“…devious talk far from you…”

incline your ear

My son is entering his senior year of high school. He is our last child out of the nest. And bookkeeping, or maintaining his records, has become paramount because the next step is college/trade school/academies. He plans to become a fire fighter, we just are not sure which route he will take to get there. So we have to be prepared for any avenue he may choose to take.

I took this personality test, as I posted about before, and I am called an “Advocate.” One of the traits it spoke about was having a hard time choosing a career path, because I can see 7 of them in front of me. I chuckled at that because I changed my major in college 4 times and have had careers that are so disparate that you would not think the same person did all of them. And I admire my son for choosing to become a fire fighter. Once he chose this path, he has not wavered from it once. And now that we are looking forward, he is choosing the same path, but finding alternate ways of getting there. Me? I would have gotten all caught up on the many options, many pathways. But he is singular in that he sees his goal; his pathways all take him to the same place. Mine have had me all over the map.

light to my path

The one thing that has been consistent for me is my unfailing faith in God. I have meandered through methods of worshipping Him, but my faith has been steadfast. My path has been lit with faith since I was young. I sought Him out in my life, on my own initiative, since I was in grade school. I have been to so many denominations and faith experiences. It has made me who I am. My favorite (and enduring) major in college was Forensic Anthropology with a minor in Biblical Archeology. I learned the holistic approach to looking at peoples and cultures, and then I learned the physicality of our rich biblical history. As a people of faith, we are so blessed by our history, and the physical records of where we have been, as a people, as humanity.

Jonah's Burial place Bombed

The bombing of so many biblically important sites in the Middle East just breaks my heart. I do not need them as a proof of my faith and its history, but I cry each time one is destroyed. The photo above is of the aftermath of the bombing of the burial site of Jonah from the Old Testament. There are fewer and fewer sites that are intact and this strikes at all of our humanity, not just our faith. This was a record of our growth as people; it is part of the history of mankind. And it has been reduced to rubble.

I work diligently to be sure my children’s school records are accurate and complete. I may lag behind a few moms in turning my quarterly and year-end samples and grades in, but I am thorough and my teachers/advisors know they will get it and it will be complete. They have yet to have to badger me. I have been schooling my children since 1992 and I have gotten fairly decent at it! Records are important. Recently our son had his property surveyed. Survey lines determine how much we own. We know where we can plant trees or put up fences, or dig that pool. It also determines your property tax liability. Records are important. One of my many jobs was working for the County Auditor-Controller/Recorder in the Recorder’s office. It was so interesting. And keeping everything in pristine, exacting conditions was a requirement of my job. It was awesome to see titles and deeds dating back to the early 1800s, still being kept on record, and a reward of diligent record keeping.

wordsimage

Records matter. What we say, matters. We can offer opinions and we can claim expertise, but we cannot/should not speak untruth about anyone, at any time. Choosing to live your life a certain way, always keeping to your path and the path of Truth, protects you from slander or libel.  Gossip can be such a hurtful thing, especially when it is repeated in the public square. Quite often there is a grain of truth in there somewhere, but it is so obsfucated by the flotsam and jetsam of lies, we cannot even glimpse it. Nowadays we record everything using our cell phones. The cameras in cell phones are much better than the stand-alone camera in my desk drawer – which is why it is in the drawer. We can record our voices and email them or text them to people. I love to sing Happy Birthday to my grandkids and send it via text for their parents to play for them. We can video chat with people thousands of miles away. We can record events happening in front of us. There are often thousands of photos of the same event, thanks to everyone whipping out their cell phones. (How did we survive before them???). But keeping things neat and orderly, keeping our records safe, has been something we have been doing for one another for thousands of years. Gossip and slander have been with us since man was created; it came right along with our free will. And the record of it began in the book of Genesis, in the Bible:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:1-6)

My husband and I go around and around on this because it is called the Sin of Adam, but he insists that Eve is the one who listened to the evil lies and acted on them. But the Church fathers always point out that Adam was the head of the family and the first one created by God; he had been with God a long time before Eve was created. He did not lead her; he followed her. So his sin was in that he did not say no to evil, but allowed evil to become a part of their lives, and consequently, our lives. Because of listening to lies, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  When we listen to lies, share lies, and allow evil to win, we are sinning against God. And each and every time, we also sin against our brother. We can lead one another into a sinful state, a state wherein we exist outside of God, just by allowing evil to win.

