“…My own personal flurry…”

The Easter prep is fully underway, and we are striving for a peaceful Easter.  Somehow I think it will be elusive this year.  There are so many little “peas in the mattress” of our lives right now that I am not sure how we will smoothly sail into Easter Sunday.  So I am burying myself in the preparatory portion of it.

St. Dimitri of RostovOnce in awhile (it seems to me) we need to regress to the simplest things.  We need to do away with the dross and the extras floating around us.  Sort of like one of those sensory deprivation tanks – we need to silence the chaos and we need to stop looking at the negative, and we need to focus ourselves on Christ.  For example, this week is called Holy Week for a reason.  We are preparing ourselves to welcome the Bridegroom.  It is the week of the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, death on a Cross.  And so I cling to the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov above and place myself with the Angelic Host, and I am praying, constantly praying, and I am clawing my way back to that peaceful place of Pascha prep!

Hand prayer incenseHave you ever experienced the sort of frustration where you shake inside? Where perhaps you are drawn to tears, but it’s not sad tears? They are tears of frustration and anger?  Well, I have.  Several times over the past week. I don’t think it’s good for my blood pressure or longevity!  Sometimes there are situations and people in our lives that make our stress levels just climb.  There are people who bring drama and chaos with them, because it is just how they operate.  And I seem blessed to have many of them a part of my life.  (Another occasion for prayer!).  Remember Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons?  He carried his own cloud of dirt around with him?  That can be a bad thing – like the stress and chaos and drama that just accompanies certain people.  Another way to approach it is like the snowman character in Frozen, Olaf. Princess Elsa makes him his own little snow cloud, his own personal “flurry,” so he can survive in summer – have you seen that? Olaf and his own personal snow flurry….

250px-Ownpersonalflurry!This character was so loveable.  He just wanted to experience summer, because he had never seen it.  He was so thankful that Elsa, through her snow magic, created a little snow flurry to accompany him wherever he went.  I was thinking about this (I have two grandchildren who both adore this movie – yes, we own a copy so they can watch it whenever they are here! And no, I will not expound on nor attach an audio file of any version of “Let it Go.” You are welcome). Olaf is happy that he can exist to see the flowers and the sunshine and not melt.  He is always smiling and laughing and looking for the good in everything around him.  Even though it is a cloud over his head, it is a cloud that keeps him alive, so it is a happy little flurry and a happy little snowman, Olaf.

Why can’t this be how we all operate? Even though it is a cloud that accompanies Olaf, it is a joyous one, because it keeps him alive.  Our cloud is the joy we find in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who enervates our very lives.  In the Melkite Church (and most of Byzantine worship) we have this amazing ceremony mid-day on Holy Saturday. It is about the “New Light.”  We light our new Easter Candle, which we will use the rest of the year; this is the beginning of our new Liturgical year. The first, tentative announcements about the Resurrection are made. I love thinking about the women who went to the Tomb early in the day and found the guards asleep and the Tomb empty.  It was very early in the morning; the towns around the Tomb, and the people in them, still slept.  The women ran back to tell the Apostles what they saw and heard.  They spoke to an “angel” and saw an empty Tomb, the cloth laying in a heap. Those are the first whispers that Christ has risen..that He is not in the Tomb.  That Liturgy is so beautiful.   It is the early Light of the Truth of Christ’s Resurrection that is being shared, one voice at a time, with the Apostles.

Hand cupped candleWe can carry this Light with us; we can choose to share the Light of Christ with others; we all carry our own personal flurry of goodness, peace, love, and light with us. Or we can hide our Light under our bushel basket of anger, frustration, hate, prejudice – all the negativity swirling around us.  We can choose how our world is, around each of us, by the way in which we approach our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, ” tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

250px-OlafsvenfrozendisneyLittle Olaf is just a simple example of how we often choose to be sad that our lives are so limited.  He was going to melt and his life would be over as soon as Spring came to their Kingdom.  Or, once he had his own personal flurry, he chose to relish the moments, smelling flowers and playing with his buddy, Sven, the reindeer.  We have our own personal flurry we can carry with us everywhere and in every circumstance, the Holy Spirit.  We have God.  We can choose to put our faith aside, to relegate God and our life of faith to only an hour on a Sunday, and relish in the angry moments, loosing our heads over them, so to speak.

250px-OlafrearanfeChrist calls us to our better selves, not our lesser selves. My prayer for the rest of this Holy Week is to embrace the better self Christ is calling me to be.  I will endeavor to be the wife, friend, sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law – all the roles of who I am called to be – to my utmost, not my least.  I will prepare to walk with My Lord down that horribly painful road to Cavalry, where He sacrificed Himself for me.  With my own personal flurry surrounding me – the Holy Spirit – I will walk to that empty Tomb with the women, quietly seeking He Who is Risen.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

“…and some are first who will be last.”

