“…you were bought with a price…”

 

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“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1Corinthians 6: 19-20

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Guess where I am at today? Yeah; I am there. It seems like there is a push in our culture to expose us to uber-sexuality. It is everywhere. It is temptation surrounding us. And it is pervasive. The evil one is sitting back and laughing. The movies, the TV shows, song lyrics…and those are the legitimate sources of temptation. I just found out there is an alternate universe of YouTube that is dedicated to pornography (Red something or other). And it is free. There is Snap Chat where kids can sext each other and the image disappears after a few seconds. Except nothing disappears. And our children can find porn so easily. I read an article today that said 97% of all young men before the age of 18 have watched pornography. And it is not like trying to find a centerfold in a Playboy magazine. No. This is hard cord porn. There are images and videos of “rough sex,” and even group sex. Children as young as 11 and 12 are becoming addicted. And they are becoming reclusive and disordered. There was a court case this week against a father, accusing him of sexual abuse. A secondary charge of bestiality was dropped because there was no “penetration.” And that, as sick as it is, unfortunately, is now in our legal system and can set precedent for other cases of child abuse. Pornography and the culture surrounding it is all out there, easily obtained. And it is killing our country’s cultural base, and our families, which are the foundation of our culture. It is creating this disordered sense of what family is supposed to be, our sexuality, and all of our interpersonal relationships. And it is scaring me. And it should be scaring you.

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I am not sure how to combat this epidemic. I do know that I need to change myself, before I can help anyone else change. Do I watch porn? No. Do I read porn? No. Do I allow it in my home? No. Is it here? Probably. Because we allow sexual innuendo and jokes, and poor vocabulary, to sneak into our home and our lives. We slowly allow the level of purity and modesty to sink. It is like the story of the frogs in hot water. You place them in a pot on your stove in warm, tepid water. You slowly increase the heat until the frogs are boiling to death, and they are happy all the way, because they do not notice the water getting increasingly hot. Do we laugh at impure jokes? Do we allow movies rated “R” for sex or violence into our homes? We allowed a movie in that we still regret – the “F” word was used more than 300 times during that movie. That’s more than 1 time/minute. That is ridiculous. It is in the trash. I have to stop this from invading our home. I need to judge myself and see where I am lacking, in that I am allowing this cultural deviation to have a place in our home and family. It is part of the actions that I need to take; that each of us needs to take in order to combat this evil pervading our country, one person and one family at a time.

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What I find so interesting, is that this whole issue was noticed by me, over the past few days, coming from several sources – commercials about this new 50 Shades movie, comments on a couple of ProLife pages on FB, and news reports, even comments from people I know. And the timing is so much the Lord’s. Because this weekend is MeatFare Sunday. This weekend we enter into the preparation for Great Lent. This weekend we turn our focus inward, onto how we are preparing for the sacrifice God made for every one of us. A sacrifice that He would make, even if each of us were the sole person on earth. He would die for my sins alone. He would die for your sins, alone. He is that magnificent of a Creator. He values His creation above all things. He desperately wants each of us to belong solely to Him. Not this world. Not the evil that tempts us in this world. Not the wrong that is trying to invade our righteousness, our holiness, our future of eternity in the presence of God. Because sin separates us from God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that what he has done has been accomplished in God.”” John 3:16-21

If we read part of that in light of pornography and evil, we can see how clearly God is talking to us. When John says, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Pornography seeps into the world in darkness – behind closed doors. There are have been studies showing that kids can spend hours in their rooms, on their computers. These computers are tools that can help them with their schoolwork, yes, and can be invaluable tools for education. But think of the study that said 97% of boys before 18 have watched pornography. Where? How? Have you checked their laptops? Do you allow computers, Play Stations and the X-Box in their rooms? Did you know they have internet capabilities? I did not realize they are like having another WiFi Hot Spot. Have you scanned their phones or looked at the photos on them? Do you have their log in codes for the internet or their phones? Do you understand the apps they have on their computers and phones – what they can and cannot do on those apps? Do you have all their passwords? They are sometimes alone, in their rooms, with temptation swirling all around them. We trust our kids to become the people we set the example for them to aspire to be. We instruct them. We pray with them, and for them. We go to Church with them. We send them to Youth Group. We monitor their “dating” practices. We know their friends. Some of us homeschool, in order to keep an extra eye on our kids. But are we with them every moment? Is what we are doing enough? The evil one is laughing, because it is NOT enough. Don’t fool yourself. It is NOT enough.

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As we enter this preparation period for Great Lent, we are asked to focus more on our prayer life. Yes, we fast from certain foods; the list for Melkite Greek Catholics is quite lengthy and strict. Many Catholics and Orthodox give up chocolate or coffee. Some give up Facebook or the internet. But for me, fasting is a exercise in self control that I should be trying to do every week; it is not enough of a sacrifice for me (it doesn’t “hurt” enough to be memorable, if that makes sense). We should be fasting from meats on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long (in the Eastern Churches, we do). What works for me is to add something; to intensify the good, wholesome, faith-filled and inspiring things in my life. Doing so helps drown out all this evil and all these ungodly influences. Paying attention to what influences you can even include how you present yourself to others – too much make-up, or even flashy or revealing clothing. Because ungodly attire is a distraction to everyone and it can come from both males and females. How do others perceive you just from how you look when they see you? What is the first impression you give off to others? Are you a wholesome and Godly young person (or older person) or are you projecting the world and its influences? Are you trying too hard to be a part of the world? Try doing more in the religious and faith-filled part of your life. Go to Church more often. Sit in the presence of God in the Tabernacle, where He waits for us. Spend more time praying. Add volunteering with those who are less fortunate. Donate your time, and the money you save fasting, to those who are in need, to those who are suffering. Dedicate a portion of each day to silent prayer. Read stimulating, religious works by some of the Church Fathers. (The Ladder of Divine Assent by John Climacus and Our Thoughts Determine our Lives by Elder Thaddeus are two of my favorites). Stimulate your mind and your heart with thoughts and prayers of God. Divest yourself of the things of this world that make you less than what God calls you to be. Stop allowing the world and its bright and shiny temptations to skewer your relationship with God. Go to confession. Find a mentor or Spiritual Father you can chat with. Have coffee with your Youth Pastor or confessor. Make Godly relationships a priority, while pulling away from those who would do your soul, your eternity, harm. The evil one is laughing…let’s shut him up.

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Take this time of Lent to get yourself right with God. Work on your relationship with your parents, siblings, children, and friends – but most importantly, with God. Cement the Godly and be rid of the evil. Christ endured beatings and belittling for us. God, Himself, hung on that cross for 3 agonizing hours – just for you; just for me. Do not throw His sacrifice back in His face.

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But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”

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I am sort of all over the place today. My hubby is off on a business trip again. He is gone 2 weeks of every month. Lately he has chosen to take them back-to-back so he has more of a steady time at home. The house felt sort of empty this morning. Getting old is weird. Hormones are all over the place. Squirrel. My hair is gray. I am trying new products to tame the frizzes. I tried the method where you wash just with conditioner. Not pretty. Tried for a week and could not stand it. Discovered my hair needs keratin. Who knew? Conditioning today. We got 18″ of snow the past 3 days. We are using either our wood stove or floor heating and it makes the air so dry. And my hair flies all over the place. Lovely when you add wool scarves and sweaters. Not. See? All over the place.

