"Do not call conspiracy all this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread."
Ah, yes. I call "conspiracy" about every single big idea (or program or campaign) that I do not like. A conspiracy is simply another man's program.
And what they fear – how we not want to own up to this term – they claim to dislike a whole host of things: islamacists, jihadists, global warming, political factions on all sides, economic processes, other capitalists who are breaking into my new barns. But behind all these boutique and culturally acceptable fears lurks one glowering lugubrious fear that is taboo to be spoken of, out loud.
It is the abyss on the other side of consciousness. Death, of course, lurks there, and it is not the pretty philosophical construct of formulaic negation or convenient annihilation. Death is the predicate of all nightmare: we know what it is whether we want to or not. Sublimity and distance stretch beyond death, and the mere awareness of this destroys all definition.
Parenthetically, I might add here that I feared, today at 4 am, that somehow, my sins and your sins – not the sins of Haitians or Chileans – are involved in the causal chain that produced the recent cataclysms. I fear this and dread.
"But the Lord Sabaoth, Him you shall regard as holy; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread."
Ah, yes. "Fear God."
Do these two words not offend you, with their dusty old irrelevancy? No one fears God anymore. They define Him quite completely. They render Him into variables for chaos, for as-yet-to-be-determined physical constructs. They fit Him into process theories, in which, somehow, He "becomes."
They demote Him to a positive force in psychotherapeutic theory. He is the vague co-signer of every application for a mortgage on self-esteem.
He, indistinct and "freed" from dogmatic constraint, can be anything you want Him to be, and – in the sense of conversation and senseless morass – He is. He is blamed for every event. Worse: He is blamed for every idea that crosses your mind. It is an indictment of our culture – and, woe to us, ecclesiastical culture – that we are able to achieve rhetorical ethos by prefacing our propositions with "God told me that" or "I feel led to" or "This is new, it must be God's will."
Fear God, for He – and no one else – can save a soul or not. Fear God while you consider how modern you want to be. Fear God when you decide how passionate you want to be.
But fear God when you gird up your loins and face the abyss square in the face. Then that fear turns into sanctuary.
"And He will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling."
Ah, yes. God is scandal, a "stumbling stone," to some and sanctuary to others. To those who do not fear Him but define Him, He eventually, ineluctably, is scandalous, and they stumble on Him … they fall and break, and fall into the snare of nihilism and their minds (at least) are taken into exile (a condition that could be called, at best, "existentialism"). Their bodies descend into the stygian fog of passion (a condition that could be called, most likely, "TV Land").
But He is sanctuary at the precipice, the very moment of recognition that the abyss, the terrifying expanse of Wrath and Grace, the Consuming Fire and the River of Healing, to those who have the courage to believe, who repent enough to pray to the Holy Trinity, and to receive the sacrament in the Father's House of Bread, the mystic Bethlehem.
"Bind up the testimony, seal the teaching among my disciples."
This verse is an imperative for Holy Tradition, and Orthodoxy should understand it implicitly.
The testimony of Holy Tradition is sealed through dogma and ascesis, through learning and fasting, through prayer and liturgy, through repentance and theoria, purgation and communion. It is sealed through succession, and here I tend toward (but try not to cross the line) Novatian: the testimony of Church persists through the Apostles', and their Successors', acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and nothing less. This continuity of the Apostolic Theoria, somehow, someway, was never once broken. The single Tapestry of Tradition, stretching wondrously from before Creation, continues in deeper, higher, even more substantial Beauty.
But there are many threads (even bishops: think of the rotten George of Cappadocia, who administered a pork-and-funeral cartel in Athanasius' Alexandria) that twist out of the design and unravel off the edges. While the continuity was never broken, there were more than a few times when the world woke up with a shudder and found itself Arian, and such a time that was is now here again.
There was a time when the Son was not, Arius did say.
He's been exceeded: there was never a time when the Son ever was, they say today.
Maybe the world is not even Arian, nor even Gnostic (since most are perfectly content with partying in a temporary world of receding pleasure, and – unlike the hopeful Gnostics – are okay with annihilation).
