It’s finally raining here in the Pacific Northwest. Now I know that those of you who think you are familiar with the area may giggle at that, but rain is an integral part of our lifestyle and the land we live on. The forests and trees depend on the rain; the livestock and vegetables we raise and grow depend on the wet weather to flourish. Our wineries need the water, too! (Believe it or not, we are becoming known for more than Starbucks here! There are amazing wines from Washington!!) We moved here from Southern California and I thought the rain would be like what I experienced down there; it rarely is. It is more of an annoyance, really. We wear things with hoods, just in case it rains. Very few of us use umbrellas because they are a pain to take around with you and you just never know when you will need one! I was caught once too many times without one, to keep on using them. I have various hooded outer-wear garments now and it is much simpler. It is amazing how we adapt to our environment, isn’t it? (And we like to keep the secret that rain is really not an issue here; it’s just an issue to visitors!) When we lived on dairy farms in the Chino basin of Southern California, the flies were never a problem. They were just another aspect of farm life and we dealt with them, with varying degrees of success, and much failure. We just lived with them; we cleaned up the dead ones and tried to prevent the live ones from coming in the house! When housing tracts were developed around the dairies, people living there complained about the flies. The dairyman’s response was, “We never had a fly problem until people moved here.” We all sort of chuckled at that one. When we moved from city life to living on a dairy farm, I was warned my allergies would go wild and that I would hate the isolation and the smell. The funny thing about all of that is that my allergies totally cleared up and I rarely left the dairy – I loved the isolation. I adapted to my environment very well.
As I listen to the rain pelting the roof and bouncing off our sky lights, I was thinking about how we seem to adapt well to wherever it is we live. And it happens relatively quickly. It drew me deeper into thought about our environment and how we adapt to it. What type of environment am I exposing my children to? What am I exposing myself to? What do I look at, listen to, or read? The old saying, “You are what you eat” came to mind, especially in light of Lent and fasting. It is Friday, and for most Catholics, a day of fasting and fish sticks. For us Byzantines (and now our Orthodox friends have begun the Great Fast as well) we fast from all flesh. Anything that is “self-motivating” or can move on its own, is not eaten. Melkites in particular also fast from olive oil and wines. In addition to Fridays, though, we Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox fast each and every day of Lent. I can tell you it makes the Easter feast truly a feast! But I digress…in a way. We all adapt to what is around us – even industry. McDonald’s brought out their “fish nuggets” for Lent – “Only around for a short time!” We try to fast as strictly as we can, but we occasionally stumble and eat a regular meal. Circumstances and schedules with our jobs and our children often cause us to drive through somewhere and grab food, on the way to somewhere else – we’re adapting (or compromising) the Great Fast for our schedules. We ask forgiveness as we speed off into the night.
We often adapt our life to our “worldly” existence, rather than adapt our lives in the world to reflect our lives of faith. This is sometimes the only route we have, in that we must provide for our families and enter into the workforce. Quite often it is impossible for us to behave in a religious manner in places of business, most especially in America, where religion is definitely not something we share in the “marketplace.” My husband is an ordained Melkite deacon, but he does not wear the clothing that definitely identifies him as such to his place of employment. Latin Rite deacons wear perhaps a collar; Eastern rite deacons are often mistaken for Priests, as they dress almost identically to them. We have adapted our faith practices to our places of employment, and in the “world” or society in which we live.
There is a prayer that is recited during Lent, at the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies we enjoy during the week. It is attributed to St. Ephrem the Syrian:
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
I love this moment and this prayer, because it reminds me of who I am, what I have done, and what I have an opportunity to do. We need small reminders that we ought to take with us, into whatever environment we find ourselves. I believe people should inherently know we are people of God by how we treat other people. Co-workers, the clerk at the local Safeway, the hairdresser or even the postman, should know we are Christians because our faith determines how we treat others and how we are perceived by the culture around us.
When I was working in a particularly chatty office environment a number of years ago, a young woman started to tell an off-color joke in my presence and then abruptly stopped. I asked her why she stopped and she told me it was because I was a “god” person and she didn’t think I would like her to tell that joke in my presence. I asked her why she would say that, as I had never once shared my faith with her. She told me it was because I was so nice all the time and that she noticed I always wore a cross and that I never used bad words or treated people in a negative way. Then she made me laugh, “Well, it’s also because you’re like our mom and I wouldn’t talk like that around my mom.” It engendered a wonderful conversation about how we should speak to others, I can assure you! But it made me smile, because I must have been doing something right! Elder Thaddeus says that if we have peace and love within our hearts and we are constantly contemplating the Face of God in our minds and our hearts, we don’t have to speak to people about our faith. Those feelings will permeate the air around us and people will just know it about us, and they will gravitate towards us. I think I lost some of that along the way and I desperately want that back. I do not want to adapt to the un-Godly, paganistic culture around me. I want to be known as a woman of God by everyone who meets me. I most especially want to be a woman of God to my children and grandchildren. And so I take this opportunity of Lent to re-examine where I may have lost this sense of godliness and I am struggling to soften my heart and let myself become, once again, a total daughter of Our Lord, Our Parent, Our Father.
Now is the time the Church has set aside for me to become vigilant “about all things” and for me to re-focus myself. I am taking this time to re-evaluate how I have adapted to the culture around me, and how it has crept into the way I live my faith, and the decisions I make about the choices I am offered. Do I allow my schedule to determine my fasting, or do I adapt my schedule to encompass the Great Fast? Do I stop the media input from glaringly invading the peace of our home, or do I just ignore it as background noise? What can I do to make my life more God-centered and less centered on this world? I have started by lessening my attention to news and the TV. Elder Thaddeus was quoted in a previous post about how when we listen to the world, we find ourselves off-kilter and askew and are not sure why it is so; but when we examine the input, we realize it is the world, crowding out God. I am determined to be the person my grandchildren run to, for comfort and cookies and a story or two about the saints and God. I want them to know I pray for them and that I love them, just as I want their parents to know that. It is hard work, but the benefits are eternal.