Records are important. Our words are important – the records of our words are important. Our words define who we are. The recorded words we speak or write give our record to others for eternity. Think about that for a moment.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The cross-reference in the New Testament is: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned;” which is found in Matthew 12:37. The corresponding commentary says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue – This may apply to all men. Many have lost their lives by their tongue, and some have saved their lives by it: but it applies most forcibly to public pleaders; on many of their tongues hangs life or death.”

power of words

The power of our words can assist us, or it can deter us from our goals. We have a record that remains even after we become silent. As many politicians know (public pleaders, as in the commentary above) and have known for ages, our words can kill our career, our public life. Records can be blown up, as many of our historical records have been. But God sees all of this. He is waiting for us to choose a path that leads straight to Him. A pathway filled with love, determination, honesty, and goodwill. He asks us,

“My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:20-27

proverbs meme

“expecting different results…”

 

Fireweed lake

(Fireweed blooming in Alaska)

I adore the summertime weather up here. Yesterday, it was actually 98-degrees about 4:00 pm.  For this part of Alaska, that is just over-the-top-hot! I was melting. It’s so hard to explain to those who have not travelled or lived this far north, but the sun is very different. When it is on you, you definitely feel it. And the sun is not in the place I would expect it to be when I look up, having lived south most of my life, at the times I look for it. 9:30-10:00 pm look much like 2:00 pm back in Southern California. It is still weird to wear sunglasses at 11:00 pm.

 

Midnight sun AK

(Midnight sun in AK)

Today I have been puttering in my yard. It amazes me how fast things grow with all this sunshine. We have just experienced a week of gloomy, rainy weather and the grass got so tall. The amazing thing, too, is that after we have no rain for a day or two, our plants are falling over, dying. So today I have been pulling off the dead leaves and flowers and soaking everything. My basil was so pretty about a week ago, but today its’ amazing purple blooms were just sagging and I thought I might have lost it. But I pruned away and soaked it, then put it in a sunnier spot, and after the past few hours of sun-worship, it looks amazing. Whew. And I sit here, after playing with our vegetables, in a completely different outfit, with hair dripping wet. Me and the hose had an altercation. It did not want to stay where I wanted it to, pointing where I wanted it to point, watering what I wanted it to water! We argued, it soaked me, but I finally balanced it so it is watering almost our entire raised bed vegetable garden.

yard sprinkler

(My 1950s era sprinkler head!)

I was determined to win! It is an old fashioned way to spray water on your garden, but you know what? It works amazingly well. There is something to be said for the old and true ways of doing things. Our ancestors spent eons thinking this stuff up and we are constantly trying to “improve” on their ideas, when sometimes the original was amazing and perfect, and still works the best.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 2and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20. This quote is also known as the “Great Commission” wherein Christ instructs His Apostles to take what He has taught them, and to teach others. And to make disciples of “all” nations. This was the original request Christ made to his Apostles, and they in turn have requested that we, too, do the same. It dates back to Biblical times and it is still true today, perhaps even more so.

Runner-Bean-Flowers

(Pole beans in bloom)

As I played with our pole beans, which are flowering and reaching for places to climb, I wove them along the wires my husband strung around our garden for them. I had to be extremely gentle with them, as when they are in this phase of growing, they are so fragile. And I thought of me and how I have guided my children, in all their growth-phases and when they were their most fragile, and their strongest. And I know, deep in my soul, that my heart was in the right place. I want to spend eternity surrounded by the Grace of God, and being with family and friends who also chose to follow Christ and His Word in our lives. However, if I am being honest, I know there have been opportunities where I have missed sharing my faith, and where I have perhaps not lead my children as well as I could have. And it weighs on me.

Success sharing faith

Just now, I had to go back outside to move the sprinkler so I could get the end row of our vegetables. I argued with that darn sprinkler, but I got it to water just the plants I wanted it to water. I got a little wet, but I approached it smarter this time! The plants back there are the ones who also see the least sunshine during our long days. But I am determined, that through working with them, weeding, watering, and paying attention to their needs, that I will reap a harvest. This is just such a perfect analogy for our struggles in life, and with those who we love who do not walk the same path we walk. We can look around us and see those who we know are struggling to survive in this crazy world. Some get no light given to them at all, walking through life in relative darkness. Some are not tended to regularly, nor do they receive adequate watering. But having struggled with my sprinkler of choice (my chosen faith expression) I know sort of how the sprinkler works, what I can expect from it, and how to approach it to make it work the best for my garden. We who claim to have faith in Christ all know this. We struggle, we wrestle, we sometimes get soaking wet and have to change and start over. But we learn and know more or less what to expect.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

