Is it really this simple?

Our Thoughts

I have been reading Elder Thaddeus’ book and it has been the catalyst for some wonderful conversations with my husband, and I find that it is stimulating our faith in so many ways.  We are going through an interesting time in our lives, pondering our next physical move and even preparing for it, that for our faith to be challenged and grown at this time, well, it is truly the work of God in our lives.  For most of my friends and myself, being able to sit quietly at home with our husbands and have really good conversations is a rarity.  They are rare because of the confines of time, the work schedule, the schedules of our children, and just being tired! Let’s face it; our lives are hectic and this world is noisy and we get overwhelmed by all of it.

Elder Thaddeus is challenging us with these ideas.  He has suggested that we need to keep our minds tuned into God at all times.  My husband read this same book a couple of years ago, but had forgotten some of it and with my reading of it and speaking of it, it is recharging his batteries.  He told me that he has tried, at work, to honor some of the precepts of Elder Thaddeus and he is seeing it working, in just a day or two of changing his thoughts.

Any kind of work is God’s work.  Every task should be performed from the heart, for it is not for people that we are laboring, but for God.  God is present everywhere.  The whole planet belongs to Him; the entire universe is His.  No matter who your boss is, whether he is a good man who manages his company well or not, we must do our work for God.  For when we work for God, our hearts and minds are open, but when we do not, we say things like, ‘I won’t work for him; he’s a lazy good-for-nothing who sits all day, yet he gets paid more than me.’ This is a sign that we are not performing our task from the heart.”  “Any work we do here on earth is God’s work…..We should not think too much about who our superiors are, or who our employer is.  What we should bear in mind is that every type of work on earth and in all the universe is God’s work, and as such it should be performed from the heart, without reservation.  When we do so, we can free ourselves from our interior resistance.  Every action of ours will help our neighbor, beginning with our family, wherever they may be.  So, we must always be sincere.  Then we radiate peace, quiet, and love, and we are loved in return.  With our thoughts we either attract or repel enemies, friends, family, and neighbors.” (Elder Thaddeus).

These points have changed how my husband approaches his day and it is making his days so much more enjoyable; and it is affecting the people around him in obvious ways.  A co-worker remarked, when they were facing a production and parts issue in the plant, that my husband was smiling.  My husband’s response was to the effect that he could not do anything to change the situation and so he shrugged his shoulders and just smiled.  The co-worker looked a little amazed and replied, “You look so much better when you smile,” chuckled to himself and walked away.  This could have been a very stressful moment and there could have been yelling and blame-throwing and all sorts of chaos.  But my husband chose instead to breathe deeply, think of Elder Thaddeus’ comments about working, say a short prayer, and just smile.  His positivity affected everyone around him and turned something awful into something they could all handle and take care of.  What a blessing!

And so to my opening statement, “Is it really this simple?”  Is opening our hearts to God with each heartbeat really a game-changer?  “A man who has within him the Kingdom of Heaven radiates holy thoughts.  Divine thoughts. The Kingdom of God creates within us an atmosphere of Heaven, as opposed to the atmosphere of hell that is radiated by a person when hades abides in his heart.  The role of Christians in the world is to filter the atmosphere on earth and expand the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God.  We can keep guard over the whole world by keeping guard over the atmosphere of heaven within us, for it we lose the Kingdom of Heaven, we will save neither ourselves or others.  He who has the Kingdom of God in himself will imperceptibly pass it on to others.  People will be attracted by the peace and warmth in us; they will want to be near us, and the atmosphere of heaven will gradually pass on to them.  It is not even necessary to speak to people about this.  The atmosphere of heaven will radiate from us even when we keep silence or talk about ordinary things.  It will radiate from us even though we may not be aware of it.” (Elder Thaddeus)

This philosophy from Elder Thaddeus is so freeing.  I have consciously applied it over the past several days, and I can honestly tell you it has affected even my sleeping patterns, and most definitely, the atmosphere in my home; I am genuinely happier.  Whenever a thought threatens to enter my mind that is leading me to unquiet, unrest, or stress, I simply banish it.  I mentally tell myself, “No; Elder Thaddeus warned of this.  Do not think that.” I breathe deeply and recite the “Prayer of the Heart,” or the “Jesus Prayer,” and calm and peace are instantaneously restored to my mind and my heart. (“Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”). I am not saying this is the long sought-after panacea mankind has longed for in regards to peace and harmony, but can you imagine our world if more people practiced this?  “We have very little faith in the Lord, very little trust.  If we trusted the Lord as we trust a friend when we ask him to do something for us, neither we as individuals nor our whole country would suffer so much.  The chaos in our minds and in our whole country comes from our thoughts.  We are the ones creating disharmony of thoughts, and if our politicians were of one thought and one mind, things would not be like this.  We are not aware the we have Divine energy in us.  Divine Life.  The uniting of each individual with others – since we all possess the energy – creates a great power and the enemy flees from it, because here is harmony.”  (Elder Thaddeus) And so I am beginning to see that it truly does all begin with me. My thoughts determine the world around me (my family, friends, people I meet day-to-day), and its rippling out in waves affects the entire cosmos.  It is freeing, because of its simplicity, but also is a lot of responsibility.  Because of how I react, how I think, how I plan in my mind, I have the ability to lead others towards that Divine Life (Holy Spirit) that resides in me, or I can turn them away.  “The Lord is present everywhere.  He lives in our hearts.  That is why He said that we must love with all our hearts and do everything willingly (cf Matt. 23:37).  When we seek the Lord from the heart, He is here!” (Elder Thaddeus)

The Orthodox view of thoughts and the indwelling of the Divine Life, is based on the concept of our being made in the “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26) and our God is a Triune God.  Man’s triune character as stated in OrthoWiki, “men have reason, nous and sensory perception. The nous as the eye of the soul, which some Fathers also call the heart, is the center of man and is where true (spiritual) knowledge is validated. This is seen as true knowledge which is ‘implanted in the nous as always co-existing with it.'”

Because of this thinking and interpretation, eastern and western thought tends to diverge a little bit and has caused some divisions.  However, that being said, and acknowledged, I believe that God’s indwelling is what makes us able to control our thoughts (once we accept this idea and use it) and project the Kingdom of Heaven outward to others.   We all know of people who just seem to “steamroll” their way through our lives and who suck all the energy, all the life, out of us. I have a friend who, quite literally, just drains me of energy. I can take her in small doses, but I do not have the spiritual or emotional stamina to keep company with her for more than a day or two at a time. Because of that, our interactions have become more rare, as our lives have evolved and I realized her impact on me and my family.  There are also people who breeze through our lives, and who we desperately want more time with.  They radiate joy and peace, and quite often just sitting in their presence is enough; they help fill you up.  I have so many divergent people I love, people who have so many differing philosophies, whose presence I want to share, because having them around makes me a better person; they just plain, old make me happy – I smile more when I am around them.  I want to radiate the Kingdom of God; I want people to wish to be in my company because the emotion and depth of my love for God just roll off me, with no effort required.

