“A place can’t save you…”

We are now at that place, mid-winter. We have had some major snow storms. We have had winds that have literally made my eyeballs hurt when I have walked outside. It was -21 on our back deck and with the wind chill, we set a record for -51! Good heavens. (I know it is not as bad as a friend I have in the UP of Michigan. They get SNOW. They make us look like wimps. And this is Alaska! LOL). The sight above is about 10 miles south of where we live, and one of my husband’s favorite places to fish. That look is accomplished with sub zero freezes. And it is so glorious! I truly love the look of a deep freeze. It makes grocery shopping and pumping gas a little tricky! We have not really suffered too much, to be honest. But we are getting weary of the cold, Alaskan winter! People are all talking about how many more hours of sunshine we get everyday!

You have to be different to live in environments that do not have sunshine and roses all year long. Especially when daylight is limited, or in over-abundance! My life, until well into my fifties, was spent in sunny Southern California. I grew up close enough to the beach to walk to it, when I was a child. We slowly moved inland and south. But the beach was never too far away. In my teens we could take the “Beach Bus” down to the shoreline daily for $5 round trip. Something that we took for granted. My grandparents had a house up on a hillside in Englewood. You could smell the ocean on clear, sunny, breezy days of summer. They never needed an air conditioner. We would just open the windows and the breeze cooled us off. And there was always their swimming pool! Paradise to a kid! But somehow, it was not enough. Green, wild, mountains, nature was always calling to me. Ironically, when I got my first job, I signed up to give a portion of my income to “Save the Whales” complete with bumper sticker and coffee mug. I’d get regular reports from Alaska. I was 16. Who knew?

And although a Pacific Paradise was fun to grow up in, it just never fit me. I have so many friends who cannot ever imagine the climate in Alaska. Their bones would ache; they would hate the dark and the cold. I get that. My mom grew up in New Zealand and I was always drawn to how green it was. She often commented, “And it rains all the time! You have to pay for that green somehow.” And I often relate that to the summers here in Alaska. They are glorious. And we get them from all the water we get during the winter, in the form of snow. So when we are up to our knee caps in snow, I try to think of the summers.

And we live for summer. LOL. The sun is up for hours upon hours – so many hours that we have black-out shades and curtains. Our plants grow insanely large. Have you heard about the State Fair here in Palmer every year? They have pumpkins that weigh thousands of pounds or 30-lb cabbages. I kid you not. I have started growing Dahlias and I am so hooked on their complicated, and sometimes very simple, beauty.

             

There is the Tartan on the left, and the Richard’s on the right. Those are just two examples of some amazing Dahlias. I love the variety that is all things Dahlia. You get the tubers, which are labeled, but the surprise comes when they bloom. The labels quite often are wrong!

All of this is helping me work through the season. The dark side is winter; the light side is summer. But together it is our full year. Up here we have very short springs and falls. The longest sections are the most extreme. And funnily enough, it is a template for our lives, too. I have spent the longest portions of my life in extremes; extremes in weather, in faith, in life. And this portion is by far my favorite. I can breathe. I can relax. I can focus. Just visiting my old stomping grounds gives me stress! I realized, as soon as we pulled up to our new home (7 years ago) that I was home. It took me 56 years to find it. My prayer for you is you find your spot, too. Sometimes we compromise for the wrong reasons. My husband and I always wanted to leave California, but stayed for so many reasons. Once we chose to leave, it was so hard, but at the same time, the right decision. A long time coming, but for us, perfect. And when you realize you are where you belong, the pieces all fall into place. But don’t forget, you are who you are!!!

“Let evil be…”

This was posted to my Instagram feed by Draw Near Designs. If you have not discovered them yet, please check them out. They are a group of 3 moms doing amazing things! (I will give you the link here). But my post is all about what was said. I cannot get this out of my head. And I am so grateful that my new Prayer Companion (link here) has a section entitled, “Things I never want to forget.” And that is exactly where this quote is now written.

Sometimes, especially having a writer’s heart, we attach ourselves to a set of words and just cannot erase them. It is like what happened when my HS girlfriend mentioned “Sponge Bob Square Pants” yesterday – I was singing that stupid song for hours. And I let her know I was not happy about that, too! LOL! And even though this is completely on a different plane, this happened to me when I read St. Porphyrios’ quote and it has stayed with me all day and all night. Why?

