“Blessed beyond measure…”

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“If they stumble, the first will lift up his friend—but woe to anyone who is alone when he falls and there is no one to help him get up.” Ecclesiastes 4:10

The worth of a friend cannot always be measured in tangible ways. At times, we just know they are there, hanging out on the side of the stage, in the wings. But if we need them, they are there. Sometimes we do not live close to our friends. Back in the day, I could go weeks without talking to a friend. We did not need this constant texting thingy going 24/7 like so many teens do today. We invested ourselves in our friends. We spent time face-to-face. We talked. We listened. We grew together. Sometimes we meet someone and they immediately fill a space in our souls. We know God meant for them to be a permanent fixture in our lives. We don’t need to text or talk every day. We know we are bonded.

I have found, as I have aged, that the texture of relationships is undergoing a profound change. When I was younger, we took time to get to know people. We would give up our evenings to spend time chatting, shopping, walking…just doing something together. When I was in college, my bestie (who I still count as a dear friend) and I would walk across campus in our dance outfits (I was so brave then) and sit in the hallways before class, just passing the time and getting to know one another more deeply. The funny part was that we had not known one another before college. We met, realized we had almost all our classes together, and we bonded. Deeply. That was, wow, 41 years ago. Our lives have gone in so many opposite directions since then. We shared dating, marriages, births, deaths, divorces, relocations…and even though she is thousands of miles away, I could call her and she would be there for me. In a heartbeat.  These days, it seems like everything we do is instantaneous. We want it and we want it now. There is no overt or obvious time spent in quiet conversation. People text. They send voice messages. They send selfies. But where is the time spent on sharing ourselves?

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My dad commented some time ago about his grand daughter. He was asking her a question and she told him to hang on a second and she would “Google” it. He, being almost 90, was confused. She explained that everything you need to know is on your phone. You can look up anything. She doesn’t need to read a book, she can “Google” the answer. He is still blown away by that. She looks things up for him all the time. He cannot get over the processing ability of an iPhone. He said back when he was working to put a man in space (he worked on many space projects with NASA) that most engineers carried slide rules. He said when people first started using calculators, their whole process began to change. And I would have to agree. We have let technology rule our lives. We have become impersonal and techno-centric. We are loosing the ability to just sit and chat with another person, fully engaged with the conversation, without whipping out our phones.

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And sometimes we just don’t want to put forth the effort to get to know people in this transient culture we are becoming. We listen, haphazardly, to gossip and we form instananeous opinions based on data we have acquired, without having to do the work to acquire it. Ever hear the expression, “standing on the shoulders of giants”? (“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” John of Salisbury 1159). I think that we, as a culture, are becoming sort of voyeuristic in that we presume and assume much, without actually learning or doing it ourselves. When my husband would struggle with an engineering principle or formula in college, his sister would say to him, “Don’t try to solve it. Just use it. It is a tool. Others have spent decades figuring it out. Trust that it works and just use it.” Used to drive him nuts, because he wanted to get to the beginning, to fully understand it. But most of us are content to just use something as a tool, not concerning ourselves where or why it works. When the IT guys would come to fix my computer, they would try to explain it, while I worked on something else, waiting for my computer. I finally told one of them that I did not care what was wrong. I did not want to know how he was making it work. His degree was in computer science, mine was not. I was an end-user. Just make it work when I turn it on! LOL!

Relationships are fragile. It is what we have that is supposed to be lasting. We develop friendship in order to find stability in an ever-changing world. We find friends who become our place of refuge, our rock, when the tides come and go. Those who blithely throw friendships to the winds, in the face of malicious gossip and communication misunderstandings, are becoming ‘end-users’ – they don’t care how you built it, they just want to use it while it’s working. And then, when it no longer works or becomes obsolete, they replace it with a newer model. The poetry about friends is ancient, amazing, and heart-wrenching. The stories of amazing friendships buoy us up and keep us afloat in turbulent waters. All of us can think of a special moment shared with a close friend. It may have happened 30 years ago, or happened yesterday. It warms our heart and makes our lives more joyful.

I have discovered that some friendships are based on false commitment. Some friendships are relationships based on commonality of purpose. We make friends because our kids are on the same little league team. When the season is over, we don’t see them. Until sign-ups the following season. We are friends because we are engaged in a common activity. But when we look deeper, we have nothing else in common and drift apart. Those sorts of friendships are bonds that are meant to be of a short duration. They fulfill a need for a time, but are not meant to be people we share our entire lives with. Those people are special, and they are very, very few.

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And I am grateful. I have found true friends along the journey. Friends I have shared puberty and discovering make-up and high heels, and boys, with. Friends I have shared college and all those experiences with. And friends I have met in my career path, and through my marriage. Some of them will be with me always. But most will not be. I think that if I “can count on one hand, my true friends,” then I will be blessed beyond measure! God is good. And I know I am blessed when I can talk to a friend after a long stretch of time, and know that my friend has “got my back,” and totally gets me, without having to explain a thing.

