Written in Chicago on March 29, 2015
It was sunny this morning as I walked to a coffee shop near Michigan Ave. on my way to the oldest Orthodox Cathedral in the city. I took a longer route to keep out of the shadows cast by the skyscrapers, so that I could stay in the sunlight and feel its warmth against my skin.
Last week, at this very same time, snow was beginning to fall.
Much has changed this week; so much of it good and most of it simply different than what I knew before. I haven’t left Chicago since my last letter, but I’m writing you from a different physical and mental space. What’s that saying about change? It’s our only constant? Yeah. I suppose I’m living that definition.
Upon entering the cathedral, I was met with a familiar scent of incense that had become so precious to me during my time at the monastery.
Last year, at this very same time, I lived in the desert.
Switching between Greek and English, the priest told the story of St. Mary of Egypt and her penitent life in the desert. Fr. Silouan told the brothers and I the same story when we met in the small adobe church in between two mesas in New Mexico. The way I heard it this morning was different than how I heard it then. This morning, I was processing it through my intellect, whereas in the desert it found roots in my heart.
A lot can change in one year’s time. And I try to neither praise or condemn what I am right now, but it’s clear that everything’s different.
When I left the sacred refuge of the church I descended its steps onto puddled city streets. The sun was gone and rain had come to visit. St. Mary of Egypt had crossed the Jordan river and lived in the desert as a hermitess for over 40 years. I jumped a small pool of brackish water and thought about baptism. “One can live in the world, but keep the desert in their heart,” Fr. Silouan said to me before I’d left the monastery, but he must’ve known that it’s not at all easy. Repentance is hard to come by in a world that wants to be proud. On Sundays, I think of the brothers most.
From where I’m sitting now I can see the sinister-looking Hancock building looming above the city. The apartment I’ve been given as a temporary home has a queen-sized bed for me to sleep in and more space than I know what to do with.
Last week, at this exact time, I was shoving my luggage into the corner of an apartment far north of the heart of the city and sleeping on a pad on a generous stranger’s living room floor.
Sometimes, change can bring an upgrade.
God is everywhere. And we would know this, if we saw with our hearts. As if consoling me on the inevitability of change, God gave me a book this week – one that I’ve read many times before, but could never fully understand.
In its pages it reads: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
And though everything changes, God – and His humoring me with wisdom from The Little Prince – continues to follow me.
Life is sweet and good right now.
Inevitably, this too will change.