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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KeepCalm.Pascha

“…you are true heirs of His promise.”

I’m all about planning for Pascha this year. I am excited for it. I got my basket (huge step) and my basket cover (gorgeous), my Ukrainian egg wraps, a recipe for dying eggs red (my last attempt went so-so), and a recipe for Pascha bread.  I am still looking at cheese recipes!  A friend is getting me authentic sausage from back east, too.  I am hoping to get it all together soon.  There is quite a list of what you traditionally fill your baskets with in the Russian/Slavic world!  I took down the last of our interior lights last night (well, okay, I directed the effort as my husband took them down!) and all of our Christmas stuff is gone; our windows look naked!  I laughed because we feel like spring is approaching, but we had a surprise snow storm this week that dumped 14″ on us in one night.  We have a lot of snow, with more coming in the next few days.  So that part of planning for Pascha is rather ironic!  Ha-Ha!

SnowMarch14.2014My kids tease me about my window “jellies.”  I have them for pretty much every holiday!  And I took down Christmas and up goes Easter!  And when we got that snowstorm on Friday, this shot through the front window just made me smile.  There is an old saying that goes something like, “Give God a laugh; tell Him your plans.”  Here I am planning for spring, dealing with temps in the 40s and slushy, mushy rain, running to Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, only to come out about an hour later to a snow storm and temps down around 24-degrees!  I couldn’t believe it!  The drive home was so not fun! But I remembered that saying and know that God is in charge!

So today, I found some recipes for dying the eggs red.  And I thought about an experience a year or two ago, when we were attending a Roman Church in WA at Easter. We took a basket of red eggs to share, as that had been our tradition from years past as Byzantine Catholics.  No one had seen red eggs before.  I laid them at the foot of the altar in a basket and people just stared at me.  (We always stood out – my husband is a Melkite deacon and always dressed for “Mass” in his Sticharion [outer tunic] and hat, called a skoufus. We do not melt into the crowd anyway!) I had told our priest I was going to do it and he thought it was an excellent idea and gave me permission beforehand.  At the donut and coffee hour afterwards, he silenced everyone and handed me a microphone, where I explained the tradition and we passed around eggs to everyone.  Luckily I had made enough!  But no one had ever heard the story, nor knew of the tradition. I had some elaborately decorated ones, too, in the Slavic tradition, and those were also foreign to the parish community.

red_eggs_166w_170hAnd it made me sad.  Sad because it seems like we’re becoming a beige country. And also sad because very few people are aware of other traditions other than those egg dying kits you buy in the grocery stores!  I have gone that route, with the little tablets, vinegar in bowls…the dye leaching into clothes and carpeting when you want to hide them.  Naturally dyed eggs don’t run! Wrapped eggs aren’t dyed! How easy is that?  And, there is so much more out there. The traditions and expressions of our faith are as diverse as the countries Christianity is found in.  And it is NOT beige!

Ukrainain Egg Wraps 3No one wants to celebrate our ethnic diversity, unless of course, it is a PC ethnicity.  Today there are articles abounding over the controversy of Heineken, Guinness, and Sam Adams beers pulling out of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York because the parade organizers decided long ago that the parade is to honor St. Patrick and no other banners, except those honoring the Saint, can be carried.  Some LGBT groups wanted to be included and wanted to carry their own banners. The organizers said they can walk in the parade, but the parade is about the Saint. Period. Which happens to be a 1st Amendment right! So, because the parade is not inclusive enough, the beer companies pulled their sponsorship.  The Catholic League is calling for a boycott of those brands.

St.Patrick.iconI wish everyone would go back to the days when we could all be proud of where we were from, to acknowledge and appreciate those differences, and share in celebrating them.  Today, around the world, everyone wears green and is Irish, just for a day.  What’s wrong with having fun with that and learning to like corned beef and cabbage (not my thing, I have to admit)?  The traditions that make up who we are as a nation, and who we are as a Church, are to be celebrated, not boycotted.  We need to savor and hold onto our cultures.  The world is becoming beige, as races and cultures intermarry and people immigrate (legally) from country to country.  It is sad that some people have to use these tools like Ancestry.com to find out where they come from.  Our ethnic parishes, as it becomes the third generation after the initial immigrants arrived, are finding their youth moving away and marrying outside their ethnicity and religious practices.  Beige.  It has never been a favorite color of mine. We celebrate where we come from, but are ever mindful of who we are in faith:

“For now that you have faith in Christ you are all sons of God. All of you who were baptized “into” Christ have put on the family likeness of Christ. Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are true descendants of Abraham, you are true heirs of his promise.” (Gal 3:28-26) 

Entrance of the Tomb One of my favorite traditions in the Melkite Church’s celebration of Pascha is when we sing, “Christ is risen! He is truly risen!” or “Al Masiah Qaam! Haqqan Qaam! / Al Massihu Qam! Haqqan Qam!” or “Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!”.  And we greet each other with “Glory to His Resurrection on the Third Day! We glorify His Resurrection on the Third Day!”  It becomes so loud and boisterous inside that Church – poor neighbors!  The photo above is of everyone re-entering the Church under the empty Tomb of Christ.  The song that then gets everyone going is, “Christ is risen from the dead and by His death He has trampled upon death, and has given life to those who are in the tombs!”  Boy, you have never experienced a Pascha (Easter) Vigil until you have experienced the ones celebrated in our old parish!  The lamps are swinging, it’s after 1:00 a.m., everyone is tired and their voices are hoarse, but they sing it as loud as they can, and everyone is laughing and Fr. Justin is running up and down the aisles swinging that incense!  It has to be one of the most joyous experiences I have ever had.  Am I Arabic? Nope! Scots/English girl here.  But can I embrace the spiritual, cultural, and social customs of an ethnic parish? You bet I can! I relish in it.  Because to me, we are sharing what makes our Church truly universal.  And there is absolutely nothing to compare to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, a midnight Easter Vigil, Fr. Justin’s exhausted enthusiasm, and the smell of MEAT cooking just yards away – a smell no incense can wipe out after 40 days of fasting; trust me on that.

So this year, our first year up here in Alaska, celebrating in a Byzantine parish, I am learning all new traditions.  And I am loving it.  Why? Because my world just expanded again.  I didn’t boycott because they don’t use Melkite chant or the Arabic and Greek languages, nor fast in exactly the same way.  I am, instead, learning some Slavonic and trying hard to wrap my head around some Russian.  I am not leaving one behind and embracing one in its place, I am adding to my religious experience; my repertoire, if you will.  This process of Theosis, or my salvation, is a long one. It will take my eternity!  God will take us on some wild rides in our journey, if we allow it to happen. I may not celebrate wearing all green today, nor will I be breaking my fast with corned beef, but I sure can support those who do.

Red easter egg.2The tradition of red eggs at Easter is explained above.  When two Christians greet one another at Easter, it is with an egg held in their hand (preferably hard boiled and colored/decorated!).  They clang eggs, symbolizing the opening of the Tomb, and they say to one another, “Christ is risen! He is truly risen!”  (The one whose egg does not break is considered the “winner” and goes on, cracking eggs with others in greeting until their egg is broken.  Then they eat that one and get another one!) I think sharing something with people that comes from another culture makes us better; it makes our faith more universal, or catholic.  And God came for all peoples, in all places, not just a select few. He came for me! And I am getting excited! Next try is dying eggs using yellow onion skins…I’ll let you know how they come out!!

Lent is a time

“Are you still sleeping?”

KeepCalm.PaschaI am learning patience in a completely new way and I think I like it.  I was raised in a place where we took the sun for granted.  It was just always there.  You could look up and always see it.  The seasons barely manifested themselves.  We would get a slight turning of the leaves when fall would approach, and then we’d get rain.  But I remember many a Christmas wearing shorts because it was so hot.  I also recall Halloweens when we did not want to wear a costume because we’d sweat to death.  And I also recall many, many hot, sweltering days during the summertime when even the air conditioning could not keep up with the heat.  I also remember cold mornings with fog during the summertime. I remember walking to the rec center with my brother and we’d have on shorts but would also be wearing sweaters because it was foggy and cold.  But by the time we walked home again, it would be so hot that the pavement felt hot beneath our shoes.  And the sun was always with us.  Always.  Even during the shorter days of winter we had sunny and hot days.  As I have moved north, I have come to experience the sun in such different ways.  I just never realized how different the days could be, or how different seasons can be.  And I must say, people who live in the more “warm, always sunny” climates are missing out on some beautiful days.

