“…My own personal flurry…”

The Easter prep is fully underway, and we are striving for a peaceful Easter.  Somehow I think it will be elusive this year.  There are so many little “peas in the mattress” of our lives right now that I am not sure how we will smoothly sail into Easter Sunday.  So I am burying myself in the preparatory portion of it.

St. Dimitri of RostovOnce in awhile (it seems to me) we need to regress to the simplest things.  We need to do away with the dross and the extras floating around us.  Sort of like one of those sensory deprivation tanks – we need to silence the chaos and we need to stop looking at the negative, and we need to focus ourselves on Christ.  For example, this week is called Holy Week for a reason.  We are preparing ourselves to welcome the Bridegroom.  It is the week of the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, death on a Cross.  And so I cling to the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov above and place myself with the Angelic Host, and I am praying, constantly praying, and I am clawing my way back to that peaceful place of Pascha prep!

Hand prayer incenseHave you ever experienced the sort of frustration where you shake inside? Where perhaps you are drawn to tears, but it’s not sad tears? They are tears of frustration and anger?  Well, I have.  Several times over the past week. I don’t think it’s good for my blood pressure or longevity!  Sometimes there are situations and people in our lives that make our stress levels just climb.  There are people who bring drama and chaos with them, because it is just how they operate.  And I seem blessed to have many of them a part of my life.  (Another occasion for prayer!).  Remember Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons?  He carried his own cloud of dirt around with him?  That can be a bad thing – like the stress and chaos and drama that just accompanies certain people.  Another way to approach it is like the snowman character in Frozen, Olaf. Princess Elsa makes him his own little snow cloud, his own personal “flurry,” so he can survive in summer – have you seen that? Olaf and his own personal snow flurry….

250px-Ownpersonalflurry!This character was so loveable.  He just wanted to experience summer, because he had never seen it.  He was so thankful that Elsa, through her snow magic, created a little snow flurry to accompany him wherever he went.  I was thinking about this (I have two grandchildren who both adore this movie – yes, we own a copy so they can watch it whenever they are here! And no, I will not expound on nor attach an audio file of any version of “Let it Go.” You are welcome). Olaf is happy that he can exist to see the flowers and the sunshine and not melt.  He is always smiling and laughing and looking for the good in everything around him.  Even though it is a cloud over his head, it is a cloud that keeps him alive, so it is a happy little flurry and a happy little snowman, Olaf.

Why can’t this be how we all operate? Even though it is a cloud that accompanies Olaf, it is a joyous one, because it keeps him alive.  Our cloud is the joy we find in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who enervates our very lives.  In the Melkite Church (and most of Byzantine worship) we have this amazing ceremony mid-day on Holy Saturday. It is about the “New Light.”  We light our new Easter Candle, which we will use the rest of the year; this is the beginning of our new Liturgical year. The first, tentative announcements about the Resurrection are made. I love thinking about the women who went to the Tomb early in the day and found the guards asleep and the Tomb empty.  It was very early in the morning; the towns around the Tomb, and the people in them, still slept.  The women ran back to tell the Apostles what they saw and heard.  They spoke to an “angel” and saw an empty Tomb, the cloth laying in a heap. Those are the first whispers that Christ has risen..that He is not in the Tomb.  That Liturgy is so beautiful.   It is the early Light of the Truth of Christ’s Resurrection that is being shared, one voice at a time, with the Apostles.

Hand cupped candleWe can carry this Light with us; we can choose to share the Light of Christ with others; we all carry our own personal flurry of goodness, peace, love, and light with us. Or we can hide our Light under our bushel basket of anger, frustration, hate, prejudice – all the negativity swirling around us.  We can choose how our world is, around each of us, by the way in which we approach our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, ” tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

250px-OlafsvenfrozendisneyLittle Olaf is just a simple example of how we often choose to be sad that our lives are so limited.  He was going to melt and his life would be over as soon as Spring came to their Kingdom.  Or, once he had his own personal flurry, he chose to relish the moments, smelling flowers and playing with his buddy, Sven, the reindeer.  We have our own personal flurry we can carry with us everywhere and in every circumstance, the Holy Spirit.  We have God.  We can choose to put our faith aside, to relegate God and our life of faith to only an hour on a Sunday, and relish in the angry moments, loosing our heads over them, so to speak.

250px-OlafrearanfeChrist calls us to our better selves, not our lesser selves. My prayer for the rest of this Holy Week is to embrace the better self Christ is calling me to be.  I will endeavor to be the wife, friend, sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law – all the roles of who I am called to be – to my utmost, not my least.  I will prepare to walk with My Lord down that horribly painful road to Cavalry, where He sacrificed Himself for me.  With my own personal flurry surrounding me – the Holy Spirit – I will walk to that empty Tomb with the women, quietly seeking He Who is Risen.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

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“…God and man are one…”

“…in such moments God and man are one, and God’s Spirit works in him…”                                                                                                                      Elder Thaddeus

PathwayWe are all searching for peace.  It is elusive, especially in our noisy world.  We have become, in this country, a people of “instant.”  We want what we want, and we want it now.  “If it feels good, do it.”  “Just do it.”  There are so many slogans bandied about that encourage us to live to our hedonistic worst selves.  I listened to a brief piece by Mark Hart, the Bible Geek this morning, which he had posted on his Facebook wall. It was from a presentation he had made. In it, he lamented at how we want all these things from God and we keep talking incessantly and praying “without ceasing,” but for so many of us it has become more “noise” and not true prayer.  We need to be still and allow God to envelope us in His “whisper.”

