Hi There! I think I’m back.

MincemeatPie3I’m feverishly planning Thanksgiving.  It’s my first time to host it since we left California. Even during our time in Seattle, we went to Thanksgiving with others.  And extended family is coming to our tiny house.  I am in an interior panic.  Pretty cool on the outside; panic on the inside.  I’d love some mince pie (that’s the photo above) but no one else likes it.  And there is the never-ending discussion of stuffing the bird or not; sweet or savory stuffing; leave the giblets in or out; home made gravy or store bought; Barbara’s Yams or potatoes (solved it – both), pumpkin, mince, or apple pie…and on it goes.  And my house is so small.  We’ll be cozy!  And there is no snow!  We had flurries today but nothing measurable.  We all long for snow…it just isn’t our holidays without it. In addition, the economy needs it!

I haven’t blogged in a long time. I pulled away.  I found myself being too negative and complaining a lot in my posts.  I did not like my words.  I sought a cure – I left my political groups and news feeds and even left pretty much all my religious ones, too.  It saddened me that people claiming such a deep faith could be so hurtful.  I just didn’t need the added grief in my life.  And I was going through some profound disappointments in people and I realized that I have to let people go.  “It is what it is,” which is a saying I hate, but it just fits so many situations.  I can’t change people, nor can I expect more of someone because they say they are Christians.  People are people.  Some people are just ugly – on the inside – and it permeates everything.  And even though they have gone through some spiritual metanoia, of some sort, they can still cling to their hatreds and their misconceptions.  So my assumption would be that the change in faith wasn’t heartfelt or as deep.  And so I am learning to let it go.  Let it slide. It is what it is. Which is pretty much why I stopped blogging.  The old saying of, “If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all.”

My incredible husband bought me a Kindle Paperwhite E-Reader for my birthday in August.  It was the best gift I have ever received.  I love my Kindle.  I have over 280 books downloaded on my Kindle and I can proudly say that at least 80% were free, or less than a dollar.  Yay for 99-cent books!  I just finished a series and bawled the last 30 pages or so. I will miss the characters, their struggle, and the storyline.  But I had another series just waiting for me.  And I have pre-releases waiting for me, as well as beta-reading to do for several groups.  Lots and lots to read.  And I am so happy to read.  I have found that retreating into myself, being less public, as it were, has been good for my soul.  My world has narrowed considerably and I am very okay with that.  I have a few friends I speak to on a regular basis, and my family, too.  Other than that, I am pretty secluded and it is working for me.  No need to be out and about, being a part of all the discussions and arguments.

In light of the recent events in regards to the acquittal of a policeman in the shooting of a young man, we can see how terribly fragile our hold on this culture in America we really have.  It seems like there is a veneer of sociability we present to our communities, but at the least little thing, there is anger and explosive behaviors.  So much hatred and anger.  It makes me sad.  I know there are platitudes galore in how to face these times, but I really feel that we need to heed the words, “To have change in the world, be the change you want to see in the world.”  What example of personal responsibility are we sharing with our youth?  Rioting and destroying the community we live in certainly does not help an already-depressed economy.  We are in a culture of dependence on our government for everything.  I wish more people were personally responsible for their actions and interactions within our communities.  We need to support families, be a culture who cares about every life.  Planned Parenthood doesn’t locate the majority of its operations in ghettos for no reason.  There is an agenda afoot to make us all dependent on the government for everything…for our very lives and the lives of our children – born and unborn.  The fate of our elderly is also in jeopardy. And our world has come to be a place where God is shoved aside and ignored.  Where does our treasure lay?

It is amazing to me how people will jump to conclusions about things, without a thorough knowledge of them.  Prejudice is alive and well in America, in so many, many areas and ways.  I prefer certain genres to read.  And so many people think it is terrible (Satanic, etc).  I read paranormal and distopian literature.  I love the constant good vs evil struggle that is portrayed in them.  I’ve always enjoyed a good scary story that involved werewolves or vampires, or the end of the world scenario, and the heroes struggling to save themselves from imminent doom.  There are themes that run through these stories and we can talk ad nauseum about the psychological and social models present in these types of literature, but rather than do that, I wanted to share what I have learned.

I have learned that life is a struggle.  It is a constant of light vs dark, good vs evil, man vs woman, society vs anti-society.  Look at the 60s.  That was a time of turmoil and rugged determination on both sides of many arguments…peace vs war, man vs machine, freedom from “the man,” free love vs marriage, and rock and roll exploded onto the music world.  We were at war in Viet Nam; friends were drafted and never came home. Short skirts and long hair.  I was a teenager in the 60s.  (I can’t believe my parents said no to “Woodstock”!! Ha-Ha).  And still our culture struggles.  We need to model the change we want to see in the world.  We need to share love and peace with those sitting across our tables.  If we all cocooned ourselves, became sort of “short-sighted,” and just reached out to those around us, rather than trying to affect change on a large scale, we might just change the world.  If you see someone who needs help with their grocery cart, or to get in a door, help them.  I know there are instances in everyday life where we can be the change to just one person, planting that seed that can help change the world.