CharacterI have been pondering so much lately, but writing very little. I even stopped my poetry because life just, well, interfered, as life does.  One thing that has come through in so many areas recently is the subject of Character.  Now, I am not speaking to the idea of someone who makes you laugh and does funny things, as in, ” He’s such a character!”  But rather to the core of who someone truly is.  Because I have seen quite recently that the character that we put out there towards other people, and the character that makes up our very marrow, can be quite, quite different.

Gerontissa GabrieliaI wonder why honesty in our dealings with others is such a hard thing to do.  There are people we all know who change, depending upon the audience. There was a woman I worked with and she was in a position of authority and was quite intimidating at the office. I was invited to her home one Friday evening and came away from that so changed in my attitude towards her as a person. I had no idea she was so nice!  We laughed and had such a wonderful time. Back at work, she reverted to her office “persona;” I much preferred the other woman! Ha-Ha! But I understood her reasoning and I also came to know her better, so that we had lunch quite often and we laughed at jokes and could have a much better relationship at work.  But I asked her why we did not get to see the “real” her at work and she told me it was because she had so much authority and had to impose so much disciplinary action towards employees, that she needed to keep herself a little removed from everyone. She was also worried no one would respect her if she were too nice.  It’s been many years now, but I still always wondered why we can’t just be who we are, with everyone we interact with.

Recently, I was taken in by someone who pretended to be a friend, and who exhibited what I had thought were admirable qualities: volunteerism, camaraderie, leadership, faith, and a strong character.  I literally trusted this person with the lives of those I love. Literally.  And it has come to light recently that it was a huge sham. This person is nothing in ‘real life’ that was trotted out for all of us to see. It turns out the faith is something worn like a suit, but not practiced.  The character was barely skin deep.  The leadership, I devastatingly learned, was by intimidation and coercion, with lots of profanity thrown in for good measure.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2When we interact with people, they trust that “what they see is what they get.”  We implicitly trust others in lots of ways.  We trust our bank to do right with our money and not play fast and loose with our funds. We trust the grocery store to not sell us tainted or bad food.  We trust the gas station to sell gas that honestly is gas and not something watered down that damages our cars.  We trust that when the mechanic says he changed the oil, he really did.  We trust our doctors when they say we need surgeries.  We trust our children’s teachers, their leaders in organizations to have their best interests at heart – and when we leave them for the day (or event, or week, or whatever it is) we trust our children are safe and in capable hands.  We trust our friends to be honest with us; when we ask them to pray for us, we know they will.  We trust our priest – he brings us Christ through his ordination and holy hands.  There are so many people we trust in life, we just don’t think about it all the time. And when your trust with someone is shattered, it can be unraveling.  Like you have to physically take a step back.  And I have – I did.  And I sat down, amazed at the turn of events I had witnessed, and I am just pondering this whole concept of trust and character.

Orthodox NotesOur words and how we treat other people truly do become our actions.  And those actions can become habitual (which is another thing about Lent I am grateful for – a specific time each year I can turn inward and fix those nasty things keeping me from being a better person) if we do not stay on that.  And our habits become the character of who we are.  And that, in turn, determines our destiny. Am I a liar? Do I cheat people regularly?  Am I an honest person? Do I lie? Even silly, white lies, to cover a silly transgression? Or do I own up to who I am and what I have done, trying to atone for that and become better?  Has my character become infected with poor choices of words and deeds, habits that have taken me over?

“And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them,“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

I love that Scripture verse. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  God is among us.  In each of us.  And how we treat others affects His Kingdom.  Will you be known, or will the door be closed and He will know you not? I am thinking more and more about this as I have been shown how duplicitous people can be.  I still believe that honesty in all things is what God is calling us to. I believe He knows who we are, and He desires us to be more and more like Him in all things…that old Theosis philosophy.  And I truly believe that those who pump themselves up in the eyes of others, and who do so lying their way to the top, will be like those in that last statement, “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

And one of the most amazing things I have gleaned from this introspective time is that God truly has this in hand, and He has all things. I need to “let go and let God,” allowing Him to work in all things, for our good. Little by little, I see good triumphantly making its way forward.  Little things are happening that show me sometimes the bad is allowed for good to triumph.  And I am getting out of my own way, by learning to discern in silence all these things, for my own growth and betterment.

KeepCalm.PaschaIt is wonderful to know that during Holy Week, as we begin to gradually turn our attention to Our Lord and His lonely walk to Calvary, that things in our lives can mirror it in a cosmic, esoteric way (certainly not like Our Lord suffered).  We all go through our moments of intense suffering, of questioning everything, and having to walk through it, in order to get to the other side, clinging to our own Cross.

