A Sorely Needed Protection


 The all too typical and predictable reaction of the secularized man to the suggestion that there are eternal laws, abiding principles and permanent things is to mock, sneer and scoff. He turns his back on eternal verities.   

 People so inclined regard themselves as laws unto themselves. They make up their own rules which change according to their whims and fancies.  Nothing will stand in the way of their sense that freedom is the ability to do whatever they please, which is a self-inflicted slavery. They reject the idea that real freedom is the ability to be in a right relation to God. It is truth that sets the human being free and not his disordered allegiance to his impulses and appetites.

 Those who turn their backs on God stand against anything which prevents them from fulfilling what they call their 'natural' impulses, whatever these might be. The word 'perversion' does not exist in their vocabulary. Their stance is that you can do whatever you would like to do, as long as you 'feel' strongly about it - 'Why don't we do it?  Let's do it in the road.'

 In contrast to that defiance against the authority of ultimate values and norms, stands the attitude of the Psalmist who repeated over and over that 'upon the Law he meditated both day and night.' It was for him a source of delight!  

 The Law for the Psalmist, was not something to get away from but to be in harmony with. He found his freedom and dignity in relation to that protecting Law. He honoured and revered it. He knew, as any serious artist or athlete knows that, it is "the solemn choreography that yields the joyous freedom of the minuet, the waltz, and the ballet.

 There are "fixed rules that govern the training of the gymnast, the acrobat, and the athlete." It is "the interminiable self-denial and obedience to the rules that equips a Beverly Sills or an Itzhak Perlman." (Thomas Howard, Changing Times and Permanent Things, An Inquiry into "Progressive" Ideas in Light of the Moral Universe, Touchstone Magazine)

 You can tell everything about the character of a human being in his response to hearing that there are what T.S. Eliot called "the permanent things" or "bright fixities.” 

 One sort of person, as I said, will mock, sneer and scoff. Another with humility will say: 'I would like to hear more of this for I understand that my life is not my own but that I exist in relation to a moral universe. I understand that my sense of harmony and happiness depends on being in relation to that Law or Dao - to that Divine Law that has always been there prior to everything. 

 With an open heart, he understands clearly that to ignore the Divine Law, the Dharma, is the "fountainhead of half the fury, sorrow, and agony of the whole world." He knows therefore that any attempt to "re-draw the moral map of the universe" will lead only to chaos and destruction.

 His is an attitude of wonder and reverence to the "architecture of the universe" or to "the choreography of the Dance." He stands in awe of 'first principles' and would be the last person to toy with them.

 After you've lived a while, as I have, you have a rich history of having seen people fall who never took seriously their intrinsic need to ensure that their lives were being lived in accordance with the Divine Law, Dao, or Dharma. 

 It has, sad to say, ever been the case that the ignorant and the foolish do not engage in the spiritual practices that would save and protect them. They either under-value these practices or reject them outright. They don't think it matters to participate fully in the life of a place of worship.   

 A recent sermon by a Deacon at St Herman's Eastern Orthodox Church emphasized that every resource is available for us to keep on the straight and narrow path. He urged us all to take advantage of the practices, especially the challenging ones, like regular fasting that help us learn to discipline our appetites and impulses.

 The challenge the Deacon gave was to make use of the time-honoured practices. The practices exist to protect and to inspire.  We need to be protected from our foolish impulses. And we need inspiration to fulfull our calls, duties and responsibilities. Alas, however - who listens to the warning that to do otherwise is a risk not worth taking? 

 Somehow we think we'll be fine. We'll get by. We don't need to be serious.  'Later,' someone says:  'I'll concern myself with spiritual matters. Not now.  I'm too busy.'

 Well, we may be setting ourselves up for a fall.

 Why ever do any of us think that we are the only ones who aren't vulnernable to a fall? All you ever hear is that the one who just fell had had a casual disregard for spiritual practices. He didn't think he needed them. He felt he was beyond all of that religious nonsense as he lived in his self-referential and God-denying world. 

 He didn't think he needed God, the Church or spiritual practices. He was making his own way and had transcended the need for those spiritual things that lesser men than he, in their immaturity, think they need. He fancied himself to be some kind of 'advanced thinker.'  

And then there is the news, which is like 'no news,' for it happens so often, that that one who proudly said that he was an impregnable fortress has fallen, just like all the others who had been similarly defiant. He's had an affair, been arrested, developed an addiction, or has simply found some other way gradually to disintegrate. 