And then there is Thanksgiving dinner.  We are all crammed into a little house and we are all going to be on our best behavior.  No fights, no disagreements.  (Unless someone comes over who happens to be a 49ers fan – then there could be trouble).  And we are going to be thankful.  Thankful for this incredible country we are privileged to live in, and thankful for the family and friends surrounding us, and thankful for the food on our tables.  If we can put aside animosity and be the change to those we sit at table with, we may just pull it off.  I will be panicked that my meal will come out done, on time, and delicious. I will be panicked the house is clean and there is room at our table for whomever wants to come eat with us. I will be worried my Seahawks might lose the game. But I will be thankful for leftovers, for some snow, and to be able to go back to reading my Kindle when it’s all over.  Then we pull out all the Christmas stuff.  Ha-Ha!

Peace.  Happy Thanksgiving!


The Family Altar: Establishing a Place of Prayer

I wanted to share this blog post because it was wonderful.  Enjoy!!



The Family Altar: Establishing a Place of Prayer

June 20, 2013

icon-corner-02by Deacon Michael Hyatt

As a young junior high school student, I wasn’t fast enough to run most track and field events. But one event I could participate in was the relay race.

A large part of our training was concerned with handing off the baton. The idea was to sprint as fast as you could to the next runner on your team. His job was to meet you about fifteen yards before the hand-off and run with you, being careful to match your pace exactly. In this way, you didn’t have to stop to hand him the baton; you could continue the race without losing momentum. If everything went smoothly, the baton was passed from one hand to the next and the race progressed.

The hand-off was the single most important part of the race. Not that it was that difficult, mind you; it just led to the worst of consequences if it wasn’t managed properly. The running part was easy. You simply did your best and that was that. But the hand-off had to be conducted with care lest – horror of horrors – you dropped the baton and thereby cost your team precious time and probably the race as well.

Running too slowly was excusable; all you could do was your best. But dropping the baton was totally unforgivable. Such a tragedy would lead to the immediate scorn of your teammates and the derision of your opponents. It was something that most all of us dreaded and worked to avoid.

Recently, I asked a group of young parents in our parish what their chief priority was with their children. Not surprisingly, each of them spoke of passing on their faith to their children. Like a runner in a relay race, no one wanted to stumble. The consequences of doing so were more than any of us wanted to consider.

But as a practical matter, how do we pass on our faith to our children? How do we successfully hand off our faith to the next generation so that they can continue the race and do their part to advance the Christian mission? No doubt, there are a variety of ways. But I would suggest that one of the main ones is the practice of family prayer.


The Home: Icon of the Church

As an Orthodox Christian I’ve come to believe that the Kingdom of God is the central reality of life. It takes precedence over every other allegiance, over every other priority. But that Kingdom is not some ethereal, far away place. No, it is concretely manifested in the life of the Church, especially in the Divine Liturgy. In other words, if you want to experience the reality of the Kingdom, look at the Church which is the principal icon of that Kingdom. But if this is true, of what significance is the Christian home? Does it have a role in Christ’s Kingdom?

As a Protestant, I believed (though I would have never said it in quite this way) that the Church was an icon of the home. I was convinced that the Christian home was the central institution of society and everything else – even the Church – was secondary. But now, as an Orthodox Christian, I’ve come to believe that I had it all backwards: the home is an icon of the Church.

This is far more than some esoteric, theological point. It has important ramifications for our family life and especially for how we raise our children. Amazingly, this idea actually makes the home more important, not less. Let me elaborate. In the Church, Christ has established a government made up of bishops, priests, and deacons. And in like manner, He has also established a government in the home: the parents who are, in a very real sense, domestic priests. Consider the fact that the hymns sung at an Orthodox wedding as the bride and groom are led around the table are the very same ones sung at an ordination of a priest when he is led around the altar.

Parents, like priests in the Church, have a responsibility to shepherd the flock allotted to their charge (see I Peter 5:1-4). And as parents, we must rediscover our roles as domestic priests and our corresponding responsibility to pass on our faith to our children.

There are, of course, many more parallels between the Church and the home, but space permits me to mention just one: the centrality of the altar. The primary responsibility of a priest is to officiate at the altar. It is there that, representing the people, he brings their gifts of bread and wine before God’s throne as an offering of praise and thanksgiving. And, it is also there that, representing the Lord Himself, the priest returns to the people the holy food of Christ’s flesh and blood. Similarly, the family altar should be the central features of every Christian home and prayer its most important activity. The family altar is the primary place where we pass on to our children the “baton” of our faith.

But if this is true, what are some practical ways in which we can focus our family’s activities on prayer?