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I have not come to bring peace…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God challenges us. Well, challenges me. I tend to be a little bit of a stickler about certain things. I guess what it boils down to is that I like rules. I prefer being in a box, rather than free ranging it. For years, I always felt my children operated best when they knew the limitations of what they can and cannot do. Borders. Edges. Limitations. Expectations. I realize that as a person, I am not the one to stand at the podium and give the speeches. I am not the one to be in charge. I am basically a background person. I can make you look great. I can help anyone, by working “back stage,” as they say. I do not need to be the leader. Although because of my personality, it is often thrust upon me, it is not where I am best, nor is it where the best in me is played out for others.

And I believe it is this tendency within myself that led me to love organized religion. I am a historian at heart and an anthropologist by training. I love getting to the roots of things. One of those things is that I love knowing that I belong to a religion that has come down to us, unchanged, from the Apostles themselves. There are no surprises, nor am I expected to be in charge. And I have loved learning about how our faith came to be, how it works, and has worked, for thousands of years. And I don’t need to change, edit, or alter a thing. God gave us His Church through His Son, and His Apostles. Done. Each time someone disagrees with how the Church does something, they leave. When someone gets angry at a priest or deacon, they leave. Many are upset at the caliber of the men in the Church. What they forget is that they are just that – they are men. No one claims to be a Saint or Christ Himself. There has only been one “Perfect Man” and He died for each one of us, on a Cross, over two thousand years ago. We all strive to be good, but no one is perfect, except for Christ Jesus.

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This past week, with the increased violence and the shootings in San Bernardino, California, the realization that people are not perfect came to a dramatic head. This shooting touched me personally, in many ways, and through many relationships, past and present. My heart hurt. My spirit was heavy. And I was soooooo angry. And I immediately jumped on the anger train and was unsympathetic to anyone who did not share my anger and my hurt for those who were killed, and their families.

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…” Matthew 5:44-45

Boy, is that a rough lesson to learn. And it cuts deep and close to what we consider our faith. I have experienced, in the past, being excluded. When my children were very young, I attended a weekly bible study. It was called non-denominational and everyone attended different churches. There was a local school that many of the teachers of the bible study, and many of the attendees, sent their children. It seemed like a great school. I applied for a position for our eldest son to attend Kindergarten there. I received a very awkward phone call from the principal who told me that although we were all Christians, our practices differed substantially and it would be a falsehood to deny our differences. He also said that as of that time, they did not accept students who were not their particular type of Christian and our family worshipped too differently for us to be accepted at the school. About the same time, our bible study spoke about Mary and I found myself standing up to defend Mary. Standing and speaking was to defy the rules of the bible study, which stated you did not interrupt nor give opinion during presentations, only during private classroom time. I could not stop myself. They were promoting heretical notions. I could not let it stand. I found myself unwelcome and I was forced to discontinue my membership in this women’s group, and pull my children from their program. It was disheartening and I was so very sad. I lost friends over it. Faith can be so divisive. (Politics, too).

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10: 34-39).

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We are becoming a nation, a world, of factions. It is historically significant that Christians (aka the Catholic Church) have been pitted against Muslims for centuries. The times that are the most famous are those surrounding the Crusades, when the Pope sent armies to defeat the Muslim invaders; to stop them from coming into Europe and decimating the Christian populations. The Muslims acknowledge Mary as the Mother of Christ (and are actually more accepting of her than most Protestant denominations) and believe Christ was a preacher sent by God. They do not, however, believe He is the Son of God. They believe Mohammed is equal to Christ, even slightly more important than Christ. We agree with Muslims that there is but one God, and there is no other God before Him (they refer to Him as Allah).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7).

But apart from that, our essential belief system is extraordinarily different. Our value systems were formed through adherence to our belief system, and those differ vastly in some very basic precepts. In our Christian world, the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And I agree with that; I struggle with it on an almost daily basis. He also called us to arm ourselves:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

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And yet, how do I reconcile my feelings of being apart and separate from other believers, because of the differences in how we worship? Not to mention the theology of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother? There are many aspects to highlight how we are different, but how does that help the cause of ecumenism in our world? How do we battle what we have been fighting for generations, if our faith is not united? Yes, as Americans we feel united against terrorism on our lands, much as our recent family members felt during World War II. We feel united. Much of the Judeo-Christian world feels united against a common foe. In some ways we truly are. We value human life, for the most part, differently than those from the Muslim world. Females are not valued at all. Abortion, rape, genocide…those are all common in the Muslim world. But how can we, as Christian Americans, judge our Muslim brothers when we kill babies in the womb? When we fight one another over religious differences, here at home? No, the Muslims do to want to convert me; they want to erase me from existence. I truly understand that, and I struggle with those realities in light of the Gospels. I recall that as an aware child I knew that our country was horrified that President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had been elected President. He simply could not be a good president because many felt his loyalties would be divided – “What if the Pope tells him to do something?” That statement, alone, explains how little our Protestant brothers understand about Catholicism. There are more Catholics who serve in governmental positions, but how many of them live by the tenets of their faith and are good examples of Catholic Christians? (As in not supporting funding abortion or supporting anyone or any legislation that is not pro life). Misperceptions still persist, even today; many Christians are Christian in name only; many because it’s sort of cool at the moment to declare your love of God, even if you don’t treat others “as yourself.” My country is not as united as we like to think we are. When we face a common enemy, we stand together. But when that enemy recedes, how do we love one another?