Elder Thaddeus’ book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” pretty much changed me, my outlook on life, and how I try to deal with life.  God will interact with us.  God will give us that elusive peace we are all searching for, but He is more likely to wait for us to “be still and know I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).  I have tried so many different things in my lifetime.  I have attended the Ritual Baths in downtown LA at a major Jewish Temple.  I attended what I lovingly called, “Let’s be Jewish Classes” for the better part of a year when I was foolishly engaged as a young woman to a Jewish man whose parents really disliked me because I was not Jewish, but who did invite me to witness many Jewish holidays, services, and traditions. I love Judaism.  The wonderful Rabbi who was trying to instruct me became a life-long friend and I very sadly attended his funeral many years ago.  He often told me, “I love how you think, but you will never be a Jewess.”  Ha-Ha!  The old Anthropologist in me just could not let go of all the evidence of a Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ.  But it made for delightful conversations!  I also explored Mormonism as a teen.  Even gave a testimony and talk my parents attended at a Stake meeting.  I attended many different Protestant denominations. I even went to the Chrystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA with my youngest step sister. What an experience! Ironically enough, the Diocese of Orange County purchased that property and is in the process of making it a Catholic church and educational center.  When I was a young adult and was initially dating my husband, I was a declared Geneva Presbyterian and loved my Church in El Toro, CA.  The one big thing about that Church was the architecture (it spoke to me) and oddly enough, the smell.  The walls reminded me of a castle and I loved touching and smelling them – they had a sense of history to them, even though it was relatively new construction.  (I am a history nut, in case you have not figured that out and majored in Forensic Anthropology/Physiology in college, with a minor in Biblical Archeology). My heritage is British and that Church was British and Scottish in culture, Geneva Presbyterian in theology.  I have heard some great preachers, and some very poor examples of Christians as preachers.  Through it all, my sense of history drew me into the Catholic Church, and kept pulling me east, as I found the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

Through my formation in the Melkite Church, I was led to read some great, formidable, and amazing early Church Fathers; I have read the Desert Fathers, as well.  Not in completion, by no means, but words they have left us, which have touched me deeply.  The Philokalia is something all Byzantine Catholics should own and refer to often, as a source of spiritual nourishment.  (I think everyone, regardless of Church affiliation, would benefit from reading it).  In the four-volume set is found words that will take you a lifetime to digest.  And when, in formation, our pastor and our spiritual director suggested some further reading, some of the books truly impacted my life. “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” is one, and Elder Thaddeus’ book is the other.  Some people shy away from Orthodox writers and I believe that is a shame.  It is a loss for them and it does not acknowledge the bond we share, theologically and spiritually, with our Orthodox brethren. I think that Elder Thaddeus really had his finger on the pulse of our emerging cultures.  Even though he wrote long before our lives and in a far different environment, his advice still holds true.  When we truly connect with God, “in such moments God and man are one, and God’s Spirit works in him.”  It is something you never forget, those moments when you really are touched by God.

I have experienced the touch of God through his Saints and his vessels on earth, in some profound ways during my lifetime.  God allows us to experience His love when we renew our determination to rid ourselves of the dross we accumulate in this life and focus on the life we will have with Him in eternity. There are some funny sayings that relate to this, that show where our culture is heading.  One that always tickles me is, “The man who dies with the most toys wins.”  I have seen that bumper sticker on trucks that require step ladders to get into!  I always imagine boys holding on to their Tonka Trucks and GI Joes well into adulthood, adding cars, off-road vehicles, and other toys to their piles of “things.”  I have heard of some weird funerals wherein people are buried in their favorite car or dressed as their favorite sports team.  And even though imagining it makes me giggle (I know people who fit into this category!!) I am also very sad that their view of eternity is limited to what they can see out of their rear-view mirrors.  God is so far beyond what we can see and touch in this life.  There are sublime moments when we touch Him in this life, yes, and it makes it real!  Holding a newborn baby; holding the hand of a loved one as they pass from this life – these moments touch us and give us a glimpse into the life of God. Why do you see so many older people in Church?  I believe it is because we all wake up one day and realize that we do not have that many more days to wake up.  Each day becomes precious.  It is a shame we don’t start, as a general rule, much younger to strive for God every day.  I know some people who never think of God or Christ, except when they buy the latest Easter dress for their children, Easter Baskets with all sorts of bunnies in them, or start their Christmas shopping and put up their decorations.  They go most of the year never giving a thought to God.  But boy, do they complain about this and that, always sighing at not having peace in their lives.

Easter Bunny....This past week has been stressful.  We live near a military base that has been having a week-long “exercise” wherein they shoot off mortars, 50 Cal guns, have Chinooks flying over head, and paratroopers jumping out of C-17s.  Our little house is older and every time a mortar is fired, the windows rattle, the cat runs and hides, and my nerves are rattled to the migraine point!  I feel, so much, for those who live every day in a war zone.  I feel, so deeply, for our PTSD vets, who lived through bombardments like this, on a daily basis, for real.  And I am grateful our troops are being trained to protect us and to keep us safe.  But I am so over it!  My nerves are frayed, our skittish cat may never resurface, and we are operating in a holding pattern, waiting for the next blast!  And so I thought to write about peace.

Ukrainian priest.warSometimes our peace is taken from us, as recent events in Ukraine demonstrate.  But the Ukrainian priests and monks there showed the world that they are clinging to the presence of Christ in their lives.  That freedom from oppression is important, even with guns on your back.  In this country, we pretty much have lived in peace in our land…we’ve had a couple of attacks on our land, but we have been blessed.  We have not had to fight for our right to believe and attend the Church we do.  We have not been rounded-up like the nuns in Syria, kidnapped and held because we live what we believe.  The world struggles for freedom to worship, and we struggle to obtain more toys.  I know that not everyone does.  There are good and bad everywhere.  But what is pervasive in our culture?  Our media barely touched on the unrest in Ukraine.  Many of my friends knew nothing about it, and many still do not.  But they know who won the Super Bowl.  They know what channel the “real housewives of….” is on.  Their DVRs are set to record so they don’t miss a moment.  And we are surrounded by and bombarded by sound.  By noise.  By the dross (The term dross derives from the Old English word dros, meaning the scum produced when smelting metals. By the 15th century it had come to refer to rubbish in general. Metallurgical dross is referenced as a metaphor for worthless material in the Bible and in other religious texts) of this world, floating around us and clogging up our lives.

