“…an accounting to God…”

Don't compareOne of the most profound things I have learned this past year or so, I learned through reading the book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus. I know I have quoted him here and have mentioned this pivotal book more than once.  I told some other parishioners about it yesterday.  As Saint Seraphim is quoted as saying, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”  We cannot look to externals for verification; we certainly cannot look to the standards of our modern culture to know if we are “okay” or not.  Faith is the manifestation of God living within us.  It is a quiet thing, a personal thing, an internal thing.  It becomes external in how we interact with those around us.  Elder Thaddeus cautions us again and again that how we believe what we believe, determines what happens in our lives and around us.  There is a song by the Beatles (written by John Lennon) that is titled, “Imagine.”  Most of the lyrics annoy me because it is the mantra of a “free” world; but he is alluding to a world free of pretty much every line drawn or every rule…”and no religion, too.”  One of the stanzas says, “…A brotherhood of man…imagine all the people sharing all the world.”  And that stanza stayed with me through the annoyance of the rest of it.  Because it truly is what we are – we are the brotherhood of man.  We are all brothers, through the Son of Man, Who came to save us from our sins.  He Who bore our sins in the stripes on His back, the holes in His scalp, the wound in His side, whilst hanging on the Cross.  But we do not think that way, and consequently, we do not behave that way.  The outcome is the world you see about you.

Elder Thaddeus has taught me that I can win over doubters and non-believers by silently praying for them, and behaving as the believer I purport to be.  Even if I struggle liking a particularly surly person, or one who, for whatever reason, pricks some annoying portion of my soul, I can still pray for them and show them love, asking God to step in for my lacking, for God loves perfectly.  We cannot look to another Christian for the level of behavior we are supposed to have for our brother; man is forever and always fallible.  It is the gift of free will.  We trip over that every time.

Abba IsaiasRecently, there have been disparate news items that have gelled for me into a cohesive unit of sorts.  We have security leaks; we have our government spying on us; there have been articles in many Protestant circles decrying our overt sense of patriotism and lamenting the lack of fervor in our faith-life; and now we have the possibility of involvement in another war in the Middle East.  But all of these things are harbingers of the shift in our culture.  We have gone from a country of workers who had pride in the products they made; where factory whistles blew the hours in many, many towns.  We had acres and acres of productive farmlands with cottage industries surrounding the farms.  There are now countless factory towns and remote farm towns that lay empty; devoid of workers and families who have fled to the city from the countryside.  But what have they fled to?  Seemingly they went for a better life to be had in these cement jungles.

Children have no idea where milk comes from.  Trust me.  We lived on dairy farms for years and you would not believe how misinformed the local population, people who lived within walking distance of these dairies, were about what happened on a dairy.  We had to block the view from the road so people who drove by could not see a cow giving birth, because when a farmer had to help his cow deliver her calf by yanking it out by its feet, animal rights activists thought it was cruel.  Cruel would be allowing cow and calf to die because she could not deliver it on her own.  School children think milk comes from the store.  Now, this is a silly example in light of the above sentences about governmental spying on our cell phones and emails, but nevertheless, it says something about our culture.  We have such narrow, specialized knowledge that we are missing out on the world.  If a child grows up not even knowing where milk comes from, how can they care about the plight of farmers who own the cows?  Why would they worry over food sources when Costco sells in bulk? These children, instead, have iPads, iPods, iPhones, their own laptops for schoolwork, regularly visit all sorts of social media, and dress in the latest trends.  They have soccer lessons, swim lessons, they attend camps for music and get after school lessons at places like Sylvan Learning Centers (because the schools are failing our children), and with all those resources, still don’t know where milk comes from.  The companies that have sold us all these goods keep tabs of our log on habits, where we view what, how we spend our money. They tie in our financials with our social information.  They gather all the information on us that the government asks them for.  (Note, the corporations were gathering that information for data to sell to their vendors, to improve “point of sale,” so they say). Soon the IRS will be tied into our medical records with Obamacare.  We keep the 10 Commandments on the front of the Supreme Court building, but do not allow prayer in schools or even a basic understanding of the history of the world that led to the Incarnation of the Son of Man.

And all of this has created a chaotic, noisy world.

Our country does not produce much anymore, not even food products.  I was speaking to an engineer from a large aerospace firm who told me that even if we did want to put a man on the moon, we lack the internal knowledge base; we lack the capability to build a spaceship of some sort, and the capacity of creativity or thinkers to create such a thing.  We’ve outsourced it all.  We purchase every single television set from outside the USA.  Not a single light bulb is produced on our soil.  Think about that for a moment.  And all that is planned by the powers that be, in the sense of controlling what is done by whom, for whom.  The money allocated for this or that.  A loaf of bread, a new car, braces on your daughter’s teeth, a gallon of gas – prices are out of our control, as is this economy.  Why?