I started this post about living in a box, within rules and limitations. I spoke to how my faith reflects my love of order, and even rules and responsibilities, and behaviors. I believe we should all be free, free to choose which Church we want to worship in. I do not believe law should reflect any one religion, which is the basis for our Constitution. Sharia Law does not belong on American soil. But I am still saddened by the vehemence with which people who are “Christian” treat one another. Yes, I am determined to gird myself with the “belt of truth.” Oh yes, I believe in eternal truths. I also believe God, through His Apostles, spoke that truth throughout the world, establishing His Church around the world. Men have taken that Church and torn it into pieces; into “denominations.”

Denominations. A denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions. As defined here, world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations.” (World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001).

A denomination refers to an actual name, or the naming, of something. That means that there are over 33,000 “names” for Christianity and Christian in this world. The Church that Christ established with just 12 Apostles, their families, and the early community established after Pentecost, grew to be over 3,400,000 “worship centers” throughout the world. Worship centers that are not united around one faith, one Church, but are made up of communities by someone who disagreed with the tenets of the established Church, and started their own “brand” of Christianity. It’s sort of like those of us who opt to homeschool and not participate in a national indoctrination program, called public education. We start our own little community, at home around the kitchen table, and call it “Bob’s School.” Well, in that same vein, there are all sorts of “Bob’s Church”(es) around this world. How do we fight the one or two Muslim denominations who are determined to wipe us off the face of the earth? How do we unite, truly unite, down to our most basic units (the family) when people continue to disagree about fundamentals of our faith?

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The only thing I can come up with right at this moment is to just LOVE. Overshadow all we do with LOVE. The Love of God for our fellow man. Our priest gave an excellent homily last week about loving others. He said that we open our arms, tell God that we love Him, embracing everything that is Him. We truly do. Then God asks us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31). But that’s where it all falls apart. That guy over there? You want me to love that guy? Oh, I can’t do that. We don’t get along. I can’t love someone I don’t get along with. Or we say  – I can love my husband(wife) and my kids, but my sister? My brother? My parents? We had a disagreement years ago; they hurt my feelings. I can’t love them; I don’t even like them. If that is the case, how can we truly love God? How can we expect to get along with everyone if we do not start right at home, with our own families? If we cannot love our co-workers, those who even attend our same Church but with whom we had a disagreement? How can we conquer something like the Muslim faith with LOVE of God if we cannot love those most known to us? How can we, as a country, continue to survive as a nation, without love of our neighbor?

I am sick over all this violence. I will not lower my awareness and just blithely give into it.  But I am so tired of the energy it takes to hate someone or be angry with them. My heart aches over the shootings in San Bernardino and the loss of life there and around the world. But I cannot hope to solve this problem of hatred around the world if I cannot love the guy next door who drives me crazy, can I? How did those 12 Apostles do this? How diid they spread the LOVE of God around the world when it does not exist around my block, in my parish, my family, or in my little corner of the world? Some days, my heart just aches, thinking about all of this. And so I blog…

World PEace

“To everything there is a season…”

Blessed SeraphimI was reminded again this week of the fact that life passes away.  We lost an old friend of ours and at the Divine Liturgy last night, we all prayed for the repose of his soul. And I found myself weeping…just weeping over the loss of a friend, yes, but the loss for his wife and children, and grandchildren.  They will never have him again in their life.  And it overwhelmed me.

Earlier in the day I was working on arranging for my mom to come and visit us. It is a 5-hour plane ride (non-stop, thank goodness) and I have to plan far in advance, to be sure all the arrangements are made, because my mom has Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  She gets confused very easily, and being in an airport will overwhelm her.  My step-sister, who has become my friend over the past few years, lives very near my mom and does so much for her.  We were discussing how odd it is to make the same sort of arrangements for her, that we make for an unescorted minor flying across the country.  I will be doing the same thing very soon for my 15-year-old son, who will be attending summer camp on the east coast.  Every detail has to be looked at and gone over.  It is frightening, actually, to have my mom (and soon my son) flying pretty far, all alone.  But she needs to see her great-grandchildren, her grandchildren, and her children. We are family and we need to stay connected.  With Alzheimer’s and Dementia, time becomes the important factor in all of this, because one day soon she will not know any of us.  Another one of those life-cycles exerting itself.

Yesterday was also the first birthday of my oldest granddaughter.  What a joy she is in our lives.  And she was so very happy with her little cupcake yesterday – as she was wearing a goodly portion of it!! The joy on her face was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  I thank all the brainiacs out there who invented video and Face Time and Skype; it makes us feel so close to each other and not the 1000s of miles apart that we really are. Knowing that I will be seeing her, and her soon-to-be-born little sister, made it all the more poignant.  Today, I was on the phone with my sister-in-law who shared she is expecting baby #10 in October, and I was just marveling at the gift of life all around me.  My friend who recently died was the father of 14 children, and grandfather to something like 5 or 7 children (I have actually lost count!).

handsLife is just such a blessing.  And it is a cycle.  Old and new.  Comings and goings. Cycling, always cycling through. All the tripe sayings they have out there are somehow showing themselves to all have a grain of truth in them.  Dontcha hate that? Ha-Ha.  “To everything there is a season,” as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes.  And as I age and head closer and closer towards my final destination, I am finding that there are, indeed, seasons.

