Stupid and Smart
Even though the roads were treacherous here in West Michigan yesterday, I went out for my rounds of house blessings and visitations. My thought was that if I: 1) was careful enough, 2) checked ahead for the road conditions for whatever neighborhood I was traveling to, and 3) didn’t do anything stupid, I would be safe. I did make it through the day safely, but I have to say I underestimated the number of people who did not share these goals. I was tailgated numerous times by people who apparently thought that since the speed limit sign was still up there was no reason not to meet or exceed it, despite the fact that no one had any real traction to stop quickly. Others were trying to make turns so quickly that their vehicles never actually were able to hold on for a turn and they ended up in places they really didn’t want to be. One guy was in such a hurry that he even passed me on a two-lane road only to break in front of me to make his right turn. He saved himself three whole seconds (yes, I counted) while risking thousands of dollars in auto body repair, or worse. All for Three. Whole. Seconds.
So it got me thinking: if we can be this stupid just driving around town, how about the way we live and the care of our eternal souls? I’ve been reading the biography of an Orthodox monk who lived not all that long ago, Elder Sophrony. He was a spiritual disciple of St Silouan of Athos, but a spiritual giant himself. And by reading his writings, it turns out that living a smart spiritual life is not all that different from how we drive on a cold, snowy day. I could group much of his spiritual advice into those same categories.
1) Be Careful:
We know that being careful is the key in anything we do in life, whether it’s how we do our jobs, run our businesses, relate to the people around us and of course, how we drive on snowy roads. Being careful is just that–doing whatever we do, but with care. The dictionary defines care as “serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk.” How often can we say that we give “serious attention or consideration” to how we live our spiritual lives? Father Sophrony once described the care needed in walking the way of God as “the terrible privilege of walking the mysterious tight rope” that was stretched over an abyss and linked its two sides. After beginning the walk, he said the sense of walking the tightrope “changed into a vision of the arms of Christ on the cross,” giving us the footing to journey toward God.
2) Checking Ahead
Before I would proceed to my next stop yesterday, I would call ahead to ask how the roads were. This is reminiscent of Elder Sophrony’s frequent advice to consider well what we would expose ourselves to before making a decision to go to a certain place or enter into a certain environment. Do we do that in our spiritual lives? Do we think about the impact on our salvation when considering moving to another city or taking a new job, going to a gathering that we’ve been invited to, or deciding what we’re going to watch on Netflix?
When writing to a spiritual son who was struggling with what to believe based on reading some non-Orthodox Christian writings, Father Sophrony advised him: “agonize, labor, grieve, pray, weep with your whole soul reading these things.” No less care is needed in our spiritual journeys than in our physical ones, and in fact, the stakes are much higher.
3) Not being stupid
We can probably all agree that ignoring the realities of road conditions on a day with sub-zero wind chills and snow-covered roads is pretty stupid. Father Sophrony was too kind to ever call anyone that, but he did always advise on making decisions based on the realities at hand, and spoke plainly about how unwise it is to ignore those realities. For him, the first and foremost reality was that God was real and active all around us, working to save us. It’s understandable that people of no faith would ignore the reality of the God whose existence they deny, but what about us who call ourselves faithful? Do our words, attitudes and actions reflect our stated belief in the God we easily call Lord? Do our choices reflect His Lordship over our lives? Or do we all too often stupidly ignore the care of our soul and serve ourselves as if we were Lord.
I learned a lot yesterday about what is smart and what is stupid when driving around on a cold and snowy day. The difficult part is if we’re not really careful, we do stupid things without even realizing that they are stupid. I know that I’m way too stupid way too often in the most important work I need to undertake: the care of my undying soul. Thanks be to God for the witness of holy people like Father Sophrony and all of the Saints, who call us out of our stupidity into lives of wisdom, lives that lead to the Kingdom of God. Now we just need to be smart enough to 1) be careful in our choices, 2) check ahead for conditions before we make decisions as we move into the future, and 3) don’t do anything stupid, which is everything we do when we do it without the awareness of God. One of Father Sophrony’s books is entitled “We Shall See Him as He is,” because his experience was that God becomes very apparent when we follow the path of our Orthodox Christian spirituality of worship, prayer, fasting and works of mercy. Seeing God as He is and making our choices based on that reality is one of the smartest things we can do.