Leaving the Puddles
I’m trying to explain to a friend how I feel about the difference between the Orthodox Church and the Protestant churches I was raised in. I had a schizophrenic religious upbringing. My father was a pastor anywhere and anytime they would let him. Until sometime in mid-elementary school we attended a conservative baptist church. I remember it well; then, suddenly, Dad moved us to a small Plymouth Brethren church.
The Brethren do not believe in pastors, so when dad would take a short-term pastorate here and there, it was understandably looked at askance. then we would return. For a time he was a Methodist minister. For a time a non-denominational pastor. Another time, it was as a Southern Baptist pastor. Each time we returned to the Brethren.
As an adult, I could not bear to attend another Brethren assembly when we would move away. There are a lot of reasons for that, but suffice it to say, it was difficult enough in the assembly where they KNEW me, much less head somewhere else to be viewed with suspicion and distrust. So, whenever we lived away, we attended mainly non-denominational churches. When life was particularly difficult, such as when my husband and I separated, I attended a non-denominational church here in Colorado Springs.
This is to say, that I have experience in a variety of churches and denominations. And while there was truth there, and while God could be found there, it was never enough.
So now, my friend asks me if I find comfort in the liturgy of the Orthodox Church. It’s more complicated than that.
Coming from a non-liturgical background, the liturgy that I fought against as it was so uncomfortable has been a surprise. Some find it dry. I do not. The more I know of the liturgy, the more deep I find it. I was padding about in puddles, having heard about the ocean, and having been told that what I had WAS the ocean. One day I found myself taking a walk over the sand to investigate a sound, only to see the actual ocean. Frightening, massive, churning, overwhelming ocean is not a comforting thing…at first.
Is there comfort in the ocean? In the steadiness of the waves lapping on the shored, the tides advancing and retreating on a schedule with which I am unfamiliar? There is a deeper music than in my puddle. Turns out that the water is the same, but in the puddle I was a big one, padding about, making sense of the puddle, making sense of the water, viewing my own face reflected in the surface. In the ocean, I am small, insignificant, and my impact is minimal. There is a comfort in that I can scarcely explain. This ocean of Orthodoxy that I have found is bigger than me, older, wider, deeper, and hits many shores. It crosses time and place, peoples, nationalities, races, and is greater than my understanding. It can be uncomfortable, and yet I have been held aloft in the Church. I have been carried, enveloped, and shown that there is more to this faith, more to my God than I can begin to comprehend.
I take comfort and awe in the liturgy, knowing that this same liturgy is being spoken/sung throughout the world. The same Lord’s Prayer that is said in English in Colorado is being spoken in Guatemala in Spanish, by darker faces than mine. It is being spoken in Greek, Russian, Slavonic, Ukrainian, Romanian, many languages in Africa, in Arabic, French, German, Swedish, and more. I feel joined to these peoples in a way I never did before. I take a mental world trip as we say this, picturing the peoples in villages throughout the world making their way to their churches and raising their voices with mine. We share a creed that stretches across the ages. We follow a church calendar (well, two calendars, but that is another post) in which we share the celebrations of the church, the readings of scripture, feasts and fasting.
But I ask myself, is it comforting?
It is and it is not. The ocean of Orthodoxy requires much. For me, it has required and continues to require me to rethink my worldview, my preconceived notions, truths accepted, things taught. Everything from the nature of man, to my understanding of God has been called into question.
It is like being woken from the Matrix to find that the world is not what you thought. The difference is that the Neo woke to a dystopian reality, while I have woken to a world of beauty and solemnity, to joy and sorrow, all more deep than I have known. I woke to a world of colors that are deeper than I knew it they could be, to sounds that are richer than I’ve ever known.
It is an awakening that is wonderful, but as these unused nerves come alive, there is no small amount of pain. But I will take it.