“…in such moments God and man are one, and God’s Spirit works in him…” Elder Thaddeus
We are all searching for peace. It is elusive, especially in our noisy world. We have become, in this country, a people of “instant.” We want what we want, and we want it now. “If it feels good, do it.” “Just do it.” There are so many slogans bandied about that encourage us to live to our hedonistic worst selves. I listened to a brief piece by Mark Hart, the Bible Geek this morning, which he had posted on his Facebook wall. It was from a presentation he had made. In it, he lamented at how we want all these things from God and we keep talking incessantly and praying “without ceasing,” but for so many of us it has become more “noise” and not true prayer. We need to be still and allow God to envelope us in His “whisper.”
Elder Thaddeus’ book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” pretty much changed me, my outlook on life, and how I try to deal with life. God will interact with us. God will give us that elusive peace we are all searching for, but He is more likely to wait for us to “be still and know I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). I have tried so many different things in my lifetime. I have attended the Ritual Baths in downtown LA at a major Jewish Temple. I attended what I lovingly called, “Let’s be Jewish Classes” for the better part of a year when I was foolishly engaged as a young woman to a Jewish man whose parents really disliked me because I was not Jewish, but who did invite me to witness many Jewish holidays, services, and traditions. I love Judaism. The wonderful Rabbi who was trying to instruct me became a life-long friend and I very sadly attended his funeral many years ago. He often told me, “I love how you think, but you will never be a Jewess.” Ha-Ha! The old Anthropologist in me just could not let go of all the evidence of a Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. But it made for delightful conversations! I also explored Mormonism as a teen. Even gave a testimony and talk my parents attended at a Stake meeting. I attended many different Protestant denominations. I even went to the Chrystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA with my youngest step sister. What an experience! Ironically enough, the Diocese of Orange County purchased that property and is in the process of making it a Catholic church and educational center. When I was a young adult and was initially dating my husband, I was a declared Geneva Presbyterian and loved my Church in El Toro, CA. The one big thing about that Church was the architecture (it spoke to me) and oddly enough, the smell. The walls reminded me of a castle and I loved touching and smelling them – they had a sense of history to them, even though it was relatively new construction. (I am a history nut, in case you have not figured that out and majored in Forensic Anthropology/Physiology in college, with a minor in Biblical Archeology). My heritage is British and that Church was British and Scottish in culture, Geneva Presbyterian in theology. I have heard some great preachers, and some very poor examples of Christians as preachers. Through it all, my sense of history drew me into the Catholic Church, and kept pulling me east, as I found the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
Through my formation in the Melkite Church, I was led to read some great, formidable, and amazing early Church Fathers; I have read the Desert Fathers, as well. Not in completion, by no means, but words they have left us, which have touched me deeply. The Philokalia is something all Byzantine Catholics should own and refer to often, as a source of spiritual nourishment. (I think everyone, regardless of Church affiliation, would benefit from reading it). In the four-volume set is found words that will take you a lifetime to digest. And when, in formation, our pastor and our spiritual director suggested some further reading, some of the books truly impacted my life. “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” is one, and Elder Thaddeus’ book is the other. Some people shy away from Orthodox writers and I believe that is a shame. It is a loss for them and it does not acknowledge the bond we share, theologically and spiritually, with our Orthodox brethren. I think that Elder Thaddeus really had his finger on the pulse of our emerging cultures. Even though he wrote long before our lives and in a far different environment, his advice still holds true. When we truly connect with God, “in such moments God and man are one, and God’s Spirit works in him.” It is something you never forget, those moments when you really are touched by God.