I just reconnected with a friend from High School. She and I were so close, for so long. I am not sure why we stopped being in touch. Perhaps me getting married and having kids and she was seriously in school and having a career…and we moved away from one another, too. But it is so good to get connected via Facebook, and to relaunch our relationship. I was so excited!! It gave me a spring in my step today.

So I blow dried my hair and it is still so fly-away-ish. Had to re-apply the leave-in conditioner. We will see how this formulation works for me. Gray hair is so picky.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

My hubby and I have been dealing with issues regarding our parish and the practicing of the faith we have come to love (and were so well instructed in, by an amazing priest and many friends – priests and monks among them). And it has caused a little friction. Nothing like damaging to our relationship, but in our 34 years together, our faith journey has always been a joint one. Perhaps friction is not the right term. It’s more like there was a pea in our mattress and we just were not comfortable. We always walked together in faith. Our journey has amused many, and confused even more! And over the past 6 months or so, we have sorted of marched to a different drummer. And that is never good. I was always cautioned to not marry outside of my faith practices because people who are “un-equally yoked” do not work out. And I experienced it once, in a long term relationship. I was even engaged to him. He was Jewish. (Reform, not Orthodox, or it probably would never have happened in the first place). But eventually, especially after having developed such an amazing relationship with his rabbi and knowing I was firmly a Christian woman, his cultural adherence to many Jewish traditions, and me not fitting in well with his family, caused me to call things off. He was a great person and I did not wish him ill. I just realized we could never work. His rabbi and I remained friends, up until his death, often meeting for coffee and chats, long after my relationship had waned. I knew I needed a good, strong, Christian man in my life and was wise enough to call the wedding off. And when I met my husband, he lit up my life. And the more I got to know him, the more I wanted his faith. I wanted that relationship he had with God. I used to watch him pray, and while kneeling next to him, prayed that I could be like that. He has been good for me. I often tell him that he saved me from my worst self. He dragged me into a more pious life and I loved it. Over the past 6 or more months, that has waned. And I admitted to him that I miss it. At this same time, my husband realized our relationship with our faith practices needed to change. We spoke and realized we felt the same way about things. About some pretty important things. Whew. A good talk is sometimes all you need to realign your northern star – in my case, that is my piety and sense of faith permeating everything; my relationship to Christ and His Church.

 

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I have taught my kids that it is better to be that lone person, standing for what is right, rather than going with the majority. I believe that to be so in pretty much everything. You can apply it to your chosen career – be the best you can be at whatever it is you do, even if you are not a part of the crowd. In politics, for me, I rarely follow what the majority is calling for. I am conservative – socially, financially, spiritually, and pro life. Period. It permeates even the voting booth. In my faith, I prefer historically connected, profound, and deeply rooted worship. Throw in beeswax candles and icons, and I am there! I was raised next door to Russians, whose parents immigrated from Russia. They had such an interesting spin on life. From the father of the family, I learned to fence, using rapiers from the Royal Court in Russia. I learned to drink Russian tea made in a Samovar. And I learned about Russian tales and foods, traditions and history. I fell in love with Russia, reading everything I could find on it. The old, the traditional, the historically connected has always grabbed me. As an adult, I found myself learning all about my faith at a secular university, funnily enough. I converted to Catholicism as an adult. Coincidentally, about this time, I met my husband. (When I was dating my Jewish boyfriend, I was Geneva Presbyterian – until I converted to Catholicism at age 27). Over our 32 years of marriage, as we have journeyed through a very “orthodox” Catholic life, we discovered the Eastern Catholic Church. It was then that I truly began to breathe with both lungs. I was hooked. We moved over to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which is culturally Arabic, but Byzantine/Greek in worship style. My husband became a Deacon, after attending the Melkite seminary. We made life-long friends we dearly miss, during this time period. I literally fell in love with Church. I was there 2-4 days every week. I helped with our homeless kitchen and soon found myself transporting donated food weekly in my suburban, dragging my homeschooled kids with me. I loved working in the kitchen with all the Arab ladies. We had so much fun. And they taught me Arabic traditions, histories, foods, clothing styles, and how they raised their kids and the many faith traditions they held precious. When we moved to Alaska, we discovered there was no Melkite Church up here. We have been adapting. Our youngest son found a youth group he loves, at the local Roman Catholic parish. We support him in attending their “young men’s bible studies” and trips, and youth group every week. (He is well-known in the local parish and usually brings up the gifts on Sundays at Mass. He’s quite the popular teenager. We joke that he knows more people in Alaska than any of the rest of us does). We attend there as a family and it has been good. It is not our beloved Eastern tradition, but it is Church.

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We’ve adapted to this culture up here. (It’s cold and white everywhere these days, because we have so much snow!!) We have become sort of bland. Ha-Ha! And I got pulled away from the practice of what I love, into a rather generic sort of Christian expression. Even in these posts, I was more inclusive, even of the photos I would use to illustrate my posts. I have stopped explaining about my faith practices, letting people just assume I am a generic “Christian” woman. Which I am, but I realized that I have been compromising myself. It is not all of who I truly am. I cannot please the public; I cannot continue to “pose” as something I am not. And I was caving into the pressures I had warned my kids about all these years. I was not being true to who I really am. I am an Eastern-rite Catholic woman. I love the smell of incense. I love the Divine Liturgy. I love chant. Not Gregorian, but old world, eastern chant. I love icons. I love being in a church where you can scent the incense from a previous Liturgy, and light the beeswax candles and be transported to a holier place; a place of oneness with God. It eases my soul. And even if I am “all over the place” and a tad bit scatterbrained today, I am also more at ease because I have realized these things about myself. And it comforts me.

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I realize that many of you do not worship this way, nor understand why people would. Our democratic ideals have permeated our styles of worship, and that is okay, if it sits well with you. I have always been a history-oriented person. I majored in Anthropology and minored in Biblical Archeology. History – church – faith. It has alway been a part of who I am. When I walked the parapets of a castle in Wales as a 16-year-old, I felt those walls speak to me. I would run my hands down them, marveling at how ancient they were and how connected to that antiquity I felt. I was walking the lands of my ancestors and I felt truly at home and very welcome, in among all the artifacts and tapestries, old walls and artwork. Walking through Churches and Cathedrals while we visited England, I constantly had a backache because I spent the entire time bent over, looking at all the engravings on the stones. I took so many rubbings. I felt rooted. I could really breathe at some of these places. It is the same for me in the way I choose to worship. I love tradition and the fact that I can historically trace my Church back to the Apostles. We have songs that are so old, there is no written record of them, just references to them by the Church Fathers, talking about how old they were back in the Apostolic days. Those of us who are Melkite like to tease our Roman/Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before they did, because he established the Church in the east before he meandered his way to Rome (wink-wink). And so I have decided that I am not going to hide who I am any longer. I am not going to water things down. I am not going to represent an American Jesus for the palpability of my newer friends. (And those in my business world). I believe in Jesus Christ and I do that in communion with them. However, I also believe in the traditions that brought Protestantism its lifeblood. We had the traditions long before they were put into a book – the Bible – the same one we all read, before all those pesky books were removed out of it. And we were an oral people – sharing our faith and our traditions with others through the practices passed on to us from the Apostles themselves. This is not a haughty or conceited viewpoint, nor is it meant to put people off. But it is the Church I choose to worship in; it is the tradition which gives my lungs breath. It is part of who I am.