hands

I had a great-grandmother that many thought was a “tough cookie.”  After learning about her early life and her journey to America later in her life, I came to respect her even more, when I became an adult.  When I was a young child, I gravitated more towards her husband, my great-grandfather. I have photos of me as a little girl, joyfully sitting on his lap. He has the greatest smile and the most wonderful eyes, that crinkled at the edges. I wish I could have known him as a young man; I am sure he was a blast to be around. I used to follow him through his garden, joyously popping cherry tomatoes right off the vine, into my mouth. As a child, for me, it was total joy to be in his company. I think of them both often, as I have their mantle clock in my home (it has Westminster Chimes that tick away our days and our nights – and my husband is not as fond of it as I am), and a table they used to have in their entryway also graces our entryway.  My great-grandmother gradually became one of my favorite relatives of all time…she used to speak to me, as she gradually became more and more infirm, and she drew me into her youth through her stories.  She would laugh and smile, and she looked young again, even though she was in her 90s.  She had dementia and one of the last moments in her life, she had me sit on her bed and she told me stories from her early adulthood in England as a nanny.  I asked her, mid-story, if she realized it was me she was speaking with.  She patted my hand (and I will never forget the differences in our hands; my hands on my grandson’s look eerily familiar!) and said, “Oh, yes, I know it is you, but I wanted to share this with you before I go.”  I have never forgotten her words, or her smile, as she spoke to me.  She died just hours later;  I was in junior high school at the time.

My great-grandparents had no experience or exposure to these philosophies or theories of the metaphysical and psychological properties of the soul; they just radiated joy and peace around me, their great-grand-daughter.  And it has stayed with me my entire life.  I want that for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (God willing I last that long).  I want others to feel the joy and happiness within me, and know that the love of God in my soul touches them.  And Elder Thaddeus has shown me such a simple way to keep the love of God and the Kingdom of Heaven in my mind, and my heart, all the day long – each and every day.  The peace and quiet of interior joy and love of God is something we can all strive for.  We can consciously choose to be happy people.  We can consciously choose to love each other with this love of God, the Divine Life, that lives in our souls.  I really do think it is that simple, and perhaps that is why it is so elusive in our modern, noisy, busy, world.

melkting holy candle

“…it is easy to sin against our neighbor.”

City skyline and Qwest Field at night. Seattle, Washington

I take my son to his CAP (Civil Air Patrol) meetings once a week. It is quite a drive and for a 6:30pm meeting, we leave somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00pm, often driving through fast food something-or-other on our way.  We leave so early because there is always significant traffic and if you add weather into the mix, it can often take 2 hours to go about 30 miles.  It gives me time to think, because my son is inevitably watching a movie on the car’s DVD player!!!

At CAP, there are a great group of people who support it and the leadership is incredible.  They are very welcoming and I often find myself sitting with the officers, chatting through most of the meetings.  Last night, however, I chose to sit in my car for the 3-hour meeting, reading my Lenten book by Elder Thaddeus, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.”  The first portion of the book is biographical, and explains how he came to be a monk, Abbot, confidant, Spiritual Father, and guide.  He lived his life in Serbia, born in 1914, and suffered through imprisonment during WWII, the communist take-over of Serbia, the NATO bombings in 1999, and at last, falling asleep in the Lord in April of 2003. I was taken aback by his continued positive outlook on life, his continual battle with his own spirituality, his longing for peace, and his desire to help everyone, in spite of all his misgivings and personal desires.

As I delved further into the book, it transformed into a treatise on his thoughts and teachings on several subjects.  They are profoundly thought-provoking and struck me very deeply.  And it led me to re-think the post I wrote yesterday.  I received some wonderful comments and some exciting ping-backs, and many views.  However, in relating to those who are my friends and family, and who worship completely differently from me, I feel that I was rather harsh in my description of other services and settings (as in big-box church, etc.).  The adjectives I chose were ones I had read, some of which appeared in the article by an Evangelical, who was upset with his own legacy and the fact that so many are leaving the Churches.  But to be fair, Catholics are loosing many children, too.  It seems like we support our youth through High School and then there is a huge gap until they return for the sacraments like marriage, holy orders, or baptism for their own children.  I have often heard priests say to parents, whose children have left the Church, “Oh, don’t worry; they have a strong basis of faith; they’ll be back when they want their children baptized.”  As a parent, that is not very comforting. And as I have personally experienced this, not exactly a mark in the positive column for the Church.

And even though I seemed harsh, even to myself, I do want to seek forgiveness from anyone I offended with what I said.  Words, written and without one-on-one communication, can have devastating effects on people. And once printed and published, cannot be taken back.  So if I have offended or hurt anyone, please know it was never my intention to do so.  This blog is almost like a travel journal; a very personal one.  I have gone back through all my posts and deleted 11 or so of them, because after I re-read them, I realized I was angry and lashing out at people, or railing away at the “system.”  And none of that is life-giving or productive.  Elder Thaddeus said, “One should preach not from one’s rational mind but rather from the heart.  Only that which is from the heart can touch another heart. One must never attack or oppose anyone.  If he who preaches must tell people to keep away from a certain kind of evil, he must do so meekly and humbly, with fear of God.”  And he goes on to say, “Pride, too, has its levels, just like humility.  Outward pride is easier to cure, but pride of the mind is almost impossible to eradicate.  No one can prove to such a person that he is on the wrong track.  But outward pride is curable, because one can go from riches to rags in the twinkling of an eye and become humble, whether he wants to or not.”  And, “A proud person is never satisfied; everything bothers him, and he follows his own will.  We must be obedient to the Will of God in order to learn humility and meekness while we are still in this life, while there is still time.  A heart that is full of love thinks not of itself, but of others.  It prays for all living things and the whole world.”

Elder Thaddeus must have been reading over my shoulder as I typed, and again was pricking at my conscience as I mulled over his words.  I cannot judge another form of worship as being less than how I choose to approach God.  At least those who worship differently are worshiping!  It would be worse if they were outside, with no faith life at all.  As long as they are on their journey towards God, He will influence their lives for their betterment.  As for me, I humbly submit that I am more or less chronicling my personal journey.  And from my perspective of having worshiped God in many different ways, under many different roofs, as it were, I have come to a place where I feel my faith is authentic and being brought to its basics.  My desire for this blog is but to share my journey with others.  And perhaps by doing so, help someone in their struggle to find their authentic worship, their experience of the presence of God.

Apologies made, and forgiveness sought, I must also defend myself.  I often feel attacked because I have chosen a more “orthodox” approach to my faith.  People cannot see past the accoutrements of my form of worship; they cannot get past the “institutionalization” of the Church – that whole “big machinery” feeling of Catholicism – to even try to stand in my shoes.  And it does get tiring; it does get overwhelming.  I think that perspective is everything. If you cannot see things from where I am standing, then we have lost a major route of communication.  Where I stand and what I feel is authentic to my walk with God; it is happening, and has happened, to just me.  I appreciate divergence in thought: I welcome good discussion of views and historical significance of events.  I think if you read what I write and if you know me personally, you know how much I value history.  And my faith comes from an historical perspective.  I love the tradition, both with a big “T” and with a small “t,” that has been handed down to me. I love that Scripture was put together in one volume, the Bible, by the Catholic Church and given to the world. I love all the small “t” traditions I have come to know, like eating certain foods on just one day a year, a particular meal that is always eaten on a certain feast day – and has been for a thousand years or more.  I love being able to stand on the shoulders of men and women of faith, who held strongly to what they believed and have kept it intact for more than a thousand years.  That is just who I am.