My friend who passed was from the season in our lives when we were all having babies.  We were homeschooling our kids; we attended Church together; we shared parenting and marriage, financial and other woes with each other.  We supported one another through those rough phases all young marrieds go through, in addition to some wonderful bottles of wine and steaks cooked to perfection.  I have such clear memories of summer days spent under the stars, contemplating our lives.  Wonderful memories filled with so much laughter.

My grandma used to tell me, “Well, you can’t put old heads on young shoulders.” I used to laugh at her many adages, and trust me, she had volumes and volumes of them!  But she was right. There are things I can see from where I am standing, that I cannot really communicate to my children’s generation.  Many times it is because they just don’t want to hear it from me, but mostly it is because they know what they are doing for them is right (haven’t we all been there??).  And I acknowledge that and I respect that, very much.  It was not often afforded to my husband and myself and so I want to be sure my kids know I respect their choices; I just wish I could give them some of my wisdom. But I also know the deepest wisdom is gained through living life, not being given some adages to ponder.  We have to live for those tripe sayings to mean something.  As St. Seraphim said above, we are given choices.  We can choose to be of this world and outside of God, or we can choose for Whom our heart hungers, which is God, the God of life.  Everything eventually passes away.

I saw a funny meme today about books:

Read something goodIt is one of my guilty pleasures – I would rather be reading than pretty much anything else. (Especially if I can drink a nice glass of wine or nibble on something chocolate at the same time! Heaven!).  I often think that for me, loosing my sight would be the most horrible thing. Because of missing the faces of my loved ones, yes, but I would no longer be able to lose myself in a book.  And what we read, what we contemplate, becomes a portion of who we are.  I love paranormal books and stories of good versus evil.  Love all the witches and spells, potions and demons and the heroes that defeat them. Always makes me feel good.  I have often mused why I love this genre so much, when I was always reading historical novels in my younger years.  And I realized that for me, it is my way of getting in the fight.  It is my way of confronting the evil in the world, and always choosing to be a “good guy.”  Why is that? Because I know, deep in my bones, that this world does truly pass away and only God remains….everything passes away.

Some day, all that will be left of me will be a pile of bones in a grave, and the legacy of genetics and memories I leave for my family. I pray that their lives will have been better because I was a part of them. I pray that everyone I touched was left with a positive feeling in their hearts when they think of me.  I know there are those who I hurt in my wild and rambunctious days.  I cannot go back and undo what I have already done.

byiO4laAnd this saying keeps me focused on what is ahead.  This cycle of life we are living keeps moving. We choose to participate or sit it out. What a waste to spend life angry, sitting on the sidelines pouting.  Or mourning those who have gone before us, while missing the blessings of new life in front of us.  Perhaps it is because I am older and life is a little quieter, but I am seeing God’s hand in so many more things than I ever have before. I know He is present and active in my life and the lives around me.  And when I start seeing these things over and over again, I feel so blessed.  To know something so clearly is so peaceful, and it brings such contentedness. I may not control it all; I may need to still buckle up and gird my loins – all of that may still hold true.  But I also know that “God’s got this.”  How totally cool is that??

Miracle baby toesBlessings to all my fellow miracles out there, who touch the miracle of life each day, by living and choosing life through the Grace of God.  And my continued to prayers for those who perhaps are not as certain of God’s presence in your life, or the love He has for you – I’m becoming certain enough for both of us.

 

“…but with true love.”

Elder Porphyrios2As Elder Porphyrios reminds us, we need to remember that this war we are waging against the pull of the world, more often than not will be won with “true love.”  I admit that I am on Facebook to stay in touch.  I moved an inordinate number of miles away from all that is familiar to me, and while I settle in and make my way, I stay in touch with friends and family on Facebook.  I also belong to several online pages where we discuss various subjects, and offer prayers for one another.  And my journey of mileage has also become a journey of philosophy and theology…a journey of “theosis.”

Theosis is a term that many who study purely western theology and philosophy often disagree with.  As found on OrthodoxWiki: “Theosis (“deification,” “divinization”) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (“missing the mark”), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-Holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía — which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity — which is everlasting.”  This definition quite often frightens people because they think, that you think, that you can become God.  And that is not the point, at all.  The point is that we strive for the perfection that is God’s.  We cannot be God, because God is God.  But we can become as God when we strive to obtain that mindset, outlook, and philosophy of the attributes attributed to God.  Basically, we live the Ten Commandments.  And I mean really live them.

I have been reading several different sites recently and I have noticed that all of them seem intent on out-doing one another in their use of terminology and their “holiness” factor.  Personally, one of the reasons I find myself veering more and more to the East is the simplicity of it all.  God just is.  Forgiveness just is.  Love is love.  Prayer is to God.  We act, we live, we believe quite simply that God is LOVE…and we try to live that each and every day.