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[By the way, my hair feels amazing right now. The blow drying has cooled and it feels like silk. Still gray, but not so much frizziness. Maybe this stuff is working!?!?! Keratin – who knew??]

And so my friends, from here on out, I will be sharing honestly about who I am. I will share through an Eastern lens, through the faith I practice. I am ecumenical because I believe we all hold the same God in our hearts, but I won’t apologize or hide that I prefer icons and a Jesus prayer, Divine Liturgy and incense, the iconostasis and beeswax candles, confession in front of an Icon of Christ the Pantocrator, and cantors with no musical accompaniment, to pretty much all the rest of it. It just fits me and I will no longer apologize nor hide it from you. It is part of what makes me, me. And it is part of who I am when I communicate with all of you, on this blog. I hope you will continue to read, if you do. I am still who I am! It’s just me going back to the me I was a few years ago.

May the Lord grant you many blessed years.

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“…God will have the last word.”

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I really should be doing something else. But my heart has been heavy for months now. I have piles of laundry and the dust boulders have slaughtered the dust bunnies (so sad). My kitchen overwhelms me right now. But I know I have got this. Or I will get to it. I am confident in that. So I am allowing myself time to heal. Not sure what to heal from, but it sort of feels like coming out of a cocoon. The funny thing is that snow is almost here. Which is odd because most people feel that pull from winter to bust out and celebrate the sunshine, etc. I have always been a little odd. So I feel like I am putting off summer, and everything from it, and waiting desperately for the quiet and peace of snow…pretty lights…fires in the wood stove…the scents of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am so looking forward to it.

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Some people say that there are things afoot that will happen this winter. There are all sorts of conspiracies out there. And some point to some sort of energy crisis, not accidental but on purpose, that wreaks havoc on the world. One of those blasts that stops all computers and cars and engines. Or perhaps Russia will get angry enough about Syria and send some bombs our way. Or perhaps there will be an uprising because of all the civic unrest in our cities over so many subjects. This presidential election has certainly been one of disgust in the caliber of those running. Dirt is flying all over the place. It is becoming more of a dirt-flinging contest than a “this is what I will do for you as your next President” conversation. Underlying all of that are the problems with the parties being disgusted with their own candidates. I will not judge. Are there things in my past I regret? Are there vocabulary words I wish I had not bandied about? Hey, I was in a sorority and a little sister at a fraternity. I know some pretty saucy drinking songs. That is not something to brag about. It is something to repent over. Have I made poor choices in my life, before becoming a wife and mother? You bet I have. Thanks be to God, He is there, helping me up each time I fall. Repentance is between the repentant and the forgiver. It is not for public consumption. And I cannot not, nor will I, judge another’s words or behaviors from decades ago. There is plenty of dirt flying around both camps that take care of that for me. But all of this weighs heavily on my heart. I feel like this is a precursor to much more to come.

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“Woe to the shepherd who misled and scattered the flock of my pasture, says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered the my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 23: 1-4

I cling to Scriptures like this when I get all depressed about our world and our country, even our church or local faith communities. And I realize that there are much greater things going on than we can see, from our little perspective. We sit in our homes, our cars, our churches, at our jobs, and we make huge proclamations about the world and life. When those in power make a decision, we decry their idiocy. I do it, too. Sometimes when the Pope makes a statement, I actually cringe. But I don’t sit where he sits. When some dignitary makes a weird statement, I try not to argue back at the TV. I’m in a little town in Alaska. How can I judge the world-wide stage from some little backwater place?

God, however, has the ultimate view. He sees it all, from the inception of the world (“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:3) to its bitter end (“Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with Me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Revelations 22:13). And I know He is keeping an eye out for us all. He promised so much to those who believe. He said to Peter (and to us), “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on the earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”… (Matthew 16:18-19). He has set his guard around His Church and not even Hell can destroy it. Some people believe there is evil in this world and it is afoot and doing its best to bring about total chaos, the total rejection of religion, and even a one-world-government. Some even say that a certain Democratic candidate has it in for the Jewish, Evangelical, and Catholic Churches in particular, which are seen as the enemy. Why? Because we stand for the basic biblical principles this nation was founded on, in the words of our founders (please take a minute to read this. It is crucial we all know what we are up against):

Declaration of Independence:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

At times it is okay to say “enough is enough” and to clean house and get a fresh start. Sort of like me, with my piles of laundry and dust boulders in my hallway. Sometimes it is okay to just say “enough” and start again, renewed with vitality and strength and purpose, because we are just tired. Tired of how it is and where it is going. Our country is getting to that point where we need to just start over. Not abolish what was established by our Founders; not at all. We need to get back to that foundational culture. We’ve swerved so far out of our lane, we’re close to crashing into others. (Like Russia, or the various  powers of the Middle Eastern terrorists, ISIS, and others who would see this country forever altered). I am not in fear for our Church. No country, no ideology, no government, will change our beliefs. The Church survived years under the communists in Russia and is once again thriving. It survived because mothers and grandmothers kept praying and teaching their children – they would not bow to communism in their homes. On the surface, yes, they capitulated so they could have shelter and food on the tables for their families. But in the night, behind darkened windows, they shared the Truth of God with their children. And now the faith has once again seen the light of day, it is flourishing. In the USA, at present, a certain candidate thinks there is power in going against the Catholic Church by getting subversives in there. That is such wrong thinking. It is the ROMAN Catholic Church…not the American Catholic Church. If that person wants to change the Church in America, then they would have to visit the Vatican. It isn’t happening, regardless of what those 3% of dissenters want. If they want change, they can find it in a different Church. Evangelicals are also not going anywhere. They hold fast to the Truths found in Scripture. The Right-to-Life, ProFamily stances on marriage, sexual Identity issues…they hold to the Biblical principles on all these issues, as does the Catholic Church. We are united in defending these principles. How do you think Target is doing with their bathroom stance and the boycott? Christians are starting to wake up and realize that they are in the majority. We can do this. We can take our country back, and return it to the country we all love. And we can clean the House and Senate, even our local legislators can be changed. This vote is pivotal. The Supreme Court will forever be changed this election cycle. Think about it.

