With the recent college graduation of my oldest child, John, I’ve been driven to think about the fleeting nature of time. While our children were young, especially through elementary school, each day’s responsibilities and chores seemed endless (we probably spent 10 years with at least one child in diapers!) It often was a matter of just trying to get through each day, only to start up again in the morning. Yet, as I look through our family pictures and find various school projects and other mementos, I am reminded of the many things I have forgotten and how quickly they have grown. They do eventually get through elementary school, and with that exit the time through middle, high school, and college only seems to go by faster and faster. I always caution newborn parents about the need to cherish the sounds and feelings as they listen and hold their young children, because when you’re in the midst of being worn-out and overwhelmed you think it will never end, and yet someday it will – and does end, or at least it changes.
The sensations I am trying to express are in a way just the reality of growing up. Some of it, especially the busyness and the being worn-out parts, come as the realization of just the way things were or had to be. Many of us, particularly the men as significant providers, no doubt found that there was much we had to do and a great deal we might have missed because we needed to work or to travel. But other times there was a busyness we allowed to enter into our lives because we wanted to provide our children with what we hoped would be the best – the best of experiences whether in sports, the arts, entertainment, or in intellectual stimulation. Maybe we look back and think – it was all worth it and we’d do it again. But perhaps we can also think of the lessons we have taught our children about what is really important, and what they, as a result, will end up teaching their own children perhaps someday as well.
What I’m suggesting is that there is a lot we find ourselves doing as families and individuals, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, that might not be bad in any real sort of way, yet does not prepare us for the experience of coming to know God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17). In the Gospel for most of the feasts of the Virgin Mary (we read it for the feast of Mary’s Nativity on September 8 and did this year again on Sunday September 9) we hear the story of Martha and Mary. We are reminded that Christ says to Martha that she was “worried and troubled about many things,” but “one thing is needed” and her sister Mary had chosen that good part, “which will not be taken away” (Luke 10:41-42). Are we teaching our children and ourselves about that which “is needed”? We find some of our high school and many of our college children losing interest in Church and in God. Sometimes this challenge to the question of faith might be perceived to be what they need to do in order to move from the faith of their parents to “their own” faith. But I wonder if it also is an indictment of their experience growing up in our church and in our families; that they never truly had an experience of coming to know God themselves, or of seeing others who knew Him either. We, as parents, cannot will or demand them to care or to want what we might want for them, but I think we can model the example of those who are at least trying to find that thing which is needed and true.
I asked in our last Crossroads that we re-examine some areas of our behavior in church, and I called it “common sense” because these things relate to the basic response we should have in coming to understand that – The Church is a Special Place and our worship is time that we spend before God. Besides certain practical changes I asked that we all take seriously the idea that each of us should prepare before coming to church and particularly to the reception of Holy Communion. Orthodoxy seems difficult to many people because it is often “counter-cultural” to what society considers normal. This especially becomes obvious when we are asked to look more seriously at what we do on Saturdays and Sundays. Is Saturday night, in particular, the busiest evening of the week in that we stay out or up late, making it difficult for us to get to church on time, if at all? Do we ever think that as looked at within the Bible and the Orthodox Church (in Judaism as well, for that matter) the day begins with the evening before? I mentioned in the discussion of preparation that fasting is a normal requirement and that for those who are physically able it should be from at least midnight through the divine liturgy. I noted as well that married couples should abstain from sexual activity on the eve of the Sunday liturgy (or before any other liturgy – unmarried couples, of course, should be abstaining from sexual activity before marriage anyway – another “counter-cultural” expectation of Orthodoxy!) This was mentioned not to put sexual restrictions on couples but in order to allow them to re-claim their sexual lives after, in the words of St. Paul, “they give themselves to fasting and prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). This verse has been the basis for several Orthodox canons and additional reflection on this subject. So does Saturday evening ease down in a peaceful way that prepares us for the experience of the Sunday liturgy and communion with Jesus Christ or is it the day of the week that ends with more of a collapse?
I realize that due to our inability to serve more than one Sunday divine liturgy (in theory if we had an additional priest and a second altar, or an extension to our present altar we could serve a second liturgy) it is sometimes difficult to fit in some activities that get planned on Sunday morning. But if we allow our children to miss the liturgy continuously because of these activities what kind of priorities are we teaching them? What should we assume that they will later teach their children about the “needful thing”? How do we expect them to develop the experience of God if we rush them through the church “part” in order to get to what we might consider as the more important parts of the day? Moreover, how does the experience of coming to church and of receiving the Eucharist effect our lives? How do we speak to and about our families and other community members after the liturgy? How do we act? Does it make any difference in our behavior at all?
We can spend a lifetime being amazed at how quickly time has passed in our own lives and in that of our children. We can remain perpetually being worried and troubled about many things to the end, without changing anything substantial along the way.
But in we were really interested, how would we go about redeeming the time? How could we change our priorities? Let’s start by looking at how we spend our Saturdays and Sundays.