This quote is broadly credited as having been said by Albert Einstein. And the man would have experienced this in his quest for scientific knowledge! Today it aptly applied to my struggle with my sprinkler. I could not approach it as I had at first, or nothing would be watered but me! My hair is still wet and it helps remind me of failing, but learning from that failure, and not repeating it. I have tried and failed, but got back up again over and over again in the past 31 years of parenting. Raising children, and witnessing our faith to them, is more about how we live our lives, rather than memorizing religious dogma or facts. Don’t get me wrong, we used the Baltimore Catechism with our kids. However, I truly believe that our children are sponges. They soak up everything about our lives as a family, while growing up. They see how we treat them and their siblings, and how my husband and I treat each other. They see how we interact with others. Right now, one of our adult children and family have neighbors with lots of children. These neighbor kids are constantly looking over the fence or coming over, and they are parroting things that are obviously being said by their parents. These neighbor children have asked my adult children if they are Catholic, and then asked why they don’t go to church. And that’s from their 8-year-old! They question and say things that are not from a child’s mind. Their parents purport to be very strong in their faith, and they homeschool, and they attend Church very regularly – all the hallmarks of good kids. But what they are teaching their children by their actions and their words are completely undoing all that homeschooling and church-going. And it is a horrible example to my family, who struggle mightily with everything to do with faith, most especially those who act all holy and perfect, but are far from it. It does nothing but make my adult kids less likely to pursue church attendance, nor to teach their own children about the faith.

neighbor fence

I have learned, over the years, that approach and first impressions are so very important. If we crash and burn when trying to share our faith with others, well, we need to get back in there and repeat, repeat, repeat. We cannot give up or stop, but we can repeat in a myriad of ways, too. I leaned today how to maneuver my hose so that I could control water flow, and the position of that darned sprinkler. I had to get soaking wet, first, though. But in the end, the Lord controls the harvest. I have to eventually trust in Him to touch the souls of those I lead to Him. My children are making adult choices these days. I can no longer claim responsibility for their choices. They are on their own in this world, and before God. The majority have children of their own they are raising. Our youngest is almost 18 and is starting to make choices – he is planning his future and making decisions about his career path, as well as friends and socializing opportunities. Yes, sometimes I am a nervous wreck. But that being said, I have also shared my faith with him by living it out in front of him. I have struggled and he has witnessed that struggle and we have talked about it at length. He shares his view on things and so I am really loosening up on those motherly apron-strings. I pray that I have shared what he needs to hear and see and learn with him, before he goes out among the wolves of this world. But all I can do, as a parent, is pray. “God has got this!” as Mark Hart the Bible Geek would say.

Chipmonks

We jokingly say in our family that the eldest plowed the road, the middle one paved it, and the youngest is just skating on through. Those can be seen as stages in how we learn, as well. Sometimes we struggle, but hopefully we grow and learn. We may, in the middle of life, back slide and slip up, but getting back on track and cruising along again is a good thing. We learned a lot from raising our kids. We got wet so often…we moved that sprinkler over and over again….we had to keep moving it and re-arranging it as the years went by. But now, we have a garden that is reaping an amazing harvest of wonderful grandchildren we adore, we have some pretty awesome adult kids, and the future is still ahead of us.  We are blessed, but we are not sitting back and just allowing the weeds to take over – even if our children are adults. We still wrestle with that sprinkler! We live our faith, we strive to be good examples, and we constantly pray and nurture those we love. God has blessed our efforts and we pray our family tree keeps growing, resting in the love of God.

family gathering

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Ghandhi

jumpingfish

Infinite possibilities twisted together with definite change. Life is about learning, growing, adapting. And being open to that process until your last breath. I have discovered that changing does not always sit well with those around us; those who have known us as we are. People get used to certain things, certain ways, certain habits from those around them. We are incorporated into others’ comfort zones and we become an integral part of how they identify themselves. Quite often when we are in a process of changing, we upset other people because we are messing with their comfort zone.

