“…your Father’s good pleasure…”

Wine Barrel Tulips.1Spring is trying its hardest to arrive.  We’ve had days and days of dark, wet, and gloomy, with record snowfall just 20 minutes north of here and avalanches (complete with rescues of stranded snow-shoers) as well as tulips and daffodils poking their lovely heads above the soil.  I have an old wine half-barrel on my patio that is loaded with tulips.  They are struggling with the craziness of bright and sunny days followed by a string of rainy days.  This morning is clear and cold…low 30s…and there is frost everywhere. We have a little Miniature Schnauzer whose name is Chet.  He is so typical of the breed…strong willed, stubborn, and refusing to listen; typical terrier.  He loves to perch on the tops of the cushions of the couch, keeping an eye on the golf course behind the house.  We live on the 14th tee box and when it is full of people, we have to do our best to keep Mr. Chet under control, as he thinks whatever he sees, he is the lord of.  Today was no exception.  He just sat on his perch, growling. I could not see anything out there that would make him growl, and was thinking that perhaps it was a left-over emotion.  Last week, we had a scare with him.  I had my cup of coffee; it was about 7:00 am and Chet was outside on his tether, doing his morning rounds. All-of-a-sudden I heard him yelping. I scrambled outside and at the base of our porch stairs was a coyote, with Chet in his mouth.  I yelled and the coyote dropped Chet, who was whimpering and running towards me.  That darn coyote stood under the copse of trees that front the 14th tee and just stared at me, almost daring me to go after him. Instead, I just yelled and waved my arms and he ran off.  By then, I had a shaking, wet, terrified little terrier in my arms.  This morning, however, his growl broke into barks and I raced to check out what had invaded his line of sight, and it was a little bunny!  She’d been nibbling on my budding tulips and was hopping off the patio and out onto the golf course.  Chet was having none of it and was barking his head off, shaking from head to toe.  Boy oh boy, did he want out on that patio.  I corralled him and we came to the other side of the house, where I have my office, and he is comfortably ensconced in his favorite spot.

Chet on Couch

This morning is so quiet and peaceful and I treasure mornings like this!  The birds are chirping and the sun is shining (even though there are black clouds to the east and the north) and little bunnies are hopping outside. It feels so wonderful.  And then I see the chaos all around me as we finalize this move of ours.  My stomach clenches and I realize I need to gird my loins for another day of wrapping our lives up into crates and boxes, making all sorts of annoying changes that are required when you move across town or across states.  And even the peace of a spring morning can be darkened a little bit.

Yesterday was an awful day for America, with the bombing in Boston. I wonder if it is terrorists or someone wanting their 15-minutes-of-fame.  Regardless of the reasons or the perpetrator, people were killed (memory eternal) and others are in critical condition, while still others are coping with horrific injuries they will have to learn to live with.  Life can take such turns in such a quick space of time. This was intended to hurt, not destroy.  The coyote who grabbed my dog is emblematic of the terror that gripped these people.  Feeling powerless and overcome by something bigger and stronger than you is a horrible feeling.  I was so proud, however, to see how everyone reacted.  So many did not run away; instead they turned to help those around them.  So many first responders sprang into action.  Boston was heroic yesterday and it made me realize that deep down, we are made in the image and likeness of God and it showed.  Blessings upon blessings to those who rushed to serve others, with no regard for their own safety.

It is amazing to me that tulips will be coming up, daffodils will be blooming, and there is a bomb.  There is bright sunshine and on the horizon are the blackest of clouds.  Our life is a dichotomy of light and dark, good and bad, spring and deepest winter.  We have our days that are blessed and we cling to those times.  We have our darkest and most horrid days, and for those days, we look for the heroic around us, seeking the sign that God is present in His people.

Fred Rogers QuoteI do love that quote of Mr. Rogers, because it exemplifies the struggle I am speaking to this morning.  Working through the horrible right alongside the blessed.  Our path to God is strewn with experience…some of the experiences lead us off the path He has laid for us, because we get caught up and lose our way.  Some experiences help us to dig deeper and prepare our hearts to follow the path God prepares for us.  He never has our destruction in mind, but always what is best for us.  We are the ones who deviate and get lost.