As Elder Thaddeus tells me: “…it is easy to sin against our neighbor.  And when we sin against our neighbor, we are actually sinning against God, because God is everywhere.  He dwells in the souls of each and every one of us.  Our relationship towards our fellow men defines our relationship towards God.”  And if I have hurt anyone, I am truly sorry because causing pain or anger was certainly never my intention.  I only want to share my journey, from my perspective – a soul struggling on its wayward path towards perfection in Heaven with Our Lord and God.

Man before clouds

Sometimes it feels as though we stand alone, facing the great abyss of life and ponder all those questions everyone ponders at one time or another – “Where am I going?” “What is life for?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I supposed to be going?”  And now that I am older, I am asking some of these same questions, and I am feeling more of the urgency in discovering God’s answers for me.  I feel closest to God, to His Word, and His Presence, when I stand in front of a wall of Holy Icons, light a wonderfully aromatic beeswax candle, and pray.  And I do not mean to slight anyone else’s experience of God, or His workings in their lives, I just wish to add my perspective to the mix.

Icon wallMy prayers on this Ash Wednesday (for my Roman or Latin Rite friends and family), for a Bless-ed Lent to all my fellow Christians, for us all to experience the love of God more fully and more intensely.  Let us look together, towards Easter morning, and the Son who rises, to give us Eternal Life.

sunrise easter

“…standing in God’s sight…”

St CyprianBut let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty.  Let us consider that we are standing in God’s sight.  We must please the divine eyes, both with the habit of the body and with the measure of the voice.” St. Cyprian of Carthage

Elder SiluanPray simply, like a child, and God will hear your prayer.” Elder Siluan

St John of Kronstadt.4,jpgIn church, sincere Christians can forestaste the future Kingdom that has been prepared for them from the day of creation: future liberation from all sin and death: future tranquility and joy.” St. John of Kronstadt

I am so blessed to have “Facebook” friends that are part of monasteries and other cloistered communities.  I find the most wonderful photos and quotes and these are some I have run into over the past few days.  Thanks to them, I am once again “pricked” in my deepest heart’s thoughts, to reconsider how I approach my faith.

So many other sects within Christianity spurn religious artwork and practices, such as candles, incense, icons, and bells.  They have replaced much of that with stark meeting halls where loud music plays and “pastors” offer latte bars and people can come “dressed as you are” – no pressure.  I read an interesting article the other day by an Evangelical author, bemoaning the fact that less than 10% of Evangelical youth stay in Church.  They leave after high school prayer groups are over, youth groups and beach parties are over, and 90% of them do not return.  He was thinking that it is because they have no substance to their faith; no dogma; no instruction in basic truths of who Christians are and what Christians believe. They learned how to behave as Christian youth, but not the whys and wherefores, and once confronted by the world, chose something else to follow.  A couple of years ago I read an article about an Orthodox Church in a beach community of Southern California that was getting so many new parishioners, they were having a hard time keeping up.  When the priest was asked why he thought this was happening, he said something to the effect that they required these kids to strip off their beachwear, dress appropriately, comport themselves with dignity, and to listen and absorb the faith around them.  They were instructing them in the Scriptures and the ways of the Church, that has been handed down, intact, for the past 2,000 years. They could literally walk off the beachfront “boardwalk” and into an Orthodox Church filled with icons, candles, incense, prayers, and the beauty of the “other-worldliness” of the interior of an eastern Church.  The new members were mesmerized; they were overwhelmed at the beauty; they were overwhelmed by the prayers and the truths they were hearing for the first time.  In Catholic, Byzantine, and Orthodox Churches, a good portion of worship is spent listening to the Word of God.  The prayers are taken from the Psalms and Scripture.  The songs are the Psalms set to tones.  The priest bases his homily on the Scripture read that day.  God is present in His Temple….and in His Word, and in His people.  It is quite a different experience.

I was raised in many different Protestant expressions.  As a young adult, I found myself a member of the Geneva Presbyterian Church.  I loved the smell of the Church…it was a replica of an old castle and the walls had a wonderful aroma to them of stonework.  I know that sounds weird, but it drew me in.  I loved the reenactments of the Last Supper; the formality of the services; the music that seemed ethereal.  I met my husband at this point in my life and had already begun attending the Roman Catholic Church. I had begun RCIA instruction about the same time we began dating seriously. I also used to go sit in an Anglican “High Church” parish down the block from my office, during lunch. I preferred the ambiance there; the artwork alone kept me mesmerized for an hour at lunch!  After being married a few years and practicing Roman Catholics, we met someone who gave us a flier inviting us to a Tridentine Mass.  Well, I felt like “finally – a real Mass” and was in love.  I loved the Latin and the vestments, the candles and incense; the formality of it made sense to me.  From there, we eventually drifted over, through our oldest son, to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. (A much more convoluted tale is involved, but basically, this is how we got there!)

My first Divine Liturgy will stay with me forever.  The smells, sights, and sounds were overwhelming, to say the least.  I felt transported back into the desert with our Lord. I could totally imagine myself in the early Church and when the Deacon intoned, “Sophia, Orthoi” I thought I was in heaven.  I felt home.  And as our faith grew, and through my husband’s seminary experiences for the diaconate formation, we were drawn further and further into the East.  We began reading the “Desert Fathers” and the works of many Orthodox theologians.  When we first relocated to WA, we tried to go back to the Latin Rite Catholic Church, but it was clearly a case of “round peg, square hole” and we just did not belong there any longer.  As we have searched for our faith home, I have personally been drawn over and over again into the Eastern European, Orthodox spirituality. I find it so comforting and I am finding myself challenged in my faith as never before.  On the eastern side of the Catholic Church, there are almost as many rites as there are cultures in the world.  Each place an Apostle went in the world, He established the Church. But they each did so, cognizant of the local culture.  Which is why the Byzantine, or Eastern, rites are much like choosing what cultural tradition makes you the most comfortable.  Because St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil gave us the Divine Liturgies we all use – it is a matter of tone, cadence, and tradition.  But it is a far cry from the big-box, plain-walled, jumbo-tron, rock-band style of Evangelical Protestantism…and it is sometimes a chasm that cannot be breached.  I only wish more of my Protestant friends could put aside their disagreements with Catholicism and just experience the worship; it truly absorbs you.  And many of my Catholic friends and family still believe we left the Church and are now Orthodox, and are confused and angry about their own Church, not realizing what makes up the Eastern rites within it and being misled about us and how we worship.  (Like it would be a bad thing…..I just do not get that!!) Even if I choose to worship in an Orthodox manner (Greek-style) and/or Orthodox Church, I know I am still in the Church of God…He is present there, in His Word, His Sacraments, and in His people.  It makes me sad, knowing how much misunderstanding and confusion can lead to faith disagreements, disappointments, and chasms that cannot be breached.