I read a blog the other day by a single dad. He was lamenting the treatment of a young boy in line, in front of him at Costco, by the boy’s father.  The man belittled his son and made him cower in fear of him.  And I could relate to that so much.  I do not believe for a moment in breaking a child.  I believe we need to guide them and mold them into the adults we see the potential of them being.  And words can be everything to a child.  In explaining the concept to my son, I explained that parents are like the bumpers in bumper bowling…we allow them to sway from side to side, but we keep them heading to the pins at the end of that alleyway.  They may bowl slowly; the may throw the ball; they might just push it to begin rolling.  Regardless of how that ball was put on the alleyway, the bumpers keep it safely on its way to the pins. (Unless it’s me bowling, and the people two or three lanes on either side need to be on guard…I am the worst bowler, ever!  Bumpers or no bumpers!!).

Reaching people with words and sermons and theology sometimes does not allow them to proceed where they need to be headed.  Sometimes our lofty terminology and theology turns them completely away from organized religion.  Sometimes our words make them walk out the door, and opt to never go back inside.  When I read some posts and I see things like, “There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church,” I get a little “sideways.”  Mostly because people who say that often mean that unless you attend a Roman Catholic Church, are baptized, confirmed, and receive communion in a RC Church, you are going to hell.  There are those who feel that Catholicism brought Christianity to the world, so all Christian religions are tied to the Catholic Church. Protestant sects are ones that have “some” of the truth, but do not live in the “fulness” of the truth, but can find salvation.  Then they talk about the Orthodox as Christians gone astray through politics and governments running their Church, when in fact their theology was brought to them through seekers sent by Tsars and others to investigate Christianity around the world. They loved the Byzantine worship they came across the best and took it back with them to their homelands and there developed their version of it.  So it has some of the markings of the Church (apostolic? not so much) but once again, do not enjoy the fulness of the truth to be found in Catholicism.  See how hurtful words can be?  What is interesting to me is that there is no mention of all the Eastern Churches who are independent Churches but align themselves with the Bishop of Rome (sui juris).  People speak, using words that are often hurtful to those they speak about, without knowing what they are really saying.

We had a group at a former Latin parish that were very much a part of the exclusionary ideas of Fr. Feeney. (Feeneyism is a term for the doctrinal position associated with Leonard Feeney (1897–1978), a Jesuit priest and founder of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fr. Feeney favored a strict interpretation of the doctrine extra Ecclesium nulla salus (“outside the Church there is no salvation” – Wikipedia).  They did not believe that anyone who, even if they led a good life but did not know Christ, would enter heaven.  It caused many heated debates, even though the Church excommunicated Fr. Feeney for his “opinions” in the late 70s.  Words can hurt.  Sermons and posturing can hurt.

I have many relatives who are not Catholic.  They believe that I am going to hell; that my husband, children, and now grandchildren will go to hell with me.  They have talked to me, my children, and extended family members about my family’s terrible predicament.  They have never accepted that our faith is true, and honest, and real.  One family member is a former Catholic, who left the Church as a young adult, with an 8-th grade-confirmation-class-understanding of the faith.  Making adult decisions based on knowledge gained at 12 or 13 is not the wisest road to choose.  And words can hurt.  They have hurt – for years.  Non-acceptance is hurtful.  Using words to try and drum-home a point of view that is contrary to the one you are talking to, can hurt.

Elder Sophrony of EssexWhen my heart is heavy, and words become a noisy gong in my life, I tend to retreat.  I know that a cup of tea, as Elder Sophrony shares, can be a great reliever of stress and despair.  And I quite often retreat to enjoy a hot “cuppa.”  But my mind is still rolling over words.  I am finding myself more and more put off by strong rhetoric, be it in the marketplace (the mess with Target and identity theft comes to mind), sports (a previous post when I addressed the NFL playoffs), politics (so much, SO MUCH, comes to mind there), and even my faith.  Why is it that we have to resort to harshness when GOD IS LOVE?  WWJD?  Indeed, what would Jesus do?  He sat with sinners; He laughed with them and dined with them, and He loved them.

The Church is not a place for those who have “made it.”  It is not for those who “are saved.”  The Church is a huge tent, in which there are many rooms: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way I am going.” (John 14: 1-3).  Christ tells us that there are many rooms and that if we believe, He will come for us and receive us “to Myself.”  It like a previous post when I spoke about the grace and healing we find in confession – the mercy that envelopes our whole self, all of who we are, all at once.  God is mercy; God is forgiveness; God is love.

Why cannot our words reflect that? Why cannot our methods of reaching one another reflect that?  Why do we strike out at those who are different than we are? If it is not exactly what we think it should be, it obviously has to be wrong?  Why do our perceptions of the Divine Truth separate us from our families, our friends, or even fellow believers, who are also seeking the Divine Physician in His hospital, the Church?

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40

We come into this world alone; we leave this world alone. The very least we can do is to be kind to each person we touch, every day we come into contact with others.  We need to begin in our homes, in our families, with our friends, and in our parishes.  God is Love!  True Love!

Eph 5-8

…is the final act of love.”

