Learning to Crawl First

Part of me thinks an ideal life would be that of a wandering pilgrim. Nothing more than a pilgrim’s staff, prayer book, prayer beads, and a backpack full of necessities. I could be free of both much of possession and much of my worry. For various reasons this way of life is not exactly available to me right now. And that’s okay. Why? Because I tend to be the type that tries to run before I even learn to crawl. But this isn’t healthy. It perhaps betrays a desire to get things done quickly, to focus on the results at the risk of haphazard methods. It also contains the looming threat of burnout on the horizon when my legs stop running.

But I also think that my desire to run before I can even crawl has to do with where one of the major themes of Christian life strikes deeply at my personality. That is, “Come and sacrifice.” That’s a powerful call to me. Hence the desire to embrace a pilgrim’s life. And such an intersection of Christianity and my personality is an inherently good thing, but it must be properly trained and maintained.

I think this is why Orthodoxy places such a strong emphasis on spiritual fathers. A spiritual father would be the one telling me that I can’t even crawl yet, don’t have running shoes, am terribly out-of-shape, and don’t even know where the finish line is. If all this sounds discouraging, it’s not. A spiritual father would instead be telling me how to first place one foot in front of another. Then I suppose a Hollywood-style training montage would take place and at the end I’m the world champion, Communist Russia is defeated, and the alien mothership is destroyed. Or something.

Sadly, given a variety of circumstances, I don’t seem to have much prospect for anything approaching a spiritual father. I have not had such prospects since before seminary actually and I think in some ways that has showed up until even recently. But knowing the need of the condition is certainly a good first step overall. I have to keep telling myself that it’s okay to take things slow. I don’t have to (and am certainly not expected to) become a new desert monastic. In fact, there may even be something of pride in trying to move too quickly into such advanced living right now. True participation in the life of the Church takes patience and commitment.

Saint Paul talks about thinking and speaking as babies before becoming adults with far too many interpreters putting too much emphasis on how it’s so good to be able to put all that behind us. It’s not inherently better to be an adult than a baby. They’re both merely just stages that we pass through on our journey. It’s just as strange to insist on remaining an infant as it is to act prematurely as “grown up” as we possibly can.

Now the next step is convincing my spouse to give everything up and become a pilgrim too. Right? 😉

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~ by crossingthebosporus on August 8, 2012.

3 Responses to “Learning to Crawl First”

  1. And do remember that marriage is a pilgrimage in itself. We give ourselves one to the other, and we are selfless in that, and these are all Christian virtues. Too often spiritual manuals were written by the celibate, and we forget both that marriage is a sacrament (in the Catholic Church with a capital S) and that it is a calling to a life-long pilgrimage of self-giving and love. There’s plenty there to keep us going 🙂

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