I am trying to keep myself centered this Lent on working on myself and hopefully, improving myself. Not everyone understands taking such a long and serious look internally, to see what you can do to become a better person. Many denominations are now, however, starting to look to Lent as a time to re-focus ourselves on God and His plan for our lives.
The world around us is becoming more and more enticing – there are all sorts of temptations to lead us away from being responsible Christians. And I feel like our Country has embraced so much of what, in earlier generations, we would call “pagan virtues.” For example, we now prize people for being famous – they have nothing remarkable about them, except they are good at getting photographed. A certain celebrity made a name for herself for a pornographic video she made quite a number of years ago, and now she has parlayed that into a line of clothing stores and being paid to show up at events. She and her family also have several “reality shows” and she is now pregnant by a singer, while still married (albeit very shortly) to another man. And the public “eats this stuff up.” There seems to be no shame or remorse for her prior behavior or being pregnant outside of marriage, and there is now a “bump” watch, with paparazzi trying to get that pregnant belly photo first! Our values are really being challenged and we, as a culture, seem to be failing miserably.
This Lent has been particularly poignant for us, as I have been reading and sharing with my husband Elder Thaddeus’ book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.” With his many admonishments about controlling what our mind is saying to us, and what we allow ourselves to ponder, it seems that TV is certainly a medium to be avoided, or at the very least, closely monitored. Vision is such a strong thing – once an image is in your mind, it is very difficult to erase it. We have always cautioned our sons to have “chastity of the eyes” and also “chastity of the ears,” because words are almost as powerful as visual stimulation. There are song lyrics prevalent today that do no one any justice and only degrade both performer and listener. And so we must also guard against what our ears hear, as well as what our children listen to.
I know that from all around us, we are being bombarded and pulled both towards God, and away from Him. I do believe, however, that this is the occasion when those of us who see this or are made aware of it, are called to a stronger faith; a stronger prayer life; a stronger determination to not be sucked in by the devil’s snares. If we truly believe all that Christianity teaches, then we must be aware that the opposition to God’s word (in the flesh, Jesus Christ) are the fallen angels and their minions – Satan and all his evil works. Satan, or other evil entities, have no power over us, if we do not allow it. Our free will is given to us by a loving Father, but He allows us to make our own choices. In our current era, we have fallen into much the same state as Sodom and Gomorrah…and if you feel I am being an over-zealous kook, please, challenge me. I would ask that you re-read Scripture (Genesis 18-19) and see why God sent his angels there, and what evils the people were guilty of, and then we can chat
Our Christian history tells us story after story of the early Christian communities and how they struggled against the culture of Rome. They were known to be different from those around them, and it often frightened people (people who are different often are the subject of ridicule and/or prejudice, as we have seen in our own lifetimes, and fear often causes people to be cruel to those who frighten them). Have you ever known someone to avoid looking at you (like your children) because they know they have done something wrong? Their own actions are conviction enough – no further proof is required. The Romans had much fear of the early Church because they were being shown the sinfulness of their ways and it scared them; they could not tolerate their own guilt and they therefore persecuted the Christian communities. The early Christians were known by how they treated one another, and others around them. (“See how they love one another”; these are the words Tertullian noted (Apology [39.7]) in the Third Century, as spoken by some of the non-Christians of the time regarding Christian communities”). Today, there is very little difference in how Christians and their actions are viewed, from people who profess no faith life at all. For example, if you research the voting records in this last election – especially on pro-life or pro-family issues and candidates, professed Christians voted right along with professed non-religious voters. The electoral process we just experienced is an example where Christians did not stand up for what they profess to believe, in the public arena. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Sundays are days everyone “worships” nature. If the weather is particularly pleasant, the pews will be empty. The other reason is football season! If there is a good game on during scheduled Church worship services, the pews will also be empty. We knew of one priest who had vestments made in his team’s colors and wore them on game day – how is that differentiating our faith from the rest of the world? Very few pastors are standing up to help us keep our Christian beliefs in the forefront of our lives and are not leading their sheepfolds toward God – the world (aka evil and all its wiles) is, instead, winning.
I often have this weird feeling that I have to act upon and I have described it to others as: “I want to fill the moat and and pull up the drawbridge, with my family safely ensconced in our castle.” The world occasionally gets to be too much and I want to hide away, in a safe place. I feel it so strongly now. Although two of my sons are married with families of their own, my feelings extend out to them…to all of them; most especially my vulnerable grandchildren. I have gone through periods of this over my married lifetime, and thankfully my husband has felt the same way. We felt the world was corrupting us all and we wanted to protect not just our own souls, but the souls of our family. This has been exhibited over the years in disconnecting the TV; having no electronic connections to the world, just being quiet and close to each other for a time (In those earlier days, emails were so new, they were not an issue; the internet was just barely there; and there certainly was no “social media” like there is now). We once lived on a dairy farm, off a long dirt road between a horse ranch and farming land, that had no TV and no cable! It was the sole house in about 150 acres or so, and we were very inconvenient to get to. But the amazing thing about that time in our lives is that we lived simply (growing and raising much of our own food – I baked two loaves of bread each morning and canned our fruits and vegetables) and we were disconnected from the TV and media world, and kept our children’s lives simple as well – and every one of us (most especially our grown sons) looks back at that time as being the best in our lives. The other ironic thing is that we had the most visitors just “drop by” than we have ever had (before or since). Even though it was a trek to get to us, more people made the effort to do so. When we would ask about that our guests all told us it was because they found quiet, peace, love, and “simplicity of life” in our home. And lots of laughter and good, simple, food. And I am being drawn into that again.
I have hope for simpler and quieter, a life learning to be closer to God. Elder Thaddeus has said “We read the newspapers or take a walk in the streets, and afterward we suddenly feel that something is not quite right in our souls; we feel an emptiness; we feel sadness. That is because by reading all sorts of things, our mind becomes distracted and the atmosphere of hades has free access to our minds.” I believe Elder Thaddeus would also apply this to all the media we ingest on a daily basis. The simplicity of faith requires little media input – “My grace is sufficient for thee!” (2 Cor 12:9)
“The Lord permits many disappointments, sorrows, and misfortunes to befall us in this earthly life in order that we might stop placing our trust in the world, which harms us so much, and that we might realize that He alone is the Source of all comfort, peace, and stillness.” (Elder Thaddeus)
We all need prayer warriors; those who can set themselves apart and just pray for others – what a sacrifice they make for us! I know many in the monastic life who pray daily for our world and I am so thankful, knowing they are there for all of us. I have no illusions of becoming a cloister as a family; I know my limitations in that regard. I wish only to place barriers between me and my family, and the evil out there that wishes to do us harm. “It is only by Christ’s name that I live and find peace, that I rejoice and my heart expands…” (St. John of Kronstadt)
So expect during this Lent, if and when you read this blog, for it to further affect my interior life, and my outward expression of that life. I know that I am lifted in thoughts to a world less inhabited by all the noisiness that seems to follow us. (Thanks in part to Elder Thaddeus’ instructions on keeping our minds focused on God). And I am inclined to cut myself off from much of the “chatter” of it all and live more quietly and simply. Our move to a rather isolated state will definitely aid me in that, to be sure, but it must also involve a conscious effort to separate myself from those things that do my soul harm, or cause me to falter on my already-wayward journey towards Sanctification with God in Heaven. Pray for me, as I will be in prayer for you.