Our Sunday night, meeting once-a-month, men’s group is reading The Eucharist written by Alexander Schmemann, a professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary. He’s an excellent lecturer, prolific writer, and a true pastor. You can tell by his writings his deep love for truth and for the Truth.
I was cruising along in my reading while sitting on my front porch enjoying the fall-like temperatures and occasionally observing the various birds at their feeders. I am blessed to live in such a beautiful environment. It’s Monday and I’m recovering from a full weekend of serving and services, trying to live in communion with Christ while dealing with what’s in front of me.
Chapter 6 is entitled, “The Sacrament of Offering” around the core act of every religion: offering a sacrifice to God. But I was stopped dead in my reading at the following words, so profound were the words that I could not continue reading…
For in its ultimate depths religion is nothing other than thirst for God: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:2); and often “primitive” people know this thirst better, they sense it more deeply — as the psalmist declared once and for all — than contemporary man does, with all his “spiritualized” religion, abstract “moralism,” and dried-up intellectualism.
To want God means above all to know with one’s whole being that he is, that outside of him there is only darkness, emptiness and meaninglessness, for in him and only in him is the cause, the meaning, the goal and the joy of all existence. This means further to love him with one’s whole heart, one’s whole mind and one’s whole being. And this means, finally, to feel and to recognize our complete and boundless alienation from him, our frightful guilt and loneliness in this rupture — to know that ultimately there is only one sin: not wanting God and being separated from him; and there is only one sorrow: “not being a saint,” not having sanctification — unity with the One who is holy.
I read these words over and over again. I circled words like “know,” “one’s whole being,” “all existence,” and “only one sin.” I almost underlined the whole passage. I bracketed the paragraph and wrote notes in the margin.
First, I am now “primitive” in my approach to God having wandered for years in “spiritualized religion, abstract moralism, and dried-up intellectualism.” I’ve experienced every one of these approaches to God and they left me empty, searching, and frustrated. I daily deal with people who fit into one or more of these categories and it breaks my heart to watch them settle for less than the fulness described by Schmemann.
There is a world of difference for contemporary Christians between “wanting God” and “satisfaction with God.” They don’t know it’s possible to be hungry for God while, simultaneously, being satisfied with God.
Secondly, what strikes me thoroughly in the second paragraph is the language of “entirety.” To want God involves all that I am, my entire being, all my existence, all my heart, mind, soul, strength. The totality of who I am and every part of my existence is hungry to know God; to experience him in and through my whole being. Truthfully, I currently want and love God with my bits and pieces not my whole being. I’m ruptured, fractured, fragmented and in great need of healing
Finally, the issue of “alienation” from God due to sin gets my attention. Then I’m challenged to take seriously a) Schmemann’s description of sin: “not wanting God and being separated from him” then b) his description of sorrow: “not being a saint,” not having sanctification – unity with the One who is holy.”
You see, it’s been core to my spiritual journey since I was 16 years old, to become a saint. Right now, after decades of waisted opportunities and failed efforts, I’d be satisfied to simply be a Christian. Yet, I guess in many ways, the two are the same. But, as Schmemann writes, my one great sorrow, breaking my heart and evoking tears of regret and longing, is my lack of having “unity with the One who is holy.” No amount of the “positional sanctification” perspective makes it otherwise.
Since Monday, I’ve read these words every morning on the porch. I want them to sink in, to motivate me to remain in this “primitive” hunger for God, not to get sidetracked by other perspectives on what it is to be a Christian. I also need to be reminded, again and again, to deal with my alienation from God, my lack of sanctification.
Most of all, these words drive me to Jesus Christ who is Everything, Life-giver, and the Only True Being. I am nothing apart from Him.
They make me want God even more.
Share your thoughts about Schmemann’s words below.