“Action is worth nothing without prayer…”

Oh man oh man oh man….today I was assaulted with so many things that are near and dear to my heart. My mom, most of all. Alzheimer’s is just such a weird disease. It robs the person of their sense of self, in the moment. They have this vast memory for their distant past, but do not recall if they have eaten or showered recently. It robs you of meaningful conversations. I did not realize how dependent upon my mom I still am. I mean, I have been married for 32 years. I have not lived with my mom in about 40 years. We have lived in different states for much of my marriage. But the weird thing is that I have always known she was “there.” And that she was there for me. If I needed her, she would part the Red Sea herself to be at my side. My mom is tiny but she is a force of nature. A long time ago, many, many years ago, when we were living in the Los Angeles area, I liked a boy. His name was Armando. I was besotted. Totally. My first love. He used to walk me home and we’d sit on the front steps and just talk. I was 12 or 13. We never even held hands! Back then if you liked someone, you would dedicate songs to them on the local radio. When Armando dedicated a song to me, I thought I was in heaven! Well, this other girl in our school liked him, too. About this same time, I was playing flag football in our neighborhood with my brother and some buddies, and both of my knees “gave out on me.” Now remember, this was back when there were dress codes. Girls were not allowed to wear pants. Only dresses. And they had to be a specific length. No mini skits allowed. Anyway, I was taken to the hospital after our football game and was immediately casted on both legs, from my ankles to my hips. Both legs. Both of them. In dresses. At a desk or bench. Can you imagine? I was given a waiver to wear my gym shorts underneath. How nice of them. I also was on crutches. (Did I ever mention that I also had glasses and braces? Gee, not too much of a standout, was I??? And at the age when you want to melt into the scenery, too). As I made my way to the back gate, to meet my mom for a ride home after school one afternoon, this other girl decided she and her friends would beat me up. (Because I guess she would get rid of the competition and what guy doesn’t like you beating other girls up for him???). My mom arrived and saw a pile of girls beating someone. Not knowing I was at the bottom of that pile, my little 4’11” mom jumped in and started yanking girls off by their hair, yelling at them. At this time, a teacher came up to assist her. Imagine her surprise at finding me at the bottom, all bloody and bruised and in need of another hospital visit? The point is my mom had no idea it was me. She just knew someone needed help and she dove in. Armando and I didn’t have a chance after that. He was embarrassed and my parents had enough of LA and we put our house up for sale and moved to Orange County. (That same girl sent her little brother and his buddies after my brother a day or so later. It was just too much for my parents to deal with, so we moved away). But I will never forget my mom diving on top of all those girls (there were apparently 11 of them) and yanking them off a kid, not even knowing it was me, with her bare hands and her loud voice! She is a mama bear. And I love her for that. And I miss it. And now we are planning and arranging to have her come to live with us. It makes me sad. She will be here, but our conversations will be shallow. But I am banking on lots of hugs and her many comments, especially, “I love you, honey” from her. At least I will have HER. And I can’t think of a better way to show her how much I appreciate her having my back all these years, than by having hers, now, as she struggles with Alzheimer’s.

alzheimers-fight

And then today there was a post, chiding pro lifers who protest and pray outside abortion clinics. Basically, a man was saying that pro lifers need to come inside the clinics (like PP lets us inside them) and offer to support that mom, to pay her needs, and to adopt that child. Well, I responded, “Been there. Done that. A lot of us do. On a regular basis.” It made me angry. And the mother bear that I get from my mom came out in me. I desperately want to take in these babies. I would love to have them lined up in cribs in my home. But it is not feasible. (And I am now too old, per system requirements!!) We have done away with orphanages in this country. Instead, we have social services. Being a foster parent opened my eyes to all of that horrific-ness. I know social workers are over stressed with so many clients that they cannot do right by them all. I know the system is woefully inadequate. But I do not believe throwing money at it will help. We need to re-think how we do this. What’s wrong with lovingly operated orphanages where women could come to get prenatal care and even give birth, and then leave their babies so they could be adopted? I’d volunteer to help there. There has to be a way to reach more women who choose life for their children, but cannot parent them. I know so many families who would lovingly take a child to raise as their own. *sigh* Rant over.

