Double rainbows, Beluga Whales, Oreos, and the Pope

Aurora.9.22.15

We feel blessed to live where we do. There are so many amazing sites and so much we have not seen. Witnessing the Aurora Borealis in person is something I wish everyone could see. As I was explaining to my dad, it makes you feel so miniscule and humble. In the next few days, they are supposed to be so busy and so close, you can hear the sound of them when the colors cross over themselves. I never knew you could actually hear the Aurora, so I will let you know. 

Rainbow on ground.2015

The above photo was taken this past Saturday, while riding in the car (no, I was not driving). It is part of a double rainbow, and if you look you can see where the rainbow touches the ground (middle right of photo). Now I don’t know about you, but I was looking for my leprechaun and his pot of gold! I did see a Chevron station, which is much the same thing, I suppose. But the weirdest thing that happened is that we drove through the rainbow! And as we did, we passed through the different colors. I turned around and looked, and sure enough, there was the rainbow, behind us. How spectacular is that??? As we ventured further towards home, we saw Beluga whales in a pod, spouting water and surfacing with their babies. I mean, how much can you take of the exceptionalism that is the creation of God, in one day? Oh wait, I forgot! An American Bald Eagle flew directly over our vehicle, while hunting, and swooped low enough that we could see its belly as it flew over our sunroof! With all of these things happening, and with all the news this week, it takes your breath away at times.

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How can all this amazing stuff surround us, who are mere creations of God, and we can not feel overwhelmed with joy, thanksgiving, and humility? But rather, we attack one another and we beat each other up over trivialities.  The Pope is visiting the USA this week. In fact, he apparently is here, arriving in New York today. Trust me, homeschooling a high school student takes a lot of energy and patience. This morning we were tackling fractions as expressed in percentages and decimals, and solving for “X” – I hate that letter! Ha-Ha! Just writing this brings back my headache… where’s my coffee? I rarely turn on the TV or listen to the news. I have little free time until this time of day and I have begun to love football practice! (It’s every afternoon, Monday – Friday!). As I was catching up on the news and the pope’s arrival, I noticed there are memes, and photos, floating around Facebook about the pope marveling at our “plenty.” There was a joke about him taking back his comments about capitalism when he saw and held the variety of Oreo cookies available at the local supermarket. Ha-Ha. I cracked up. Lots of other people took offense. I am obedient to his teachings on things regarding faith and morals. I respect the office of the Pope and his position within the Catholic community and the world. But it does not mean I have to agree with his teachings on anything else. Thanks be to God for a universal church. And I am allowed, even while still being a good Byzantine Catholic, to laugh at a joke about the Pope marveling over Oreo cookies. I am also allowed to comment.

I do not think that we are all on the same page about a great many things. Diversity is part of humanity. Once we were afforded free will, uniformity became obsolete. No one person is exactly like the next. And isn’t that the beauty of being alive? Yes we can categorize creatures and nature into orders and phylum, genders and races. But as Ben Carson once stated, “You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are.” We are all fundamentally the same, but our free will has given us our individuality. And the Church knows this. Why do you think the Apostles preached to the people “where they were” and did not try to make them all like they were? It is why we have all the different Churches united with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Pontiff is the Bishop of the Roman Church. He is considered the “first among equals” and I respect this particular pope specifically because of that. I don’t agree with him on much, but I respect him as the Pope of Rome. I also heed my Patriarch, one of the pope’s equals. I happen to listen to him before I listen to the pope, because I belong to one of the many churches united with the Roman Church; I am Melkite Greek Catholic.

Different color skin, same souls.

So I have learned that being surrounded by all this creation of God, still in its pristine form, that I am a speck. I am an insignificant thing compared to what God has created. But I am His insignificant speck; His humble servant. I love Our Lord with all my heart and I respect His servants who are in the public arena, such as our Pope. I am respectful of his office, but I still giggle at some of the jokes and I truly believe that is okay. “In the  grand scheme of things,” this Pope will be a blip on the timeline of the Church, and I won’t even get an honorable mention. My opinions are, however, just as important to God and He loves me equally to the Pope. That’s what is so awesome about our God and our Church! Christ died for each and every person who believes in Him. Be respectful, be loving, be Christlike. But revel in your free will that drives you to seek the holy, the sublime, the beauty of this life. Drive through double rainbows, cry when an eagle soars overhead, smile like a child at a pod of Beluga whales breaching beside the roadway.

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And if you want to, giggle about the pope and some Oreo cookies. It’s okay.

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“…and have a cup of tea.”