Where is God in all of this?  He is sitting in the still, quiet of our hearts, waiting for us to call on Him, to acknowledge Him, to act upon the faith that is inside of each of us.  God does not allow us to fall unless we have allowed ourselves to stumble in the first place.  My husband and I are at the lowest point in our 30 years together, financially.  We made decisions we felt were based on God calling us in our lives to live where we are now.  It is a hard thing to do, to sit back and allow the Holy Spirit to truly guide us, to have faith in it, and to rest in the Presence of God in our lives.  Once again I quote Mark Hart the Bible Geek, “God’s got this.”  But God only has it if we ask Him; if we allow our faith in Him to be manifest in each moment of our lives.  If we do that, we influence thousands around us with our love and our peace.  I know it’s a corny example, but if we show one schoolchild where milk comes from, don’t you think that during play period on the schoolyard they will share with every kid who stands still long enough to listen to their story of their day on a dairy farm?!  How much more so with our experience of God?

EphesiansYesterday after Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, we had an opportunity to chat with various parishioners.  One in particular is what I would call a doomsday prepper.  I am not sure if they have a bunker or not, but if I would hazard a guess, it would be that they do (something not that uncommon up here).  He told us he is done with politics because it is such a mess. He said that he realized it boils down to simply good versus evil.  He fully believes that socialism and a one-world-government (the type of utopia John Lennon sang about in “Imagine”) is well on its way to establishing itself.  He believes we will engage in war on our soil and that the enemies in our world want to wipe out the USA.  He is preparing for nuclear and chemical warfare on our soil. He believes it is evil, manifesting itself in governments and their agencies worldwide. His solution is to act simply, one soul at a time, to share the faith in God and bring about change, one person at a time.  It is that conversation that brought me to the computer today.  Because as I stated above, the disparate things that were brought to my attention all really gel around this idea that “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and it is global in its perspective.  Yes, “imagine no countries, nothing to live or die for” is what this utopia of John Lennon’s is like.  The reality is not far from it.  The Protestant author I recently read was lamenting that her fellow church-goers knew more national anthems than they did church hymns.  Perhaps that is so and that is sort of frightening on its own.  They believe, she thinks, that being American supersedes being a Christian.  Which is backward.  I agree…our faith should imbue all of who we are and what we do.  The fact that it does not has gotten us to where we are.

Elder AM

I believe that each of us needs to draw closer to that sweet spot we have inside of us, that special place where our faith in God resides.  The Orthodox call it the nous, and believe we hold God close to our heart, in a place devoted solely to Him.  We need to acknowledge the Real Presence in each of us and share with one soul at a time; that person who we meet moment to moment in our lives.  Trite as it sounds, the grocery store clerk, the postman, the hair stylist, bank teller, fellow parishioner, our children, our parents, our friends….they all hunger for the Word of God, the touch of faith, in their lives.  If we truly believe “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” just imagine the world we could have and I do not believe it looks anything like where we are now.

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“…a bold witness…”

Character“We are not guaranteed our next breath.” Our pastor was fond of reminding his flock of that and I am so glad he did, because when life gets unbearable in many ways, I try to remember to thank God that I am still here, breathing.  The alternative is the hoped-for eternity spent in adoration, in the Holy Presence.  I will be glad, as I have said before, to be in the nose-bleed section.  I don’t require up-close-and-personal seats next to the Throne of God.  I do not feel worthy for the good seats!  I will be thankful to just be in the Beatific Presence of God…regardless of proximity!

I often find myself, in my mind’s eye, face down, prostrate on the floor, in deep supplication before God.  I seek not riches, not glory, not fame….I seek to live the life He gave me, to its fullest potential.  I seek to be the daughter that God our Father wants me to be.  Quite often I feel He has far more confidence in my ability to withstand the slings and arrows of life and He allows much more than I feel I can handle all at once, to repeatedly strike me.  In those moments, I remember that I am breathing. I ask for the strength to continue on and to have the right attitude about things.  There are so many examples of Holy Suffering for us in the history of our faith that I could refer to.  So many people who have far outdone my pitiful sufferings, through their giving of their very lives to remain faithful.  Nothing as dire as that here!  We often hear the term said something like, “Oh, that poor person, suffering a dry martyrdom.” In a commentary on the Gospel of Luke at http://www.rc.net, there was this quote:

God may call some of us to be martyrs, but for most of us our call is to be dry martyrs who bear testimony to the joy of the gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord.   What attracts others to the gospel?  When they see Christians loving their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear our adversaries.  He will give us sufficient grace, strength, and wisdom to face any trial and to answer any challenge to our faith.  Are you eager to witness to the joy and freedom of the gospel?  ‘Lord,  by your cross you have redeemed the world.  Fill me with joy and confidence and make me a bold witness of your saving truth that others may know the joy and freedom of the gospel.'”

