“…shall not prevail against it.”

*Before reading my post, please know I agonized over posting this. It is a part of my personal growth and is written with no ugly intentions.  Please do not read it if you feel you will be angry. It is not my intent to anger or hurt anyone, it is just a discovery I made about my walk with God. It is about where I am and where I am going, which is the whole point of this blog.*

Hand prayer incense

Blog Post Begins:

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the Scriptures tell us. (Ecc 1:4-11).  And sometimes it feels like nothing can surprise you.  And then something does, and it can be a life-altering surprise, or it can be God, whispering to you.

Trust GodA life with no surprises can get to be pretty dull.  I’ve had some surprises lately and I kind of like it; sort of like it. I’m dealing with it! Ha-Ha!  This Lent has been a pretty topsy-turvy Lent.

Coming to a realization can be a surprise, in an of itself.  And that has occurred with me.  I realized that when I left the Roman Church and embraced the Eastern Church, I did so by jumping in with both feet.  I embraced the philosophy, theology, and practices of my Eastern Church wholeheartedly.  I found repose, sweet and quiet repose, in the teachings of my eastern faith.  We had a pastor who inculcated us fully in the philosophies and traditions (both types of traditions) of the eastern Church, and he also showed us the whys and wherefores.  We were blessed.  The theological tenets of eastern practices and traditions were fully explained and made perfect sense to us.  We completely embraced it all – culture, foods, traditions, practices.  All of it – hook, line, and sinker.  Our catechesis in the faith was truly remarkable.  Now that we are away from that community, we see it even more fully.  We miss it very much.

St. NikolaiI distinctly remember a huge turning point for me and it was during a Divine Liturgy.  The incense was pretty heavy and the light played just right through the windows…during the procession, the vestments just glowed and the sights, sounds, and smells just filled me.  And then our Proto-Deacon intoned, “Sophia, Orthoi”!  And I was transported to the times of the Apostles and the early gatherings of the nascent Church.  And it was a transformative moment for me.  I experienced my faith.  And I was hooked – for eternity.

As I have learned more and more about Eastern thought and philosophy, a part of myself that had been empty began to be filled.  And I did not even realize there was an empty space; a part of me unfilled.  I do not need much of the traditions of the western church any more because I’ve become consumed by my faith, my experiential faith in the eastern Church.  There are things called sacramentals in the west and two examples are scapulars and rosaries. You do not have to wear a scapular or recite the rosary to be fully Catholic. Those are things outside of dogma that enhance your faith experience, but they are not necessary to believe, to be in a state of grace.  They are externals. They are almost “trappings” of our faith.

Most Roman Catholics own at least one rosary, even if they do not use it.  In the mainstream church, very few people are even aware of what a scapular is, let alone wear one.  I had a scapular in pretty much every color, using them for many reasons.  They enhanced my spiritual life and I loved them.  I always wore a miraculous medal, for example.  Because I loved the story and loved the Mother of God.  My middle son and his wife were laughing a couple of weeks ago, because they recently moved into their own space and were unpacking (finally) all their wedding gifts and they realized they have a crucifix for every room in their home, plus some to spare!  It is part of our Catholic identity.  It is a demonstration of who we are.  People used to come into our home and ask where the altar was, because gradually all our artwork was religiously-oriented, with a crucifix in every room.

Byzantine CrossWhen I became an eastern Catholic, I left most of those western things behind me.  I embraced the Jesus Prayer and wear a prayer rope on my wrist most days.  I no longer wear a crucifix, but an eastern or Byzantine cross.  I love learning about all the food traditions in the east; how certain foods are served only once a year on a particular feast day.  I love that!  And there are so many flavors of eastern Catholicism.  Within the eastern grouping of Churches, there is such difference, but the same Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Some eastern Churches will only use certain types of candles and incense and it becomes a part of the experience of who they are.  Being so fully immersed in my eastern faith is, at times, hard to maintain.  And I will explain why…

I feel that being an eastern Catholic identifies me first as being a part of a free-standing, independent Church, that happens to agree with Rome on many issues. It does not mean, however, that I embrace Roman theology or practice.  I listen first to my Patriarch, and then check in on what the Pope has to say.  I listen to my local ordinary before I ever pay attention to what the local Roman church or diocese is up to.  Roman Catholicism does not affect my life.  It is not part of who I am.  I am also a Greek Catholic…that is another aspect that is different from the Roman Church.  Greek versus Roman in many areas; it is just an area of influence and I prefer the Greek influence.

All of that being said, I know many will be angry with me because I am somehow “dissing” their beliefs. Not at all. Please do not think that way. I have children and grand-children who are Roman Catholic. It is a matter of preference and taste.  I just discovered that I am really, and truly, eastern.  A woman I just met did not understand how I did not know the movers and shakers in the local Roman Catholic scene.  When I said to her, “But I am not Roman Catholic, I am Byzantine Catholic, why would I know them? I have no reason to attend a Roman church.”  Her response was, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because we are all Catholic.”  And therein lies the crux of my problem.  I was surprised because I realized I am really not Catholic, in the sense she inferred.  I am not. I used to be, but I no longer am.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic, blessed to have been catechized in all things Greek and Byzantine.

There are little “t” things within eastern expression that I love and value. When I see the western expression coming in and being used in preference over the eastern ones, I get a little testy.  I apologize for that.  But once you immerse yourself in all things eastern, the western insistence on superiority or preference gets tiresome.  It is the classic tale of David and Goliath.  We easterners are David.  If you are eastern, embrace it. Learn of all the richness of being a Byzantine, Greek Catholic.  Learn about the physical history of how the eastern churches came to be.  Live as an eastern Catholic. I can find fulfillment and riches enough to keep me learning for the rest of my life, if I read and study and learn from just the eastern philosophical/theological side of the aisle.

This is a touchy post because so many of my friends are Roman Catholic, as are two of my sons, and grandchildren.  My Protestant family and friends will only be flummoxed by this post, but it is an issue and it is what I am dealing with. And I want people to know that different is not a better/worse sort of thing…it is just different.  What I expect is that when we seek the mysteries for our children, when we want the blessing of the Church on our lives, we should live totally as if it were the most important thing in our lives. We don’t drop in for Chrismation or Crowning, if we do not plan to live that life.  We could get Confirmation or Marriage instead.  Leading our children to God should be the supreme emphasis of our lives as parents.  A long and winding road, full of contradictions and contradictory practices can be awfully confusing for the faith development of our children, and not having a firm foundation can lead to a young person having no place to stand where they feel safe.

