I have a long standing and uncomfortable relationship with pronouncements concerning, in Keirkergaard’s words, “The Moment.” Sometimes I write about it; sometimes this discomfort plays largely into my experience of various events, conferences, evangelistic sermons, and experiences that are trying to be life changing. This takes different forms, and I find different objections based upon what form I’m encountering. This was especially the case when I was younger and spent a lot of time at Christian events aimed at “youth,” organized by people who didn’t know their resident introverts very well. They had such a very fast tempo to them that by the time they had ever come anywhere near The Moment of any kind they were likely over. But I don’t think I would have ever encountered it there even if the conferences had continued for weeks or months, because I was looking for somewhat the wrong thing. I was asked to look for a Decision, which was confusing, because lived experience has involved mostly very hidden decisions: I suppose I decided to go to Flagstaff for school, to become Orthodox, to apply in Alaska, to get an art teaching degree, to study in Santa Fe — but decision wasn’t the most noticeable thing about any of those occasions. The decision part I can only infer from the circumstance of not being an automaton, and so I suppose I must have decided something — but what stands out in memory is something like discovery; like I had been looking about for something, I knew not what,, and this was what presented itself. Then, of course, I had to live with what I found, and usually I’ve done so with very little grace.
Every now and again I’ve encountered something analogous to The Moment — I suppose — but not exactly of the character of decision. Or not primarily. Involving decision, but the decision part of it has tended to be softened, as it were, so that it would be difficult to say what exactly the decision was deciding. What is much more noticeable about The Moment as I’ve met it is its quality of being intensely present in this moment, even as memory — of being unable to remember with distance or judgment. I’ve encountered, I suppose, this Moment at Pascha singing: Christ is risen; sitting on the second landing of a townhouse in Santa Fe saying the Jesus Prayer; in the red and gold storm clouds above St John’s; in the middle of the night in Holy Week, looking for repentance, but all there was to be had was: Joy, JOY!; in the Liturgy; in the light through the clouds slanting by a train to Albuquerque; in the Gospels, and Exodus, and Job; singing to the Theotokos; reading Aristotle during Annunciation Liturgy; finding to my great discomfort that I’m in some way glad of having a hard time at work, or that there’s gladness there if I’d be willing to accept it; in Lucretius and Timeus and Tolstoy; watching the mountains shine in the morning sun; in a monastery in Latakia; nearly asleep on a bus through the Syrian desert; on a bus to class, telling God: you’re too close! Oh sorry! But, still!… Almost always in a place of stillness with darkness and softly glowing light. There is, as I said, something of a quality of decision. Are you willing to find joy here, where you weren’t looking for it? and if yes, then there’s something to be found of Joy — and if not, then usually joy has a way of being persistent and nagging a bit, popping up, showing up in different places, and insisting on an eventual Yes.
When I was a child my parents would read books out loud to me, but then when I was a little older they would simply leave books hanging about the house in convenient places, or take me to the library, and are interested in books themselves. They supposed that I would understand what I could of these books, and what I couldn’t I might learn in conversation, or, if not, it was probably alright not to learn that about them just then. Those who lead our pilgrimage to Syria last summer seemed to have a similar supposition: they would tell us where we were and what we were to look at with some of the history and perhaps an interesting story, and then it was pretty much up to us to make something of that — and sometimes we did, or sometimes not; I have no way of knowing what would have happened if we had been given a reason for being where we were or how to respond to that, but I doubt it would have made much of a positive difference. There’s something about enigmatic but apparently meaningful experiences that’s appealing and affecting in a way that carefully constructed events often aren’t — because there’s more room for expressing one’s confusion to God, who has some good to be shown everywhere and always.