attending to the struggle

Six years ago this week I made a decision that, over time, changed my inner world and launched me far from my own agenda about which church I should be attending.

In a sense, when joining the Orthodox Church I flipped. It was much like the time I let go of an airplane strut somewhere above Estacada, Oregon and tumbled, paratrooper-style, beneath a swiftly opening chute. I couldn't comprehend all that was happening after I jumped, but I knew that in a lucid moment I had signed on. My landing--safe or not--would be determined by the reality of the instruction I received from strangers, of the trustworthiness of their experience and skill.

Both times--skydiving and catechizing--I chose to place my life in the hands of other people and do something unexpected. Both times I did my best to keep my eyes open, to seriously engage in an intended practice, and to struggle. Stepping out under an airplane wing, after all, should never be a relaxed activity.

This week, fighting (and mostly losing to) a head cold, I rewatched Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity. I enjoy going back to something I really like and experiencing it through the eyes of my current perspective. Overall this time, the short-lived TV series and movie gave off hues of family--adopted, engaging; most of all, struggling.

During the past four months at my church, I've experienced people of a family persuasion struggling. Not so much with each other (and that is a kindness, as someone on Firefly might say). We've been going through a time of outward tribulation. I have whined and groaned about it aplenty. Thankfully, people still put up with me.

Characters on Firefly have much they are working on. Outwardly they strive to stay afloat and among the living. But it's the inward struggle that, I'm seeing, takes center stage. At the same time, they encounter people who've found a variety of ways to stop struggling.

What do I mean by ceasing this "inward" struggle? I could also call it a tendency in human beings to find ways to set it and forget it. To decide that my understanding, my way of carrying out life "in the 'verse" is just fine. It's deciding that the good world (good life, good behavior) I have put together is a sinless world.

No matter their social standing, the characters of Firefly who've stopped struggling all make the same sorts of decisions: they will keep on lying, stealing, and killing or they will continue attending fancy dinner parties and duels or they will once more kidnap townspeople or they will yet again cover up a terrible government mistake. The main problem isn't particularly how they live, it's that they don't seek to fight the tide of distraction from true living. They don't take stock of themselves or try to swim upstream.

By contrast, the characters joined to the crucible of family--in this case, at home within a spaceship most beloved--must, each in his or her fashion, wrestle mightily with failings they'd rather ignore. The work of this struggle binds each one to the others and helps them fight the current of inner falsehood. Here the choice is either sacrifice or selfishness. Only love will keep their ship from falling out of the sky.