Elder Sophrony of Essex

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, I can loose sight of those simple goals I was striving to work on during Lent – peace of mind and a closer relationship to Our Lord.  Today I read about the banks in Cyprus closing until Thursday, and 6.75% of people’s savings accounts were “requested,” which is a nice way of saying “taken without their permission.”  Gun laws are changing and for those of us who own them, it is causing concerns.  North Korea is arming itself and aiming at the USA.  The Defense Department announced they are setting up missile defense systems in reaction to North Korea, in Alaska, but that it will take until 2016 until they are ready (so comforting).  This past week, a friend’s sewage system backed up and caused some major damage to a newly-finished basement.  Their frustration and anguish was felt as much as if it happened to us!  We’re still packing up and moving, but now are looking to other options as to when and where, because things we had planned have taken on their own twists and turns.  This past Friday, we buried my stepdad.  I spoke to my mom this morning and she was surly and very terse with me, which tells me she is struggling.  This weekend, my husband suffered a debilitating migraine – his first.  I so need to step back from the brink and have a cup of tea!!!

Our Orthodox brethren celebrated “Forgiveness Sunday” this week and are now on our Lenten journey with us.  So many wonderful things were posted about forgiveness.  And it is helping me to re-focus myself on keeping a clear head and keeping the peace of God reigning in my heart, and not the world.  Here is one that caught my eye and gave me pause: “The soul must watch and anticipate carefully so that it is not even for the twinkling of an eye taken captive by the devil’s power. Even if only one part of an animal is caught in a trap, the whole animal is held fast and falls into the hands of the hunters; and the same thing is liable to happen to the soul at the hands of its enemies. The psalmist makes this quite clear when he says: ‘They prepared a trap for my feet and bowed down my soul’ (Ps. 57:6. LXX).St Symeon Metaphrastis ; Paraphrase of the Homilies of St Makarios of Egypt.

I think this explains how we can strive for peace and keeping God uppermost in our thoughts, and when the world creeps in; those pesky details of life seep in; we loose our footing and realize that one foot was ensnared by the devil.  And because I had been snagged just a little, I was completely derailed.  What a tenuous grasp we have!  This is where I disagree about the whole “salvation” outlook many of my Protestant friends and family members have.  They have told me that they believe in “once saved, always saved.”  And I think that we, who truly believe in God, we struggle (Christians of all types).  We are tripped up constantly, and we are constantly snared by the evil in the world.  Some Protestants refer to it as “backsliding,” still believing in the fact that salvation, complete, 100% salvation, took place once and for all.  Whereas we Byzantine Catholics believe we fall, and we loose sight of God, and we become angry sinners, but we can choose to get back up again….we can choose to seek forgiveness once again.

St. John Chrysostom2

I keep finding myself going over scenarios of things that perhaps took place, and because I wasn’t there, I am guessing.  My husband gently reminded me that Elder Thaddeus teaches us that if we do that, we are not keeping our focus on God, but allowing ourselves to be derailed. And he was so very correct.  (Inhale) “Lord Jesus Christ, (exhale) Son of God, (inhale) have mercy on me (exhale) a sinner.”  That gave me the moments I needed to bring Peace (“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27) back into my heart and enabled me to tackle an issue with a more serene outlook, and to deal with the issue with a better mindset.  Today, once again, I realized that I was not being the person I should be to others, because I was grasping at that same serenity I had yesterday, but I left a key component out of the equation – I was neglecting to ask God for help.  I was trying to do this more as a breathing exercise, rather than an opportunity for prayerfully communing with God.  (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Philippians 4:13).

I believe that I tend to want to rip the reins away, and take control.  Humility is an attribute that allows me the perspective to realize how minute I am, and no matter the struggle I put up, I am so not in charge.  I quite honestly cannot do much of anything without God taking the reins.  A recently-recorded country-western song, made famous by Carrie Underwood, is entitled, “Jesus Take the Wheel” and this is the refrain:

“Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel”

I realized today that I am such a “side-seat-driver” in that I love to bark directions, even when I am not driving.  (God bless my husband!!).  And for those of us who are used to doing things our own way, “letting go and letting God” is something that does not come easy for us.  I have had so many incredibly sublime moments when I knew God was present with me, in a particular place and time.  I know without a doubt Our Lord was right there, right then, fully present.  Those moments were so very incredible, I doubt I will ever forget them.  They left me in an incredible state of Grace and warmth, knowing my God loves me, and they also left me wanting more of them.  Which was partially the impetus for my struggles this Lenten period.  For those of us still on the western calendars, we are in the home stretch here, folks!  Lent is over in 12 days…less than 2 weeks! And I feel so very much like my toe is snagged and I am being dragged away from the progress made thus far, this year.  I feel anger, frustration, disappointment, and a deep sense of loss, which brings with it a renewed sense of longing.