Simple and humble, simple and humble…that has become our motto.  It was our motto when we relocated up here.  We got rid of so much that we truly did not need (well, I wish I had been a little less generous because I do miss quite a number of things I gave away in my haste to relocate!!).  We live smaller, simpler, and much more humble lives that we ever have.  And we have far more quiet than we ever have.  We can go an entire day, and night, with never turning the TV on.  And we are all fine with that. I spend time ruminating on the readings of the day, articles of religious import, or Scripture.  I think, I ponder, and I pray.  And I experience more peace than I have ever known.  And I feel that peace ebbing, or it being pulled from me, I am more aware of it and struggle to cling to it.  Quite often, I retreat and symbolically fill the moat with water and pull up the drawbridge, to regain my sense and center of peace in Christ.  My wish for my family and friends is more time with God, in contemplation of Him in their lives, and to know “such moments [when] God and man are one, and God’s Spirit works in him…” 

Man before clouds

“Rejoice with the man whom you envy…”

“You will be able to check envy if you rejoice with the man whom you envy whenever he rejoices, and grieve whenever he grieves.”

St. Maximos the Confessor

Troy PalomaluNo, that is not St. Maximos, the Confessor! It is a photo of a Pittsburgh Steeler football player, Troy Palomalu.  He had this quote on his Facebook page the day of the NFL playoff games.  I thought it was rather insightful and wanted to share it.

I have been contemplating the role sports play in our lives, especially in light of the impending Superbowl game.  So many people in the world barely understand American football, let alone bother with the players.  For our house, we all love football.  My husband is an avid Denver Broncos fan, and I have been a Kansas City Chiefs fan since I can remember, and recently fell in love with the Seattle Seahawks, as well as other Seattle teams.  My oldest son has labeled me a “bandwagon” fan and accuses me of leaving my team.  He often says it in such a way, that it is, rather hurtful, even if said in fun and teasing.  In fact, for Christmas, my daughter-in-law (his wife) made me a reversible blanket; one side is red with Chiefs’ logos all over it; the other side is blue with Seahawks’ logos all over it.  She told me, “That way, whoever is playing, you can show that side.”  It was pretty funny; even if it was teasing me (and I love it – it’s so warm and cuddly!).  Right now, the Broncos blanket hangs over my husband’s recliner, and the Seahawks’ side of my blanket shows atop of the couch where I sit.  All that being said, a Bronco-Seahawks Super Bowl should be interesting!

But the reason I am bringing all this up is that emotions have become very taut and strong over this.  There was an interview with a defensive player that went viral, because he spoke rather conceitedly about his talents and lambasted a player from the opposing team.  The loosing team is now accusing the ref’s of all sorts of mis-calls, saying the game was robbed from them.  It has created furor online and in the media.  Major media outlets are abuzz!  But why is that?  Why do we even care?  Why do we pay attention to it?

When we lived in the greater Seattle area, the Churches lamented sports’ seasons because the pews would be empty if a “big game” was on TV or being played in town.  If the sun was out, people were outside and not in Church.  The first snowfall, no one was in Church but out skiing or enjoying other winter sports.  Almost any excuse to not attend Church.  Lots of quotes about, “My church is nature,” or “I pray better outdoors.”  Pretty lame excuses to my way of thinking.  The Church we were married in, in Colorado, had windows all across the back and they would open the drapery if the snow was falling or it was a good view of the Rocky Mountains.  In Seattle, the local RC parish had an adoration chapel that was largely glass. It was very pretty.  But there was no sense of “church” or being in a place of worship…it was just greenery and trees, flowers and wildlife.  Yes, those are things of God, but they are not, to my way of thinking, God’s temple. Below is a photo of just the upper walls and ceiling of a Church in Russia.  That is a Church!

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA FEDERATION - JUNE 29:Interior of Church Savior on Spilled Blood . Picture takes in Saint-Petersburg, inside Church Savior on Spilled Blood   on June 29, 2012.Troy was quoting St. Maximos the Confessor to show that he was rejoicing with his fellow football players, and not envying them or wanting to take their glory from them, but rather, to share it with them.  We all grieve when players are injured, regardless of the team they play for.  No one wants to truly, and honestly, see someone hurt.  But why all the emphasis on sports teams and/or players?  And why the heightened emotion regarding all they do and what they do, how they do it, and who wins?  What is being adored here?