This experience for me, of a joyful spring morning juxtaposed with the dark clouds on the horizon; a barking little dog with the cute little cotton-tailed bunny hopping across the patio; the peace of waking to sunshine and birds chirping and the chaos of the move I am trying not to trip over!  Then there is the joy in my heart at all my blessings compared to the disturbing, ongoing news about Boston…how do we reconcile all of this?  I cling steadfastly to the promises of God.  He warned me that He came to divide, not unite. (Luke 12:49-51) and that He came to cast fire upon the earth (Luke 12:49).  But in this same chapter of Luke, He tells us to not be afraid (Luke 12: 22-31).  He calls us His little flock and assures us “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12: 32-34).  And to these promises, I cling.  I treasure the moments of peace and clarity. I notice the birds and the flowers, those moments when God is sharing creation with me.  Those moments sustain us when the coyotes growl at the door and the bombs rip through a peaceful jog.  God allows us to experience these things to bring us strength of conviction.  Those responders ran into the fray to assist those who were suffering. God allowed their heroics to be noticed and appreciated, thereby strengthening us all.  We know that when the going get tough, we are called upon to be stronger and it is like exercising our free will….with repetition comes strength…by repeatedly aligning our free will with the Will of God, our faith is strengthened and we find peace.

St. Isaac the Syrian5

“…which one to embrace…”

Sleep is becoming a rare commodity. I just cannot seem to shut down my mind for long.  We move this Saturday!  Today is my husband’s last day at work.  Things have been pending for months, so for it to all of a sudden be down to days, it is a little daunting.  Packing and purging are such a drudgery…everything aches. My head pounds as I have to sift through all these things we have accumulated, constantly asking myself if we need this or just want this particular item; can I throw it away or give it away and not need it or miss it later on?  It is interesting when you get down to some of the basics in life, how truly little you honestly do need.  I read this great Homily by Abbot Nicolas of Holy Resurrection Monastery today.  He gave it on Bright Monday and in it he addressed the issue of the western notion of “giving up” things during Lent and other times of fasting and abstinence.  And it struck me that I am slowly developing this attitude that while I am certainly giving up certain items that I have had for awhile in my life and in the life of my family, I am finding that instead of it being a sacrifice, it is more of getting into alignment with the person God is calling me to be.  Abbot Nicolas tells us that we are all called to these mystical experiences not just inside the Liturgy, but inside the life of all Christians.  We are becoming a part of the Trinity itself.  He further states, “Our vocation as mystics challenges us to be ascetics, to purge away everything in our nature that doesn’t support our deepest desire to be united to God. It is this ascetical dimension to our mysticism that makes the Byzantine “sense of mystery” so intensely practical.”  And this is where my purging to move has had not just a practical use (trust me, it all has to fit into a 20-foot truck) but also a spiritual, or mystical use.  When we pare away the dross of our lives and become a simpler, humbler people, we notice God working in our lives much easier.  There is so much noise and chaos in the world, and we surround ourselves with things that we hope bring us peace and quiet.  Sort of like wrapping a baby in swaddling – keeping them content and warm and baffled against the inputs of the world.  It is hard to go from a newborn, used to the quiet warmth of the womb, into the bright and noisy world.

Blessed Seraphim

Abbot Nicolas reminded me that we must live the Liturgy in our daily lives.  We must make room for God each and every day.  There is this great Facebook page that is called MonkRock and their motto is: You don’t have to be a monk to live like one!  I love that entire concept.  (They have a great web site called http://www.monkrock.com and offer lots of wonderful things for sale…support them if you can).  Abbot Nicolas said this about it, “There’s no competition here (shouldn’t be anyway!) between ceremony and charity, between social justice and moral living on one hand and sacramental ritual on the other. These are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. Our Temple must be cleansed so we can worship. Our legs must be healed so we can walk into heaven on our own two feet. The Saints have power to work miracles, but not because there’s anything wrong with nature! Miracles show us what nature is already in process of becoming in the continuous and never-ending process of creation leading ultimately to the “New Heaven and the New Earth” of the Eschaton.”  For me, cleaning out my temple has had a practical side – I have pared down our things to just the barest of necessities.  There are so many things which can place artificial barriers between us and those we love, especially God.

I have a son who has attention deficit disorder.  I was initially poo-pooing the whole ADD thing in pop psychology and have fought for my son to not bear labels he can never be rid of, so I approach his disorder in a natural way and ordering our little world goes a long way in dealing with his ADD. Being a teenager brings its own set of issues, and throwing ADD and homeschooling into the mix creates a miasma of circumstantial issues.  Everything in its place and a place for everything has been my motto for all of our children.  With this child in particular, it has had a huge impact.  It is as simple as no Legos on the table when he is doing math.  He will rebuild that Lego creation over and over again, even if just in his mind, and get very few math problems accomplished.  This process of our move has proved extremely agitating for him. His new pet saying is, “My world has been turned upside down and I can’t find anything!!!” usually said dramatically with both hands on his head.  He stood in the door of his room, after his dresser was given away and said to me, “Mom, I just don’t know what to touch first.  Will you help me?” Music to a mother’s ear! Ha-Ha!  And so we tackled his room, piece by piece, and inch by inch.