TipToe WalkingI remember feeling that I was tip-toeing around when we had a major upset in our lives. By tip-toeing I mean I had no safe, solid place to stand. It was a “the ground was moving under my feet” sort of feeling. We were no longer welcome in our home parish because of an incident with a son of ours.  People we thought were friends, were not.  We were spiritually floundering because of the actions of some priests and religious in our lives. Our children were floundering.  Our church had let us down in a profound way. And then we were led, by our son, to the east and to our pastor (who became a life-long friend and spiritual adviser).  I believe God brought us to the east to save us, and to enhance the faith we thought we were loosing.  The deepest wounds were being healed.  The deepest longings were being met.  That moment of “Sophia, Orthoi” became the life-line I was waiting for.  And from that moment, I dove into the font of love I found in the eastern Church. Perhaps I am so eastern because of the pain and hurt experienced in the western Church. I can see that.  But I also know that the theology of the East fills me.  And the more I learn, all these years later, the more I want to know.

Icon Corner.candlesAnd when I see latinization creeping in to my Byzantine practices, I want to shore up the Church and enhance even more our Byzantine traditions, both large and small T.  There are things Byzantine parishes do not do, purely because it is not, historically, who we are.  We flounder with our identity because we are so small, and in recent years, made up largely of converts from the west.  Converts, many of whom want to bring their familiar practices with them, and have not been fully catechized into the richness of the east.  We have vespers; we have orthros; we have Divine Liturgy.  We have so many amazing things.  We do not have to inculcate Roman traditions into our parishes.  However, there are just so many little ways westernization is creeping into our eastern practices and I really just do not want to see that.  Otherwise, why be Byzantine? Why have Byzantine rites or Churches? If we are nothing more than a “different mass” with lots of incense, why bother?

And so when my little sheltered, Byzantine world is shaken, I blog! Ha-Ha!  I feel that if I partake here and there of different traditions of the west and the east, I become a hodge-podge of nothing. “A cafeteria Catholic,” if you will.  A mixed bag of things that do not mesh well.  Because their historical roots are so very different.  My minor in college was Biblical Archeology and I love all things historical and all things physically historical.  And when I dove into the east, I found history pretty much left alone, with artifacts intact.  The liturgy is free of things I was leaving behind in the west.  Many of the issues of the western church do not affect us in the east.  It is because our view, our perspective, is just slightly different.  And I love that difference; it’s what drew me east. And it is what keeps me eastern.  So the surprise that happened is that I discovered who I really am. I am a Byzantine Catholic.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic. That identity is mine and it is not going away.  It is leading me along my own, personal, theosis track, where I will embrace my eternity.  And it is doing so, holding the hand of my spouse, for eternity. The surprise is that I really know it; I really own it; and I will do whatever I can to protect it.

Church.Savior of Spilled Blood. RussiaMatthew 16,18

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“From an infant into an adult…”

PreciousJewelsLast night a dear friend asked me to accompany her to the local hospital’s NICU ward.  For those of you who have never been to one, or know what that acronym stands for, it is a little slice of heaven where gifted doctors and nurses care for those least able to care for themselves, our newborns and preemies.  (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit). My friend and her husband are foster parents and we were visiting with the newborn they will soon be bringing home.  She was there to outfit him with a car seat small enough to hold and protect him, and attend a class for parents on germs.  I opted out of the class and made my way to the waiting area or, “family room,” to wait for her to finish the class.  While in the “family room” reading the newspaper, I met a man who was there from South Carolina, visiting his newborn twin granddaughters.  The babies each weighed a pound.  He shared photos of them with me, showing him holding one of the girls.  She completely fit in the palm of his hand.  I cried.  I cried for the miracle of that photo.  When I was birthing my babies, and loosing so many of them, a baby that size would not have survived.  Science has changed so much in the past 30 years, especially in the care of premature babies.

When we were finally able to go and actually see the baby, we first had to de-contaminate ourselves.  That process was interesting!  Once we finally got on the baby’s floor, it was so quiet!  We walked into that room and when I saw that little isolette with that tiny baby in it, tears just rolled down my face.  That little man weighed barely 5 pounds and was already more than 2 months old.  The interesting thing is that he was not due for another 4 weeks, yet.  It was wonderful to meet the nurses caring for these little babies. They love what they do.  They have a heart for these most vulnerable among us, and they are kind, gentle, and loving to all of them.

Hand on baby's backMy friend was able to change the baby’s diapers and then settle in to feed him a bottle.  I sat next to her, and I started to quietly weep.  I have lost babies that size.  I have mourned the loss of my babies, and I think because of that, I just felt so connected to this little guy.  When he smiled, my heart just melted.  Here he was, still supposed to be tucked safely inside his mommy, holding my finger and smiling at me.  What a miracle of life, and modern medicine.  And my heart started to race when I realized – it is still legal pretty much anywhere in our country, to abort a baby this size.  My friend looks at me and says, “Don’t you start crying, because I will, too.” And we both smiled at this little gift of life from God.  How could anyone hurt a baby this tiny?  He was no lump of tissue; he was no “inconvenience” in the life of his mother.  He was born far, far too soon; at least his birth mother chose life for him.

Baby holding fingerEach of us has been vulnerable in our lives. Many of us still are.  But holding that little baby in my scrubbed and itching arms brought me back to the times when I needed the most care, when I was the most vulnerable, and I was thankful for the people around me, who cared for me.  Each day is a miracle because we woke up.  Father Justin Rose, a dear friend and our former pastor, has a saying and it is, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.”  That quote always brings me up short, because my days are definitely getting shorter. I’m no longer that crazy, young woman or little girl. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, mother-in-law, friend. But there are many things I no longer am…I am no longer someone’s grand daughter, because that generation has all been laid to rest and I’m certainly no longer a girl, or a teenager. I am still a daughter, but not for many more years.  Those things that I was, I will never be again.  And there are not many other things I will become, as I edge nearer and nearer to my last breath.  I read an article written by a woman who cares for the dying and in it she spoke to the 5 things you regret when you die:  Working too much; not living the life we want, but living what others want for us; wishing you had been able to express your feelings; staying in touch with friends; and letting yourself be happier (http://www.lifebuzz.com/5-regrets/).  The list seems simple enough, and yet, how many of us do these 5 things?