When we lived in the greater Seattle area, I experienced the oddest thing.  I experienced blowing leaves and rain that were both coming down so hard, the wiper blades got stuck.  I had to get out of my car in the wind, rain, and blowing leaves to unclog the blades so I could see where I was going. It was truly a fall experience. The leaves were a cornucopia of golds and reds, yellows and oranges. It was glorious!  And shorter days really became shorter days. It would be pitch black at 5:00pm!  And the smell of fall…it is so hard to describe, but it was simply glorious.  I also never really understood all that decorating in fall colors, the different styles of gourds (pumpkins are just 1 of zillions) and the drinking of hot beverages, until I lived in the Pacific Northwest!  I think fall became my favorite time of year when we lived in Washington State.  And it holds a special place in my heart. I will ever miss and long for those fall days in Maple Valley.

And now I live in the “far north,” the farthest north you can live and still be in America.  It’s the home of the Iditarod and mushing, snow machining and ice fishing.  It is called the “Land of the Midnight Sun” because during the summertime, we have very little dark.  The oddest thing for me was taking my husband to the airport at 2:00am and not needing headlights. Perfectly light outside. On my way home, about 3:00am, I put on my head lights.  And the other half of that saying is that it is the “Land of the Midnight Sun for three months, then the land of no sun.”  And that is where I am today.

Ice close upWe are in Lent.  At the end of Lent we have Easter.  Typically Easter means Spring.  It is also characterized by bright colors, flowers, and cute Easter dresses for girls, Easter bonnets, baskets, and little bunnies.  All bright pinks, yellows, greens, and blues!  Did I tell you have I grandchildren? Easter shopping for them is just so much fun!  Except that up here, it is still winter.  Today we have wind just howling against our house, shaking the little “Welcome to our Home” sign I recently got on clearance at Michael’s Craft Store (and which I am seriously thinking of taking down for awhile – it rattles against the house. Maybe that’s why it was on clearance!!!) and our combo screen/glass door rattling so that it sounds like someone is coming inside the house – which the dogs think they need to bark about and the cat needs to scurry away and hide from. We have snow in our forecast for today and tomorrow, as well as next week.  It is a whopping 27-degrees outside right now.  And we are preparing for Easter.  I put my little jelly clings on my windows, all eggs and “Happy Easter,” yesterday and it was blowing snow.  It is just such a difference from what I have ever experienced in life. In Washington, the tulips were coming up by now!  In California, it was already shorts and flip-flops, iced tea and A/C weather!!  But here, no here, it is still winter.  And it’s still Lent!

I am planning our family Easter Basket in the Slavic tradition and have plans for making lamb butter (just a mold – not made out of a lamb) and cheese, getting some real German sausage, coloring my eggs (I even got some awesome Ukrainian egg wraps), and making a bow for it.  And it is hard, trying to get excited about Easter, when it is all dark and gloomy.  And it’s still Lent.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”  He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”  Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:36-45)

And I feel so guilty that I cannot even “stay awake” with the Lord. He has asked us to pray with Him, to keep watch with Him.  Our watch with Him is Lent.  He has asked us to help Him when His heart was so distressed, knowing what was facing Him.  He wanted those who loved Him to be at His side. Christ, being also God, knew what was in the hearts of the three He had with Him. He even commented that He knew their “flesh is weak,” which I take to mean that God knows our trials are hard, but we are fleshy-humans with weak wills that succumb to our bodily weaknesses.  The Apostles didn’t truly understand what Christ was about to go through, or I am sure their fear would have kept them wide awake.  I always found it interesting that the deceit of Judas came in the dark, as most evil intentions do.  And here I am, living in a land with so much of the year in darkness.  The land struggles to find its way to Spring, just as we struggle to find our way through Lent.  From the darkness to the light.  From the Fast to the Feast.  From floundering with ourselves, to the Light of Christ in our lives.