There is an old saying, “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.” (Edmund Burke).  When I look at football stadiums, when I see crowds devolving into maniacs of sound and even witness fighting in the stands (I recall one soccer stadium actually falling apart and partially collapsing on the fans, as a result of fighting by the self-same fans) I am drawn back in time, back to the era of the Roman Gladiator.  The Roman Coliseum was developed to enhance the viewing pleasure of the Caesars in power.  They would hold all sorts of contests of skill and strength, and often to the death.  These forums were also the scene of untold horror for those who had lost favor with the ruling classes.  These coliseums existed throughout the Roman empire.  Some were small, some were very large, but all held the Senatorial crowds in thrall of the events carried on there.  Eventually, these stadiums became the scene of the torture and death of Christians, who refused the Gods of Rome and devoutly gave their lives for Christ and His Church. When you look at the historical events held in coliseums around the world, you cannot but note the similarities.  Our football, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball players (and all the other popular sports) are held in the same esteem and fame as the gladiators were.  We root for them; we bet on their talent and the outcome of their “contests;” we fete them at banquets and we foist honors upon them (Hall of Fame, Super Bowl Champs, etc).  We hold events where all the people can come and watch one team, or one player, defeat another.  And the crowds that attend these things are boisterous and unruly, much like the Senatorial crowds at the coliseums in ancient Rome.  Because of the expense of attending these events, it has also become a rich-man’s (or at the very least, upper middle class man’s) event, just as in Rome when only the Senatorial classes could attend.  Even baseball games!  I remember days of getting into Angel Stadium (newly constructed) for $5 and having a hot dog and beer (bad college student that I was) sitting in the nose-bleed seats during a weekday afternoon.  My roommate and I would take our books and study up there, all alone, watching some baseball.  But no more.  A hot dog and beer can cost you $25 or more, let alone the cost of admission.  And where does this leave our culture? Where are our values?

Worth Christ dying forOne of the hardest things for me is to be able to just enjoy watching a sport without the vehemence of others ruining it; of having to be careful of what I say, what I post on my Facebook wall, or how I approach the fact that the team I’ve been rooting for has won.  Because the temperature got pretty darn hot in regards to these playoffs.  The vehemence is what has surprised me.  Trust me, it has nothing to do with having the Seahawks make the Super Bowl.  I truly believe the Broncos will win and I am not usually rooting for the Championship team, so am not accustomed to “backing the winning horse.”  I just enjoyed watching the games.  I can honestly walk away from it because I have security; I know sports and whomever is playing does not enervate my life.  My life is not lived for sports.  It is lived for salvation in Christ.  I love God first, my family second.  I am not even sure where a team would make the list of who I love, if at all.  It is ENTERTAINMENT only.  And not my sole source of entertainment, nor my major source of entertainment.  And even as I type this, I know of people that I could not talk with about any of this because they are so angry, so upset.  On the surface, all is fine. But if the subject would be brought up, the power behind their emotions is a little frightening; the quickness of turning to anger and hotly contesting the entire issue! I am frightened for the confrontation (another instance where silence, as espoused by Elder Thaddeus, gets me through the rough stuff) and so I avoid it at all costs.  And my fear is for their soul, because they are living without the guidance of a life of faith.  They love their families; they love their country; they pay taxes and are decent folks.  But they do not live for Christ.  They have no faith.  And so, sports teams, celebrities, and reality TV has supplanted, and become, their God.

If we are listening to, or paying attention to history, we should all be a little afraid.  At the very least, we should be aware.  Our culture in comparison to Roman culture, and its demise, are eerily similar.  The patterns of despots is also similar.  The way our culture aggrandizes things our parents and grandparents would have abhorred is, in itself, frightening.  Yes, these things happened in darkened rooms and behind closed doors.  However, it was not on jumbo-trons or on big-screen TVs in homes for all to watch. It was not common for young people to adore sports figures and not know basic facts about God.  It was not common for families to steer their children away from vocations to the priesthood or convent life; it was an honor to have at least one child choose a vocation.   It was common for entire families, every Sunday, to attend Church – as a family.  Young people lived at home until they got married.  Young people expected to be poor and have lean years before success, not moving into homes their parents took decades to own.  People took their duty as citizens seriously – they were educated about issues and candidates and they voted.  What is happening?  Why are we so apart from our Christian roots and why have we walked away from our faith?

Abba Agathon

As Abba Agathon warns us, no other labor is as difficult as prayer.  The enemy knows this and is on the prowl for our souls.  Right now, our abhorrent attention the the things of this world has colored our attention to the things of God.  We have friends who have been married for 9 or 10 years.  They have 6 children in their home, all under the age of 12.  They are foster parents, right now caring for two who are definitely a challenge.  They were both married before, outside of Church, and in some difficult situations.  But the thing they wanted the most in life was to share the Eucharist together.  And so they have spent months regularizing their marriage in the eyes of the Church and this weekend, they will have a crowning, with all their children, family, and friends around them.  Why do I mention this? Because it is something bright, something positive, something Godly in a world going haywire.  Two people want to stand next to one another, in a Godly marriage, and receive Christ in Holy Communion.  And guess what?  They have no clue what teams are playing who, who is in what sort of bowl, and they are deliriously happy! They are letting God rule their lives, outside of the rhythm of this crazy world.  And I am so glad to be a witness to it.

crown50_view1_lg

So today, today I resolve to carry on in silence and not tempt the tempers by bringing up sports!  Today I resolve to pray for those who have lost their way and for those struggling to make their way.  I always taught my children to be “sticks in the river, standing strong against the current.”  I want to stand strong for my faith, to share how I feel and what I believe in a soft, gentle, loving way.  I want all of us to love God first, because if we can order things properly in our lives, we can all then enjoy these sporting entertainments, and keep them where they belong.  And they belong in context to a life lived in faith.  And then perhaps we can all live more according to how St. Maximos encourages to live, “You will be able to check envy if you rejoice with the man whom you envy whenever he rejoices, and grieve whenever he grieves.”

St. Maximos the ConfessorSt. Maximos the Confessor

Today, I am breathing….

Abba IsaiasToday is Monday…in so many senses of the word!  First of all, our boiler, which provides us our heat, sprung a leak all over the garage last night.  So my husband, being judicious, shut off all the hot water to the house.  All the hot water.  This morning, the plumber told us he was on his way…that was at least two hours ago.  In the meantime, it rained all night long, and is still raining.  It is pretty dark outside.  They are laying all new electrical lines through our area and actually putting in sidewalks and streetlights (we live out of town).  This morning they “accidentally” cut our power.  Yay.  No hot water, no heat in the house, no sunshine, and now, no electricity.  On top of that, I had been trying to contact my retirement board from my former governmental employer – need I say more? Customer service is not their forte.