Maybe it's really Gomorran, even ante-deluvian: "As it was in the days of Noah."
"I will wait for the Lord, Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in Him."
Who is the house of Jacob, and is the Face visible or obscure to that House?
I have learned more what hope is from its absence, in this distempered age. "Hope" today is but a cartoon, a mere guess, or an occult objective or goal that is nothing other than an oath, plastered on the end of a mission statement (a wan sheaf of carbon-specked white paper that displaces Creed and Canon). "Hope" is articulated in terms of financial figures, or attendance figures, or construction plans, or institutional aims, or organizational aggrandizement theories with language from the sciences or Japan (Theory Z anyone?).
If we took seriously the warnings of Jesus and James against swearing and cursing and oath-making, we would put a torch to all our business plans and mission statements, and recognize them as the magic scrolls of the Corinthians. But we won't since we (and our constituents) must have our kind of "hope."
It is a sad thing that when real hope is needed – as in "I hope completely in God," or "I certainly hope for salvation," or "I thankfully hope to be in Paradise" – this is precisely when the word "hope" devolves into its degenerate modern form, as in "I hope, but I really don't expect, anything from God, whether it be salvation, the Church or Paradise, and I'm sure to be disappointed." Here, hope is a shot in the dark, a metaphysical – and rather sloppy – guess.
I think that real hope has been displaced by modern goals-and-objectives-and-positive-thinking "hope." Just as real belief has been displaced by opinion and feeling. Real dogma has been displaced by consensus. Real leadership has been displaced by abbreviations like "Inc." and operation manuals.
"And when they say to you, 'Consult the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter,' should not a people consult their God?"
In the shadowy land of the unreal, where true things like hope are displaced by fantasies like "business plans," wizards and mediums reign. They are just as primitive and hackneyed as they've always been, boorish and inane, and do they ever "chirp and mutter."
But chirping and muttering are great for market share. We have a necromantic smorgasbord, where the dead are ever consulted on behalf of the living, and God never is. The old necromancers used to squeal about in high-pitched voices, consulting the remains of the newly-departed, or calling up the spirits of the long-lost. They used to surround themselves with melancholic art and eat unsalted, unleavened black bread and unfermented grape juice (which is a sufficient reason by itself for some communities to quit serving Welch's in little plastic glasses) at their gruesome rituals.
Necromantic chirping and muttering and the consultation of the dead never did go out of style: but today, dead celebrities preach with more authority than Billy Graham, and cthulu forces like Madonna and Miley/Hannah lead our little girls, on poles, through their moral development.
And we let them chirp. Or tweet. Whatever. It is what it is. Sex and death. You know. Just sayin'.
Ah yes, and consultant statistician bottom-liners mutter.
"To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is so that there is no light in them. They will pass through, greatly distressed and hungry; and when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and their God."
Holy Tradition is the law and testimony, and words spoken that do not cohere with Tradition dissolve into meaninglessness and absurdity … such words will confirm the analysis of Derrida and Nietzsche, and prove Christianity to be a pale Galilean cult.
Which, largely, has been proven, despite the unwieldy fact that the proposition is not true. We, extra-Traditional moderns, inevitably, prove to ourselves the paleness of our religion, and we wander about in darkness, muttering vacant, vapid speech, lurching from one earthquake to another, from hurricane to snowstorm to various entertainments and the Congressional caucusing of "Enemies of the English Language." We have our counseling wizards who encourage us to express our anger at God ("go ahead, He can take it!"), and we are greatly distressed.
And we call our distress "authenticity." Or, churlishly, "being real."
We are hungry. Meek people like children know that when one is hungry, he needs to go inside and get something to eat.
Bread, even daily bread, is what is needed.
But we would rather be enraged, so used to swearing and cursing, our strong mental constructs. Adrenaline rush. Energy and thrill. What it is.
"But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish … The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light … His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Logos and light that shine through absurdity and despair.
"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end."
Sanctuary over the abyss.