This Lent is going to be a rough one for so many reasons I am not sharing on my blog, but suffice it to say that I am being challenged in so many areas.  And my decision to focus on keeping a Holy Silence and to controlling my thoughts, as they “determine my life,” is being sorely tested…and today is just day #2 and it is still before noon!  When I reviewed some of the recent additions to my collection/computer folder of “Words of the Holy Fathers” I saw that I am also being challenged to remove some of the roadblocks between myself and simple prayer.  I must have “faith like a child;” I also recognize that, even at home, being with Holy Icons, perhaps having some incense lit, and praying while eying the Lord watching me, is a good thing. He sees all that I do, all the day long, but most especially when I approach Him in prayer.  The “measure” of my voice and the “habit of my body” are as important as “praying like a child,” and bring me closer to the “future tranquility and joy” of the “Kingdom prepared for me since Creation.”

I pray we can all take these 40 days, as we prepare to remember the sacrifice Christ made for each of us, to deeply experience our faith and perhaps even return to a more dedicated practice of it. I pray our children never leave their faith and that they come to know the truths of a Christian faith, through pastors who liberally share the Word of God with them, and through the intercession of the Saints who have gone before us, and by fully imbuing every aspect of their life with their faith.

Elder Porphyrios

“the desire to repent.”

St Maximos the Confessor 4

So many thoughts, colliding today.  I started reading an amazing book by Elder Thaddeus, about how our thoughts determine our lives.  And I am working at keeping my thoughts positive and God-centered.  And I have been praying to remain in this perspective.  So what happens this morning? I fail.  Already, I have failed.  I am only glad that Lent is 40 days and not just 1 day or I would have blown my intentions!! Thanks be to God for His unending Mercy and patience with us!

Today, Pope Benedict announced his retirement, which is unprecedented in about the past 600 years or so.  And of course, the pundits, who know nothing about how the system works, opine all sorts of reasons and try to explain to the “public” what this means to the Church and to all Catholics, worldwide.  One reporter stated something to the effect that “the Church has seen how bad it is when they’ve elected someone from a ‘Super Power,‘ so we are certain no Americans will be in the running for the next Pope.” Now, I am not an ostrich; I know that politics are alive and well in Rome and that our Cardinals are embroiled in it.  They are men; they are not Christ.  And due to our fallen nature, men will often sink to the lowest common denominator of the group they spend the most time with.  I do believe, however, that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and that when the Cardinals gather, in prayer, to select the next Pope, that the Holy Spirit, along with all the Guardian Angels of the Cardinals, will influence the voting process and that our next Spiritual Father will be the one God wants to lead His Church. It is my faith in my Church that keeps me feeling positive when so much in life is chaotic and unsure – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

That being said, social media is alive and kicking when it comes to the whole issue of the Pope.  The remarks being made about the Holy Father are disgusting and often sadistic. It hurts my heart to see him spoken of so terribly.  I have not been as close to this Pope as I felt to John Paul II.  As a Byzantine Catholic, we tend to look to our Patriarch for guidance, along with input from the Pope.  So I have felt a “step removed” from Rome for many years now.  I could not, however, tolerate some of the disrespectful ways in which people  joked about the Pope.  Things have popped up like, “Is Monster Jobs gonna post that opening?” or “I’m qualified; my first act would be to cancel the Honey Boo-Boo TV show.  I can do that, right?”  or even “I thought it was for life….?”  And it made me sad, and it made me mad.  So I spouted off on my wall about the Pope and how it is a holy vocation, not a job.  I also spoke about the Cardinals and their prayerful selection of the next Pope, etc.  It was not good for my Lenten resolve of a Holy Silence and guarding my thoughts.

I find it so interesting that when I was challenged by something that was not even directed towards me, my immediate reaction was anger and defensiveness.  “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 (Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica)“.  This was quoted by Abbot Tryphon today and I find it interesting that he quoted from the book I chose to read for Lent.  His entire article today was entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.” (The same title of Elder Thaddeus” book). Once again, it feels like Abbot Tryphon wrote, just for me, about something I am struggling with.  And of course, I read this before the other posts I got so upset about.  What does that say about me?  That I can read something and believe in it, and 10 minutes later react in direct opposition to those words?  It means I am such a work in progress, and that Christ is so not done with me, yet.  The first day of Lent and I stumble…oh my; these 40 days may be very long for me.  Another one of those instances where I am “piling on the mileage” in a relatively short period of time.

As Abbot Tryphon went on to say just this morning:  “Saint Saraphim of Sarov said that if we “acquire peace, a thousand around us will be saved”, for having been created in the image of God, and we are part of the Divine thought that was made material in time and space. We not only influence those around us with our thoughts, but we even influence the cosmos. If we focus on the negative, those negative thoughts impact everyone around us, and even the whole world. The Elder Thaddeus tells us we can be either very good, or very bad, depending on the thoughts and desires we breed.

There is a lot that is wrong with the world, but it begins with us. If there is to be peace in our world, it must begin with me. If hatred, anger, envy, lust, and spite, are to end, it must end with me. When we allow destructive thoughts to destroy our peace, the peace around us is destroyed. We can not blame the world, or even those around us, for that which happens around us, radiates from us. Blame for all that is wrong with the world, can not be placed beyond our own hearts.

The reading yesterday was the Scripture that we are all so familiar with, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) and Father spoke in his homily about where we place our value on things.  What is valuable to us reflects where our hearts are.  And as I listened to Father yesterday, once again seemingly speaking directly to me (we chatted after Divine Liturgy and I asked him if he was thinking of me when he wrote his homily and he laughed, placed his hand on my shoulder and gently said, “Well daughter, if the shoe fits!”) and I was reminded that I place a lot of emphasis on historical things.  “I love old things, old books, and old friends” is a plaque I have in my house.  It pretty much sums me up!  And I believe in the historical foundation of my Church and my faith.  And I strive to work to be a better representative of that faith.  But today, I was brought up short by how my intentions certainly were not carried out in the best way possible….I only remembered something I read for a moment, and when confronted a mere 10 minutes later, fell back into my routine of noisiness and wandering thoughts, and being reactionary.  Where does that mean my treasure lays?  Well, certainly it is a matter of pride.  I was angry at how others speak about my faith, and a man I admire, the current Pope, and I was vociferous in defending it. I could have left well enough alone, and been silent. I could have controlled my thoughts and kept a positive outlook, focusing on the wonderful legacy of Pope Benedict and prayed for the Cardinals and their decision-making.  But instead, I lashed out at non-Catholics for being disrespectful of the Pope.

St John Climacus

St. John Climacus and his “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” along with Brother Thaddeus’ book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” should keep me busy this Lent.  I know I have so very far to go.  But I also know that keeping my eye on the prize, an intimate relationship with God and Sanctification in Heaven, will keep me resolving to get up each time I stumble, and each time knowing God is helping me, mercifully, to get up.  Thanks be to God for the opportunity to repent each time I fail miserably…thanks be to God there is mercy in abundance for all of us.