I have experienced the touch of God through his Saints and his vessels on earth, in some profound ways during my lifetime. God allows us to experience His love when we renew our determination to rid ourselves of the dross we accumulate in this life and focus on the life we will have with Him in eternity. There are some funny sayings that relate to this, that show where our culture is heading. One that always tickles me is, “The man who dies with the most toys wins.” I have seen that bumper sticker on trucks that require step ladders to get into! I always imagine boys holding on to their Tonka Trucks and GI Joes well into adulthood, adding cars, off-road vehicles, and other toys to their piles of “things.” I have heard of some weird funerals wherein people are buried in their favorite car or dressed as their favorite sports team. And even though imagining it makes me giggle (I know people who fit into this category!!) I am also very sad that their view of eternity is limited to what they can see out of their rear-view mirrors. God is so far beyond what we can see and touch in this life. There are sublime moments when we touch Him in this life, yes, and it makes it real! Holding a newborn baby; holding the hand of a loved one as they pass from this life – these moments touch us and give us a glimpse into the life of God. Why do you see so many older people in Church? I believe it is because we all wake up one day and realize that we do not have that many more days to wake up. Each day becomes precious. It is a shame we don’t start, as a general rule, much younger to strive for God every day. I know some people who never think of God or Christ, except when they buy the latest Easter dress for their children, Easter Baskets with all sorts of bunnies in them, or start their Christmas shopping and put up their decorations. They go most of the year never giving a thought to God. But boy, do they complain about this and that, always sighing at not having peace in their lives.
This past week has been stressful. We live near a military base that has been having a week-long “exercise” wherein they shoot off mortars, 50 Cal guns, have Chinooks flying over head, and paratroopers jumping out of C-17s. Our little house is older and every time a mortar is fired, the windows rattle, the cat runs and hides, and my nerves are rattled to the migraine point! I feel, so much, for those who live every day in a war zone. I feel, so deeply, for our PTSD vets, who lived through bombardments like this, on a daily basis, for real. And I am grateful our troops are being trained to protect us and to keep us safe. But I am so over it! My nerves are frayed, our skittish cat may never resurface, and we are operating in a holding pattern, waiting for the next blast! And so I thought to write about peace.
Sometimes our peace is taken from us, as recent events in Ukraine demonstrate. But the Ukrainian priests and monks there showed the world that they are clinging to the presence of Christ in their lives. That freedom from oppression is important, even with guns on your back. In this country, we pretty much have lived in peace in our land…we’ve had a couple of attacks on our land, but we have been blessed. We have not had to fight for our right to believe and attend the Church we do. We have not been rounded-up like the nuns in Syria, kidnapped and held because we live what we believe. The world struggles for freedom to worship, and we struggle to obtain more toys. I know that not everyone does. There are good and bad everywhere. But what is pervasive in our culture? Our media barely touched on the unrest in Ukraine. Many of my friends knew nothing about it, and many still do not. But they know who won the Super Bowl. They know what channel the “real housewives of….” is on. Their DVRs are set to record so they don’t miss a moment. And we are surrounded by and bombarded by sound. By noise. By the dross (The term dross derives from the Old English word dros, meaning the scum produced when smelting metals. By the 15th century it had come to refer to rubbish in general. Metallurgical dross is referenced as a metaphor for worthless material in the Bible and in other religious texts) of this world, floating around us and clogging up our lives.
Simple and humble, simple and humble…that has become our motto. It was our motto when we relocated up here. We got rid of so much that we truly did not need (well, I wish I had been a little less generous because I do miss quite a number of things I gave away in my haste to relocate!!). We live smaller, simpler, and much more humble lives that we ever have. And we have far more quiet than we ever have. We can go an entire day, and night, with never turning the TV on. And we are all fine with that. I spend time ruminating on the readings of the day, articles of religious import, or Scripture. I think, I ponder, and I pray. And I experience more peace than I have ever known. And I feel that peace ebbing, or it being pulled from me, I am more aware of it and struggle to cling to it. Quite often, I retreat and symbolically fill the moat with water and pull up the drawbridge, to regain my sense and center of peace in Christ. My wish for my family and friends is more time with God, in contemplation of Him in their lives, and to know “such moments [when] God and man are one, and God’s Spirit works in him…”