nofoottoosmall

And today my hubby was subjected to so much turbulence on his flight to Juneau, he said it was the worst he’s ever experienced. I asked if he got sick and his reply was, “No. I was too scared. But I prayed a lot.” Isn’t that awesome? Me? I would have puked all over everyone. I barely fly in normal, clear weather. Yesterday, my oldest son showed me photos of where he’d been working, way up in the Arctic Circle. And then he showed me the  plane he flew home in. Absolutely not. Oh my word. So small. I need big, ginormous planes to feel safe. And my daughter-in-law’s parents are stuck and cannot get back up here, due to a storm hitting Seattle. My poor Seattle, to get 6″-12″ of snow in a day or two has closed them down. Their hilly streets are no match for that much snow. I do miss living there, but don’t miss the crazy driving on those hilly streets. One night I was at a stoplight in the pouring rain, so afraid of sliding down the hill as I tried to push my gas pedal, that in my head I kept hearing Cape Canaveral count downs…”Minus 60 seconds to launch…!!” I was that leaned back in my seat! I was shaking. Don’t miss that driving at all. And today we have sunshine but 10 degrees. Hoar frost all over everything, which makes the world sparkle. I love cold temps after the snow.

frostyroad

And a friend was complaining that today was being “such a Monday.” I totally get that. Like I said, I was assaulted by so many things that were hitting my heart today. And some days are like that. Things fly at you from so many directions. My granddaughters, who live in SoCal, apparently discovered permanent markers that were hidden away. While mom and dad slept they painted the house, and themselves. The photos I received this morning were hilarious. I know I should not laugh, but that particular son of mine caused me to have poison control on speed dial. Life was so eventful with that particular child. And so it made me laugh that his daughters are following in his footsteps, complete with that little glimmer in their eyes. And it was another little crisis coming at me, as I scrambled for recipes using my essential oils, to help them clean that up (it’s lemon oil to the rescue, in case that ever comes up!). One of my friends is dealing with ill health of one of their pets. Another just had twin granddaughters. His daughter was a surrogate for his other daughter, who has had breast cancer and is unable to have children. I little miracle that made me smile today. After saying that, I won’t even go into the Super Bowl and that miasma of issues! But just to say that Mondays can sometimes undo us. And it can be joyous and laughter-filled, or total chaos. Sometimes those are just Mondays. When our children were small and we lived fairly quietly and isolated on a farm off a dirt road, I realized that Mondays were awful because it was fallout from busy weekends when we went into town and mingled with people. Soccer matches, or Church events, grocery shopping or visiting with friends. It was outside our normal pattern, and the day afterwards the kids were “out of sorts” and it made my Mondays stink. Truly. And as we get older, we get into habits. My mom remembers to eat because she does the same thing every morning – she walks to the cafe for coffee and chatter. Otherwise, if she just sat in her apartment, she would just sit. And forget to eat. And when her routine is disrupted, it can take a day or two for her to feel herself again. We are all like that. And right now, in our world, our lives are disrupted. It is not only Monday, it is pretty much becoming daily. Chaos and noise, busy-ness and business. We were not meant for this much humanity, rubbing up against one another constantly.

commuters

Sometimes we need to unplug and just be quiet. No TV, no phones, no radios, no videos or video games. I can joyfully spend hours at home in silence, getting on with my day. My head can create enough turbulence in me just being me, and coming to terms with life. And with tensions so high in so many areas and for so many reasons, I like to dial it back a hair and just veg. Just be at home. Or perhaps coffee with a friend to chat. Or maybe stopping into a church for quiet prayer and reflection. “Holy Silence” is something I have learned along the way and I love embracing silence, being in communion with God. I can offer up all my toil for His use and His good ends. Offering our work for the Work of God and His Kingdom is a wonderfully humbling way to approach our days.

silence-mothertheresa
“Silence is the door-keeper of the interior life.” (281) The Way by St. Josemaria Escriva

I love to think that doing little things, in silence, that benefit my family or my job, can be given to God and help to build my interior life with Him. On Mondays, when it all seems to go sideways, from the horrid commute (“Nothing’s wrong on the road today, it’s just Monday” – a quote on our local roadway page) to the craziness of our kids, and the failures we accomplish along the way…we can opt to reflect and to silently ask God for help and direction and peace.

“Action is worth nothing without prayer: prayer grows in value with sacrifice.” (81) The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva.