Change

I have resolved, over the past few months, to become a completely different person. I am learning so very much. One way in which I am changing is that I am open to learning things that, for most of my life, seemed out of my range – definitely out of my comfort zone. I am incorporating a chemical-free life in our home. I am learning to “eat clean.” I am learning to listen to others, who have experience and knowledge I do not have, and am open to adopting some significant changes in my life. This upsets some of the people around me, and for that I am apologizing. But deep in my heart (or in the “nous” as the Orthodox would say) I am certain that God is letting me know I am on the right pathway. And I just do not see that turning back is really an option for me.

Quite often we are led to change because external things exert an action upon us, and unbeknownst to us, they bring change with them. It can most certainly be the actions of others towards us, the words of others spoken to us or about us, or even a geographical change. But nonetheless, we become a changed person. The impetus for me was learning about a healthy lifestyle. Exerting changes on my own perspective and realizing choices I was making (and had made) were not healthy for me or my family. That, coupled with an amazing learning experience, caused me to shift my views on things. Several other things happened to coincide with this movement within me, to cause me to abruptly stop actions I had been used to making. Stopping habitual things abruptly, changing from one day to the next. I was stopped in my tracks. Literally, and figuratively.

SilenceGodSpeaks

And out of this stopping cold in my tracks came a wonderfully peaceful silence. I do not need to respond to others. I do not need to add my voice to the cacophony of sounds in this world. I will keep Holy Silence with my God, Who comes to me in those quiet moments when I have come to a complete stop. Those times when I let no other distractions interfere with our communication. And I take His lessons to heart. And I rejoice in the fact that I can still learn and incorporate new paradigms in my life. I can affect change in others’ lives simply by living mine, as an example. And when asked, by sharing what I have learned with others. And I don’t have to play in the same sandbox any longer. I can enter other playgrounds and make new friends. I can grow and move into areas that perhaps I would not have gone a year ago. What a blessing some actions of others can be. Things I had thought were painful have become instrumental in moving me forward. A year ago I would not have chosen to take on an online class or open my home to strangers, sharing what I have learned. And I would not throw things away simply because I have learned how bad they are for me – I would have used them up and not replaced them. But now, I toss them out. And it feels wonderful. I am stretching and growing and becoming. And it does not allow me to keep looking back and thinking, “What if…?” because it is no longer germane to the person I am becoming.

Dontlookback

Musing on this, I realize that God certainly is not done with me, yet. I am learning. I am moving on in my life to be a better me. I have 4 (so far) adorable grandchildren I want to be around to enjoy. I am improving my health, my mind, and my soul. I may not be the person I was last year, but I think that is a good thing. I am placing priorities in order. For me, it is faith, family, and friends. There is a great book called, “Oola: Find Balance in an Unbalanced World,” which I have mentioned before. In it, there are 7 areas in which we can strive for balance and they are faith, family, friends, fitness, finance, field, and fun. I am working hard on learning to find that Oola Balance. When we try to find balance, we are occasionally working with several plates in the air on sticks, and it can be tricky. I am prayerfully moving forward, hoping to balance all these areas well. But I am prone to error and hope I am not leaving others behind, or becoming exclusionary, either. Growth involves learning. We sometimes stumble our way through, but I am determined to keep picking myself up, and working on that balance. Change can be painful for those who are used to our “same old selves.” The person I am leaving behind is not the same person you met even 12 months ago. Be patient with me. And if I happen to move on and you can only see me from a distance, perhaps that is God’s way of urging you to move on, too. I think being stagnant and accepting the “same old thing” is a form of slowly dying. And I am not doing that any longer. I am excited and embracing a new life for me, and for my family, too. I am blessed to be married to the best person in the world for me, and he is fully on board with all of this. God is so great and put two unseemingly-compatible people together for life and we feel blessed to have found one another. It has been working for 31 years of marriage and 33 years of relationship and we are moving forward, together. I am also striving to move forward in wellness, purpose, and abundance in all areas of my life. Yes, I am different. Yes, I am still growing and changing. Yes, I have adopted a different lifestyle and I have moved on spiritually, socially, and emotionally. God is not done with me, as I said before. And hopefully I will continue to become the change I hope to see in the world.

wellness

 

 

 

“…is not acceptable to God.”

My heart is so full of love.  But once in awhile, it is also filled with pain.  Pain comes to us from so many sources.  We can feel pain because it belongs to us, or we can feel pain on behalf of people we see being wronged.  We all have a variety of relationships in our lives, from many different areas, and one of them occasionally causes pain.  And right now, I am experiencing pain and it has come from my spiritual family.  Which makes me especially saddened; the pain that much more acute. The pain is mine, but it is also on behalf of those I see as being wronged.

