No Bedtime Story to Tell?


 The music was so hauntingly beautiful at the Orthodox church the other evening. It lifted me out of my limiting ego-driven self into the freedom of the deeper self. I was transported from a restless mind into the deeper mind.  

 The uplifting grace of God, experienced through story and song at that service, entranced and mesmerized me. I felt elevated into that realm of reality that truly takes all one’s cares away.

 B.J. Thomas used to sing: 'I need to be still to let God love me.' The theme of that song was the effect of the liturgy - stilled so that love can be experienced. 

 That was my experience at the service - inspired to stillness and thereby enabled to receive love. 

 My experience is that when the mind calms, the spirit rises. A calmed mind is able to receive love. The restless mind is expert at missing it.

 What is the general population doing instead of this kind of spiritual practice? Are lots of them regularly creating the time to engage their minds and hearts in an effort to unite with God? It is rare to hear. 

 Especially is it rare to hear that someone focuses in a particular way. Which is what my wife and I were doing that evening at the service.

 For that evening was not about any old music, or any old thing. We were singing ancient chants focused on an old and particular story. 

 It was that old, old story of God’s incredible love for us. Love for the loveless, the unworthy, for those who recognize their need for God. 

 I experienced that love in a powerful way at the church service. It was fresh and vivifying. It was not, however, electrifying.

 It is not like that at the Orthodox church. It is not the usual practice at Orthodox services to peel people off the ceilings afterwards. Rather something quieter and deeper is at play.

 Tears, there may well be, but rarely are there huge outbursts of emotion.

 And, too, one is not inclined to say much after such a service. The experience is a sense that the soul has been bathed in grace. There has been a sense of comfort and renewal, but so deep that you do not feel the need to broadcast it everywhere, noisily and triumphantly.

 My preference, admittedly, has always been for the old, the ancient and the mysterious, rather than the contemporary, the relevant, or the chart-busting.

 My daily prayer is: 'Lord preserve me from all of the latest hits.' 

 My wife and I drove away from that mid-week church service deeply quieted and awed. 

 The silence we experience at such a time is rich and full. A sense of depth and of great mystery has been our nearly constant experience since beginning to attend Eastern Orthodox services more than six years ago. 

 Almost anyone you meet nowadays thinks that she can live without the ancient story and the music it inspires. The church attendance figures are, in particular, dismally low in both British Columbia and Washington state.

 Indeed, the average person, here in the northwest, seems uneasy, even alarmed, if you speak of some great, particular, and unique story. 

 People generally are into many stories and, of course, in line with relativism’s levelling effect, the feeling is that one story is as good as the next

 The attitude is - whatever works for you. No judgment or discrimination is allowable. For to use one’s mind critically, in an effort to distinguish the real from the unreal, is thought to be polarizing.

 All that matters, in accord with the relativizing spirit, is that you find something - anything - that in some way makes you feel good. There is no higher criteria than that. 

 The motto of the 60’s: To each his own, is now a thoroughly entrenched and stupifying sentiment. I grew up with John Lennon who used to say that 'if it feels good, do it - why don’t we do it in the road?’ 

 But the license happily to do one’s own thing seems, however, never to result in real freedom, but to bondage to one’s restless and degrading impulses.

 Many may think that they do not need the grand, old story of ancient Christianity. Instead they are somehow satisfied with their own, dare I say, little stories.

 Or are they? On the surface perhaps. But when you get any one of them alone and listen carefully, I expect that you will hear - what I tend almost always to hear - which is, that they do not feel themselves to be a part of any inspiring and fulfilling, grand drama or story.

 They say, after you've listened for a while: 'I'm missing something.' And even stronger than that: 'I’ve always been missing something, but have never really done anything about it.'

 They go on: 'I think I’ve felt that any effort would get me nowhere anyway. So I just don’t ask the big and hard questions. I’ve let them go for years now.' 

 And, if the rapport is really good, you may well hear about their long term inner ache, and the restlessness and meaninglessness they live with. As someone said to me, in a kind of summation of this unresolved angst: 'I wake up every morning saying to myself: 'Is this all there is?' 

 It’s a great question, especially when asked earnestly from the depths. It’s a question worth pursuing. A question to stay with, no matter what.

 Many do not really feel a part of a Divine drama. But now, the all too common feeling is that such a sense of participating in a spiritual journey or adventure was some kind of fantasy of the past, and no longer possible in our day and age.

 The feeling is that we have grown beyond it. We think we have come a long way!

 I think rather that we have lost our great hopes and ideals and are, as a culture, spiritually regressing - fast and hard.  

 So many have now lost any sense of coherence with a meaningful whole. And have therefore fallen back on making up their own little, sometimes pathetic, stories to keep themselves afloat. 

 The often repeated mantra is that they are working at getting it together, but without any transcendent, soul supporting, reference point. 

