The Useless God

This post (which is much longer than usual) is an edited version of a talk given at a retreat earlier this year. During this time of various quarantine measures, when our “usefullness” seems thwarted, it seems an important meditation. I pray it is uselessly useful!

The statement, “God is useless,” is, undoubtedly, sure to strike someone as an insult, not a statement of a faithful believing Christian (much less, a priest). That reaction tells me much about how we feel about the word, “useless,” rather than how we feel about God. In current American parlance, “useless,” is mostly a term of abuse. Who wants to be seen as useless?

Consider this excerpt from a letter of the author and playwriter, Oscar Wilde:

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

That the absence of utility is a term of abuse is a profound comment on our time. Stressed, anxious, and sick from the fatigue of life, we find ourselves required to give justification for our leisure. I am “charging my batteries,” we say, giving work the ultimate priority. We only rest in order to work harder.

There are many useless things that mark our lives: beauty, rest, joy. Indeed, it would seem that many of the things that we value most are, for the greater part, quite useless. What is it, to be useful?

The useful thing (or person) gains its value from something other than itself. It is a tool. I value the tool because it allows me to do something else. In many cases, when the usefulness of the tool is expired, it is simply thrown away. In a throw-away society we slowly drown in a sea of obsolescence, surrounded by things for which we no longer have any use.

From a National Geographic article:

Imagine 15 grocery bags filled with plastic trash piled up on every single yard of shoreline in the world. That’s how much land-based plastic trash ended up in the world’s oceans in just one year. The world generates at least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other solid waste a day…. The U.S. is the king of trash, producing a world-leading 250 million tons a year—roughly 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day.

Our sea of trash is a testament to the ethic of utility.

“You only want to use me.” This statement, on the lips of a lover or a friend, is a fearful indictment. We want to be loved for ourselves, not for what we can do, much less as an end to something else. We want to be loved as useless beings.

It is worth noting that among God’s first commandments is one of uselessness:

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The one day out of the seven that is described as “holy” is the day on which we are commanded to be useless. It is, in Christian terms, part of God’s work within us to make us like Himself – forming and shaping us into the image of Christ.

Utility – usefulness – is a strong value within the world of modernity – that philosophical, cultural agglomeration that came about a little over 200 years ago. Inventing better ploughs and threshing machines, figuring out ways to make everything faster, cheaper, and “better,” indeed, making things that no one had ever dreamed of, is an outstanding way to grow an economy. If you couple it with global trade, the standard of living increases, and some people get quite rich.

An aside: the genius of modernity was not its love for technology, or even for what technology can do. Modernity has become super-proficient in technology simply because it learned how to make it profitable. We do not make better phones because we need better phones: we make them so we can sell them. A large amount of medical research goes into finding ways to extend patents rather than curing diseases. Modernity is not the age of technology: it is the age of profit.

If you do this sort of thing for a good number of decades, and couple it with newly-coined ideas of human individuality and freedom, you can, before long, begin to think that you’re building better humans along with better ploughs, threshing machines and iPhones. Of course, many of the humans endure difficult times as they experience a nagging sense of uselessness that will not seem to go away.

The uselessness bound up with the Sabbath Day had a much deeper meaning as well as a more far-reaching application. The Sabbath Day itself was but a token of an entire way of life. Strangely, uselessness was deeply bound up with the question of justice, and, in a manner of speaking, becomes the foundation for understanding the Kingdom of God itself.

The Sabbath Day of ancient Israel was only a small part of a larger understanding of time and the stewardship of creation. One day in the week was set aside and no work was to be done. One year out of each seven was also to be set aside, and no work in the fields was to be done for the entire year – the land was to lie fallow – unplowed. After seven seven-year cycles, a fiftieth year was to be set aside.

Each seventh year, not only did the land lie fallow, but all debts (except those of foreigners) were to be cancelled. In the fiftieth year, these same things apply, but the land reverted to its original ownership. This fiftieth year began on the Day of Atonement and was known as the “Jubilee Year.”

In the preaching of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, this image of the management of debts and the land is given a cosmic interpretation in addition to its place in the annual cycle of Israel. The Jubilee Year becomes the “Acceptable Year of the Lord,” a coming day when the whole of creation will be set free – a coming Jubilee for everyone and everything.

When Jesus stands to read the Scriptures in the synagogue in Nazareth, he reads from the scroll of Isaiah. It is the passage which speaks of this coming cosmic act of remittance and freedom:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16–21)

This passage from Isaiah is chosen by Christ to describe what He is about to do. He will preach saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This Scripture describes what that looks like. The poor hear good news, captives are set free; the blind receive their sight; the oppressed are given liberty – there is a cosmic loosing that happens day by day in His ministry. Indeed, it is not for nothing that He seems to prefer the Sabbath Day above all others for doing this work. He is revealing the true meaning and purpose of the Sabbath.

And this will bring me back to uselessness.

Today, we would look at land lying fallow for a year as a primitive substitute for “crop rotation,” a useful way of promoting responsible agriculture. This is not its actual purpose. It is a deliberate interruption of the cycle of productivity, and the maximizing of profit. It says, “No. There’s something more important.”

The Law within ancient Israel was not an entirely unknown Mideastern practice. Other kingdoms in the area practiced an occasional forgiveness of debt, primarily to secure the position of a ruler. Israel seems to be the first instance in which the forgiveness of debt and the practice of Sabbatarian rest – for people, land, and animals, came to be written into the very fabric of life and given divine sanction. And, even in the non-Sabbath years, there was a prohibition against harvesting an entire field. A portion had to be left standing so that the poor could “glean” the fields for their needs. Maximum efficiency was forbidden. This way of life was not an effort to solidify earthly power, but to undermine it with a radical understanding of the purpose of human existence.

There was nothing new in Christ’s attitude towards the poor and the oppressed. What was new was His willingness to practice it without pulling a punch and His extension of its principles towards everything and everyone.

He drew the imagery of debt and its abolition (with extreme examples) into His teaching on the Kingdom of God itself. What we learn is that this Law of uselessness – the refusal to maximize our own power and efficiency – goes to the very heart of what it means to exist in the image and likeness of God.

Of course, Christ’s teaching has been obscured in many times and places. Those who would seek power and wealth find it frightfully inconvenient. Christ forbade usury – the charging of interest on debts. That was actually part of Byzantine Law and Roman Western Law for a time. There were ways to “fudge” the matter (let the Jews lend money at interest, since they weren’t under Christian Law – and then you could later attack them as “lovers of money” so they could be killed and their property seized).

Eventually, Christ’s teaching would receive a more convenient interpretation: “usury” came to mean “exorbitant” interest on debt – and that is the basis of our present debt laws. Strangely, the highest interest allowed in our economy is on “payday cash loans” and consumer credit – both of which predominately burden the poor – those who can least afford it. The cheapest interest rates go to the largest borrowers. Not a lot has changed through the millennia. Money is very useful, and the interest paid by the poor is useful, too.