“Let evil be.”

For me, that is why. It goes back to sayings like, “Why poke the bear?” Why are we consumed with all the evil in the world? Goodness knows it certainly is more prevalent and in your face than in times past. I am not saying the “sky is falling” but I am saying that we need to be aware that we are not chasing after the right things. “Look towards Christ and that will save you.” With all the insanity out there, we sometimes lose our focus because the icky stuff shoved into our faces grabs our attention away from what we need to focus on.

What will your year look like? What will be your focus? Personally, I am loving the #bloginstead idea. I am also rededicating myself to intense prayer – daily prayer. I am trying to focus on an “attitude of gratitude” this year, as well as one of humble petition. I am trying to not look at the evil around me, but instead to look towards Christ” as my first and only vision. As my filter on the rest of what goes on around me. Am I holier than the next person? Oh my word, not in the least. It is why I know I need a new focus. A new way of orienting my days, because our days add up to years. And those years add up quickly to our lifetime. Do I want my lifetime to reflect the evil around me? I think that if we ignore the evil and focus on the saintly, we take the power from evil. We put the power and emphasis on what is truly important:

“What makes a person saintly is love.”

So I cannot stop thinking about this and I think that is a good thing. I was asked what my phrase would be for this year, and I don’t think I want to parse this quote down to a single phrase, but rather memorize it, and never forget it. Because what is at stake is the salvation of my soul, and the souls God has entrusted to me. Everyone I come into contact with deserves my better outlook and my striving towards holiness. I am so happy to have found this quote. I am saving it in my Prayer Companion so I can look at it daily, and I ordered a 5×7 print from Draw Near Designs! Going to frame it and display it! Vision of the holy keeps me on track! Icons all over. Holy cards stuffed into everything. It works for me! And I am determined to make this start to 2020 the best, ever, for me.

“..grant that the Holy Angels may enter in with us…”

FAIR WARNING….I GOT RATHER WORDY. I HOPE YOU CAN WEATHER IT TO THE END! BLESSINGS!!!

 

As a writer/blogger, I often get ideas and they swirl around inside my head until I feel like I have given them the curtesy of a full review. And when I think I am done thinking and have reached an internal consensus, I usually start writing. And if I am honest, it is at the keyboard where these ideas fully germinate. As I stated in my bio here, I do not claim to be an excellent writer, or historian, or theologian. I am just a mom, a woman, musing on things in her life, and sharing them here. And sometimes these ideas take a long time to reach the keyboard phase because I am thinking thoughts that are not particularly popular. But, oh well, here goes:

My journey to my here and now has been rather circuitous. I have become a woman of faith while running from it, at the same time. I spent my childhood being taken to various Christian denominational Churches. Each time we would move denominations, we would be baptized again – our entire family. I have been baptized seven times, including my infant baptism. My parents married in the Church of England – in the “high Church” rite. I supposed it was because that is what we were – Church of England. When my parents immigrated, they chose the Episcopal Church, because it was the closest thing they recognized. I was baptized at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in 1956, in California. I believe my brother was baptized there as well. But strangely enough, I discovered through my paternal grandparents that the family was actually Methodist, although I never attended a Methodist Church during my parent’s Church journeys. My grandparents on my dad’s side were staunchly Methodist. My mom’s parents did not attend Church, to my knowledge, and neither did my mom. I do not recall my mom ever being baptized, but she probably was. (Not sure as what). My parents married in the Church of England because everyone thought the photographs would look amazing. I was so let down. Ha-Ha. Spent so many years of my youth being proudly British and Church of England – High Church no less. In my adult life, I spent years going from Church to Church, denomination to denomination. I even spent time I fondly refer to as my “let’s be Jewish” phase. I loved those courses and the Rabbi and I had some wonderful conversations. We would meet for coffee outside of my class time. He eventually told me he loved how learned I was in the OT, but he knew I would never convert! LOL. (My minor in college was Biblical Archeology). Eventually I officially associated myself with Geneva Presbyterians. Of all the rites in Christianity. But to be honest with you, it was the church structure and the materials used to build it that held me there. It literally smelled like an old-world castle, and had the same feel of them on the walls. The pastor was great and I became affiliated when I was asked to teach an adult women’s bible course on archeology and the Bible. How far I have roamed since my 20s.

