“Then, in addition, for me personally, there was the discovery of a supernatural dimension to this whole conflict, if you like, that happened for me through an encounter with music. It was through listening to the Second Symphony of Mahler, the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, that something quite mysteriously was as if a door was opened in me. And I realized that there was in me a level of sensibility and a vulnerability that I hadn’t been aware of. And I had that certainty that I carried in me something that was greater than me, that was somehow a presence.”
He explained that he then began to seek out that presence he longed for, “through reading, attempting to pray, through beginning to read the Scriptures, and eventually, through encountering a praying community.”
Addressing the meaning of longing, Varden echoed a theme heard at the weekend’s Encounter.
“The desire for comfort, the desire to be known, to be seen, to be loved, the desire for infinity, that we carry in ourselves. All those stupendous aspirations are, in fact, true aspirations that correspond to a real object that by grace is within reach, and that reaches out to us — that’s the great mystery,” Varden said.
In his conversation with Pierre, Varden introduced a figure who features prominently in his book: Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian monk and mystic canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1903. The holy man, who lived much of his life as a hermit, according to an account in the book, once suddenly appeared as a blaze of light in the course of a conversation with a visitor. It was a miracle of sorts that forever changed the one who witnessed the phenomenon.
“And Seraphim says to us, well, we’re not all called to that degree of singular and excessive experience because that’s the result of a very special call. But we’re all called to enter into the life of Christ as our own Christ so that we can pronounce that line from St. Paul, not just as a pious sentiment: ‘that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’”
Varden explained that when we “enter into the life of Christ” people notice, just as if we had suddenly appeared in a miraculous blaze of light.
“And that presence of Christ will be perceptible as peace. Towards the end of his life, again Seraphim said, ‘If you acquire the spirit of peace — and remember, St. Paul says, Christ is our peace, thousands around you will find salvation — you will, in all your inadequacy, by the grace of God, be a pointer to Christ’s gift and Christ’s promise,” the bishop of Trondheim said.
Other panel discussions and presentations over the weekend covered subjects as diverse as “influencers, cryptocurrencies, and the metaverse,” inflation, the war in Ukraine, and the James Webb Telescope, following St. Paul’s suggestion, the event’s website says, to “test everything and retain what is good.”
For more information about the New York Encounter, a free annual event that is open to the public, visit its website.