The evolution and rise of modern consciousness could be measured by the rise and dominance of Utilitarianism (the philosophy of usefulness). Usefulness has been raised to a religious virtue. The modern world was not the result of someone’s intentionality – it was (and is) an accident – the unintended consequences of many things – not the least of which was the Protestant Reformation and its dismantling of the Medieval consensus of Western Europe.

In England, for example, with the abolition of Roman Catholicism, a new way of life began to unfold. There were around 50 days per year on the Medieval calendar marked by feast days in which Church and festival, rather than normal work, were the order of the day. Fifty days of useless celebration (in addition to the 52 Sundays of the year) to the glory of God. Those days disappeared for the greater part. When Max Weber wrote about the “Protestant Work Ethic” and touted the superior productivity of Protestant Northern Europe to lazy Catholic Southern Europe, he forgot to note that seven weeks’ worth of working days were added to the Protestant calendar. It’s easy to be more productive when work never stops.

The work ethic has become a cultural ethic (all across the world). We take vacations, quite often, so that we can return as better workers. Too few things are done for their own sake. Why would God set aside so much time for uselessness? Apparently, when life becomes driven by utility, we neglect and ignore the things that have the most value, and, are all too easily deemed useless.

The Prophet Amos made this observation:

“Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes and sell the chaff of the wheat?” Amos 8:4-6

Very little has changed, it seems. We fail to honor the useless God, and in doing so, have forgotten how and why we live.



About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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67 responses to “The Useless God”

  1. Joshua Barbour Avatar
    Joshua Barbour

    An extremely relevant post. Thank you, Father. This topic is something I’ve been thinking and speaking about for a long time. In part, I suspect, due to my own predisposed tendencies to elevate utility as the highest virtue, both in myself and others. It’s especially difficult to resist the elevation of utility because the lack of utility in people is often framed as laziness. Thus why the world largely fails to understand monasticism or Hesychasm. Simultaneously, there is the constant pressure to have a success career, which really is a thinly guised way of defining individual worth by one’s potential to produce. I suspect it will be many years before the embedded utilitarianism of our culture is uprooted in my thinking, and it may never fully be excavated. Lord have mercy.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In antiquity (both pagan and early Christian), one of the most essential elements of a “good life,” was “leisure” (otium). It was not recreation and play, but rest, with time for thinking, conversation, reading, and such things. Monasticism did not have to argue for its very existence at that time for the simple fact that Roman culture already had a high value on such a life – or, at least, certain aspects of it. They would have thought of someone who constantly worked in order to amass a greater fortune to be a person lacking in virtue. The extreme rich who failed to provide lavishly for the needs of the poor – sometimes found himself being lynched by the mobs.

    But, thinking rightly about leisure, and the “uselessness” that it encompasses, helps us to think rightly about what it means to exist. Work was part of the curse – a necessary evil – not a virtue.

  3. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Fr. Stephen, I LOVE this one! Growing up poor on a Kansas Ranch, we grew nearly everything we ever ate; things were used in every way they could be – down to clothes and bedding into cleaning rags- before they were finally thrown out. Scraps went to animals or poultry; we did not have paper towels, and we cooked from scratch. Cans or bottles or jars that made a rare appearance, found reuse as feed cans; sprinkling bottles for ironing; or jars for canning. We had a burn pile, and a trash barrel, but they rarely got full. There was one phone per house, and six families on the same phone line. We worked very hard, to feed a care for a large family, but we had such FUN too! We made our own sleds, and a horse pulled them, or dad on the tractor. We swam in ponds and creeks; hunted for food – lots of free ducks, geese, pheasant and quail. We were raised to get the value out of anything that we spent money to buy. I think that is largely lost on these newer generations. They do, as you said, want newer, better, more improved, and to throw out everything! We got groceries in paper sacks, and they were used to start fires; line drawers; place plants in, and SO many things. Plastic grocery bags had not been heard of yet. We lived so close to God and nature out there. We gave thanks for so much that kids these days take for granted. They have never known a time without the internet, cell phones, and so much that we could not imagine when we were growing up. (Thank GOD there was no social media in the 60’s!) We live in the country now, and I have a hard time relating at times to my city raised, by a doctor, husband – who is big on throwing things out. lol It is SO hard for me! If it has use left, it should be given to someone who needs it. I find the amount of waste we have incredible, and I used to recycle everything I possibly could. Now we don’t have that in our area and it is terrible to me.
    These days, WE are now considered to be useless by many. We are 72 – Boomers – and even though we still work at jobs and live active lives, in the eyes of society, we are outdated and disposable. We should move aside for younger workers and just disappear into senior living or assisted living. Rendering people useless and of no value anymore is SO sad! Too many people value money, and material goods, over the real treasures of this life! No one ever died wishing they had worked more! Learning to stop and feel God around you; pray for others; and enjoy a little totally unproductive time – we know how to do that too. We work hard, but we rest well now too. There is always work to be done, but just resting and enjoying the moment is what God intended too. Take a nice cup of tea or coffee and go sit on the porch and watch the sun rise; or set. Do nothing but absorb the peace and amazing things and people around us. Thank God for everything. Don’t wait until you are old to do it! (Please Pray for the farmers and ranchers trying to stay in business raising the food for you now too. Buy local food.)

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, Indeed. It’s so odd that anyone should have to argue to make the point of this article. The point of living – is to live! And this is what is deeply missing for so many people – the knowledge of how to live. It requires the love of beauty and wonder and, I think, the worship of God at the very core – for He is the Lord and Giver of life. But, we can see that life defined as an “economy” is actually anti-life. People are merely useful. The desire to build a better world is a lie told by those who mean “better profits.” We cannot serve God and mammon.

  5. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father!

    “Modernity is not the age of technology: it is the age of profit.”

    Only recently, I have learnt how Aristotle distinguished between “chremastistics” (business) and “oikos nomos” (economics).
    Economics are virtuous, Economic or natural transactions are concerned with the satisfaction of needs. Thus wealth is limited by purpose.

    Chrematistics (money making) are vicious, un-natural transactions that are aimed at increasing wealth without limits. Wealth can become an end into itself.

    This is a perfect description of what seems to be happening in today’s world. How much more money does Bill Gates (and others like him) need?!!!

    I love how you said that in Roman culture “the extreme rich who failed to provide lavishly for the needs of the poor – sometimes found himself being lynched by the mobs.”… 🙂

  6. Eric Avatar

    I wonder if this is at the heart of Jesus’ stern words for all those wonder workers – ‘I never knew you’? People become tools, become non people – non personal.

    I was reflecting this morning on the thinness of culture here where I live as an Anglican priest. I had trouble finding a spiritual director, and was told that there was a list of good people locally, who all charge $50 for an hour of their time. I was told that they were very well trained . . . and hearing that from folk, I was troubled that they weren’t troubled by it. Spiritual counsel has to come first from personhood, relationship, koinonia. I think that utility and skill sets and all such language have no place in the world of The Human. Who you are is irrelevant – the important thing is how well you have contorted your being into the machine like shape of the modern ‘Economy’

  7. Eric Avatar

    Holiness is that which is sought in a spiritual father – not a certificate.

