From the June, 2001 issue of Touchstone

On Shamefulness by Thomas S. Buchanan

On Shamefulness

Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Take heed to the path of your feet, then let all your ways be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
—Proverbs 4:23–27

In his wisdom, Solomon told us to keep our hearts steadfast, our speech pure, our gaze forward, and our feet on the right path. On the surface, this is a commonsense statement, but in reality it is a very difficult thing to do. Watching our hearts, mouths, eyes, and feet is far from trivial. Although I doubt this was simple 3,000 years ago, today’s virtual world provides even more opportunities for us to swerve to the right or to the left. From many of the crude television waves beamed into our homes to the cyberporn waiting to be clicked over our phone lines, our lives are supplied with an astonishing number of easy ways to pollute the springs of life that should flow from our hearts.

A thousand years or so after Solomon, Paul wrote to the Ephesians about no longer being darkness, but being light. He told them that to be followers of Christ, they must act differently. When referring to the practices of those outside the Church, he says, “it is a shame even to speak of the things they do in secret” (Eph. 5:12).

A few years ago there were many things considered too shameful to discuss in public, even by those outside the faith. Monica Lewinski and a host of others have opened new doors of what is considered acceptable public speech for society as a whole, but it should take more than one scandalous president to alter such standards for the Church. For we Christians should heed Paul’s words and not even discuss the depravity of others lest it infect our souls as well.

There are many Christians who believe that they are strong enough in the faith not to be troubled by such base thoughts. These are the people who welcome graphic images or coarse discussions into their homes of the sort that Paul (or our Lord) might consider shameful. Some even justify this by convincing themselves that they need to keep informed about the world and society as a whole in order to be intelligent and wise Christians. Isaac of Nineveh considered this position many years ago when he wrote:

Do not tempt your mind, for the sake of experience, by looking at base, seductive thoughts, while supposing that you are invincible. Even wise men have been troubled in this situation and gone wrong.

Isaac believed that “the stairway to the kingdom of heaven is within you, secret in your soul.” The only way to ascend this stairway is to leave the temptations of this world behind: to keep your heart vigilant and your speech pure, fixing your gaze straight and setting your feet on the upward path. For Isaac, the kingdom of heaven within you is eternal life with Christ.

In our quest to live Christian lives in today’s culture, we must not follow the same path as everyone else, especially in ways that swerve to the right or to the left of that which is honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, or worthy of praise. We should not even speak, let alone joke, about the shameful acts of those who mock the faith or fall from grace. As Solomon would say, this is the way of wisdom.

Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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