Moments of Three

It is said that St. Anthony, a young man steeped in the Christian faith and regularly worshipping at the Divine Liturgy, was wondering what to do with his life. He went to Church, heard the Gospel, “Go sell what you have” and went home and did just that. Still restless, he went back and heard again, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” and, arranging for the care of his sister, went out to the desert to wrestle with demons.

Though much less dramatic, I have known these “St. Anthony moments.” Three, in fact. All on hearing the Scripture read during the Divine Liturgy at All Saints Orthodox Church. 9 June, 15 December, 9 February. My journeying became not so much a tour, a vacation. It became a matter of obedience.

There have been three other moments, of a somewhat related nature, in the more recent past few months, the last and most recent occurring yesterday. I’ll unfold it in reverse chronology.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field which a certain man found and hid again, and from joy sold all he had and bought the field.”

Sometimes one just happens on things. Like reading the book of Job this month. I just followed a reading plan, and it just happened to include Job. The providence of this timing is enough to chew on for a few lifetimes. Demons wrestle with my family members. Bodies disintegrate. I sit in ashes.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls.”

Sometimes things happen after long searches. I’ve been looking for Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm in hard cover for two years, ever since I first picked up a copy of American Childhood in hard cover out touring the wineries of Napa Valley. Oh, I’d had all the books in paperback. But the pages have been yellowing, the bindings become more rickety. After American Childhood, there followed Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, got from a bookstore in Gloucester. Then Teaching a Stone to Talk there in Evanston. Last night, wonder of wonders, I dropped in to buy books for my brother-in-law, Delane, to read while he recuperates. I got the books, then looked, in order, at the philosophy, classics, and theology sections. On a whim, I thought to myself, “What about that Dillard book?” And there it was. First edition.

Some excerpts:

I came here to study hard things–rock mountain and salt sea–and to temper my spirit on their edges. “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend.

So I read. Angels, I read, belong to nine different orders. Seraphs are the highest; they are aflame with love for God, and stand closer to him than the others. Seraphs love God; cherubs, who are second, possess perfect knowledge of him. So love is greater than knowledge; how could I have forgotten?

I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.

The higher Christian churches–where, if anywhere, I belong–come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.

Early yesterday, I received this, from Robert:

[J]ust as the illiterate cannot read books like those who are literate, neither can those who have refused to go through the commandments of Christ by practicing them be granted the revelation of the Holy Spirit like those who have brooded over them and fulfilled them and shed their blood for them. (St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses, Discourse 24, p. 264)

Today, Anna and I begin our five day journey to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri to see family (baby showers, two family reunions, much time spent in the car). God’s providential timing is exquisite. With these reflections, and those not written here, I am sent on a journey, to shed blood. Enforced blogging silence for at least five days. After that, we’ll see what God says. God once gave me three “St. Anthony moments” with regard to the Orthodox Church. Yesterday is now a third in a similar series of moments. This time I dare not disregard his voice. Elijah needed only a still, small whisper. I need a megaphone. But I get it, now. I get it.

Blessed Seraphim, ascetic of St. Herman, you know quite well my present state; pray for me, athlete of Christ.

Traditionalists and Modernists

It’s becoming ever more clear to me, in these online and person-to-person discussions, that there are two fundamentally opposed perspectives in addressing these issues of faith and worship (these perspectives are also evident in other philosphical and cultural venues, but I am limiting myself to the Christian faith and practice). While all labels can end up being used perjoratively, it seems to me that the terms “traditionalist” and “modernist” encapsulate these perspectives in as neutral as possible way. No traditionalist or modernist is so purely located within their camp so as to be impervious to the other perspective. Indeed, many modernists claims to be adhering to traditional Christian understandings and practices. Similarly, traditionalists while upholding the ancient Christian faith do not presume to bury their heads in the sand with regard to intelligent and caring interaction with the modern world. In short, these perspectives align themselves along a spectrum. So my discussion of these viewpoints will tend to emphasize their distinctions.

Traditionalists start with a mindset of acceptance toward the wisdom of the past. Traditionalists assume that God has revealed his will in Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, and that such a will is healing, restorative, and divinizing for all men and women. Strictures against sexual intercourse (heterosexual or same sex) outside of marriage, against divorce, and other prohibitions, are meant to safeguard and protect human dignity (as little lower than God) and freedom. The equal dignity but different roles God has assigned to Christian men and women in marriage is meant for peace and holiness. The limiting of sacramental ministry to men is meant to safeguard and protect the Faith of the Church, and to incarnate the ministry of the Spirit. Traditionalists see the removing of prohibitions against sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and of divorce, as destructive of human dignity and freedom. And, say traditionalists, the statistical reports of our era prove this to be the case.