Lent Strengthens a manWe all have demons and we all struggle with them. Our culture does not help us to tame our demons; it is a hedonistic society in which we live, in which esoteric struggles are met with “If it feels good, do it,” and other slogans. The idea of self-sacrifice is so foreign to most people.  People of faith, however, are more used to models of sacrifice; the ultimate model of self-sacrifice is Christ on Our Cross.  Because let’s not fool ourselves!  Christ died for me.  He came into this world to save sinners…and that is me.  Christ would have sacrificed Himself had I been the only soul on earth.  Because God deemed it right! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).  Christ came to save us, but we need to remember that He came to save ME.  It makes all of this far more personal, and salvation is, indeed, very personal.  We, each of us, has to come to a personal knowledge and thanksgiving for the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross…and that cross has each of our names on it.  Each time that hammer pounded on His Flesh, it was for ME.  Each time His skin was torn through His Flagellation at the hands of the soldiers, it was torn for ME – it was torn BECAUSE OF ME.  Each of us can personally share in the sacrifice of Christ, and each of us bears responsibility for that sacrifice.  What helps bring the Spring, and allow the Light of Christ to shine, is how we corporately prepare and corporately celebrate this Gift from God – our salvation.  We prepare together and hold each other up as we go out to meet the demons and the angels.  We mourn together during Holy Week as we walk, once again, along that Way of the Cross with a beaten and battered Lord Who willingly gave His life for each of us.  And when the clouds passed over His Cross, when the Temple’s cloth was torn asunder, and the sun shone brightly, we hold our collective breath.  As Our Lord is lowered from our Cross and laid in His tomb, we wait, breathless, for the sun to shine.  For that moment when He rises past all of it, to appear in Glory.

I believe that our passing through all these dark days, when we long for Spring and some warm weather, is the perfect time for Lent.  It is amazing how much the sun can change how you look at everything.  A couple of sunny days in a row and I am ready to redecorate! I want to paint and pull all the stuff off the walls and scrub! I want the light to come into a clean place.  And I get all excited.  And that is also the process of Lent.  We pray. We sacrifice. We live in the darkness, just waiting for the snow to melt around our hearts and the sun (Son) to shine in all the dark places we’ve allowed to go untouched for far too long.  And we can all feel it coming closer.  We start to see that light far off.  Occasionally the Church gives us a Feast Day in amongst all the fasting, and we get a glimpse of the full sunshine that is coming.

Ukrainain Egg Wraps 3It is all so awesome.  I will gladly not eat meat or treat myself to another movie, or read some incredible words penned by a Church father…because it is all preparing me for the day of the ultimate sunshine in my life, Pascha!  Easter baskets will be shared, foods will be eaten, eggs will be cracked against each other, and everyone will be smiling.  I KNOW that is coming. I KNOW God is working in my life and helping to prepare my heart for Pascha.  For now, I will do like this photo:

Weather the stormAnd I will do so with a preparatory heart, knowing that:2Thessalonians3-3Blessed Lent!

“God had planned something better for us” Hebrews 11:40

Orthordox Church.interiorThere is a synergy at work in the world, and sometimes I just marvel at it.  There are times when meeting new people, or just hanging with people you know, that some other odd connection pops up.  It makes the world seem smaller, and less daunting, somehow.

I saw a posting on Facebook today where all these people were opining and it was so fun to see disparate people, who I know do not know one another, chat and yet, I know both of them.  It was pretty neat because they live on opposite sides of the country, and still found common ground, and I was able to witness that.  I had nothing to do with it, either, I just happened upon it.  I think that is so awesome.

I was reading about some guy on a reality show tweeting something that people found offensive.  He made a couple of statements about how the “US is a great place to live, but you need to know there is a lot more out there.”  And with all that is going on in Ukraine, with Russia, and our part in Afghanistan, with Britain giving its input, and stories out of South America, stories of things happening in Africa, it does seem like the world is smaller these days.  When my kids were traveling from Hawaii back to Alaska, we were talking about the long flight (with a 4-month old and 2-year old, and a husband on crutches, it was LONG) between the two places.  But imagine going on “vacation” where you had to travel by boat?  From Alaska to Hawaii?  Days and weeks, not hours.  When my parents immigrated to the USA, they came via steamer from New Zealand.  It took weeks and weeks. And I remember as a child, we had to schedule, in advance, a phone call with my grandparents in New Zealand, to talk on Christmas Day, from California.  There was only one cable linking the two places, and phone calls were very limited.  We only spoke briefly, and rarely, to my grandparents.  They received some news, fashion, and the latest technology usually a year or two behind us.  We were separated by an ocean.  Much the same was happening to my husband’s family still living in Russia, and with his family here. The only conversation allowed was by letter, and that was spotty, at best.  Technology has changed all of that.  We are now smaller, and closer, and more quickly connected than ever before.