Gods planI am like my son with his ADD when it comes to God.  So much gets in the way and my path is not clear at times; I often stand there, with both of my hands on my head, too. The world offers us noise and chaos…that is what the lord of this world does to distract us from the path we need to take.  We all have a certain amount, or tendency towards, ADD when it comes to our relationship with God.  How many of us are exhausted at Liturgy some days and can barely hide a yawn, but after Liturgy rush off to hike in the local hills?  How many things do we place between ourselves and an honest relationship with Our Lord?  Abbot Nicolas encouraged us to see that there is no real separation between Liturgy and life, but rather these are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. And as I look about me, there is less and less of the stuff of this world to get between me and living my faith in my daily life.  And as I have been purging my things I have also been purging the stuff getting in the way of my spiritual life.  When I honestly look at most of the things I am packing, I could really drive off in my car with my family, our pets, and the clothes on our backs and I could start over with nothing at all.  I would miss the memorabilia I have collected over the years, but the important things in my life would be with me…my family and my faith.  My pathway towards eternity would certainly have less clutter to wade through!!  All this clutter is both worldly clutter insofar as noisiness, stuff, and bother, but it is also the clutter in my heart and mind that I must process through…a simpler mindset is a simpler path towards God and is a part of my process of Theosis.

Kaliningrad Oblast Russia

“You therefore must be perfect…”

Gerontissa Gabriella.2I am so distressed today.  There are a lot of words being said, back and forth, across the social media sites today about the lack of media coverage of the abortionist who is being tried for murder.  One of the nurses testified that at least one infant screamed as the doctor severed its’ neck with scissors.  That in and of itself is a horrible thing to testify to, to witness, and to have done.  Wanton-less killing is evil; pure and simple.  And I am a pro-life person through and through.  I have learned, through the years, that being pro-life does not just mean that you are anti-abortion.  It does mean, however, that you believe in the sanctity of all human life, from a natural beginning to a natural end.

And the rhetoric that is being flung against this man, and against the mainstream media, is pretty strong.  I was invited to participate in a tweeting meeting…I have no idea what exactly that is, because I really haven’t figured out tweeting.  I guess it’s like instant messaging a whole bunch of people, all at the same time?  I am unclear on the concept or the need for it.  But I digress.  Part of this invitation included lots of comments from the pro-life contingency.  And that is where my upset stomach comes in.

We cannot say the sort of things that are being said about this man and consider ourselves Christians.  It is one thing to believe that someone is guilty of a heinous crime, and I in no way believe this man is innocent, and it is another to speak with such hatred and vitriolic commentary.  How can someone say they are pro-life and Christian, and wish upon a fellow human being the same atrocities they have committed against these babies?  One commentator said he thinks this doctor should be killed by scissors, without anesthesia, piece by piece until he is dead.  There were so many comments about an eye for an eye and so many Biblical quotes from the Old Testament.  The one most used is: “If two men are fighting and they strike a pregnant woman and her children are born prematurely, but there is no harm, he is certainly to be fined as the husband of the woman demands of him, and he will pay as the court decides.” (Exodus 21:22).  For one thing, this verse is talking about a woman being an innocent bystander when two men are arguing; they accidentally hit her and she miscarries.  Her husband can then demand recompense for the loss of her child.  This is not about abortion.  In the case of abortion, the mother is complicit with the decision to kill her child; she is no innocent bystander, but an active participant.

Christ came to change the world.  Yes, He came to cause division.  Yes, He certainly stirred the pot in the ancient world and tried to change how people viewed themselves and their neighbors.  He instructed us to, above all, love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us.  He also taught us the value of life…of all life.  We are not to sit as judge, jury, and executioner; that is God’s prerogative.  Certainly, this doctor deserves to be punished by the law.  Pope John Paul II said that the death penalty is just in a just society.  Is the society we find ourselves in right now, a just society? I think not.  We have all sorts of standards, in all sorts of situations.  Very few people believe our judicial system is actually working.  We have more people in jail in America than total populations in some countries.  We house more criminals than any country in history.  But does this system work?  Recidivism, that subconscious desire to return to the world of the prison system, pulls hard at so many of our convicted. They prefer life on the inside versus life in the streets.  We have raised a generation who believe the world owes them everything and they don’t need to do a thing to earn it.  We have one of the most severely under-educated populations in the world, and yet we spend more per pupil than any other nation.