Abba Agathon2In all communities, there are always issues with communication.  Sometimes we just do not communicate properly, what our hearts are trying to express, and we create difficulties. I often run into problems with the written word.  Words on paper (or computer screens) are lifeless. They are scratches on a hard surface, but they are not proper communication.  Proper communication is when two people can sit with one another, with no other distractions, and really talk with one another.  And in our world of all sorts of media and noise, that is becoming less and less a skilled or experienced occasion.  Often when we do find ourselves in a communication-rich environment, we forget about truly talking to one another.  Anger in communication does no one any good. In a past post, I spoke to my anger and that some anger is justifiable.  And it truly is. Our Lord was angry and overturned the money-changers’ tables in the Temple.  They had profaned His Father’s House and turned it into a market place; a place of lying and cheating, a place of selling things that should not be sold.  Quite often, we can metamorphose our faith communities into similar places when we allow anger and perceived inequities rule our part of the conversation.  We interpret words in ways they are not meant, and we often find our anger rising to the surface in record-breaking time.  There are so many people who truly do not listen, already forming their responses before the speaker has completely finished, presupposing the intent of the speaker.  And it damages entire communities when anger rules conversation and communication.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2Our words, and the way we choose to use them, stay with us for all eternity, as Gerontissa Gabriela says so well above.  (Gerontissa is a Russian word for Elderess, the female in charge of a women’s monastery).  And recently words were said and actions taken that disappoint and hurt.  There are growing pains and then there are pains that only “family” can inflict on one another.  When you are part of a faith community that is undergoing big changes, there can often be things said/actions taken that are not a part of the best interest of the community, but are taken/said out of hurt and misunderstanding.  Change is always difficult, especially in a community that is growing and changing in ways that are not familiar, with many members new to their faith.  And becoming a part of a community that is different from the mainstream, with loads of traditions and a differing spirituality, is a difficult sort of change, all on its own.  Throw in becoming a part of a community undergoing change itself and you have a recipe for all sorts of disasters.

candle.priestoutoffocusOur first step into the Byzantine world was through a friend who invited my husband to take an Icon class with her, under the tutelage of a master icnonographer.  At the time, we were devotedly Roman Catholic. My husband has an artsy side of him and had done some gorgeous tole painting on wooden and cloth projects for gifts for me, and for our family and friends, and so my friend thought he would love to learn this “technique.”  My husband thought “painting on wood” and having a religious subject could be something fun to learn.  The iconographer, at the very beginning, took the entire student class to the local Byzantine parish, to have their hands blessed.  It was our very first exposure to Byzantine spirituality.  And it was mesmerizing and unforgettable – the Holy Oil smelled so strongly of roses! It was beautiful.  And it turned discovering another way to “paint” on wood into “writing icons” and learning to pray every step of the way, changing our prayer life. It also changed our world, and we did not even realize it fully at the time.

A few years later, we stepped further into the eastern world by attending our first Divine Liturgy at a Melkite Greek Catholic parish during Lent.  “Sophia – orthoi!!!” Oh my…oh my.  The sights, smells, and sounds captivated us and we were drawn to truly enter into the eastern way of Lent…we were hooked.  Our first exposure to the East was to fast for 40 days!  It was an explosive way to become Byzantine!  The ways and means of experiencing eastern spirituality through the lens of the Melkite world changed our lives forever.  We became deeply Melkite, deeply Byzantine, and rejoiced in this discovery of faith, becoming re-energized Christians.  And we loved every moment of Divine Liturgy, learning ways and traditions so ancient, the origins of them went back to Apostolic times.  We learned prayers and tones that were already considered ancient when put to paper.  We learned recipes only handed on from mother to daughter, orally, for generation after generation; many of which were served only once a year or on specific occasions (like at funerals, for example).  We learned to love the gift of life, and we learned how to truly mourn the loss of life.  The Melkite tradition of mourning for the dead is like no other. (Except perhaps the Irish, who are from Ireland- they know how to mourn!!)  We also learned to celebrate after we mourned.  And we also learned the apex of the liturgical life in the Byzantine world is EASTER.  It is not Christmas.  We would fast during Lent, we would prepare for Pascha, and we would mourn the Death of Christ.  But then the Resurrection happens!  It is the sole reason we are Christians.  Christmas would be meaningless without Easter.  Easter is what defines us; it is what makes us followers of the Risen Lord!  And at the Easter Vigil, from around ten o-clock in the evening, until around three o’clock in the morning, we walked through Christ’s travels in Hades; we shared his becoming Our Resurrected Lord.  And we sang His Resurrection with loud joy: CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD; BY DEATH HE TRAMPLED DEATH, AND TO THOSE IN THE TOMB HE GRANTED LIFE.  We sang it so loud, it rattled the rooftops.  We sang it in Arabic, in English, and in Greek, and we would even throw in some Spanish!  The chandeliers swayed as the Holy Spirit made its way through our entire temple. It was a glorious experience and we loved every moment of it.  Most times, by the end of the Easter Vigil, many of us had lost our voices!  It was glorious. We would make our way over to the hall at 3:00 am and then we feasted! Gloriously feasted!  We laid children on the floors as they slept right through the feasting, but we would feast on until the sun was almost in the sky again.  CHRIST IS RISEN!