Wireless CommunicationI’m not, technically, Orthodox, although we call ourselves, “Orthodox In Communion With Rome,” but I had to share that photo!  There has been all sorts of communication going on, otherworldly, and worldly, for thousands of years.  And every once in awhile, God allows us a little glimpse of His handiwork.  And today, seeing disparate friends communicate through Facebook, neither knowing that either of them knows me, was a peek of how awesome Our God truly is.  He gave me a little smile, caused by a little glimpse into how He is working, constantly, in our lives, even when we don’t have the hard and fast physical evidence in front of us to “prove it.”

We are now completing our first full week of Lent.  And God continues to move across His landscape.  I’ve seen some amazing sunrises lately, and I’ve seen some beautiful sites in our little world up here.  I’ve gazed into the face of my adorable grand daughter, and seen a priceless smile as she gains my eyes and recognizes me.  My grandson’s unfiltered laughter just makes my heart sing.  Watching my granddaughter on a video on my phone (she lives far away) smiling and laughing into a toy phone (that’s my girl!!).  These are precious moments captured for me, that show the goodness we have in our lives…and the overabundance of Grace working in them.  There is so much to be grateful for, and difficulty (all on our side) of receiving that gift from God seems ridiculously easy…just faith in God.  So simple. So uncomplicated.  And yet we buck conformity to religion all the time.  God left us His will in His Apostles, and His Tradition was exercised in His Church for 100s of years before we even had a Bible.  We trust in all of it because trust is part of believing.  The Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, talks about the faith: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) It goes on and on, telling us what we believe is based on faith and trust in God.  So many examples from Abel and Abraham, to Isaac and Moses – the faith we were given goes back 1000s of years, to the beginning of time, itself.

In her wisdom, the Church has asked us to focus these 40 days on our faith.  Today I saw that faith revealed in such simple ways.  It is amazing what you see when you take the time to focus.

Blessings on our continued Lenten journey….

Easter Bunny....

“How do they know?”

St Theophan the Recluse 2I was out and about today, running errands with my daughter-in-law and grandbabies.  Any chance I have of being with them, I jump at it.  It had snowed since last night and was still snowing, so I was happy to not be the driver!  As I waited for them, I read my emails, read the news online, and looked at my very pared-down Facebook wall.  I had gone through my FB newsfeed (which is sort of like reading all the articles of a newspaper,  except they change all the time, based on who’s been selected to view.) and I’ve really taken it down to just close family and friends, and only groups that have to do with my faith.  Yesterday, we had some “trolls” hit some of my favorite sites and there was lots of scurrying around, trying to block and/or remove them.  They were posting awful comments and pictures.  Anyway, it all got sorted out this morning and I was happy to be exchanging messages with a dear friend, when my daughter-in-law arrived.

We ran our errands and as we sat in my driveway catching our collective breaths, she asked me, “So, what is Lent, anyway?”  She has had some faith in her life, but still, her question took me aback.  Like I thought, I guess, it was a common understanding.  But as I raced through my mind on how to explain things to her, I recalled that before I was taught the Catholic faith and traditions, I had just known that they got crosses on their foreheads before Easter (and all the kids always wore them to school as a point of pride) and ate fish sticks a lot.  I really did not understand it, either.  So I shared some Bible stories with her – like how, after Moses led the Jewish people out into the desert, they wandered around for 40 years.  When Jesus went out into the desert to pray, and he was tempted by the devil, he fasted for 40 days out there.  I told her that 40 is a significant number in the history of our faith.  And because Jesus fasted for 40 days, the Church, in its wisdom thought we should, too (I kept it simple).  She asked why we could not eat meat.  I told her that I believed that first of all, Jesus gave His flesh for me on the Cross, so I refrain from taking flesh in honor of His sacrifice.  But it’s also about the richness of the foods we eat, and meat is rich in content and cost.  She said, but fish is a type of flesh, right?  (Smart girl!!).  I said that, yes, it is a type of flesh, too.  I explained how different traditions started all over the world, trying to keep the Fast and that especially in areas in northern climates, fish is allowed.  The eastern and the Orthodox allow fish without backbones to be eaten. (Yay for shrimp!).  But we also do not use olive oil during Lent. She asked why and I explained it was, in many parts of the world, a delicacy.  And for us all to be equal before God, none of us consume it.  Sort of equalizing the playing field.  It is the same for dairy…it is expensive and we try avoid it during the entire 40 days of Lent.  She asked why some people only fast on Fridays (and why is McDonald’s running all these fish sandwich commercials?  As my son told her, it’s Lent! Which is one of the reasons this conversation started) and some on a couple of days during the week, and why your church seems so strict?  Are we vegans?  I explained it all to her, using history and tradition, bringing in our beliefs and trying to remove the “mysterious” from it all.  It was a wonderful conversation and I was smiling my head off that she even asked (and praying more of these chats will be in our future)!!