Most of the commentary about this doctor is so hateful and spiteful, and supposedly said by Christians, that it is frightening.  Now be prepared, because I am a person of eclectic tastes.  One of my favorite TV shows is called Supernatural.  The premise is these two brothers, working with angels, are trying to stop the apocalypse from happening. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is the basic idea.  In one episode, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are slowly escaping (the explanation for the whys of that take an entire season) and War has made himself known in a small town in Colorado. When one of the brothers is chatting with War, he asks him why is he poisoning the people?  What is he doing? Is it an incantation, a spell, a drug?  War simply answers that he needs none of that.  Lovely, complacent, Christians (many of the scenes take place in the Catholic church’s basement Hall, where a stunned priest asks, “Wait, you mean the Apocalypse?) can turn on their neighbor when you simply introduce doubt and suspicion into their minds.  He goes on to say that being War is one of the most simple things to be because humanity itself can war on itself, with nothing more than a little nudge from him.  That got me to thinking about the reaction to this doctor.  Hateful.  And the reaction in politics – it is frightening how our hatred spews from the same mouths that proclaim Christ as King.

Today, the vitriol made my stomach just churn in knots.  I grabbed a tums and sat down to write.  What we say and how we act shows where our hearts truly lay.  If we can so easily turn on another human being with such hatred, is it any surprise that things like the holocaust could happen in those quiet, German, suburbs?  Is there any surprise that Planned Parenthood can operate in our towns and cities with no reaction?  Where is the surprise at what a late term abortion entails?  Babies are born alive and then they are killed.  When my sons were born, they were crying almost right away.  Of course a baby will scream when you cut its neck with scissors.  What did we think happened?  But do we really want to impose that same thing on this doctor?  What happened to us that we think that is justified, while decrying ourselves as Christians?  Christ told us, quite specifically, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)  The fifth chapter of Matthew contains the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ exhorts us to behave above and beyond what our culture expects of us. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5: 21-26).

St John of Kronstadt.love others

It frightens me, how easily the hatred and frustrations people bear towards their neighbor comes to the surface.  How can we possibly attract people to Christ when we behave like that?  If someone from the pro-abortion side were to read the comments made on this pro-life site, they would feel even more justified in their position.  They spew things about pro-life supporters, calling us names and telling us how false we are.  Perhaps if we show our underbellies like this, there is some truth in what our naysayers actually say about us.  I stopped reading the sites and went to prayer for these people.  We need to love the sinner, but hate the sin.  It is stated this way in Scripture: If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? (1 John 4:20)  St. Augustine is thought to have expounded on that with the love the sinner but hate the sin statement.  There is more evidence that we should not judge our brothers: “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, `Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eyes; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).  Furthermore, Christ instructs us: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

In no way do these statements of Christ I have opted to quote, nor my commentary, undermine or reduce the crime this man has committed.  In no way do I condone his actions. I believe abortion is evil and wrong, and a choice of convenience. In our hedonistic society, we are all about serving ourselves and not looking out for our brothers.  We think that we have the right of death over life, when in fact, that belongs to God alone.  My point is that the words we use do remain until eternity.  And because eternity is never-ending, our words are never-ending as well.  Do we want to be known for the vitriolic hatred spewed about this man, or would it be better to calm down this hateful rhetoric, push for a life-long jail sentence, and see to correcting the societal ills that approve of abortion in the first place? Let us not sink down into the miasma of hatred from which the desire to kill the unborn sprang.  Let us instead approach the situation with the love of Christ.  He quietly stood among those in a small community, calling for the stoning of the woman accused in adultery.  He alone caused that community to calmly walk away, by asking those without sin to cast that first stone. We can do at least that.  We can put down the stones and allow the man to spend his life in repentant jail time, and try to change the world that caused him to abandon his training as a doctor who saves lives, to one who takes life.

