So back to how I ended up in the Greek Orthodox Church.
First, the semester is over and I can sleep in tomorrow and wow am I in a really odd head-space. Thrilled to be getting a break, filled with regret and self-loathing over all the wrong things I did this year, how badly I failed the students. Just can’t get past that yet…
And meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a bunch about what I want to write here about my spiritual walk, how much detail is necessary or even desirable, and how much is stupid navel-gazing.
By the mid-seventies, we had left the Jesus people movement behind, and my dad and his old buddies from Campus Crusade for Christ were keeping in touch. They had decided that they needed to find “the real church.”
Man, have I heard those words so many, many times in my convoluted life. The real church. Our home became a revolving door for people looking for God and the real church. I heard metaphysical tons of spiritual speculation, bragging, conjecture, discussion, and most of it completely unadulterated garbage — it was akin to being exposed to so much poison at such a young age that I eventually became immune. (“Mithridates, he died old…”) It became (and remains) so that anyone who said they wished to be a priest or a theologian or a monastic or even a dedicated Christian looking to work in the “ministry” set off the alarm bells in my head that rang out, “Warning: this person is a bullshit artist.” I have seldom been proven wrong (can’t even think when I’ve ever been wrong in this, but I’ll put in a “seldom” to keep myself honest).
During this time, at least one if not several of Dad’s friends had the good sense to decide that history and original texts might be good things to explore. And somehow, the reality that the Orthodox Church still existed was discovered. With the pitilessness of hindsight, I wonder why it took so many years for them to find Orthodoxy. I think part of it was ego and pride, two things I’m quite, quite familiar with myself. These men, including my dad (especially my dad, maybe) thought very well of themselves spiritually. They were better, smarter, more spiritually in tune than others, had a closer walk with Jesus, knew what was right when others floundered. In the spiritual world, they were all that and a bag of chips. To find out that they weren’t that wonderful, that special, that in fact their spiritual growth and maturity were equal to a gnat’s when compared to the greatness of the true spiritual adepts of the Church — this wasn’t good news and they weren’t quick to accept it. We would just keep going our own way for a while longer, see if we could find something better than the Orthodox faith. Oh my Jesus were we fools.
I understand that it takes a fair amount of self-confidence to undertake any sort of significant struggle. I also know that mixing spiritual anything with self-confidence and ego is a recipe for ugly, ugly disasters. By the time I was in high school, we were living in California, supposedly still heading toward entering the Orthodox Church, and I was impatient for that day to come. I was so tired of our messed-up, home-made church. Because by now, it had become a cult. My dad would deny this, has denied it, has accused me (and my siblings) of making things up and out-right lying when we’ve argued in the past about what really happened. Regardless of how he wants to spin the stories, we were involved in a “church” where the theology was pretty basic and the social construct was a crazy, soul-destroying cult. We all had to live in the same area of town, we had to get permission to rent a house, buy a car, take a job, go on a date… in short, any decision affecting one’s life in any way, big or small, had to be approved by the council of elders.
How can I explain how sick this was, how ill and hurtful and just twisted this all was? I can’t. To paraphrase from the great Stephen King, it’s not the blows you’re dealt that matter, but the ones you survive. I survived. But the carnage around me, the wounds, the hurts that altered me and that I passed on to my children no matter how hard I tried not to — all of these are difficult for me to forget or forgive. But I survived. At least we kept moving towards Orthodoxy.
And we finally, finally were accepted into the real, honest-to-gosh Orthodox Church. We were taken in like the pitiful refugees we were, given shelter and a place to learn and be nurtured and to grow as we needed to grow. Is the Orthodox Church perfect? Of course it cannot be on this earth. (At the very least, I’m a part of it, and even if everyone else were perfect, I’m not. I screw up the curve every time.) But am I ever sorry to have finally washed up on its doorstep, half-dead and drowned in despair? Never. Never.
I do not look back at my past with any feeling other than pain. I can laugh now, a bittersweet, blackhearted laugh that scrapes against the ears that can hear it. I believe, even with all the injuries, it was worth it, yes. The scars are like prison tattoos telling the broken story of my life. The scars remind me of who I am and, in an odd way, I’m grateful to have them as testament. But I can’t help but ask myself: Did I really have to have so many?