Modernists, on the other hand, start with a mindset of suspicion toward the tenets of the past. Modernists have a presupposition of human progress, that those who are most recently on the human scene are wiser and smarter than those who’ve been longer off the scene. This presupposition is an easy one to acquire. Technologically we are more advanced than at any other era in known human history. Diseases have been cured, or those that were once lethal have been relegated to simple and inexpensive over the counter treatments. More children receive education than ever before in history. So modernists look back to the past, see it’s sins and failures, and decide ours (the modern age) is the better standard by which to measure wisdom. Particularly the dogma of dogmas for modernists is that of freedom. That which would limit or prohibit autonomous individuals from freely chossing that which they wish to be and do is, for modernists, anathema. Biblical hierarchical ordering of the relationships in the home? Gone. Limiting the priesthood to certain men? Gone. Jesus’ prohibition on divorce? Gone. Indeed, gone is the Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, except as historical documents from which we can learn. Clearly, modernists would say, one cannot take Scripture whole-cloth and live it in today’s world.

Let me reiterate, these two descriptions do not take into account the various spectral degrees with which specific traditionalists and modernists hold to their respective viewpoints. Some modernists would claim a more wholehearted adherence to Scripture. Some Traditionalists would allow modern notions to shape and transform certain traditional practices and doctrines. But for the most part, I think these two descriptions are a fair assessment of the basic presuppositions.

Let me also say that traditionalists do not equate to conservatives, nor modernists to liberals. The Stone-Campbell churches in which I was raised, for example, would be considered very conservative, but they are very clearly modernists. Similarly, the Orthodox Church with which I currently align myself, would be considered liberal on some public policy issues, but is clearly traditional.

To this point, I have tried to strike a balanced appreciation of these two views. However, at this point I have to proceed in criticism of the modernist view. One of the most glaring weaknesses, in my view, of the modernist position is two-fold: a largely critical, adversarial stance to the tradition, and its usually unreflective acceptance of its presupposition of progress. So, modernists begin with something like a belief in absolute freedom, approach Ephesians 5:21ff and dismiss it as “unworkable” and, even more extreme, as “unChristian.” Modernists begin with the absolute equality–which means no difference between–men and women and dismiss 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 as “merely historical,” something modern-day Christians have “gotten over.”

But traditionalists would agree with G. K. Chesterton, in his chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy [Note: Chesteron was an Anglican who converted to Roman Catholicism.]:

But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

One could also add this text (on books, but related to my points here) from C. S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

In short, modernists, in rejecting the wisdom of the Tradition, subject their followers as well as innocent bystanders, to the consequences of folly. Modernists want to criticize the Tradition because of its alleged “denigration” of women, by making them “second-class” citizens in home and Church. But let’s look at the consequences of the modernist viewpoint in the lives of women: domestic abuse from live-in male companions; the objectification of women as sexual service providers by men who won’t marry their women companions (marriage is, after all, traditional), men who are living the tenets of the feminist doctrines of the last two or three decades; the killing of untold millions of women in the womb; the derailing of ecumenical discussions and resultant perpetuation of schism by insisting on women’s sacramental ordination; as well as the recent hazing incident in Chicago, as young women become like the males they’ve been told they were “just like.”

Now, I know that not all modernist Christians hold to some of these presuppositions. Nor do any modernist Christians I know make the connections I am making between the modernist viewpoint and the consequences I’ve just listed. Most would probably dispute them. But most simply have not made (and many will not make) the connections, because they’re unaware of the consequences of their philosophical convictions.

The modernist “tradition” is being tried and found wanting. The Tradition has been tested for more than twenty centuries, and its healing and salvific results are evident.

The Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women: Anna and I Worship at All Saints

A very interesting weekend for the Healy household, to be sure. It began Saturday morning when I got up and prayed morning prayers. I prayed, as I have for a couple of years now, regarding Anna and I and the Orthodox Church. But I happened to include in my intercessions and petitions a request I’d only prayed a couple of times before, and one which had not been met with an affirmative response. I asked that Anna would accompany me to the Divine Liturgy at All Saints Orthodox Church.

Now, let me explain.

I have unfortunately led my wife around the spiritual block on my ecclesial adventures. When we first met, we were both part of my heritage (Stone-Campbell) churches, though I was on the proverbial “road to Canterbury.” For various reasons, we stayed in the Stone-Campbell churches for some three years or so, until a rather painful and devastating ministry experience (I was a young, inexperienced “senior” pastor of a small rural church that had a notorious history of “minister abuse”) led us out into a wilderness experience. A few months later I unwisely, if goodheartedly, went against Anna’s concerns and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. That massive withdrawal from the trust account took years to repair. Eventually Anna supported me in my desire to seek discernment for ordination in ECUSA. In between, we had frequented Nazarene churches (Anna’s heritage), some community churches, some other Stone-Campbell churches, and spent some extended times without any church at all.

