Thursday, November 29, 2007

Can't Get No Satisfaction... Thank God!

Dear Fathers, Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God." Psalm 42:2
"Can't get no satisfaction" - The Rolling Stones


With its driving guitar riff and raspy-voiced lyrics giving a kind of pop-articulation to the disaffection of the lonely and alienated urbanite who, try as he might, just cannot succeed at "satisfying" the material and romantic/sexual goals droned into his mind on the radio and TV; this song - regardless of its actual intentions - managed to say something enduring about the "human condition." (Personally, I am inclined to believe that the members of the Rolling Stones never did derive a great amount of "satisfaction" from their enormous fame and fortune - money and media exposure may, after all, just not be the solution). Be that as it may, a rather odd connection came to me between this song and a verse from "The Akathist of Thanksgiving" that we chanted in our ecclesial observance of Thanksgiving Day just last week. In Ikos Six of the akathist, one of the verses in the refrain reads as follows:

Glory to You, Who have inspired in us dissatisfaction with earthly things.

Both the Stones song and the Orthodox hymn speak of "no satisfaction" or "dissatisfaction." However by "earthly things," Fr. Gregory Petrov, the author of this remarkable hymn, does not mean the natural world in which God has placed us. The refrain of Ikos Three makes that abundantly clear:

Glory to You, Who brought out of the earth's darkness diversity of color, taste and fragrance,
Glory to You, for the warmth and caress of all nature,
Glory to You, for surrounding us with thousands of Your creatures,
Glory to You, for the depth of Your wisdom reflected in the whole world ...


To the purified eyes of faith, the world around us can be a "festival of life" ... foreshadowing eternal life" (Ikos Two). The "earthly" can lead us to the "heavenly."

"Earthly things" in the context of the Akathist Hymn and the Orthodox worldview expressed in the Hymn, would certainly refer to the very things the Rolling Stones song laments about being absent - material and sexual satisfaction seen as ends in themselves. But whereas the song expresses both frustration and resentment as part of the psychic pain caused by such deprivation, the Akathist Hymn glorifies God for such a blessing! In the light of the insight of the Akathist Hymn, we can thus speak of a "blessed dissatisfaction." The Apostle Paul spoke of a closely-related "godly grief." (Perhaps the Rolling Stones and the Orthodox Church part company at this point).

This just may prove to be quite a challenge to our way of approaching something like dissatisfaction. Our usual instinct is to flee from dissatisfaction "as from the plague." Such a conditiion implies unhappiness, a sense of a lack of success, of "losing" in the harsh game of life as time continues to run out on us; and the deprivation and frustration mentioned above. Why should we tolerate the condition of dissatisfaction when limitless means of achieving "satisfaction" are at our disposal? To escape from a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction, don't people resort to alcohol, drugs and sex as desperate forms of relief? Or unrestrained and massive consumer spending? And we should not eliminate "religion" as one of those means of escape. If those means fail, then there is always therapy and medication as more aggressive means to relieve us of this unendurable feeling. Sadly, many learn "the hard way," that every ill-conceived attempt to eliminate dissatisfaction through "earthly things" only leads to a further and deeper level of this unsatiable affliction. Sadder still, there are many who would "forfeit their soul/life" just to avoid the bitter taste of dissatisfaction!

If the living God exists as we believe that He does, then how could we not feel dissatisfaction at His absence from our lives? What could possibly fill the enormous space in the depth of our hearts that yearns for God "as a hart longs for flowing streams." (Ps. 42:1) It is as if when people "hear" the voice of God calling them - in their hearts, their conscience, through another person, a personal tragedy - they reach over and turn up the volume so as to drown out that call. If we were made for God, then each person has an "instinct for the transcendent" (I recall this term from Fr. Alexander Schmemann), that can only be suppressed at an incalculable cost to our very humanity. In His infinite mercy, the Lord "blesses" us with a feeling of dissatisfaction so that we do not foolishly lose our souls in the infinitesimal pseudo-satisfactions that come our way. Therefore, we thank God for the gift of "blessed dissatisfaction!"

When we realize that we "can't get no satisfaction," then we have approached the threshold of making a meaningful decision about the direction of our lives. The way "down" can lead to that kind of benign despair that characterizes the lives of many today. The way "up" to the One Who is "enthroned above the heavens" and Source of true satisfaction. The Rolling Stones uncovered the truth of an enduring condition that we all must face and must "deal with." I am not so sure about the solution they would ultimately offer ... but in their initial intuition they proved to be very "Orthodox!"

Fr. Steven

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