God walks with sincere men, reveals Himself to humble men, enlightens the understanding of pure minds, and hides His grace from the curious and the proud. Human reason is weak and can be deceived. Thomas a Kempis I had started seminary two months before my dad died. My journey, like many of ours is seeking inn after inn, hoping for respite until we find what every soul is looking for. Ulysses or Odysseus went on a quest to find the unknown world. He paid with his life and finds himself in hell, per Dante’s Inferno. Not because he sought knowledge and truth, but because of what he paid for the journey. He left his destiny as father and husband for knowledge itself, like taking fire from the gods or the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil. As Rod Dreher said, “What you call a courageous quest might in truth be a cowardly flight from your true destiny.”
Some of my journey has been this quest of avoiding my destiny with the loving God. Through several years of seminary, I have come to the place of doubt and confusion. I have a propensity of comparing myself to others. I started seminary with the quest of knowledge and wisdom. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to even move toward ordination. But by 2009, God called me toward ordination. Since then, I have almost backed away at least every year. I’ve wanted to seek work elsewhere in the States. The road being too difficult. Like Gregory of Nazianzus, I do not wish to leave the contemplative life of the monk. But Gregory was called out. Toward the end of his life, he lived a contemplative life on his family estate in the country. There is work to be done until then.
It’s difficult living in exile, the white martyr. But isn’t this the call for every Christian? To deny self and “follow me”—Christ. Bonhoeffer wrote a book about cheap grace versus true grace—The Cost of Discipleship. Living the Christ-like life is never easy, there is no guarantee of happiness. There is a guarantee of blessedness though. Blessedness is drawing closer to our source of life—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. It is the path through joy; through pain; through suffering, through life. We constantly distract ourselves from the path a Christ-follower must take with little happinesses that usually leave us empty, ever trying to fill our needs and wants: sex, video games, TV, knowledge, beauty, tranquility, silence, noise, cacophony. None of these things are bad in themselves, but only when we put them above God. It is when we seek purity of heart, seek God that we begin to only want one thing: God. The God of beauty, life, goodness, truth. God is who makes everything meaningful, true and good. He is the one who redeems this fallen world. God is the fulfillment of all our hunger, our appetites as the ancient world taught.
Even the penitent one, seeking forgiveness seeks these distractions above God. I too am one of these fallen men. I am no better than another, I only know where to find true fulfillment, the water.
The path of seminary leading toward ordination is one wrought with temptation. Christ truly shows who we are and what we are made of. He does not condemn us. But he shows us our weakness that Christ alone may be our strength. There is not a day that goes by when I would rather live in the woods, retreat to my childhood place. There is not a day when I seek beauty above God. There is not a day that goes by where I place idols on the high places once again. But each day (mostly) I ask God to be the great idol smasher. My mind does not always wish it, but my heart does; sometimes not even my heart. But it is an act of will that I allow God to destroy the idols I make. It is like the man with the green lizard on his shoulder in the Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis. An angel comes to the man and asks if he may kill the lizard of lust on his shoulder. The man hems and haws, “Will it hurt?” “Of course it will,” the angel says, “But it will set you free (paraphrase).” The man allows the angel to kill the lizard. It dies, but rises again as a beautiful horse. The man’s desire redeemed. And only Christ can truly redeem, make new, renew our desires. When we relinquish ourselves and all that we wish to hold on to, only then does God make them truly real, truly known to us, redeeming our lives that we hold to so obstinately. “Only when we lose our life, do we truly find it.”
My knowledge has expanded, sure, and with it, I pray wisdom as well. For knowledge without wisdom is but pride. But knowledge of the good, the true and the beautiful has a price. That of self-knowledge. One sees self as more wretched than any other, being aware of who I am. Seeing sin leads one to almost carry a weight no person can carry, except Christ. It is good to be aware of sin, in oneself, but not to beat oneself because of it. Christ carried the weight of all the sin of the world. He offers a yoke that is light. We come to Christ in humility, asking for forgiveness daily that we may be white as snow, to enter his kingdom. Grace is the way to union with God. It is all grace. Jesus Christ.
Seminary has been a way of grace. It has been a way of sorrow, a way of knowing who I am in Christ, a way of knowing the True God in three persons. On the Last Day it won’t matter which books I have read or not read, but in this lifetime, the purpose of these books has been to know the breadth and depth of God. But also to help others know who this God of truth and goodness is. For God is our true end, not our own self-fulfillment. The journey is far from complete. There are many days where I can barely remember pertinent things or speak. I pray this is only temporary. Let your strength be my strength, Lord.