18 September 2007

What Good is a Glass Dagger?

I've always been fascinated with swords. I figure, that's probably pretty common in most boys.

Then again, I grew up in a strange way. My earliest 6 years took place in the 1980s, in the rural American south, but not so rural that city life couldn't be experienced with a 15-20 minute drive. It was an odd mix. We didn't have cable tv until I was 13, so I lived off of cartoons one of my mom's great aunts recorded onto vhs tapes for me. I still have some of them. By far, my favorites involved sword-and-sorcery, heroism, and knighthood. I also grew up reading stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table...horribly disfigured, but saintly, Victorian portraits of chivalrous men acting chivalrously.

I also grew up in church. We were Methodists on both sides, though my different sets of grandparents attended different churches. I grew up memorizing scripture...and at times, snippets spring up from somewhere deep within me. I suppose that this is why, even in my darkest hours, I never totally gave up Christ. Nevertheless, these things--my fascination with swords, and my memorization of scripture--someone welded themselves into one things within me at some point in my childhood.

My parents were very young, and in her 20s, my mother was one of those dispensationalist Protestants who was looking for the end of the world and the return of the Lord. Her love of Christ, I think, can make up for any stupidity that her young zeal may have sprouted, because she certainly initiated me into a conception of God as mysterion...a conception, I might add, that led both of us home to Holy Orthodoxy eventually. But every night before I went to bed, my mother would pray over me, and recite the verses of Ephesians chapter six about putting on the "whole armor of God." Because the word of God is the "sword of the spirit," it follows that he who understands the scriptures has a magic sword--better than Excalibur, or sword of the Red-cross knight, or Narsil--to combat any evil thing in the world.

But as I got older, and examined the tradition I was brought up in (ok, in reality, the many traditions, as we church hopped a lot in my parents' 30s, as they themselves grew dissatisfied with the churches we knew), I discovered that this invincible, magical sword, was really about as useful as a glass dagger. Sure, it was sharp, and it could poke a hole through someone if you applied enough force--but, it was just as apt to shatter into a thousand pieces. It did shatter for me, under the weight of intellectual pursuit and philosophic speculation.

What I didn't realize was that I only had half the sword.

The glass dagger of the scriptures of my youth is fulfilled in my adult understand of the scriptures as a part of a living, vital tradition of the unbroken Church. It is this twofold revelation of the real nature and purpose of what had once been a child's understanding of a thing that has led me into the Kingdom, into Holy Orthodoxy. As St. Paul said, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Cor. 13:11). The Protestant understand of scripture is a childish understanding--a limited one. It denies the place of it within a historical reality, and places the individual Bible reader on the pedestal as the ultimate arbiter of doctrine. In so doing, it exalts the ego of fallen man, and the tragedy is that it does so through the very instruments that should be used for our salvation; but then, the best lies are always mingled with the most truth. But it is this understanding of scripture alone, divorced from the teachings and doctrines of the Church which wrote the scriptures, that reduces this magical sword to nothing more than a glass dagger.

Pax vobiscum.


Unknown said...

sounds like my childhood...I grew up about 20 minutes outside the metropolis of Albany,GA. I spent a lot of times in the woods, but for some reason favored Robin Hood.

Justinian said...

I grew up just outside of Birmingham, AL. And Robin Hood was definitely a fan favorite as a kid.

Thanks for the comment, hope to see you back here soon.