“Have you sinned? Go into Church and wipe out your sin. As often as you might fall down in the marketplace, you pick yourself up again. So too, as often as you sin, repent your sin. Do not despair. Even if you sin a second time, repent a second time. Do not by indifference lose hope entirely of the good things prepared. Even if you are in extreme old age and have sinned, go in, repent!” …. “For here there is a physician’s office, not a courtroom; not a place where punishment of sin is exacted, but where the forgiveness of sin is granted.”  St John Chrysostom

Pope FrancisSo I pick myself up again, clinging to the promises Our Lord made to us, and renewing my desire to “get right with God.”  I also know in my heart that, as the old saying goes, “Those who try to get closer to God, the devil knows about and tries even harder to get their souls.”EphesiansAs I get nearer and nearer to the Resurrection, I know that evil will enter and try to dissuade me.  Because I know this and am aware of this, I think that consciously acknowledging it further empowers me to fight it off.  Let us all keep one another in prayer as we journey through this messed up world with all its temptations to despair.  I offer my prayers to the Lord, and also ask anyone I have offended to please forgive me, while praying for those I know I have let down.  “…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”   — Ephesians 6:12-13

And as Elder Sophrony of Essex suggests, I think I will go have a cup of tea.

“…But the Lord is faithful….”

Jersualem in snowI am pretty sure every blogger in the world who comments on things of faith will be blogging today, the day after the new pope was elected.  I can honestly say that I, too, am excited and hopeful.  Pope Francis seems, at the outset, to be a humble man and a man of the people. His actions in the past show us he is concerned for his flock and that he believes in all the eternal truths Our Lord has taught us. He also believes that he neither has the right, nor the authority, to change these truths. Praise be to God!!!  In addition to that, us Byzantine Catholics are saying a little prayer of thanksgiving because this Pope is bi-ritual with the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and so he understands our Divine Liturgy, our cultures, and our need to keep our eastern-rite Churches intact.  Several Orthodox Bishops and Abbots have also expressed their joy at his election and think it bodes well for the Church in the world.  So as much as I would love to wax on about all of this, I think it is a little early in his pontificate to opine to overly much.  We can all research on the internet the fun facts of his past.  And boy oh boy, both the nay-sayers and those who support him, are heating up the wires, sending and posting and giving their opinions…we certainly do not need more posts about it.  In regards to Pope Francis, I will say just this:

Matthew 16,18

I am also struggling with change in my own backyard, and concerns about the future, in my little world.  It is interesting for me – mostly because I think like this anyway – but when we relocated up here, we got and stayed, lost.  Well, “directionally challenged.”  We had a rough time discerning east and west, let alone north and south!  We did not know where any churches were located, and even when we found them, we had no idea where our hotel was, in relation to them.  So we opted to attend Christmas Mass (Latin Rite – we could not find anything Byzantine at the time) at the Cathedral downtown.  Google Maps led the way (I am so glad my husband opted to turn that woman’s voice off, on his phone…she was usually incorrect and so annoying to listen to)!!  Our snowy journey was something, as we truly got lost, but finally, as we were walking inside the House of God, we did a sharp intake of our breath, because it was amazing.  My heart sang, just looking at the amazing carved doors, and then the sights, smells, and sounds enveloped us sojourners.  We entered and were pretty much blown away by the sheer size (our former parish was a teeny, tiny, little church in a very poor section of town!!!) and the beauty.  There was music playing and the acoustics were incredible.  We found seats, luckily enough, and prepared for Mass.  The music began, the choir was exulting our God,  and my heart was beating so loudly in joyous peace…and when the Bishop processed in, my eyes teared up.  It was traditional music, nothing funny going on, and the sound, incense, and circumstance were so comforting to strangers, so new in town.  The interesting part of our experience was when the Bishop offered his homily, we discovered he had arrived, brand new to this diocese, on the same day we had arrived in town.  He spoke to the journey of Christ, in the womb of His Mother, on the back of a donkey.  He felt like he was a traveler in a strange place and was having difficulty finding his footing. I just wept….because I felt exactly the same way.  My husband and I shared glances, and held hands.  His words of encouragement and assurance went a long way in making our first Christmas here special.  When we relocated, we were staying in a one-roomed hotel “suite” with our son, a dog, a very scared cat, and a stove that set off the alarms whenever we tried to cook anything.  The Bishop welcomed all of us and gave us peace on Christmas Day.  After Mass we toured the Cathedral, remarking at its beauty.  The side chapel was an amazing Christmas Creche with these incredible, almost life-sized statues.  It was amazing.  And the Bishop waited on the stairs, until the very last person left the Church, personally greeting every, single one.  What a blessing it was for us!

