Friday, May 30, 2014

A Harrowing Day

Tuesday, I mean, the day we had booked, months ago, for traveling to England.  Because of Libby's love of Iceland Air, we chose that airline.  The only trouble was, that airline departs from Dulles International, near DC, and there is no good way to get from here to there; that is, from Richmond to Dulles.  Still, the departure time was going to be 8:25 p.m., so in view of that, we made a plan that seemed reasonable.  Take the 2:12 AMTRAK train to Union Station arriving at 4:37, leaving 2 whole hours to get to the airport in plenty of time.  Take the Metro to wherever you board the bus to Dulles.  (Demetrios had done this in reverse on the way home from Greece last year with very little difficulty, although he couldn't remember exactly where the connections are...)

Well, that might have worked had not everything gone wrong that possibly could have.

First, the train was 20 minutes late coming into Richmond.  Then there were minor delays.  That put us into Union Station well after 5:30.  So what?  Still an hour to get there the requisite two hours ahead of time.  Well, okay, but what we hadn't taken into account is, the hours between 3:00 and 7:00 or so are no time to be traveling anywhere within 25 miles of Washington, DC.

We asked our way, found the Metro, and had someone show us how to buy the tickets from the vending machine.  It isn't self-explanatory as it is in other major cities around the world.  Someone had told us to change trains at l'Enfant Plaza, where we could catch a bus to Dulles.  Yeah, well, but by now the time has somehow crept up to well after six, with all the asking and the slow moving because all the baggage, including two big pieces, necessitated finding and using elevators instead of escalators.  We missed a train or two that way.

Someone told us that in the rush hour traffic, the bus would take forever to get to Dulles International.  Two fellow passengers agreed our best bet would be to go all the way to Vienna, the end of the line, and catch a cab from there.  We thought so, foo.

But by the time we arrived at Vienna (with three delays), paid more money because our tickets had only been good for one stop instead of a gaillion, and got outside and hailed a cab, it was seven-thirty.  "How long to Dulles?" we asked the cabbie. 

He shrugged.  "If the traffic is good, 25 minutes.  If not - "  we said just get us there as fast as humanly possible.

The traffic was horrible.  Made worse by torrents of rain.  Stupid storm.  It was right overhead, and - no exaggeration - we took a direct hit by lightning!  That's okay in a car;  it's grounded.  But still, it's a bit unnerving.  If I hadn't just cut off all my fingernails the day before, I'd've bitten them off during that agonizing ride.  

Eight o'clock was when we stepped out of the cab.  Quick, quick, find the Iceland Air desk to check our luggage and get boarding passes.  Run to Security.  LONG line.  Time: when we were putting our shoes back on: 8:20.  Departure time:  8:25.

We sprinted far down the concourse, as fast as two old people can with heavy carry-on bags.  Hurry, hurry, hurry, out of breath, our literal and figurative hearts pounding, all the way to Gate 31.  Anybody still there?  Yup.  Everybody.  The same storm that had helped delay us had, of course, also delayed our flight.

Libbie, just so you know, we loved Iceland Air.  But next time we do this, which God grant, we are going to spend the previous night nearby.

Monday, May 26, 2014

An Ascension Meditation

Grace and Truth

That old philosophical puzzle asks:  if a tree falls in the forest when there's no one around to hear it, was there really any sound?  The answer is NO.  There were vibrations, waves, loosed into the air, but it takes an ear and a brain to translate that into sound.  And a human person to interpret that sound as a tree falling.  It takes a person, a subject, AND an outward object to make the specific sound of a tree falling.  The inward something makes sense of the outward, and the outward something, the sound, validates the inward meaning.

This past Sunday, we read the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus healed.  He starts out blind, but there's an inner something, a faith, a hope, a something, that prompts him to call out for help as Jesus passes by.  Jesus gives him his sight, and that inner something blossoms.  What do you mean, he asks the skeptics.  For a person born blind to be made sighted is unheard of in the whole history of the entire world!  So, inwardly, he is prepared when Jesus comes to find him.  Now the man has that inner something by way of assurance, plus the outward data:  he can see.  Most importantly, he can see (and hear) Jesus.  The outward experience confirms what is in the man's heart, and what is in his heart confirms Who it is he sees.