St Tikhon 3

And so, Lent begins….

“Don’t react, be at peace”

Holy Table

I believe Lord and profess that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come to this world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest.  I believe also that this is really your spotless body and that this is really your precious blood.  Wherefore I pray to You: have mercy on me and pardon my offenses, the deliberate and the indeliberate, those committed in word and in deed, whether knowingly or inadvertently; and count me worthy to share without condemnation your spotless mysteries, for the remission of sins and for eternal life.” Amen (from the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

When my husband and I first attended a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, and I heard and read these words of prayer recited by each person in attendance, before the reception of Communion, I was stunned and truly moved.  The prayers of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy have such an impact on how we think and behave, if we but allow them to.  And one of the things that drew me to the East were these prayers.  When they are recited week after week, they tend to sink into our psyche, whether we realize it or not. Which brings me to my blog today.

We have made friends from so many different walks of life.  I have friends from elementary school, two different high schools, college, sorority, neighbors from various living situations, and different working environments. They run the gamut from very liberal and atheistic, to very conservative, right-wing, born-again Christian fanatics, with many other faiths thrown in for good measure.  And I love them all for what they have brought to my life.  It has enriched me and made me a more well-rounded person, and enabled me to become friends with people of very divergent backgrounds, philosophies, and faiths.  Being drawn into an Anthropological, or a more “over-all” and “all-encompassing” viewpoint (begun in my collegiate days) has helped me become who I am and helped me to see these differences for what they are, and how they have also formed these friends of mine.  It is one of the treasures in my life.

Our Church is a very large tent, metaphorically speaking.  There are rites existing in this tent which encompass the history of Christianity around the world; it is truly a universal Church.  And within that miasma of cultures, languages, and practices, I have found my deepest comfort on the eastern, or Byzantine, side of things.  The feeling of holiness, for me, is more simplistic and direct.  The faith is simple and direct; the words are profound and the movements indelibly marked on my soul. The sights, smells, tones and bells entrance me.  The Holy Icons speak to my heart.  I also find myself drawn further and further into an Orthodox view of life and faith.  I find myself being continually enriched by the Holy Fathers and the many incredible gifts their words have given to me.  And now, all of these things have begun to collide in my life.  How am I being that Christian soul, who is asking for forgiveness for sins?

The crux of this post is that I am feeling terribly let down by people I thought were “friends.”  I believe their position, should they find themselves reciting the prayer above, would be that in regards to me, they acted indeliberately and unknowingly towards me. I believe that their hearts are good and their souls are struggling, just like mine is, to reach Sanctification with God in Heaven.  The people I have made as friends are good people, regardless of their voter registration or place of worship (or even lack thereof).  But my problem is how to handle rejection, or perhaps lack of response, from people I have been close to for years.  Yes, I love to gab; I am a woman! A woman home alone all day with a 14-year-old son.  And perhaps when they have messages from me they have to decide when best to reply because they know the conversation will be a long one!  And is that a good thing to be known for?  I am thinking that it is not.  But I also know that people get caught up in life and the busy-ness of our days, and quite often, and perhaps because I moved away from our community, I am now “out of sight, out of mind” to some of them.  If that is so, am I really friends with them?  The other issue is people I see locally, who have I have become (or have been for years) friends with…they are also so busy.  I am “assuming” their lives are busy and chaotic and therefore, not communicating with them perhaps as often as I would like.  These slights I am feeling, well, it makes my heart contract a little bit because it is an opportunity to grow in holiness and I am failing miserably. The Lord never stops correcting us through the actions of others, and through our own misconceptions.  But this realization and situations has given me an opportunity to grow, as a gabby female, friend, and Child of God.

Abbot Tryphon (what a great man) from “All-Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery on Vashon Island in Washington State is someone I quote quite often. If you have Facebook, please look him up. Each day he shares some of his wisdom with us Facebook users.  Today was no different…and it was the impetus behind me blogging! Here is his post on Facebook today, in its entirety:

HOW TO HAVE A HEALTHY SOUL
Don’t react, be at peace.

“Each day brings on new challenges regarding the health of your soul. Those moments when a family member or coworker makes a remark that are meant to anger you, are those times you need to guard your heart. When those around you are gossiping about someone, that is an opportunity for you to keep silent. The driver who’s just cut you off on the freeway; the woman who pushes her way in front of you in the check out line; the rude neighbor; all are moments in time when you can take control and grow stronger spiritually.

Trials and temptations, when confronted with a peaceful heart, bring forth healing and make the soul that much stronger and healthier. Reacting does nothing but bring forth paralysis of the soul, binding us to our fallen nature. Receiving all these temptations with a peaceful heart and not reacting to outside negative stimulus, helps strengthen you for the next round of trial and temptation. Little by little, you will find that the Peace of Christ fills your every waking moment, bringing on a joyful spirit and a peaceful heart”.

And so, today, when my heart is aching because someone is slighting me, I read these words of comfort from Abbot Tryphon and I know that my goal towards that peaceful heart is slowly evolving.  The words from Divine Liturgy about seeking forgiveness for those things I have committed….”whether knowingly or inadvertently” really hit home.  If someone is not responsive to me, what am I putting out there, to them?  Am I being that light of faith, or is my faith really resting under that bushel basket?  Am I extending the hand of Christ to them, or does my invitation of friendship involve reciprocity?  Do I expect as much, in equal measure, in return?  Ugh….because Scripture clearly tells us, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38).  We cannot give with the expectation that anything will be given back to us.

I am resolving to work at training my heart and my soul to give without the thought of recompense; without expecting people to give back to me.  In friendships and most relationships – to give fully, without expectation of anything in return and I am struggling to find peace with that. The idea of getting no response, nothing in return is not a common philosophy in our world, which normally thinks, “What’s in it for me?”  I think that when the Abbot said, “Reacting does nothing but bring forth paralysis of the soul” he was speaking to me.  And I know that expectations usually leave us feeling empty and dissatisfied.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not depend on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5).  And I also think that one of the things I need to do for my own spiritual health, is learn to keep a Holy Silence.  It truly benefits me the most.  My trust is in the Lord (Psalm 16:1) and keeping a Holy Silence allows Him to heal me and help lead me to a “joyful spirit and a peaceful heart.”

St Ambrose

“…the soul is like that….”

Sometimes I am asked why I blog.  Half the time no one reads my blogs; occasionally I am surprised by the number of people who do.  Different topics generate readers; some turn readers away.  And it is okay with me because I blog for me.  And it has become a way my husband and I speak to each other, too.  He always reads my blogs and quite often we speak of them in the evening, and it is nice because our conversations are much shorter (which, as a male, he prefers) because he has already read my 1,000 or so printed words on the topic! Ha-Ha.  Love you, sweetheart!

