It’s Lent. I’ve been trying to keep the fast, but it feels meaningless. I just can’t shake this feeling that God doesn’t care if I abstain from wine or cheese; how could The Being that announced Itself with the Big Bang — how could that force really care about cheese?
This is not about my own desire to eat cheese. (At least I don’t think it is.)
I keep coming back to the idea, which I heard eloquently iterated by Fr. Richard Rohr in this podcast, that the church has a history of making a big deal out of bodily sins (and by extension the bodily virtues — i.e. all kinds of abstinence) when what matters more are the sins — and virtues — of spirit. Greed or generosity, hard-heartedness or compassion.
I know the Orthodox perspective is that the body is a tool by which the spirit might be taught or tamed, but this year it’s just…not working.
The real problem is that I’m kind of over my church, and it pains me. It began with some grumbling and dissent that took place over some very un-Orthodox methods of expansion. I won’t go into details, but mostly it’s garden-variety power-mongering, using scripture to advance a political position and guilt people into compliance. Suffice it to say that the church and church leaders I’d placed on a pedestal…aren’t on a pedestal anymore.
It was bound to happen, as with anything too much admired.
As a result, I’ve been able to take a step back and honestly evaluate a lot of things about the Orthodox Church I’d been ignoring for the sake of convenience. Looking back through this blog, it’s plain that these doubt were there, and I chose to go ahead with chrismation in the church because I wanted to be on the inside. I thought I could evaluate my doubt more clearly from a position of inclusion, or that I’d at least be consoled by not being an “outsider” any more. Now, this tradition of exclusion seems very wrong to me, the way communion is withheld. It strikes me as country-clubbish, and I can see how it influenced me to convert before I was ready.
After years of wandering in a spiritual desert, the Orthodox Church seemed like an oasis of incense and song. I thought I could stay there forever, forgetting that oases are for most people a stop along a journey, and that if I’m anything, I’m a wanderer-through-the desert, a nomad.
It isn’t about the rift and political machinations within our church anymore; I’m over all that. But what I can’t get over are the things I was ignoring in the first place. In my haste to fit in somewhere, my desire to participate in holy communion, I flatly refused to see that the church is a self-important, patriarchal institution, erring on the side of correctness rather than compassion. Its positions are neatly justified, prettified with seminary words and mortared into place with the writings of St. Paul.
We are not challenged to live and understand the real mysteries of Christ’s teachings; we are told not to eat cheese at certain times of year. In fact, critical thinking or divine experience by the laity without the attendance of a priest is treated as something dangerous. But, as I have personally seen, the priests are just people, and fallible.
I’m not saying that fasting is stupid, but it’s not an end in itself. And I’m just not sure — once again — where I belong.