“You say that you don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and once you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ rest assured that you have begun to do so.” (90) The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva

womaninprayer

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and …”

images.talking

Communication is such a large subject. There are college majors – several of them – in communications. (Small group, interpersonal, etc). We all know the different types of media – we have TV, radio, internet. Then there is print media like books, newspapers, magazines. I have embraced “e-books” and love my Kindle Paperwhite. I read every day and carry more than 450 books in my purse on it. Love that technology. We communicate so much without even using words. The opening quote is from St. Francis of Assisi and the full quote is, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” It is amazing how much we share without even speaking. Our clothes, for example, say a lot about us. I know as the mother of sons, I am often distressed at some of the fashions I see young women wear. But then I remember my parents having fits about my very tight fitting jeans, most of which were low riding bell bottoms worn with crop tops and platform shoes! Ha-Ha! Those were the days – the 60s and 70s (Think Saturday Night Fever). I don’t think I could walk in my old platform shoes these days! And what sort of car we drive also speaks volumes about us, especially when we splatter the backs of them with stickers. I’ve seen some pretty funny ones about stick-figure families on lots of vehicles. We share who we are, without speaking, for most of our lives and we probably don’t even realize it. Body language is now a science, too. We are told how to conduct ourselves for interviews and meetings. There are professionals who read body language for attorneys in cases with juries. And with our friends and families, we may have short-cuts to communicate, as we have grown together over the years. Twins are said to communicate in their own language as children and often still do, as adults. The way we look at others, the way we hold ourselves in public, the terminology we use, says more than we realize. I won’t even get into hair, make-up, and scents (to wear perfume or not?). I am an avid user of essential oils, and scent is a powerful medicine, as well as something that affects our mental health. My sons tease me that they get the benefits of the oils I wear just by hugging me! Truer words were never spoken, my son! Ha-Ha! Communication is something complex, difficult to grasp at times, and when there is an error in communication, it can cause all sorts of problems.

Within our faith lives, we have “buzz words” or specific terminology, as well as symbols we use and others of a similar faith get it, without explanation. I had a cross on my car in my 20s. I went to a gas station late one evening and the attendant (in those days you did not pump your own gas) asked me when I had been “saved.” He went on to tell me his story about his particular date and time. For me, I always felt I was “in process” and could not pin down one of those overwhelming moments when I turned around and life was different, and I was “saved.” So I told him my birthdate. He gave me a funny look and quit talking to me. I just chuckled and drove away. We communicated, but we also mis-communicated. I knew what he meant but I wanted him to see that some of us look at it differently and that words mean different things to different people. Within the large tent of Christianity, there are many words that offend, and many that gather; many that forgive and many that separate. Sometimes I think St. Francis had it right – we need to share our faith by how we interact with those around us, and then add words if they don’t get it. 

Don't compare

In Christianity, there are words used that would be unfamiliar to those who practice Buddhism or Judaism. And there are words used within Protestantism that are mostly unfamiliar to those who solely practice Catholicism. Within the practice of faith in the Eastern Churches, there are words we use that set us apart from the West. And these words delineate who we are. For example, we celebrate the “Divine Liturgy,” we do not have a “Mass.”  All forms of corporate worship are liturgies.  But there is only one Divine Liturgy. It is when we share the Word of God, as well as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in Holy Communion. Hence, it is a Divine Liturgy.  Our physical communication during the Divine Liturgy is different from the west. Every time we hear the word “Trinity,” or when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned, we make the Sign of the Cross. The first time I shared our Divine Liturgy with some Roman Catholic friends, that was one of the things they noticed, how often we crossed ourselves. We also rarely sit. The explanation I was given was that because we believe Christ is as present in His Word as He is in Communion, we stand. When someone important comes into a room, we stand (a dignitary, or our superiors) and Christ present among us deserves our respect. So we stand in His presence. We bow when the Gospel Book is processed in, and when the Holy Gifts are processed in. We stand from the time the Gifts are presented until after they are consumed and the Deacon cleans the Holy Table. And this is an example of when I am using terminology that is readily understood. Because I am sure my Byzantine and Eastern priest friends and my deacon-husband are cringing, as it is not really a “Holy Table,” but you will understand that if I call it that, rather than its proper name of the “Prothesis” or “Table of Preparation.”  The Prothesis, or table, used by the Deacon and Priest is not the same as the side table used by Eucharistic Ministers in the Roman Church. We have an enclosed Holy Place, behind the Iconostasis. It is not a raised platform and altar area, as is common to the West. Only those who have been ordained in the Church are typically supposed to go behind the Holy Doors. In some parishes altar boys are permitted back there, but it is not the normative practice. I remember one year, preparing the Church for Pascha.  We ladies arrived on a crisp Wednesday morning (always before Holy Thursday) to begin cleaning. I was on a ladder (yes, I actually climbed a ladder) cleaning our beautiful candelabras, and as I watched one of the older ladies, trying to clean the Holy Place, entered on her knees, making the sign of the cross over and over again. She had a headscarf securely wrapped around her, and was continually praying as she scrubbed the tile floor (still on her knees and barefooted). She continued praying the entire time she was in the Holy Place, asking for blessings and praying for forgiveness for entering such a Holy Place, backing out on her knees as she finished cleaning. It made me tear up and realize how I did not respect it the same as she did, having gone back there on several occasions to speak to our priest or my deacon husband. I have not entered the Holy Place in any parish since. She communicated so much to me by her actions, and her bodily expression. I was humbled and awed, and I have never forgotten that moment.