St Silouan the Athonite2

“… displayed it to all…”

Holy Cross VerifiedI love miracle stories.  And this is one of my favorites, the finding of the True Cross of Christ.  It is not really necessary to believe in miracles, or to believe in visions or visionaries.  We rush to these things because once in awhile we need to be reminded that what we believe is honest and true.  Sometimes people travel great distances to visit the Holy Land, to walk on the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Grief and participate in the Stations of the Cross, walking where Christ walked and touching places in history.  Many people make a regular occurrence of visiting monasteries or other places where they feel the presence of God more fully than in their favorite easy chair.  I have many friends who love to just visit the Eucharist daily, to just sit in the presence of God, before starting their day.  There are also lots of people who wear things to remind them of their faith, like prayer ropes or crosses.  I was lucky enough to purchase a plain, Byzantine cross at a monastery many years ago, that had been made by an artist, to help support the monastery. I wear it pretty much all the time, and it reminds me of my walk with God and as I touch it off and on during the day, it also comforts me.

390px-OrthodoxCross(black,contoured).svgBecause it is a cross normally associated with Byzantines or Eastern Rite Catholics and the Orthodox, most people do not readily recognize it.  I am often asked if I am wearing some sort of language symbol and most people suppose it to be an Asian-language word or symbol…like something you would get tattooed on yourself.  I usually chuckle at that, but it also gives me an opportunity to share my faith.

When my husband and I were choosing our wedding rings about 30 years ago, he really liked simple bands and the one he loved was a gold band that had a cross inset on it, with tiny diamond chips. (Very tiny chips! Ha-Ha!! We were young and pretty poor, as most newlyweds are!)  He wanted me to wear the matching band, but I had my heart set on another design.  And I realized that I did not want to wear a cross on my finger, because I was not quite ready to proclaim to the world that I was a Christian.  I look back on that now, and I am rather ashamed, but also treasure the growth God allowed to take place in me.  Wearing a cross around your neck or on your finger says something about who you are as a person.  Putting a sticker of a cross on your car, or hanging one from your rear-view mirror also makes a statement.  Having a religious symbol on your home or in your yard makes a big statement about the people who live there. Some people now tattoo religious symbols or sayings on their flesh…a permanent reminder of what they believe and a permanent statement to whomever they are in contact with, on a daily basis. And sometimes I think we all forget what statement we are making.  How often have we been run over by someone trying to exit the Church parking lot on Sundays, or cut off in traffic by a driver with a WWJD sticker on the back of their car?  How often, while wearing a cross, do we get nasty with someone at a store or while driving?  How often are we uncharitable to our neighbors, while flying a flag with a statement of our faith from our rooftops?  We often forget that we have forged a relationship with God and that we have chosen to wear or display that relationship on our person, our vehicles, or on our homes.

We attended this wonderful parish picnic at a Melkite parish out of town one summer.  It was a nice drive, the weather was wonderful, and we arrived early enough to be able to check out all the booths and sample some of the wonderful food being sold, before it got overly crowded.  In the Melkite Church, we were spoiled because everyone appreciates those who serve on the altar so much.  We were given little gifts of food and some wonderful coffee, as we strolled the picnic.  We had parishioners coming up to us, explaining what they were selling, and the aromas of the shawarma booths were making me salivate!  (Shawarma‎ is a Levantine  Arab meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal or mixed meats are placed on a spit (commonly a vertical spit), and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shavings are cut off the block of meat for serving, and the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate (generally with accompaniments), shawarma also refers to a sandwich or wrap made with shawarma meat. Shawarma is eaten with tabbouleh, fattoush, tabboon bread, tomato, and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba. It is now a fast-food staple worldwide. We are blessed to have a great Arabic food restaurant nearby where we can buy gyros with our choice of beef, chicken, or lamb shawarma!  So blessed!). There was a booth that caught my eye, and it wasn’t even food-oriented!  This booth had these great flags to put in front of your house. They are what are called garden flags in that you hang them on a stake in your yard.  And there were flags for almost all the Holy Days, as well as some of my favorite feast days.  I bought one of each and promptly went home and replaced my pretty flowered flag with a flag for the season of our faith. I loved being able to do that!  When we relocated up here, one of the first things I did was hang my flag by the front door.  I did not think a thing about it.  In about 60 days or so, I had a letter from the HOA telling me I had to remove the flag or pay $50 fines for each month it was not removed.  Apparently, nothing religious is allowed to be on your home, visible by anyone else.  I was flabbergasted.  I replaced my religious flag with a flowery-spring thing.  I was so irritated.  I could not believe there would be an ordinance about flags like this.  In addition, we were not allowed to place religious artwork in our gardens or front areas of our home. The list was specific and long.  Because we just lease and are not owners, I did not make a fuss.  About a month after that, the President of the HOA drove up to our house to chat, as we were working in the yard.  She told us that we could once again fly our flag because people complained about the fines and they got another company to represent the HOA.  She told me, “Please fly those flags. I love seeing them.”  Wow!  Was I shocked and happy. I walked into the house and grabbed a flag, and proudly re-hung it by our front door.  With packing up for our move, I brought the flag inside and I must say, I miss it being there.  It sort of grounds me.  And I also think our neighbors all appreciated our wanting to share a little of who we are in a quiet way.

