There are moments in my life where every fiber of who I am understands that I am, in myself, insufficient and incomplete. It’s a yearning for fulfillment. As a college student, at home over the summers, I felt this way about finding a wife. Not because of hormones, but because I saw beauty in the world and felt this terrible longing to share it with another person. I wanted to experience this life at someone’s side.
And, of course, in marriage we learn that this yearning cannot be completely satisfied. It is, after all, too great a burden to place on another’s shoulders that they should be everything you need them to be. The longing in us remains.
A few weeks ago, I decided that I would accept an invitation to attend Holy Week services at an Orthodox parish. The first night I attended was the Bridegroom matins, and the icon on the central analogion was the Christ the Bridegroom icon (shown above).
The liturgy was beautiful, as Orthodox liturgies are. And after the prayers, I sat down on one of the seats on the outskirts of the nave to wait to say Hello to Father, who I’d spoken with about Orthodoxy several weeks before. After the liturgy, as always, the parishioners lined up to venerate the icon. But rather than the metanoia (deep bows) I expected, young and old prostrated themselves before the icon three times, signing themselves with the Cross. And as I sat there waiting and watching, something in me broke. I was wounded by beauty. I, the observer, became an unexpected participant.
So I left. I had to leave, because I couldn’t hold back the emotion that rose up in me. My heart was pierced both by my desire to be with Christ and my fear of being near him. This Consuming Fire. The One Who Is. The Bridegroom. Love. And how can you stand before love? Yet here I was, being dragged out into it, drowning in the ineffable ocean of it, too weary to escape it. And when I reached the car, I wept. My body shook with it for fifteen minutes.
When I got home, Laura asked me how the liturgy was, and I broke down and sobbed again for another five minutes, apologizing and saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
But, I do.
Beauty. Beauty is at every turn. In everything, glory. See the azaleas blooming with reckless joy, the dogwoods and redbuds slowly passing over the low hills? Here is Christ. Do you hear the laughter of children purling over the stones of the driveway, delighted by the very act of being? There is Christ. He is in the blue skies of North Carolina and the lonely cry of Lake Superior.
He is everywhere present and fills all things.