The message to me, even almost 3 years later,  is that we are all on a journey. The Pope moved his two bags of clothes from a priest’s hostel to the Vatican this morning; he just started an amazing journey, one he began as a seminarian and priest and is now the Vicar of Christ.  We are packing up to relocate, sometime soon, and preparing to make our way to our new home.  The Pope has, quite literally, the weight of 2 billion souls on his shoulders. (I pray it does not age him too soon).  My husband has the weight of his family on his shoulders and today, well, today he is concerned.  In that consternation of his, though, lies an important lesson.  God tells us over and over again that he will not abandon us.  He promised us He would be with us “until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  I believe in His promises, and I claim them for myself, and my family.  When we are faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, I believe that is when we cling ferociously to our faith. When the future, our pathway, is a little blurry, that is when we reach for the Hand of Christ to guide us and be our strength.

Distress prayer

Reading Elder Thaddeus’ book has been such a blessing to me. I can now easily slip into the Jesus Prayer, and once again find that same comfort and love of God, even when I am near to “loosing it.”  (Inhale) “Jesus Son of God (exhale) have mercy on me, a sinner.”  There are also so many scripture verses wherein Christ promises us that He will not leave us, and that our faith in Him is enough. He will suffice (“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2Cor 12:19).

Psalm 142,3So I choose to not panic, yet, but to remain faithful to my God and the promises He made me.  I cannot loose sight of the fact that God is MY God. He created the world for little, old, ME. His Son died on the cross for ME. And He would have done it all, had I been the sole creation of His.  What an awesome God!  This is a refrain from one of my favorite songs to sing along to while I am driving:

“Our God (our God) is an awesome God
He reigns (He reigns) from heaven above
With wisdom (with wisdom) pow’r and love
our God is an awesome God.”

With a new Pope in the Vatican, renewed hope in the future of the Church, and with a renewed vigor, I choose to claim these awesome properties of God and I also refuse to allow myself to panic.  The Catholic author, Peter Kreeft, speaks about how it will be when we stand before the Throne of God, naked as the day we were born, clinging to a suitcase.  God will ask us what we are carrying around and we will tell Him we are clinging to our past sins, our cares, and our worries.  Then God will tell us that it is not He, Our Lord, who clings to these things, but it is us…we cannot “let go and let God.”  When we give our sins to God, we are nailing them to the Cross with Christ and He is taking on the suffering due to us.  We cannot take that action back; that sin, once confessed, is now His burden.  Similarly, when we give Christ our worries and our cares, and we tell Him we trust in His Will for our lives, we need to rest in that.  We need to let them go and allow God to work in our lives.  And that is where our free will always snags us…I know it snags me.  And I have to work at my trust.  When we ask a friend for help, as I have stated before, we trust our friend to help us and take care of us, because our friend loves us. How much more does Our God love us?  I pray that I will not even have need of a suitcase before the Throne of God, that I will have completely trusted Him “in all things.” (Psalm 62:8)

A friend spent the weekend with us this past week and she and I had our coffee, were sitting on the couches, and chatting about life, our children, our spouses, the future…everything we could cram into the short time we had to spend together.  We have been friends for about 22 years now and we share pretty much everything about our lives with each other.  I started to share my visit with my firstborn grandson, that I had back in January. And I started to just cry and cry.  Because when I met my grandson (the first time he was just 5 or so weeks old…slept most of the time) in January, and we bonded, I came to finally understand the kind of love Christ has for me.  I would do anything for that child.  And I have no expectation of anything in return…it is completely unrequited at this point and I genuinely don’t care.  He could not, maybe, even look at me, and to just be in the room with him would be enough for me.  To hear his voice, watch him play, and see his smile; it is enough for me.  And I have never, ever, felt a love like that – ever.  I cry now as I type this.  The love I feel for him has become a motivator in my life. And I was blessed to have this revealed to me by a God who loves me, just like that; and every one of His Children.  And when He hung on that Cross, with my sins added to His burden, He did that willingly and out of love.  And when He told me that I could give Him my troubles and my cares, He did that out of love, too.  Just as I would do anything for my grandson, Christ will do that overwhelmingly for me.  And I trust in that love.  So I lay my worries at His feet; at His altar I pour my heart out to Him.  And He takes all of it on Himself.  When these times get troubled, that is when I rely on Him.  And so I am choosing today to rest in His care, in His promises, and allow His will to work in our lives.  God will never leave us; He promised.

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