St Theophane the RecluseI had been mulling over in my mind how confusing this could be from an outsider’s point of view. I told my daughter-in-law that Lent is not easy, but we continually ask God for His help.  She had said, “Don’t you give up stuff that you like, like Facebook or your computer, too? Or even chocolate? Is that the same as meat or can you just do that?”  It is all about the mechanics, that people have all the confusion….and so many conversations (and blog posts) and memes popping up.  The east and west approach Lent a little differently.  It is so hard to explain to someone who has only seen what Roman Catholics do, so have nothing else to base an observation on.  Being an Eastern Catholic is different than what is portrayed out there, which is usually just Roman Catholicism.  And that’s something that begs for clarification for those on the outside, looking in, and even for many on the inside who don’t know about all the different Churches and our differences, and ways we are the same.

After I had been home a little bit, I noticed I had a notification of a remark on a photo I had posted…it’s the top photo above.  It was from a young man on a page I belong to.  I thought about it – his question was, “How do they know?” which I chose for the title of this post.  How do we know?  When I was explaining things to my daughter-in-law, we talked about tradition…the kind that starts with a small “t” and I explained to her that those are ways we find to keep our faith.  For example, all the different fasting rules in all the varying churches in union with Rome – there are almost as many traditions as there are churches (22 in all).  There are differences in how we fast in different parts of this country, let alone around the world. Those are all little “t” traditions…they vary.  The big “T” Traditions do not change.  They have come to us from the Apostles.  They have come to us from a very vibrant church, in practices handed on long before the books of the Bible were even codified, in 250 AD or so.  (Give or take a few years depending on whose history you prefer).  Those Traditions are the Church itself.  We celebrate the same Traditions worldwide, regardless of which brand of Catholic (Christian) or Orthodox you are.  (An example would be Christmas as the celebration of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.  Another would be Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ after three days of His death on a Cross…there are lots more).  These are the things received in Divine Revelation and they are immutable, the same forever, static and unchanging.  Once the last Apostle died, Divine Revelation stopped. Period.  Everything else is just (t)radition.  And it can (and does) change.

But how do we know?  Well, I gave a simple answer to the young man – Scripture.  It seems to help people unfamiliar with (T)radition and (t)radition if you use the Bible as the place where the buck stops, so to speak.  And in Scripture, much was said about fasting and prayer.  Much!  And Lent is all about fasting and prayer.  And to say that “if there is no fasting and prayer, there are demons” (to paraphrase) is to say pretty much what Christ Himself said in the Bible.  There are several verses to choose from, but the one I like is: “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”  (Matthew 17:19-21) This is the only verse, I think, that talks about “except by prayer and fasting.”  The apostles could not get a demon out, and the Lord rebuked them, saying that their faith was weak, but that this particular type of demon required special attention, and preparation.  They needed to pray and fast before tackling it.

The point of Lent is to grow closer to God by shutting out everything that gets in between us and Him.  For many of us, food is an issue.  The Church asks us to control our passions and we are a gluttonous culture, and so we fast from foods.  For many of us, prayer is inconsistent and weak; the Church asks us to attend Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and Vespers, in addition to weekly Divine Liturgy.  For many of us, we don’t know a lot about our faith.  We are asked to read along with the Church by embracing spiritual reading of some kind.  Many spiritual directors will have you read the Scripture for each day, the schedule of which the Church gives us.  There are additional prayers at certain times of the day to go along with our reading. It does not take much effort, trust me.  A total of maybe 15 extra minutes a day, to grow closer to God and the work of His Church.  And how do we know this? Our Traditions instructed us, and our traditions help us carry them out.

Happy Ash Wednesday for my RC brethren (a small “t” tradition like the Mirovanije from Forgiveness Sunday I posted about this past Monday). And prayers for a blessed Lent for all of us, making our way to Pascha!

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