And so I found myself, sitting in the dark, in a sweatshirt on the couch with my newly-hairless mini-Schnauzer sitting next to me shivering, in complete silence, contemplating this turn of events.  I had been espousing Holy Silence at Church just yesterday.  I had joked about how loud life is these days with all the electronic interference.  I think I was just tempting Our Lord to give me an opportunity to practice Silence.

Frustration  does not even come close to what I am experiencing.  And I remembered the graphic above, quoting Abba Isaias.  Boy, did I need that!  In his book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” Elder Thaddeus tells us that we can control our environment by how we react to it and by what we give back to it.  I was dealing with a crabby woman on the phone this morning, who needs so many lessons in customer service, and I caught myself snipping at her (“What do you mean, 4th from the bottom? The bottom is the bottom, there is nothing listed below the bottom of the list.  That’s why it is the bottom!” To which she replied, “Well, fine then; it’s the 4th UP from the bottom.”) and I stopped myself from going further and literally prayed for her in my mind.  I have worked in customer service in retail, for various governmental agencies; I have waited tables and tended bar!  I get the whole customer service thing and I realized, “It’s Monday!”  And I will be held accountable for the thoughts I have, and the way my thoughts project into my environment – my thoughts came spilling out of my mouth before I had the chance to edit them.  I apologized to her, telling her I did not understand the jargon common to retirement boards, and asked if she could please assist me; her demeanor immediately changed and I castrated myself for having let my frustration get the better of me.

Life has a way of bringing us up short some days.  We are hit right between the eyes with whatever weakness we seem to be trying to work on.  I had a priest tell me one time, “Never pray for patience, because that’s when all hell will break loose.”  He explained that God just doesn’t give us what we lack; He teaches us how to have what we lack. If we lack patience, He will use every opportunity available to teach us how to be patient.  With my frustration reaching its peak early today, God has been thrusting me into situations where I am learning to temper my frustration with kindness and to try to learn to relax in these situations.  Mark Hart the Bible Geek (check out his Facebook page) tells us, “God’s got this” and I totally believe that.  God does have this, and all the days of my life. I need to learn to get into sync with whatever He has for me. I need to slow down and be quiet; I need to learn to listen.  Is my life going where I want it to? No.  Am I better off than yesterday?  It depends on what we are qualifying.  I am better off because I have a great place to live (other than it’s dark and a little chilly in here today!!), I am close to my family, and my Church community is continually surprising me and blessing me with new friends and a wonderful place to worship.  Financially? Absolutely not.  We are pretty much at that desperation point, but I know God’s got this, too.  His timeline does not always coincide with what I think I need or what I think needs to happen, but that is what faith is all about.  Allowing God to work.  Giving Him time and space to evident Himself in all aspects of my life.  I keep thinking that the Lord has way more faith in me and my perseverance than I do, and quite often I look to heaven and make the “time out” sign the refs in football use!  But still, I awoke today. I had a visit from my grandson and daughter-in-law, who brought us some hot coffee.  My power was restored, by men working in the pouring rain, so I could sit here and type.  God is good and He is working.  “All good things come to he who waits,” as the old saying goes.

DidacheAs the Didache explains to us, the troubles that come to us are from the Lord. He is teaching us what He believes we need to know.  And so I hope in the Lord. I offer my frustrations to Him; I offer Him also my Silent moments, asking that He enter in.  I thank Him for my next breath, and I praise Him for being in my life and loving me, even when I trip and fall so far short.  God is good.

Breathe today

“…an accounting to God…”

Don't compareOne of the most profound things I have learned this past year or so, I learned through reading the book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus. I know I have quoted him here and have mentioned this pivotal book more than once.  I told some other parishioners about it yesterday.  As Saint Seraphim is quoted as saying, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”  We cannot look to externals for verification; we certainly cannot look to the standards of our modern culture to know if we are “okay” or not.  Faith is the manifestation of God living within us.  It is a quiet thing, a personal thing, an internal thing.  It becomes external in how we interact with those around us.  Elder Thaddeus cautions us again and again that how we believe what we believe, determines what happens in our lives and around us.  There is a song by the Beatles (written by John Lennon) that is titled, “Imagine.”  Most of the lyrics annoy me because it is the mantra of a “free” world; but he is alluding to a world free of pretty much every line drawn or every rule…”and no religion, too.”  One of the stanzas says, “…A brotherhood of man…imagine all the people sharing all the world.”  And that stanza stayed with me through the annoyance of the rest of it.  Because it truly is what we are – we are the brotherhood of man.  We are all brothers, through the Son of Man, Who came to save us from our sins.  He Who bore our sins in the stripes on His back, the holes in His scalp, the wound in His side, whilst hanging on the Cross.  But we do not think that way, and consequently, we do not behave that way.  The outcome is the world you see about you.

Elder Thaddeus has taught me that I can win over doubters and non-believers by silently praying for them, and behaving as the believer I purport to be.  Even if I struggle liking a particularly surly person, or one who, for whatever reason, pricks some annoying portion of my soul, I can still pray for them and show them love, asking God to step in for my lacking, for God loves perfectly.  We cannot look to another Christian for the level of behavior we are supposed to have for our brother; man is forever and always fallible.  It is the gift of free will.  We trip over that every time.

