“Some people fight to get back what they’ve lost. I fight because I don’t know how to do anything else.” — Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in season two of (the new) Battlestar Galactica.
As a kid, I used to rip the branches off our neighbor’s mock orange trees to make bows and arrows. Younger branches for the arrows (they grew remarkably straight and flew pretty well) and mid-age branches for the bows (green enough to be flexible and thick enough to be strong). The neighbor hated me (I get that now as a home owner) but my sisters and the neighbor kids had access to functioning weapons as long as I hadn’t lost my pocket knives. (Strange, strange girl I was) We also used old broomsticks and walking sticks as quarter-staffs and wailed away at each other on the front lawn. I really don’t know why CPS was never called. It’d be easy to put some of that, and how I am now, on what was going on inside the house, but some of it is just that my poor mother had three daughters who refused to play with dolls or sit still. Instead we hooked the dog up to the wagon and made her pull us down the street. We wouldn’t stay off the muddy river banks and we shot arrows at each other from the cover of the bushes in front of our house.
I’m not naive. I know some of this conflict- and rough-and-tumble orientation is some of what helped me get through and keeps me going. Some of it, though, is just fun. And as I’ve grown older, that love of fighting and a deep appreciation for scrappy characters has not waned — Starbuck, Katniss, Lisbeth, Veronica… My greatest respect, though, remains for my sisters who are always willing to stand alongside and throw down.
I’ve had no problem seeing life here as a war, externally and internally. (I’m going back to the why-I-am-Orthodox discussion again here) I know I’m broken. I know I’m not the person I’m supposed to be. I know I’m not the person I’m going to be. I know that I too often give in and give up to the pull of this place, this culture that swamps the moral boats and/or tries to obliterate the image of God carved into our souls.
Modern American Christianity/Evangelical Protestantism never gave me the right tools with which to fight. I would read the Epistles of St. Paul and his war imagery, his descriptions of contests and I would wait for someone to tell me how I was to wage war as a good soldier of the King. But all I had at my disposal were endless praise and worship tunes, happy thoughts and crossed fingers.
It never worked for me. Orthodoxy gives me actual weapons, sturdier ones than mock orange tree branches, and ways to train to wage the fight. The part of me that loves those fictional characters, the deepest part of my humanness that wants to be brave and strong when the time comes, that part is daily fed and nurtured by the life of the Church. My priest offers me concrete orders and direction. The lives of the saints surround me, showing me how and offering me hope. I fast. I read. I kneel. I stand. I cross myself. I pray. I bow.
Last night at church, we celebrated the Feast of St. Demetrius, a Roman soldier martyred for Christ. His icon depicts him in battle dress, holding a sword and leaning on a shield.
My own patron, St. Eunice, has her day later this week. She also died a martyr, along with her family, after refusing to back down and recant. My sister’s patron, St. Maria Skobtsova or St. Maria of Paris, was a converted atheist, born to privilege who became mayor, a wife and then later a nun. She refused to live in a convent, instead living in the city, where she had fled to escape the Bolsheviks, and hosting theological discussions and debates in her home. The church contemplated excommunicating her, she was so bad at following the rules. Then, when the Nazis came, she and a priest began providing Jews with fake baptismal certificates to save their lives. She died in a concentration camp, taking the place of someone who was to enter the gas chamber that day.
Feisty people, these.
We’re going to need their examples in the days ahead, I believe. I retain no optimism about the future health of our democracy and our safety as human beings. We’re already being eaten alive by the greed and selfishness that our culture has packaged as “appropriate interaction for human beings.” We may not be willing to release our dreams of iPads and comfortable retirements until it is much too late. The barbarians have already crashed the gate.
So I will try to ready myself, waging wars against my own passions and my own ghosts, making myself able to carry on the way I should when I have to. I will try to be a better example for those around me, and live a life worthy of the calling I have received.
I have to. This is my duty.