around the the world (“11 countries in 11 months”) with a program called the World Race and helping out various contacts in each of those countries. Her blogs have for the most part been articulate, thoughtful, and well written, although you can tell she doesn’t have a great deal of free time. Her latest batch of posts as she was leaving New Zealand and arriving in Australia have reminded me of a common thread through short to mid-term missions, summed up by Pierre’s assertion (though in very different circumstances) that “once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost; but it’s only here that the new and the good begins.” It’s an assertion I’m willing enough to accept, and I hope that she finds her year abroad to be very fruitful. What I’m hesitant about is this:
I think it’s the up and down nature of life in general that the one constant thing in life is how things never stay exactly the same. My life this year is a life of constant change, and I am well aware of that. But how often do we see things as changing where we’re at when we’re in our normal world? How often do we stop and really look at what is happening around us as we sit at the table every morning with our bagels and coffee?
I guess that’s a constant, too – the lack of conscious effort to notice the differences each second, each minute of the day. In our lives of ease and comfort, it’s a lot harder to see beyond the comforts we have.
Perhaps that is often the case. Need it be? That “it’s difficult to see beyond our comforts” reminds me of Chesterton’s assertion that “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting as found difficult and left untried.” But I’m also reminded of the common piece of advice of monastic not to leave your monastery for any but the most serious reasons, and Fr. Schmemann’s comment (from his journals) that when an American convert to Orthodoxy wants to enter a monastery they should first try living ten years in the same place at a somewhat dull job while doing helpful but dull tasks at their local parish and see how that goes. If it goes well, and they are still cheerful and loving, they’re ready to enter a monastery for love of God and not love of novelty. Otherwise perhaps not.
I wish to maintain that it can be good both to go on adventures and to strive for “amendment of life and stability,” as the litanies say, in the rather dull world we so often find ourselves in; that complacence is just as much a sin over bagels and coffee as it is in the Australian bush, and must be fought not so much as something unpleasant in our circumstances as something unpleasant in ourselves. And as the saying goes “everywhere I go, there I am,” just as likely to become bored and complacent in bush Alaska or Santa Fe New Mexico or South Africa as I was in Tucson, Arizona. As the woman I student taught under said to her students: “be here, now, fully present,” and perhaps it will become possible to take “conscious effort to notice the differences each second, each minute of the day.” Because the real adventure is centered in God, who is “everywhere and fillest all things,” even back at home.