A World Meaningless or Enchanted
“There are two ways to look at the world. You can see everything to be merely dirt, or you can see everything to be utterly sublime.”
This is what a young man told me, who had spent most of his life as an atheist. He had grown up in a meaningless, disenchanted world. When he found Christ, he discovered that same world to be charged with beauty and eternity. He found Christianity to be a leap from boredom to wonder. This is exactly how we must understand our religion. This is how an authentic faith should stretch us, to give us hearts of adoration.
Ten lepers fell down before Jesus Christ, begging for mercy. Leprosy is a hideous disease. The spread of bacteria called Mycobacterium Leprae, gradually eats away at the body. Swelling and ulcers cover the skin. Crippling of hands, paralysis, blindness, and disfigurement follow. In the ancient world, this contagious disease meant rejection from human society — a life of isolated suffering.
There is a spiritual element to this too. In the Old Testament, leprosy was considered an analogy or picture of sin. God refers to Israel’s sins as being leprous: “from the sole of the foot to the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores” (Isaiah 1:6). In Leviticus, the law required lepers to live outside of a town. “He shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be” (Lev. 13:46). Lepers could never enter the temple. They were cut off from God. When you hear this description, and think about the state of life, you cannot help but feel compassion. What did a leper do to deserve this? Nothing. He was born into it. He was infected by an outside source. He was a hopeless victim. In the same manner, we were born into sin and all its crippling effects.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness…Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me…Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:1,5,10).
There is a kind of leprosy of the soul. It is numbness of the heart. A leper loses a sense of touch, can no longer enjoy taste or colors. Spiritual leprosy is losing the ability to perceive and cherish the beauty of God. It means being unable to ever look up at the clouds or moon with wonder. It means never contemplating paradise in a beautiful piece of music or never waking up in the morning feeling God’s love and intimacy. Spiritual leprosy is seeing the world as mere dirt, a universe of:
“electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication… [with] no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” (in the words of the atheist, Richard Dawkins).
We are plagued by this spiritual leprosy in our times. It is the condition of so many teenagers nowadays who only know the world portrayed by Hollywood, marked by divorce, broken families, bullying, and the absence of loving role-models. Spiritual leprosy is the state of living, day after day, in a world where you can buy anything but which is constantly haunted by a specter of meaninglessness. Even for us Christians, we breathe it in the air. We become depressed or simply numb.
The ten lepers who fell down before Jesus Christ, begging mercy, represent all of us in the 21st century who are frightened, scared, exhausted, dirty, or disenchanted.
“When [Jesus] saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean” (Luke 17:14).
‘Eκαθαρίσθησαν’ - ‘They were cleansed.’ What does God promise us? “
“Come now…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Christ sent the lepers to the priests. He finds us in our spiritual leprosy and sends us to Holy Church.
“The Church is the hospital for souls,” St. John Chrysostom teaches. “She does not condemn…She grants forgiveness.” Here, God brings us to the one refuge from insanity — a place to find a clear conscience and a soul opened to God’s beauty.
But the story does not end here. Its climax comes after the healing. Ten lepers were healed. Only one leper returned back to thank Jesus Christ.
“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:15-19).
The nine were healed of their physical leprosy. They were not healed of their spiritual leprosy. They no longer had sores and ulcers on their skin, but their souls were still numb. One returned, “praising God with a loud voice.”
He was cured. His heart was awake. He praised God with every fiber of his being. He was alive.
We were created to live in a constant state of wonder, praise, and adoration. St. Ephraim of Katounakia tells us to pray, to pray fervently, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” In praying fervently and repeatedly, he says, our hearts will start to thaw and we will discover inner joy:
“The first thing you will find is joy…another radiance, another beauty, another sweetness, another state of wellbeing. You will see the entire nature bathed in beauty, in a sweetness. You will see the entire nature, all of creation of the Unseen God...You will have a new spiritual horizon, new spiritual nourishment, a new spiritual garment; things which now you cannot even conceive."
How different is this universe than the universe described by Richard Dawkins. To the secularist, the universe is empty and meaningless. To the man or woman touched by Christ, the world is charged in God’s majesty. May God open our hearts so that we too, along with the righteous leper, may live our remaining time on earth filled with awe and adoration.