That is the sort of attitude I try and maintain, but frankly, it gets rough to do some days.  There are those who have no faith life, or understanding of faith, and their outlook can be pretty negative.  They love, they want to help, but they are helpless with nothing in their lives to stand upon; no foundation in God to rely upon themselves.  And when those sorts suffer, it can create a miasma of negativity you find yourself being swept into.  Having our own, separate, personal issues, as we all do, makes it difficult to maintain a Christian perspective on everything going on around you, as the tide of negativity grabs ahold of you.  And so, I take a deep breath, and I thank God for it.

We have all heard maxims like, “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day,” or “Take it one day at a time.”  They are all telling us what Christ has been saying, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:25-34)  Every once in awhile, we need to be reminded that God is control of this, that through my faith in Him, I am completely taken care of.  Some days it is harder than others to remember this gift from God.  Through my faith in the Ruler of the Universe, I am cared for.  Pretty amazing that a little peon like me would be taken care of; that although through my own free will and choices I freely make, things come to pass that I had not expected or planned, God has “my back.” “God’s got this,” as Mark Hart the Bible Geek likes to say.  Today, I say, “Thanks be to God.”

DidacheAnd today is one of those days when I find myself sighing a lot; sitting in contemplation most of the time.  My son was surprised by his older brother and his family and taken to the zoo today; my husband is off working for the day;  I am alone at home. It is nice to be able to be quiet.  Although our dogs and cat are not happy with me being the sole person at home – there’s less entertainment when there are no children in the house!  This gives me time to reflect on the many gifts God has bestowed on me and mine.  I find myself weeping as I watch a video of my baby granddaughter, riding in her swing, sucking on her Binky, and being a contented little girl. It gives me comfort to see her and it settles my heart, because it is one of the most amazing gifts I have been given – my children and my grandchildren.  I am so blessed to see our family expand, one life at a time.

The blessings we have are the bumper pads in the crib of life.  We struggle sometimes, but we have soft sides to bump into when life gets rough. My grandchildren are parts of me that will live on, will continue on into the future that is blocked from me.  And it gives me such joy to know that they are here.  The rough roads we are now traveling will make the victory that much sweeter; that much more fulfilling.

Elder PaosiosI thank God for all of it – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  These things in life are the fabric of life.  Tapestries are wonderful…on the front side.  Ever see all the tangled and knotted strings on the back of them?  Only God truly sees all our knots and tangles as we present smiling faces to the world; as we give all we have when we are the ones who really need to be cared for.  But in all of this, and all of that, I cling to my faith and I smile.  God isn’t done with me, yet, and perfection takes an eternity to reach.  Thanks be to God for this breath…..

“We have a choice…”

I was getting pretty prolific at this blogging thing.  With our big move, somehow the wind was lost that was maneuvering my sail!  It’s not that I have less to say; I believe it is that I have become more introspective and quiet. For some of you who know me well, you may very well doubt that assertion.  But deep inside of me, I have become more still.  Practicing Holy Silence is something more common to in the Eastern side of Christianity.  Although in the West, it is practiced within communal living in monasteries and convents, but less so in lives fully engaged in our culture.  And I believe that Holy Silence is something we all should work to cultivate more in our personalities, in our families, in our world.

Abba AseniosUp here, and because I am so new here, there are fewer social distractions.  I can concentrate on the few things in my life that are of primary importance to me – my personal walk with the Lord, my husband’s well being, and the well being and health of my family (these are multifaceted concerns – social, physical, and spiritual).  My friends, my true friends, we often allow time and distance to come between our conversations. They know (and I know) I am there for them, should they need me, as they are for me.  It is wonderful when you know there are people like that in your life.  The need to speak is not necessary every moment.

Once upon a time, my great-grandmother was a nanny to a very wealthy family in England.  She had charge of their three of four children (I can’t recall exactly, but I know it was more than two) and they were out on the large estate the family lived on, walking with the horses, my great grandmother leading a horse while two of the children rode it.  She told me it was a beautiful day and the birds were chirping, the sun shining, and there was even a gentle breeze to make the day perfect, with a couple of the children running about their feet, gathering flowers.  She noticed that the birds stopped singing and several rabbits hopped across their pathway, scampering under the brush.  And then she heard this horrible sound.  It rattled everything; the ground even seemed to vibrate.  The horse reared and shied, and the children toppled onto the ground.  She hurriedly gathered the children and they ran for cover under some brush along the many rock walls common to the English countryside, where they huddled in fright.  She thought the sky was crashing; the noise was overwhelming and the children were crying. She looked up and overhead was a large dirigible, or motor-driven air balloon, making its way across the countryside. She had never heard anything so loud, or any sound quite like it.  She said it changed her life forever.  On the heels of that, they got radio.  Eventually, there was television.  She said the world she knew had changed forever and it changed the way people interacted with one another.  She lamented the quiet of her childhood.  She told me this story during her last days on this earth, while I was just barely in my teens.  It is a story I have never forgotten. I often wonder what she would think of the world we have now.