  8. Eric Avatar

    what use is holiness . . .

    How much prayer understands God as a cosmic technician??

    (my apologies for dribbling my thoughts out, Father Stephen 🙂 )

    Blessings upon you

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I will suggest a book – which, for the time being, would be better than a spiritual counselor: Ethics as Beauty – by Dr. Timothy Patitsas. It is stunningly good. Some of the best material on healthy shame I have ever seen. Great understanding about the nature of Orthodox spiritual counsel.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Here in the US (and probably elsewhere), there were ever so many workshops and certificate programs training people to be “spiritual directors,” and all of it was largely a bunch of nonsense. For the greater part, it labored under the false notion that spirituality (like everything else in modernity) could and should be managed. No one needs a spiritual manager. Indeed, we need someone to help us quit managing our life. But Patitsas’ book lays this all out quite wonderfully.

  11. Eric Avatar

    Thank you Fr Stephen – Very much appreciated 🙂
    ‘We need someone to help us quit managing our lives’ Thank you!

  12. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father Stephen,
    Thank you for a very timely reflection on our notions about utility and how it colors our understanding of our relationship to God!!

    I know so little about medieval life. On medieval feast days, did everyone (even peasants?) enjoy the feast, or just the land owners?

    Forgive me for my playfulness, here, but I want 7 weeks of feast days!! Goofing off time sounds like a lot of fun. But as it was intended, it also allows time for contemplation and reflection, and for thinking and conversing–all very dangerous activities, I suspect, in the culture (and ideology) of modernity.

    Ironically and perhaps to our benefit, the COVID distancing has impacted our level productivity–perhaps it will even help us to question our notions about usefulness.

  13. Debbie A Avatar
    Debbie A

    Thank you Father Stephen,
    This is a powerful message for one such as me, mired in the shame of not being perfectly useful and productive as God endeavors to teach me the beauty and goodness of uselessness…Glory to God, for all things.

    Debbie A.

  14. Brandon Avatar

    Father, thank you. This reminded me of a segment from the book Framespotting: “Laurence started out in life as a mathematician, before working in industry and then writing books. Now do you believe that? Well, it’s not true. Nobody starts out in life as a mathematician: Laurence started out in life as a baby, just like everyone else. Oh. That’s nitpicking you say. You knew what that first sentence meant. But that sentence sets up a frame: the frame which equates a life with a career. Think about what that frame leaves out: childhood, family life, etc. a life is so much more than a career.”

    Now I wouldn’t expect everyone to start off all small talk with our own baby pictures, but it’s an interesting thought. We “skip over” so much in a sense. In a world guided by sample sizes, we seem to forget the largest sample size sui generis – that we are all created into existence. As you’ve previously written, many things such as food are abstracted from their source. Prime example of this forgetfulness is the fact that we are born and we forget our Creator. I can’t help but think that the necessity of attaining the “age of reason” or “age of moral agency” behind the separation of baptism and the Eucharist & confirmation in the Catholic Church exists because of a similar bias. Let alone the arguments against infant baptism.

    On the other hand, When we encounter saints depicted in icons in their telos, much of their biographical lives are skipped over. I don’t think one could go as far as to say that human beings are often closer to their telos at birth than at say, some midpoint in their career, because we should live our lives in order to grow closer to Christ, and God willing we do grow closer to Him as our life progresses. But perhaps if caught up in one’s career and usefulness, this could be true. The stories we create for ourselves are not what or who we are destined to be. It’s when we are existing, living, and worshipping rightly, which doesn’t have much to do with career. Vocation, more so.

    “Before, man had been spontaneous, like a child. At every step, he freely chose, without thinking, to act according to his nature, according to the Way. Now, however, at every step he had to stop and think, to calculate: ‘Should I follow the way or not?’ Thus he became a complex being, inwardly divided, and always vacillating.”

  15. Ook Avatar

    This post came at a very good time, while I’m using up some vacation days sitting at home so the company can make their financials look better (basically a nice accounting trick). I’ve decided to read a lot in a language I once knew very well, spend a few hours a day on the piano, and have started teaching myself Koine Greek. Plus a significantly increased time in prayer. All just because I feel like it.
    The experience has proven to be surprisingly pleasant, to the point where I’m thinking about retiring a couple of years early. Mentioning this to my friends (on Skype, of course…), the first thing that comes out of their mouths is always some well-meaning concern about how I will find myself lost with nothing useful to do all day.

  16. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Wonderful! Thank you so much Fr Stephen!

    There is so much to think on, or better, to repent towards.

    “…before long, begin to think that you’re building better humans along with better ploughs, threshing machines and iPhones..’”, wow!


  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Apparently, it was pretty general (the feasting). An interesting read are a couple of books by Eamon Duffy, a Catholic historian, who has brilliantly revisted the Reformation in England. His book, The Voices of Morebath, is an intense look at a single village, its life, and church, over a 50 year period spanning the various Reformations in England. The larger work, Stripping the Altars, does much the same for the whole of England. He’s Irish, and a professor at Cambridge. Really top-drawer writing and research.

    Much of what he has done has exploded the various myths that have dominated England’s telling of the Reformation. I think that had I read Duffy before going to seminary, I would have been hard put to remain an Anglican, mostly, in that it simply unmasks the Protestant account as highly-spun propaganda.

    But in the Voices of Morebath, afer a long bit of careful attention to the statistical details of the parish records (kept in a single hand by the same priest over the course of 50 years), he brings everything into focus with a very vivid description of the medieval synthesis – that comes alive through the records of that village. I was intrigued.

  18. Kay Avatar

    The last words of Oscar Wilde: “I am in a duel to death with this wallpaper. One of us has to go.’

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father…another thought provoking piece.
    As usual, words get turned upside down when uttered from within the Kingdom.

    How can any thing be useless when ‘without Him nothing was made that was made’ ?
    His mark is upon His entire creation.

    I think you are right Father, about calling someone (or something) useless. In a culture where usefulness is the marker of ‘worth’, and the worthless are considered ‘good for nothing’, as if life itself is not good enough.
    You are worthy in as much as you are able to contribute to the economic wealth of this now ‘global’ community.
    Each day the population of ‘the fringe’ grows with the ‘have not’s’. If they only knew that in Christ, in the Kingdom not of this world, the have not’s are welcome to the banquet table. The last becomes first. The ones that come at the 11th hour, come…put on the wedding garment…die and be risen with Christ in a reality where He is no respecter of persons. Where all things are made new…now, and until the ages of ages.

    The Useless God, Indeed Father.
    The full version of this talk must have been excellent.
    Now, very appropriate for this time of quarantine.

    Re redeeming the time…
    St Paul, during his time ‘in chains’, said this:
    “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
    Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
    Col 4: 2-6

  20. Mother Olga Avatar
    Mother Olga

    Father, bless. I just looked on Amazon for the Patitsas book you suggested for Eric. They have 1 copy available for $49.95. Any ideas where we could find copies for less? Thank you! 🙂

  21. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Father for these wonderful resources!