Gerontissa GabrieliaI think that when we visibly demonstrate our faith before others, we become, perhaps, the only Jesus they may ever see or become acquainted with.  We need to pray when we place a cross around our neck, on our fingers, tattooed on our person, or placed on our cars, or on our homes.  We are a visible sign to others that God is present and that we are His followers.  St. Helen was determined to bring the True Cross to her son, the Emperor Constantine, and she traveled great distances and endured much hardship to do so.  She was a determined woman of faith and her faith never wavered in her quest to find the Cross of Christ, raise it out of obscurity, and bring it to where generations of Christians would worship the instrument of their salvation. It is a powerful thing and an incredible statement to and for others.  I love wearing my Byzantine Cross around my neck and the ring my husband presented to me, matching his, with the simple Cross on it.  The different styles of crosses confuse people, too, and it has started many conversations about what I believe.  It is also a reminder to be the Christian I am declaring to the world when I drive, when I shop, when I am with anyone else.  But more importantly, it is there for me, to remind me of the wonderful gift of faith Our Lord has given to me, and blessed my life with.

Prayer candles cross

“…to develop a collective mindset…”

I change up the theme photos at the top of this blog site now and then. I like to focus on something or highlight some things.  I have shared photos of Seattle, Anchorage, the AlCan Highway, various saints, and photos from churches.  This new one is a photo of an oil painting, depicting a Russian family gathered around the dinner table. You can see the icon corner and there is a lovely saying, as well.  It speaks about the importance of the Christian family in our society:  “If the Church is a huge pillar of fire, then the Christian family is a small candle lit from that fire.” (Archimandrite Raphail Karelin).

There has been so much hoopla given over to the family and raising of children in recent months, especially in light of the violence in our streets and schools. Recently, a pundit on MSNBC said that we need to get over the idea that kids belong to their parents or their families and once we realize that we are all responsible for the children in this country, we will make more responsible decisions in the areas of education and healthcare.  She went on to say that we need to develop a collective mindset towards children, aka “the village” approach to parenting.  Now, as a parent, these words are a little troubling. I do agree that we all need to be invested in the children of this country, but I do not want a governmental entity telling me exactly how to do that.  Being in a Byzantine parish, where most of the families are not from this country, it has been interesting to watch them with their children.  They definitely kept an eye on each other’s children and if any of the adults disciplined a child, they responded well to that.  No one let anyone’s children get out of control.  In a Latin rite parish that we used to attend, it was similar to that, because we were all homeschoolers, and that is a different mindset than most American parents have developed.  When you homeschool, you take your children out of the governmental schooling system and you opt to educate them yourself.  Most of us also chose to educate our children in the ways of the faith on a more regular basis than just on Sundays and Holy Days. We are a little anti-governmental intrusion in our lives, and believe vociferously in our rights to parent as we deem best for our families, and are also staunch practitioners of our faith.

Choose words wiselyI think that when rhetoric gets a little out-of-hand, we all need to first and foremost, take a deep breath, then perhaps reflect on the person using the words, and think about where they are coming from.  I believe the pundit who spoke on MSNBC was speaking to issues of funding school programs and lamenting the fact that so many people are disinterested in what happens in our culture, even at the local School Board level.  I chose to educate my sons at home because there are things that I just do not agree with in our system.  And through the years, I have been so glad we opted to teach our children at home.

Have my children participated in the culture at large? Well, yes they have and still do.  We did not remove them from life, just from public education.  They still played Little League and even Ice Hockey.  They still had lots of friends and had some incredible experiences growing up; they just did not attend government-controlled education centers. Homeschooling does not cut you off from the world, you just choose to educate at home.  When we talk about developing a collective mindset when it comes to our children, and that children do not belong to their parents or their families, that’s when I get a little jumpy.  I love that this pundit wants to get more of the community involved.  We need to do something. The USA used to rank in the top 10 % of educational statistics worldwide.  We are now languishing somewhere in the 30th zone.  What happened?  I believe we forgot about the basics; you know, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  But that’s for another post!!