But some traditions are not used to this glorious yelling about Christ’s Resurrection, because it is “over-the-top” and not dignified enough.  Don’t you think the Apostles sang and yelled with joy when Christ appeared among them in the Upper Room, where they were hiding in fear of the Jews??  A miracle in their lifetime – the Messiah being truly present among them.  Christ rose from the dead, just like He promised.  It is why we believe He is God – the Triune God – the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If not for that fact, He would be regarded much the same as any other Prophet.  The Islamic faith, although scary and very violent, does much more in honoring our faith than the faith of other religions.  They do more to honor our faith than most Protestants do.  They acknowledge and love the Theotokos, the “God-Bearer” or “Mother of God.”  Most Protestants don’t like to follow that to its logical conclusion.  If you discuss it with them, they sort of dodge that part:  “Do you believe Christ rose from the dead?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Do you believe Christ was the Son of God, come to save Man?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Do you acknowledge Christ is one aspect of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three in one?” “Yes, I do. ” “Do you acknowledge that Mary was the mother of Christ?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Well then, since you acknowledge Christ is the Son of God, part of the Holy Trinity, and He is the Son of Mary, She is therefore the Mother of God.” “Well, no….”  Ha-Ha!  Logic doesn’t follow through! The Islamic faith, however, regards Jesus Christ as one of God’s many Prophets, because they do not accept the miracle of Easter! They do not believe He rose as He promised!  They do not celebrate Easter!

As Christians we are called to believe the whole shebang.  We cannot pick and choose which comfy things we want to believe in, and throw those uncomfortable things away.  “Sometimes we need to swallow the entire pill because chewing it is not recommended.”  When you pick and choose what to believe, you are creating your own faith – Pro-test-ant (one who protests).  It is also often termed, “cafeterianism”  and is one of many illnesses striking our faith.   Just as you walk down the line in a cafeteria, choosing what to place on your plate, and what to exclude, many pick and choose what to believe from the offering of faith.  Only we believe, that with God, you chose to become a Child of God…the whole God, not just the parts you can deal with.

God died for us on a cross. It was disgusting; that method of killing was meant to be as degrading and painful as it could be.  The person being crucified was meant to be an example to the rest of the community and it was supposed to frighten others into not breaking the law – a deterrent.  And the Romans were very good at it. If you ever have a chance to go to a course on the Shroud of Turin, or to learn what it was like, physically, for the person in that shroud to die, trust me, you will never go through Easter the same. Even if you do not believe it was Christ in that shroud, it was a man who suffered a Roman Crucifixion, and it will only enhance your understanding of what Christ suffered for each one of us. A great book is “A Doctor at Calvary” (http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Calvary-Passion-Described-Surgeon/dp/0912141042).

Once Christ went through this horrible death, for three long and very lonely and frightening days, His community huddled together, praying and keeping one another strong, in that Upper Room.  We do that, too. It is called Holy Week and Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil Saturday are all a part of that.  At the end of our deep prayers and mourning the lack of Light in our world, we welcome Pascha.  We celebrate the Empty Tomb.  We celebrate the Gift of Life.  And we shout about it, because without it, we are all doomed to the earth…to rot away to nothingness.  To have this life be just this life, with no more, once our eyes close, and our last breath is taken.

