In our last blog, we posted “Show Me Who You Are – Part I,” a message by Father Stevan. You might want to read it before reading Part II below.
This is the dialogue of a repentant person spoken here by an Athonite monk who is instrumental in renewing monastic life on Mount Athos.
In other words, this is spoken from the depth of experience and he’s talking about how we, as repentant sinners, can talk to God as our friend, our confidant, someone whom we can approach freely knowing he has to be still God no matter what state we’re in – even if we’re afraid if he talks to me harshly, even if he opens his mouth I’m going to collapse because I’m in such a state I just couldn’t take it. Even in that state we go to God and say, “You are God. You have to be God for me now. I’m in a state. You’re not. That’s why I’m coming to you. I need you especially now. So, talk to me.
So that Psalm 37 (included below) goes on to say my sores make a stench and have festered in the face of my folly. The elder says with the powerful image David is describing the state of his soul, the wretched condition into which he has fallen, but this is not self-pity or a self-centered display, but part of the search for a point of contact with God – for the beginning and principal of his repentance. God this is who I am. With brutal honesty, I show myself to you. Now, show me who you are. Remember that phrase from the beginning. I am revealing myself to you as I am – full of wounds – full of sin and sores. Now you do the same. Show me who you are. No one can comprehend his own sinfulness, no matter how great it might be, as David went a year unless he can glimpse the holiness of God. So that’s how we seek in order to begin this true repentance. We saw it in David. He went a year – did his business – everything’s fine – got a child, and then a glimpse of holiness awakens him to his true state, and he says Lord have mercy. I have sinned against God.
So, if we think about someone who is really angry with us, we don’t want to stay in the midst of that. We want to run. We want to get out of there. The elder says you tell yourself that this person neither loves you nor understands you. There’s no point in sticking around. Things could get out of hand – that’s our reaction to anger. But look how David reacts. My God, even though my bones are aching, and my flesh is rotting away – even though I am one massive wound, show me your true self Show me the one in whom I trust – you are holy, you are filled with love, tenderness, and compassion. David’s wretchedness stands in contrast to and derives its meaning from the love and holiness of God.
What is the deeper, underlying cause that keeps us from repenting, asks the elder. Now we have to answer. It’s a simple fact that we have not come to know God. How simply put. We haven’t gotten to know him. When you like someone, what do you do? You want to get to know them. You say, “Tell me my dear friend. Where are you from? Do you have any brothers and sisters? What is your mother’s name? What was your childhood like?” Can you imagine having this dialogue with God? Do you have brothers and sisters? What is your mother’s name? Oh, I know these things, don’t I?
He tells you all about this when he opens up his heart and tells you his troubles – this person you’re wanting to get to know. Then you are moved to shed tears because you have identified your life closely with him. This is how we should love God. This is how we should desire to know him. Take a look at when you want to get to know someone. You ask about them. You’re interested in them. You look toward them, and then when they open up to you and talk about their troubles, you’re involved already. Your heart is moved because you’ve gotten to know them. So too, we can with God – especially during lent because he’s particularly close to us.
So, the elder says Psalm 37 begins with the sinner in agony pleading, Lord do not rebuke me in your anger nor chastise me in your wrath, but it ends on a note of enthusiasm, of desire in the hope of sweet salvation The psalmist begins with his pain from the wound of his soul so that he might end by saying hasten to rescue me Lord of my salvation The exposure of the wound is the first step to its cure. This is how we begin our repentance. We admit as David did, I have sinned, but not just to say oh that’s right. I did that – sorry, but to say look at me. Look at my woundedness. Look how extensive it is. Look at the state of fallenness in which I abide.
I am all one wound and in pain from the separation that’s the result of my sin but show me who you are. I’ve shown you who I am – look at this. Who are you? I want to get to know you. David’s heart is open to God and thus he is not focused on himself – on his problems, his frustrated desires, his difficulties, and his miseries. Self-pity is not the same as spirituality. The soul in its agonizing search for God passes through many stages – looking for God in places of darkness and light, places in which God is hidden and where he is revealed. The soul’s struggle is thus a drama. In order to move in the direction of our deliverance we have to have a sense of our own tragedy. To find a cure you have to understand the sickness in your soul and therefore turn to God who is life and health and holiness as David did.
