Christopher McCulloh, christianityorthodoxyautobiography

It’s no joke that you must become like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven. Your heart and soul need be lain bare. You must be willing to be broken like a two-year-old. Unapologetic-ally pathetic. Uncaring of how ridiculous you are.

You know you’ve arrived when the snot running freely from your nose, dripping disgustingly on yourself and those you hug in an almost drunken manner as you beg their forgiveness bothers you not even a little. Although your brain (not to mention the looks on some of their faces) assures you matter-of-factly; that’s disgusting!

A week of church camp will do it. Monasticism in a box, or as close as you can get to it for a 16-year-old kid.

Go to the wilderness… You think it’s full of cottages made of candy guarded by incompetent witches, big bad(ly ineffective) wolves, dragons gift-wrapping helpless panting fawning maidens and piles of gold just ready for you to pillage.

If only there were dragons.

Give me a good sword and a beast to slay any day over the realism of the human condition. ‘There’s nothing in the desert but that which you take with you,' and you’re wonderfully providing all manner of monsters. A heady thing to come to grips with if you’ll let yourself see it.

Several hours in an intimate fire-lit circle singing and sharing and you find your soul stripped bare and rubbed raw. Your arms around supporting shoulders, you weep.

To your left, the friend you’d tried so hard all week to impress. The one you’d kept around to bring you new squishy blobs of ego to add to your collection. The look of concern and genuine care in her eyes repulsing you, not at her, but at the egotistical monster the clarifying light of Christ reveals yourself to be.

To your right, the orphan whose stolid presence condemns you. The love and support and concern he shows you. It indicts you for every time you didn’t love your father. And there he sits who would have traded anything to have a father.

You flee. You need to run. Away, towards, it doesn’t matter only the movement is important. Feet pounding the pavement. Lungs burning. Sweat dripping in your eyes. The stars, the saints, the whole heavens open above you in the darkness. Points of light bearing witness, watching, surrounding you is that great cloud. The crisp air clarifying and refreshing, crystallizing a gnosis –a “gnow”ing– suddenly of where you are running to, and that you can never run from but only with your cross.

You pass it several times in the dark. The primitive single room log chapel. You know somehow that inside the candle below the icon of Christ is lit, for Christ himself provides that light. The door, locked every other time you’ve tried it all week, will be unlocked, for He Himself has fore ordained it. The black cat sitting by the door, watching your every pass, is witness to the guardian angel who stands watch over this sanctuary where you are invited to come encounter Him.

Your brain denies it. You’ve made it all up. That’s just a cat. That’s just a building. The inside is darkness. The door is locked. You are nothing to God. You are not loved.

But your soul gnows better. You step out of its way as it retreats to the chapel. Indeed, the door is unlocked. The unlit candle a burning bush, a blinding and beckoning light to your soul. You stumble forward to kneel gasping and sobbing pathetically on the uneven rough hewn log floor which grates against your kneecaps. A pain compounding the demanding insistence that something is not right.

And you feel Christ’s arms embrace you. You gnow His Love.

“I want to stay here forever Lord. Let me stay here forever God. I beg you.”

“No. You must go.”

“But if I go, I might not ever make it back.”

“Have faith in me little child, I would not send you away if I could not bring you home again. Go. And after you go, though you may not feel my arms as you do now, lo I am with you always, unto the end.”

Based on a piece originally written for and delivered at Artefact Institute's concert at their inaugural conference on February 1, 2020.

Louisville, KY

St. Michael Orthodox Church

© Christopher McCulloh.RSS