Writing is such a personal, intimate thing. Authors are usually people who look inward and create fantastic worlds for us, report on the world around us, or help us reach back into the past and see the world as it was.  I have always thought of blogs like having your personal diary open on your desk and other people stopping by and reading it.  Each post added to a blog is like turning the page in that diary.  I write because it’s sort of like something that needs to come out.  Some days I write a lot.  Sometimes I have gone, quite literally, months between posts.  Most often, I write to get something off my chest, or to express something that feels like I have a need to share with others or I will burst!  It’s like my cell phone.  (Bear with me a little here).  My iPhone is so complete, I usually only use my computer for doing this blog or paying bills (I know the arguments against that, but it is just so much simpler!).  All my information about family and friends is in my phone.  I lost my phone for a few hours last weekend in the snow.  A kindly stranger turned it into a customer service desk and I cannot tell you how relieved I was…because I realized it would take me FOREVER to get the information back that I had stored in my phone. It has so many neat apps on it and one of my favorites is Notepad. I use it ALL the time!  Well, if you ask me someone’s phone number, email address, or house address, I’d have to excuse myself while I looked it up on my phone. I don’t have to remember things like this anymore, because my phone does it for me.  And when I write, after it is written, I am usually over the issue and I forget about it.  I am also one of those types who gets angry (hard to believe, I know).  I may yell or speak harshly (ask my boys) but once I do, I move on. I don’t harbor grudges or stay mad at people.  I blow up and then it’s done.  I use my writing as a way, sometimes, to ease the pressure…sort of like the steam escaping a boiling teapot.  Once you release the steam, the pot settles down.  That’s me.

And so I am musing over something that is really bugging me.  I have noticed that I am loosing my ability at times, to think clearly and remember details. It worries me because my mom has dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I realize that I forget things all the time. People say to me, “Oh, you remember when we….?”  And honestly, many times I don’t.  I’m not sure if it is because my brain gets lazy, if I rely on my iPhone too much to remember for me (gasp!?! Reliance on technology!) or I just get distracted.  Am I not giving the moment the attention it deserves and so I cannot recall it later on?

Abba AseniosIn our world of chaos and noise, I often think that adding to this noisy chaos by blogging is not helping the situation.  Computer usage really draws us away from others.  Computers can, however, bring disparate people together – those who are geographically separated can connect and it eases that separation somewhat. I do try, however, to keep more silence than aimless chatter.  I try to steer away from adding to gossip or just the noise around us.  So does my memory loss have more to do with going through them and throwing out the ones that truly don’t matter? Is it important I remember the color dress I wore 10 years ago, or if it was raining or sunny at some event I attended?  Perhaps not.  Someone with Alzheimer’s will know those details, though.  A person with dementia can’t recall yesterday, let alone years ago.  A dementia patient has short term memory and that is about it.  Alzheimer patients cannot recall what a fork is for, or remember to eat, but they know incredible details about years past.  So I am leaning towards a sort of mental evolution, if you will allow that terminology. A pattern of memory losses and gains, I guess!

I am learning that God is never through with me.  He allows me to trip up and make mistakes over and over again, until His lesson gets ingrained in me.  All of us come from somewhere.  We all have pasts that perhaps are not worthy of remembering.  I have let go of many things from my teen years and young adulthood that do not speak well of me. I have been taught, and I have learned, over the years to adjust my vision to things that are not so much “of the world” and tend to the more philosophical and theological.

2Thessalonians3-3

I was recently helping my daughter-in-law to make a memory book for my mom.  I have been told these sorts of things help them to cling to their own history, and to see their lives in snapshots helps to keep them grounded.  As I was going through the 84 years of my mom’s life, I was drawn back to memories I thought I had lost.  I realized I had put them “on a shelf” and let them rest there.  But when I wanted to, I could recall all sorts of details (my poor daughter-in-law had to sit and listen to them with me for over 6 hours earlier this week!  God bless her!).  And I so enjoyed remembering my life as a young child and the things my brother and I did.  I could pull them off that shelf and remember, fully, all the wonderful times of my childhood.  The Lord is good; He has allowed me to live in His light, in His love, and has guarded me from the evil one.  He has healed many of my memories and has allowed many others to just fade away, all while helping me retain what is good and positive about my life.

St Tikhon 3This is the season where we prepare to welcome the Son of God as a Child.  We should get our “houses” in order in more ways than one.  Confession is good for us and helps us become clearer-headed and hearted, as we wind our way to Christmas.  If you do not believe in confession to a priest or cleric, it is certainly priceless to sit and contemplate before God all your sins and seek His forgiveness.  I personally feel incredible after a good and holy confession. And I believe it is more important to prepare our hearts than our homes.  Decorating for Christmas is so fun and I love it, as you would know if you have read my posts before. I love pretty much everything about Christmas.  But I also know that my spiritual preparation is more important than baking cookies and buying gifts.  Christ smiles at us when we are clear and free in our hearts and spirits after confession.

There is a wonderful Catholic theologian and author, Peter Kreeft, who I quote quite often.  In one of his many books, he spoke about Confession and told this wonderful story (which I will totally paraphrase):  When we face the judgement seat of Christ, we can picture ourselves standing there, before the Throne, with nothing but a couple of suitcases.  Christ will ask us what we have brought with us.  Our response will be, “Lord, I brought my sins with me.”  And He will tell us that when He forgave us our sins, it was as if they never happened.  He will go back into the timeline of our lives and pull those sinful acts or omissions out of our timeline and it will be as if they never existed.  We are the ones who need to forgive ourselves and to let our sinful pasts be just that; our past.  And this is what I think is happening to me and some of my memories – they are memories that are best forgotten because I was (and still am) a fearful sinner and I lug these sins, over which I have sought forgiveness time and again, with me wherever I go.  I need to let them go.  As I am maturing in my faith, and I find holes in my memory, I am learning to be okay with that.  I trust God and I know He is guiding me in the way I need to go.  He is allowing me to forget certain aspects of my past, in order for me to have a better future.