    Since you had mentioned Patitsas’ name earlier, I did an internet search and found an article in the Journal On the Road to Emmaus that might be of interest. I t is an interview with Patitsas and a bit of an overview of his thinking which I believe his books might go into more detail:

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    One of the activities that often occured during the religious feasts was the presentation of what were called “Mystery Plays” or “Miracle Plays” they were, much like the plays of ancient Greece, part of a communal celebration of faith and in some cases specifically designed to instruct or at least celebrate the faith for the less literate faithful. There is no question that these plays were attended by all classes. There was an annual cycle of such plays.

    It is a sadness to me that an art form I love (plays) which everywhere and always had its roots in communal worship and religious festival has been so degraded. IMAO, it was the severe iconoclasm of the Reformation that is significantly to blame. The stripping went way beyond the altars. My awareness of the history of such things from my late teens and my family background in such things was a big push in the direction 9f the Orthodox Church.

    I think we would do well to recover a more robust and communal approach to the feasts that includes adults and not just children. The Lebanese practice of the communal feast on Meat Fare is not a bad idea.

    Sometimes there is far more Puritan in me than I realize. God forgive me.

  23. Marianne Lewis Avatar
    Marianne Lewis

    Fr Stephen, thank you for your reflection. I wonder if you know this quote from George MacDonald. I discovered it reading CS Lewis’s “George MacDonald : An Anthology” many years ago .

    “Work is not always required of a man; there is such a thing as a sacred idleness,
    the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.”

    I also read a book by Joseph Pieper many years ago “ Leisure – The Basis of Culture” which if you don’t know it you would find interesting ….

  24. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father Stephen,
    Once again I expose my ignorance. Did the Orthodox Church participate in the ‘Medieval Synthesis’? I think the answer is yes. But I’d prefer to hear your thoughts instead of my guesses.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Strictly speaking, the “medieval synthesis” describes the Medieval West – but would certainly apply, in some manner, to the Christian East. One part of the Christian East’s experience in this period was distorted by the Turkish Yoke, whose effects (I personally believe) are still strongly with us.

    Russia is probably the best candidate when thinking about such a synthesis in the East – but it was distorted in various ways. Peter the Great, for example, was absolutely in love with Western ways (especially German). He literally tried to organize the Church according to German Lutheran patterns (abolishing the Patriarchate of Moscow and replacing with with a government functionary the “Oberprokurator”). I laughed with a Russian parishioner recently about the attempt of Peter to turn Russians into Germans! It’s just not meant to be.

    On the other hand, there are a number of things that I’ve noticed in Russian (and a number of other Orthodox cultures) that have elements of a “synthesis” about them. The feasts days, for one, though, culturally, these are not all that strong in Russia. That culture is more secularized today than many might imagine. But I can recall conversations with Soviet scientists, back in the day, whose notions about “science” often included a strangely materialistic explanation for many “folk magic” practices and beliefs. They had lost the theological explanation of such things, but not the thing itself.

    It is, I think, quite difficult for those of us who have been “modernized” (it’s not our fault), to step back into something of that synthesis (or a “one-storey worldview”). Those who have other backgrounds (such as native American, etc.) probably find it easier. But there is something of an effort required – a “stretching” towards that noetically grounded sense of things – that a “modernized” person will have to endure. I suspect that such efforts, rightly practiced, will be met with far more grace than we might imagine.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I like Pierper’s work. Recently, I heard a paleo-archeologist talk about their sense of the beginnings of civilization. At some point in the human fossil record, she said, you begin to see the bones of older people among the findings. It means that the elderly were being valued, despite the fact that they were no longer productive. It was a cultural value of desirable wisdom.

    I like that. Wisdom does indeed require leisure. I am laying claim to some of that and unashamedly being grateful for my retired status (though, I’m obviously still plugging away on writing and speaking, etc., and I continue to serve in my parish). But I’m also doing these things with an eye towards leisure. I believe it is God’s will.

  27. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    But there is something of an effort required – a “stretching” towards that noetically grounded sense of things – that a “modernized” person will have to endure. I suspect that such efforts, rightly practiced, will be met with far more grace than we might imagine.

    Yes indeed Father, as I reflect on the Lord’s over abundant feeding of the multitudes.

  28. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Yet another instant keeper! Much more could be said about this topic, as well as life in Christian lands. In North America, we know little of it.

    Though I understand the idea of work being part of the curse in one of the comments, I think that could be clarified since there are two vastly different sorts of work. One is that which stems from the passions (today, the ideas of progress and profit) and works tirelessly to exalt the self (or some other idol) though the sacrifice of the other (or the real self, eg in idolatry). But the other form of work is that which serves the Christ and it preexisted the curse (cf Genesis 1.28, 2.15); it may or may not look like work (it often looks more like liturgy and/or play) and sacrifices *for* the other (and not just the *idea* of the other).


    What you said hearkens back to a comment I made in the last thread about avoiding taking money for so long because I didn’t want to enter into that kind of relationship—even if the “transaction” was not “spiritual”, I felt it was still wrong. And I still do, though I think we enter into it as a matter of economia. Just as St Paul talks about the weaker brother in regards to eating, I think we have to deal with the other systems of this world—carefully and partially—to meet and live with all kinds of people. And even if we can enter quite deeply (“all things are lawful”) there is still the understanding that it is only by Grace that we can do so and that the systems themselves will pass away.

    I have encountered some difficult situations analogous to what you described when I have been present at various fundraisers for various Orthodox causes—often monasteries—around the world. Some of what I saw seemed very…capitalistic and I had to do a lot of reading of the Fathers afterwards and even then it took me awhile to regain peace. One thing that helped me was to dig deeper into the very passage that sparked some of my indignation (Mark 11.15–17) and see that Jesus drove out primarily those who wanted to use the Church for money, not those who wanted to use money for the Church. In can be a tough line to draw (one that we have to perceive in ourselves, really). And when I ask why these ascetics are traveling around in the first place it is because they *aren’t* getting the support they need from visitors, their dioceses, etc. It could be for any number of reasons, but they are in a difficult situation themselves. So I now try to be generous whatever the cause and hope that one day the circumstances will be different for them. Without getting too far into the trap of “making a difference”, I think that the change really does start with us; something as simple as volunteering or seriously contributing to an open-source project—not something that is only ever a non-paid thing but deliberately doing something the world considers valuable and profitable and just giving it away—allows us to participate in a Grace that just keeps rippling outwards, less so because of the content of the contribution (especially if it is “valuable”) and moreso because of its spirit.

    Brandon and Ziton,

    I like some of your thoughts. I think the key, as always, is Christ. We don’t begin as infants, or even in the womb, nor even in our ancestors. I mean, we do, but more importantly and fundamentally we begin in Christ. He is where our story starts. And He is the measure of our work and our play. If we are working for Him, we let the results be what they will be. And if we are playing around, we do it in real joy and gratefulness, “swimming” in Him.