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And so it is almost winter. Things are happening. Yes, things are moving at a breakneck speed. Some of it is really, really ugly. Some of it is tolerable. Some of it is just a plain joke. And some of it is disgusting. However, change is always hard. It is always requires some sort of sacrifice. It always demands we hunker down and push through whatever it is that is causing us to sink, or whatever it is we need to rise above. I read a blog post recently, and I have searched and searched for it and I can’t find it again. But that post stuck with me. One of the sentiments the author shared was that in our world, in our country, at this moment, we don’t need more of the same. We don’t need another lapdog who takes food from the hands of those with the most tasty power. What we need now is an attack dog that will not take no for an answer, and who will get the job done. An idiom often quoted is that the right person comes along when they are needed most. Was Winston Churchill a pleasant man? By most eyewitness accounts, he was not. He spoke harshly and used profane language, had a wandering eye, and loved his drinks. But was he right for the world during World War II? He certainly was. Another man is General Patton. His antics are legendary, as is his temper. There are countless stories about him, in the field of war and in the arena of politics. He really did not like politicians. He would not suffer idiots or do-nothings. His vulgar language and some of his habits made the news worldwide. But was he the right man to lead our troops in World War II? He certainly proved that. If we look at pivotal moments in history, we, as a culture, were not guided by limp or weak people. And sycophants who bow to foreign leaders, and do not stand in their presence in defense of our country, cannot be tolerated at this moment in our history. In the past, we were guided by guard dogs, who were intent on protecting our way of life. And that is what we need now. America needs strength in leadership so this world will know that we are strong. We have to repair our feckless image on the international stage. We also have to work to become a solid people once again, to love one another regardless. To put away our petty differences and celebrate our unique place in this world. We need to re-establish the America I grew up in, where we did not lock our doors, or worry when the kids were out after dark. We need to get back to that idyllic time when life was safe. I have no blinders on my eyes, but I know there is better than what we have, and where we seem to be headed, should we choose the wrong path.

worship

We need to get back to worshipping and loving God, and loving one another. This election is sticky…all of us are cringing about some part of it. But in the long run, if we honestly face where we have come from and what is looming in our future, for a free people, we need to unite behind one of these proposed leaders. [Side bar: I cannot, in good conscience, support anyone who is not pro-life. It is my line in the sand. Can’t get past that. For me, it determines character. To take innocent life so easily frightens me. It is callous and selfish. It is not about a woman’s right to choose. It is about allowing that human being who has been shown to have a beating heart at 16 days, to live. If it is not convenient for you, you should have thought about that before engaging in the type of behavior wherein the outcome is pregnancy. There is no excuse for abortion – ever. Go ahead and line up your data on saving the mother for me. There is none. As the mother of 9 children and only two of them breathing, talk to me about high risk pregnancy. Nothing you can tell me will change my mind.] Only one of them can be our president. I would suggest reading the Scriptures, reading the Church Fathers on some of these issues, consulting with your clergy, and praying about it. Each of us has their part to play in the outcome in November. The life of our country as we know it, and our world, depends on our participation. We need to do some house cleaning…

I am now going to attack my dust bunnies and laundry piles…

dustbunnies This and that…woman-on-laundry-pile

 

” but up to seventy times seven…”

Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-22
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.”

For those of us who are Eastern Rite Catholics, yesterday was Cheesefare Sunday, because it is the last time we eat any dairy and today is called Clean Monday – the first day of the full “Great Fast.” Every year, Lent is prefaced by Meatfare (two weeks ago) and Cheesefare, but more importantly, we also refer to this past Sunday as, “Forgiveness Sunday.” Traditionally, on this day, we are asked by our priest to forgive him any sins he may have committed against us, and we repeat, aloud, “I forgive you.” The clergy on the altar seek forgiveness from one another. In some eastern traditions, this act of seeking and giving forgiveness is expressed in a more formalized, and public, way with a line developing wherein each parishioner personally meets with the priest and other clergy, then joining the line, until each parishioner asks and gives forgiveness to every other parishioner. It can take hours if the parish is large enough.

It was celebrated in our parish, the long way, yesterday. I did not attend Church. I am so hurt in my heart, that I just could not stand to have the hypocrisy of some people played out in front of my face, when I know they gossip disparagingly about my family and I behind our backs. Gossip is alive and well in my life. I was fearful I would say something that would make the situation far worse. For me, and for them.

north_door_of_iconostasis_v-2The icon above depicts the Temptation in the Garden and the Expulsion from Eden and the Shame of Adam and Eve. This icon is used on Forgiveness Sunday to remind us of the Original Sin of Adam. And we are supposed to contemplate our sin, in light of God’s justice in removing Adam and Eve from His Presence. We believe that when we sin, we take a step away, or remove ourselves from, the Presence of God. Depending upon the sin, that step can be minute, or it can create a chasm between us and God. God is consistently standing with open arms, waiting on us to seek Him out, in repentance. In the Eastern Rites, and in the Roman Catholic Church, we go to Confession (or Reconciliation). The Church asks us to go to Confession at least once before we celebrate Pascha, or Easter, and the Resurrection of Christ.

Since last week, I have been thinking long and hard about all of this. I felt that removing myself from this would be better for all of us. I have nothing to prove to anyone, nor do I think my presence should have a definitive affect on others, one way or the other. I have wronged people, I am sure, and need to seek forgiveness from them. But I do not need to do so in a public forum. Do I have anger and frustration in my heart? You bet I do. Do I need to let it go? Oh my, yes I do. And how am I to do that? Therein lies the heart of my moments spent musing over this.

I have been doing this study, which I referenced in my last post, and I quoted from it about the boulders we have in our lives that we need to move out of the way. I have lots of boulders that I need shifted. And I am working on them. I do not think I would have served anyone any good by being at Church. God is working on me. Hard. In the eastern rites, we have no “obligation” to attend religious services. In the Latin Church, there is the pain of mortal sin if you purposely avoid Mass. For us in the eastern Churches, we feel no pain of “mortal” sin; we do not delineate sin in that way. We view sin a little differently and it does not entail whether or not we go to Church. The philosophy behind it is that when you love someone, you want to be with them, above everything else. You will do whatever it takes to be with them. And if you love God, you will do whatever it takes to be there, with Him, at Church. Sin is seen as a step away from God – does your choice put you closer to God, or further away from Him? Does staying home from Church cause you to be further from God or closer to God? For me, I felt that being at Church would be a “near occasion of sin” for me, and for others. And so I stayed away, purposefully.

Today, well, today is Clean Monday. Today we begin the Great Fast in earnest. And today I did something I have never done – I juiced! We bought a juicer and today was its first run. I am now drinking it over ice and I must say, it is pretty darn tasty! With this study I am doing entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman,” we are also altering our dietary intake and trying to purge our bodies of the stuff that impedes good health. So I thought I would coordinate that with the start of Great Lent. I made my son a smoothie today. It feels good to focus on our health and is such a great way to share Clean Monday and the start of Great Lent.

juicing

Back to why I started this post – forgiveness. It is a rough thing and a touchy thing. To truly forgive someone, you remove the hurt and take it out of your timeline, if you will. You live as if the hurt was never a part of your life. And if the pain is too much, you just give it to God. He has a better way to handle our hurts than we do. He died for our hurts. He hung on that Cross for three hours, taking on the hurts of the entire world. Just for me. Just for you. And He said, as He was being crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).  

Quiet

Do I forgive? Oh, I sincerely do. I really, truly forgive anyone who has ever wronged me. It is as though those things, those words, were never said. And I am completely at peace with that. Do others forgive me? In the same way? Perhaps; perhaps not. But all I can do is seek that forgiveness; how they forgive is between them and God. Forgiving is freeing. I still retain the memories of the hurt, but the pain is somehow removed because I truly let it go. But it does not mean I am stupid. I am not going to consistently, regularly, bang my head against that same wall. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. I am adult enough to realize that repeating errors is just wasting my time. And it is honestly okay to just walk away….