images.talking.words

Communication is fraught with danger and pitfalls, and the use of our words is one of the biggest danger zones to misunderstanding one another. But words also can define who we are and give us our spiritual identity. They can give us a personal identity. Many women no longer take the last name of their husband upon marrying, and some couples take each other’s names. They wish to be known as both of them, rather than just the husband’s last name. It is an identity that is important to many of us. Quite a number of modern women hyphenate their names with their husband’s, and many eschew the use of the term, “Mrs.” in favor of “Ms.” I have had my married name much longer than my maiden name, and no longer really identify myself with my maiden name. More than a decade ago, I was a Roman Catholic and the language of Roman Catholicism is quite often forgotten these days, and not used, because I identify more as a Byzantine, Melkite Greek, Catholic. Our words and our traditions are different and unique and we should embrace them to assist us in identifying ourselves with the Church to which we belong, in my humble opinion.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2

Words help give us our identity and help define us, but still, our actions speak so much louder. Who we are remains into eternity, as well as what we say. I recall a saying that goes something like, “One hundred years from now, it won’t matter what car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like, but, the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”  We can take that and apply it to our souls. When we stand before God, how we conducted ourselves in this world certainly will matter. And our verbiage as we conducted ourselves definitely counts – it is part of our character. Even if you do not believe in God, there is nothing to lose by acting as though there is a God. (Also known as Pascal’s Wager – that’s for another post). 

I bring all this up because people seem to want to impose sameness everywhere. “We should all be the same.” No, we need to respect our differences and celebrate them. We need to respect the differences of others, and warmly embrace them. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Cor 13:12) I am often angered when people want to impose their standards upon my reality. And quite often, at least for me, it is in my practice of being a Byzantine, Eastern Rite, Catholic. I am not a Roman Catholic. I speak a different liturgical language in many instances, and my spirituality, the spirituality of the east, is different. Not that we do not believe the same things, we just express them differently. And if you attend a Byzantine or other Eastern Rite Church and cannot tell the difference between a Divine Liturgy and a Mass, someone is doing something wrong. 

Apstls_Trips2

When Christ asked His Disciples to go into the world and to baptize the entire world, they were obedient (as far as they could travel in those days). The map above is hard to read, because it is so condensed, but here is what it shows: Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Turkey, Armenia and India. James the Lesser preached in Damascus (Syria), and was the first Bishop of Jerusalem.  Andrew preached in Georgia (Russia), Instanbul (Turkey), Macedonia, and Greece.  Peter was acknowledged as the head of the early Church and preached to Christians in Jerusalem, Judea (Palestine) and in Antioch (Syria) where he is considered the first patriarch (Bishop) of the Orthodox Church. He finally went to Rome, where he established the Roman Catholic Church and was its first Bishop. John preached mostly with Peter, but went into Asia Minor (Turkey) and was banished the the Island of Patmos, but returned to Esphesus (Turkey) where he eventually died. Thomas was one of the first to preach outside the greater Roman Empire and reached Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), China, and India. He established the Church in India and was stabbed to death in Madras, India. James the Great (brother of John) preached in Iberia (Spain) and later returned to Judea at the spiritual request of the Mother of God. (His history in Iberia is amazing – Google “Santiago de Compostela”). Philip preached in Greece, Syria, and in Turkey and usually accompanied Bartholomew. Matthew preached in Ethiopia (Africa), Judea (Israel), Macedonia, Syria, and Parthia (northwest Iran).  Jude Thaddeus preached in Judea (Israel), Persia (Iran), Samaria (Israel), Idumea (near Jordan), Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya.  It is believed he traveled and preached also in Beirut, Lebanon, and traveled with Bartholomew to Armenia. Simon the Zealot is believed to have preached in the Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, and Mauritania, and even Britain. 

