A New Definition of “Normal”

A New Definition of “Normal”

Christ is risen!

American author and humorist Patsy Clairmont famously said “Normal is just a setting on your dryer.” She was hoping to communicate that many times our idea of what is “normal” is unreachable and a source of shame in our lives. This insight is very much correct. Because we don’t actually scrutinize our definition of “normal” often we miss the opportunity to actually deal with reality.

But that doesn’t mean there is no true definition of “normal”.

One of the aspects of Orthodox Christianity that drew me to the Faith so many years ago was the final realization that if I don’t actually live in reality, I will constantly be enslaved to wrong perspectives about my life. But how do I define “reality?” What is “normal?” The Church answers this question in a very peculiar and challenging way. The Church insists that “Normal” is a Person, not a set of expectations or disembodied ideals! Jesus is Normal!

Look at our lesson today in Acts 12:12-17

IN THOSE DAYS, Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran and told that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are mad.” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking; and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell this to James and to the brethren.” Then he departed and went to another place.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the Book of Acts. St. Peter had been arrested by the authorities for spreading the News of the Resurrection, and an angel had come in the night and released him from jail. Read the whole chapter if you get the chance.

Suffice it to say, this event happened just as Herod was looking to kill St. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem,, and the faithful thought St. Peter was next. So, they were in constant prayer for him. The Lord answered their prayers and St. Peter made his way to Mary’s house where all the faithful were praying for him. Notice what happens next. Rhoda hears Peter’s voice at the gate, but, and I love this, “in her joy” she didn’t let him in but ran and told the other believers. They, in turn, out of their doubt, don’t believe her. But then some of the more “spiritual” among the group (you know who you are) say that perhaps it’s Peter’s guardian angel.

Amazing. They were praying for the very thing they already had, but, for some, joy didn’t allow them to believe it or act on it, and others simply didn’t believe it possible, and still, others wanted to make it all about some cosmic spiritual experience. But Peter kept knocking! And when they finally opened the gate he had to tell them all to be quiet so as not to give away where they all were!

What a powerful picture for you and me today on how to live a life of faith. First, when you pray don’t be shocked when the answer comes. Of course, it did. Don’t allow joy or doubt or even some easy explanation to dismiss the wonderful grace God has given you. No, open the “gate” of your heart and allow the joy to be sober, the doubt, to be quieted, and the all too easy explanation to be made mute in the face of the real thing! Then, be quiet! The gift of God, the answered prayer is yours. Let the fruit of that wonderful moment mature you and fill you with a quiet confidence that protects your heart from spiritual pride or self-righteousness. And then don’t be surprised when you’re told to move on! Let God set your idea of what a normal life is supposed to be!

St. Pachomios was a monk in Egypt in the 4th century. He was born in upper Egypt and was drafted into the Roman army as a young man. St. Pachomios was amazed at the kindness of the local Christians where his unit was stationed and asked who these people were. When he found out they were Christians, he committed to becoming a Christian and then promised to serve the Faith with all his heart after he was released from military service. He kept his word and became a monk under the tutelage of the hermit monk Palamon. St. Pachomios excelled in his diligent piety and soon became a founder of nine monasteries where thousands of monks struggled for the Faith in dedicated prayer. A contemporary of St. Anthony of Egypt, who himself founded the hermit way of monasticism, St. Anthony said of Pachomios that he “walks the way of the Apostles. St. Pachomios is the father of cenobitic monasticism where his rule for brother monks to live together in community became the standard for this kind of dedicated service to the Faith. St. Pachomios lived his “normal” Christian life informed and shaped by his commitment to following Christ as the Normal way a human is supposed to live!

Today, the purposeful Orthodox Christian life makes “normal” the real and active presence of God in our lives. Normal Orthodox life has intimate and real examples of God’s love and His actions. We are not to be intoxicated by these normal events. We are to be strengthened and made more peaceful and bold in living Orthodox on Purpose!

P.S. You proved to be a chief pastor of the Chief Shepherd, Christ, guiding the flocks of monastics unto the heavenly fold, when you learned of the habit and the way of life that does befit ascetic ranks; having taught this to your monks, you now dance and rejoice with them in heavenly dwellings, O great Pachomius, our Father and guide.

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