Democracy of the Dead – Gregory of Nazianzus

G.K. Chesterton once said that “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”  

To honor that sentiment and to stave off an easy chronological snobbery, today’s post comes straight from the mouths (or pens) of men and women who have died in the faith.

A Prayer from Gregory of Nazianzus

I am spent, O my Christ, breath of my life. 

Cross by George Wharton JamesPerpetual stress and surge, in league together, make long, O long, this life, this business of living.

Grappling with foes within and foes without, my soul has lost its beauty, blurred your image.

Did ever oak such buffeting from winds or ship receive from waves as I do now?  Labor to labor, task succeeds to task…friendship has bowed and illness wasted me…Do not forsake me, my Strength, I beseech you.

When the storms beat hard I may have betrayed you, but let me return to you now.

–Gregory of Nazianzus.

Losing Our Minds

“If you lose your mind, you lose it into the hands of God.”  – Elizabeth Goudge 

I would have thought this quaint before I had my own mid-life crisis.  I actually like the term “nervous breakdown” better.  That somehow seems more benign than the modern diagnoses with their sterile categories, the ones that somehow suggest diseased thinking can be folded up and put in the appropriate drawer like a mildewed sweater.

© Copyright Leo Gestel  and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Leo Gestel and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Panic disorder.  Anxiety disorder.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Someone even suggested PMS.  If only.  It doesn’t take much.  Just the tiniest slip, the way in which your body betrays you with the sudden rush of adrenaline or your logical thinking jumps out the window at the thought of driving over a bridge.

The trigger itself is irrelevant, but you know that your reasoning doesn’t make sense, and willing  yourself to be braver, or more faith-filled, or just saner leaves you clutching the airplane seat-handle and counting the long breaths.

At first I thought it was uncommon.  That something went wrong.  Thyroid or hormones or vitamin deficiencies or Something, because mental illness isn’t the American way.  It’s impermissible, kind of like aging or imperfect health.

© Copyright naturenet and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright naturenet and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

And then I discovered we all have it.  We call it by different names.  Alcoholism or a struggle with porn or workaholism or yo-yo dieting.  Internet addiction or shopping therapy or hidden rage or cutting.  But really it all stems from the reality that we are defective.  We’re broken.  John Eldridge says something to the effect that we are all born into this world doubting the love of God.  There’s the root of it.

At our deepest level, we operate out of the reality of scarcity and fear and brokenness and sin.  Not just the “sin” of one individual transgression, but the death-bringing, life-defying, stranglehold of separation from our Father.  We are alone and terrified, and there comes a time for each of us when we are stripped bare of our coping mechanisms.  When the novels or movies or food or relationships fail us, and we are left naked and shaken, wondering if we have lost our minds.

I wonder if we ever had them in the first place.

Thing is, it doesn’t matter.  He holds our minds.  He holds our fractured souls, our fragmented lives, our frantic running and striving and avoiding.  He knows we are but dust.  He’s never been fooled by our posing as anything different.

Though he’s promised us he will make us so.  “Don’t be afraid, little flock,” he says.  “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  I think about this on the nights when I wonder if things can get better.  Or worry about how they can possibly get any worse.  On nights when I see without question that there is no health in me, and I’m afraid that even the illusion of well-being might be stripped away.  Those are the nights when I cling to the truth of God’s love fleshed out.  Jesus is with me, I pray.  Jesus will take care of me. 

© Copyright jcsalmon and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright jcsalmon and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I need this truth in a world of sudden breath-taking tragedy.  One full of inexplicable loss and terminal diagnoses and children starving and people being trafficked.  Of news reports that warn me to be more vigilant and less trusting and more careful.  A world beset by an enemy who does indeed steal and kill and destroy.  A world where from the first day we drew breath, we lost our sense of well-being.  Let’s reclaim it.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus will take care of us.