Then there are those periods in our life

Tempe, Arizona

In Shellharbour, NSW, one afternoon in 2018 waiting at school for my children. Courtesy: Michael Family archives.

In Shellharbour, NSW, one afternoon in 2018 waiting at school for my children. Courtesy: Michael Family archives.

Then there are those periods in our life when it would seem are reserved for the darkest thunderstorms. And the heavy rains keep coming. Most of us can look back on our lives, especially as we move deeper into middle age and pinpoint three or four of the toughest times. If we could survive those trials then surely we can survive the present ones and those yet to come. It is critical if we should feel ourselves becoming overwhelmed that we look back on those testing weeks, and months and sometimes even years, to see how we pulled through and what lessons can be drawn. Life is indeed a series of ‘ups and downs’ with the ups ever fleeting while the downs have a tendency to linger. This is why I will often refer to one of my favorite maxims gleaned from the desert dwellers that our existence is one of “joyful sorrow”.[1] I have also through my own ups and downs found great comfort in the words of Saint Paul:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8.18).

In recent months it has been one of those periods for me. They have been emotionally and physically difficult. I have had to navigate five deaths each one holding a specific significance in my life with three of these opening up an abyss of triggers affecting my mental well-being. Physically I was once more experiencing severe pain owing to a dental procedure to do with my jaw. We witnessed our eldest boy dealing bravely with having his boyhood dream taken away from him. Nepotism is a terrible thing. A fortnight ago I also left my beloved UOW to go into possible retirement. A self-identity crisis [and I’ve had a few of these] are not good at any age. And in recent weeks I was preparing for my flight to the United States to catch up with the children and Katina. A trip I was greatly anticipating. Except I now have a fear of flying after almost dropping out of the sky and into the Caribbean on board a small Cessna a few years ago crossing over from Anguilla to Puerto Rico. All these things started to gradually overwhelm me. My blood pressure too rose dangerously which can give rise to other complications. I wept but these were not always the tears of prayer. If truth be told I was suffering in ways not too dissimilar to those earlier dark times, despite my being older and I would hope a little wiser.

The details behind these recent trials do not matter. They remain peripheral to this entry. For you can be certain that someone somewhere is battling with darkness more impenetrable than our own. Like my beloved Aunt Stella whose entire family was wiped out within the twinkling of an eye or Leo who everyday educated me mowed down riding his motorcycle by a drunkard who until he died one morning could only speak by flicking his eyelids. You try to reason through all of this? You either risk losing your faith or going mad. There are no shortcuts either. You cannot go round suffering. You confront it at the center and by sheer force you compel yourself forward. It can be brutal. It can be ugly. But it is the only way, and it is worth the struggle to get to the end of the race. It is the one true place where we discover our name. There is light on the other side and it is there waiting our entering. “I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

But I would like to share with you how this storm too was pushed through that I can now sit down and write these few paragraphs in the relative calm of our little apartment in Tempe, Arizona. I would like especially for the next few minutes to resonate with my younger readers. One of the deaths I spoke of above had in fact to do with the tragic loss of a beautiful young boy. And this is mourning beyond words. Together with the deaths of the bishop who had ordained me into the priesthood my first father confessor Archbishop Stylianos with whom after years of estrangement I had not reconciled and weeks later the sudden passing away of one of my dearest friends our national poet, Les Murray, brought mortality directly into my heart and it did wage war against me one more time. I was taunted amongst other doubts that my own life had been of little if any merit and that for the greater part my few talents had been wasted.

In dealing with the above experiences which came parceled in one hard fist and which not surprisingly released the ‘black dog’ together with an exacerbation of my OCD invariably following behind like a beast in pursuit of its prey, I went through a series of extreme emotions and temptations. And so it happened during these ‘visitations’ that a number of life’s sufferings and impulses arrived closed together: the raw impact of death, the specter of hopelessness, the unbearable thought of the loss of grace, lost opportunities at reconciliation, the weightiness of an overriding guilt, hurting through the unfair treatment meted out to my eldest son, the onset of a melancholia, frustration and anger, the crisis of identity, and strong physical pain. I had confronted such distresses in the same battlefield before but I was younger and more vigorous in spirit. The closest and the most terrifying yet, even more potentially devastating for me, the agonizing aftermath of my leaving the priesthood and the technical issues behind our multiple attempts of trying to save my doctorate which would at times quite literally delete line by line before our eyes. I do not wish for anyone to experience anything of this which was unremitting in its persistence and seemed to me an almost catastrophic situation that would not come to an end. During these times the soul does struggle in its efforts to pray. Do not be alarmed if this is happening to you. It is a natural phenomenon as the ideal situation for prayer is peace, and tribulation is not a peaceful condition. Christ Himself labored in prayer during His most difficult hours on earth: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk. 22:43f.). It is vital to persevere in our own ‘garden of the soul’.

