I don’t know how much you understood about what your yaya and I were saying tonight. You seemed pretty into the cool new Barbie™ Theia Athena bought you. But even if you didn’t notice now, I imagine that one day you will have questions, so I wanted to address them — while some of the questions are fresh in my mind. Being your nouna is one of the greatest honors of my life and I want to do a good job. I want to do everything I can to help you walk in and with this ancient and beautiful and complicated tradition into which we have both been born.
If you have to read the original post, then at least avoid the comments.
I am also writing this letter, because I am worried, worried about the voices that will create the image of God and the Church in your mind. Avoid the internet. Really, trust me on this one, koukla. You won’t find Christ there. Hopefully the internet will break forever sometime before you learn to read well enough to find your way online, but you are learning so quickly I fear that won’t happen. So just avoid anything anyone writes about Orthodoxy online. Scratch that. Avoid anything anyone writes about Christianity online. Actually, let’s make that avoid anything anyone writes about religion (or politics or sex or beauty or anything) online. I include the stuff I write in that. And if you can’t help yourself, if you have to read the original post, then at least avoid the comments.
Instead I hope your faith is shaped in the curves of your yaya’s wrinkled hand as she makes the sign of the cross. I pray that you first hear the voice of God is the sound of your theios’ and theias’ laughter in the kitchen on Sundays. In theory, if you have questions, I am an email or a phone call away. But spoiler alert: I have no answers. Not to the specifics. In fact, I’ll save you the time. Here are the things I know for sure about God. You are a smart girl; you can extrapolate from there.
God is greater.
Any god who made all of that is probably way beyond all the ridiculous things that we’ve cooked up.
Allahu Akbar is the Arabic. Muslims even have a name for this truth: the Takbir. Some people will try to make you afraid of its utterance in Arabic, but they are wrong. There is no greater reality than this simple phrase. Whatever you can imagine, whatever you can think, God is greater than that. He is greater than our fears, our failures, our sins, our prejudices. He is greater than death. That’s why you can know with complete certainty that whenever people use God as a cover for their petty bigotry or tribal hatred, they are wrong. If you ever doubt this, go out far from the city anywhere in the world and look up at the night sky. Look at the Milky Way and remember that is only a small part of the vast universe God has created. Any god who made all of that is probably way beyond all the ridiculous things that we’ve cooked up.
God is love.
He made the world in love and He loves all that He has made. That’s right. God loves everyone and loves us each the same. I have a hard time with the fact that God loves Donald Trump, Matthew Heimbach, and Kim Jong-Un as much as He loves you. But that’s the truth. They are all awful and you are simply wonderful, but God loves you all, equally. I have found it helpful to remember that God loves the people I can’t stand. It’s a good spiritual exercise and if done with diligence it will guard your heart against hatred. “Hatred is the devil’s poison.” Do what you can to avoid it.
The world belongs to God. Walter Brueggemann, an American Protestant theologian who specializes in the Old Testament, says “The foundational belief of the Biblical worldview is that the world belongs to God and that God will bring His world to shalom.” I concur. I am not sure how this will happen, because to be honest things aren’t looking great. Nonetheless, I know it’s true. Live as though this is true. Do not, whatever you do, let the ugliness of the world dampen your joy or kindness. Do not live as though hatred, violence, prejudice, and death will have the final word. They will not. Live your life in the expectation of their defeat.
God is here.
Right now. Ours is a god who comes to us, comes to use in ordinary things: bread, wine, water, oil. If you are looking, and not even very hard, you will see God a thousand times a day. And precisely because God is here, you are going to want to move. Because the way that you worship a god who lives in the world and acts in history is to live in the world and act in the rough and tumble of human events. Ask the prophets who cried to the king for justice. Ask St. Peter as he journeyed to Rome. Ask Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he walked across the Selma Bridge. Ask Jesus before Pilate.
God loves us all, but God picks sides. If you are ever wondering what side God is on, look for the one that is least likely. Look for the weakest, the most reviled. Those are God’s people. Throw your lot in with them. That is your Christian duty and the only one that I will ever bug you about. Fast if you remember. Go to Communion if you can. Confess if you must. But never, ever ignore the suffering, the weak, and the oppressed. That is not to say that participation in the sacramental life of the Church is not important or meaningful. It is both. It guides my life. It gives me strength. It leads me to God. That being said, you will find no better fast offering, no truer communion, no purer confession than to align yourself with the poor, the suffering, and the reviled.
Finally, God is not an easy answer.
And anyone who pretends so is wrong — and probably very afraid. This world is strange and beautiful and confusing. God is the question, religion is merely a way of asking and there are no answers. Live in and through question. Pray in church, but also in all the other ways we pray: Stay up late with good friends to hash it out. Have breakfast by the sea. Read everything you can get your hands on. Talk to strangers. Get a dog. Dance until dawn in a place where you cannot speak the language. Do this and God will come to you, not with answers, but with strength enough for the journey. This is all we can hope for, but it is all we require.
That’s it, kouklaki mou. That’s what I’ve got. Everything else is conjecture. If you figure anything else out (and I am sure you will), give me a call.
Love you always,