From June 26- July 2, 2015 my wife, son and I took what we hope to be the first of many pilgrimages to serve at Project Mexico/St. Innocent Orphanage. “Under Rosarito Skies” is my humble attempt to journal my experience, which I can only describe as transformative. I ask forgiveness ahead of time for the portions that focus on my own issues and struggles, which will be covered quite a bit in these essays. The point is not to be about me, but hopefully by telling my story to bring attention to how stepping outside of oneself can open up healing. Christ taught to go to those who were poor, that He would be found there. I wanted to explore the paradox of how we are often healed when we reach out to serve others. I also want to bring attention to a truly wonderful ministry, Project Mexico/St. Innocent Orphanage, and to encourage support of it and places like it, and to stir hearts towards missions and service of others within and outside their community.
Part Two: The Good Word
“Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God.” – St. Isaac of Syria
“Let all of us who wish to attract the Lord to ourselves draw near to Him as disciples to the Master, simply, without hypocrisy, without duplicity or guile, not out of idle curiosity. He Himself is simple and not composite, and He wants souls that come to Him to be simple and guileless. For you will surely never see simplicity bereft of humility.” – St. John Climacus
“Purity of heart is to will one thing” – Soren Kierkegaard
There’s a rich tradition within Orthodox Christianity, and many great stories told of ” the good word”; Venerable elders in the faith, spiritual fathers and mothers receiving pilgrims, travelers, or spiritual children (those who seek their guidance regularly) and giving profound instruction that is not only edifying, but is the thing that puts the seeker on the path of salvation. These stories are great, but can sometimes get retold with an air of mystery and mysticism, which can sometimes give off (at least for me) a little too much of a “guru” or gnostic vibe. Not that the actual original experience was that way, or that the elder himself tried to perpetuate that – I just think we humans get attracted to the exotic, the ‘magical’. The problem is we can then seek to have that kind of experience and miss the ordinary, but no less spiritually profound “word” we might receive. I’ve had a few times in my life when I can honestly say I’ve received a “word” from someone, and it reset things, but it didn’t come from a mystic in the wilderness who I’d never met before. It came from someone who knew me, and who spoke one word of truth. And every time the word served to simplify things I had complicated, at the moment I absolutely needed to hear it.
That happened to me the week before we left for Mexico. In the midst of confession, I confessed about the “Fog”. Now, a point about confession – it’s not always about a list of sins, and actually shouldn’t be about focusing on that – confession can simply be standing before God and saying “I’m broken, I’m tired, I’m hurt, I’m in a fog and I don’t know why or how to get out of it!” That particular evening’s confession had a lot of that in it (it had sins too, plenty, but that’s none of your business 🙂 ) My father confessor directed my attention to the upcoming trip to Mexico and said this:
“Do the work given you this week. Serve the people. Let it remind you of what is important. Bring that back with you.”
Sometimes the mystery of confession is hearing what we already know we should do. Hearing what we can tell ourselves in our own head but, well, not really believe. When it comes from someone else, where mutual trust and love is present, then it has a way of cutting through our own noise and bearing the power of transformation. These words set me on the path I needed to be on before going to Mexico. It was a light showing where the reset button was in the midst of the fog. It was for my salvation.
I was introduced to the concept of the “Tyranny of the Urgent” in young adulthood through the works of Richard Foster, although I realized recently it has its origins in a booklet by Charles Hummel, which I haven’t actually read. The idea “Tyranny of the Urgent” is that we often spend all or much of our energy on what seems to be presented as “urgent” in our midst. However, the great deception is that what we psychologically (especially someone wired like me) regard as “urgent” isn’t always so, and, in fact, can be very disconnected from the one thing – the one task set in front of us at that moment. The “Fog” is a perfect example of being caught in that tyranny. Example: I read a post online and immediately I feel the need to fight the battle in my own head, to respond, to do something. And if you’re like me and the inputs are all on, one 5 minute scroll of Facebook can set off a dozen urgent, tyrannical demands for response, even if I don’t actually respond. It’s about the battle in the mind over something that has nothing to do with the one task in front of me, the one person in front of me. I know this is not everyone’s struggle, but it is mine. I thank God I was unplugged and crossing the Mexico that particular week (I hear it was a particularly angry week in the arguesphere). And I am absolutely assured that the word my father confessor gave me that night was the word I needed to step away, to be minded towards the work that would be given me, which would remind me of what is really important, and give me something to bring back with me.
I was ready to do this. Thank God. Let’s Go!
And then… a big setback that would make me need to hear that same word spoken again, by someone else, when we got to Mexico.
To be continued…