Why did I share all of that? To demonstrate that our Church is universal, and made up of unique cultures, each one diverse and equal.  And each time an Apostle established a Church, it was established where they preached and where they were. What they did not do was change the cultural norms in the places where they established the Church. The beliefs are the same, but they were practiced in ways the local Church understood. One is not better than the other. They are different. We love our universal our Church is… Christianity is in itself a universal faith. If you wear a cross around your neck anywhere in the world, you are communicating your faith to others without saying a word. In the world of the Egyptian Coptic Christians, because there was such persecution, they took to having a small cross tattooed on their inner right wrists. It is a practice they still have, delineating themselves from other faiths in a very diverse culture. Even today, in the USA, Coptic Christians will be given a cross tattoo on their wrists, to let everyone know their faith. They speak volumes without saying a word.

Dostoevsky

I have been struggling with my anger when people do not respect the verbiage of the faith I practice, where they insert terminology that is not common to the practice of Eastern Catholicism. It bothers me when traditions are set aside because people are not familiar with them, coming from a western mindset. I majored in Anthropology and Biblical Archeology in college. I have a different mindset, in that I love learning new things, new cultures, new traditions. I love embracing new things. But I also realize that I am only a sojourner. I am temporarily on this earth. Even if I cringe when a term is used that should not be, a practice is done that should not be, clothing worn that should not be, I am struggling inside myself to offer up prayers and to also pray for understanding, while remaining silent. I have come to realize that essentially, we are all the same. It has been hard won, that knowledge. We are Christians and we want the same thing – we want to be granted an eternity with Our Lord. Our goal is to welcome and include, not to be exclusionary and isolating. Our words can have devastating effects when we say them in anger or out of frustration.

Arm around shoulder

So I am trying to guard my tongue. But I also pray that others will respect the differences, and perhaps want to learn about them. Let’s exult that we are different, that we worship differently, and that we are not the same as every other Church on every other corner. It is what draws us in and keeps us there – our unique expression of our Christian faith. So pray for me that I have more patience, a quiet tongue, and can pray for others rather than be angry with them for not coming fully into communion with our Byzantine faith.

St Ambrose

I know that keeping a Holy Silence is an honor to God, but I also know that not speaking right away also honors God. Because in keeping our tongues silent, we grow closer to Him and also gain wisdom. I will continue to feel blessed for discovering this wonderful Byzantine faith, this faith of the Eastern Church. And I will also continue to feel blessed that I grow closer to God each time I bite my tongue! Lesson learned.  Well, learning…

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

“I have often repented….”

Abba AseniosI haven’t blogged in about a month.  I have had my little cocoon of a world tilted a little bit and I have been emotionally drained, and a little beat up.  Silence in times like these is quite often the best thing.  So I chose to keep my own counsel, rather than using this space as a place to vent or rant or complain.  Because of that, I have had time to churn things over in my mind, and to come to some conclusions.  I am open-minded enough to know that my conclusions will probably change as I age and other life experiences come across my personal timeline, nonetheless I will share my thoughts!

(1) Nothing, absolutely nothing, is static in life.  We are all swirling around the miasma of humanity, riding an orb that is spinning its way through the cosmos.  We hang on when we can; we trip and fall, but hopefully, we all get back up and back in the race.

(2) Yes, age is just a number, but as we age, it sure gets to be a bigger number!  As I approach yet another birthday, I am reminded that our lives here on earth, with our family and friends, is not eternal.  We have a numbered set of days to accomplish what we need to, and to prepare for our eternity.  Each of us gains our own eternity, but I also believe we are all called to the eternity Our Lord laid out for us, and it is a corporate experience.  “No man is an island…” John Donne.

(3) Sometimes there is absolutely nothing we can do about certain situations.  We cannot alter the path, nor can we affect a change.  The sole activity open to us is prayer.  We can pray for the people involved; we can ask for mercy or intercession, but we cannot do anything about it.  And that can be extremely frustrating.  Living in a fairly remote place intensifies that experience somewhat.  The good that comes from that is our reliance on faith becomes more absolute and our prayer life greatly increases.  All I can truly affect is what is directly connected to me.  Sort of a view of “if I can see it, touch it, it is real.” A real “doubting Thomas” sort of perspective…although St. Thomas was the first to proclaim the truth of Christ.  In John 20:28 it says, “and in answer Thomas said unto him, ‘My Lord and my God.'”  Through that, I cling to hope.