Nonsense

So I will continue to embark on this Lenten journey. I am focusing on becoming healthier in many ways – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I do forgive others and I pray for their forgiveness, as well. I read a great blog today by Joel L. Miller enttitled, “The Trouble with me – and  – Jesus Christianity” on Ancient Faith blogs. He talks about the story of the blind men each touching an elephant and describing it to one another. One touches a leg and describes the elephant like a tree trunk; one touched the trunk and described a snake…you get the idea. It is the same with Church, with our faith – if we only see our own interpretation of Jesus, we may only know Him as a tree trunk or a snake. We will not see the entirety of our faith. We cannot be Christians in a vacuum or as islands. Salvation comes in community. We celebrate our faith, we share our faith, we grow in our faith in the presence of other Christians. We listen to the preaching of our priests and deacons; we listen to the Fathers of the Church, who guide us in “orthodox” or “right thinking.” We cannot do this alone. We cannot seek salvation alone. Yes, our faith is between us and our Savior. But the Apostles sought one another and lived in community. We, too, should seek other Christians. So to not attend Church is not the best approach to growing in our faith. However, sometimes removing ourselves from situations that are not life-giving, nor healthy, is the best we can do for everyone. I’m not advocating avoiding communities that help us build and grow in our faith. But I am advocating an intelligent perspective on, as St. John Chrysostom said above, “Let us always guard our tongue; not that it should be silent, but that it should speak at the proper time.” And I believe removing ourselves and spending time alone is a healthy thing to do.

Alone time

This year’s Lenten journey should be amazing. I am working hard on listening more and talking less. On watching less TV and reading more. On making better choices in so many areas. I am working on becoming more fit in my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. This time, set aside each year, is given to us to reflect, repent, and start again. I feel blessed. Working to prepare myself in order to really welcome Christ with Palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest.” See you on the other side…

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_Tissot

“A still, small voice…”

nativityicon

“The best laid plans of mice and men … ” (Robert Burns, “To a Mouse” 1786). The quote seems appropriate. I worked very hard to try and make Christmas happen for our family and friends, those nearby and those far away. For the first time in 31 years of marriage, everyone’s gifts were either under the tree and wrapped, or wrapped, boxed, and mailed the week before Christmas. And, Christmas cards were all sent out at the same time. I was free to plan my meals and goodies. I should have known other plans were afoot when, on our way out the door to a birthday party, we dumped our 9-layer dip upside down in the snow, breaking my grandma’s casserole dish I had inherited. Things tanked from there.  I was able to attend that event, even making a scad of pizzelles while the kiddos “hung out.” But by the end of the day, I felt awful and in the space of about 2 hours, had completely lost my voice. This was December 23rd.

As many of you know because you know me, or have read about it here, I am an avid convert to the use of essential oils in my life. I also added a nutritional system to my life. I have not felt better in, quite literally, years. Over the summer, I back-slid and I did it big time. I never walked away from my oils, but my nutrition and exercise tanked. We’ve started back with our nutrition and I am using vitamins that, for the first time in my life, do not upset my stomach. Taken twice a day, these packets are awesome and since I received them on the 23rd, I only missed once, because I flat out crashed in bed. Ha-Ha. The exercise is starting as soon as I am better. I am coughing far too much to exert myself. I am dressed, so that is a bonus! (Although I must say I love spending the day in PJs).

I find it amazing that changing something like adding essential oils to my life, had such a drastic effect. For the first time in my life, I no longer use any over-the-counter medications, nor any prescriptions. My aches and pains have ceased. My mood and energy levels were such that I could keep up with my grandkids! And I was taught a HUGE lesson – being healthy affects every aspect of your life. Because right now, I am missing out on the holidays. I am home, alone, in sweats (at least I have on clothes and and not just jammies) while family and friends celebrate. I spent the entire day of Christmas, alone, on the couch with a diffuser on right next to me, nursing a hot cup of thieves tea. It stunk. But thankfully, I am open to new experiences and I am always open to learning. Because of that, I had my first raindrop massage with essential oils and I must say, I would love one every day! (God bless you, Mindy). I am thrilled beyond thrilled it worked. The oils did their thing, but then I “overdid” my thing. Attending Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy until 3:30 am while fighting this bug pushed the limits of endurance for me. I cannot expect oils to save me from myself. And therein lies my lesson…

The Good Lord asks us to give Him our best, always. He asks us to love Him and love our neighbors as ourselves. He asks us to be attentive, to listen more than talk, to be present to those around us.  To trust Him and His Word for us in our lives. He also granted us free will. That darned old free will is something each of us uses daily in our walk. Do we take a step towards God, or one away? Trying to do everything, trying to get everything “perfect” for everyone, running yourself ragged. Silly, silly me. God’s got this, not me. The reason for the season? Because the Christ Child came to us in a cave, with NOTHING but Himself, to save us from ourselves. And I thought I had this wired. I thought that, for the first time in 31 years, having presents and cards ready, the house decorated, that I was ready for Christmas. That I was ready to welcome that Babe in the Manger. What gifts did I give Our Lord? Instead, He gave me a break away from all the festivities, and He gave me time and quiet to get myself together.

Christmas is a mess

I decided to try and make soup from our leftover ham, while my husband is off, serving as a Deacon on the altar, and our son accompanied him. I even sorted laundry. And then I sat down, coughing my head off. I reapplied oils, added water to the ham bone making us soup on the stove, and petted the dogs. I am exhausted. But I am not tired enough that I cannot see how so much of what the Lord has in store for us, we miss. We miss it because we are so busy getting ready for it, it passes us by.  My personal Christmas was a mess. Sickness made me flat out stop.  Just stop. And this time, I was quite literally stopped in my tracks.

I believe that when we come face to face with God, it should stop us in our tracks and we should become something different; distinct from our “former selves.” If we do not embrace and accept the change that an encounter with Christ should engender in us, why bother? Why keep banging your head against a wall, telling the world you have changed, when the evidence everyone can see tells a completely different story? I can adopt a healthier lifestyle. I can opt to create a healthier environment in my home. So why did I allow all those sweets to come into my home? Why did I encourage poor choices by making sweet things to share with others? How am I the example someone needs for their walk with Christ if I cannot even stay the course myself?

Cheaters never propser

“Cheaters never prosper” was yelled by kids on the playgrounds when I was young. We used to sing-song it to people who cheated at games. It is an old English saying (idiom) that actually was about treason, but we Americans changed it up a little bit. In any event, cheating never does us any good. The most blatant lies will show to be just that, given time. People position themselves certain ways and presume and assume no one is the wiser, but most of us can see the truth. I tried to cheat. I was given a healthier alternative and thought I was on the road to health and less weight, more energy, less pain..all the benefits I had been seeing. But I also thought I could “rest on my laurels.” (Another fun idiom we inherited from mythology. A laurel wreath was worn around the head as a distinction for a level achieved; a reward. To lay down and rest, not putting forth further effort because you already were crowned with a laurel wreath, was to presume what you had done was good enough and would last). But as with anything, we need to stay current. We need to keep at it, to become good at anything. If someone is trying to get healthy, you don’t stop doing whatever you have chosen once you reach a healthier status. You have to keep up living healthy or you become sick, like me. Ugh.  I really hate that I am still sick and it is almost 7 days later. But I am happy that I am still learning.