The Family Altar: A Place of Prayer

If you are to take your role as priest seriously, you must first of all construct an altar for your family. In order to do something well, you need a place to do it. Dad needs a place where he can fix broken bikes and build bird feeders. Mom needs a place where she can sew and mend clothing. The children need a place where they can play and make crafts. The family also needs a place to pray – the family altar.

This special place of prayer does not have to be fancy, but it does have to be special. Remember, it is a place where the family carries out its most vital activities: prayer, the reading of the sacred Scriptures, and the announcing of important events in the life of the family.

While each family’s altar will be uniquely theirs, most altars share certain common characteristics. Usually the altar faces the East. From ancient times Christians have seen in the rising of the sun a symbolic representation of the coming of Christ, the Sun of Justice (see Malachi 4:2). The altar can be a simple shelf mounted on a wall, a small table covered with a tablecloth or, as in my family’s case, a special dresser with a glass top. Regardless of the form it takes, most family altars include certain basic components: a few icons on the wall or on the altar itself, candles, a Bible, and prayer books. Optional items include a small incense burner, candle snuffer, and a bottle of Holy Water.

When is the right time to gather at the family altar? Anytime, of course. But through the centuries, Christians have especially gathered twice a day for corporate prayer: morning and evening. Morning prayer gives us an opportunity to bring our needs and concerns to God before we embark on the day’s activities. It also helps each person “set his mind on the things above” (Colossians 3:1) where he can address the bustle and demands of the day from a spiritual frame of reference.

Evening prayer, on the other hand, is an opportunity for use to review the day, to confess where we have failed, and to give thanks where we have succeeded.

Prayer during these two times doesn’t have to be long; ten to fifteen minutes is generally sufficient. The important thing is to be consistent. It’s far better to spend five minutes a day every day praying together than to spend fifteen or twenty minutes praying a couple of times of week. The general principle is to become faithful in little before we stretch ourselves – and our family! – to become faithful in much (see Luke 16:10).

There are, of course, other times to pray. Whenever there is a special need in the family it’s a good practice to stop what we’re doing and gather for a few moments at the family altar. In like manner, whenever something especially good happens, it’s a good idea to stop and give thanks. These times of spontaneous prayer are wonderful tools for communicating to our children the reality of God’s presence and His involvement in our lives.

Once you’ve selected the appropriate time and place, you still have one important decision left to make: what to pray at the family altar. For many people this is the most difficult. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available to help us. Good prayer books can be obtained from a variety of Orthodox publishing houses. Regardless of which one you use, try to get a copy for each member of your family. This will encourage everyone’s participation and give you, as the leader, the option of calling on various members of the family to lead in certain prayers (something my children love to do).

When using a prayer book, it is not necessary to say every prayer nor is it necessary to “stick to the script.” If you’re just starting out or if your children are small (and their attention spans short), you might want to pray only the Trisagion Prayers, have a short time for extemporaneous personal petitions, and then go immediately to the dismissal. In my home, we often use the prayers as a springboard for our own prayers. This is especially true when we’re praying what is referred to as the General Intercessions. For example, if we’re praying for the whole Church, we might pause after the written prayer and pray spontaneously for the specific needs of our local parish. Similarly, if we’re praying for the civil authorities, we might pause and pray for specific needs in our own community. In this way, prayer becomes a living, dynamic activity rather than a dull, repetitive one. To me, this is liturgical prayer at its best.

One final note: prayer was never intended to be a monologue. In genuine prayer God speaks to us, and we speak to Him. Both are necessary for dialogue. But how does God speak to us? Are we to expect an audible voice? Generally, God speaks to us through the reading of the Holy Scriptures. Thus, Bible reading should be an integral part of our family worship. God specifically charges parents to have His Word upon their hearts and then to pass it on to their children (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). What better context for Bible reading than as we are gathered together as a family for the purpose of prayer.


A Few Miscellaneous Tips

In conclusion, let me give you three brief tips, items that will go a long way toward making your family’s experience at the family altar a meaningful one.

  1. Start small. You can’t run a marathon without training and neither can you engage in long prayers without training yourself in the short ones.
  2. Be sensitive to your children’s attention spans. Yes, it’s good to stretch them, but don’t break them! The last thing you want is for prayer to be something your children dread. Again, it’s far better to keep it brief and meaningful than to frustrate your children – and ultimately yourself – by reading long drawn-out prayers. Remember, the Publican was justified with a very short prayer: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” And the thief on the cross entered Paradise with one sentence: “Remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your Kingdom.”
  3. Let everyone participate. Although you will be tempted, don’t insist on doing everything yourself. Make sure everyone has a book (even the little ones that can’t read), and let your children lead some of the prayers. If they can read, let them read the Scripture lessons. If you follow this principle, you’ll find that they look forward to prayer and, little by little, begin to own it as their prayer.