I was referred, through my courses at Geneva Presbyterian, to other Presbyterian parishes in the Southern California area and had quite the full calendar, all while attending school and working full time. I happened to teach a course at a parish in Placentia, CA. As I was exiting, with a group of women my mom’s age, I noticed a group of young adults at the church next door, having an awful lot of fun. They were at the Catholic (gasp!) Church. I bravely walked over and introduced myself. They welcomed me and asked me to join them, as their evening was just beginning (ahhh…to hang out with my own age group!). And that began a leg of my journey that has ultimately led me east…always east. I did end up converting to Catholicism, much to the chagrin of my ostensibly Methodist family members, and that was in 1983. We married in 1984 and discovered we were not really your typical mainstream Catholics, at all. We were far more conservative and were not really appreciative of the folk music and lots of Eucharistic Ministers (most of whom were women), and we preferred male altar servers. It was a progressive thing because we were reading, going to conferences, and becoming knowledgable Catholics. We were not what you call the “incense” Catholics who only go on Christmas and Easter, or only for the major sacraments, who attend “regular” Christian churches in the meantime. We were devoted to our faith.

We came across Catholic homeschooling and that really changed our lives. The people we met, the priests we confessed to and learned from, would greatly alter our faith. For me, it became deeper, the more we dove into it. And it became an every day, all day, part of our lives. Daily morning mass with little children was no trouble because of the graces I was receiving, just being there.

We gravitated to the old ways of doing things. We reveled in incense and altar boys and the priest who had confession before every mass. The priest who stood before us, also facing the altar. The wearing of dresses and veils. The solemnity of holy Mass. We were drawn to monasteries and monastics. My favorite retreat, hands down, is a silent retreat. And as a person of many words, I can tell you that a silent retreat is the most healing thing I have ever done. The first one I went to, I went with a gabby friend. We both felt rejuvenated and refreshed and ready to climb back into the trenches (at the time, it was homeschooling our kids).

We finally landed in the east. One of the things about this journey of mine (of ours as a couple), is that I have tried to step back to see what it is that has drawn me, or driven me, eastward. One of the things that strikes me is this: when I was ostensibly Protestant, whichever denomination it was, I felt like Church services were an outreach of a lecture hall. We would come in, be seated, sing a couple of songs to get us feeling united and one, and then we would have a lecture or talk on a subject. Afterwards, we would pray perhaps, and depending on the denomination, we would share communion of some sort, and then leave again. The center of the entire service was the lecture. It was not Christ’s presence in His people, in His Word, or His Real Presence in the Eucharist. It was the man in the pulpit. (And at one nominally Catholic parish we attended for just a few months, the priest was too tired and so the nun/principal of the school always gave the homilies. Ugh. Not a fan.) What happened is this – we were drawn to a more communal worship where the priest led us towards God. Christ’s presence in His Word was honored equally with His Presence in the Eucharist through actions (incensing, standing, processing). And we were led by the priest into this mystical relationship with Christ. We were not lectured first and only. We prayed. We chanted. We bowed our heads and were incensed. We were led into battle in this crazy world. We had a man, who was truly manly, lead us. He did not look at us and have us mimic his movements. He prayed for us, and we prayed together. His ordination was honored and his hands are holy, because he brings us God. God! Not a symbol, but God Himself.

And that, my tired friends (if you read all the way through this) brings me to the news topic of yesterday, and partially today as well – the new book supposedly by Pope Benedict and Bishop Sarah (questions are being raised about who really wrote it) about the need for celibacy in the priesthood, and how it also speaks to the position of the priest in the community. With the book was brought up the subject of the priest facing the people or leading the people. It seems to me like it is all intertwined. In the east, there is no question about the many issues facing the Latin church, and it is so refreshing. However, as Rome is tending to lean more and more to the liberal left in all things, this bears noting.

ad orientum or ad populum are the terms used by the Latin Church to describe which way the priest faces – towards the traditionally placed tabernacle behind the altar, or towards the people (literally turning his back on God – which is one of many reasons most Catholic Churches moved the Tabernacle off to a side chapel or sometimes to its own building [a parish in the Chino/Ontario area of Southern California is one example of that]). And when the Church, mostly from erroneous interpretations of Vatican 2 documents, started to protestantize (a new word) our Catholicity, I think that began a great undoing. It is one of the reasons there is a Pope Francis, who allows the Pacha-mamma thing to get out of hand and allowed actual tree worshipping at St. Gregory Lateran in Rome. It is one of the reasons the youth, and many of us adults, fled the Church for eastern pastures. And it is one of the reasons that celibacy is not the answer to all things Catholic Church.