Miracle baby toesLast night, holding that little man in my arms, I thought of all the things in life I have not done, and I am pretty happy with the things I have done.  I try to live as regret-free as I can. I wish I had pursued the things I wanted, more than what my parents and others wanted for me (like choosing the wrong major in college, again and again!!). I think I should have taken the time to write the “great novel” or something along those lines. I realize, as I gain wisdom, how truly little I know.  Learning should never stop.  I am grateful for the love of my family and close friends, and I am extremely grateful for the gift of my faith. I know, without any regrets or doubts, that I am living the life of faith God intended for me.  I am content.  And I have realized that I can still be surprised at things, I can still learn things, and I can still love new people.  It is amazing, our capacity for love. I try to be open to the new things I see in life, the new experiences, the new life buzzing around me.  The oncoming Spring is bringing with it a sort of excitement.  The dark of winter is slowly being replaced by days of 12+ hours of sunshine. The snow is melting – I actually saw grass this morning! The world is turning and new life is all around us.  Lent is an amazing time of reflection and coming out of Lent is a time we run smack-dab into the promise of eternal life.  The Cross is born by Christ for us, and we all add to the weight of that Cross.  We all hoist our own cross on our shoulders and trudge through the winter to the Spring, and the promise of eternity.

Elder Paisios.2Seeing and appreciating the fragility of new life and how we all enter the world that way, reminded me that eventually, we all leave life in the same way – dependent on others for our care, perhaps even the very air we breathe.  We leave the world a shriveled vestige of what we once were. Isn’t it so interesting to think that we come in this world dependent on others and leave the same way? I know some are taken rapidly, without need for palliative or any other sort of care.  But most of us just sort of fade.  And as I look closer at the sunset, and realize that my days are truly numbered, I pray to look forward to it with peace in my heart.  I pray that nothing was left untried that I truly wanted to do and that I loved the best I could, loving everyone around me.

Infant BaptismThrough the grace of our Baptism, Chrismation, and reception of the Holy Communion, God is with us.  He is also there to comfort us with sacramental anointing when we feel weak and vulnerable.  This Lent, I am remembering my own vulnerability, praying for those among us who are completely vulnerable and weak, and daring to open my heart to all of God’s children.

Feeling a little vulnerable today in light of the miracles I witnessed yesterday.  Definitely humbled by those miracles and the working of God in that hospital and the dedicated staff seeing to those babies.  God’s blessings often overwhelm me with the sublime beauty of it all.  Blessed Lent.

St.Barsanuphius

 

“..an anchor for those who are tossed by waves…”

St.JohnChrysostom.PrayerToday I am seeking my anchor!  Often when my heart is hurting, I seek comfort in prayer. I light incense in the house, I look to my favorite icons, and I seek counsel from friends whose opinions I trust.  But I have to start my day on my knees (figuratively speaking).  And it is one of those days. The irony is that yesterday was a day for Gaga (the name my oldest grandson gave me) heaven! I babysat both my grandchildren for the entire day.  I was so thrilled. I got to play trucks with my two-year old grandson, and I got to coo at and cuddle with my 4-month old grand daughter. I even remembered all the words to, “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly”!!  That was my youngest son’s favorite song for me to sing to him while I rocked him to sleep for naps!  It was a great day…today, not so much.

Orthodox Notes.6There is an aspect to my life that some people do not understand. My parents did not really understand, and that is okay.  I always wanted a large family.  I came from a small one that spanned several oceans, and was scattered across three continents and was decidedly British in oh so many ways!  No aunts, no uncles, no cousins.  Which is completely the opposite experience of my husband! He comes from a very large, very close, ethnically-rich German-Russian family.  And both my husband and myself wanted a large family of our own.  We even tried to scare each other away while dating!  (I want six kids…how many do you want? Well, I want 8 kids! Ha-Ha!).  God had other plans for us.  From the very start, we had trouble conceiving and keeping our babies and have lost 7 children in various stages of miscarriage.  I longed for a full, noisy, messy, chaotic household and in answer to that, we became foster parents.  The training was intimidating, in and of itself. It makes you wonder how your natural children were still breathing and in one piece.  We prayed about fostering, and we worked on it, and finally we were licensed.  Fostering is a special thing. It is not for the faint-of-heart, nor for the unprepared.  We got our home ready, but it was our minds and hearts that were unprepared.  What were we unprepared for? This wash of completely unrequited love that just overflowed for these children left in our care. Most of their stories were sad beyond our experience.  For most, it was the first time they had ever experienced life in an intact family.  And they clung.  Boy oh boy, did they cling.  And to these kids, race was not even an issue.  I had care of two brothers once who called me, “Mommy” from the first moment I held them.  They were African American boys from the inner city. They arrived in the night, in footed-jammies and diapers, and that was it!  We lived in the suburbs, next to orange groves. They had no idea what oranges were.  They brought me one and said, “Mommy-mommy! Look! Orange balls that fell off that tree! Can we keep them?”  I had to show them that they were for eating.  They had never had a meal that was NOT in a paper sack until they lived with us.  The baby was used to drinking coca-cola out of his bottle.  For dinner one night, I accidentally cut up a slice of pizza for the baby and he had a fit! Screamed at me. He was used to the whole slice.  They both regressed into early infancy, wanting to be held and fed and diapered, rocked to sleep, and comforted; something common for most neglected and abused children.  They were soaking up all the cuddling, warmth, security, and love they never had as small babies.  And when they were wrenched from my arms, screaming, “Mommy, mommy, don’t let them take me!!” I about lost my mind from grief.  They were removed because the maternal grandparents saw us once, and saw we were white. From incarceration, the mother requested “no white families.”  It was so very sad.  In the area in which we lived, foster families of color were few and far between.  Fostering takes courage and fortitude, and learning to be an advocate for these kids.  We loved/hated it.  It messed with my older boys’ heads in that they fell in love with their new “siblings” only to have them taken away, and it was not something they wanted to repeat over and over again.  And so in the best interests of our family, we stopped fostering. We had been licensed for drug babies and small children and that darn phone rang and rang, with placement requests, for at least a year after we discontinued our licensing.

A couple of years later, through the grace of God and some amazing friends, we welcomed and fell in love with, and adopted our youngest son.  He was just a couple of hours old and in the hospital when I first met him, and when he was laid in my arms, the floodgates of love opened in my heart. He was mine…no one else would take him away. I cannot express the gamut of emotions that have come from having him in our family – for all of us.  Our older sons loved him so much, they insisted the three of them all be in the same room – late night crying of an infant and all.  The oldest of our sons took to sleeping with the baby when he was a toddler; they grew very close.  It was a beautiful thing to see. Our middle son had a few years with just he and our youngest at home (the older one had grown and left home) and they bonded something fierce.  It was so fun to see them together, the little one trailing after his brother.  And we have never looked back.  We never treated the son who was given to us differently than the sons we birthed.  He is ours as much as they are.

