This is my very first blog post -ever. Which is why it might seem odd for me to say, maybe it should be my last.
I’ve been a compulsive blog reader for years and an on-again-off-again writer and poet with just enough self-confidence (or delusion) about my literary abilities to continue the practice, and go so far as to register a blog for the world to read. In my opinion, the best bloggers seem to have an ability to make observations without sounding pompous and ill-informed. Their personal anecdotes are relevant. They write in a straightforward style as opposed to others that write with such tooth achingly sweet self-indlugence you wish their DH, DD, DBF or WTHC would kick them in the emoticon just to get them riled up. This would not be one of those blogs. I don’t do cute.
But it is self-indulgent to think I have anything more relevant or insightful to add to the trillions of electronic words that do not even have the permanence of a bargain bin paperbook at the dollar store. I will feed this blog with relevant words and in turn, I am hopefully to be fed with a few self-affirming comments. That is the nature of an interactive art form like writing – it requires the symbiotic act of reading. A musician can play for the sheer joy of music, but you’d be hard pressed to find a writer who actually enjoys reading their own words. The pleasure and reward of writing is in the audience and their favorable response to your work. This is the addiction that has its roots in vainglory.
Vainglory is an odd word that today seems to be almost exclusively thought of in religious terms, although it had a perfectly secular usage until fairly recently. The straight up definition of vainglory is a boastful, unwarranted pride in one’s accomplishments or qualities.
The Holy Fathers and the saints have had a lot to say about vainglory. St. John Climacus (ca. 579-649), Orthodox monk, ascetic and abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, wrote a book that to this day remains one of the most widely read works on the spiritual life and the taming of the passions. The Ladder of Divine Ascent was originally written for monastics, but has become hugely popular with the laity – those in the world who are trying to live a fully realized, God-pleasing faith. St. John uses the image of climbing the rungs or steps of a ladder as an upward – heavenward- movement in one’s spiritual life.
St. John has this to say about rung 22: Vainglory:
A man who takes pride in natural abilities – I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them – this man, I say, will never receive the blessings of heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much.
Sounds like writing a blog would fall within St. John’s parameters. Am I consciously walking down the path of sin by undertaking this blog? Trying to write well; trying to impress. The writer in me says ‘you can’t post anything that sucks’; the vainglorious sinner says ‘if you just have humility when you receive your praise, it’s ok’. False humility can be as deadly to the soul as boasting. So what is one to do?
St. John puts forward three sure fire solutions to the seeking of glory and the pleasure that comes from praise. First, the remembrance of God during prayer – the contemplation of “blessed fear”. Failing that, the remembrance of death (the cold bucket of water approach). And if you’re really stuck in the vainglory trap, St. John warns you of a holy gotcha – “the shame that always comes after honor…for he who exalts himself will be humbled…” Squashing the sin of vainglory is essential if one wants to prevent the development of an even greater sin – pride. While the dictionary definition of vainglory makes it seem analagous with pride, St. John distinguishes vainglory from pride. He pictured vainglory as a little worm, maturing, sprouting wings and flying higher and higher in the sky. “Pride begins where vainglory leaves off” Pride is an even rougher road – so nip vainglory in the bud right quick.
So there you have it. My dilemma. I hope with prayer to stop this blog from turning into a source of vainglory and to prevent my entering the realm of pride. To make some edifying contribution or at least not lead anyone into sin. And I would certainly appreciate it if anyone would take it upon themselves to knock some true humility back into me if I seem to be getting too big for my britches. St. John would expect no less.
Tags: St. John Climacus