Confession

“Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God.” + St. Maximos the Confessor, Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice 3.62, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 2)

When we go to confession, as when we unburden ourselves to a friend, when we open our hearts to hear the Word of God on our souls, we are changed. We have been given a new breath. We can inhale and feel the burdens we bore removed from our shoulders. We can start anew. Start what? That daily step – that step we take with each choice, each decision, each breath of every day. Did the Lord allow you relief? Were you given a choice and opted to repent? Were you contrite? What now? Is your next step, your next breath towards God, or are you backing away? One of the hardest things in life is to know that you do not know. You do not know pretty much anything, outside from the Grace of God. Without God’s light and Grace, we become “noisy gongs and clanging cymbals” (1Cor 12). I know so many people who are nothing more than air. And usually hot air. Because they jabber but they don’t change. They do not listen. They do not open themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are stuck, clanging away, because they already know it all. And today I reaffirm my commitment to not be a noisy gong, insisting on my own way, rumbling through life sick and miserable. I embrace what I have been shown and I am determined to inherit the Kingdom of God as a loving daughter of the Most High. I do not want to make so much noise with my own sounds, my own opinions, that I cannot see the path that God has laid out for me. I know that God acts in my life through others. He allows people to come into my life to help me, to make me a better person. I need to acknowledge that in my life; to embrace it; to accept it; and most of all, to act upon it. So this is sort of a New Year’s Resolution, if you would allow. I intend to listen more, speak less, and to follow God’s Word in my life much better than I often do. I will endeavor to hear that still, small voice. Will you?

Small voice

 

“Here are my wounds; here is my sore…”

I’m not perfect; certainly not even close to being perfect in pretty much any category.  I’m the biggest sinner I know.  It is part of our make-up; our sinful nature. I trip all the time. I trip daily.  But I do get back up. I do try.  And I believe that when we are hit by something, are tripped up, we need to address it and work to make it better.  And I’ve been pondering this subject all day…well, actually since Easter.

I read this article about forgiveness today that a friend shared. (Look at the link here: http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/). The article spoke to how a teacher in a classroom setting worked on getting her students to forgive one another. And I really liked what she said (and wish I had of thought of this when my kids were young!).  There are 4 parts to trying to mend a relationship and they are:

1. I’m sorry for…

2. This is wrong because….

3. In the future I will….

4. Will you forgive me?

And as she spoke about how it had worked with her 4th graders (average about 9 years old) I thought about a relationship I have that needs mending.  Could I use this in an adult setting?

220px-Jerusalem_cross.svgI have this burgundy, leather-bound little book I carry with me at all times and it is called, “Holy Things for the Holy!” and it was published in 2006 by the Eparchy of Newton (Melkite).  There is a gorgeous Jerusalem cross on the cover (like the one above). This book has the Canons and Prayers for Holy Communion, Repentance, and Holy Confession.  Archbishop Cyril wrote a wonderful introduction to it and in it he said, “Before this awesome, Heavenly Presence, we cannot but be aware of our littleness, our unworthiness, and our sinfulness.” He goes on to say, “For the Christian, repentance is a way of life – a continual heartfelt turning toward God in love and, at the same time, a mindful turning away from sin and self-centeredness in humility.”  We can approach the Mystery of Confession to Our Lord in the same way that we seek forgiveness from a friend on the playground; it is truly that simple.  In the back of the book there is a section on the Mystery of Confession and it quotes St. John Climacus: “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'”

In keeping with the idea of the article and with the information I continue to find in my little book, it somehow makes it easier to seek forgiveness and to heal a breach in a relationship, when we take the whole of it onto ourselves. It seems so little in comparison to the weight of the Cross which Our Lord carried for us.  It is hard to swallow our pride and to take the whole of the blame for something onto ourselves, and to just seek forgiveness.  To let ourselves be completely at fault goes against our interior need to protect ourselves.  I believe that being right is something that makes us feel our armor is strong and in the right places – we all seem to erect these imaginary fences where we stand behind, ready to defend ourselves. Even in marriage it is often difficult to lay open all the weakness, in fear of someone getting that close to us.

Psalm 91-11And so I thought I would begin applying these 4 steps towards repairing relationships that need it.  I have a sense of who I am talking to, but I might have hurt people and be unaware of it, which is almost worse.

I’m sorry for my actions or lack of action, or perhaps my use of words that has caused you pain. If I have harmed you through my words or actions, or inaction, I am truly sorry.  There are people in our lives that no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we give, it isn’t right nor is it ever enough.  Do we keep on giving? Do we keep on trying?  Sometimes there are people who just drain us and we try to meet their needs but always seem to be lacking in some way.  In those situations, we know that it is not totally our fault. It can be this person needs someone “more” in their lives.  Perhaps we are not the right person to meet their needs.  But it does not mean we stop and we do not try; that we do not seek to help them, even if it is in too small of a way to really make an impact.

This is wrong because I need to be there for you; I need to be the best person I can be for you.  It is wrong to turn someone away, to ignore them, or to treat their issues or pain lightly.  I have this scenario in my imagination that can best be described as a woman standing in a crowd of people, and there is this annoying gnat irritating her by flying around her face, and she is constantly swatting at it, while ignoring it at the same time.  If we put ourselves in this situation, that gnat can be a person trying to get our attention; someone trying to fit into a social setting (or business setting) who just wants to be a part of whatever it is we are doing.  For whatever reason it may be, we are trying to deflect them and ignore them, hoping they will just bother someone else.  And that is so desperately wrong.  I recently encountered a situation of what I call “discriminatory behavior.” In my situation, there was someone being excluded and treated differently than the rest of the group.  That is making someone feel like an outsider, or not good enough (by whatever stick is being used to measure them) to join more fully into the group.  That is discrimination by any other name.  How often do we find ourselves excluding someone because they just don’t quite “measure up”?  Measure up to what?  Our standards? Our expectations?  Well, I am certainly not one of the “in crowd.” I’m a middle-aged (man, I hate admitting that), overweight, gray-haired woman.  What makes me think I can exclude anyone?  I am also the wife of an ordained Deacon.  How could I exclude any of our flock? Any of our faithful?  It is wrong; it is hurtful; and it is certainly not Christian. And this is just wrong.

Fisheyeview.churchinterior.russiaIn the future, I envision a church where we are all welcome, regardless of the measurements anyone can use or devise. I envision a society where no one ever feels excluded.  To that end I will endeavor, in the future, to contribute to those visions by how I behave. In the future I will endeavor to include those who feel marginalized and those I may have inadvertently made feel apart or separate from the life I am living. In the future, I will work to become more cognizant of those who feel this way now, working to ease that pain in their lives.

Church.Savior of Spilled Blood. RussiaIn most Orthodox and many Eastern Catholic Churches, there are no pews.  In the fish-eye photo (two above) taken of an Orthodox Church in Russia, one can see the wide open spaces. In the above photo of the Church of Our Savior Spilled Blood, also in Russia, you can plainly see there are no pews.  In Medieval times, no Churches had pews.  When Royalty wanted to not “mix with the masses” they had boxes constructed where they could stand, apart from the “rest,” in their little fenced-off areas.  Once the Royals felt they were supposed to have their own space in churches and were too weary to stand for the long prayer services, pews were introduced, still with little fences around them.  If you attend Church in a Church of England parish in England, there are boxes and pews all over the place.  Usually the names of the people to whom the boxes belong have their names on them. Churches are arranged a little differently in Church of England parishes.  (Episcopal churches in the USA have boxed pews in the ones considered to be “High Church” wherein the traditional masses are said. The lower churches do not have boxes, but still have pews). In many Protestant churches, especially those in early America, we also have boxed pews. Methodist and United Methodists use boxed pews in some of their older churches.  It isn’t as common as it once was.