In the eastern-rite Churches, and the Orthodox world-wide, most priests are married. They bring such a different vibe to a parish. There is much more emphasis on children and families. Rectories are filled with the scent of home-cooked meals and children running around. It is a home, shared with a parish. The entire Divine Liturgy is completely different. The priest is leading us in prayer and towards the apex of Divine Liturgy, which is Communion. It is not the homily. It is not a band up on the altar leading people in folk songs, many of which should not be sung in Church. It is Divine Liturgy, where the mystical gates of heaven open, the angels descend and worship around the altar with us. It is mystical and divine and deeply human. Most eastern Churches, and most Orthodox, do not have pews. We stand around our priest. We watch as he reads the Gospel, looking at the book from which Our Lord comes to be amongst us. We are surrounded by scent and sound, vision and touch, of the Mystery of Christ. And as Communion comes to us, we drink and eat the Mystical Body of Christ among fellow believers. It is something I wish everyone could experience at least once.

A priest maintaining his state in life in a chaste manner means he honors who he is and where he is at this moment. I do not believe marriage gets in the way of a priest leading his people in prayer and the sacraments. He is one of the people, chosen by them, to lead them. My husband sought the approval of our parish, which is traditional, before he began his road to ordination as a deacon. The parish stood and applauded his request. Unanimously. The role of the ordained deacon in the east, and certainly in the Orthodox Churches, is far different than in the Latin Church. And the role of the deacon’s wife is also so very different. I was asked for my permission for my husband to be ordained. The Church recognizes that the couple will be serving together. My husband, more often than not, gave the homily. The deacon is responsible for educating the people in the faith. The priest is responsible for pastoring his flock, seeing to their problems and helping them develop in their faith. He brings them the sacraments, whereas a deacon only assists with them. Together, the married deacons and married priests provide a strong and solid foundation for a parish. And it is not taken lightly, but is a vocation for both husband and wife. Like I said earlier, it is a totally different vibe. And it is 1000s of years old.

Francis Chan, a famous evangelical pastor, recently preached on the real presence in the Eucharist. He came to this by studying the early Church Fathers. He also learned about the position of the priest and how the Protestants took the idea of the pulpit from the Catholic Church’s ambo (the ambo of St. Peter’s in Rome is above). He did not know that the focus of all worship was on Christ in the Eucharist and it was only in the last 500 years it changed. And the position the priest faced changed at relatively the same time. It is all intertwined. He lamented the change in focus from sacrament to sermon by the Protestant churches. He began the Cornerstone Church in his living room. But he left that church because he was fleeing “that celebrity thing.” In his sermon, he spoke about how the “Church is more divided now that ever before….and that once upon a time, no one, no one disputed the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” It was quite a moving sermon and you can easily google it.

The world is awakening. There are primal questions of our faith, for all Christian denominations. And those questions are being asked around the world. The fact of which way a priest faces, where the Tabernacle is located (or even if you need one), and whether or not priests can marry, are basic questions. They are questions the world is looking for answers to. I only wish I could help them face east. There are answers there, that have been there, since the Apostles established Churches around the world, just as Christ commissioned them to do. Perhaps that circuitous route I have traveled is a personal journey all of us need to travel, on our own.

Right now, the world is in a chaotic scramble for power and place. Christians usually end up with the scraps from the table. Now, more than ever, Christians need to be seated at that table. And those of us who have looked, journeyed, tried, and tested our faith, well, we have found Truth. We have found Home. And I have to say that I believe it is further east than many dare to look. And that can make so many people uncomfortable.

 

#bloginstead….

I haven’t been very good at daily posting. Sorry to everyone who gave up FB and actually reads my blog! I gave up Facebook last year and I honestly don’t miss it. Less drama. I do miss local things like Facebook Marketplace, but my DIL or son will put ads up for me, and keep me abreast of local things happening. Our community here is relatively small in comparison to most places, so staying in touch via others is pretty easy.