Easter Divine LiturgyWe decorate and we feast – we celebrate as the photo above shows, by greening up our Church…we decorate the empty tomb, we process through the streets and into our churches with a gloriously empty tomb. We celebrate life!  This gift of life freely given to those who just believe.  And once you have gone deeply into Lent and spent an entire Holy Week at every service and spent hours in a quiet Church after the Death of Christ, weeping for the loneliness of a planet without its God, that first glimpse of everlasting life will take your breath away.

Life is what we, as Christians, celebrate.  We do not mope, we don’t let this world take ahold of us, because we have Christ our Lord, and Savior.  We need, in this horribly decadent world, to share the Good News with everyone we meet.  We need to shout, “CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS TRULY RISEN!” from the rooftops.  We need to give others hope; we need to evangelize by how we live our lives and how we treat those in our community.  We have no hopes of bringing others to Christ if we treat each other with derision and contempt.

He is risen.languagesMany in our community think in their own minds, our clergy is “over the top;” clergy were too loud and noisy, and undignified, during Easter and during this incredibly joyous Easter season.  Making derisive remarks to others does nothing to share the Kingdom of God – it tears it apart – and it does not build you up, even if talking trash about others makes you feel superior.  Tearing down priests and clergy who are shouting “Christ is Risen” at the top of their lungs, sharing their joy at the Resurrected Christ, does nothing to build our community.  Tearing down priests and clergy is not a Christian act.  Going behind people’s backs and talking about them does nothing to build the Kingdom of God, or our little community.  Gossip kills community. It works to create rifts and tears in our lives as a Christian family.  Because we are family.  We share Christ with this specific group of people and it is a bond we do not always share with others.  For a great majority of us, we are trying to share our faith with our children and family and friends, but many do not feel comfortable with our traditions and perhaps we are even misunderstood in the community at large.  Being Byzantine is not for the faint of heart and not for those who prefer “the status quo.”  Being Byzantine is not mainstream; it is not normal – it is unique.  The spirituality we share is very different.  We have specific ways we worship…and imposing standards from other traditions upon the Byzantine/eastern Churches is something Vatican II saved us from. We are free to be who we are, and we are not Latin Rite Catholics.  We are Byzantine Catholics…and there are 22 other Churches who are also Eastern and/or Byzantine Catholic and not Roman Catholic. We do it all a little differently.  We share a common faith, but our faith expressions are vastly different. And choosing to belong and to work through changes means biting the bullet now and then, and being patient.  It took Christ 40 days to do battle with Satan.  It took the Jews 40 years because they were not obedient to God’s word, to find their way out of the desert…an entire generation had to die off! The world held its breath for three long days, while Christ was dead to this world, before the Good News of His Resurrection saved us all.  We can choose to be a part of what is happening now, or we can choose to stand on the sidelines, offering snide remarks and hurtful comments.  But standing on the sidelines is not being a part of a wonderful tradition, one that is undergoing change, trying to recover from some very rough times.  And I am hurt by the words of many and hurt by the actions of a few. Hurt for myself, but mostly for our clergy, who love our community.

Clergy and their wives and families have put themselves out there to serve their community.  They have gone to Seminary, many at their own expense, with time spent away from their own families for YEARS, so that they can serve their Church and their communities, being fully trained and educated in the faith.  The lay people, and those who posture as experts, are nothing more than “im-posters,” many being self-educated and many not being educated in the world of Byzantine spirituality at all. They have not received the vocation, the laying on of hands, the education, or the blessing of the Bishop.  They often think to lead a community when they are not even of the same faith tradition.  We may lose people when their posturing becomes more important than the truth; when being right in their own minds trumps the good of the community.  And we must all “gird our loins” and dig in and do the hard work, the work that brings about positive change and a strong family community of believers.  Right now, the pain I am feeling hurts me, but I hurt for our clergy, too, and as the wife of clergy.  They have dedicated their lives to service; they are working to make a difference, and in the case of my particular knowledge, they are good, good people.

Christ told us, Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12: 51-53) And so those who serve understand there will be divisiveness; there will be factions; there will be gossip; there will be those who diligently work to mess things up.  It is the nature of who we are as people; we easily rise to be our worst selves. But there is also knowledge in the Glory of God, the love of forgiveness, and the peace found in a community sharing in the love of God.  In an earlier post, I spoke of Tertullian’s writings and how he once said,  Look . . .  how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).”
I fervently ask that we become that community, like our early Church, who put their love for one another on display, who were willing to share the Love of Christ with all people.  Become a community known for their love of everyone, even to lay down one’s life for their faith.  God grant me the strength to be such a Christian.

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