When we purposefully adopt a child, we become pretty darn protective of that child.  Even more so, I think, because they are adopted.  In our case, we are a different race than our youngest son, and it has always proved to be an issue.  The issue is for other people – not our family or close friends. Our older family members often questioned the wisdom of adopting outside of our race, but we never even thought about it.  I never think of it, until someone brings it to my attention.  A funny incident happened when my mom met him for the first time.  He was just 20 days old.  We brought him to Christmas Eve at my brother’s house.  I guess I had forgotten to mention his race when I was all bubbly and excited over the phone.  You “could have knocked her over with a feather” when she opened that blanket.  She said, “You forgot to mention he wasn’t white.”  And I looked at her, then at him, and said, “I totally forgot that part, I guess.”  We laughed but when you adopt, you just love. It doesn’t matter the gender or the race, it is a child who needs you. You just love.

DrBenCarson“You know, I was asked once by an NPR reporter why I don’t talk about race that often. And I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she looked at me quite quizzically. And I said, ‘You see, when I take someone to the operating room and I peel down the scalp and take off the bone flap and open the dura, I’m operating on the thing that makes the person who they are.’ It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” he said.

I love Dr. Ben Carson, and I love what he said above.  “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are.”  And I truly believe that. I have run into prejudice in all sorts of forms.  I personally have experienced it, and fairly recently, in fact.  Not to be too blunt about it, but I am an obese woman.  I could drop 100 pounds and still want to loose a little more.  (But I have a great personality! Ha-Ha!)  Seriously, I am heavy: I live with it each and every day.  And the world ignores overweight people; they generally don’t really see us.  I have experimented with hair color, length, style.  Only when I went from curly to straight, did people say anything.  And when I quit dyeing my hair and just decided to live with the gray, I only got a few comments (and they were mostly from people my age who are not ready to that, yet!)  For important events, I often wear make-up, and usually on Sundays, or when attending an important function.  No one ever notices.  No one notices when I plan and prepare and then wear a particular outfit that I think looks good.  People do not see me.  It is rather annoying and I long for the day of thinness to return.  But it annoys me, that to be noticed, I need to be thin.  “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” as Dr. Carson would say.  But in our culture, it very much is.  And that is a form of prejudice!

Which brings me to my need to cling to my anchor of prayer today. Our youngest, most precious, son is experiencing prejudice.  Now, sometimes you just can’t help stupid people; they are pretty much everywhere.  And I usually ignore prejudice born from ignorance and stupidity. When I get mad is when people purport to (1) be a Christian, (2) are in a position of leadership, (3) have the responsibility to be an example to young people.  Prejudice is most often one of race.  But prejudice exists in many forms.  My parents think I am going to hell because I am not a born-again Christian, who believes like they do and they are prejudiced against Catholicism.  Sad.  Other types are like what I experience being overweight. People can be downright rude about it.  It can also be about ability.  I have friends, and many who foster parent can relate to this, who have children who run the spectrum of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to extremely autistic, to pretty much everything in between.  There are children with special needs, who are not in wheelchairs or use crutches or canes, or who have amputated limbs, who operate pretty much like normal, until they are in certain situations (like formal state testing, for example).  They seem normal, so people do not expect issues with them and berate them for being  “slow” or “stupid.”  There are those who use such derogatory language around children, who soak it up like a sponge, that in turn learn to use it on other kids.  It is a big, ugly cycle.

Choose words wiselySo I am at this point of needing to deal with a situation that breaks my heart. We had such a great thing going for my son, and now it is all falling apart, and I am saddened.  For me, for those friends we dragged along to events that we all enjoyed, for family members who came with us, and the organization as a whole, because we are going to have to make big changes, and change is always hard.  We will walk away from this unless fundamental changes occur.  This is hard on everyone.  But how do you change people’s hearts, so that prejudice doesn’t become a part of who they are and how they operate in life?  And how do you keep it from affecting your own children? I start by praying for them. But I feel like I am against this mammoth thing.  *Deep breath here.*

And guess what? It’s still Lent!!!!  We have something like 25 days left.  And why did this all come to a head now? God placed it in this time and place for my benefit. Wow.  It’s pretty amazing.  Lent is an amazing time for all of us, and this Lent, He is asking me, leading me, to be a better person.

Lent is a timeSo I am examining and taking inventory.  Those little places inside my heart and my soul where I see strange lights seeping in need to be shored up.  Anger, frustration, frustration…all those negative things. Just 25-short days left in Lent!  (Remember when it began and we thought the end was so far off?). I need more reflection, more time, to fix myself so that when I do engage with others who have been cruel to my son, I can be fair.  I can be reasonable.  Because right now, I am not feeling so reasonable.  I am feeling protective.  It’s like I want to fill the moat with water, drop in some sharks, and pull up the drawbridge, keeping the world at bay.  But I know I need to bear witness to God’s love, even to those “who hate me.” In Matthew 5: 43-48, the Lord says this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 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?

And so I wrestle with myself; I am doing a lot of deep breathing, and trying to relax. I return to my anchor among these waves of prejudice and poor example, and I drop to my knees and I pray. This affects my son’s future, it affects his now; it also affects every person involved, now and in the future.  And I know that I am not enough; I know I need God to handle this for me.  His wisdom, not mine. He must increase, so I must decrease. His words, not mine.  For God suffered prejudice on a Cross, for me.  Thanks be to God. Blessed Lent.

Cross.Sky.Hammer

“Pressed down, shaken together, and running over…”

So, as I posted before, “What do we do with it?”  I am still trying to share as much as I can of what I am given; especially with my faith.    When we move around in life, we have the opportunity to learn from our environment and the people we meet.  We can choose to disregard these opportunities, or we can embrace them.

bumpers I came up with a theory for myself years ago and it is based on the old-fashioned pinball machines.  (I guess that sort of dates me!). There was this awesome pinball machine at a pizza place our sons’ soccer teams always went to for parties, etc.  It was an outer space-oriented game and I could actually play it. Once the games started getting more computerized, I lost my touch! Ha-Ha! Anyway, the point is that we are like those silver-toned balls in the machines.  We are launched into life and we bang into people and places along our way.  Some of these interactions score big points, others we would prefer to have avoided.  They are hazards or bumpers!  Occasionally, we get to start over, if we are lucky, and still amass our points.  But regardless of how we are launched each time, we keep on banging into all sorts of different hazards and blessings.

