Book Recommendation: “His Life is Mine”

I had meant to write this morning — began writing, several thousand words, but none of it was worth reading. I was thinking about the education class and test I don’t want to take this spring, so all I came up with was life plans angst. People don’t really need to hear my life plans angst, so I threw it out. Then I stared at the screen a while and got distracted by other things. Sunday I bought His Life is Mine, a series of essays by Elder Sophrony, from the St Piasius bookstore. It’s a very good book: if I were asked to nominate a book to be read aloud for discussion this would certainly make my list.It’s the wort of book I would have been extraordinarily pleased to study as a break from simplistic Bible study courses. I don’t know much about Elder Sophrony: he was a disciple of St Silioun (of “keep your mind in hell and despair not” fame), and then went to the Orthodox monastery in Essex England; he wrote these books in French and sounds well educated. I could be making all this up, though — it’s what I remember hearing. An excerpt:

Born as pure potential, our spirit must go on to actualize our being as hypostasis. We need to grow, and growth is linked with pain and suffering. However strange it may seem, suffering is imperative for the preservation of life created from nothing. If animals did not feel hunger, they would never make any effort to find food but would simple lie down and die. Similarly, acute discomfort compels primitive man to look for nourishment. Then, as he advances toward rational cognition, suffering discloses to his contemplative mind both his own imperfection and that of the world around him. This forces him to recognize the necessity for a new form of creative effort to perfect life in all its manifestations. Later, he will arrive at a certain perception of Supreme Being which will inspire his soul to seek for better knowledge of Him. And so on until he realizes that this Primordial Being, Whom apprehension first caused him to esteem, does not refuse congress with him.; and in the light of this contact death is seen as an absurdity, the very possibility of which must be fought against relentlessly. And history has shown that many of those who waged this war with unflagging energy, even while they were still here on earth in spirit beheld the eternal kingdom of the Living God, and passed from death to unending life in the Light of Divine Being. (His Life is Mine, “The Risk of Creation,” p 33)

There’s something so very appealing about the way he writes — a rare blend of philosophic theology, deep piety, personal experience, and love.

I chose that quote in particular because it helps put the life angst in a bit more perspective. Sure, while it isn’t exactly suffering to spend who knows how many years trying to figure what to do with oneself and what manner of person one ought to be, it’s by no means a comfortable process. It’s terribly inconvenient (my father was groaning at my hyperbole today, so I’m trying to be precise and honest). It would be so very much more convenient… to what? To not be a free being living in a free state under a religion that encourages free choice? Well, yes, that might well be more convenient. It seems that God doesn’t much care about our convenience. He would apparently rather we have to deal with contemplation of Primordial Being inspired by acute discomfort. Worth keeping in mind.

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