Abba IsaiasRecently, there have been disparate news items that have gelled for me into a cohesive unit of sorts.  We have security leaks; we have our government spying on us; there have been articles in many Protestant circles decrying our overt sense of patriotism and lamenting the lack of fervor in our faith-life; and now we have the possibility of involvement in another war in the Middle East.  But all of these things are harbingers of the shift in our culture.  We have gone from a country of workers who had pride in the products they made; where factory whistles blew the hours in many, many towns.  We had acres and acres of productive farmlands with cottage industries surrounding the farms.  There are now countless factory towns and remote farm towns that lay empty; devoid of workers and families who have fled to the city from the countryside.  But what have they fled to?  Seemingly they went for a better life to be had in these cement jungles.

Children have no idea where milk comes from.  Trust me.  We lived on dairy farms for years and you would not believe how misinformed the local population, people who lived within walking distance of these dairies, were about what happened on a dairy.  We had to block the view from the road so people who drove by could not see a cow giving birth, because when a farmer had to help his cow deliver her calf by yanking it out by its feet, animal rights activists thought it was cruel.  Cruel would be allowing cow and calf to die because she could not deliver it on her own.  School children think milk comes from the store.  Now, this is a silly example in light of the above sentences about governmental spying on our cell phones and emails, but nevertheless, it says something about our culture.  We have such narrow, specialized knowledge that we are missing out on the world.  If a child grows up not even knowing where milk comes from, how can they care about the plight of farmers who own the cows?  Why would they worry over food sources when Costco sells in bulk? These children, instead, have iPads, iPods, iPhones, their own laptops for schoolwork, regularly visit all sorts of social media, and dress in the latest trends.  They have soccer lessons, swim lessons, they attend camps for music and get after school lessons at places like Sylvan Learning Centers (because the schools are failing our children), and with all those resources, still don’t know where milk comes from.  The companies that have sold us all these goods keep tabs of our log on habits, where we view what, how we spend our money. They tie in our financials with our social information.  They gather all the information on us that the government asks them for.  (Note, the corporations were gathering that information for data to sell to their vendors, to improve “point of sale,” so they say). Soon the IRS will be tied into our medical records with Obamacare.  We keep the 10 Commandments on the front of the Supreme Court building, but do not allow prayer in schools or even a basic understanding of the history of the world that led to the Incarnation of the Son of Man.

And all of this has created a chaotic, noisy world.

Our country does not produce much anymore, not even food products.  I was speaking to an engineer from a large aerospace firm who told me that even if we did want to put a man on the moon, we lack the internal knowledge base; we lack the capability to build a spaceship of some sort, and the capacity of creativity or thinkers to create such a thing.  We’ve outsourced it all.  We purchase every single television set from outside the USA.  Not a single light bulb is produced on our soil.  Think about that for a moment.  And all that is planned by the powers that be, in the sense of controlling what is done by whom, for whom.  The money allocated for this or that.  A loaf of bread, a new car, braces on your daughter’s teeth, a gallon of gas – prices are out of our control, as is this economy.  Why?

Where is God in all of this?  He is sitting in the still, quiet of our hearts, waiting for us to call on Him, to acknowledge Him, to act upon the faith that is inside of each of us.  God does not allow us to fall unless we have allowed ourselves to stumble in the first place.  My husband and I are at the lowest point in our 30 years together, financially.  We made decisions we felt were based on God calling us in our lives to live where we are now.  It is a hard thing to do, to sit back and allow the Holy Spirit to truly guide us, to have faith in it, and to rest in the Presence of God in our lives.  Once again I quote Mark Hart the Bible Geek, “God’s got this.”  But God only has it if we ask Him; if we allow our faith in Him to be manifest in each moment of our lives.  If we do that, we influence thousands around us with our love and our peace.  I know it’s a corny example, but if we show one schoolchild where milk comes from, don’t you think that during play period on the schoolyard they will share with every kid who stands still long enough to listen to their story of their day on a dairy farm?!  How much more so with our experience of God?

EphesiansYesterday after Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, we had an opportunity to chat with various parishioners.  One in particular is what I would call a doomsday prepper.  I am not sure if they have a bunker or not, but if I would hazard a guess, it would be that they do (something not that uncommon up here).  He told us he is done with politics because it is such a mess. He said that he realized it boils down to simply good versus evil.  He fully believes that socialism and a one-world-government (the type of utopia John Lennon sang about in “Imagine”) is well on its way to establishing itself.  He believes we will engage in war on our soil and that the enemies in our world want to wipe out the USA.  He is preparing for nuclear and chemical warfare on our soil. He believes it is evil, manifesting itself in governments and their agencies worldwide. His solution is to act simply, one soul at a time, to share the faith in God and bring about change, one person at a time.  It is that conversation that brought me to the computer today.  Because as I stated above, the disparate things that were brought to my attention all really gel around this idea that “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and it is global in its perspective.  Yes, “imagine no countries, nothing to live or die for” is what this utopia of John Lennon’s is like.  The reality is not far from it.  The Protestant author I recently read was lamenting that her fellow church-goers knew more national anthems than they did church hymns.  Perhaps that is so and that is sort of frightening on its own.  They believe, she thinks, that being American supersedes being a Christian.  Which is backward.  I agree…our faith should imbue all of who we are and what we do.  The fact that it does not has gotten us to where we are.

Elder AM

I believe that each of us needs to draw closer to that sweet spot we have inside of us, that special place where our faith in God resides.  The Orthodox call it the nous, and believe we hold God close to our heart, in a place devoted solely to Him.  We need to acknowledge the Real Presence in each of us and share with one soul at a time; that person who we meet moment to moment in our lives.  Trite as it sounds, the grocery store clerk, the postman, the hair stylist, bank teller, fellow parishioner, our children, our parents, our friends….they all hunger for the Word of God, the touch of faith, in their lives.  If we truly believe “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” just imagine the world we could have and I do not believe it looks anything like where we are now.