attackmars2 Once we get to a certain age, we sort of feel like we’ve got the hang of this thing called “life.” We make decisions and choose things in life based on our understanding of where we fit in all of this. Sometimes our choices look stupid or erroneous to those around us, and we often do make mistakes.  One of the things that has become more clear as time has moved along is that these choices we make are solely ours.  We cannot blame how we were launched, how many tries we got at this, or who launched us.  Basically, we are responsible for our own misery or happiness.  We cannot continue to blame others and to rest on paltry excuses.

pinball_machineI believe the idea is to gain perspective, like looking at this pinball game from the perspective of the player, where we can see the whole board.  Peter Kreeft, in his oft-quoted book about heaven, tells us that God is like a master writer.  And a writer knows the story in his head; he knows the beginning, middle, and the end; he has created a timeline.  The goal in life is to stand outside the “Timeline” with the Author of Life, looking at our individual timelines.  We will understand fully, when we stand with God.  (ref 1Cor 13: 12). And He is the master-player, knowing all the players and options, knowing which hazards to avoid.  Sort of like that song, “Pinball Wizard” – “He ain’t got no distractions;  Can’t hear those buzzers and bells…”

And that is where faith and our prayer life come into play for us. We rely on God and try to “listen” to his promptings in our lives. Sometimes it is hard to hear Him because, unfortunately (and to carry this theme even further – sorry, I couldn’t help it!) we hear and see all “those buzzers and bells” in life.  And for most of us, we don’t realize how much noise there is, between our hearts and God. We get distracted!

Candles.littlephotoQuite often we need the quiet, the silence, the alone-time to re-connect to God. He is waiting for us, ever-patient, ever-understanding, ever-on our side.  We are the ones wandering all over the place.  Like I said above, moving around in life can be a positive, growth experience, sort of thing. Or it can be something that hinders us. It is all a matter of choice and free will.  I am discovering through this Lenten period of reflection, that I have brought lots of things with me, emotionally, psychologically, and theologically, from all the places and people I have run into through my life. It has created within me the fabric of my “prejudice” – the place from which I view life.  We all have it.  We all make decisions based on our own worldview or prejudice.  And it colors my world – and sometimes not for the better.  When our own worldview becomes too entrenched, we are unable to learn.  We feel conflict unless people have our exact, same, viewpoint. And trust me, with the myriad of options in life, not to mention the endless combinations inherent in genetic make-up, there is no exact match to any of us – it is part of the beauty of creation! Individuals, each with free will, trying to get along.  And each of us trying to make our way through this life, to our eternities.  I am praying my eternity is one shared with God.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox ChurchTo carry this pinball thing as far as I probably can, God allows us to fail.  We bang into one too many hazards and are relegated to start over.  What an incredible gift that is!  Do we all realize how incredible it is that Our Lord offers us the same thing He asks of us?  “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18: 21-22). Each and every time we fall and get up again, it is as if the Lord has said to each of us:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

      “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6: 27-35)

Can you imagine if those words were applied to each of us, by God?  Do we judge? Oh, pretty much all the time!  Do we love those who hate us? Not so much.  Do we expect nothing in return when we give?  Most times, no, we don’t.  And what does that say about us? About me?  That I have so much work to do on my salvific journey!  Thanks be to God for Lent.  Thanks be to God that the Church gives me this time every year, every year, to realize that I have fallen again and that I need to raise myself up, to be more in the likeness of God. And each time I realize this, it is as if that little ball on the pinball board hit a flapper – something that hurls me back into the game, just a little bit wiser!  Just a little bit less prejudiced because I have (hopefully) grown.  Isn’t God and His Church just so amazing?  We think we are such intellectuals when we have the Church and the Church Fathers, who have gone before us perhaps 1,000s of years ago, and they’ve already laid this all out for us. From Ecclesiastes, Chapter 14, verses 11-12:

 “What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.”

My continued prayers that this Lenten period be one of growth and prosperity in seeking a closer relationship with God.  I am blessed and I appreciate this time each year so much.  For me, the trick is to keep moving forward, keep learning, and to not repeat old patterns once the Great Fast has completed itself.  Fasting is a time for quiet reflection, and not just a time when we leave food habits aside, but a time when we take on new, and better, traits worthy of a child of God.  Blessed Lent!

KeepCalm.Pascha

“What do we do with it?”

IMG_5362We had the most wonderful time yesterday.  We have friends who we have known since we were all much younger and their eldest son was married yesterday. Boy, what a great wedding.  The thing that set it apart was the simplistic sincerity in each detail.  There were few of us (about 50 or 60) in a large parish church that was not overly decorated and the decorations they did use were all hand-made.  The clothes worn by the attendants were simple and tasteful (the girls wore cowboy boots, as did the bride) and the ceremony was simple, the readings perfect for them, and the singing was wonderful (the sister of the groom did a phenomenal job!).  Father’s homily was really good and you could tell he spent some time with the couple. We laughed with his stories and we just felt blessed to be there. The light coming in through the casement windows cast a surreal look over it all and I just sat there and smiled; I couldn’t help myself!

IMG_5358It is fun to see our friend’s children grow up and become husbands and wives, and eventually, parents. It was another example of the continuity of life.  A couple found each other on their first day of college and 5 years later, they are married.  They knew from that first day and never wavered in their love or commitment to one another. I am such a sap for a good love story!

This couple gave me confidence in our young people! They chose to keep things very simple and they made so much of what they shared with us. The most amazing was their flowers – all made of paper! They had to let me see them up close to believe they were paper!  So wonderful.  They also took the time to learn to dance and their first dance had us all in tears.  It was just such a beautiful way for them to start their marriage. One of the groom’s brothers played his Ukelele and serenaded his brother and mother for their dance – not a dry eye in the place! (Somewhere Over the Rainbow!! The same version as in the movie, 50 First Dates!).  Even their centerpieces were crafted by the family and it helped to make it so personal and tight – like a community of families had come together to worship and celebrate together. It felt like a glimpse into another realm.

1069393_737670656253509_1832234864_n“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved!”                    St. Seraphim of Sarov.

And for me, it just became so clear.  We were surrounded by all these people who had one thought – to support and love this couple who were starting out together.  They all shared it with one mind; it was almost palatable.   For the record, there were quite a few people I had never met before, most of whom had come to our area specifically for the wedding.  So these people came together, as one, without knowing each other, but with one heart and one goal in mind – this young couple. It shows just how much we can affect those around us.  I love that quote above.  Imagine if we all acquired this sense of deep-seated peace, where we know, to our marrow, that regardless of our behavior, regardless of our doubts, regardless of our words or action, God’s got our back? Or as Mark Hart the Bible Geek likes to say, “God’s got this”!!!

