Sign me up as Orthodox. Not the Eastern variety, just one who tries to be faithful to the teachings of Holy Church in their fullness. This provides the bedrock for the life of faith. It provides a certain certainty.
However, the walk of faith is full of uncertainty. We walk by faith, not by sight. The biggest contrast in the Church itself are those who say they are people of faith, but do not live by faith. Instead they get it all organized. They lay out their life. They have everything planned. They have their insurance policies in place. They have their retirement plan all organized. They have their career structured and their family all together and everything is just as they want it. Not only is this terrifcally boring, but it is boringly terrifying. It’s dead. It’s the life of the flesh, not the life of the Spirit.
What troubles me therefore about some of my equally Orthodox brethren is that they seem to bring the same approach to their religion as well. So much time is spent defining and defending the doctrines and dogmas. So much time is spent dotting the ‘i’s’ and crossing the ‘t’s’ liturgically. So much effort is spent studying and applying canon law or liturgical rubrics or diocesan guidelines or parish policies.
This is one of the constant problems with religious people. We want certainty. We sincerely want to get it right. We want it all nailed down. We want it neat and tidy and all together. But it sometimes feels a bit, errm, obsessive compulsive doesn’t it? What spooks me is that the more extreme of these folks never seem to have things just as they want. They’re forever making new rules, new policies and coming up with new liturgical fine points. Furthermore, they don’t seem like they’re happy in Jesus. Where’s the joy? Where’s the sense of humor?
We want it all organized and together, but life isn’t like that. Life is messy. Love is messy. If we’re going to walk by faith, not by sight, then we’re going to have times when we’re confused. We’re going to mess up. We’re going to stumble and fall. We’re going to take wrong turnings and get lost in the woods. But this is the great adventure. This is the beautiful struggle.
I remember when I went to England as a penniless student. I didn’t know anyone in the whole country and I was following a dream of becoming an Anglican country parson. I was so poor I would buy one candy bar and cut it in three pieces and make it last all week. I worried about money. I didn’t know if I would ever be ordained. I was leaving the secure faith world of fundamentalism and setting off into the unknown of Anglicanism (and ultimately) Catholicism. I was confused. I made mistakes. I was afraid. I fell into sin. I messed up big time. But I knew I was walking by faith. I was doing the big adventure, and looking back I can see it was all part of the plan.
The beautiful thing about the Catholic faith is that we do have certain certainties, but we must always avoid the temptation to make the Catholic faith into some sort of legalistic, liturgical straightjacket. There’s got to be room to mess up. There’s got to be room to be different. There’s got to be room to grow, there has to be room to engage our wills and take some risks.
It’s not too hard to understand. The dogmas and disciplines, the doctrines and rubrics and rules are not an end in themselves. They’re a means to an end. They’re not the journey, they’re the map. Of course going on a journey without a map is the same thing as being lost. The map needs to be the best and most detailed map possible, but its still only a map.
It’s the journey that matters, and think about the relationship of the journey to the map. The map is two dimensional, flat and printed on paper. The journey is life itself–alive, colorful, dangerous, beautiful, risky and free.