“For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from Thee, the Father of Lights …”
Epistle of James 1:17;
Prayer Before the Ambo from the Divine Liturgy
The logical mind understands this principle, and accepts it as truth. The challenge for man however, is to go deeper so that every part of the human body, with all its senses, understands that everything is a gift. Most often what we know is the result of experiential knowledge, that which is gained through life experiences. We cannot totally know and be grateful to God with what is exclusively in our head. It is the true self, the spiritual guides of the church have held fast, is who I am in God. It is only by the total immersion of a life in Christ that understands that everything is a gift – and that God is fully present in each of those gifts.
A school of thought established in medieval Christianity by Plato and Aristotle, his student, understood that knowing God was possible by way of embracing The Great Chain of Command, also known as The Great Chain of Being, which gained great popularity in the Middle Ages. Plato’s ‘Chain’ begins with God and moves in a downward pyramid to include angels, animals, the plant world, and all that is the work of the Creator. Moreover, Plato has always been considered as someone who foreshadowed aspects of the Christian faith, so his theory was embraced.
Throughout Christianity, the idea is that man must know God first on the most basic and lower levels of existence, and as he moves up that chain (from the bottom to the top), he will then will be required to love human beings before he is able to ever love God himself. There is no love of God, if there is no love of man. Although the Eastern Church lays claim to the great Christian mystics, it was Saint Bonaventure, a 13th century Franciscan mystic, scholar and theologian, who began to draw the curtain back and considered the structure of love and life to be in an ascending pyramid, unlike Plato who said knowledge is in descending order. Man could only love God, and therefore see everything as a gift, by initially loving the lowest form of existence, and then moving up the chain of being. The lives of the saints are full of examples wherein they first loved in the lowest link of being, starting with the material world: rocks, flowers, animals, and the entirety of creation and the universe. If we are unable to see and embrace God on these lower levels, we will not see him on human levels, and in the final analysis, be unable to love God who is in all, yet beyond all levels. By learning to love from our simple relationships with the created world, then we are not distracted from the deep reverence that each moment of life deserves. When we stop recognizing and loving ordinary, simple things, the lower levels of the Great Chain of Being, and it truly is an all-or-nothing approach, then sooner or later it will fall apart.
God is everywhere; he is as available to us as easily as it is to inhale and exhale breath. We are never alone. He remains more accessible to us than we are aware. This is why, if our thinking remains shallow, and we are unwilling to go to a deeper level of understanding, than nothing will change. By bringing to mind that everything remains a gift from God, and it is only the whole self, every cell of our body, and not just the logical mind, that knows everything is a gift, will our lives come to reflect knowing that. It is only when we recognize the need to be totally dependent on the Creator, for these gifts, the ones that exist on all levels, and the ultimate gift of human life which allows to us to love one another, and God, can we know peace, joy, and be free in Christ.
"Cheerfulness consists in not regarding things as our own, but as entrusted to us by God for the benefit of our fellow-servants. It consists in scattering them abroad generously with joy and magnanimity, not reluctantly or under compulsion."
– Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Orthodox Monk & Poet, (949-1022)
Since God is the giver of every gift, then each gift comes with a cross attached to it, as it reminds us of who the giver of that gift is from: God. Done correctly, we will spend our days in continual thanksgiving; that would then become the rhythm of our earthly life, and adequately prepare us for eternal life.
Father Marc Vranes
Seventh Sunday of Pascha
31 May 2020