  29. sgage Avatar

    Joseph Barabbas,
    Years ago I played in a band, and one of the band members refused to take his share of the gig money because “that is not what I do music for”. We are not talking huge pots of money here, but anyway, the rest of us took his share and bought him little things – guitar strings, etc., a nice (typically musical, guitar-related) present for his birthday, etc. But he was really serious about it. The funny thing is, at the time I felt like I really understood his point. But on the other hand, I really gave my all as a musician, and I felt the money was fair exchange for our time, the travel, etc. , and I accepted it gratefully.

  30. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Michael Bauman,

    I hope this doesn’t get too off topic but what you said reminds me of the Schmemann quote I keep posted in my digital “sticky note” at all times:

    And again it is the sacred duty and the real function of the priest not to “serve the parish”, but to make the parish serve God—and there is a tremendous difference between these two functions.

    —Pr Alexander Schmemann

    I’ve had this up for maybe a decade now because it is so fundamental for me. Maybe it is just the experiences I have had, but as time has gone on and I’ve seen more places implode and/or dissolve, I think he could have gone further: I am not sure the “parish model” can work at all. And I’m not sure it is even Orthodox. I don’t want to get too far into the nitty-gritty of the overlapping jurisdictional situation, the substitution of the diocese by the parish (eg, the diocese can tend towards administration and be hard to spot at the local level), and so on, but will note that some of the canons talk about this, too, eg having a treasurer *apart from the clergy* who handles the financial side of a community—and that one will be forcibly appointed if there isn’t! What I mean is not that there shouldn’t be local temples or clergy, but that the underlying assumptions we have now consistently lead to serious, serious problems—and maybe more deeply and systematically than even Schmemann conceived of.

    Your example is beautiful because it describes the whole community: it is not just the temple, but the public spaces, the homes, the businesses, everything. The temple is part of the community—at its center, in many ways—but it remains a part of the whole in a non-secularized way. It is not there to “swallow up” all men’s meetings, game nights, studies, and even prayer. It is there to facilitate and serve, not to dominate or control. It is hard to talk about these things without causing undue offense or talk about the results of the “parish model” without becoming spiritually graphic so I’ll avoid much more even by way of analogy.

    What is needed for your example is a safe space to live, to work, and to play; it has to be open, not insular, and Orthodox, yet without becoming yet another “managed” thing or so-called “parish ministry”. Even given the centrality of the temple and the liturgical life, the community has to remain focused and committed to Christ and His Body, over and above a particular individual, administrative organ, etc. Outside of a select few monastery-colocated and other intentional communities, I do not see that. And what is most concerning to me is that I do not see a community like you or Pr Stephen describe developing from the extremes of the “parish model” nor do I see how a healthy temple life forms except from a healthy, deeply Orthodox (and not “hyperdox”, but quietly and humbly Orthodox “to the bone”) community. It is one of those pesky chicken-and-egg problems. The “parish model” doesn’t seem to be producing saints, either: those I see and/or suspect are largely on the fringes (not meaning in a “woo” sort of way but meaning detached from the “life” there and/or subverting it; most of our North American saints avoided it by being missionaries!) or attached to one of the aforementioned select communities.

    I see very few solutions to this, if I may veer a bit into the language of management myself. I’m working on an alternative but it will take generations and it already looks beyond “strange”, but I have long been more scared by the “normal”. Not sure how it will turn out, but this weird all-or-nothing approach is not doing clergy or parishioners many favors. It is just hiding shame, disclaiming responsibility, creating *dramatically* unhealthy dynamics, etc—and distorting the iconic witness of The Church. But how else would things be done besides my project and the examples I mentioned? I’m not sure. It goes back to the question of authority, as well, so I still hope we can get a post or two addressing that aspect. Very difficult topic.

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Joseph, community is almost ephemeral. The more “consciously” one tries to build it, the more it tends to escape our grasp. Modernity abhors community because it requires all that modernity hates. Community requires so many elements. A living.flexible community has the ability to grow and adapt and initiate new people into itself through beauty, ritual, story, celebration, a willingness to serve and just as important be served. To live in community requires both boldness and humility. Capacity to share laughter and tears, shame and triumph. It includes all aspects of life including absorbing and transforming sin: usually manifest in the individual will of its members often to “do good”.
    In the Church, the central focus of our community is not just the Liturgical services but the communion they create, allow, support and strengthen.
    The single greatest act of community I have ever been apart of occured many years ago. In the course of participating in a major parish function in a Saturday, I asked an older gentleman to do something he did not want to do. He did not like the request and berated me and stormed off in a huff. Others who knew him better than I shrugged their shoulders as if they expected that. He had that reputation apparently. However the next morning, before Liturgy, he sought me out and apologized so that we could both receive.
    It turns out that he was working on a deep repentance with our Bishop because he knew that his days were short. When I told some of the others who had witnessed the conflict, they were amazed. When he died a year or so later, our Bishop lionized him at his funeral for being Christ-like. Not the first description that would have come to mind for many.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What is more useless than bearing one another’s burdens in love and repentance and humility? Doing that exposes me to becoming sick myself and distracts me from the task at hand, my own safety and salvation. Community is not safe. It always is an expression of the Cross–dying uselessly in pain, agony and shame. Yet it is also the vehicle of our life in all of its sordidness, struggle and failure. None of us can beat our uselessness alone, nor should we. The victory and Glory always springs from that.
    Christ is Risen!

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Joseph Barabbas,
    The broad number of experiences I’ve had over the years of ordained ministry has been of help for me as I “survey” the land. I’ve served missions that we began from scratch. I’ve served old missions that were in a kind of “failure to thrive” mode – and seen them change. I’ve served very large parishes with lots of staff, money and program, thinking of how to set in place a spiritual life and not just an institutional existence, etc. I was a “Dean” for an area of our diocese for some years, and assisted in starting another 4 parishes. St. Anne, we began 22 years ago, and have gone through lots of stages. I think of it as a very healthy parish – that has smoothly been able to transition to a new priest as I retired. I already see it getting stronger still.

    A parish is much like a human being. It is being created from the “end of all things” and not merely growing from its beginning causes. As such, when we “manage” them, we tend to take them in some wrong direction of our own imagination. The temptations in a parish are like those in a human being. Our own inner shame and neuroses will demand this thing or that thing. They will seek to dominate. In pretty much every case, you cannot “fix” these things (not without really doing damage to a person). But, we can refuse to yield to those demands.

    For a human being, most of the neuroses and shame are not of our own making. Neither are the conditions of our culture. Our culture model is highly therapeutic and wants to fix people. Orthodoxy is therapeutic, but in a different manner. Primarily, we learn to “bear a little shame,” which means to be patient in the presence of the Lord, to acquire some stillness in the soul, to bear with an annoyance here and there – including our annoyance with ourselves, and to turn our attention on the beauty of God Himself.