I still believe honesty, transparency, and character all count.  They are all characteristics of a person who truly cares for others and is honestly trying to be a Christian disciple.  And I still know that when I am hoodwinked and when someone turns out to be far, far less than I had imagined them to be, I will mourn. It is a physical loss of a friend and an emotional scar.  But I also know Christ allows these things for my edification and growth, for my own character development.

HolyOilCandle.HolyBookThe first three days of Holy Week are treated as sort of one day.  We focus on the Bridegroom and the preparation.  We read today of the virgins and their lamps and of the ten talents.  The gifts we are given and how we use them to best prepare ourselves for the Coming of the Bridegroom, Christ Our Lord.  And preparing for His Coming is something we do all the time, every day, in how we spend our days and our time.  We pray.  We reflect.  We attend services.  We seek confession.  We keep our lamps full and we use fully all the gifts (talents – a form of money, and not something you do well like sing or paint or dance) given to us.  Do we seek a return on our gifts? Do we hide them? Is our lamp filled with oil at all times?  Boy, that is hard to do in our everyday world.  I acknowledge my shortcomings and I pray for my healing – for patience, for character of a sterling quality, and for love for each person I come into contact with.  And I pray, so much, for the gift of forgiveness. Not for me, but that the Lord will help me give over this pain and disappointment and turn it into love and forgiveness for those who have so let me down.  And we keep our lamps full and patiently await the Bridegroom.

Eph 4-26 ForgiveAs I prepare this week to celebrate Pascha and the Resurrection of Our Lord, I am preparing my heart. I am enjoying the smell of our house as I dye our eggs using all these spices I am trying: turmeric, paprika, onion, and vinegar (I only wish our dinner would smell so good). And it is a wonderful way to seek silence in the doing of it, in the preparing of it. I can contemplate and await the Bridegroom through my humble service of preparation for my family and friends.  As I bake break and prepare the other foods and goods in our family’s basket, it is a time of reflection, peace, and prayer.  God is so good to us. He gives us these Holy Days of Holy Week to prepare, to come to Him ready and joyous for His gift of eternal life. I am blessed.

sunrise easter

 

“…yet He did not sin.”

Sail-Boat13I’ve had weeks when life just sails along and you really have to pinch yourself at how awesome that week has been.  And then there is this week.  Well, it’s not the polar opposite, but it ranks right up there with days I would prefer not to repeat, although it is ending pretty good.  I love spending fun, abrupt, and un-planned time with my kids and grandchildren, and last night was just that. Sort of helped wrap this week up with a bow, so to speak!

BowsWhen I see injustice, it is somehow wired in me to do something, if I can.  I also have this habit of not being easily intimidated.  I am not sure where I get this over-inflated sense of confidence from, because physically, I am so not in tip-top shape and someone could just push me and down I would go.  Which is another entirely different thought for a post!  However, when the hairs on the back of your neck go up and you feel deep in your bones that something is wrong, well, for me, I have to lash out at the perpetrator.

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”…” Matthew 21:12-13

tissot-the-merchants-chased-from-the-temple-746x471Jesus got mad.  Don’t forget, He was human in all things, save sin!  (“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15).  And some feel that righteous anger is just that – righteous.  This week I confronted someone who I felt was being unjust.  Because of that it has been intimated I was lying and embellishing the truth to fit my own agenda.  I find it laughable and ludicrous because obviously this person does not know me well.  This person also presents as a Christian; one who attends Church regularly.  But the metanoia, or change of heart (“to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.” by Richard Trench in his work, “Synonyms of the New Testament”) does not seem to have really occurred.  And I am saddened by the whole thing.  Partially because I dislike getting that angry. I knew in my heart I was right and that I had truth on my side, but I still hate loosing my temper. And I have a profound sense of disappointment in learning someone is not up to the standards I had presumed they were.

When we see things that we know are inherently wrong, it is almost adding to the sinfulness to not do anything about it. In traditional, western, Catholic theology, there is the concept of the “sin of omission,” which is considered to be as evil as the sin of “commission,” when we actually do a sinful act.  Because, truthfully, not doing anything in the face of evil is as bad for us as committing evil, in regards to the stain on our souls.  And that is where I was stuck – in that proverbial position of the rock and that darned old hard place.  And so I stood up and railed against the wrongs I witnessed and was told about.  And it got ugly; I did not feel intimated and I never felt that I was going “off” on someone, but I truly did loose my temper.  I actually only had resolution in mind for those who had been wronged, but instead it has grown into a sense of protecting any others affected now or in the future. And that is why, I think, I got angry.  The injustice around me, but also that which could be perpetrated on others, in the future, if I stood aside and said or did nothing. And to top it off, I was also protecting family, and friends who mean the world to me.