So, in the first six years of our marriage, I’d already proven not to be a very good husband–insofar as religious leadership in the home is concerned. So as not to bring offense to my blog-friends, I’ll not detail why I chose to abandon the ordination track (and eventually ECUSA altogether), but I’ll simply say that when things were at their worst for me (and for Anna), I encountered the Orthodox Church. The last three years has been a journey of experience, intense study, prayer and reflection, all leading to a solid, tested conviction that what the Orthodox Church claims about herself is one hundred percent true.

You can imagine that given my previous track record, Anna is less than impressed. May she, and God, forgive me.

So, the last time that Anna and I together went to an Orthodox service was almost two years ago to the day, when Fr. Patrick was elevated to the archpresbyterate. Ever since then my requests for Anna to accompany me have been turned down. A year ago, these things became a source of tension. So, I kept praying about the matter, praying for my repentance of my husbandly sins, asking the intercessions of Blessed Joseph that I might be a husband and father such as he is. And Saturday, I asked again, what I had not prayed for in a handful of months.

The rest of the day Saturday was spent shopping for this ever-growing person in Anna’s womb (and a most active person this baby is!). Anna’s biggest wish regarding the baby’s room came true: an Eric Carle “Hungry Caterpillar” crib set at the Carter’s Outlet fell within our price range. Other practical mommy necessities like an expensive breastpump. A late afternoon nap. A little TV. A lot of reading. Then, as the brief storm came in to Chicago, as we lay there trying to go to sleep, I got a strong impulse to ask Anna what I’d prayed for that morning. I said, “It’d be great if we could go to All Saints tomorrow.” And she guardedly agreed.

She was a bit grumbly about the matter in the morning, and best I could I absorbed the force of her irritation. Soon we were out the door, on our way, and standing for worship.

I could not have asked for a better set of conditions. Fr. Patrick and Khouria Denise were out of town (which was unfortunate as Khouria would be a great person for Anna to meet), so we had two guest priests, and some of the parish particulars were a bit different. Fr. Patrick’s slow and deliberate processions to cense all the worshippers was much truncated as our visiting priests did things a bit differently. But that meant Anna’s allergies didn’t go haywire. Unfortunately, Anna had a hypoglycemic spell, but in God’s providence, two women near her and the woman greeter all came to her aid. This resulted in extended conversations with four women after service. (Anna spoke longer with more people than I did–and I’m the semi-regular attender!) As I knew they would, the women of the parish came and enfolded her in love and welcome. Being Mother’s Day, the priest spoke on the Orthodox Church’s teaching, practice and history of women and their role in salvation and Church. What a marvelous foundation he started with in speaking of Our Lady! Glory to God.

This doesn’t remove the tension over the issue of the Orthodox Church, by any means. Anna and I will still have to negotiate these, for us, troubled waters. The consequences of my previous sins still visit themselves on us. But I continue to repent, and to pray. God willing, other prayers I’ve prayed, especially the intercessions of the Theotokos, will one day come to pass. In the meantime, it’s the God-given path of love and sacrifice to which us men as heads of our homes are called.

Starting Points

The Church has never ceased to be. There is unbroken continuity, historically and ontologically, between the one holy Church of the New Testament and the present Church. One characteristic of that undying Church is that it is fully the Body of Christ.

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23 NASB).

Another is that the Church is apostolic. This includes, in part, that the Church hold to and practice all that the Apostles taught and practiced.

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 NASB)

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 NASB)

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42 NASB)

And the Church is “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15 NASB)

So, in a very truncated form, I am arguing that departure from the Apostles’ teaching, practice, and tradition, is tantamount to a departure from the Church, in whom the fulness of Christ dwells, which is the Body of Christ. Or, as the Church Fathers call it, a theandric (lit., “divine-human”) entity.

The Task at Hand

In the disagreement over women’s ordination is highlighted the very problems involved in the conversation: presuppositions. Tripp and I start out in this dialogue from completely different points. In some ways these points are in diametric opposition (e. g., he allows that the world can/should reform the Church, I adamantly oppose that). In other ways, they may be similar starting points but one or the other of us absolutizes them (e. g., I agree with Tripp that God cannot be completely known, but part company with him when he concludes, therefore “God the Father” is an understanding of God that is merely cultural and can be jettisoned). Tripp sees adherence to Tradition as something like “groupthink.” I see adherence to current cultural mores in the same terms.

So, until we can come to some agreement on starting points, we will continue to talk past one another, misunderstand one another, and, of course, disagree. In short, we cannot begin to discuss points of controversy (abortion, women’s ordination, sexuality) until we come to terms on our presuppositions. Which means, arguing for our competing worldviews.

This, as I see it, is the task at hand. [Note: Doxos has a good post on this very thing.]

At least, in terms of our conversation.