And so I post now and then.  I blog. I add to the cacophony of sounds around me by tapping away on my laptop.  And I allow issues to come and go and I try not to cling to those things I need to let go. I get out of God’s way and allow His healing to reach deep into my heart and rip out the things I need to let go of.  And I am finding my way to that peace that knows no understanding, that peace of God.  (Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7)

My prayer is for forgiveness from past sinful acts or omissions. If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me.  I extend my hand to you as a friend and a fellow journeyman on the road to Divine Eternity with God.  I pray for company on this journey and as I ponder the things in my life, I extend an offer to join me by reading this blog.  Let us not judge one another, but love each other as God intended us to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).

ON Forgiveness

“…existing forever and always the same”

Unknown,_Iran,_mid-16th_Century_-_The_Rothschild_Small_Silk_Medallion_Carpet_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis is a photograph of a 16-th century Persian (modern-day Iran) tapestry.  Tapestries are incredible things.  If you have ever attempted any sort of work with thread and fabric (no, buttons do not count) you will be amazed at the skill involved in creating tapestries.  The Medieval Period saw a rise in tapestries and most castles had them hanging on their walls, depicting events from the lives of those living in these castles, or perhaps a heraldic tapestry explaining their genealogy and symbols of their families; some were religious, depicting scenes from Scripture; many were mythic, depicting scenes from famous myths.  I love tapestries.  I attempted crewel work, needlepoint, and cross-stitching, so I know how working with a needle and fabric can become obsessive, and how it is also tedious at times, but it also can be filled with moments of grace and peace.  The outcome is almost always worth all the moments spent creating it.  Well, for my works, never look on the back of them! They are a mess of knots.  True artists who created these amazing tapestries did so with no knots showing – front or back!

200px-PazyrykfullThis is the most famous tapestry still in existence, in that it was woven in the 5th century and is the oldest surviving tapestry in the world.  Even with it being so ancient, the colors and patterns are still visible and portions retain their vibrancy 1500 years later. I gaze at it and wonder who crafted it, what they wanted it to be used for, and a little about their lives.  “I love all things old..” I have a plaque with the complete saying on my kitchen wall…and I do appreciate things historical and ancient.  My college major was anthropology, so my heart has always rested in history, most especially physical history.

As I have been pondering things this week, I have been thinking about my Church, my faith, and my fellow sojourners on our way to our ultimate goal – eternity with our Creator.  And I have come to realize that our faith is a master-tapestry, created by Our Lord.  When we take a step back, or away, from the things we hold close, we sometimes are given a chance to view them differently.  Tapestries typically look better  the further you stand away from them, although quite often to appreciate their fine details, you have to alternate between closely viewing them, and then taking a step back.  For me, I found myself engaged in repartee with others on the internet, and in my personal life, and this repartee was sort of tearing away at my peace.  I found myself hurting at the words of others. So I have tried to take a step back, or away, from these conversations.  I have been praying about it, ruminating on it, and I have sought advice about this and one of the answers today made me realize how much of a “tapestry” life truly is.  All these threads, weaving together (and not meant in the eastern, Asiatic, or Eastern Indian philosophical sense) to create a pretty incredible tapestry we think of as Christianity. The vibrancy and life all around us, before us, and after us is being captured by God in an amazing array of humanity, and human expression.

I find it so interesting that those who profess to have this belief in Christ Jesus, and Him Crucified, are so ready to verbally crucify their fellow Christians for not saying, acting, or believing exactly as they do.  We do not represent the Body of Christ, His Church, well when we cut down our fellow Christians.  Christ told us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35) and when He told us, His followers that, He meant it.  And how did Christ love us?  He allowed Himself to be sacrificed on a cross – for my short-sightedness, for my sinful nature, for my acts that contradict the teachings of Christ.  He did that for me – more than 2,000 years ago He did that for ME.  And He did that for each of us, whether we choose to follow Him or not; whether we opt to be truly Christian, He laid down His life for each of us.  We do not repay or acknowledge that sacrifice when we argue over whose method of worship is more authentic, who has the better translation or who has the most authentic liturgy.  We pride ourselves on being authentically “apostolic” Churches of Christ.  But how are we mirroring the teachings of the Apostles when we belittle our fellow believers?  How do we show that the teachings of Christ and His Apostles has reached our hearts when we belittle and disregard, out of hand, the opinions of others?  As I have posted online before, “My heart hurts.”  I am so very disappointed in some people who purport to have this incredible education and insight and yet use acerbic language to lash out at others and in very mean ways, put to shame opposing viewpoints. And so many of us pay lip service to the plight of Christians around the world, being persecuted for the selfsame faith we all proclaim.  How does that reflect the Word of Christ, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me“? (Matthew 25:31-46).

