“…cleanse me from my unknown faults…”

Today I am feeling lighter. Even though it’s Great Lent and we are more reflective, I am thrilled at our progress with the “40 Bags in 40 Days” project. The idea is to take any sized bag and start purging things to give to the needy. Today I did our two bathrooms. I mean, how many types of hair conditioner or deodorant do we really need? How many hair brushes or hand towels? I got a bag of stuff to throw away, and a bag of things to give away, from those two rooms. [I will not give my cast-off products that are expired or just not very good to the needy or homeless. To me, that seems insulting on top of already needing help. When I do gift bags to the needy/homeless, I purchase new products in travel-sizes]. Yesterday, my husband and I spent about an hour and we purged our bedroom. We did our dresser and night stands, and our closet. I haven’t gotten under the bed, yet, but that is coming up. (Our home is very tiny and we use every place imaginable to store things, including under our beds)!  We got 5 bags of clothing to give away. We laughed that we have only lived in Alaska for 4 years and we got rid of things from living in CA and WA that we thought we would wear up here. Ha-Ha. We had no idea.

Our world is so crammed full of noise, chaos, and so much stuff. We are overfed, over-dressed, and over-stimulated. Paring down can do your psyche so much good. It is as if a burden is lifted. Turning off the TV and spending the day without that noise is pretty incredible. One of the things we are trying is to spend 1 evening per week with no electricity. What a lack of artificial light and stimulation does to the mind! You can think. You can relax and settle into the calmness of an evening with family or friends. You can play board games or craft (my goal is to someday master knitting/crocheting). And as you slow down, you can relax and get a better night’s rest.

And after reflecting on today’s readings, and keeping up with our Lenten practices, it makes me humble and a little quieter. “…cleanse me from my unknown faults..” (Psalm 19:15) truly struck me because I think I know myself, but perhaps there are cracks and crevices in my soul that I have hidden from myself. But nothing is hidden from God. Cleaning out our things, slowing down and stopping the use of electricity for just one evening a week, journaling on all of these things, has caused me to stop and reflect on who I am, who I purport to be, and what sort of witness I am for God. “Who may go up to the mountains of the Lord? Who can stand in His Holy Place? The clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols, who have not sworn falsely…” (Psalm 24:3-4).

I thank God the Church provides us with this time each and every year to re-orient our lives towards to God. It also gives me the chance to really dig into WHO I am. And with pretty much everyone I know, there is always room for improvement. I read some quotes today that really hit me. St. Paisios the Athonite said, “With fasting, man reveals his choices” and St. Basil the Great said, “By fasting it is possible both to be delivered from future evils and to enjoy the good things to come. We fell into disease through sin; let us receive healing through repentance, which is not fruitful without fasting.” And with the processes we put in place this Lent, we are learning where our choices truly lie, and how we have the time this Great Lent to rectify the diseases we received through sin. One great remark was made that actually made me stop and think. “Fasting has been in practice for the people of God since the Old Testament. It was the first law, the only law given to Adam and Eve.” Ponder that for a moment. It was the only law given to them; they rejected it and were expelled from the garden. Just that one thing. St. Tikhom of Zadonsk says, “Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language, and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds. Turn away from evil and do good.”

May the Lord bless your Great Lent and help you to choose to become the person you truly want to be. Don’t be afraid to hit your knees and allow the Lord to quietly come to you, as you reflect on His words for your life. I am looking forward each morning to the time I spend in quiet reflection on the words of God and His saints. I am being filled with the things that the Lord truly wants us to fill up on, while lessening the hold this insane world has on me. Fasting from so many things, including foods, is lightening my soul and gladdening my heart. Blessed Lent, my friends; Blessed Lent.

“…God will have the last word.”

elder-paisios-on-god-has-the-last-word

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.

alaskan-snow-cabin

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.

candles-church

“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.

snowbridge

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

 

“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

 

“Up to seven times?”

pink-vase-sponge-niphates-digitalis-04608This is called a “Pink Vase” sponge.  Isn’t it beautiful?  I have been thinking about sponges all day.  Why? Come with me as I work this all out….

Today’s reading at Liturgy was about friends; about some friends who helped their paralytic friend seek Jesus.  Father Michael gave a wonderful homily about friends and how we help our friends find Christ.  And he also spoke about our faith, do we love God 100% today, or maybe just 50%?  Because the man in the Gospel reading was healed because Christ could see, in his face, that he believed, 100%, in Christ.  100%…all the time.  And it was so weird because I had been thinking about friends and family, and how we share our faith with them.

