Stolen Water, Secret BreadFr. Barnabas Powell
Oscar Wilde said that “Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
And yet, we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes very often. Over and over again, we revisit some bad choice either until it kills us or we actually learn to stop doing that. I have a dear friend who grieves a loved one gripped by addiction to narcotics. He once confided in me he was steeling himself for the phone call that would tell him this dear one had died of an overdose or some accident caused by his addiction. And then he looked at me with some of the saddest eyes I’d ever seen and asked “Why doesn’t he learn?” Indeed, why?
But I could ask myself the same question. And, if you’re honest, you could ask yourself the same question too. Why don’t we truly learn from our mistakes? What is broken within us that has us traveling the same wrong road over and over again? If you’re brave enough and humble enough, there is an answer to this question. But, I’m warning you, it won’t be an easy or pleasant answer. OK, here goes…
Look at our lesson today in Proverbs 9:12-18:
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it. A foolish woman is noisy; she is wanton and knows no shame. She sits at the door of her house, she takes a seat on the high places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who is without sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
I love these lessons from Proverbs. We don’t read this treasure trove of wisdom nearly enough in our lives. And it is absolutely a treasure indeed. What if you were to read a portion of this book each night to your children before bed? Just a thought.
Look at what treasure we have today.
First, notice that wisdom begins with yourself. A wise man once told me about the key to good preaching flows from a regular tending to your own soul to feed your soul with good things so that you aren’t dipping from an empty well when you are preaching to your congregation. Well, what’s true for preaching is true for living. If you aren’t regularly refreshing your soul with nutritious spiritual food, then you can’t be surprised when you “run out of gas” in your living well. You have to make sure your daily routine includes spiritual nourishment if you are going to stay spiritually healthy. There just isn’t a shortcut to this way, dear one. And this is the first part of the difficult answer. Know Yourself! Be honest with yourself! Start with yourself!
But a rejection of wisdom and wise choices also begins individually as well. You see, the health or illness of a soul starts long before the actions show the symptoms of either. The inner workings of my heart are either tended to or ignored and that always leads to consequences that show up in my choices, behaviors, and actions. My priorities in life reveal my true self. But knowing that won’t help me if I don’t FIRST wake up to the inner workings of my heart and mind. Do you take time to examine your thoughts and your inner conversations? Are you regularly working on knowing yourself through the wonderful mystery of confession to your spiritual father? So much treasure is available to you! So many spiritual medicines waiting for the exercise of your will to heal!
My internal life won’t be ignored. It will keep producing consequences until I either embrace the chaos of my heart or determined to finally begin the hard work of taming the “wild west” selfishness that drives my foolish mistakes.
And the good news is we have an absolutely perfect path to tame those passions in the lifestyle of Normal Orthodoxy. The way of Orthodox Christianity is all-encompassing. It’s the reason why so many look at Orthodoxy and say “Wow, that’s a lot to take in.” Yes, it is. But the reason for that is our modern society has conned us into believing that “simple”+ means “easy.” It isn’t. In fact, “simple” is profound and profoundly challenging. It means learning how to navigate the mysteries of your own heart and you are going to need a trustworthy guide for such an adventure!
If you are going to escape the gravitational pull of your bad choices, you need the added power of God’s grace to break the gravity of hell. And that’s where the Church comes in. The Church offers you the path to wisdom based on reality and not the fantasy of your own pride. Go to confession. Regularly prepare and partake in the Eucharist. Learn the prayers of the Church. Be a Normal Orthodox Christian!
Saint Aristobulos, the brother of Saint Barnabas, was ordained to be a bishop in Britain by the Apostle Paul, who mentions him in his epistle to the Romans (16:10). He was persecuted by the pagans in the area, but also brought many to Christ. The establishment of Orthodox Christianity in Britain means this far-flung part of the Roman Empire also shares the treasured heritage of Orthodoxy as the rest of the Empire. Having established the Church there, he finally reposed in peace.
Today, are you ready to begin the journey of self-control, taming the passions so that they serve you rather than the other way around? Then you are ready to start with the simple, yet profound, wisdom of the Orthodox Christian Faith. The Faith that gives you the guidance to navigate your own heart and teaches you how to be a Normal Orthodox!
P.S. O Holy Apostle Aristobulos, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.