Skip now to the story of the disciples walking along the road to Emmaus.  A Stranger joins them and asks why they seem so dejected.  What, are you from some other planet, they ask.  Haven't you heard of Jesus of Nazareth, who was just crucified the other day?  Well, we were deluded enough to have hoped he was the Messiah.  But of course he couldn't have been, because Messiah would never get Himself executed like a criminal.  

The Stranger chides them for being so "slow to believe".  What, is he a believer, too?  The Stranger, as they walk along, reminds them of prophecy after prophecy about the Messiah, showing them what they mean, and that they do indeed speak of Messiah being cut off, rejected, having His hands and feet pierced, etc.

They all arrive at Emmaus and decide to eat supper together.  The Stranger prays, gives thanks, takes the loaf of bread and breaks it — and suddenly, in that so very characteristic gesture, they recognize Him.  As soon as they do, He disappears from their sight.  It has to have been Jesus, they exclaim to each other; were not our hearts burning while He spoke to us?  

Again, we have the inner something, here described as burning, and an outer something, the Stranger explaining the Scriptures.  And the inner something validates their conclusion that it was indeed Jesus, while the outer events validate the inward certainty.  

This coming Thursday, we celebrate the feast of the Ascension.  Jesus says something to his followers that has puzzled me all my life, until now.  He says, "It is good for you that I go, else the Comforter will not come."  What???  How is it good for us to be deprived of Jesus' physical presence?  Why couldn't Jesus stay and the Comforter still come?

Because Jesus is the outward, embodied Truth, but the Holy Spirit is the inward Reality, and enlightenment happens only when outward truth and inward reality meet.  This is how it always is.  We encounter some truth outside ourselves, and it touches some reality inside us, telling us what it means.  It means a tree has fallen.  It means Messiah has healed my poor blind eyes.  It means the Christ Who died yet lives.  We encounter Truth and something in us leaps toward it, as St. John leapt in his mother's womb.  

Had Jesus stayed bodily with us, how would we ever have learned this?  We would be forever looking to Him, as an external Source, to speak to us, show us, teach us.  But He desired for us that we should know the Truth firsthand, from within our very own being, and not only from Him, indirectly.  Because it is when the inward witness and the outward witness agree that we are enlightened.  

1Jo 5:8
And there are three that bear witness in earth, 
the Spirit, [inward]
and the water, [Holy Baptism]
and the blood: [Holy Communion]
and these three agree in one.

Grace, the inward Someone, And Truth, the outward Someone, came by Jesus Christ.  And it's because we have both, and because they agree, that with awe we can sing our grateful hymn:

We have seen the True Light,  [Christ, outside ourselves]
We have received the heavenly Spirit, [inside ourselves]
[and as a result of both]
We have found the true faith:
Worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us.

What Orthodox-Catholic Ecumenical Efforts Are Not (For the Orthodox, at least)

Historical Grievances
Yes, there are painful memories of the past, for which we must forgive one another (and ongoing hurts to this day, the Orthodox will tell you), BUT the issues separating us do not arise from some alleged stubborn lack of forgiveness; they are theological.  The theological issues are major and extensive.  Many Catholics find this difficult to believe or understand.  We often can't even agree on what separates us.  

Everybody Singing Kumbaya 
Catholic and Orthodox doctrines really are incompatible.  We cannot ignore our differences and have anything but a sham unity.  We can collaborate in certain charitable endeavors, but that alone will not bring about unity.  Neither will simply deciding to share the Eucharist and saving the theological wrangling for "later".  

Word Games
It's not as if we were in search of some sort of wording of each issue, agreeable to both sides, that would synthesize or at least accommodate the differences.  As the teachings are incompatible, the wrong ones have to be renounced, not accommodated, once we agree on what those are. 

"Deeper Truth"
Orthodoxy (Catholicism, too?) claims to have the fullness of Truth already, so there is no sort of over-arching or "umbrella truth" waiting to be discovered, transcending the Truth already revealed, thereby mooting our differences.

Everybody Becoming More Devout
We don't agree on who God is or what God is like.  Or how to draw near to Him.  Hence, if Catholics do s better job of practicing their forms of piety, to draw nearer to Who they believe God is and the Orthodox do the same, our disunity will be accentuated, not healed.

Catholics are not authorized to do this, unless the Pope does.  
The Orthodox are not willing to do this, even if their Patriarchs do.  

I have seen all of these approaches tried or proposed.  I wonder whether we can even agree what ecumenical dialogue itself is.