    It’s perhaps strange, but I think one of the most important things we have done over the years at St. Anne has been the decoration of our temple. Our building is plain (I’ve described it as a parish disguised as a dental office). 10 years or so ago, a parishioner suggested that since we weren’t ready to build a new building yet, we should attend to the beauty of where we were. We did that. Some of it in an initial project for a beautiful iconostasis. But slowly, and carefully, other things over the years. It’s beautiful, at least for what it is. But it is a metaphor for the whole parish and the individual members.

    We could have been constantly unhappy and unsatisfied, wanting the new building, thinking about what we did not have. Or, we could attend to the present and the beauty that was possible in our circumstances. The same is true in our inner lives. We should not think much about the future (including the future of Orthodoxy in America), nor should we lament the present. As difficult as things are sometimes now, and can assure you, they were much worse 20 years ago. The jurisdictional mess is a pain in the ass, but there’s a lot less pain than there was. 30 years ago, convert parishes were rare. 40 years ago, they were almost non-existent.

    But, the life as I described it above, patience in the present, attending to the beauty of God rather than our own messiness and failings, is a life that can be lived.

    I saw this in Greece once. We were in Thessaloniki, visiting the small parish of Nikolaus Orphanos. It is among the “least” of the beautiful Churches in that great city. We were there for a Sunday liturgy. Eventually, the place was standing room only – packed. A handful of chanters did a good job. But flowing into the courtyard, I could feel the vibrancy of this community – how they interacted with each other and with strangers. One woman, with bright joy, said, “This is our neighborhood church!” In such a place you can live, suffer, get well, rejoice, mourn – do everything in the presence of God.

    The greatest joy in my life has been my present parish. It became a place where I could do all those things as well. I was not only its priest, but I was allowed to be a human being – being a priest. It has never been my “job.” It’s been my “life” (with all the attendant realities). It is a great kindness of God that I am allowed such a thing. And now, I am the old grandfather priest. I’m not in charge of anything, but I’m there. I serve, etc., at the pleasure and need of the new Rector. And, in good time, I will die there, in their midst. It’s also my neighborhood church.

    Forgive an old man rambling on.

  34. EC Marguerite Avatar
    EC Marguerite

    Christos Anesti, Father:
    Small wonder the residents of long-term care homes and institutions have borne the brunt of this cruel virus: the elderly or incapacitated are “useless.” Although they confront pain and neglect every minute of their lives, they are not heroes because they do nothing. P.S. Nice to read you participated in a liturgy in beautiful Thessaloniki. You can smell the layers of civilization there!
    Alithos Anesti.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The story of the elderly in modern culture is rather tragic in many ways. Even in the best of times, nursing homes are lonely places of isolation. There are much better ways to do all of this. I think I read about a program in the Netherlands (maybe) in which the elderly lived in apartments with college students, or someone of that age. It was designed to help students or the young with their costs and increase companionship for the older citizens. Seemed like a model worth thinking more about.

  36. EC Marguerite Avatar
    EC Marguerite

    An excellent alternative to the present-day situation. Reminds me of L’Arche. During a crisis, all the ugliness and neglect rise to the surface and we see the consequences of our heartlessness.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is not just people. My wife and I each have things that have been in our respective families for over 100 years. The next generation does not want them because they are “useless” to them .

  38. Christian Wanderer Avatar
    Christian Wanderer

    Father Stephen, I apologize for the length of this comment. I need some pastoral help related to uselessness.

    I have a friend (an evangelical Christian, FWIW) who is suffering right now from a number of difficulties, especially the breakdown of his family and loss of contact with his children (he sees them a few hours per week, but with the courts only dealing with the most serious and urgent cases due to the CV-19 pandemic, his divorce is “stalled”, and improving his parenting position is impossible. Add to this that the children are currently with their mother, who is vindictive toward her former husband and neglectful of the needs of the children (who haven’t been to school for a couple of years now — she says she “home schools” them, but it amounts to an occasional NatGeo video, and neither child can write yet — and they should be able to).

    As a result of all this, he has struggled with the phrase “God loves you.” He is ideologically committed to the truth of that statement. However, he says that he no longer understands the verb “love”. He’d always understood it as more or less equivalent to an earthly father’s love for his children. My friend, as a father, does everything in his power to protect and provide for his children. So what does God’s love for us mean if, despite prayers and entreaties, marriages dissolve and children are neglected? After all, God *can* do anything, yet He appears not to be doing anything that looks like a father’s love. In a sense, I think he’s saying that God’s love is useless.

    This isn’t a typical theodicy problem. The conclusion of the argument isn’t “God doesn’t exist.” Rather, the puzzle is that God really does exist and really does love us. But His love doesn’t look anything like human love. It is so different that the statement “God loves me” could justly be expressed as “God fibbles me”. The sentence has a meaning and is true. But we cannot understand or appropriate this meaning because we cannot say what the verb “fibble” means. We know what human “love” is because we can see evidence of love in such things as protection and provision, response to cries of need. Love does things. We know that if a man says “I love my children” but refuses to feed them, that he’s a liar. We don’t say his love is useless, we say his love doesn’t exist or his expression of love is vacuous.

    In short, if I can hazard an application of this post to my friend’s puzzlement, it appears that God’s love (or even just God, for God is love) is useless.

    My friend often puts it in terms like “Nobody can tell me what God’s love actually looks like”. He dismisses the crucifixion and resurrection as historical events that have no bearing on the kinds of suffering he and his kids are suffering. Is there nothing left to be said?

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    First off, our standard of what love looks like, often seems to be measured by the so-called normalcy of an average American life. Of course, such lives rarely include suffering. It is one of modernity’s make-believe propositions. God loves your friend’s children – and their lives seem to be gathering a certain amount of suffering. What God will do in their lives, despite that suffering, through that suffering, with that suffering, etc., is something we cannot know at present. But, I think of so many people whose children lived suffering-free lives, and the children grew up to be vapid, unloving, mindless consumers. What we cannot know is the story God is writing in each human soul. We know that God loves us and them because of what Christ has done on the Cross. What we can know is that the love of Christ’s death on the Cross and His resurrection will be applied in their lives. Adults slowly have to learn to be adults – and, as we can, help our children with the burdens they will carry in life.

  40. ScottTX Avatar

    God “fibbles” us because a dog can’t know why it has to take a pill.

  41. Martin Zip Avatar
    Martin Zip

    Your article reminded of a very recent poll conducted online by one of our local TV stations. The poll question was: “Have you been donating to local charities since the pandemic began?” A total of 499 responded and the results floored me. 114 or 23% said YES and 385 or 77% said NO. Is the low response to donating because charities are being viewed by modern man as “useless”? I hope not!