(4) My life is mine.  My attitudes are mine.  My thoughts are mine.  And through my thoughts, I do control my life. I can opt to wallow in the situation I find myself in; I can choose a dark outlook and become the “negative Nelly” in the room.  My other option is to always look for that streak of sunshine creeping through the clouds.  I am very much a “half full” person.  Although recently, keeping that glass half full has been extremely wearing and tiresome.  And so I do rely on my faith and my prayer increases in fervor and frequency.  As I learned from reading quotes like the one above, often times silence is the best thing I have going for me.  Silence is where I get in touch with my thoughts, where I connect to God, where I choose the attitude I wish to project into the world around me.  Yesterday, our new priest made several statements during his homily that were not new; nothing earth-shattering.  Except that he said one phrase, with a particular emphasis, and a particular look on his face, that I cannot get it out of my mind.  He said, “We are all called to love our neighbor.”  Some days, my neighbor is my son, my grandson, my husband – the people I am closest to.  And some days, I may be the only Jesus they see that day.  I fall woefully short most days.

(5) I need to practice letting go.  I cannot take anyone or anything with me when my numbered days are over.  I need to let go of stuff, which I am pretty stoked about because we purged big time to come up here and I have not accumulated anything since.  Simple in regards to things is working out very well for me.  But there are people and situations I truly need to let go of.  I cannot control their lives or the things that are happening to them. I can pray for them, but not much else.  I know that in my sensical, practical self.  But in my emotional self, I have a hard time allowing people and situations to just progress without interference.  Letting go of people who suck the life out of us is something we all need to practice.  We should pray for them, but we do not need them in our lives.  Letting go of situations we cannot change is something a little more difficult. For me, at this moment in time, that is letting go of my mother’s situation and allowing things to progress without my input or interference. It is her life; it is her situation.  Her situation is not unique among my age group, but it is still difficult. I also cannot affect change in my husband’s employment status.  All I can do is encourage and pray, but I cannot do anything about it and I need to let it go.

(6) As I spoke to my thoughts and my life being mine and how my attitude affects all of it, I realized that if we truly believe in our faith; in what the Holy Fathers tell us and in what the Gospel and Our Lord tell us, then we should always be able to find the blessings in all things.  For us right now, we are blessed to be where we are, geographically.  Our youngest son’s life is so blessed by this move.  We have a parish that is welcoming and is becoming a home.  Our house is awesome and we love where it is located.  We have family so close by, it is incredible!  We had none of those things where we lived before here.  We have no job, but we have faith that Our Lord brought us to this land to prosper.  “I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.
Jer 29:11

DidacheWonderfully for me, this increase of pressure of the things around me that I cannot change, of the situations I cannot affect, these are all affecting my positive outlook.  Quite often I lament about things, but I realized that it truly comes down to loving my neighbor.  My interior outlook is the closest neighbor I have – myself. I am responsible for myself and through caring for my thoughts and my outlook, I become responsible for everyone around me.  It is sort of like planets in the proper orbit.  We all fear what may happen if the sun veers off course or the earth tilts even further on its axis.  All life on this planet and in our cosmos would be affected.  I need to remain faithful to Our Lord and His promises and I need to reflect His love for others, even when mine feels a little spotty or off-orbit.  God is so good, my faith becoming stronger with each setback, that I smile even as I think of all of this.  Our blessings are amazing; we just need to be faithful until all things are worked out.   “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much…” Luke 16:10

“…but to be silent;”

I have been stimulated to place words down here again by something someone said, and something I heard and/or read.  For me, blogging about things is a way for me to communicate with myself, my husband, family, and friends.  More often than not, my stimulus to write is because I am reading or listening to someone, and it gets my mind reeling with possibilities.  Today is no exception.

I read some articles yesterday about the Pope’s resignation and how the world, most especially the mainstream media outlets, do not get Catholicism, or organized religion, at all.  The other things were an article by an Abbot I love and the introduction to St. John Climacus,’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” which is my other reading for Lent this year.  All of those combined, in odd, very odd, ways to bring me to write.

