• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Labyrinth of Existence


“Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod” (Genesis 4:6).


When Cain murdered Abel he was exiled into a state of wandering. The land of Nod is a place of the soul. It is a place we all go to. For many of us, it is the only country we have ever known. It becomes familiar and even nostalgic. For a few who manage to break away, it is that murky and sticky place known as hell. Nod is the Hebrew word for wandering – aimless, meaningless, intoxicating wandering.


Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosopher who once said: “Whoever looks into himself as into vast space and carries galaxies in himself, also knows how irregular all galaxies are; they lead into the chaos and labyrinth of existence.” Nietzsche is a sort of mouthpiece for atheists, because he could put into words the way so many people feel today. When he looked into his heart, he saw nothing but bottomless chaos and meaningless labyrinth. That is indeed what we find in our hearts when they are void of Jesus Christ. This is the land of Nod, and Jesus is the door to freedom.


“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-10).


We begin to see the nature of God. He is in the restoring business. Not only does God promise to redeem us, he enjoys it. When Christ says, “I am the door” (John 10:7), he means, “It is my chief pleasure, the highest reveling in heaven, to take into my arms those who hurt.” This why we Christians are not uncomfortable when talking about sin. We are free to call a spade a spade precisely because we have a loving gardener.


This is why the happy Christian runs to confession, again and again and again. The more we know God and his love for us, the more we delight to confess our sins. Confession is the ultimate act of intimacy. It is the unveiling of our inner person, with all the mess that we are, only to be more loved by God. This is why, most of the time, when we are sad and bitter, it is because we are not going to confession. We are wounded and afraid of our wounds. God is waiting all the while. He wants our hearts.


Christ comes to save the lost, but who are the lost?


“What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10).


I used to think this parable was about those ‘other people.’ Jesus was sitting in a room of tax-collectors and sinners. He was eating with the broken: the drunkard, the murderer, the prostitute... There is no doubt that our Lord came to save these and all who are at rock bottom. Yet, we loose the importance of Jesus’ words if we stop there. None of us are different really. When Christ says he has come to save the lost, he is referring to you and me.


This is why I find Nietzsche’s words so striking. “Whoever looks into himself as into vast space and carries galaxies in himself…they lead into the chaos and labyrinth of existence.” No one knows this so well as the Christian who struggles to pray. There is so much resistance to prayer. The more you strive to pray, the more you realize how much chaos there is in our hearts. Our thoughts are a labyrinth. Sit still for a few minutes and try to pray. Pray with undivided concentration, whole and utter adoration of God. It sounds so pious to say it, but as soon as we try it we realize how hard it is. The thoughts run off in a hundred directions, “into the chaos and labyrinth of existence.”


I suspect we cannot even imagine how serious the situation is. The old hippie hymn rings: “Slow down, you move too fast; You got to make the morning last; Just kicking down the cobblestones…” That was written in the sixties when you still had to drive to the store to get a newspaper. Now the news reports, advertisements, shopping, and distractions flood from our smart phones. Supercharged, fast-paced, scattered, and restless…life is a whirl. We are much more like Cain then we think. We are, in fact, right there with him, wandering aimless in the land of Nod.


This is precisely what Jesus Christ was talking about when he says he came to save the lost. The woman lost one of her ten silver coins. One was enough. Ten represents wholeness. It means a soul at peace. The one lost coin is the unraveling of all the rest. Christ has come to restore our wholeness. So what do we have to do? We have to saturate in God.


Matthew the Poor was a priest in Egypt who taught about prayer. In fact, he wrote 181 books on the life of prayer, because he discovered that there was nothing so urgent and needed in life. In one of his books, he begins by asking what is prayer. Here is what he has to say:


“Although prayer is a spiritual sense implanted in man’s soul, in the very core of its self-consciousness, many people never pray. Prayer thus remains dormant for a whole lifetime. A man may die without ever having been aware of the self or of its affinity to God. St. Jude the Apostle described such souls as ‘wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever’ (Jude 13). This is a very serious matter. Prayer is not merely a sense to be used to organize our lives in this age alone. It is implanted in our nature that, through it, we may ascend to God and achieve union with him.”


Matthew the Poor goes on to describe meditation. Slow, deliberate, rumination of scriptures and prayer imprints heaven in the soul. It undoes the imprinting from our pop-culture and rewrites our minds and hearts. The Psalms say: “Blessed is the man…whose delight is in the law of the Lord of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers” (1:1-3), and, “As I meditated, the fire burned [within me]” (39:3). This meditation, Matthew writes, “keeps the heart warm and glowing with the fire of the divine word…continual meditation on the living word of God inevitably fills the heart and mind with sacred thoughts and images. These later become the raw material from which contemplation forms its airy wings. By these wings, it soars up in the heaven of spirit.” It is by meditating on God alone that we find sanity. By turning our hearts and desires to him, we are saved.


Christ came to save the lost, you and me. He came into our chaos and labyrinth of existence to give us a new kind of existence. There is only one way out, a life of meditation and prayer to Jesus Christ. When we follow that life, then we will indeed walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).


Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309

FatherKavanaugh@gmail.com

940.692.3392

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