After four or five days in ICU, I finally looked in a mirror and saw death staring back at me. My face was all dry and wrinkled as if I had aged by 15 years in one week. It was startling to see. I examined the shape of my creases and noted that they weren’t smile wrinkles, but showed more worry and sadness. They reminded me of my depressed, alcoholic Grandma Ingham. I tried to scrub and scrub to get all the dead flakes of skin off, hoping that would allow my skin to smooth again. I was hoping that I would still have a shot at smile wrinkles, those magnificent, friendly crow’s feet; marks of a happy life.
Twice in the prior four weeks I had left my home for the hospital emergency room thinking that I may not be coming back. I looked around my house and yard and lamented all of the unfinished projects I was leaving for Bethann. I also admired the diversity and color of the front yard that I had turned into flower beds last summer and wondered if I would get to see them come up again. The third time, which was the most serious, my mind didn’t go there. I was too distracted by the burning all over my body.
Disaster is about the only thing that gets courted these days. Men no longer court women, nor do the ladies expect to be courted. Instead, young men and young women engage in flirtation, dating and sexual conquest, much of the time postponing marriage well past their youth. The sex drive is greatest in young people, especially in young men. To ask them to wait until they are in their late 20’s to wed is truly courting disaster. Sex outside of marriage is called fornication, which carries the connotation of filthiness or uncleanness. This is not an outdated label to make us feel guilty. Sin is called sin because it is something other than love and it gets in the way of love. TV sitcom dads tell their kids that sex with no thought of marriage is OK if two fifteen year olds “love” each other; just use protection. This attitude robs adolescents and young adults of an opportunity for great joy and weakens marriage.
We learn in Orthodoxy that there is no feasting without fasting. This discipline of our eating habits is instructive for chastity and fidelity. I can’t count the times I have heard people say about Thanksgiving or Christmas something like, “Yeah, we have to eat turkey again.” In this land of plenty, with meat served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day of the year, turkey and ham have become commonplace. There’s little special about a feast for most Americans. On the other hand, if you are part of an Orthodox community that keeps Great Lent and Holy Week, then breaks the fast together after the Paschal Liturgy; you understand how truly exciting cheese can be; let alone turkey and ham! The Apostle Paul pointed out the connection between fasting and chastity by quoting a pagan folk proverb that used eating meat as a metaphor for sex. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” [1 Cor. 6:13] Some modern versions of this pagan proverb are: “If it feels good, do it.” and “It’s only natural.”
Sex is supposed to be the seal or consummation of a mutual covenant and pledge of love between a man and a woman who are part of something larger than themselves: a family, a community, a society, a culture. Practically, it is the means by which new humans come into being. As Orthodox Christians, if we truly believe our stated theology that every human being bears the image of God and is a unique, unrepeatable reflection of his Glory; then we need to do our best to respect, honor and protect the potential of sex.
With all of the world’s casual attitudes toward sex along with its temptations and pressures to conformity, it takes more than a three word slogan like “True love waits” to equip young people to make the hard choices to avoid fornication. We need to be transformed in our thinking and approach, as a community, to provide more appropriate settings for socialization of adolescents and a proper framework for courtship that recognizes natural urges, yet protects chastity and love.
(to be cont’d.)
Our first daylily bloomed on Mother’s Day, May 9. There were daylilies blooming in our yard every day except two from then until September 15. The Bitsy daylily rebloomed twice and is blooming today, November 4. I am always amazed by daylilies, but this was an exceptional season, with the extreme heat and dry spells, and still no hard frost.
One day in late Spring, I was doing a little weeding in front of our house. An old lady was walking slowly along the sidewalk. She stopped to admire the flowers. She said, “You know that God loves you, don’t you? When you see flowers like that you have to know that there is a God and that He loves us!”