  42. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for your response to Christian’s presentation of his friends’ concerns and troubles. I especially appreciate this: “…God loves your friend’s children – and their lives seem to be gathering a certain amount of suffering. What God will do in their lives, despite that suffering, through that suffering, with that suffering, etc., is something we cannot know at present. But, I think of so many people whose children lived suffering-free lives, and the children grew up to be vapid, unloving, mindless consumers. What we cannot know is the story God is writing in each human soul. We know that God loves us and them because of what Christ has done on the Cross. What we can know is that the love of Christ’s death on the Cross and His resurrection will be applied in their lives. Adults slowly have to learn to be adults – and, as we can, help our children with the burdens they will carry in life.”

  43. Basem Avatar

    Forgive me Father: I understand the argument presented but I am struggling with some aspects of it. Didn’t you write this article because you be believed it would be “useful”? I feel there are certain things that are part of our own “operating system” that we can’t transcend. We frequently talk about our church feasts and celebrations do “transcend time” but we are limited beings and we can only understand things in “time” and hence that is why we have a liturgical calendar. Our feasts may transcend time but we certainly can’t! I was once yelled at for saying things like “American Nation needs to learn more humility” and then I realized that “humility” is one of those evanescent things that as soon being preached on, is immediately lost! I am struggling to express my point but hope you are able to understand what I mean?

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Describing something as “useful,” is, of course, a way of looking at everything people do (breathing, etc.). But it is an artificial category that forces us into a larger, and false, way of describing ourselves and our world. Actually, I did not write the article because it was useful. I wrote it because it seemed beautiful and true. I have no idea what kind of “use” anyone might make of it. When we begin to make “useful” the dominant and organizing principle for describing ourselves and the world, we begin to change the decisions we make and slowly reduce everything and ourselves to mere tools.

    Describing things as “useful” is about as true as a Freudian describing everything as being about “sex.” It’s reductionist and, finally, not true.

    BTW, America does need more humility – we have almost none as a nation. Humility is the ability to bear a little shame. We do not bear shame and have pretty much no mechanism for doing so. The same is true for repentance.

  45. Justin Kolodziej Avatar
    Justin Kolodziej

    When you have done all that you are commanded to do, say: “We are useless servants. We have only done our duty.” (quoting from memory, could be slightly off)

    This always sounded to me like our Lord telling us nothing we can do is ever enough for Him…but what if the point is exactly to be useless (and His commands get us there)…like Him?

    Something further to ponder: Am I trying to use Christ and the Church to get something I want (even if it’s salvation)? If so I’m definitely doomed, because that’s not love. I think I might have converted partly because of that and not seeing results in where I was before, so was it a mistake?

    Just thoughts. Expand on them, correct my errors, pray for me.

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Of course we all convert for various reasons, many of them wrong reasons. This is necessarily so because, to a great extent, we don’t really know what we’re doing. That is my experience with marriage. I’ve been married for 43 years now, and there is no way I could have understood or known what I was doing. But, it was enough to get me down the aisle and to make outlandish promises to a woman I still barely knew.

    That is generally true of our lives. We stumble through cluelessly. It’s why the huge cultural emphasis on “choosing” is very poor theology. Choosing, in this culture, is about commerce and shopping. It’s about serving Mammon.

    God is far greater and mysterious. He’s drawing us to Himself long before we can possibly know what we’re doing – and He takes us at our word, always treating our word as if we meant the very best possible thing by it. He is crazy generous and does not begrudge our errors. He takes the slightest hint of love on our part as though it were the whole of our being.

    God lift you up!

  47. Margaret Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for your response in comments here to Justin. I believe that God does take “the slightest hint of love on our part as though it were the whole of our being” to be the very truth, as in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Lover of Mankind truth. Thank you! (I will credit the writings of CS Lewis and Fr. John Behr for my assumption here, I have not done this from my own mind)

  48. Justin Edge Avatar
    Justin Edge

    Fr Stephen:
    I apologize if this is a tad off-topic, but in a recent comment (or article) you were discussing the fact that we have little-to-no control over our lives (“choice”) and referred to us as being “witnesses” to our lives. The negative aspect of that (no control) I have known my whole life, but the positive aspect (being witnesses) really struck me. Thus, I have been ruminating upon it the last few days.
    At some point, those musings intersected another thread you (and I also) have been kicking around for awhile: What constitutes a “good Confession” (as in the Holy Mystery of Repentance)?
    Along these lines, would you say that a “good Confession” would consist in being (or attempting to be) an HONEST witness? Would you say “bearing a little shame” would consist in being an ACCURATE witness?

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would hope that honest and accurate would coincide. Our cultural therapeutic model tends to be focused on “fixing” the past, or, using some account of the past as the means for creating the narrative of the present. In that way, we are not only made “witnesses” of the past, but, more or less, “victims” of the past. And, if the past is negative (sins), how do we not feel bound by them inescapably?

    Our “witness” of the past is an acknowledgement of what we have done, or even what has happened to us, etc. It is not, however, a creation of our present narrative by our analysis of the past (and our agreeing to fix it). Our lives are being (at this present moment) created and “narrated” by God (Col. 3:3). The forgiveness of sin is also a recognition that we are being loosed from a bondage we could never free ourselves from.

    We do not so much change ourselves through repentance but turn to a new self that is being created by God. That heart of repentance is a turning away from the past and a turning towards the Beauty that is God in His creation of who we are becoming.

    I’m working at finding good language to describe this. It is, in a manner, a turning from toxic shame towards healthy shame. It’s slow, and requires patience, and a good and safe fellow-witness (like a priest/confessor).

    I’ll be writing and saying more.

  50. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Waiting patiently, Father!
    I thank God for supplying one of the requirements. Our priest is one of those safe fellow witnesses.

    I have often suspected that repentance is misunderstood as “I will turn away from such and such a sin and never do it again”. Something like that. It is no wonder that a person would begin to react in self-loathing, looking upon oneself as an utter failure.

    I can understand the necessity of a trustworthy priest/confessor.
    Shame, at any level, if it is toxic and not dealt with is like robbing a person of the fullness of life in Christ.

    Yesterday I received in the mail “The Ethics of Beauty”. So meticulously packaged between to volumes of their journal “Road to Emmaus”. It was like opening a surprise gift, with an extra added bonus. Much care went into even its shipping.
    Thanks for the book recommendation. It has overtaken all, and is in first place on my reading list 🙂

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My parish is reopening. Confession first. My wife and I just came from there. As I venerated the icons I began to cry even before I got to confession. Indeed still am crying– to be there again. Tears of joy, sorrow, thanksgiving and repentance all together. I was not expecting that.
    Christ is Risen..

  52. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Good news Michael!!
    I understand the tears!
    Oh Indeed! He is Risen!