“He’s trying to change your heart.”

Didache.Two RoadsWe recently decided to try a different approach to our health.  We started using a new kitchen gadget and way of eating.  It was really strange, because nothing was added to our diet that was in pill or powder form, neither was it a medicinal addition.  We ate all natural foods, and very simply, too.  For me, I felt clear-headed.  I also was happy.  My mood had definitely felt elevated!  And I also had more energy, more drive.  And it seemed like this was a good idea.  Some friends came to stay this weekend, a way of sharing some time with us before we relocate thousands of miles away.  We have been close friends for about 27 years or so. Over the weekend, though, we made (my husband and myself) some very poor nutritional choices, veering about as far away from our chosen path as you can get.  We had burgers, fried mushrooms, onion rings, sodas, Mexican food with too many chips, a late evening drive through Dairy Queen for some Blizzards, and then bacon and eggs breakfasts…on and on it went!  Decadent, not fasting at all (our friends are Protestant and do not keep the fast at all), and definitely not good for us.  By Sunday afternoon, I felt miserably sick.  My stomach was roiling, I was tired, and cranky, and felt wiped out.  I slept miserably on Saturday night, as well.  And I could not help but think that our step back into our former habits was completely to blame.  Our new habits had just begun last Tuesday….it will just be a week tomorrow…and we failed miserably at keeping our new ways going, in favor of accommodating some dear friends.  The interesting thing was that the male counterpart in this friendship is diabetic and his numbers stunk so bad, and he knew it, so he did not even want to test his blood!  The four of us knew we had been very, very bad!!

White Tulips Best PixIt is such a glorious day today!  Spring is here and the sun is out, and I am drinking my morning “Berry Blast” and determined to right my wrongs of the weekend.  I realized that my wrongs, although dietary, are significant.  These wrongs were gleefully carried out, with barely a nod to my resolutions about my diet. Our friends had also made great strides in their approach to eating and were feeling much healthier.  We get together and bam!  We are eating bad foods again, being decadent, and it was obviously not in our best interests.  How did this happen so easily?

In life, I have been patiently shown, over and over again, that we have paths to choose from.  One is good for us, one is not. One path is towards God, one is not.  One is towards life, one is towards death.  Life is about choices.  We make them every day about a multitude of things.  I chose very poorly this weekend and felt the physical remorse of doing so.  What else am I so easily willing to compromise?  Well, none of us went to Church.  Our friends are Protestant, so we did not push attending Divine Liturgy, even though it was Palm Sunday on the western calendar, and we are now in Holy Week.  How did we allow the pressure of visitors cause us to compromise our path to God?  Our culture pressures us every day to compromise our walk towards eternity with God.  I had a conversation with my son last night about raising his son, how he wants to rear him, what values are important for him to share with his son, and how he does not want interference with the process from others.  It was an enlightening conversation and another facet to that conversation was it got me to thinking about God, Our Father.  How much He wants to share with us, without outside influence, without anyone interfering with that process.  And it made me just stop.  Here we are, at the end of Lent, and I feel once again like I failed miserably.  I have, yes, made some wonderful strides and have learned so very much.  Elder Thaddeus has become, for me, like an intimate friend and spiritual father, and I feel blessed he is in my life.  Keeping silent has also had a profound influence on my life, my heart, my head, my soul.  I am blessed in that, as well.  I discovered something that is working for my betterment in health, and that is also a blessing (as I take another swig of my morning “Berry Blast”!!) But how easily that wide, decadent path to death enticed me back in.  How weak I am and how much I need God, in every aspect of my life, every day. I need to develop a stronger backbone, a way of saying “no” in a loving manner, when situations or people entice me away from the person I am choosing to become.  My “Berry Blast” this morning is more than a healthy alternative to bacon and eggs. It is a rallying point for me and as I look at it, sitting here on my desk, I am inspired to pick myself back up and re-enter the race.  Christ Himself promises us that He is waiting for us. There are innumerous examples in Scripture where God welcomes those “late to the Supper.”  The one I love is where He pays the workers in His vineyard the same wage, regardless of when they show up to work.  Some of the workers, having been toiling all day, are jealous the late-comers get the same wage and He tells them:  “Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage?  Take what is yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave to you.  Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20: 13-16) And I cling to that promise, that although I may be late, I will still be paid the same – salvation.  I work and work on myself, and am continually finding myself at the short end of the stick and yet I am comforted by knowing that I am still participating.  And I am also comforted by the fact that I knew, within hours, that I had lost my will and caved to the pressures of being with friends.  I had not insisted that we go to a salad bar!  I caved and went to a ’50s burger diner, had miserable food (horrible service, as well) and then paid for it for two days afterwards!  But I knew; I realized exactly where my error was and it has not left me since.  I also knew, with a sinking heart, that we should have invited them to participate with us, rather than worry that it would drive them away, on Palm Sunday.  We lost an incredible opportunity to share our Byzantine faith with some very dear friends.  The remorse is palatable today.

God is changing your heartToday, I choose to step into the Light of the love of God once more. To strap on the armor of God, and to battle my weaknesses and the wiles of the enemy.  God is working so hard this Lent to change my heart.  I know that change is happening, because my awareness has grown!  I knew when I slipped – I knew it.  Before my challenging Lent, I simply would have fallen and not really noticed, because I would have been back in what has been a “comfort zone” for years and years.  I think that one of the lessons from this weekend is that I need to stop trying to please other people. I need to focus, instead, on living this Psalm:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14). This is basically telling me that only what is pleasing to God should concern my heart, my behavior, my actions.  I also believe, and have shared before, that if I can entrench deeply into my heart these precepts of God; if I can live according to His Word, emblazoned on my heart, then all these other things will also be a blessing to God.  My interaction with friends, family members, parishioners, strangers I meet along my way, will be so very different because they all will feel the light emanating from me; the Light of Christ.  And all will be well.