Red Holy Candlesticks

Most often I am compelled to put to paper thoughts I have swirling about inside my head and it feels like I will explode if I don’t share them.  Being at home all day with a 14-year-old son, who is mega-inquisitive, can drain your brain of the ability to string cohesive thought together into a blog, but I often find that blogging early clears my head and helps me focus on his needs and his many, many questions throughout the day. I saw a cute post on Facebook recently that said something like, “A typical 5-year old asks 432 questions a day,” and it made me chuckle.  My children have always been inquisitive, but this youngest son of mine takes the cake!  He is constantly asking how’s and why’s and “who-dun-it” questions all day long.  I love that his mind is so active and he wants to acquire so much knowledge, so I try to deftly answer what I can from the top of my head.  Quite often we resort to “googling” whatever it is we can’t figure out for ourselves, or find in a book.

A long time ago, some dear friends got our youngest son started on the “Odyssey” series offered through Focus on the Family.  He has several of their story lines that he enjoys falling asleep to. I will often climb the stairs and hear what I think is a conversation, only to realize he is playing an Odyssey CD.  And although it is Protestant series, and I am a Byzantine Catholic, truth is truth and their stories are delightful.  I bring this up because quite often he will bring up something he hears on TV about the behavior of someone and he will relate it to a story he heard on his Odyssey CD and he can apply the lesson!  Wonderful!! I think he learns more while he sleeps some nights than we do sitting at our table all day long homeschooling! Ha-Ha!

Life lessons can come at us from all angles, from many sources.  The trick is being open to them, and recognizing them for what they are – a life lesson!  I blog because quite often I am hit by the Lord’s spiritual 2 x 4 through an ordinary event in my life, and I think others may relate to it, as well.  Our early Christian community learned the lessons Christ had for them, though their everyday experiences.  The stories Our Lord told usually illustrated simple aspects of the lives of His listeners, and through this common, simple language, He shared Salvation with His audience then, and we can hear it now and still relate.  Lessons my son learns listening to his Odyssey CD he is learning to apply to his daily life.  Lessons I learn usually come through something simple.  The candle above illustrates my state of mind so many times – contemplative.  I may hear something someone wise says and I take it inward, mull over it, and often that proverbial light bulb will go off inside my head, and I have to share.  We are not supposed to hide our faith under a bushel basket, but rather, set it on a table and give light to the whole room (Matthew 5:15 – roughly translated). And for me, that is blogging. If I have something to say and I think my friends, or even just my husband, would benefit from hearing it, I blog. Even if no one ever reads a single word I write, it feels good to get the words out the end of my fingers, and to tap away on my laptop.

So I hope you enjoy my blogs, if you run across them. They are not written by a sage or expert, just a homeschooling mom who occasionally happens across something that seems too good not to share.  Abbot Tryphon stated today, “… remembered the truism that muscles have memory.  The soul is like that. Just as muscles rebuild themselves when we make the effort to exercise, so too the soul is quickly restored to health when we avail ourselves to the healing grace that abounds within the Church.”

And for me, my journey towards God is something that I like sharing.  I am learning to exercise my soul muscles more and more…and it is another reason I blog. Sometimes I am so excited by a quote a hear from our Holy Fathers, that I just have to share it.  (And most often, expound upon its central theme, because it has so touched or moved me).  I hope you enjoy this journey I am on and want to share it with me more often.  Sharing our faith is what we are called to do as Christians and as believers.  And by sharing the light, and maybe lighting another candle, our faith and our belief will spread.

Icon wall

“…like the flame of a candle…”

elder epiphanios2

True love is something we all aspire to find in our lives.  We experience so many different types of love.  My first “crush” was a boy named “Armando” when I was twelve.  He had a crush on me, too, and used to walk me home from school; but we did not even touch! No hand-holding permitted!  He was allowed on our doorstep, but no further.  He dedicated a song to me on the radio (something that used to be a regular thing when I was a kid) and I thought I would burst with joy. I often think of that time of my life and cringe a little bit, but also smile.  It is amazing how many twists and turns our lives take, in pursuit of “true love.”

Throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood, I was dedicated to the ultimate search for “true love” and I realize now that it was nothing more than me, trying to fill a hole that only God can occupy.  In this noisy, confusing world, we try to cram as much into living as we possibly can.  Life is lived at breakneck speed and we most often leave a wake behind us consisting of poor choices, questionable decisions, and often, broken hearts.

“In the Christian life, temptations and tests or trials of our spiritual condition are necessary; and as our life, like the furniture of a house, becomes covered with various stains, it is necessary to cleanse it. As for testing objects made, for instance, of silver, instruments are required, so likewise for testing the state of the soul, men are required, like for like, who, willingly or unwillingly, intentionally or quite unthinkingly, show us by their conduct in relation to us, in a manner apparent both to ourselves and others, whether we are obedient to God’s commands, declared to us in the Gospel, or not–whether we live according to the spirit, mortifying in ourselves the desires of the flesh, or according to the flesh, being obedient slaves to the will of the flesh and to carnal thoughts and passions; so that we, recognizing that we are not living in accordance with the will of God, not in accordance with the commandments of our Sweetest Savior, but in accordance with our own sinful and blind will, may speedily amend and zealously follow the commandments of the Divine Gospel.”  (St John of Kronstadt)

And thanks be to God, my experimental lifestyle came to a crashing halt when I met my husband, over 30 years ago.  He was a breath of fresh air and a light for my life.  His faith was a beacon to me, and I was drawn to it almost as much as I was drawn to the man.  I recall kneeling next to him in prayer at Church, while I was still exploring my own faith, and glancing over at him and realizing that his faith was so deep and so intense, I know I could have stood up and left at that moment and he would not have noticed I was missing, until he had finished his prayers.  He pursued his love of God throughout our marriage and eventually entered the Diaconate, where he found his ultimate joy, serving at the Altar.  And his faith radiated out to others who witnessed his love of God, most especially when serving.  Once his vestments came on, he became a Deacon first and foremost, and all the other roles in his life became secondary.  It is a wondrous transformation to witness.  Our journey together has brought us to many highs and many lows….that pretty much describes marriage for most people.  Along the way we have become a part of a community, and we have departed communities.  We have made and lost friends, we have created life and mourned death.  It is a wondrously-intertwined experience and I relish the memories of it all.

crown50_view1_lg

As we vowed to remain together for life, it also was a vow to live a life of faith, together.  The crowns we wore symbolized the nature of married life and the nature of how we treat all those who come into our circle of married life.  Our children have found wives that enlighten their lives and they are blessed now with children of their own.  It was my distinct pleasure to spend a week with our eldest son on the occasion of his son’s first birthday. It was the first time I have been in their home, as they live in Alaska and he has spent most of their marriage deployed in war time.  The week I spent with them was my first chance to see their marriage in action, in their own home.  I cannot express the joy I felt at seeing how much they love one another and as a mother, I was overjoyed at the love his wife has, for my son. It is all a mother wants for her son, to find a wife that will enrich and bless his life.