#bloginstead is a great idea. We can have meaningful dialogue about things that really matter. And some of the fun things, too, which are uniquely ours to share. I thought I would share some of our Sunday with you! We chose to attend 9am services. And I wore some “warm” jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, a vest, with a scarf and ear muffs, and my heavy socks with my favorite Swiss brushed wool clogs. (It is too cold for skirts/dresses!!). Silly me. I keep my car in a heated garage (trust me, in Alaska, it is pretty much necessary) and my husband shares the other half with my son, as they trade off keeping their trucks warm using block heaters. We don’t get sunrise until well after 10am, and so off we went, in the dark, to Church. We parked semi-close to the door. I had my heavy coat in the back seat. We get out of the car and the wind smacks us. It was 10-degrees (which is a heat wave compared to our recent bout of -27, etc -daily- over the past week) but with that wind chill, I actually yelped! LOL! Did I think to stop and grab my coat? I did not. Off we ran into Church. Afterwards, we dashed out into the cold and wind to the car (which we had remotely started) and hurried up to turn on the heated seats! We drove into the neighboring town of Palmer, where it was really, really windy. We literally ran down the street into our favorite Sunday eatery, and grabbed a booth by the window. As we sat down, the waitress was already there with hot coffee!! I was shivering, which is something I rarely do. I had, once again, left the big coat in the car. There is a saying that “there is no bad weather, just bad gear.” Truth! My warm, fur-lined jacket was in the car! Again! And to be honest, this is one of the first times I was this cold, in the 7 years we have lived here. This was our view of the local mountains from our booth. Yes, that is solid ice on the road!! LOL! And even though you cannot see blowing snow, the wind was howling.

Living in Alaska is not for everyone. At breakfast we chatted about how much our lives have changed since we relocated here. It is much more about weather – I have three weather apps on my phone and compare notes from each to choose outings and clothing! And some days, staying indoors around our fire is the best option! Today, with the very light snowfall we are having, along with our windy weather, we opted to hear the Word of God, get some wisdom from our priest and the deacon, and afterwards to have a yummy breakfast, just the two of us. With it being “just the two of us” most of the time, this almost-empty-nest thing is not so bad. Much faster seating when you go to eat!

The winds continued to buffet us on our drive home to Wasilla. When we got home, my husband’s dog, Kolbe, was thrilled to see him and is glued to his side as he works on the heating mechanism in his Ford F-150 (in the heated garage). Poor man about froze when his heater went out in the truck!!! His sole companion is that 70-lb, 10 month old puppy on the front seat, watching his every move as he tries to repair that heating mechanism. After all our years of marriage, our many hunting dogs, and even our mini Schnauzers, we just never thought “THE DOG” in his life would be a Standard Poodle! Our sons still crack up about it. But honestly he is the best dog, and he does not shed a hair! And he does not smell like a dog, either. Love, love, love this breed!!

Blessed Sunday, #bloginstead-ers! Stay warm, stay close to family and friends, and get your prayer on for this next week. I am so excited to be using my prayer companion from http://www.Orthodoxmom.com! You should check it out! Blessings as we wean off social media! I vote we keep this going. I think it is good for my soul and it’s wonderful meeting and getting to know all of you, as well! Blessings…

 

“…everything I have commanded you…”

I have been struggling with perspective; point of view. There are just so many things that change when perspective is changed.

When you marry and have children, you know those kids. You know each child far differently than even your spouse does, your parents as grandparents, and all the other people who meet and get to know your child. When we were foster parents, a social worker once asked us how we would raise our sons, and how they would be thought of, by passersby on the street? When new people met our kids, what would their opinions be? They would not know the fun, adorable child we know. They would form their own opinions, based on our children’s personalities. It would also be based on their perspective.

There have been so many issues in the world lately. Decisions are made that some people cannot comprehend. Because they don’t have the full perspective. They don’t have the overview. For example, when Christ told the Apostles to …”therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20) the Apostles did as He instructed. But they had no idea what the end results would be, nor His reasoning. Because they did not have the same perspective Christ, the Son of God, had.

When we see things happening around us, we judge based on our personal perspective. Our perspective is colored by who we are. And who we are is how we’ve grown up to be. Those kids I mentioned above are now adults. How are they known? What sort of adults are they? Who judges who they are? We all do.