Fr. Stephen Freeman said, “Each of us (certainly in our Baptism and Chrismation) have been given the grace of God for our salvation – that is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The question is what do we do with it?”  And in his article, “What St. Seraphim Meant,” he goes on to quote the Saint again:

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.”

He tells us that we simply cannot be too kind.  It is a stark reminder that the world around us is NOT a kind place.  Yesterday we shared a beautiful day with people all around us that were sincerely joyous. There were guests present who had flown in from as far away as New York.  They could not get over the beauty of the place in which we live.  They were overwhelmed by what we see, and are privileged to see, everyday. They kept rushing outside to take photos as the sun made its play on the snow and trees.  As the sun began to set, the colors and light on the mountains were overwhelmingly beautiful. The environment made their joy even greater! Everyone in that small lodge was there, laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating. You could not help but smile at people you did not even know.  I wanted, so much, to bottle that up and share it with everyone I see, day after day, after day.

1972401_737024466318128_1850487592_nAs Fr. Stephen said, we are all given this grace, but “what do we do with it?” Yesterday I was shown that we share it.  We certainly do not hide our light under a bushel basket, but rather we place our light on a candle stand, where it can light the whole room (Matthew 5:15).  And isn’t that part of the Great Command from Christ, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)?  

Through Grace we are given glimpses into heaven; glimpses into what eternity can, and should be.  One of the readings they chose yesterday, in which love was explained (1Cor13) has this phrase that I treasure, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1Cor 13:12).  This line promises me everything will come, in its time. I have had these moments of complete clarity, but they have been fleeting, coming in spurts, with no regularity to them.  As I progress on this road of salvation, or Theosis, God allows my glimpses to be more clear, regular, and far more enticing. It seems like the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know, and the more you want to learn.  Our process of salvation occurs over our lifetime.  We struggle, we fall, but we get back up and we keep on trudging forward.  And that is the beauty of this Divine Grace we have been given…we have the strength, the fortitude, and the resolve, to get back up again! We keep growing and learning through God’s Grace acting in us, and on us.  And that same Grace drives us to love more fully, and to want to share this love with those around us.

This Lent is becoming more fortuitous the longer it goes on.  It’s wonderful that God allows such a simple thing like a Thursday-afternoon, sunshine-filled, lovely wedding to become a lesson in my salvation.  And a glimpse into what being a part of the Heavenly Kingdom will be like.  We’ll be laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating together, filled with the joy of Christ in our hearts.

Blessed Lent.

Holy Season of Lent

“Behold, I am making all things new…”

handsAnd He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

I had a nice chat with my mom today. She is 83 and lives in a retirement facility in Southern California.  I always get, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue and not a cloud in the sky! It’s going to be a gorgeous day today.”  I am loosing my mom a little more each day; she has Alzheimer’s and the progression is inevitable.  Sometimes we have a fruitful conversation and we don’t repeat for, perhaps, 10 minutes.  And then it’s back to, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue…”  Today she kept saying, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live” at every opportunity she could wedge it in.  She gets on kicks like that and we just have to talk it all the way out, so she can move on.  She told me at least three times that she was getting dressed for lunch.  And, “Well, I could have it worse. It’s a pretty nice place. But of course, you pay a price for where you live, you know.”  Ha-Ha.  I love her so much.  At least she is happy and seems content.  Gradually, as with all Alzheimer patients, you just stop thinking about what you forget and it eventually becomes lost in a haze forever.  Even now, as my mom is at lunch with her friends, she does not recall we spoke today. It is a horrible disease.

And as God is good and would do something for my happiness, I no sooner hung up with my mom than my daughter-in-law came by for a drop-in visit with my grandchildren.  It made my day.  And as I sat holding my 4-month-old grand daughter, I reveled in the marvelous relationship building with both her and my daughter-in-law. (Actually, I am blessed with two amazing women who married my sons.  They could not have found better mates! I feel like I now have two daughters, but more importantly, two friends).  And as I held my grand daughter and watched her giggles, drools, and smiles, I fell in love all over again. I thought of the wonderful thread of lives, all the generations, in fruition in my grand daughter.  “And I make all things new.”  God re-energizes our family each time it grows and expands.  And each time I am presented with a grandchild, my heart expands again, re-energizing me and filling me with love.

I told my mom this morning that I think I was born to be a grandmother.  This particular time of my life, right now, and in the coming years, are my best.  I love some of the early years when my boys were young and we lived on a dairy farm.  Those days are precious to me, and I look on them as my “good old days.”  It was carefree in a way I haven’t had since.  All that taken into consideration, I think I have grown to be a better person over the years and am disposed to my grandchildren much better because of the times gone by.  Of course, I still have a 15-year-old at home, so I am also still raising a young man, and that helps me relate to my older sons and their wives in a way I never thought I would have.  It is a difference and it’s like we’re becoming friends, and I love it!

“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3 has so much wisdom to share.  We all have times in our lives where certain things are appropriate.  We grow to fill the time we occupy.  For example, one of my mom’s favorite sayings is, “Children are for the young.”  I didn’t fully appreciate that until I grew into my late 50s. And now I have patience and time for children, but even more so, I have boundless patience and time for my grandchildren.  I know I am blessed!

“…a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
(Ecc 3: 2)

Tulips in snowIn our lives, the cycles move…and they don’t stop because we would like them to.  They keep on moving; that clock keeps ticking.  I like to explain it as a “generational shift.”  One day you look around your life and realize you are now your mother; she is now your grandmother, and your children are now you.  Your place and perspective have changed; you moved up a rung.  And it feels odd sometimes, because you feel like a teenager in your head, but when you look in the mirror, the gray hair and wrinkles remind you that you so are not.  (Even if you still secretly feel like you’re still “cool” and can rock it! Ha-Ha!!).

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;” (Ecc 3:11-12)

As I struggle through Great Lent this week, I keep my eye focused on the prize: my eternity. God and His Church gives me this time every year to stop and re-focus my energies and my daily life onto my eternity.  It is a time for reflection, for prayer, for penance, and for almsgiving.  For me, almsgiving has always been something more of the heart than of the wallet.  Some of the most satisfying days I have ever enjoyed were shopping at the local food bank and buying food to make for our homeless and needy population, who surrounded our parish in SoCal.  I would go to the local foodbank and fill my suburban to the brim and load up my two boys still at home, and off we would head to the parish.  I would set them up with a table and chairs to do their schoolwork (homeschooling mom here) and then I would head to the kitchen. I loved the afternoons of chopping, slicing, and dicing with the other ladies of our parish.  We had such a great time.  And that type of almsgiving, to me, is just so satisfying.  We were making a difference in our community.  I miss those days.  And during Lent, the people who came to be fed knew we fasted, and they loved how we made fasting food that tasted good!  They often stayed to listen to Evening Prayers (Vespers) we had after we had cleaned up.  The candles, the incense, drew them in and gave them a respite from the ugliness out there.