Our middle son and his wife are expecting their first child in a few months and they know already that it is a girl.  We are so excited, already referring to her by name, and already loving her so very much.  They have been married 8 months now and their lives are very fluid and flexible, with their futures still undecided.  It was a joy to spend a week with them prior to their wedding, in preparation for their vows.  The mother of my daughter-in-law and I were friends through our homeschooling group and we commented once that we should set them up – we were successful!  We did not realize what a great fit they would be for each other and both families were overjoyed at their engagement and marriage.  I don’t think my friend and I ever envisioned being grandmothers together, but it is an incredible feeling.

It is amazing how far our love can go, how stretched we can be to include others in our lives.  The amount of love you have inside of you is infinite, because God will assist you in loving the seemingly unlovable.  We throw away people in our culture in so many ways.  We have abortion readily available and becoming even more the norm than it has been – what a tragedy! We have homeless people who do not belong on the streets for a myriad of reasons (mental health being just one); we throw away so much of humanity without a second thought, and that is just so very sad to Our Lord. Each and every life is precious and each and every person deserves our best, as a culture, and as individuals.

ElderAM.2

We are all created in the image and likeness of God and if we allow ourselves to love with that “Agape” type of love that only God can share with us, it is amazing, truly amazing, where that love can take us.  Our circles grow and grow, and encompass more and more people, with the type of love that God shares with us.  We can love people through prayer and through participation in worship.  We can add names to prayer lists without even meeting the person.  Each time we are asked to pray for someone, even if we just stop for a moment and whisper, “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…and I hold —- up to you in prayer.”  It is a simple way to expand our circle of God’s love for others.  We need not feel that we are bound to take in every homeless person we see, nor are we obligated to feel guilt at passing by that person standing by the freeway exit with a sign declaring they are homeless.  We can, however, pay attention to the homeless shelters in our area; we can volunteer at soup kitchens; we can extend ourselves in so many ways to show our love for our fellow man.  As the quote at the top of this post states, each time we light another candle, that original candle’s flame is not diminished.  I often feel that the more we show the love of God to others, the more God’s love grows in us, and the more we give to others, the more we are given by God.  It is amazing how good it feels to clean up a kitchen after feeding the homeless.  Exhausted? Yes.  Stinky with food and sweat?  You bet.  Happy and satisfied?  Most definitely.  At our parish where we used to live in SoCal, we would feed the homeless and then walk over to the Church for Evening Prayers.  And my heart would be soaring over the people we had touched and having served the poor of our area.  It is an incredible feeling, to help others.  And all of this I experienced (and continue to experience) because I searched for, and found, the love that would fill that hole within my heart.  We are capable of more loving in this life than we can imagine; we just need to trust and love as easily and simply as Jesus Christ instructed us,

A new commandment I give you, to love one another; that as I have loved you, you also may love one another.” (John 13:34)

“…sanctification doesn’t come.”

Elder PaosiosWe have, each of us, our own journey.  Everyone will hit that final wall they cannot go through, or that final door they must walk through.  And each of us will have to face our ends all alone.  The pathway we take is unique to each of us.  But as Elder Paisios reminds us in the photo above, “Without toil and struggle, sanctification doesn’t come.”

I find, that especially as a homeschooling mother, I am privy to much more of my children’s lives than if I had enrolled them in a government or private school.  Having your children around you 24/7 is not something our culture can relate to, nor do they generally support it.  I was blessed to homeschool my older sons until they chose to attend parochial high schools. We encouraged and supported them in their choices and are fairly happy with how it has all turned out, now that they are married and in their 20s, with their own children.  My older sons went on to colleges – one chose the military after obtaining his AA and the other chose to complete his BA in History.  Both were/are happy with their choices, but each chose radically different paths to adulthood.

Each of our older sons has had their own version of toil and struggle and each has come to a similar place.  And it has been so interesting, listening to each of them separately say the same things.  One man’s journey can greatly differ from another man’s, but they are both headed towards that same ultimate goal – sanctification.  As they were growing up and trying to discern what they wanted to do with their lives, I remarked to them (on more than one occasion) that I would be happy if they chose to become trash collectors; I would just hope and pray they would become the holiest trash collectors they could be.  How they get their paychecks and what they do to earn their money is superfluous to me! I am more concerned with what type of man they become, than what they do for a living.  And each of our sons has journeyed to where they are, in their own ways.  I can honestly say that in the past 24 hours, I have grown to love and adore my sons so much more.  The conversations we have had about life, their goals in life, and the ways in which they are pursuing them, have gladdened my heart.  The goal of parents is to lead your children to the path that ultimately leads to God, to sanctification in heaven.  They will have struggles and they will toil, but without it, they would flounder.

Didache

This morning’s conversations have only made me smile.  I smile because I can feel God moving in our lives and I know that all of these things are from Him, and are for our good.  We have been given an opportunity to make drastic changes, but we have also been given the opportunity to struggle on our way, to make our way, towards God with our heads clear and our hearts certain!  What a joy that is! O Lord, we are so blessed.  There are many, many details that still must be worked through for all of us…and even though those details can seem to bog us down in our daily lives, it is through struggling through them and keeping our eye on our ultimate goal, that we are blessed.  People have said, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage” about aging, and some days it can really feel like we are piling on the mileage.  And today, even though I know God has lots of little details still waiting for me to pray about and work on solving, I am smiling.  I smile because I know I am blessed and I know in my heart we are moving in concert with our family (as the people we have become) and with our God. What a great day!

Pathway

Our paths are divergent as we struggle through them, but we all come together along the journey towards God.  And knowing and feeling God working in our lives and in the lives of our children makes today a very good day!

From the Akathist to the Mother of God, “Nurturer of Children,” I take these quotes:

“…O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies….

O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessing; do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity….

..chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them.  Turn not Thy face from them in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.  Cover them with Thy Mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation.”  Amen

“…Where I belong….”

I was watching a Disney movie the other day entitled, “Enchanted,” and in the movie, the main character, played by Amy Adams, sings a song in Central Park entitled, “That’s how you know!” and the lyrics came to me overnight, over and over again:

“He’ll find his own way to tell you
With the little things he’ll do
That’s how you know
That’s how you know!”

Funny how music will play around in your head and certain lyrics just stick in your consciousness!  I am also channeling a song called, “Where I belong” by the Christian group, Building 429, and the refrain goes like this:

“All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong.”

And these two songs spoke to my heart and all the turmoil that is going on inside my head.  I realized that these lyrics both point me towards God, where I belong.  One is telling me that all the little things God does for me, point me in that direction, and that I am heading towards God.  The Will of God should be my will and my ears should hearken to His word, however He shares it with me.  I know, the Enchanted song was written about the love of a man and a woman, but the particular line that kept running through my head (along with the tune, which is becoming rather annoying) was “He’ll find a way to tell you,” which I know is because I have been trying to discern the truth of where I am headed.  And the fact that I also kept hearing (with a much more likable tune for me) “All I know is I’m not home yet; this is not where I belong” gave me great peace and hope.  And we all need to spend time, waiting on the Lord to speak in our lives. Sometimes He whispers and in a world of such great noise, we often miss that gentle whisper in our ear.  God seeks us and our attention, and uses many avenues to communicate with us. Often God will speak through someone else and the moment the words are uttered, you know in your heart that God sent you a message.  That has happened to me more times than I can count!  And it has happened to me this past week, and over the weekend.  I KNOW that God is calling me northward, and I know I am not home, yet.  I have received comforting words from friends and family, as well as through the written words of people like Abbot Tryphon, who do not even realize they have spoken to me personally, and through popular music!  But I know that Our Lord has shared with me, and I find such peace in that.