  53. Justin Edge Avatar
    Justin Edge

    Fr Stephen:
    Thank you for your reply!
    To elaborate on one point: I also hope that “accurate” and “honest” coincide, yet in my experience of the world they rarely do.
    Let me give an example. If you were to ask me where I have “missed the mark” most, I would honestly say “Thing A.” However, I may well lack sufficient self-awareness / Christ-awareness to accurately identify “Thing B” as an area in which I am much further off the mark than Thing A. Christ may well delay my awareness of Thing B until such time as I am able to bear it.
    Here’s another example – were we to enter an insane asylum, we might encounter someone who honestly believes himself to be a poached-egg. If he said he wasn’t a poached-egg, he’d be accurate, but dishonest.
    I’ve witnessed a good bit of nastiness ensue when folks genuinely asserted something that later turned out to not be accurate, and were subsequently assumed to have been deceptive.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Justin, but thing B is always intimately connected to thing A. AND, Jesus knows all of the interconnections. Life and salvation are not linear. Any repentance helps our entire soul AND the souls of others. Christ is Risen!

    We are neither individuals nor alone. What brought me to tears yesterday was the welcome I received from each wait as I venerated their icon. Jesus, Mary, the altar, St. Raphael of Brooklyn, St. Daniel, the Stylite, St. Symeon, the Stylite and St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Nativity and the Harrowing of Hell.

    Today marks the 33rd anniversary of my reception into the Church. Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women. Glory to God for His mercy.

  55. Pettersen Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Freeman, for an uplifting reminder on the value of the “useless”!

  56. Jordan Avatar

    Thinking about this accurate/truthful thing regarding the past more regarding those who have been made victims of abuse in their early life. In those cases, repentance is really about receiving sight, because there is a kind of blindness that abuse creates which produces wrong ways of seeing one’s self and others. I’m finding that it’s about letting Christ be the faithful witness of my past, because I was unable to be. But that’s a way of receiving a kind of sight now in the present (you never “fix” the past). I can’t help but be confused, but at least I can endeavor to not be confused about my confusion!

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think this is spot on.

  58. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Belated happy birthday Michael!

  59. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you so much for this article and comments.
    I mention this about our memory of our victimizations, and how we perceive our history. Among the things we are taught are forgiveness and to give Glory for all things. As I reflect on the responsiveness of my heart and the ways it lacks responsiveness, it seems that I’m more ready to give thanks to God for all things rather than to forgive.

    I know one condition of the heart cannot really exist without the other. So I ask myself and reflect whether I’m being truthful with myself. Is it possible that giving thanks to God for all things might lead and prepare the heart to forgive?

    Last, I just listened last night to your talk at Connect 2018, on you tube. I enjoyed it so much and it really inspired creative thoughts about our physical reality for me!

    For others who might be interested here is the link

  60. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Give Glory to God for all things—sorry

  61. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank you Dee. I spent 39 years in the desert before being brought to the Church so I pray for seven more years at least so I will have been in the Church longer than not. Though time is not linear that balance in time seems important to me. Sure, it is not the time one but how I use it but 7 more would be nice.

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Michael I know how you feel! Indeed I wish it could be so for me as well to have lived my life longer in Christ. I suspect, given my age when I was baptized, that might not happen. : )

    And indeed, for our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no real beginning or end, for He is eternally slain and is and shall ever be risen. And we, by His grace and love, live in Him.

    Christ is Risen!

  63. Justin Edge Avatar
    Justin Edge

    Indeed, it is ALL connected, as you say.

  64. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Jordan, for your comment here:
    “Thinking about this accurate/truthful thing regarding the past more regarding those who have been made victims of abuse in their early life. In those cases, repentance is really about receiving sight, because there is a kind of blindness that abuse creates which produces wrong ways of seeing one’s self and others. I’m finding that it’s about letting Christ be the faithful witness of my past, because I was unable to be. But that’s a way of receiving a kind of sight now in the present (you never “fix” the past). I can’t help but be confused, but at least I can endeavor to not be confused about my confusion!”
    Fr. Stephen, there is truth here, I believe you write about this concept also, please continue as these words express ideas which to me exemplify Our Lord’s Love for Mankind, thank you!

  65. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    When Michael and I went to confession on Sat. I was overwhelmed with the depth of emotion that
    “coming home” after so long away from the sanctuary and sacraments gave us both. We sat in the pew and cried tears of such joy, at being “home” with our Heavenly family again in THEIR house. Streaming is so one-dimensional. On Sunday, we were on the list to get to go to liturgy too. Their was no choir, so Michael’s very deep and projecting voice filled in for them. (Fr. Paul even said “WOW!” at one point when Michael led the response.) The number of people and where they could sit was limited to a small fraction of the usual attendance, so it was quieter than usual too. With no booklet to refer to, we simply enjoyed every moment and every prayer. It was a very emotional and moving experience. We had been forbidden so long that we realized what a gift being able to worship in our church was. The Holy Bread afterwards were tiny – stamped – individual loaves in plastic bags.
    I will tie this into the useless thing because of so many comments on social media during this time about the churches being closed but the abortion clinics and places to buy flowers for the yard and etc. being open. I was told over and over – that I was endangering lives by wanting to be in church. That we should just stream church because it was not THAT important anyway! So many comments that were in favor of reducing liturgy to a tv show you can DVR to watch later, or ignore entirely. They said you can worship God anywhere, and at home is just fine – safer for everyone. I disagree. After this last weekend, I will never feel streaming is “enough”. Michael and I are both considered to be “HIGH Risk” for the virus, but I will sign up for liturgy as often as I can. – in the church. I believe God is the only one that knows when, or how I will die, and I pray weekly for a “Painless, blameless, and peaceful death – with a good defense before the dread Judgement Seat of Christ.” I am putting my faith, and trust in Him.
    One of the saddest things about this time has been all the fear people are living with. I have been very sad for friends who lost family to other things during this, and were not allowed to be with their loved ones or even gather to have a funeral or family dinner afterwards. Knowing their spouse, sibling, or child died alone and without anyone with them who loved them – is causing horrific pain to so many.
    Church, and liturgy are not “useless” and replaceable by a tv show. Sacraments are important too.
    I will bring a mask and wear it if asked, but I want to be in church for Sunday Liturgy! We can do it and keep distancing and reasonable precautions. The difference is overwhelming!

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would never tell anyone that streaming is an actual substitute, much less sufficient. It is not. Indeed, in the Facebook videos I’ve done during the crisis, I’ve stressed the fact that what we are doing is suffering – nothing less. That suffering can be offered as worship to God – but that does not change it’s character. And, of course, nothing will satisfy until we are able to gather together.

    This Sunday, our parish will have its first folk returning (very reduced numbers). And, though this is better, it, too, will be insufficient – because the Divine Liturgy is, properly, the gathering of the whole church family. I will not be “satisfied” until I see them all! But, oddly, I feel their absence at least as strongly as I feel their presence!

    No one should have tried to put a happy face on this time of shelter-in-place. It’s not a new thing. It’s happened before at different times with different diseases. But, it will pass. It is, however, taking place in a time of great cultural madness. Western civilization is slowly crumbling around us. We are not, by and large, governed by good people (nor are we ourselves properly nurtured in goodness). We have a culture produced by consumerism – and it shows. So, even when we get back, all of the same work awaits us.

    What I do know is that the providential care of God is at work for our good and our salvation throughout and within all of this. So, we give Him glory!

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