 So there is on display, almost everywhere, the tendency to flounder around in a wasteland of mere good times and mind-numbing and soul destroying diversions.

 We are seeing all around us the tragic results because the old story is no longer believed and celebrated. 

 With no story to tell and no song to sing, there is widespread spiritual impoverishment.

 The fact is that without the sense of God’s love as a sustaining and guiding force in my life, I am adrift in a world that finally is not about anything.

 Thus we need that old, old story. It gives us a song to sing with our whole hearts. 

 In my junior year at university, I was sitting in a Baptist church pew in Victoria, British Columbia, with a new girlfriend when the congregation began to sing: “My Song is Love Unknown. My Saviour’s love for me. Love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be.” 

 I was about to experience the shock of my life, for the new girlfriend turned to me, just as I turned to her, as together we exclaimed: “That’s my favourite hymn!” 

 Well, I tell you, that is love! And that level of connection was it for me. The girls’ name was Wendy. She was not only cute and bright, but loved my favourite hymn! 

 Cute, bright and spiritual to boot - quite the package! I knew then that sitting next to me in that pew was marriage material. My search for a life partner was over. 

 That ancient story of God’s love for the loveless, and for those like us who were, in our early twenties, full of a deep yearning for God, was the deep grounding for why we came together. 

 The reaffirmation of it over the years has lifted our spiritswarmed our heartspricked our consciences and sharpened our thinking

 What we most deeply share together is that sense of participating in that grand narrative that created the wondrous hymn: 'My Song is Love Unknown, my Saviour’s love for me.

 We have together therefore a story to share and a song to sing.   

 The primary task in our marriage is to help each other to stay in the center of this story and its music. 

 What we share together is the consciousness that we are being breathedloved and held by God. Our shared conviction is that we are being continually sustained by the presence of God so that we can prayerfully affirm: "Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ within me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.” 

 These days there is a widespread suspiciousness concerning the grand narrative that centers our life together. 

 The ancient story has been thrown out and replaced with a focus on rationality by itself and "hence the modernist project of the last three-hundred years which has been the attempt to demolish medieval claims to authority and to substitute a structure of science and ethics based solely on human rationality." (Joseph Bottum, First Things, p. 43, Number 201, March 2010)  

 But it’s plain, to the clear-eyed, that the enlightenment project has failed miserably. There had been the hope that, “one day, the sun will shine over a humanity who acknowledge no other master than their own reason.” (Abdelkader Aoudjit, Political Philosophy after Metaphysics, p. 10, citation in Philosophy Now, Feb/March 2010) 

 But the Enlightenment project has proven to be a sorry one: “The misery that the Enlightenment was supposed to put an end to has not only lived on, but has in many ways intensified.” 

 And "instead of liberty, the Enlightenment has produced alienation and powerlessness. Modern man does not seem to have any firm guidelines on how to behave towards others; he feels estranged from the world in which he lives, and has the impression that his life is run by impersonal forces over which he has no control.” 

 "It seems as though the attempt to put the Enlightenment project into action has resulted in a nightmare.” 

 Thus now that a trust in Reason alone has failed, what is to be put in its place? What are we left with? 

 It’s called postmodernity - a mindset of perpetual suspiciousness, since nothing remains to believe in anymore. As the post-modernists proclaim: “We must learn to live after truth." 

 A group of European academics wrote After Truth: A Post-modern Manifesto, in which they said: “Nothing is certain, not even God and religion.

 We are left therefore "with the destruction of all coherent thought.” (Joseph Buttom)

 What, then, does the postmodernist parent read to his child at bedtime? 

 Well, he might read to the children David Macaulay’s slippery book, "Black and White, a picture book, in which at least four versions of the same story are simultaneously recounted, but which may be read in any number of ways.” No single story with a point to make, but many stories to put the child into a state of perpetual perplexity.

 "Like a child clicking a mouse or tapping a screen, the reader of Black and White is free to move in any direction and thus to construct his or her own narrative.”   

 In contrast to that act of bedtime terrorism is R.J. Snell who at his children's bedtime reads Gilgamesh, the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, Judges and Kings, BeowulfIvanhoeWhite FangTreasure IslandRobinson Crusoe and Narnia.

 With regard to the last book mentioned, Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, Professor Snell states: “My son, who’s three, knows that Aslan is on the move, while he doesn’t yet know who Aslan is, like any Son of Adam or Daughter of Eve, he feels the thrill of the announcement."

 His daughter, at four, distrusts Edmund and likes Lucy. As she ought to. The more she dislikes Edmund, the more I trust her.” (R. J. Snell, Making Men Without Chests: The Intellectual Life and Moral Imagination, First Principles.)

 Professor Snell has a story to tell and therefore a song to sing to his children. 

 Our culture is drowning in postmodern suspiciousness and cynicism. 

 The answer? Watch the video below.