Knowing that you have truth on your side makes railing against wrongs so much easier.  Another side incident occurred when I could demonstrate this to my son.  He and a friend each told their parents about some things that had happened.  When the parents discussed the incidents, it was found that the boys never wavered from what had taken place. And I told my son how wonderful it is to tell the truth, because you don’t have to remember stories, or worry about keeping things “straight,” because truth is truth and it is always the same. Lies get convoluted and twisted and become some difficult thing to transverse through, much like the maze of wiring below. (Shout out to my electrically-oriented friends and family!!)

Tangled wiringAnd now we have to move forward and make some changes. All change, in pretty much all areas, can cause pain.  It can be rough to go from one environment to another.  We experienced over the past year complete relocation, thousands of miles from our comfort zone.  We made a place for ourselves; we changed; and we are getting comfy, and feeling safe and loving a new sense of belonging.  And then something pretty ugly happens.  Now, we have to regroup once again!  But I know truth triumphs over all things; I know that anger is occasionally justified; and I know my heart is in the right place.

DidacheThere is a profound sense of who we are and what we stand for, that we develop as we age. Hopefully it is not a prejudicial point of view wherein you treat anyone who diverges from your point of view as evil, “other,” or inherently in the wrong.  According to the Miriam Online Dictionary, prejudice is defined as:

a (1) :  preconceived judgment or opinion (2) :  an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge; b :  an instance of such judgment or opinion;  c :  an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

I was tasked with working for an EEO Unit within a Human Resources department in California a few years back.  I learned the legal treatment and definition of prejudice in all its glory and ugliness.  I think it colored my sense of right and wrong, and perhaps made me sensitive to prejudicial behavior.  Prejudice can come from many places and it can mean many things.  There are the most common forms based on color, creed, or gender.  But there are some others which seep into our lives that we do not even realize. In schoolyard sports, back in my day, it could mean being called last when choosing teams.  It can mean “not being seen” in the profoundest sense of the term by the society around you because you somehow do not “measure up.” There’s prejudice when we separate those who have difficulties from those who do not – as in mental or physical defect.  There is, however, a common one that makes me crazy and that is prejudicial treatment based on belonging to the “in crowd.”  Keeping others on the outside while developing a clique among a large group is wrong and hurtful. It can be based on unfamiliarity (“Who’s that kid over there?  He doesn’t belong here!”) or lack of exposure (“When did they move here?).  It can be based on preconceived notions (“I never knew a girl could run that fast”) that we have been handed down by our elders. There are many, many ways prejudice can enter our lives and we need to acknowledge it exists, and then we need to work on stamping it out.

Main_camporeeAnd so I took my stand and I made my statement and I sleep well at night. I have no problems defending against prejudice and we all should become aware of it.  I have started saying, in part to help me remember, “Different is just different. It is not better; it is not worse; it is not more, nor is it less. It is just different.”  Perhaps if we could apply this to all aspects of our lives, the world would spin a little smoother, and joy would be the emotion we experience more and more often.

Poetry Month – Day Three – Charms/Nursery Rhymes

shavingtogetherEver so soft and downy fresh,
the smooth face of purity.
No one told me of of the woes
when one reaches maturity.
So now we shave, my husband and I
Side by side, amidst the hilarity.

There are so many secrets to getting old
it's no wonder so many products are sold!
Hairs be gone! Sagging stop! Wrinkles erase!
Have to know the bathrooms in every place...
Dear Lord have pity on us your aging 
and please, make it so I can stop shaving.


Poetry Month…day 2 – Mythology

I love walking in the woods;
the sights and sounds mesmerize me.
Some days the trees whisper;
I know I can hear their voices.
The soft green felt beneath me;
the lovely canopy above my head.
The breath of clean air surrounds me; 
the stillness fills me.
A little glow, a light that moves with me.
My heart is racing, but I keep still, waiting, hardly breathing...
There she is, my little walking companion;
my little forest sprite, racing with me.
Is it a myth? Is it a truth? 
Is the light playing tricks with me?
I think not.
It is my forest sprite, keeping me company.
We walk together, through our forest, my sprite and me.

Poetry Month!

I have never participated in a writing marathon before, let alone poetry! I remember bits from High School and a course or two in college.  A friend challenged me to participate and so I thought I would give it a try. The first day’s challenge was to write a poem about a work of art.  It took me quite a while to decide which work of art I would like to even think in “poem” form about.  But I settled on this one, because it is a piece of art that has touched me over the years, and I continue to see new things in it when I look, and new thoughts come racing to the forefront when I pause to truly look into the painting.  I hope you look at it, and come to love it, too.

flight into egypt xx~001Rest on the Flight Into Egypt by  Luc Olivier Merson (1879)

Poem – Day One

Angelic warning – fear – we hurriedly leave

Protecting our son – Our God

Rushing into the night; the unknown

Darkness, quiet all around us

And a baby cries…