We can all struggle through Lent, or we can be joyous about it, while we struggle. Remember the admonishment in Scripture?  Matthew 6: 16-18 tells us:  “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

What screws us upWe are all called to make something of this time of fasting.  I have been shown so many wonderful things.  I have seen my blessings in the lives of the family we have gathered around us, and those we hold dear in our hearts who live far away.  I have been blessed with friends; some who I have loved for decades, and some new ones, too.  I have been taken to a land that has gotten under my skin and a place that I don’t see me ever leaving. I am not even anxious to vacation away from it, as there is still so much to see and experience.  My faith has been widened to allow for “other” and “different” to be accepted and even welcomed.  This Pascha will be my first one celebrating with Slavonic traditions and I am so excited!  The baskets, the covers, the red eggs…I am really looking forward to it and am loving all the prep for it!  One thing that is hitting me very strongly this Lent, and it is a great truth I am learning, well worth the “look-see” time of the fast, is this:

St Nikon of OptinaI am here, I am still me.  My zip code is really different than last Lent.  My entire life is upside down.  The view is drastically changed, as well as the environment I find myself in.  I left all that was familiar, and so many relationships.  I miss my friends, but I have also been taught the value of friendship and who are my true friends.  As my mom said today, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live.”  She is so right-on (‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ Job 32:7) but I should not be surprised. Lots of people in my mom’s life chose to ignore her for her intelligence (she was usually eclipsed by someone else around her) but she always had wise things to say, if you but sat and listened to her.  Her tongue was sharp, as was her mother’s before her, but once she aged, she imparted more wisdom than vinegar!  And now I find myself listening to her today and thinking on her wise words to me.  She misses me because I am so far away, but she understands my need to go.  She left New Zealand to come to America with my dad; she knows what it is like to leave all you know for the unknown, and how to make a life where you are, still retaining who you are, while remaining open to new things.

For this Lent, one of the biggest lessons to me is that things are not what I had in my head; I am where I am and guess what? I brought baggage with me.  And now I am being shown all these blessings and learning the baggage is far less important to me, as I have opened myself to growth.  I am finding a peace that I never realized I lacked.  God is good, so good, if we just sit still and allow His presence to be the most important thing in our lives, allowing Him room to do His great work in us. I am still learning and I am more than halfway “home.”

“Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Rev 21:5)

Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“..struggle together toward sanctification…”

15565012-dictionary-booksmaud·lin

adjective \ˈmȯd-lən\

: showing or expressing too much emotion especially in a foolish or annoying way

I was doing long-overdue laundry yesterday and I mistakenly thought my back was healed enough to lift a full laundry basket. Stupid-stupid-stupid.  But I took charge and immediately took 1/2 a Vicodin and put my feet up.  Everyone was gone here and there for the evening, and I was all by myself.  My middle son (they live in CA) was sending me current photos of my grand daughter (she is 10 months old and growing so fast) and some videos of her crawling around.  My eldest son’s wife sent me St. Patrick’s Day photos of my two grandies up here (aged 4 months and 2 years) to my phone while I was video/texting with my other son, and I just started to cry.  I was boo-hooing like a crazy woman.  Partially from Vicodin and pain, I am sure, but also because I love my family so much, and I miss having them all around me. The hen’s chicks were scattered and she was not happy about it.  And then I realized I was being rather maudlin.  I looked it up to be sure, and yep, that was me!

St. Anthony of Optina.2

Emotions are good things, but they can run away with us.  We always need to get ourselves together.  Last night, I started printing some photos of my grandies that my kids had sent me, and I re-arranged my refrigerator magnets so I could update what I had up there.  My world had been looking so colorless with our recent snow storm and white all around us outside, and I had removed the last twinkling lights (credit where credit is due – my husband took them down for me) and our house looked sort of blank.  So printing my new grandies’ photos and putting them up made me smile. They are so stinking cute!  By the time they were up and my refrigerator’s outside was clean and organized, I felt much better.  I was filled with a thankfulness that threatened to overwhelm me into babbling again, so I sat down and read a book!  But I know, deeply, that I am blessed and that the love I feel for my family just keeps growing and growing.

cropped-archmandrite-karelin-family1.jpgA wonderful Orthodox comment on marriage is: “…marriage affords us the opportunity to become a part of something more than ourselves. From this God-given institution, a new relationship is formed, and from this willful joining together, two lives are prayerfully bound together, families emerge, and life continues.”  There is something so sublime and sweet in that perspective.  Our lives are bound by prayer.  In the Orthodox/Byzantine wedding, no vows are exchanged.  The couple does not marry each other, rather, the priest confers the mystery upon them, through faith.  The Orthodox have this to say, “From an Orthodox perspective, this liturgical action (the prayers said and the rings given) serves to seal the couple’s commitment. No vows are requested or required. The couple’s silent participation in this rite presupposes their commitment, and from an Orthodox perspective is a more than sufficient witness of their dedication to one another.”  At one part of the Orthodox/Byzantine marriage ceremony, the couple is escorted by the priest, in the company of their sponsors, around the outer table three times: “After the couple drink from the Common Cup, the priest, couple and sponsor will process around the table. In earlier times, this procession took place from the church to the couple’s home. Today it takes place round the table in the center of the Solea that is located in front of the Icon Screen. Holding the Gospels in his right hand, the priest will guide everyone around the table three times while three hymns are chanted. As the couple follows the priest, their journey together begins, but it is not a journey that they will take alone. The Gospel Book that the priest holds, as well as the presence of their guests, serves to remind them that they have chosen to walk through life with the Holy Trinity and other faithful like themselves.” I also love the symbology of the three times around the table – to remind us of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

cropped-crown50_view1_lg.jpgWhen we were going to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we chose to have a crowning ceremony.  (That is a close-up of our actual crowns above). I told my husband that it was the last time I was marrying him because we were married by a priest 25 years ago (at that time), we had a blessing by a priest when we got back to SoCal for family and friends who could not join us in Colorado, and on our 10th anniversary we journeyed to Nevada with our kids and renewed our vows in a Church with a dear friend, who happens to be a bi-ritual Syro-Malabar priest, attending us (It was so nice, just us, our children, and Fr. Jose Isaac).  I figure we are so married, there is no getting out of it, right? And then we began to delve into the Byzantine/Orthodox view of marriage.  I fell in love all over again. “Above and beyond the legal, psychological and sociological dimensions of marriage that society typically identifies, the Church expands the definition of marriage and describes it as a holy union whereby a man and woman struggle together toward sanctification and eternal life within a community of faithful.”  We struggle toward our sanctification together.  We hold hands through all of it.  That sort of commitment could never be undertaken through the capriciousness of emotion.  Emotions, like my being maudlin last night, come and go.  They are fueled by our minds, how we react to stimuli around us, and from our spiritual perspective.  If we base something like eternity on emotion, we are in for a very rocky ride.