386920_371544942914698_1360739825_nIf we did not have pews, we would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Church.  The Orthodox have some mighty long services (Easter Vigil can be 4 hours or more) and everyone is standing.  In some Eastern Catholic churches, we have chairs instead of pews and people can opt to sit if they need to, but many prefer to stand the entire Divine Liturgy.  There are some postures that are proper for certain times during Liturgy, and some that are not.  We do not genuflect except during Lent.  We do not kneel in eastern Churches; it just is not part of our charism.  Standing is pretty much a proper posture almost all the time in Eastern and Orthodox Churches.  Children are free to wander around and witness Church up close and personal.  I would love to see our parish return to the days of no pews.  By standing next to one another and supporting one another, you are brought closer. In the future, I would love to stand with you, worshiping Our Lord.

boys in church(There’s a great Facebook page called “Children in Orthodox Churches” and I took this photo from their page. These kids are just so cute!).

And now that I have come to the fourth step, in seeking to repair a relationship, I ask forgiveness.  If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me. The same way I seek forgiveness from an earthly friend, I always seek forgiveness from Our Lord each and every time I fail; each time I trip and fall all over my best intentions, I scrape off the dirt and seek to start again.  It is one of the beautiful things about being a Christian.  This process of forgiveness is continual.  Rather than just one moment and ZAP – I am clean forever! As St. John Climacus said,  “Uncover and show your wounds to this physician and putting shame underfoot say, ‘Here are my wounds, here is my sore, here is the fruit of my weakness. None but I am responsible; it is indeed I who am to blame.'” I believe God is a loving and generous God and walks with us on our journey of theosis, and He is there, lifting us up after each fall from grace.  No, salvation is not something I earn, but it is something I seek continuously.  And forgiveness is something I strive for, here on earth from my friends and family, but it is also something I seek continually in the eyes of God.  Standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow believers, I seek to praise God, to worship Him, and to be working towards my ultimate state of Grace…being with Him in Heaven, forever forgiven.

cropped-lofe-of-pi.jpg

 

 

“…and some are first who will be last.”

CharacterI have been pondering so much lately, but writing very little. I even stopped my poetry because life just, well, interfered, as life does.  One thing that has come through in so many areas recently is the subject of Character.  Now, I am not speaking to the idea of someone who makes you laugh and does funny things, as in, ” He’s such a character!”  But rather to the core of who someone truly is.  Because I have seen quite recently that the character that we put out there towards other people, and the character that makes up our very marrow, can be quite, quite different.

Gerontissa GabrieliaI wonder why honesty in our dealings with others is such a hard thing to do.  There are people we all know who change, depending upon the audience. There was a woman I worked with and she was in a position of authority and was quite intimidating at the office. I was invited to her home one Friday evening and came away from that so changed in my attitude towards her as a person. I had no idea she was so nice!  We laughed and had such a wonderful time. Back at work, she reverted to her office “persona;” I much preferred the other woman! Ha-Ha! But I understood her reasoning and I also came to know her better, so that we had lunch quite often and we laughed at jokes and could have a much better relationship at work.  But I asked her why we did not get to see the “real” her at work and she told me it was because she had so much authority and had to impose so much disciplinary action towards employees, that she needed to keep herself a little removed from everyone. She was also worried no one would respect her if she were too nice.  It’s been many years now, but I still always wondered why we can’t just be who we are, with everyone we interact with.

Recently, I was taken in by someone who pretended to be a friend, and who exhibited what I had thought were admirable qualities: volunteerism, camaraderie, leadership, faith, and a strong character.  I literally trusted this person with the lives of those I love. Literally.  And it has come to light recently that it was a huge sham. This person is nothing in ‘real life’ that was trotted out for all of us to see. It turns out the faith is something worn like a suit, but not practiced.  The character was barely skin deep.  The leadership, I devastatingly learned, was by intimidation and coercion, with lots of profanity thrown in for good measure.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2When we interact with people, they trust that “what they see is what they get.”  We implicitly trust others in lots of ways.  We trust our bank to do right with our money and not play fast and loose with our funds. We trust the grocery store to not sell us tainted or bad food.  We trust the gas station to sell gas that honestly is gas and not something watered down that damages our cars.  We trust that when the mechanic says he changed the oil, he really did.  We trust our doctors when they say we need surgeries.  We trust our children’s teachers, their leaders in organizations to have their best interests at heart – and when we leave them for the day (or event, or week, or whatever it is) we trust our children are safe and in capable hands.  We trust our friends to be honest with us; when we ask them to pray for us, we know they will.  We trust our priest – he brings us Christ through his ordination and holy hands.  There are so many people we trust in life, we just don’t think about it all the time. And when your trust with someone is shattered, it can be unraveling.  Like you have to physically take a step back.  And I have – I did.  And I sat down, amazed at the turn of events I had witnessed, and I am just pondering this whole concept of trust and character.

Orthodox NotesOur words and how we treat other people truly do become our actions.  And those actions can become habitual (which is another thing about Lent I am grateful for – a specific time each year I can turn inward and fix those nasty things keeping me from being a better person) if we do not stay on that.  And our habits become the character of who we are.  And that, in turn, determines our destiny. Am I a liar? Do I cheat people regularly?  Am I an honest person? Do I lie? Even silly, white lies, to cover a silly transgression? Or do I own up to who I am and what I have done, trying to atone for that and become better?  Has my character become infected with poor choices of words and deeds, habits that have taken me over?

“And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them,“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

I love that Scripture verse. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  God is among us.  In each of us.  And how we treat others affects His Kingdom.  Will you be known, or will the door be closed and He will know you not? I am thinking more and more about this as I have been shown how duplicitous people can be.  I still believe that honesty in all things is what God is calling us to. I believe He knows who we are, and He desires us to be more and more like Him in all things…that old Theosis philosophy.  And I truly believe that those who pump themselves up in the eyes of others, and who do so lying their way to the top, will be like those in that last statement, “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

And one of the most amazing things I have gleaned from this introspective time is that God truly has this in hand, and He has all things. I need to “let go and let God,” allowing Him to work in all things, for our good. Little by little, I see good triumphantly making its way forward.  Little things are happening that show me sometimes the bad is allowed for good to triumph.  And I am getting out of my own way, by learning to discern in silence all these things, for my own growth and betterment.

KeepCalm.PaschaIt is wonderful to know that during Holy Week, as we begin to gradually turn our attention to Our Lord and His lonely walk to Calvary, that things in our lives can mirror it in a cosmic, esoteric way (certainly not like Our Lord suffered).  We all go through our moments of intense suffering, of questioning everything, and having to walk through it, in order to get to the other side, clinging to our own Cross.

I still believe honesty, transparency, and character all count.  They are all characteristics of a person who truly cares for others and is honestly trying to be a Christian disciple.  And I still know that when I am hoodwinked and when someone turns out to be far, far less than I had imagined them to be, I will mourn. It is a physical loss of a friend and an emotional scar.  But I also know Christ allows these things for my edification and growth, for my own character development.

