Victory from the Front Lines
I apologize for the screw-ups on this site over the weekend. We had major server problems. I’ve lost the long post on The Great Beauty, to which I had added a lengthy update. They’re looking for it now. I hope to recapture it. If not, I’ll try to reconstruct it.
Each night at bedtime for the past week, I have been reading to my two younger children a chapter from Madeleine L’Engle’s great book, A Wrinkle In Time. It’s a science fantasy novel for children, having to do, most broadly, with the problem of evil. I had not read it since fifth grade, so it is a real joy rediscovering it, especially as I have forgotten what happens. My kids are going nuts for the thing. Last night, they were begging me to read one more chapter. I found two notes around the house; they had slipped out of their bedrooms and hidden them. One is above.
In the book, three figures — not quite witches, not quite angels, but good beings — show the child protagonists — Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace — a view of the earth covered by a dark cloud. This is The Black Thing, and it is evil. The children learn that everyone must fight this evil at all times, or be conquered by it. No peace can be made with it. Even little children have to fight it, and can gain victories in surprising ways.
As it happened, over the weekend I had a great example of this to share with the kids.
There is a blogger I used to follow a few years back, a guy named Owen White. He is one of these people you would describe as Brilliant But Troubled. His brilliance is undeniable, and so is his eccentricity. But he has a deep, sulfurous streak that is hard to stand. For some reason, he decided that I was his enemy — Owen has a habit of demonizing people — so I quit reading him. If memory serves, he left Orthodoxy for Catholicism a few years back because somehow, he concluded that Catholicism was more agreeable with his communist political convictions. That’s the last I heard of him, or thought about him, though it appears he has thought about me quite a bit over the years.
The other night, I got a Facebook message from an Owen White. It said something like, “I’m about to post something publicly. Forgive me.” Oh wait, I thought, isn’t that that nasty guy I used to read? I looked his blog up with trepidation.
There are four men whom I have attacked, relentlessly, without charity, and with satanic hatred in my heart, wishing them ill, and rejoicing in what I perceived as their failures. I denied any mercy to them, and encouraged others to assume that same demonic posture. I beg Fr. Stephen Freeman, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Fr. Josiah Trenham, and Rod Dreher for their forgiveness.
I cannot, and by some shred of grace will not, continue in this way.
Please pray for me.
Of course I wrote at once to tell him that I forgive him. It is extremely strange and unsettling to think that someone you have never met holds a hatred for you that they describe as “satanic.” The thing that’s so unusual about it is that the hatred poisons them; it doesn’t affect me. No one likes to have enemies, of course, but I never think about these people and their fixations. Who has the time or the energy to care?
But clearly this Owen White had come to some sort of realization that he was demonically obsessed with me and these three priests, and was asking God to free him from those obsessions. Our role — the three priests and me — was to forgive him so that grace could flow freely to him. I went to confession the next day and confessed grudges I held against others, so those people and I can partake of that saving grace. So this is the good that Owen’s appeal for mercy did for me.
It turns out from Owen’s next post that the life and death of Father Matthew Baker, the Greek Orthodox priest killed last week in a car crash, had something to do with his road to Damascus moment. Excerpt:
I am returning to the Orthodox Church.
I hereby recant my rejection of Orthodox dogma. I ask forgiveness for my ridicule of certain Orthodox beliefs – particularly concerning the energy/essence distinction and uncreated light. I also ask forgiveness for my ridicule of some Orthodox saints (particularly those I assigned to seats in hell), the Athonite tradition, the entirety of the elder tradition, and some of the basic components of Orthodox piety. I was also wrong to laud the Soviet annihilation of nearly all of the Russian Church, and to downplay the horror of their killing of many thousands of believers, and to justify the killing of children in a basement in Yekaterinburg. I also beg forgiveness to those many souls I mocked for their faith and the accouterments of faith that are dear to them. I have never embodied the calling that Fr. Matthew speaks of above. It is my endeavor now to do so.
This news will shock some of you reading this. I had an experience recently which resulted, immediately, in this decision. It was quite unexpected. It resulted in the unequivocal conviction that I should return to communion with the Orthodox Church as soon as I possibly can. I may write about that experience – some years from now perhaps. For now I need to just live with the ramifications.
Because I had not read Owen for years, I had no idea the depths of the evil to which he had sunk. Praising the Soviets for mass-murdering the Orthodox? Good God. It beggars belief. It seems clear to me that Owen had some kind of mystical experience with Father Matthew that caused his repentance. Owen has an extraordinary post up this morning indicating where so much of his rage must have come from.
I say all this to give thanks to God for the great victory won in Owen’s repentance. I used this as an example to my children of what it means to fight and to defeat The Black Thing. I pointed out that my role, and the role of the three priests Owen asked to forgive him, was to participate in that victory by offering forgiveness. This, children, is how we beat The Black Thing. Every time you turn from sin, every time you ask for forgiveness, every time you offer it, you drive back the Black Thing. We don’t ultimately fight against each other, I explained; we fight the Black Thing on behalf of others and ourselves.
I am amazed and overjoyed by the magnitude of the Black Thing’s retreat from occupied territory in these past few days, in the life of this man. To the extent that the recently reposed Father Matthew Baker had something to do with this great victory, I give him thanks.
Let’s have One More today, shall we? You can make it happen. You know what to do. So do I.