250px-IIWdD015(Probably wildly inappropriate here, but I am a Star Wars fan and I love this scene…love the old-fashioned dress with the lace and veil! And boy, did they have a rocky road based on mis-placed emotions! So it is somewhat appropriate…)

There have been many who have spoken to marriage and its whys and wherefores recently, especially in light of same sex initiatives on ballots, bakers not baking for same sex weddings, and demonstrations even yesterday in New York, of people wanting to use the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to push their agendas as they paraded by onlookers. It’s up-front and center in many political debates recently.  And I believe (which means it is my perspective so if you disagree, I apologize now) that it partially comes from our disordered view of what marriage is.  From the Roman Catholic perspective, according to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, “Everyone knows in their right mind that the whole purpose of marriage is to have a family.  It’s not about making people happy. It’s not about love.” and he also said, “It can’t be the condition (love), otherwise you can sanction all the kinds of things I’m talking about.” (This was quoted from an interview on CNN regarding same sex marriage).  The interviewer, Chris Cuomo, made a point I would like to ruminate on when he said, “You do not own marriage. It was not developed by Christians. It is a civil situation. It’s secular,” he added.”

The issue, as I see it, is that we have this skewed view of marriage as only a contract.  And contracts can be broken. We have civil divorce and we have Church annulments.  (As an advocate for the Tribunal, I do understand much of this controversial subject).  There are things that make a marriage in civil court; there are things that make a marriage for a Tribunal, which enable a ruling of validity or non-validity.  Sometimes, actually, most times, these things are worlds apart.  The issue, as I see it, is that the idea that marriage is a contract, devoid of emotion and the process of sanctification, fulfills a worldly perspective on the institution, but devoids it completely of the sublime and peaceful, beautiful, sacramental thing we enter into through faith, in front of our family, friends, and faith community.

As the Crowns are placed on a couple’s head, their domestic church has been formed. They are the guardians of faith for everyone in their home. They impart their faith to family and friends alike.  A faith community grows through the interactions of these small, intimate, domestic churches.  God acts in individuals, but he also acts in couples.  The children born of this union are blessed because their parents have the grace imparted through the mystery of holy matrimony. In this sacred space, families experience all sorts of craziness, and all sorts of trials and temptations.  Through the grace of matrimony, they survive, and grow, and become sanctified.  This process of sanctification is lifelong. It is not bound by words on a page; by words spoken over me and my husband…it is bound by the grace of God in the prayers prayed for us. It is bound by our participation and consent.  Further comments by the Orthodox are, “...these prayers (during the crowning ceremony) communicate significant theological truths about marriage. They remind the couple that God’s love has brought them together, and will sustain them in “peace and oneness of mind” across the marital life cycle. They also remind the couple that they are standing before God, family and the Church pledging to enter into an “indissoluble bond of love.”

I was sitting the other day, looking at my husband, and this absolute well spring of love bubbled up for him. He asked me why I was smiling and I said it was because I realized I am not in this alone – ever.  We are together for eternity.  We are bound to one another out of a deeply held conviction that God had brought us together.  We emotionally bonded with one another, yes, and we continue to do so as the years just race by.  Those moments of deep connection are the glue that holds us together.  In the day-to-day world, we often forget this treasure we hold.  This magnificent gift of eternal life, holding the hand of our very best friend, our spouse.  And it eclipses all the discussion of contract and equality and rights.  It profanes one of God’s gifts to us, this sacrament, when we foul it up with contractual language and perceptions.  In this article I have been pulling from, the “goarch.org” website, the Orthodox say this:

“From an Orthodox perspective, sacraments are God-given gifts that have emerged from Holy Tradition, and have either been instituted by Christ or the Apostles. Orthodox Tradition also refers to them as mysteries. That is because a dimension of these experiences is tangible and can be explicated, and another part must be accepted by faith.  The sacraments are best understood as God-given points of contact, where God makes Himself available to us on a very personal level. Moreover, as we choose to faithfully participate in these mysteries, God’s life giving, life changing grace touches our lives and, by extension, makes us holy.”

We believe the Church bestows these sacraments, these mysteries upon us as a way of celebrating God’s institution of marriage.  In regards to Mr. Cuomo’s statement that we “don’t own marriage,” and that “it was not devised by Christians,” well I would have to heartily disagree.  Because the world has set God off to the sidelines, of course he would feel “it’s a civil situation; it’s secular.”  And for that and it being what it is, I agree with him.  For those of us who pursue a marriage in a Church and want that sort of “blessing” on the whole thing, we need, as a culture, to realize what that means.  There’s the rub…because God is on the sidelines and we only call Him in when we want to confer a sacrament (as in, “We’ve always been Catholic.  Even though I don’t go to Church, I need to be married in Church”…or “I need my child baptized because my family has always been Catholic. No, I don’t go to Church.”) we often feel like if we want it “un-done” we can do that, in a court of law.  Entering into a sacramental marriage requires foreknowledge and agreement with what you are about to enter into.  So many people, because God resides outside of their lives, do not live sacramentally at all.  And that is when I would agree that their marriages have become purely a contractual thing, with no vestige of the faith they claimed to have.

But if we delve into the beauty of the faith that we profess, when we live what we believe, then marriage becomes something entirely different.  It becomes a spiritual walk that we take with our beloved through eternity, in the arms of Christ. And along the way, we assist one another in our process of Theosis, of becoming, of knowing. I cannot express how comforting and what a sense relaxation came over me, when I realized this man I pledged myself to 30 years ago will ever and always be at my side. I will never be alone; I will always have him by my side…”even from now, until ages of ages. Amen.”

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3)

warkentin,Crowning1(Warkentin Crowning from Orthodox Wedding Crowns website)