We can and should develop a concern for the children in our midst.  We should worry about drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll: there are poignant and important issues in our world today.  But we also need to care for our children and choose our words wisely, because there are so many children who have nothing to look forward to when they wake up in the mornings.  We are poorly educated, yes, but far more importantly, there are so many children who are poorly catechized in their faith.  In a state like Washington, where only 6% of the population is churched, we are failing miserably in this regard.  When you add to the missing faith life of children, their lack of education and poor job prospects, life can be depressing.  A famous young man, the son of a famous protestant preacher, committed suicide this week.  He is endemic of the culture pervading this country, and in that regard, we do need a more collective mindset.  For me, this means I need to share my family and my faith with every person, every child, I come in contact with.  We are asked to be godparents and we agree.  What does that mean? It means that I am theologically and morally responsible for that child – for their entire life – not just the baptism photo ops, party, and cake.  I am theologically and morally responsible.  How do I live out that responsibility? On my knees! (“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18).  I offer prayers for my godchildren; I interact with them; I share who I am with them.  I have a god daughter who is in her late 20s.  She came to spend Thanksgiving with us and I posted about it; it was wonderful spending time with her.  She asked me pointed questions when it came to men and her future, dating, living together, etc.  And I had to have that sort of talk with her that makes us sort of uncomfortable.  And you know what? She loved me even more for sticking to what I believe and for steering her in the right direction.  I was relieved and I was thankful that God helped me to live my faith for her and with her, affecting her life-choices in a positive way.

Each of us is responsible for each of our children; each of our god children.  The community at large is also our concern.  I still believe it is my right to raise my children, and educate them, in the way I believe is best for them.  Until they are 18, by law, they are mine.  So I think that erasing that line between collective mindset and personal responsibility is wrong.  But we also need to be aware of what is going on around us and to at least pay attention.  So many people think someone else will take care of it and so they do nothing to help; they don’t even get out and vote. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is just hunky-dory.

St Dorotheos of GazaWhen we care for our neighbor, we care for our own spiritual well-being.  Christ instructed us to love one another as I have loved you (John 34) and in doing that, He instructed us to develop a sort of collective mindset insofar as we care for the lives of those around us.  We do not diminish their right to live as they choose, nor do we judge them.  We simply love our neighbor, watch out for them, and “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40).

Elder Siluan

“…a whisper of the Divine….”

Warriors of Christ fite best on kneesI love this photo.  Roughly translated it means that the “Warriors of Christ fight best on their knees.”  What a thought!  Someone commented that there is a lot of black in their vestments.  Yes, there is.  But it is worn as a sign of mourning or sadness, during Lent.  And I love how beautiful the entire thing looks.  I long to be there…instead of….

My house!  I am decidedly going crazy right now, with the hectic pace of our moving looming over everything.  My husband has 5 or so days left on his job, then we seriously pack up and move.  We have one room upstairs almost totally empty; our poor son has no dresser or night stand in his room, and his bed is going soon, too.  We have odds and ends to be rid of and we are all about cleaning out to the bare bones.  The hectic, chaotic mess of a house torn apart, well, it really gets to me. I did not realize how much I like having everything in its place. Not necessarily white-glove clean, but neat.  Having to step around and over things is getting to me.  Right now, all my dishes (and I mean all) are on our counter top, waiting to be packed or sold.  I cannot move in my kitchen.  The bathrooms are great, so that is a place to hide away! Ha-Ha!  My office is in total chaos and I still have to either pack or burn all the papers in there.  We are trying to get rid of a large oak roll-top desk, so I need to empty it.  So much in process; much done, but oh so much left to do!

And I find myself looking for solace and peace.  The opening post photo is exemplary of what I need to be doing…fighting this battle on my knees.  All of this is in God’s hands and I need to stop taking it back from him. Surrendering in prayer is what I need more of, not struggling with these things I need to pack, choices I need to make, and space bags to fill and flatten.  I am not disposing myself to complete surrender, to just sit and wiggle my nose like Jeannie on the old TV show, and expect that everything will magically be packed and we will be on our way.  It is more of a surrender to the Will of God in all things.  This move included.  All things.

Elder Sophrony1Spending a few moments in prayer is worth all the chaos that may arise because of being absent to the chronos of life, and spending some kairos time with God.   And those moments when you hear “a whisper of the Divine is glory beyond compare to all the content of a life lived apart from God.” This momentary interruption to having things in their place, and the quiet and contentment of living in your home where you feel like it is your place of solace, are all worth living in the light of God’s Will for us.  Life is not about those years we engrave on our tombstones, but rather about the life in between those dates.  A little chaos now and then makes the peace that much more sublime and rich.  And as my kids keep reminding me, “Keep your eye on the prize.”  Today, I am living that…God’s truly got this!

