by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
If there’s one major thing that most Americans have in common, it’s in how compartmentalized we tend to live. Because the world around us expects us to pigeonhole every category of our lives, we learn the habits of dividing ourselves up into parts and leaving each part in different places and with different people. The world deceives us into believing that such a life helps us live more successfully. But if we stop to examine things more closely, we discover that such a life is exhausting! It does emotional and spiritual damage to us. It’s impossible to truly be whole when we live such a compartmentalized life, because we’re always split off from our whole self with each person in each place.
Furthermore, in the individualistic call to activism all around us, there’s a struggle towards instilling a fragmentation of our society. Everywhere we turn, whether it’s the TV news, Facebook, conversations with co-workers, or emails, someone is devoting enormous amounts of energy to incite outrage in us towards some perceived offence, even if it takes exaggeration and the fabrication of facts to do so. Whatever can be done to provoke people into factions that make each side feel superior to the other…that’s the climate of our times.
All of these efforts toward compartmentalization and fragmentation are inspired by the work of the demons (whose name means, to divide), who desire nothing more than to dis-integrate us. Our participation in their efforts to divide us up in these ways costs each of us a part of our own created humanity, slowly destroying our souls…because it runs opposite of the communion for which we were created. It directs our attention away from lifting up every part of our life into unity with God, and it contradicts the oneness and interconnectedness God designed for us to have with each other in Him.
Is it possible to find healing for such fragmentation? Is it possible to live in the city, with a regular job, to be married and have kids and do all the stuff that normal people do…but in wholeness? It is, indeed…and it comes from our Orthodox Christian understanding of God as trinity.
When the Church Fathers attempted to communicate the Christian faith in God-as-trinity (Father, Son & Holy Spirit), they developed a specific understanding of personhood that recognizes real distinctions in the Godhead without endangering the oneness of God. They acknowledged that God is eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct but relational Persons. They spoke about a unique distinction between each of the Persons of God who each, also, shared the same God-substance or God-nature. Persons are unique and unrepeatable because their being is formed through and in relationships of love that allow differences to exist without fragmenting love’s ability to develop unity in communion.
Orthodox theology grounded in the doctrine of the Trinity advocates that human beings can’t simply be reduced to mere self-referential entities (individualism). Human beings can never really be separate, self-enclosed or self-sufficient individuals. Our existence is verified in the relationships that we have with one another, with nature and most especially with God. In other words, my humanity is experienced more fully in the recognition that I am the Son of my father and mother; that I am the brother to my sister; that I am the husband to my presvytera; that I am the father to my son and daughter; that I am the grandfather to my grandchildren, that I am the child of God; that I am the father to the community of St Basil Church; etc. Thus, each of us as a person isn’t merely an individual but rather a delightfully open reality, referring to significant others for our existence. We truly become persons, finding wholeness for ourselves, when we transcend ourselves in a movement of freedom toward communion.
So, our own future as humans depends on the quality of relationships that give existence to our being as persons. It’s only in relationships of love that we can embrace the totality of the world, and attain the fullness of our own humanity. It’s that fullness that allows diversity and difference in a uniting world that God loves sustains and desires to partake of His glory. Our future depends on our ability to make God’s love tangibly present for the others who surround us.
And something quite wonderful happens to our own humanity, to our own souls, and to the relationships around us when we grasp onto this as a way to heal the brokenness of our lives…we become transfigured in God into something even more beautiful than before.
There’s a centuries-old form of Japanese art called Kintsugi (Golden Repair), which uses gold to heal broken pottery, treating the breakage and repair as part of the treasured history of an object. Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage once done to the object, but the repairs are illuminated, making the object even more beautiful than it was before. And this carries within it a wonderful illustration of what God has in store for each of us if we allow Him into our lives so that He may bring healing to the fragmenting of our communion in Him. Once we allow Him to mend between each break with the precious gold of His Spirit of love, we become something even more beautiful to behold than we were before.
How does someone do this? When one creatively participates with the Holy Spirit, there are unlimited number of ways, but it all has to start with prayer. Here’s one example that might spur your imagination. Given that a priest who studies and writes has a rather sedentary life, over the years I have grown rather rotund…in desperate need of exercise. So, I’ve taken to walking though the neighborhoods surrounding our Church for about an hour and a half, two to three times per week. Given the fact that our parish is so disconnected from our neighbors, I decided to use my walk to quietly pray for each household I pass. I pray, “Lord, have mercy on, and save, and bless the people who live in this household.” If there is a person out on the sidewalk, a smile and say hello, and then also silently pray for them, “Lord, have mercy on, and save, and bless this man (or this woman…or this child).” As I walk along by these houses each week, I try to leave these little invisibly-wrapped-presents of God’s loving mercy and salvation and blessings piling up at their doorsteps, so that when they finally open their door, all the blessings come falling-in upon them to transfigure their lives. If someone drives by me on the street, I quickly pray, “Lord, have mercy on…and bless the person(s) in that car.” When I walk by the fire department near Saint Basil, I silently pray, “Lord have mercy upon each of these firefighters and keep them safe today.” I try to pay attention to details about each place and each person I pass, keeping in mind the particular struggles each might be going through right now, so that they don’t become merely a type of object, but rather that I might see, and call forth in prayer, their unique place in God’s Kingdom.
Whenever I’ve worked in secular jobs, I’ve found that a similar practice—praying for bosses, colleagues and clients—was transformative to my day. In the long run, it made me a better employee, a better co-worker, and a better customer-representative, because my care for all of them sprung-forth from God’s love for each of them.
The more of our day we can devote to silently praying for the people around us, the more it brings the gold of God’s precious Spirit to heal the brokenness of self-absorption in our own lives. The more that brokenness is healed by participating in God’s love for the people around us, the more beautiful our lives become as those repairs become illuminated by His love. So, put a stop to the damage of living a compartmentalized and fragmented life. Christ offers you healing…inviting you to participate instead in the paradise of living towards communion.