St. Nikolai

When I attend Divine Liturgy, or Vespers, or other religious prayers and events, I feel the presence of God in his Word, his people, his priests, his Temple, and in His presence in the Holy Eucharist. I have experienced God in so many ways, that His presence in my life is certain; it is an absolute.

As a homeschooling mom, I understand the varied ways we help our children learn.  We have schooled three sons, two through to high school and college, with our youngest about to enter those wonderfully formative years of high school.  During our family’s journey of education, I have learned that one son may be a tactile learner, another may be an oral learner, and still another may require several avenues in order to get the information I am imparting lodged into his memory.  The Church knows this about each of us, too.  We experience God through sound (the wonderful tones during Vespers and Divine Liturgy; the words from our Priests, the prayers we all intone as a community), smell (I happen to adore incense in its many varieties, as well as the scent of Holy Oils), sight (the interior of our Churches wherein we leave the world behind and enter “heaven” for an hour or more, contemplating the Holy images, or Icons of the Saints who have gone before us, as well as the Icons of Christ our God and His Blessed Mother; the colors and hues on the altar and the vestments of our priests, the Holy Doors, the candles and wonderful candlelight, which gives everything a special glow), touch (Holy Icons and blessing ourselves as we enter and leave; Holy Water, the feel of blessing when it gently lands upon you; Holy Oil when the priest anoints you on your forehead, the touch of the priest when he lays his hand upon your head at confession, the feel of the back of the pew in your hand as you stand in prayer) – all these ways the Church has given us to experience our faith.  We take in the blessings of faith in our whole being, in preparation for total immersion with God in Heaven.

When you add all these experiences together and are seeking God’s Will for your life, He speaks volumes and if we are tuned in to God, and “tuned out” to the noise of this world, we will reach a certainty, a feeling of security, in knowing our will is aligned with the Will of God.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m watching from the outside
Sometimes it feels like I’m breathing but am I alive
I won’t keep searching for answers that aren’t here to find

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

When the earth shakes I wanna be found in You
When the lights fade I wanna be found in You

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

Where I belong, where I belong
Where I belong, where I belong”

Onion Domes

“…flee from yourself.”

St Nikon of Optina

I just spent five days hosting a very dear friend of mine.  We spent many hours catching up on my favorite TV show, “Downton Abbey,” on PBS.  My friend had never seen it and so we watched until we were caught up with the current Season.  It was so nice to sit and watch, sipping tea, listening to the falling rain, and chatting together.  It was raining when she arrived, and fogged in on her last day with us.  Today we spent going through shops on a city-sponsored “Chocolate Walk.”  Each shop in town was offering a piece of chocolate to everyone who came into their shop. You were to check off each shop as you went to them, and then at the last shop, fill out a coupon for a door prize.  We bought a couple of ornaments at this wonderful Christmas store, had a great lunch, and enjoyed the company of close friends.  Then, off she went on a plane back to her family. I cried as we drove away.

This trip was wonderful for me because my friend and I have known one another more than 20 years and she has helped me pack and unpack more times than we wanted to count. And she helped me prepare to move, yet again, on this visit.  She reminded me each time I would pause over an item, “Is it a memory?”  Some things have particular times or places attached to them, and it makes it difficult to cast them aside.  My grandmother’s tea cups!  For our move up here, I got rid of so many tea cups and saucers, but some I will never give up and will be inherited by my grandchildren.  When I look at all these beautiful things I have inherited from my family, I have to remember that even though I might be able to answer, “Yes” to the question of memory, it is still an object.  I can still cast it aside for a future life in another place.

The quote by St. Nikon of Optina is a pretty awesome quote when you are faced with another relocation!  “A place cannot save you, because there is no place where you can flee from yourself.”  And I know that wherever I live, I am still me.  No matter the condition or the company I keep, I am still me.  And I must answer to my God one day. You will not answer for me; my children are not responsible for me; my husband is not responsible for the state of my soul – I am.

I was born of British parents and my birth is registered at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA.  My mom still tells me stories of my birth and her week-long hospital stay.  I lived for 53 years in a warm, southern climate.  We relocated here to the Pacific Northwest almost three years ago now, and it was a climatic shock, for sure! But I have come to love this weather and the seasons’ changes. I adore spring and I think have come to regard fall or autumn as my favorite time of year.  In California, all the seasons seemed the same; some times of the year were wetter, some were hotter, but the days all ran together.  Some Christmases were blistering hot and spent getting a tan, but those Christmases were just as special as the snowy white ones we have enjoyed since moving up here, because I was surrounded by family and friends…and I was there; the same me.

We are facing a new journey, but St. Nikon reminds me that place really does not matter.  Place is just a situation…what you bring to a situation is yourself.  The things that will be accompanying me will be much less than I have ever had.  Thirty years of marriage and you acquire more things than you realize.  We are purging on a deep level these days and as my friend helped me go through Christmas ornaments, I spent moments here and there tearing up over some of them.  My oldest son said to me, “Mom, I know that garland you used on the tree when I was 5 is really special to you.  But I don’t remember it and I really don’t care about it; throw it away.”  I thought of that as I purged my way through Christmas memorabilia and I had my friend asking me, “Is that a memory or just a string of lights?”  And through all the crates and boxes, I was able to realize that it is not the stuff we acquire; it is more than that.

Sometimes items become our last link to a loved one.  For me, I am the keeper of the “things” from both my mom’s side and my dad’s side of the family.  My parents are only children, and so all their parents’ things also came to me.  I have winnowed things down a bit, but for my own future I have to divest of even more items.  And it is hard. When I see something and remember my great-grandmother touching it or using it, it tugs at my heart strings.  But I also realized, through some chats with my friend this week, that if something should happen to me, it would just be a bunch of “stuff” my family would have to sort through, and none of them would know whose it had been or what the significance of me keeping it would have been.  Again, it is just “stuff.”  But still, I weep when I use a tea cup of my grandmother’s, or touch a hand-tatted infant bib my great-grandmother had made by hand.  The photos that date back to the 1800s in England or New Zealand are precious to me.  I keep going in circles of wanting to keep it all and then wanting to walk away and take just the clothes on my back….and then I see a photo of an eagle flying free; the snow-capped mountains…and I realize that I will not allow my things to keep me from relocating once again, to be where I think God is leading me.

The quite stillness of a mountain capped in snow; the gently trickling of melting snow creating a stream coming down from those snowy mountains – the land I am drawn to is nothing like the land my parents left, nor the land they came to love, but I know God is pulling me there and I am thrilled, my heart is singing, and I know I need to stop the tears over “stuff,” judiciously choose what to take and what to leave, and prepare to once again go to a new place.  No matter where I reside, I cannot flee from myself.

Alaska2.2012