My own task is rather more difficult. Reading the latest issue of The Orthodox Word, which is a celebration of the life and ministry of Fr. Seraphim Rose, and coupled with my recent completion of the 1000-page biography by Hieromonk Damascene, I was struck by Fr. Seraphim’s life. He turned away from what might have been for him a brilliant academic career in eastern philosophy to focus all his life and energy on immersing himself in the life and thought of the Church. At the beginning of his more public ministry, he fought hard and indefatigably for the Faith of the Church, but as his ministry (and he) matured, he turned more from holy polemics to godly praxis. For an academic like myself, his conversion rings bells and strums chords throughout my whole self. For me, who am surely one of the most immature Christians you could meet, his turn from argument to action also hits the center of my heart. Like Fr. Seraphim, my task is not to preach, but to pray and to do.

Maybe my blog should be like this one.

Fr. Seraphim, and all my blogging partners, pray for me a sinner.

The Burden of Innovation

Reconnecting with the Church Fathers this past week or so has been like going from arid desert to lush tropical valley. Though I’ve been chronically short on sleep all semester (my body rebelled this past weekend, keeping me in bed with a cold), and though I had a short night last night, after morning prayers this morning, I’m facing today with a renewed, fresh vigor. God be praised.

One thing that really made that possible, today anyway, was the knowledge that today commemorates the miracle of the Mother of God in giving sight to the blind Stephen of Cassiopia, coupled with my return to the Greek New Testament and reading Matthew 7.7-12. I noted my immediate reaction to the miracle. “No way. There’s just no way that a blind guy was given seeing eyes. I mean, I believe in miracles and all, but this is too much.” Hmmmm. Wonder why that was so? Could it be my Protestantism coming to the fore and igniting my skepticism of anything that smacks of Marian prayers? How could I justify that skepticism? I knew I couldn’t. If Mary, still living as do all those who die in Christ, could pray for a man’s eyes to regain sight, is it not possible to assume that her prayers were answered? And given her place in the work of God’s salvation, aren’t her prayers something one can assume would be both unified with God’s will and effective? Then, as is my habit, having prayed, I turned to Scripture. And there was Holy Writ telling me “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and to you the door will be opened.”

I suppose it will be a lifelong process to excise this anti-tradition, anti-catholic outlook from my mind. God help me. The Holy Spirit has been at work in the Church for 2000 years. On what basis do I introduce skepticism of his work, in what way can I justify innovation? This is the burden of all those who would re-invent the Church: on what basis can I authoritatively substitute my view, or my little corner of the Christian world’s view, on subject X in place of the Church’s long-established Scripture and understanding? Who am I to say that Ignatios of Antioch was wrong about bishops when he was a disciple of the Apostles, and I am so far removed from the Apostles historically, geographically and doctrinally? What makes my view more authoritative? How can I say to Ignatios “You didn’t understand the Apostles you heard firsthand. Let me who has never heard them, spoken their language, lived in their land and time, tell you what you should have said”?

The burden of innovation is more than just a matter of justification, however. I spent most of my teen years, and all of my adult years up till a few years ago seeking spiritual and intellectual “highs.” If it gave me a “pious feeling,” or otherwise made me “feel close to God,” it was justified. Conversely, if anything disturbed me or made me feel bad, it was not of God. Which may have been well and good, except that for a sinner such as myself, God often needed (and needs) to disturb and make me “feel bad.” Furthermore, my only barometer of “feeling good” was, well, my own narrow life experience and that of those around me. Clearly that, though not to be discounted, was anemic compared to the robust, millennia-long, multi-ethnic, multi-national, experience of the one thing on this planet in which the human and divine are joined: the Church.

The worst of it was, I had no one to lead me in how to pray. Oh, sure, there was a bunch of folks telling me how to read Scripture–too bad they disagreed on just about every issue one could put forward. Oh, sure, there was another gaggle of folks who were willing to tell me how to worship–mostly demagoguing on how it was necessary to let go the “traditional” (in the sense of the last several decades) style of three hymns and a sermon in favor of the more “Spirit-led” contemporary style (although “Spirit-led” always meant “led according to the latest trend in musical styles in our culture”). And there were folks who told me “how” to pray: don’t read prayers, or if you read them, use language everyone can agree on. But I soon learned, there was no one who could lead me in how to pray. In short, I was burdened with discipling myself in the most basic of Christian activities.

Thankfully, God was merciful and took my prayers for what they were. And eventually led me back to the sources of life and vigor.

This is not to say that every “new” thing is bad. God does bring in times of change. But the burden of those who would innovate is twofold: proof that their innovation is in line with the apostles’ doctrine and practice, and, the most daunting one of all, proof that theirs is the same life-giving way of the Spirit. And that last can only be tested over generations, not the short “highs” of a single life, or even the life of a single community.