There is so much heartache, anger, and division in our world. In the Churches, there is division. Friends are pitted against one another over politics and religion, over unions and non-unions, over folk music in Church versus Holy Chant. Homeschooling versus public or private schooling. On and on the divide goes. In our house, it is usually over football teams! Or perhaps mushrooms used in a dish (the youngest hates them). We can find division, based on personal preferences and perspective everywhere. But what about unity? Where are we united? Where are we standing together?

I have chosen to back off from much I was involved with. I am focusing on prayer, and uplifting the people in my life. I walked away from politics because it was so hurtful, but I am supporting the few honest politicians I know. I have left groups I was involved with because they did not profit my soul, or my faith. As I enter into the ending of my life (okay, so I am one 63, but there are fewer years ahead than there are behind me) I want to be sure I have my priorities in line with God. With His will for me. Not the world’s. I stand, toe-to-toe with my fellow believers of God. I stand with my family and friends, through thick and thin. I pray-pray-pray, because as a spiritual warrior, it is the best I can offer, from my perspective.

 

“The road to Emmaus…”

It’s winter. We have snow and it is very cold. This morning, it was -17 on our back deck. It’s been Christmas and then it was New Year’s. Today is Theophany in the Eastern Churches and Epiphany in the Western Churches. Tomorrow it will be one year since my mother-in-law passed away. It has flavored the entire season. When someone who is integral to the lives around them passes away, it leaves a void and it changes things.

As some of you know, I study the Psalms at least twice a year. (Lent and Advent). I’ve been using a wonderful book by Sylvia Leontaritis called, “Songs of Praise.” (Please go to her website, which I will link here). She has now devised a new prayer companion called, “Come and Abide in Me.” I have been waiting for something like this and am so very excited. Sylvia is one of those people who incite you to think differently. She makes you not only look outside the box, but to walk around it, too. In this lovely book, she is encouraging me, urging me, and she is helping my walk with God. Wow. (Please go to her website and check it out. Not only that, on Instagram, too. She even walks you through how to use this Prayer Companion).

In one of the sections, Sylvia suggests having set things to pray for on set days of the week. To be completely honest with you, the idea never crossed my mind. I am not one of those “meatloaf-every-Monday” type of people. And it caused me to pause. What are the things I need to focus on, at least once every week this year? It would be 52 times to beseech God! Wow! Now, as I was thinking of the Anniversary of the Death of my Mother-in-Law (memory eternal, Mary) I kept thinking of her son, my husband. He loves so deeply. He is an amazing worker, friend, father, brother, husband. He is my best friend. He is my blessing in this life. Because of his love for me, we have 3 amazing sons, two daughters-in-law, and as of today, six beautiful grandchildren. He also has a brother, sister, and so many nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It is a huge, wonderful, crazy family.

And so I began to think of my prayer life. What is important? Who needs my prayers at least once a week? What areas do I need to focus on more deeply this year? And even though there are seven days each week, I have far more than just six areas I need to focus on (Sunday is always a day of thanksgiving). Luckily Sylvia is pretty wise. She includes sections for requests from people who have asked you to pray for them. A section on prayers that you love. Lists of saints and what prayers/causes are associated with them. Her prayer companion is just that, a companion.

As we walk our own “Road to Emmaus,” who will be our Companion, and will we recognize Him? Will we hear Him? My challenge, to myself, this next year, is to be more present, more here, and to listen for the Word of God. To know when He speaks to me. To subsume my will to His will. I am going to pray on a myriad of things this year, but I am now better able to focus, thanks to some “Abide in Me” instructions/suggestions. We cannot do this alone; we need some sort of guide or plan. We cannot instruct ourselves in the faith, but need that bulwark of the deposit of our faith. Our Church Fathers, our Saints, the Scriptures. The wisdom, knowledge, prayers we have available to us from the Word of God and His Apostles. In addition, we have our hearts to listen to. We have so much to be thankful for. In this Prayer Companion, there is a section for gratitude, too. We need to re-arrange our thoughts, our lives, our prayers to thankfulness and then intercession, and finally, petition.