So how can one deal with these multiple attacks? If there is a general formula I would like to know. There is no such thing and we each walk into these green fires on our own, and one way or another, we emerge different beings to what we were the hour before. There is no ‘general formula’ except for tears and the disquisition of whether to live or die. You can choose to live or die in a multitude of ways. This is because each one of us carries single life experiences into the ‘fire’: a present informed by a different past; a different set of values and beliefs even though we might belong to similar faith communities; we are of different ages and significantly of varying degree of resilience. In the extreme, and there are those amongst us who have been to this frightful place, suicidal ideation infiltrates our waking moments right through to our sleepless nights.[2] Yet, there is common ground, even if by virtue of our shared elements of flesh and blood. There is a ‘soft’ intersection of experiences where the crux of the human condition is at its most visible and sensible. It could be that place which Frankl has memorably called ‘man’s search for meaning’[3] or “the will to life” described by Schopenhauer as the fight for self-preservation.[4] For those who move and breathe within a belief-based community both these great pillars of hope and action can be summed up for example by Saint James’ connection of faith to perseverance through trials (Jas. 1:2f.) or to Buddhism’s teaching of Virya Paramita the perfection of perseverance through courage.[5]

Irrespective of our background or philosophical perspectives what these and other deeply felt insights borne from the observation of humans striving to survive are saying: there is meaning to your life, so will yourself to live.

It is possible, others many before us, have gone through these green fires and have come out alive the stronger and the more compassionate. They practice forgiveness of themselves and towards others. Suffering which never lies can do this to us. Adversity can be our most trusted friend. Blessed are they who mourn. It has been done before, and if we should persevere but another day, this too, it will pass.

 

Postscript Yesterday morning after I dropped off Eleni at summer school classes, I took my long walk down Southern Ave., Tempe. The heat would be unbearable if not for the fact it doesn’t ‘burn’ you like the summer scorchers back home in Australia. The forecast for today is 110 ℉! My ritual has been to take an initial short break at the Back East Bagels for a light morning breakfast. Then the much longer trek retracing my steps back past the school left into Rural Rd., to spend the next three hours at Tempe Public Library. I love spending time in libraries. Cicero well compared libraries to gardens. This evening George is leaving with his Arizona rugby teammates for Denver, Colorado, to contest the Regional Cup Tournament (RCT). Tomorrow morning Eleni and I will be flying out to join him to catch some of the round games.

And yet this impromptu postscript had another reason. On my way to the library yesterday turning left into Rural in the corner of the road my eyes caught sight of a little bird lying motionless in a ditch. It could have been a House Finch. I am not sure. It was dead still. It faced upwards its wings folded around its brown breast like a cloak. Eyes and mouth closed. It might have died for the lack of water. I don’t know. We can never know the whole truth. Not even about ourselves. I wept like a child. Is this normal? Do these things happen to you as well? I thought of the thousands of men and women and children who would on that day likewise die anonymously in the world whether of thirst or famine, homeless somewhere on a city street, or by themselves in a hospital bed. Anonymously and alone like this little bird which, too, had a history and stories to tell.

[1] https://pittsburghoratory.blogspot.com/2012/05/joyful-sorrow-compunction-and-gift-of.html

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CIq4mtiamY

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/mans-search-meaning

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_to_live

[5] https://www.learnreligions.com/virya-paramita-perfection-of-energy-449709

Religion, Science & Technology: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective

Available from Amazon.com here and other leading bookstores.

Description

An interview with Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia on the interplay of religion, science and technology from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.