My grandmother, my great-grandmother’s daughter, and I were very close most of my life.  I would often spend time with her and my grandpa, even as a single adult.  I enjoyed their company very much.  After she was a widow, we saw her a lot.  My children shared all they could with her.  The two older boys were obsessed with all things Star Wars.  They had little characters and play “houses” from the movie, almost like little movie sets.  They had Legos galore that were Star Wars themed.  My oldest son’s favorite toy back then was this large creature called a “Rancor” that he kept until well into his young adulthood, finally getting rid of it after he was married and in the military.  One day, they wanted my grandma to sit down with them and watch the Star Wars movie (Episode 4 back then was considered the first one).  They called her “grandma-great” and installed her in a comfy chair, complete with popcorn, and off we were, on a modern-day adventure.  My grandma was born in 1903, so Star Wars was pretty far-fetched for her. I think she lasted maybe 10 minutes and was so lost and confused at what she was seeing, she gave up and went to sleep!  Afterwards, the boys were so upset she didn’t watch it with them, and we spoke about how much the world had changed since 1903.  The things she saw were almost beyond comprehension, in just a lifetime. She saw the invention of so many things we all now take for granted – automobiles, phones, television, space travel; on and on it went.  And she also lamented the noisiness of our world.

And in 2013 we are constantly bombarded by noise.  We were trying to come up with ways to cut our monthly costs and I floated the idea of loosing the TV cable service and letting go of my iPhone.  The protests were almost funny.  My youngest son loves my iPhone, but I think it is for the game apps he’s installed on it!  As for television, if we are truly honest about it, there is nothing much on it of intrinsic value to our eternity.  Sure, it is mind-numbing and the entertainment value is certainly present in some products they provide.  I adore Duck Dynasty, I must admit.  But I can obtain the show, one season behind, on disc at Walmart!  So we are thinking of seriously getting rid of TV, and having some wonderful conversations about it.  My older sons had no TV in their lives until their early teen years.  We just felt it was not necessary to their development; whereas our youngest son has never known life without TV. It is another source of noise.

Favorite bookWe recently got library cards up here and my husband and I love our new library; it feeds our love of reading.  We both have about 4 or 5 novels we are working on right now.  Our youngest son can be persuaded to read at night, if there is no TV or video-gaming going on with friends around the country.  And I am craving the quiet.  The more you incorporate quiet into your daily life, the more you seem to want it and need it.

Tree iPadI was chatting with someone today and I commented that occasionally we need those quiet moments to regenerate our minds and souls, and to keep the peace in our homes and families. It is okay to take those mental vacations and often keeping distance from others in our lives is a positive thing for everyone.  We seem to share every moment on all sorts of social media these days, when I am beginning to think it is over-kill.  I have often felt alone even amongst crowds and I have realized that reaching out to people through the social media outlets is misguided.  For me, and for my mental and spiritual health, I am beginning to realize that more solitude, more quiet, more contemplation is what we need, versus more noise in our lives, more chatter, more of a wasting of our time sharing minute details of living that can best be kept to ourselves.  I love Elder Thaddeus and have shared what I have gleaned from his words of wisdom as set down in his book, “Our Thoughts Determine our Lives.”  He has his own Facebook page!  Occasionally the site posts quotes from him and today’s was especially poignant for me:

“Strong faith in a man’s heart both requires and produces prayer, and a prayer life of many years produces love. The goal of our life is nothing other than cleansing our heart to such an extent that it is able to sing with joy. Thus, prayer of the heart leads to joy of the heart. Nothing is difficult for a joyful person, because he has love.”

Abba AgathonI believe that love Elder Thaddeus spoke of is more attainable in quiet moments, one after another, communing with God. I do believe more moments in our day spent in pursuit of prayer with God will make this world a better place. There is a saying and it goes something like this, “Unplug and tune out.”  (Probably vastly different but it is something like that). The saying basically is encouraging us to get off all this electronic intrusion into our lives and get connected with people, face to face, and with God in prayer.  It is refreshing and enlivens our souls, and enables us to re-enter the chaos that is this world of ours, with a deeply peaceful heart. Please know I realize we cannot completely disconnect from this world, as tempting as “going off the grid” may be.  I do believe we can all choose, however, to limit the mindless intrusion much of this “noise” is becoming.  Finding Holy Silence in our days is finding an oasis with God at the center of it.  Praise be to God He is always there, waiting for us to reach out to Him.  It is the anchor in my life; it keeps me able to interact and share with others in a positive way. It helps me be able to blog and post my ideas and thoughts, after spending some time in Silence. And it is, for each of us, a matter of choice.

Blessed Seraphim