 It's the way it goes - the proud one tumbles down - fast and hard! We then learn that he actually had nothing going for him. The fall has now revealed clearly where he'd begun to head all those years ago, when he chose against God and the Church.

 It is itself a law, as it seems, that people inevitably fall! They always are sure they will never fall, but fall they do! They find all kinds of creative ways to fall. And they keep falling. As I said - they always think they never will and, regardless, down they go! 

 We are beings who are extremely vulnernable to falling. Whenever will we learn that we need every protection we can get to stay faithful and to stay true? We sorely need the protection of the Divine Law.  

 Joseph Parker, a nineteenth century London preacher, tells the story of a man who had been a keen and faithful worshipper at his church. During his years of faithfulness "there had been sunshine on his face; there was music in his voice; the very spirit of joyous liberty animated his walk and conversation.” Then one day…

 The man approached Mr. Parker to say: "My religious views are not exactly what they used to be; I feel a little inclination towards a rather more liberal mode of thinking; I fancy, you know, that we may be a little too tight-laced in our notions."  

 Parker took note of his parishioner's statements but did not feel alarmed by them. This was a man for whom Parker had great respect. He was expecting only the best from him.   

 It was a while later, however, when Parker happened to see Y on a street  that when Y saw him that he "suddenly turned aside, so that we had no chance of speaking." Parker wondered: 'Why had he turned away? He'd never done that before.' 

 When later they did meet, Parker noticed that something had changed in his friend: "There was uneasiness in the look; the glance was excited and inquiring rather than assured and trustful.” 

 What had changed? Parker didn't know what to make of the changes.  

 In time, Y appeared less and less at church services. 

 Parker's response was to blame himself! Says he: "I was certainly working hard, and preaching with undiminished fervour yet I gave myself to prayer still more, and cried mightily to God for help to save the souls of them that heard me." 

 "When Y was absent from his pew, I reproached myself for being unable to cope with his growing intelligence.” 

 Parker says that he went so far as to contemplate resigning his charge.  He thought he had been failing his friend.  

 But before resigning, Parker decided he would meet with Y in an effort to seek understanding. At their meeting Y said: "The old way of looking at things suits me no longer. The fact is I have taken a dislike to the old orthodoxy. I want something broader, more liberal - if you will excuse me, something more rational and progressive.”  

 Well now, Parker was taken aback. Something wasn't right.  He noticed, too, at the time that, Y's newly prized book of study was no longer the Bible, but a book called The Advanced Thinker. 

 You just know where all of this is headed, do you not?  Yes - you've got it! - Y's behaviour was not pointing to a growing state of enlightenment at all, but was evidence of a falling away. 

 Y was toying with the Divine Law. He was no longer taking seriously what had formerly been his delight and protection. He was no longer focusing upon that Divine Law worth meditating on, both day and night! 

 As it says in Proverbs 19:3: "When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord." The sense of the verse is plain that when you engage in foolishness, when you buck up against what is right to do and act against the moral law, when, in a word you become 'foolish,' you begin inwardly to fret and to rage against the idea that there are standards and laws. You become defensive, argumentative and seek to justify and rationalize your behaviour.  

 Joseph Parker was later to learn that Y had indeed gone off the rails in his business dealings. When Parker tried to intervene he was screamed at in response: "Don't lecture me!" the man shouted. "I hate being lectured!" 

 Says Parker: "At least he had been civil before but now the cloak was thrown off. The change in his face was quite startling. Every line had been twisted into a knot of suspicion, and the pure colours of earlier times had run into one another, and culminated in an expression of trouble and excitement most painful and even threatening in its intensity."  

 This article is a reminder to any who think that they are in no danger of falling that -  you are not as invincible as you think! You need every bit of help you can get to stay on the right path. You need to be continually reminded of the Divine Law. You need to be living a good and holy life before God and before men. This should be your joy and delight.  

 When your heart is not right, you will avoid those environments where something is required of you. You will not want to be where you'll be held accountable for your behaviour. You will not want to look into the eyes of a holy man in such a state. If you are living in  darkness, you will not wish to be anywhere near any light that exposes you.

 Know that if you're in such a state that, you're in trouble. Do not let another day pass without seeking to reconcile yourself with the highest and the best that is available to you through a place of worship.  

 We all sorely need to be protected by the Divine Law. We ignore it at our peril.