Very few in the western mindset of democracy understand those of us who opt to unite our journey towards God with an organized religion.  Most of the world (especially the western world and most especially, America) has listened to soundbites throughout history and has allowed those limited words to explain 2,000 years of history and tradition.  In my own family, I am the sole practitioner of organized religion.  Quite often, even among friends, I am the die-hard of Byzantine practice and that is rarely understood, as it differs so much from Latin or Roman Catholicism, as well as most Protestant denominations.  In the forward to the “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” the author explains that most western eyes look to monastics as “different” and even the words surrounding monasticism as “different.”  There are a few Roman Catholics who have discovered the wealth contained in monastic orders and they flock to the monasteries for Mass and prayer, even confession, whenever they can.  In the Eastern side of the Church, we breathe with our monastics; we turn to them as friends, as confidants, as Spiritual Fathers and Spiritual Guides.  One of the incredible gifts of being Byzantine is that we are generally a part of either a monastery itself, or we attend quaint little parishes.  The priests and monks are not strangers; they know us.  One of the great joys I experienced was attending a conference on Byzantine spirituality of some sort (it may even have been a Melkite Greek Catholic conference…I am not certain and that part of it did not resonate with me) and the most important thing that came out of it for me was the camaraderie that developed within the small group we came to associate with.  My husband, being an ordained Melkite deacon, immediately congregated with his fellow deacons.  We wives also congregated together. With us, we added a coupe of priests, an archmandrite, and a Bishop.  We had the most amazing dinners together and ended up, all of us, in our hotel room, gabbing the night away.  I was in awe of the level of intelligence, humor, and love for God and His Church that surrounded me that night.  The other deacon’s wife and I huddled in the corner and we whispered together about how cool it was, to witness the repartee that was taking place and the amazing thing (for women) is that neither of us felt the need to speak; we just drank in all the wonderful conversation around us. It is very rare for something like that to occur within other denominations.  The priests, Bishops, and other clerics are just not that available to their people.  And because I have barbequed, fed the poor, prayed, and worshiped with priests and deacons, I feel so close to my Spiritual Fathers, and so do my children. It is a blessing.

This morning I read an article that explains why we women love to talk.  Well, it is not something new under the sun, but scientists can now explain it – biologically and chemically!  I feel so much better about myself! Ha-Ha!  But I point this out because one of the issues I struggle with is keeping silent.  Sometimes silence gains you so much more than chatter.  The noisiness of this world can cramp our relationship with God so very much.  My son and I were sitting in a parking lot last night, waiting for someone to open the gates for our entrance onto a small, local, military base for his CAP meeting, and he made the most interesting observation: “Mom, have you noticed how much noise is all around us?  Did you notice the sounds of all those cars and trucks as we drove here on the freeway?  Even here, up on this hill, you can still hear the sound of all those cars!”  And we chatted a little bit about how very noisy our world has become.  He even said that he cannot wait to get out into the wilds when we move, to experience the quiet of nature.  And I believe that part of the misconception about monasticism and keeping Holy Silence is due to the fact that we rarely are in a position of total silence; there is always a gentle humming of background noises, even in the quiet of our homes.  And people are very uncomfortable in total silence.

St Ambrose

As we enter more fully into Lent, I am pulled to “withdraw” more and more from contemporary noises.  As a chatterbox most of my life, being silent is something very few expect from me.  Many years ago, a friend of mine who was also known to love talking, asked me to attend a weekend “Silent Retreat” at a monastery.  I was scared to death – because I had never been quiet that long, and I was not sure I could do it.  The first few hours were especially difficult, as my friend and I were roommates!  They asked us to not converse – at all!  We did talk over details about rooming together, but then we split up, in order to not talk, each of us exploring the monastery on our own.  There were lectures off and on throughout the day, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in a side Chapel all day and we could go there anytime we chose, and there were priests available all day for confessions, as well as all the regular prayer times throughout the day, common to monastic life.  Where did I find myself?  Well, I did not stroll the wonderful gardens, nor did I take advantage of the wonderful views, nor did I spend much time in quiet adoration; I was inexplicably drawn to their amazing two-storied library.  Up in the rafters, a rickety “third” floor that was more like scaffolding, they had all the books they were getting rid of.  For a book lover like me, I was delirious!  I lost track of time, finding all these wonderful treasures to bring home!  The smell of a library filled with old books is something only a book lover would treasure, and I did.  I found a niche by a rounded window that I cracked open for the slight, warm, breeze and set to reading books by the Church fathers, some old priests, and even books of prayers. I found myself startled by the sound of the dinner gong.  And I had not spoken a word in an entire day.  It was actually miraculous.  My weekend flew by and my friend and I scheduled that same retreat for several years in a row (until we had just too many children to leave our husbands alone for that long! Ha-Ha!) and we both marveled at how silence was something we both looked forward to each year.