For me, I have this lovely man I married to share my journey. We made the choice to get married 35 years ago, and feel more blessed every year. I have friends in desperate need of prayerful intercession and a deeper friendship. An extra push towards the divine; an extra little bit of friendship. Family members are in need of intercession. There are world-wide and national concerns. There are local concerns. Our Lord encompasses all of them; He listens to all these requests, petitions, and words of gratitude. And here in my little corner of the world, I am petitioning God daily and pretty much on a schedule! Go me! LOL! Maybe it’s a New Year’s Resolution in disguise! Off we go…

“O Christ our God, who at all times and in every hour in heaven and on earth, art worshipped and glorified; who art long- suffering, merciful and compassionate; who loves the just and showest mercy upon the sinners; who callest all to salvation through the promise of blessings to come; O Lord in this hour, receive our supplications, and direct our lives according to Thy commandments. Sanctify our souls, hallow our bodies, correct our thoughts, cleanse our minds; deliver us from all tribulation, evil and distress. Encompass us with Thy holy Angels, that guided and guarded by them, we may attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of Thine unapproachable glory, for Thou art blessed Unto ages of ages. Amen.”

 

“Rejoice always in the Lord…”

Gaudete Sunday is today!! What is that? It is the 3rd Sunday in Advent on the western calendar. Gaudete comes from the first word of the entrance antiphon for that day, from Philippians 4: 4,5 and it says, “Rejoice always in the Lord,” or in Latin, “Gaudete in Domino semper.”

It is the Sunday before the Birth of Christ where we think joyously of the Lord coming into this dark, cold, world. “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.” Ps 65:1 and “…let them be jubilant with joy!” Ps 67:30. These were the Psalms I read this week. And somehow, I just cannot get the concept of “joy” out of my mind. There is hustle and bustle. There are plans. There is baking (don’t judge me – haven’t baked at all, yet). Decorations to set up. Trees to assemble. Gifts to buy and, for some, to ship across the country. There are Winter Concerts to attend. There are opportunities to interact with our friends and family more often. There are so many Christmas movies on Netflix and Hallmark to watch. And there are more services at Church to attend, to help us prepare. So much going on that we normally are not doing.

We set up our manger scene at the base of our tree, in the front. Our Wise Men are perched nearby on a window sill. They are present, but not in the main scene quite yet. Their time will come soon. Usually I play a game with my kids and hide the baby Jesus all over the house. I tell them that every day we are supposed to be seeking the Christ Child in our lives. So go out and look! I am pretty creative at hiding him. This year, my baby is 21 years old. He’s sort of outgrown it, so the baby Jesus is laying there, all ready for our celebration of His birth, under our tree. We also have a puppy this year and we keep a weathered eye on him, making sure he is not eating the tree or anything on it, or under it.

But this essence of Joy seems fleeting and in short supply this year. And then it hit me. We are looking for happiness, not joy: Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness.” That is according to “define.com” And that is a practical comparison. I have another one. “It is not from external circumstances but internal attitudes sorrows and joys are born.” St. John Chrysostom. And from a friend’s Spiritual Father: “Acquire joy, not happiness. Happiness is temporary, whereas joy is eternal and can only be found in Christ.”

We have Santa Claus, which is translated from St. Nicholas, who was a Bishop in modern-day Turkey. The one we see today is a caricature of the real St. Nick, the real man, who lived and defended the faith. He was a generous man and he gave freely to others. We have sort of transformed him into lots of things he was not. But we have always felt that the intercession of St. Nicholas (who is the patron of Families) has saved our Christmases in years when we did not think we would be able to have one, and who has interceded for our family for the past 35 years. We were married on the feast of the Holy Family and for our first anniversary, we baptized our first son. The priest took the baby Jesus out, and laid our baby in the manger scene on the altar. It was pretty amazing. And it meant so much to my husband and myself. St. Nicholas has been a part of our family since its inception and we keep an icon of him up all year, as well as an artistic rendering on a nightstand. Santa Claus can obscure the season and the chaos can drown out the reason for it all. That joy can be hard to uncover. But Santa is also one of the ways we keep our historical traditions alive, and I love collecting Santa figurines from around the world. He is the example of the joy in giving we need to find this Christmas.

However you celebrate the season, know that this year is unique. You cannot repeat the memories of your childhood, nor can you recreate days from when your kids were little. We have today. We have this Christmas. The joy of this season, and of our faith; it is an eternal joy. Don’t block that joy, looking for happy moments. Make this the Christmas you recall with joy and love; let that memory make you happy years down the road. Make this Christmas be the most joyous Christmas you have ever had. Make those around you know how much you love them. Let the Lord see you be jubilant with joy” and hear that joyful noise to God.” And feel free to feel joyful today, Gaudete Sunday!

“Rejoice always in the Lord!!”