Sometimes the simplest questions can be the hardest to answer. Where are you? Where are you going?
Lent is a time to approach these questions from a spiritual angle.
Where are you?
Perhaps the most beautiful words ever recorded are those found in the third chapter of Genesis after the fall of Adam and Eve from grace. Adam and Eve heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. For they knew they had sinned, and were ashamed. But then God spoke perhaps the most beautiful words ever uttered, ...the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9 )
God seeks us out. He reaches to us each day to touch our hearts and enlighten our minds. He always does his utmost to make a connection with us. He calls to us each day in a thousand ways to come to him. He calls to us in love, saying “where are you?”
The questions, “where are you”, and “are you lost” are not uncommon in our society. Amongst the many modern day stereotypes one is likely to hear today is that men, when driving, do not like to stop to ask for directions. Asking for directions, it has been suggested, is a declaration that one is lost; and being lost is a sign of weakness, a sign of being ‘unmanly’.
In contrast to this modern day ‘macho man’, are our sainted Church Fathers. Especially as recorded in the writings of St. Nersess Shnorhali and Gregory of Nareg, our holy church Fathers answered God’s question of “where are you”, by responding...
‘I am lost...’
‘I am the sheep that has wandered...’
‘I am in darkness...’
‘I am following the path of my sinful heart toward destruction...’
Odd; the church Fathers are to be to us examples of holiness to follow. How then, do those who our church has canonized for leading exemplary lives of holiness record such an apparent low opinion of themselves? How is it that they who our church proclaims as being so close to God, themselves record feeling a sense of distance from Him?
The answer to this apparent dilemma can be found throughout scripture. While modern society emphasizes that one must appear confident and self assured at all times, the Bible exalts those who see their sin and admit they are distant from God. Indeed, both the writings of the church Fathers and the Bible encourage the faithful to take an intensely honest look at their lives, and ask themselves where they are spiritually in the light of God. The upshot of such self-examination from a Christian standpoint, is that any human who takes an honest look at oneself in the light of God will recognize that they are spiritually lost, and see in themselves spiritual places where they have distanced themselves from the Lord.
A wonderful scriptural example of a holy person acknowledging he is ‘lost’ can be found in the Book of Isaiah. (When we sing, “Soorp, Soorp,” during Badarak, we are actually recalling Isaiah chapter 6 when Isaiah, the Holy Prophet of God, was granted a vision of God). In Isaiah Chapter 6 we read...
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
It has been said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; but indeed the journey begins earlier. The journey begins when one realizes within himself a desire to be some place else. Are you happy where you are;really happy? Are you at peace in your life, really at peace? Do you know where you are, or are you lost?
During this Lenten season, while we are looking at where we are spiritually, let us follow the examples set by the saints before us and have the courage to stand up and say, “I am lost, God I need direction! Jesus show me the way!” Until we have the humility to admit we are lost, we will not let God direct us.
If you look at yourself and feel lost; feel distant from God, or lack a sense of direction, know that someone is searching for you diligently. Jesus said, "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' (Luke 15:4-6 ). We are the sheep of God’s pasture; and God knows that when we sin we wander from him. When we so wander, God seeks us out.
Knowing that God is seeking us out when we sin, why then do we not always know the joy of his loving presence and guiding hand in our lives? The answer to this can be found in the very verse which follows the Luke 15:4-6 passage mentioned above. Luke 15:7 reads, Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. The key, therefore to ‘being found’ by God is repentance. When we repent we recognize that there are ways in which we have not been leading God directed lives. It is as if when we sin we turn our face from God; and when God searches for us, he looks to see our eyes. The moment we lift our gaze to him, He finds us, embraces us, places us on His shoulders, and carries us into heaven rejoicing with the anglels.
God is dying for us to repent, and to dedicate our lives to him in all things. When we feel that we are lost, let us look to the one who knows how to give directions. Let us ask him to be the director of our wills and lives, so that we might together know the joy of being with him completely, and be at peace, realizing the constant presence of the Great Director in our lives.
Where are you Going?
As Christians we are going to be with our Lord in heaven forever. But how do we get there? We believe that to get to heaven we must follow Jesus. Of course, the fact that he is not walking around on the earth makes following him a bit more difficult. In the following passage, the apostle Peter discusses the issue of following Jesus:
Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times. "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 13:36 )
Jesus says there is only one way to get to his Father’s House (heaven). Jesus says he is the way, and the only way to arrive at this greatest of all destinations.
The Armenian Apostolic Church recognizes that even here on earth we can have the experience of having, in some sense, already reached our ultimate destination. Both scripture and the prayers of Badarak acknowledge a sense in which we have already arrived at our goal.
In the Gospel of John we read:
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened, but he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. John 6:22-38
The underlined words in the preceding passage suggest an odd sight. It is as if the boat suddenly ‘jumps’ to shore having been out several miles. How are we to understand the ‘immediate’ arrival of the boat at its destination? While biblical scholars have different interpretations of the meaning of this passage, one popular one is that the reason John the Evangelist writes that the boat immediately ... was at the land to which they were going, is because John intended to demonstrate that the ‘land to which the apostles were going’ that is to say the apostles ‘destination’ was Jesus. That is why when Jesus got into the boat they had arrived at their destination.
It is interesting to note the part of the church sanctuary that contains the pews is called in Armenian the ‘nav’, which translates into English as ‘boat’. The nav of the church is where the pews are. Therefore when you are in the nav, you are in the boat. Just as the disciples were glad to take Jesus into their boat, and by doing so arrived at their destination; so too we as a parish arrive at our destination when we welcome Jesus in our heart; his teachings, his Badarak, and his love.
There is a beautiful prayer in our divine liturgy that relates what the presence of Jesus does for us in a magnificent way. One of the prayers said inaudibly by the celebrant during the liturgy reads,
[The Word (Jesus) took] the church to be a people unto himself, made his own those who believe in thee, and was pleased to dwell amongst us in a ponderable nature... through the virgin, and as the divine master-builder building a new work, he thereby made this earth into heaven.
When we see the world in the light of Christ, we see that the earth is crammed with heaven. Just as water saturates a sponge, so too is Christ’s love present in the midst of this evil world. While we rightly believe that by following Jesus we will arrive ultimately in heaven, the church teaches us to realize that being with Jesus, andrecognizing his presence, is in itself, heaven.
This Lent, let’s see places in our lives where we are lost, and turn to the Great Director to show us the way. This Lent let’s go to Jesus, let’s go to heaven.