Sometimes we are in the midst of life and we forget why we are where we are.  We forget that we should always have an intention.  When I go to Church, I bow and cross myself; I walk to the back and obtain some beeswax candles; I then deposit my stuff in a pew, and take my candles to the icons in front of the Church and I say prayers. But Fr. Michael challenged us last week to always attend Liturgy with an intention.  I have never done that, in all my years of attending Church. I just always went to celebrate with my community, and to pray.  But I never thought of an intention.  Today, I asked for my intention, while thinking about being a sponge.  Being a sponge for all the stuff in life that gets in the way of us living our lives.  The “flotsam” and “jetsam” of living.  I prayed I can soak up what comes my way; absorb it so it stops with me; but most importantly, to not spit back something similar to what was spit at me by life.

Sponge-by-PieriaThere are so many types of sponges.  The one above is a common kitchen sponge.  It has a side to soak things up, and another side to scrub with.  Father talked today about being sponges when it comes to our faith.  Perhaps we have questions about our faith and we don’t understand.  Like when to sit and when to stand; why we do what we do.  And so, we dip a dry sponge in once; we understand a little bit.  We dip it again and again, and eventually it becomes saturated – we understand.  But we need to not just “know” what we absorb about God, we need to believe it, too.  And his analogy was perfect for me today.  Because taking what we know, making it our belief, and then living that; that is the rough stuff.  How can I really say I believe I need to love my enemies, when I get upset by the actions of others?  How can I say I forgive others, feel good about receiving communion with a clean heart and intention, when I am still not talking to my brother?  How can I hold grudges and still be, still live as, an authentic Christian?

tethya-aurantia-orange-puffball-sponge-14015This is an orange sponge.  I think that the differences in sponges tells us how we need to forgive in all sorts of ways.  The kitchen sponge has a side to soak up and rub, and the other side scrubs.  Sometimes people hurt me and I try to soak it all up.  Maybe I need to “scrub” that experience a little bit; maybe removing the sting of their actions or words, and grow from it, being sure the pain is only absorbed, and not spewed back out at others.  That, for me, is the hardest part.  Taking it in is pretty easy, making it become inert and not hurtful, that’s the hard part.

“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

I have posted before about the “God Closet” and having all these boxes labeled with our issues we’ve asked God to take from us, because they are just too hard for us to handle alone. There is a very salvific thing that happens when we learn to believe 100%, to truly give something over to God’s care, and to allow His soaking of it all up to no longer cause us pain.  I honestly gave my issues to God and I felt, physically, the pressure be taken off my shoulders.  And I know there is a lesson here for me, about being a sponge, and taking in all this head knowledge about my faith, but then I also need to absorb it and make it part of who I am.

honeycombThat is a honeycomb sponge.  You can tell this topic really hit me because I delved into sponges online today!  I have decided that being a sponge is faceted.  There is the kind of sponge that is personal and takes in things in a religious way. Then there is the kind of sponge that absorbs the grime in life and locks it away.  Look at the millions of possibilities with that honeycomb sponge! There is an infinite variety of places to hide the grime. I don’t want to squeeze it and let it all flow back out. The trick is to sanitize it somehow; remove the grime and re-use it, over and over again.  When someone hurts me, I absorb the shock of that; I turn the other cheek even if it is seventy times seven times.  And I allow God to take the brunt of it – honestly and truly giving these issues over to Him.  And then I can be free to be an infinite sponge to those who need to lash out. Perhaps they know no other way to be; they have never been shown God or His type of love.  This is not an eros love, or even an agape love.  The love I bear others is my filial love – the love of friendship.  And I can befriend anyone, even those who are perhaps ugly to us; those people we try to avoid.  We all have them in our lives.  With God teaching us how to accept them (being a sponge) but not become like them, and to love them as He loves them, using Him to help us love them, we can become a person who can believe 100% of the time, 100% of Christ, and really live it.

Thanks be to God for a great homily today, for God giving me wonderful priests in my life who have helped me grow.  And for the gift of faith. It is not a stagnate, one time only gift, but it is something we are working on together, me and God.  This is my process of theosis, and it is my goal to learn to be more sponge-like in the many facets of my life.  As we continue through Lent, I pray to come closer to God, to living my faith 100% of the time, because I believe 100% of the time.  The weight is already lighter.

“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!