“..struggling towards…”

My house is a mess, a chaotic mess.  We are moving in a couple of weeks and I am seriously purging and packing.  I opened it up to our homeschool group online and a young woman, just starting out, came by to look at our things.  When I say my house is chaotic, you have to watch where you walk.  There are plastic crates stacked in the living room; my dining room is my packing table.  There are items from my cupboards in the kitchen all over the countertops.  There are piles of “things to keep” and “things to get rid of,” as well as piles of “just throw away.” I can barely function.  And this sweet young lady, carrying her 1-year-old boy, says nothing of the mess.  We walk into the kitchen so she can peruse the dishware and her first comment to me was, “Oh, I love your icons.”  And I looked over at our mantle across in the family room area, the only place left that has not felt the packing chaos, and it was a place of serenity.  There is the Blessed Theotokos, holding the Christ Child, looking down at us. There is Christ, Pantocrator, gently showing us his book of Scriptures and gently beckoning us closer; the many saints and Holy Day icons…we have at least 25 icons on our mantle.

Mantle with icons I realized that this little nest of Our Lord, the Theotokos, the Saints…they are a bastion of sanity in life.  I was drawn to just look at them, standing there in the midst of packing crates and packing paper, tape, and kitchen stuff!  And I sighed deeply and just smiled.  “ And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)  I smiled because I was helping someone, and witnessing my faith at the same time; it felt wonderful.  My husband has been worried that I was being forced to leave so many “things” behind and that, after 30 years, we would be moving with less than I brought to this marriage.  I actually smiled and laughed at that, because I am finally at the point in life where I don’t want the stuff.  I don’t want to have to worry about things because I want to spend my time with my family, not cleaning and dusting a big house full of things.  I want small, simple, and humble…freedom from the burden of things.  Christ exhorts us in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And I really feel like I am getting there, closer to where I want my heart to be – surrounded by my family.

As I was going through things today, I was contemplating a dish and realized I didn’t actually need it but that I liked it; I also realized that God is asking me to give it up.  I looked at the icons and realized the Heavenly Hosts are around us all the time.  They are watching us, interceding for us, and praying for us.  They encourage me through the words of others, and through their presence in the Church Triumphant, to make the right choices when faced with decisions.  The greatest gift God gave us is the gift of sharing His life.  We have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 PT 1:4) and when we live a life of faith, this relationship is deepened, furthering the process of our divination or theosis.  This movement continues through our life and death and will not be complete until the resurrection of all mankind on the last day.  Then our risen bodies as well as our spirits will share in the resurrection life and partake in glory, “We know we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2) [God with Us publications, “What Eastern Christians Believe”].  I am certainly not a finished product, but a work in progress.  Today I learned that this process of theosis begun in me is sparked now and then through the words and actions of others.  Just bringing my attention back to the icons on our mantle took the drudgery aspect out of purging, packing, and moving, and brought me back to the reasons we are doing this – a new life. And it was so very easy to put that dish I was contemplating into the “give away” pile.

Russian baptismGod has given me this incredible gift of faith and even though many would find me to be middle-aged, or even old (agh!!), I feel like I am just beginning to live what I believe with no compromise.  I spoke with a man on the phone today who is a devout Catholic, husband, and father who is suffering through a divorce he does not want.  He was lamenting how easy it is for most people to set aside their beliefs and choose the culture over those beliefs.  I agreed with him and tried to offer him some comfort.  But there is not much I can say, other than to agree with him.   It is much easier to accept what we don’t believe, when their is societal pressure to do so.  That is witnessed by the divorce rate, abortion rate, unmarried parenthood the norm; so may examples to cite.  And it is a one of the prime motivators in why we are choosing to move.  We are going toward family, but it is also an opportunity to do with less, to live simply, and to become the people we really want to be.  My husband is free to choose a completely different career.  We are also choosing to shape our daily lives in a different way; time is going to be spent enjoying our family and not so focused on working.  We are also going to worship in a more family-oriented way.  God has been giving us chance after chance, and we are taking this one and choosing the path that God is offering us.  A step in faith, to be sure, but it is not out of fear, but with that same joy I felt when I looked up at the icons on our mantle; a joy deeply felt that God is with us, and with the cloud of witnesses there to comfort me.  And I know this is right.

Blessed Seraphim