About the Author
A couple of years ago the women of my parish, St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, were blessed to have as a retreat speaker Dr. Al Rossi. Dr. Rossi is a practicing Orthodox Christian who has studied Eastern and Western spirituality and modern psychology. He is currently Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, as well as a practicing clinical psychologist in the state of New York. When he spoke at the retreat, he mentioned that he was writing a book, and thankfully it is now published.
All is Well
All is Well was recently published by Ancient Faith Publishing. My friend Dr. Nicole Roccas, author of Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, says this in part of her blurb for the book:
Taking threads from the desert fathers, Orthodox theology, personal experiences, and his training in psycho-therapy, Dr. Rossi weaves a multifaceted tapestry that reminds our weary, storm-tossed world that not only will all be well in the end, but all is well in the here and now.
All is well in the here and now. This is what is so strikingly different about Dr. Rossi’s response to the chaos and suffering the world. Although he does quote Julian of Norwich’s well-known saying, “All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well,” (italics mine) he also quotes St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who says, “Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events—to the heart that loves, all is well.”
It is Well With My Soul
One of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well With My Soul,” was written in 1873 by Horatio Spafford. Spafford had just lost his only son to Scarlet Fever, his business to the Great Chicago Fire, and then his four daughters to a disaster at sea. A pandemic, a fire, and a sea disaster. Sound familiar? And yet he was able to write these words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Are We Living in Apocalyptic Times?
Dr. Rossi quotes St. Anthony the Great:
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad; you are not like us.”
I have recently had brief interactions with a couple of friends about the current state of chaos in the world. One friend—who had to evacuate her home in California due to the fires just as multiple hurricanes are headed to the gulf coast and we are all suffering an international pandemic—actually said to me, “the end is feeling near.” I recently watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, which explores the dangerous impact of social networking. It was terrifying.
One of the many tech experts interviewed for the film spoke in terms of our country possibly heading for civil war. The extreme political and cultural polarization today certainly feels apocalyptic. Almost everyone posting their political views on Facebook seem to believe that their party’s opposing party will destroy the country. They seem to believe, as St. Anthony said, that if others are not like them, they are mad.
The View From Above
How does Dr. Rossi address our situation? Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of his book:
I love our culture and love our world. . . . We are to be fully invested in our family, neighborhood, national and international politics, and the planet, but with the mind of Christ—a mind that is alert, joy-filled, and loving. We are not to be obsessed with the anxiety that’s also inside all of us as children of Adam and Eve. The world consists in ugliness and the world consists in beauty. Without denying the ugliness, we are to keep our mind on the beauty, as best we can.
How can we overcome our anxiety and keep our mind on the beauty during these times? How can we be “fully vested” in “national and international politics” while striving to have the mind of Christ?
We need to find the view from above. Rossi says “we need to see reality from God’s point of view.” What is God’s point of view? As Christians we believe that God is love. And we believe that Christ is within us. So, again as Rossi says, “We need to see reality from the light side of ourselves, the side of Christ within us.”
Becoming Less Judgmental
Rossi’s book addresses many issues that I won’t explore in this blog post. Important topics like ambiguity, purity, addiction, weakness and strength, and living in the present. I hope you will get the book and read about all of these aspects of spiritual life and mental health yourself. But I will close by sharing what I feel to be one of the most important tenets of the book. As Rossi says:
One implication of “all is well” is that we don’t have to judge others. Recently I passed an Asian Christian Church that had a small signboard in front. The sign said, “Don’t judge others because they sin differently than we do.”
I am so thankful that our women’s study group at St. John is reading this wonderful book together with guidance from our pastor, Father Philip Rogers. Our first weekly (Zoom) meeting to discuss the book was this morning. When we read the first paragraph, which included this phrase—“to say that all is well is to say that all in my life is sufficient”—diverse opinions were immediately shared and discussed.
This morning’s group included women from their thirties into their seventies. We have all experienced different suffering but also different joys. Some have been Orthodox for over thirty years. Others are new to Orthodoxy, and one has recently been enrolled as a catechumen. We are all in different places in our journeys in the faith, and because of our love for God and one another, we are able to see each other by the light of Christ within us.
The view from above is not judgmental. Without denying the ugliness, it sees and embraces the beauty in the world, and in each other.