Now that I am older and my home is less chaotic than when all my sons were running through it, I find that keeping quiet is not that difficult.  And I have, on occasion, answered a phone call with a cracked voice, realizing I have not spoken in hours.  And you know what? I have learned more and heard more in silence that I ever have in noise.  The Lord, it is said, comes in a “whisper.”  We have, jokingly, said many times in our family that God needs to use a 2 x 4 so we are sure we get His messages!  But I am learning that in the stillness of my heartbeat, and in the quiet of breathing, God is more present to me.  I am learning to control my thoughts (thanks to Elder Thaddeus and his book, “Our Thoughts Determine our Lives”) and keep my life from becoming too much about all the stresses that assail us on a daily basis.  I find myself reciting the Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart, more often during my day (“Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) and will often stop to place my mind fully on the prayer.  It is amazing when you have these little prayers you can offer all day, how settling they can be.

Abba Agathon

God is pleased when we give all that we are and all that we do, over to Him.  After speaking at length with a friend experiencing a crisis last evening, I shared how much we can change a situation by turning things over to God.  There is this amazing book, which I have quoted before in my posts, called, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven, but Never Dreamed of Asking,” by Peter Kreeft.  In that book, he wonderfully speaks about truly giving everything over to God.  He describes a closet in our hearts/minds that we dedicate to God.  In that closet are shelves, with shoe boxes lining them, each with a label on it.  Each box is labelled for that particular thing or issue (or person and personal relationship) that you cannot handle on your own.  You place that thing in the box, giving it over to God, and close God’s closet door.  You truly have to picture yourself giving this thing to God.  I have all sorts of things in God’s closet.  Because I have that wonderful gift of free will, I will often yank that thing out of God’s closet and think I can handle it on my own.  Once more, God, Who is ever patient with us, will show me that I cannot handle this on my own.  He gently opens that door and I see quite clearly that box, with its lid askew, asking for my “thing” to be put back inside of it.  God is more faithful than any friend we have, who offers to help us out.  God will always come through for us.  His method, His time, His way…but He always answers our prayers.  And sometimes praying can be the single most difficult thing we do.  We also will, more often than not, forget to pray for ourselves.  We always pray for our husbands, children, friends, community and country; but most of us forget to ask God for something.  In the season of Lent, boy oh boy, do I seem to dump everything into God’s boxes!!  His arms are full of all the verbalized shortcomings I have come to own.  But the funniest things is, He already knows all of that about me.  He knows where I am weak and where my strength lays.  He is just waiting for me to humble myself, realize that I can do NOTHING without Him, and to simply implore Him for His intercession in my life.

St. John Climacus’ book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,”  is the other book I am trudging through this Lent.  He addresses our incessant need to talk in his book, as so many scholars before and since have done.  One of the messages that came to me was my tongue praises God; my tongue receives God in Holy Communion; my tongue shares my faith with others.  My tongue is a holy instrument. How can I defame myself through my words? How can I defame my Lord and my God through profanity?  How can I allow negativity and strife to surround me and those near me, through my words, said with my tongue? There was a joke emailed to me this week, about a police officer who came up behind a woman who was gesticulating at an intersection, and yelling and screaming, at the car in front of her.  He pulled her over and arrested her.  She was brought to jail, fingerprinted and photographed, and left in a holding cell; she was hysterical, not knowing why.  He later came to her and apologized, saying that he thought she must have stolen the car because she had bumper stickers like “WWJD,” and “Pro-Llife” and “God Saves” and many more on the back of her car and so he thought that her behavior must have been that of a thief!!  We are all tempted to stray; we are all fallible; we are human.  The point is to get back up, dust ourselves off, and re-start on the journey we have begun.  For me, when my mouth gets tired and I realize I have been talking too much, too long, over trivia, I will quite often stop mid-sentence and sit back, realizing I have not only broken with my efforts at “Holy Silence,” I have outdone myself in the chatter department!!!

St Anthony the Great

As St. Anthony the Great tell us, it is not impossible to reach a virtuous life, but it certainly is not easy!  I take great comfort in his words, because I know that God expects a struggle.  Christ told us: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36).  And because He promised us struggles, even in our own families, why would we expect Lent to be easy?  The purpose of these 40 days is to struggle.  We are supposed to work towards becoming better at day 40 than we were at day 1.  At the very least, if we spend Lent wisely, we should know more about ourselves at the end of it.  And perhaps we will have picked up some new, positive, habits along the way.  I propose to become a more centered, loving, quiet woman by the time I am praising God on Easter Sunday, for His gift to me of “Eternal Life.”  A gift that I am praying I will become more cognizant of, and worthy of, through this struggle we call Lent.

Blessed Seraphim