When the soul attempts to repent, when it begins to desire and feel repentance it will immediately be struck by a shockwave This is the response of my soul to the activity of God – his efforts to save me. Wow. He knows me. He knows what I’ve done. He knows the state I’m in and he’s not staying away, he’s not running away from me because of it. He’s coming toward me! I’m in a state. I’m not sure I want him that close. And yet we do. We say yes to God and then we say no. We draw near to God and then we abandon him. It happens, says the elder, because the ego has placed itself in opposition to God and made a small “g” god of itself. The ego wins. I will experience psychological isolation, which will include isolation from those around me along with feelings of bitterness and sorrow. If the ego wins, I’ll feel isolated, bitterness, sorrow – focused on myself, my trouble – proof that the ego has rejected the God of salvation. If I say yes, choosing to reaffirm my ego, I will begin to sink and be lost. If I say no, it will be as if I have returned to life as if I were resurrected, redeemed, in essence the ego is a king fated for regicide who is condemned to die and be buried in the ground and yet my real death consists in the survival of my ego that separated state of woundedness. It will lead to something even worse for my life will be one of endless anxiety and despair. I will suffer eternally in the hell of my inner division – for I will forever call upon God and forever reject him. That’s when the ego wins. Calling upon God, then rejecting him. Calling rejecting. Yes – no, yes – no. This ambivalence of soul that he talked about in the beginning.
If, however, I am victorious, if I decide to put my ego to death and take up my cross and follow Christ, then the king of glory will rise from the dead the Lord of my salvation for whosoever shall save his life shall lose it and whosoever shall lose his life will find it. The darkness of my isolation will be disbursed by the light of God. I will know his holiness. He himself will be my companion. He will grant me genuine spiritual life, which is something greater than my life for it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. I shall discover that Christ lives in me. His experiences shall become mine. This is the goal of my struggling. This is why I wrestle with God. It’s not just my struggle, but the struggle of every soul and the church as a whole.
This struggle for repentance, to be able to reveal my woundedness and say, “God, show me who you are.” The psalm was not sung by a soloist, he says, but by the congregation. In a single voice, it’s the cry of the whole church. This crying out to God about my woundedness and his holiness. And it’s also the cry of God himself – the crying out of the word of God who descended from heaven and became man for our salvation. We’re crying to one another – us and the Lord. Christ did not come to help us be better adjusted to the dying modern world. He did not come to make us prosperous, despite what some preachers say. He did come so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Who could reject that? Today, he who in essence is unapproachable, becomes approachable to me and suffers his passion delivering me from passions.
We still have time. We’re in the middle of lent. In the words of Psalm 37, “I shall acknowledge my transgression and take heed of my sin. Hasten to remedy oh Lord of my salvation.” Amen.
O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!
2 For Your arrows pierce me deeply,
And Your hand presses me down.
3 There is no soundness in my
Because of Your anger,
Nor any health in my bones
Because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds are foul and festering
Because of my foolishness.
6 I am troubled, I am bowed down
I go mourning all the day long.
7 For my loins are full of inflammation,
And there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and severely broken;
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.
9 Lord, all my desire is
And my sighing is not hidden from You.
10 My heart pants, my strength fails me;
As for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me.
11 My loved ones and my friends stand
aloof from my plague,
And my relatives stand afar off.
12 Those also who seek my life lay snares for me;
Those who seek my hurt speak of destruction,
And plan deception all the day long.
13 But I, like a deaf man, do
And I am like a mute who does not open his mouth.
14 Thus I am like a man who does not hear,
And in whose mouth is no response.
15 For in You, O Lord, I hope;
You will hear, O Lord my God.
16 For I said, “Hear me, lest they rejoice over me,
Lest, when my foot slips, they exalt themselves against me.”
17 For I am ready to fall,
And my sorrow is continually before me.
18 For I will declare my iniquity;
I will be in anguish over my sin.
19 But my enemies are vigorous, and they are strong;
And those who hate me wrongfully have multiplied.
20 Those also who render evil for good,
They are my adversaries, because I follow what is good.
T21 Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
This was the second part of a message given by Fr. Stevan during Lent 2015.