Eph 5-8

“…the path by which you should go.”

St. Isaac the Syrian5

Today I am digging deep inside myself, because I am on watch.  My step father is fighting his last fight and I am deeply saddened.  I am looking deeply into my own walk with God and my own zig-zag pathway to eternity.  I recall so many of the wonderful chats we have had over the past 30 years; the many, many laughs he has given us.  Today, though, I am remembering the more sober, serious conversations we have had and I am praying for his soul; I am praying for a peaceful death and reunion with God.  Over the years, we have spoken about his mistakes, the ways in which he wishes he could have behaved differently. The beautiful part of that is that he recognized those mistakes and he acknowledged a life lived apart from his faith.  He struggled to get himself right with God, even before there was a diagnosis of cancer.  He went to his priest, he made a long confession, and he got himself back into Church.  Nearer to the end of his life, he sought comfort in his faith.  And he brought my mom with him; that is a gift I will forever be grateful for.

St. John Chrysostom2

Today, and once again, Abbot Tryphon wrote a post on his Facebook wall about relationship and our fear of them.  It was a beautiful piece and I quote some of it here: “Grieving the loss of a relationship, either by death or breakup, is just as important to the maturation of our heart, as having a long term relationship, for in grieving we allow ourselves to stay connected to others, and remain openhearted to what God has for us. If fear of loss disables us, we may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us, for by throwing courage to the side, we deprive ourselves of the touch and the intimacy that helps us open our hearts to all that God has in store for us.

Grieving is the way you can heal from loss, and, in turn, be open to relationships that can make your life more complete, and more fulfilled. Many people do not allow themselves to grieve, so they deprive themselves of relationships that can lead to spiritual growth that only comes through suffering loss. You grow stronger if you allow yourself to grieve when you’ve experienced loss, for grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills. It is the way that the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise. If we refuse to love another, for fear of loss, we remain closed off from not only others, but from God. “He who does not love remains in death (1 John 3:14).

As the Abbot stated, we cannot close ourselves off from relationship for fear of grieving; “grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills.”  Today I am grieving because while my stepdad is struggling for each and every breath today, I grieve the loss of someone in my life who really affected my entire family.  My mom is a better woman because he chose to love her.  He loved me and my children as if we were born through him. never differentiating between any of us.  And I am forever grateful for that. My brother told him on Saturday that he hopes he can love his wife as my stepdad loved our mother and he thanked him for loving our mom so totally.  What a gift he gave us.  And I know he would be embarrassed by my saying this in a public forum, and he would joke it away; but I also know he would secretly be very pleased to know he touched us all so deeply.  My sons learned a lot from their grandpa and they all love him very much.  He used to play with my sons and tell them silly stories. But most of all, he shared himself with them and that is a priceless gift.

Lent is surely trying us this year.  I am still clinging to Elder Thaddeus’ book and struggling to make my way through it.  The book and his thoughts have truly touched my heart and soul this year, and I hope engendered permanent changes to the woman I am. He stated that, ” Our Lord is pleased with the good deeds we perform.  Works of mercy and everything else we do for our salvation and the benefit of our neighbor and the Holy Church, all this is pleasing to God.  However, what pleases Him most is simple, innocent and childlike love which cleaves to His heart.  This is what is most pleasing to Him and what He wants from us. This is what every person can give Him, rich or poor, young or old.”  My stepdad became a changed man once he was welcomed back into the Church. He and my mom began working for a homeless center their parish ran.  They sold clothing and household items there, and also provided free weekly meals.  They even assist people with paying utility and grocery bills.  My mom was in charge of organizing the donated clothing, pricing it, and putting it out for sale.  More often than not, when someone in need came for a meal, they would also be walked through the little shop and given whatever it was they needed, no money expected.  The local need grew bigger and bigger and my stepdad used to ride in this big semi-truck down to a different county to get food from this central food bank, to resupply their center.  He loved doing that.  They got involved and made some wonderful friends through volunteering there.  It enhanced their lives and brought them great joy and peace.  And although they did all these great things, I appreciate more especially how God worked in their lives and allowed them to love more and become more at peace.  I was so shocked when my mom volunteered to do this, because it was so out of character for her; but it became her character, as it changed her.  And what a blessing that is – and a lesson for me, in my struggles (most especially this Lenten journey).  My mom was never an overly demonstrative person, but as she has aged, and gone through her own journey, we have grown much closer.  I treasure that relationship now.  I also know that my stepdad helped to bring this change about and for that, too, I am forever grateful.

Character

By the end of this Lenten journey, I am hoping for a joyous morning, when we welcome our Risen Lord.  The hope I have comes from a mighty struggle; a struggle I have yet to complete.  But as the Scripture verse from Romans promises us, we have hope through our struggles. I now pray for strength to endure these coming days and moments when I cannot afford to wallow in my own grief, but must be strong and a comfort to others, mostly to my mom.  I know God does not give me more than I can handle (“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” 1 Corinthians 10:13) and I also know that He will lead me in the way I should go (“This is what the LORD says, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you how to succeed, who directs you in the path by which you should go.” Isaiah 48:17) and through His guidance, we will all reach our Resurrection, our Easter.

easter-lily-woman-cross

I pray for God’s blessing on our family through these next days; most especially for my mom. I ask the Lord’s strength rest upon her as she faces these days ahead. God grant us peace and love…and healing from this grief. Amen.