Metropolitan Kallistos was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University for 35 years, and speaks here with M.G. Michael and Katina Michael of the University of Wollongong Australia on key issues, such as whether science and religion are in conflict, technology's impact on the practice of religion, responsible innovation, transhumanism, human enhancement and medical prosthesis.

Metropolitan Kallistos responds to questions posed by sociotechnical systems researchers Michael and Michael, such as: are science and religion in conflict? Are there limits to innovation? Is religious faith threatened by technology? What if machines were to achieve artificial intelligence?

Metropolitan Kallistos provides a sober critique of topics in technology and society, answering twenty questions, and giving readers of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to reflect on technological trajectories, past and present.

Theological terms such as "image and likeness", the Incarnation, tradition, and omniscience are addressed, as are socioethical concepts of judgement, freedom, morality, and values.

The well-known story of the Tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis, also serves as a backdrop in discussions related to scientific enquiry, the creation of new technology, engineering and hubris.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with invention, for the faithful the creative genius is a gift from God to be nurtured, to be used to sustain and enhance life. It becomes a significant matter however, if humans or animals in the process of technological innovation at invention, commercialisation or diffusion, are misused for experimental purposes and not shown proper respect.

In only a way we have come to expect from Metropolitan Kallistos- logical, eloquent and witty- he summates so accurately: "Now, a machine however subtle does not feel love, does not pray, does not have a sense of the sacred, a sense of awe and wonder. To me these are human qualities that no machine, however elaborate, would be able to reproduce. You may love your computer but your computer does not love you."

Although this book is a mere thirty-six pages in length, it stands as an excellent guide on helping consumers navigate through their own moral decisions with respect to modern technology.

Religion, Science and Technology can be read cover to cover in an hour. It can serve as a guide for further enquiry, especially for students in theology, philosophy, social science, and of course, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It can also serve as a thought-provoking introduction to the branch of the social implications of technology for any reader interested in futurism.

Michael and Michael have spent the last 15 years collaborating on a variety of technology and society issues, this book is volume 1 in a new series dedicated to this field of study. For further details see www.mgmichael.com and www.katinamichael.com.

Author Information

About the author:
Born Timothy Ware in Bath, Somerset, England, Metropolitan Kallistos was educated at Westminster School (to which he had won a scholarship) and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took a Double First in Classics as well as reading Theology. In 1958, at the age of 24, he embraced the Orthodox Christian faith (having been raised Anglican), traveling subsequently throughout Greece, spending a great deal of time at the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Patmos. He also frequented other major centers of Orthodoxy such as Jerusalem and Mount Athos. In 1966, he was ordained to the priesthood and was tonsured as a monk, receiving the name Kallistos. In the same year, he became a lecturer at Oxford, teaching Eastern Orthodox Studies, a position which he held for 35 years until his retirement. In 1979, he was appointed to a Fellowship at Pembroke College, Oxford, and in 1982, he was consecrated to the episcopacy as a titular bishop with the title Bishop of Diokleia, appointed to serve as the assistant to the bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. Despite his elevation, Kallistos remained in Oxford and carried on his duties both as the parish priest of the Oxford Greek Orthodox community and as a lecturer at the University. Since his retirement in 2001, Kallistos has continued to publish and to give lectures on Orthodox Christianity, traveling widely. On March 30, 2007, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elevated the Diocese of Diokleia to Metropolis and Bishop Kallistos to Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia.

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About the co-authors:
MG Michael and Katina Michael have been formally collaborating on technology and society issues since 2002. MG Michael holds a PhD in theology and Katina Michael in information and communication technology. Together they hold eight degrees in a variety of disciplines including Philosophy, Linguistics, Ancient History, Law and National Security. MG Michael is an honorary associate professor in the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Wollongong, and Katina Michael is a professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences in the same institution, where she is also the Associate Dean (International). Katina is the editor-in-chief of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, and senior editor of IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine. Michael and Katina reside in the Illawarra region in Australia with their three children. 

Publishing Details

Publication Date: Dec 20 2016
ISBN/EAN13: 1741282632 / 9781741282634
Page Count: 36
Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Trim Size: 5.5" x 8.5"
Language: English
Color: Full Color
Related Categories: Religion / Religion & Science

All proceeds of the sale of this book will be donated to the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) in Cambridge, Britain.