I have been blessed with a pretty amazing journey to get to where I am.  Life has had many ups and downs, and many interesting, if erroneous, side trips.  But as I look back on all of it, I can see God’s hand, gently guiding me to where I am now.  And because I was taught to see the “big picture” through the study of anthropology, history, and cultures, I feel blessed to be given glimpses of these “larger pictures” now and then.  And recently I became aware of how divergent our Church truly is; how “universal” is such a true statement.  When Christ instructed the Apostles to “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,” (Matthew 28:19) the Apostles actually did what they were told!  They went to “all nations!”  In the world at the time, the Apostles reached amazing geographical goals.  They covered an amazing amount of territory for the time in which they lived and traveled.  Any of us would be hard pressed to equal some of their journeys, even with all the conveniences of today.  The countries they visited included India, Japan and China (some dispute whether or not St. Thomas made it to China, but recent developments suggest he did), the entire Middle East, and portions of Europe, including Spain (St. John).  Wherever these Apostles went, they established Christ’s Church on earth.  We Melkites jokingly tell our Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before Rome did, as he established the Church in the Middle East (Antioch) first!  He traveled extensively and he preached to the people in the ways they could understand (which is a simple way to explain the differences between the Church of Antioch – where the term Christian was first used – and of Rome).  Each of these Churches reflected the cultures the Apostles came across.  And these churches are still alive today! All of them!  We have many Churches in communion with Rome, who recognize and acknowledge the Pope as the “first among equals.”

We in the East love Vatican II.  We were allowed our Liturgies in the vernacular and are still encouraged to worship as we were handed down the faith, from the Apostles and Church Fathers.  Most of us in the East use the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil.  There are other variants that are equally as beautiful.  We have a friend who is a priest of the Syro-Malabar Rite and the liturgy he celebrates is pretty amazing; different from what I am used to, but equal and amazing in its own right (or rite!).  Each of the 22 or so Churches (or rites, as some prefer to call them) in “communion” with Rome have their own Divine Liturgies, with 7 of them (including Rome) having their own Patriarch, and all professing the same Christian faith.  But each Church is different.  And that is part of the tapestry of our faith.

I love being Byzantine and I have become enamored of my Byzantine traditions and the teachings of the early Church Fathers.  I loved learning Arabic at our Melkite parish, and learning to cook some amazing Arabic dishes.  In fact, for our potluck at Church this weekend I will be bringing majedra (spelled many ways) – a wonderful dish of lentils, rice, and onions I was taught by my Arabic friends in California.  And recently I have discovered the foods of yet other cultures (Ukrainian and Polish) and love pyrogies (so many ways to spell that!!) and other delicacies that I wish I had known much sooner!  (The languages may have to wait a bit! LOL!)  I have dipped my toes into many teachings of the Orthodox and thoroughly love so many Orthodox saints.  St. John of Kronstadt is my all-time favorite and he is Russian and decidedly not Roman Catholic.  His wisdom crosses imaginary “boundaries” of culture, tradition, and religion and he shares Truth in any language; a Christian Truth.  I was raised in an English immigrant household, who sort of swayed into Protestantism.  In college and my early 20s, I dated quite seriously a Jewish man and spent two years exploring Judaism (drove the Rabi crazy!!). As a 20-something adult, I chose to become Catholic.  From there, some 20 years later, my journey brought me to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. And because of a geographical move almost 6 months ago, now I attend a mostly Polish/Ukrainian/Ruthenian/Byzantine Parish.  My experiences in life are a tapestry in and of themselves.

cropped-church.jpgThe photo above is one of my favorites.  It is the ceiling of a Russian Orthodox Church.  It exemplifies the tapestry of faith.  Every square inch is covered in iconic expressions of our faith.  I find it comforting and inviting.  And this is what I am trying, poorly, to convey.  We need to welcome an extra thread to our growing tapestry.  There is definitely right and wrong; there are absolutes.  I am not arguing that we forgo holding fast to the teachings of Christ Crucified.  I am not saying that we allow for heresies to flourish without objecting strenuously to them, and defending Truth when no one else will.  What I am trying to convey is a spirit of tapestry; a spirit of love and welcoming to those we come into contact with who may have questions, who may have thoughts divergent from our own.  We cannot pretend to be missionaries in our own backyard when we speak angrily or nastily to those we come into contact with, who even attend Church with us.  I agree that the Church is a hospital for the sick, but it certainly is not a place were the patients attack one another.  It is a place where we all seek healing and love and safety.  In order to illustrate my emotions on this, I will share my favorite part of the Divine Liturgy, the prayers of the Anaphora:

It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings, singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:  Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to God in the highest.”

When we, as a people of Christ, recite these and many of the other prayers of the Divine Liturgy, let us also pray with the intention to live our lives as Christians who believe what we pray.  We believe that there are a myriad of angels around the altar, we proclaim His coming, we acknowledge that He picked us up when we fell, created us out of nothing.  With tongues we proclaim the love of God; let us also with our tongues praise and pray for our fellow Christians, regardless of which tones they sing, what translations they use, which “rite” or Church they belong to.  Let us truly weave the tapestry of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

Cross sunlight rocks