Friday, August 23, 2013

Workin' them angels...overtime

At the end of day, at Small Compline, Orthodox say a prayer to their guardian angel:

O Holy Angel, attendant of my wretched soul and of mine afflicted life, forsake me not, a sinner, neither depart from me for mine incontinence.  Give no place to the evil demon to subdue me with the oppression of this mortal body; but take me by my wretched and outstretched hand, and lead me in the way of salvation. Yea, O holy Angel of God, the guardian and protector of my hapless soul and body, forgive me all things whatsoever wherewith I have troubled thee, all the days of my life, and since I have sinned this day.  Shelter in this present night and keep me from every affront of the enemy lest I anger God by any sin; and intercede with the Lord in my behalf, that He might strengthen me in the fear of Him, and make me a worthy servant of His goodness.  Amen. (From the HTM prayerbook)
What a task this must be for our guardian angels, whom our Lord has appointed " to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." (Psalm 90: 11-12)  As we are always in sin and in danger, our angels were appointed, even created possibly, to safeguard man, the jewel of God's creation.  

It is important to pray this prayer often. For we need to ask forgiveness of the angels just as we would ask forgiveness of anyone who is entrusted to protect us, whom we may have offended.  But they keep working just as our parents and guardians do.  We need to be reminded that the plan of salvation is not just some "personal relationship" between you and God.  Others are involved from the Church, the saints and, particularly, the angels. Our prayers for them to intercede on our behalf demonstrate the communal nature of our salvation which Christ has granted to us.

The other day, I was listening to Rush's album, Snakes and Arrows, from 2007. Rush is an all time favorite of mine and it was really cool to see them in concert two weeks ago, thanks to a gift from my lovely wife.  One song from this album, which they did not play is entitled, "Workin' them Angels."  The lyrics of the chorus are:

All my life
I've been workin' them angels overtime
Riding and driving and living
So close to the edge
Workin' them angels - Overtime

Now, Rush is not a Christian band.  The drummer, Neil "the Professor" Peart is an avowed secular humanist.  Geddy Lee, the frontman, bass guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist, etc. is a son of Jewish Holocaust survivors and, from what I've read, the Jewish faith is heritage, not a practiced faith.  Alex Lifeson, the guitarist, was originally named Aleksandar Živojinović and was born in Canada to Serbian immigrants.  Lifeson is the English translation of Živojinović. I don't know if he is practicing Serbian Orthodox or not.  Whatever their religious proclivities may be, that's not the point. The point I am trying to make is that truth is truth regardless where it originates. 

Those in the church growth movement insist that we need to find new, hip, relevant ways to draw the young to church. I am not, for a second, advocating that Rush music be used to celebrate the Liturgy like the Episcopalians and Lutherans have been using U2 and the Beetles (ugh!).  But teaching the faith using cultural examples as this can be a good start, but should not be an end. The words of this chorus do not even begin to substitute for the prayer reprinted above. 

Nonetheless, when I heard this song as I was driving into work, it reminded me of that prayer to the Guardian Angel.  I'm always in need of his defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ and his intercessions.  I'm always working him because I have given him no reprieve to stop as I keep in my sinful ways.  I do work him...overtime.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Be perfect...then marry?

I was reading an editorial in the morning paper written by Tom Purcell about the rapid decline in the marriage rate in America when compared to marriage rates in 1960.  The statistics should be alarming as we seem intent on breeding ourselves out of existence.  The usual reasons are stated for this decline, e.g. economy, concentration on careers, personal fulfillment and happiness, fear of loss of freedom.  But here's what caught me:

And then there is the “soul mate” factor, a modern construct.

 But nowadays, many single people are holding out for the perfect person — perfect looks and personality — and the good-hearted CPA isn’t likely to make the cut.

The fact is, no one person can ever live up to our high soul-mate ideals — so many people remain single.
Marriage is on the decline because people and circumstances aren't perfect (people are not far enough in career, no house, too much debt, etc.) and because the person they would marry isn't perfect (not funny enough, not good-looking, not financially independent enough, etc.).  Since when did marriage require perfection as a must before going through with it?  Apparently in this current generation.

If people were to be really honest, there are no perfect set of circumstances anymore.  The economy is not what it was and is still in a very tenuous position for a lot of people.  There are no perfect people.  That's a no-brainer.  Yet, shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette  and commercials like those for e-Harmony, and constantly peddle the idea that there is a perfect person for you, that there is a soul mate for you.  Don't settle.  There's someone better.  It's no longer "Love the one your with;" it's now "love [only] the one you want."  What's worse is that finding a marriage partner and then planning for marriage has been reduced to a
checklist with objectives that need to be reached before saying the "I do."

For the Christian who believes that marriage is a sacrament, a union of man and woman in one flesh, Christ uniting with His Church, marriage is not the end, but the beginning of perfection.  We marry because we want to strive for perfection with Christ as our guide.  Marriage is an ascetic struggle, a death of self to our spouse (as Christ died for the Church and as the martyrs died for Christ; hence why we sing hymns to the martyrs on weddings in the Orthodox Church) so that we may become more like Christ and hence, become perfect.  Marriage is no different from monasticism in that respect.

If perfection were required before any participation in the mysteries/sacraments of the Church, then no one would receive the Eucharist, no one would be baptized, no  one would be ordained, no one would be married, no one would be given holy unction and monasteries would be completely empty.  The perfect have no need of the sacraments.  They are for imperfect people who desire that perfection.  

I certainly grant that secularists would not subscribe to marriage as a death of one's self for the sake of Christ, but they need not have to.  As long as it is taught to our children (i.e. those of us having children) that marriage is a means, not an end (whatever that end may be), perhaps a reversal of the decline may occur. 

However, I suspect that as long as happiness is defined strictly as having no cares and no responsibilities beyond those which give one personal fulfillment and landing only the perfect person, the marriage rate will continue on its current trajectory.