When I first moved to coastal southeast Georgia more than 11 years ago I found the place to be strange and unattractive. Everything was too flat, the roads were too straight and there were no hills. Everything felt too wide open with no proper sense of horizon and very little changing of the seasons, just from summer green to dull winter brown then back to green. And there were way too many insects, with palmetto bugs, love bugs, sand gnats and banana spiders just to name a few. I did, however, find the mild winters and longer winter days particularly attractive and I see now that this area has a stark, subtle beauty all its own (see the photos on the previous entry).
Part of the problem was the contrast and comparison. I spent most of my younger years living on the eastern edge of Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley (see above photo), a place of ancient mountains worn, but not mellowed by time, still immense, still formidable. Of deep green valleys, rolling hills, a pastoral beauty with a palpable sense of history. It was life in a bowl. I felt protected, hemmed in, nestled in the bosom of creation.
Not to push the conceit too far, but moving from Protestantism to Orthodoxy was the journey in reverse, from barren to bountiful, from less to more. From a tradition essentially barren to a tradition rich in history yet not compromised. The change really began with the move from non-liturgical (Baptist) to liturgical (Lutheran and to a lesser degree Episcopalian) when I realized that the emphasis should be on worship and the Church, not on the pastor and his/her rhetorical skills. For many, many years I sat there wondering if that was all there was to it. I came to church, gave money, was berated for being a backslidden sinner and for not doing enough proselytizing. I went home, said my prayers, read my Bible, felt guilty for never doing enough and constantly worried about Hell. It was a flat, monochromatic world.
In the Orthodox Church (and the Divine Liturgy) I found the sense of reverence, an acknowledgement of our proper position in relation to God. It was also a journey back in time, like coming home to a place I had never been before. A place of beauty, with changing seasons, where the hills and valleys are part of the journey, where there is always something new to discover just around the bend. A world of color and texture, a world of scent and touch, a place where worship is not just an intellectual exercise.
And more importantly for me, just the belief that we are on a journey, that we will stumble and fall but God still loves us. That the true faith has been kept inviolate and it is a message of love, not condemnation.