The consequences of death and destruction have become old friends. Friends I meet daily in my work helping law enforcement, veterans, communities, and trauma victims understand how to overcome the horrors that life can bring to bear upon us. Last week was a normal one, heartbreaking. Here are just some of the experiences explored in my talks and workshops during that time:
- A young veteran who described the horror of grabbing at his burning leg after being hit by a rocket, and then pulling away his hand to see it dripping with melted fat and flesh.
- A rookie police officer of only a couple of weeks who rolled up on a scene to find a dead 6-year old, whom he had to carry in his arms to the wailing screams of the young child’s family.
- A woman who was violently and repeatedly raped as a child by family members, and now had dedicated her life to helping others like her, yet was still wrestling with her own demons.
- A former Marine who shared the toll of war on the company he served with in Iraq: 11 suicides and counting.
- A young woman who was going through a divorce and facing life alone in a city without family.
- And during all of this, I was preparing for a weekend with families who had lost loved ones serving in the Armed Forces.
Just a normal week.
So much death and destruction. So many questions on how to live. It is here, at the crossroads of despair and hope, that my Orthodox faith informs and shelters me. I express it to those I speak with as “the hole.” We all have a hole that is the portal of our mortality and vision into the eternity of death. The hole must be filled, and it will be filled. How we answer its call determines our destiny, temporal and eternal.
I am Orthodox because I believe it is true and best describes the condition of humanity, while giving us the hope of a walk with and toward God. Orthodoxy is active. Its cycle and movement acknowledge the verity of a phrase that can be cliché in popular culture, but exhibits a spiritual truth: “The journey is the destination.” We needn’t wait to walk with God, we can do it right now. Our faith lives.
How do I use this in my work, where often it is not appropriate or allowed to share your faith? It is simple really, everyone understands the hole that needs filled, Atheist or Muslim, Christian or Buddhist, Mormon or Hindu. In bed, our eyes closed, we are alone, and it is here that none of us can escape a destination we all face, death. When you create an atmosphere where people feel safe to talk about eternal questions, regardless of the audience, you hear it all:
Does my life matter?
Why did I spend so much time on silly pursuits?
What kind of parent am I?
Is it too late to make amends?
Who am I?
Why do I do things I don’t want to do?
You get the picture. The great psychiatrist Viktor Frankel had an equation: despair equals suffering without meaning. Looking down the hole together, we talk about meaning. It is all there is. Suffering is a part of life, you cannot live without death. It doesn’t mean we come up with rosy, complicated explanations on how everything happens for a reason, no, but it does mean we understand that every moment is an opportunity to use all of our experiences, good and bad, as fuel for meaning. In death and destruction we can find meaning, and through that, life.
When we embrace the co-existence of life and death, we create movement. It is a movement that usually simplifies and focuses our life. The results you see in people are deeper relationships, commitments to family and faith, simplification, and more intentional living. All good things, whatever you believe.
My hope is that my work points others to a deeper truth, and ultimately, to the real filler of spiritual holes, the Almighty and the gift of His Spirit that can lead us all to lives that matter, every waking moment. You have the same opportunity in your family and community. What truths are you sharing with them? How are you filling the hole? Where are you finding meaning and purpose? How are you ordering your life to focus on priorities and become an active exhibit of faith?
Live your faith and you will impact the lives of those around you. As Orthodox, we should own the following classic phrase:
Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved. (Saint Seraphim of Sarov)
It is vital that we engage our communities. A Gallup poll showed that 70% of people hate or are completely disengaged from their jobs. 38% of Americans were prescribed painkillers last year. People are falling into hopelessness and vainly trying to climb out with drugs, shallow relationships, debased pleasures, and all sorts of shiny things. All pursuits that feed the fire but never fill the hole.
We cannot fully embrace our faith if we are not undertaking the responsibility of being an example to those around us who are suffering. This article has been a little glimpse into how I engage them. I hope it motivates you to action and forward momentum as a witness to the power of our Lord. Your life and actions matter.
Silouan Green has a BS in mathematics and psychology from Vanderbilt University. A former US Marine, he is a speaker and writer with interests in PTSD, peer support, leadership, and overcoming adversity. He lives in the woods with his wife of 19 years and their 9 children, where they home-school and live with much enthusiasm. Read more about his life and work at www.silouan.com.