HolyOilCandle.HolyBookThe first three days of Holy Week are treated as sort of one day.  We focus on the Bridegroom and the preparation.  We read today of the virgins and their lamps and of the ten talents.  The gifts we are given and how we use them to best prepare ourselves for the Coming of the Bridegroom, Christ Our Lord.  And preparing for His Coming is something we do all the time, every day, in how we spend our days and our time.  We pray.  We reflect.  We attend services.  We seek confession.  We keep our lamps full and we use fully all the gifts (talents – a form of money, and not something you do well like sing or paint or dance) given to us.  Do we seek a return on our gifts? Do we hide them? Is our lamp filled with oil at all times?  Boy, that is hard to do in our everyday world.  I acknowledge my shortcomings and I pray for my healing – for patience, for character of a sterling quality, and for love for each person I come into contact with.  And I pray, so much, for the gift of forgiveness. Not for me, but that the Lord will help me give over this pain and disappointment and turn it into love and forgiveness for those who have so let me down.  And we keep our lamps full and patiently await the Bridegroom.

Eph 4-26 ForgiveAs I prepare this week to celebrate Pascha and the Resurrection of Our Lord, I am preparing my heart. I am enjoying the smell of our house as I dye our eggs using all these spices I am trying: turmeric, paprika, onion, and vinegar (I only wish our dinner would smell so good). And it is a wonderful way to seek silence in the doing of it, in the preparing of it. I can contemplate and await the Bridegroom through my humble service of preparation for my family and friends.  As I bake break and prepare the other foods and goods in our family’s basket, it is a time of reflection, peace, and prayer.  God is so good to us. He gives us these Holy Days of Holy Week to prepare, to come to Him ready and joyous for His gift of eternal life. I am blessed.

sunrise easter

 

“Let my prayer rise…”

Candle Book IconI added a simple prayer to a web prayer group yesterday. The comments that followed have been interesting.  I posted, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This is known as the Jesus Prayer.  No one is positive about when it was written or how long it has been prayed, in just that format.  But it has been around eastern Christianity for centuries.  Instead of using a rosary, in the east we use a prayer rope.  On each knot we recite that prayer.  The hope is that we can pray it unceasingly, all day and all night long.  It is a cry for mercy and forgiveness.  The mercy we seek is not that of a master over his slave, but rather the loving arms of a Father, gathering in His hurting child.

Prayer RopeOn the page I added my prayer to, some of the comments were strange to me.  But then I realized that it is a site for lots of denominations and rites.  Many people on that site would not recognize the prayer.  The one comment that got me thinking was, “The bigger the sin, the bigger the forgiveness.”  Now, I can take that as comforting.  It implies that no matter the size or content of the sin, forgiveness is waiting for me.  This denotes a demarcation or ranking of sins.  In the west, the common theology is venial and mortal sin.  Venial sin is something that moves you away from God, but does not remove you completely from His Grace.  A mortal sin, as the word implies, kills your relationship with God; you are separated from God totally.  The usual “biggies” are murder (including abortion), adultery, stealing…you get the idea; one of the “Top Ten;” The Ten Commandments.  So the bigger the sin, the bigger the forgiveness.  And when you go to a priest in the western Church, he will give you penance that is appropriate for the sin you confessed.  It may be, for example, 10 Hail Marys, 4 Our Fathers, and 2 full Rosaries (that would be a pretty hefty penance).  If you committed a more grievous sin, the priest may ask you to “do” something in atonement.  He may ask you to return a good you have stolen and offer to work at the place you stole from, for no pay.  He may ask you to turn yourself in to authorities (which could be law enforcement, parents, teachers, school authorities, work place management, etc). He may ask you to volunteer at a homeless shelter or pray at an abortion clinic.  He may ask you to seek someone you have wronged, and make it right. Most Catholics will attend weekly confession, if they can.

Over here, on the eastern side of the aisle, sin is taken a little differently.  And so, when I saw that response to my post, I also examined it in light of my understanding of sin and forgiveness, from my Byzantine (but formerly western) perspective.  In the eastern tradition, sin is sin.  The action or thought either drew you closer to God or placed you further away from God.  The distance is part of the sin itself, but it is still regarded as just a sin.  The experience of confessing in the east is dramatically different than in the west. In our tradition, you stand with your priest in front of an icon of Christ.  He wraps his orarion (or stole) over your shoulders and you bend at your waist in a low bow.  He then begins to pray for you as you confess your sins to Christ, in the presence of the priest.  The priest is just listening and praying for you, all at the same time. It is intimate, and yet you are in the front of the Church, confessing to Christ. He will then speak with you quietly and bless you.

In the east, the priest will not give you 3 Our Fathers to pray, although he just may!  More often that not, he will, instead, ask you to perhaps read a verse from Scripture that holds special meaning for that particular sin; he may ask you to recite a common prayer (like the Jesus Prayer); he may further ask you to commit to regular Divine Liturgy attendance and perhaps to assist in an area that will help you recover and grow from your sinful act or thought.  He may also suggest more frequent confession.  But most importantly, forgiveness is offered as a salve on a wound.  It is offered as a warm, all-encompassing hug from a passionate Father who cares for each of his children. God’s mercy envelopes each of us in its warmth and healing forgiveness.  When we ask for mercy, this is what we seek.

So as to the idea of larger sins requiring more forgiveness, I disagree.  God’s forgiveness is like a huge, down quilt you can wrap your whole body in.  He is wrapping all of it (our sinfulness) in the same garment.  He is forgiving all of what you have done in one moment, covering all you have done.  Believe this or not, but I am a person who is fond of silent retreats. They do the most for my soul.  At a silent retreat many years ago, a priest asked me, as I was partway through my confession, if I would like to come back later and have a “life time” confession.  I had never heard of that but he instructed me and we made an appointment for later that day.  Poor man; I don’t think he realized what he was letting himself in for!  But over about 45-minutes, I laid bare every slight I had committed, every wrong deed done, every bad word uttered, every commandment laid to waste in my life to that point.  And my penance?  To go and sit in the Adoration Chapel and to just be in His presence, in prayer to God.  No formulative prayer.  No memorized, rote words.  Just open myself before God and seek His forgiveness in my soul.  I did as he suggested and just sat in that chapel, silently weeping.  God touched my life in a moment – all of my life, all of my sinfulness, all in one confession.  And His forgiveness was complete.  It was not larger or smaller – it just was.  I don’t think it took God any more effort for a simple prayer of forgiveness or for my 45-minute recap of every sin I could remember committing, back to an extra pack of Frito-Lay Bar-B-Que Chips I took when I was 9 years old and for tripping my brother when he was 3 and I was 5 years old!  Forgiveness was just that – forgiveness.

IncensorLet my prayer rise before you like incense, 
And my hands like an evening offering.–Psalm 141:2

I believe in the power of prayer, in the corporal prayer of our community when we gather, and in the power of God to hear us, to forgive us.  God is good; He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-encompassing.  To discuss a hierarchy of sin and its equivalent forgiveness puts God in a box He does not fit in.  It is man-made and our own perception.  God forgives. Period.  The scope is unfathomable and I bow in thankfulness each time it touches me.