“All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”

“Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord and in His Law will he exercise himself day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2

As many of you now realize, I began reading the Psalms in earnest during Lent. I have never approached the Psalms in an organized, nor directed, manner. And it quite literally has changed my life. I purchased a Psalter so that I can immerse myself in them daily. The Psalter contains all the Psalms, as well as some directed prayers you recite before and after you read the Psalms. I have to say that I am overwhelmed by the graces that have befallen me by immersing myself in Scripture over Lent. I have learned more than I ever expected. About myself, about my faith, and about how I want to conduct my life. It is probably one of the most profound Lents I have ever had. And I feel so blessed by this experience, I want to shout about it from the rooftops. Well, at my age, I will shout about it from my desk and on this laptop. I did learn something! Ha-Ha-Ha!

“Knowing well my own ignorance, I fall down before Thee and pray, begging Thy help, O Lord, direct my mind, and make my heart steadfast, that I grow not weary because of the words that my lips read, but that I be gladdened with the understanding of what is read and myself prepared for the doing of the good works which I learn, and I say. Enlightened by good deeds, may I become a citizen of the land which is at Thy right hand, with all of Thine elect….”

The above is just a portion of the prayers uttered before contemplating on the Psalms for that day. Each group of Psalms for the day is called a Kathisma and you read one per day, followed by prayers and silence afterwards. There are bits and pieces of the last prayer that seem to stay with me: ..“Have mercy on me, who am darkened by sinful thoughts, and lift up my mind which is choked by the thorns of laziness and the tares of recalcitrance…Remember O Lord, in Thy mercy, my parents and all my relatives, and brethren, and friends and neighbors…have mercy on me and save me, a sinner, for Thou art good and lovest mankind. Amen.”

I love delving into these words that hold so much promise for our peace of mind. Monks in various orders, Catholic and Orthodox, recite these Psalms daily, along with all the prayers. It comforts me to know there is praying going on, for our benefit, around the entire world. And that there are those dedicated to just that, storming the gates of heaven on behalf of all of us. And I love that I can add my voice to that continuous song of prayer. Even if I pray at a different time each day, there is someone else, somewhere in the world, echoing the same words. And that is so awesome to me.

Some people prefer to go off on their own, using their own words and sentiments when they pray. Believe me, I storm heaven on my own, too. Sometimes I even rage against the things I see or hear about. But I love coming “home” to the peace and calm of prayers that have been uttered for thousands of years, now. The stories contained in the Psalms are not different from the experiences I have had, in this modern age. And that is what struck me the most. Humanity has not really evolved all that much. Our issues are pretty much the same. Yes, we have technology. Yes, we have different forms of payments and all that sort of modernity. Yes, we have weapons of mass destruction. We have grown in what tools we have at our fingertips, but our “humanity,” our “human nature,” that part is pretty much the same. David weeps when friends die. The community wails when the Temple is destroyed. There is moaning over friendships gone bad and betrayals. There is joy in love and marriage, family and children. There is joy in crops and rain and plenty, just as there is fear in times of want and war. It is all contained in 150 Psalms. And I was able to read through them, twice, during Lent. In just 40 short days, I was transported and transformed. I understand Scripture so much better, reading the Psalms.

I was watching this movie with my son last night called “13 Hours” about the debacle in Benghazi. It is a heart-wrenching and stressful movie that leaves you stripped and wounded, crying along with the characters in the story. What is worse, is it is all true. And at the end, they show you the actual people who were involved. “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells are within you.” That quote is from the character, “Boon” and is from the scene above. And it was said more than once in the movie. It made me stop and think…this morning I am still pondering that quote. When you are under attack and there is seemingly no respite coming, no one is coming to your defense, you can feel very, very alone. And when Boon said that, he was contemplating not surviving. And when I think of it, I think of David, who wrote so much of what he felt, in the Psalms. He shared how much he suffered, and how much he rejoiced, in all those verses. I think Boon would have found solace in the Psalms, sitting on that rooftop, waiting for the next assault on the compound.

“Oppose, Lord, those who oppose me; war upon those who make war upon me. Take up the shield and buckler; rise up in my defense. Brandish lance and battle ax against my pursuers. Say to my heart, “I am your salvation.” Let those who seek my life be put to shame and disgrace. Let those who plot evil against me be turned back and confounded. Make them like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them on….let ruin overtake them unawares; let the snare they have set catch them; let them fall into the pit they have dug…”  Psalm 35: 1-8

There is God everywhere. The thought of heaven and hell is our constant struggle. The words spoken by Boon are what we all struggle with. I am so very blessed I have been able to dive, head first, into the Psalms to find encouragement and solace. And reading them has made the rest of the Scriptures jump into life and make so much sense, especially the New Testament and things the Lord said and did. In light of the Psalms, so much makes sense to me.

The Psalter has been with us for thousands of years. We also have a full set of the Psalms in our Bibles. I had so much fun this Lent, highlighting Psalms that struck me, and making notes. I kept, and am still keeping, an illustrated journal with Psalms in it that are important to me, along with comments and colorful stickers and other fun things. Trust me, it is a work in progress because I am not artsy at all (ask my artsy daughters-in-law or friends who know me well). But I have found that reading, and re-reading these words brings me comfort and I continue to learn. Perhaps delving into one book (which, for an avid reader like me, sounds really weird) for the rest of my life will cause me to become a better woman. “O Lord, direct my mind, and make my heart steadfast, that I grow not weary because of the words that my lips read, but that I be gladdened with the understanding of what is read and myself prepared for the doing of the good works which I learn, and I say.”

My advice? Words of wisdom? Give it a try. You may be surprised at the treasure that lays there, just waiting for you to discover. And you may find grace upon grace waiting for you, as you ponder the words of God and His servant, David. And if you have an urge to journal or make this experience an even deeper one, try that, too. My husband about came unglued when I drew in my Bible…I just highlighted and made some notes in the very tiny margins. So I ordered a journaling Bible, like the one below. In my opinion, this is the modern age of the Illuminated Psalter. We can each be like the Monks who used to copy their illuminated manuscripts by hand, all the while praying what they wrote and drew on their manuscripts. We can illumine our own experiences as we delve into these words, which have illuminated the world for centuries. I encourage you to try this, to read the Bible and especially the Psalms, every day. It will make your world sparkle. Promise.

“…death before your minds…”

St Cosmas of AitolosHave you ever had one of those nights when you awake in a complete panic because you were realizing, in your sleep, that you have already lived at least half of your life?  That perhaps you do not have many more decades stretching before you?  I did.  And boy, was I in a sweat, breathing heavily, and completely panicked.  I sat there, realizing that I am in my “late 50s” and I doubt I will be living to my 100s!  My parents are both in their “late 80s.”  And the clock keeps ticking.  And there is not a thing I can do about that.  And I began to weep.  I wept for my children – how I love them so and do not want to leave them.  I wept for my grandchildren, because they are so new to this world and I want to get to know them, and have them know me.  I wept, and reached over and touched my husband (he did not notice through his rather exuberant snoring).  This man who I have spent my life with, loving and often disliking (I will always love him, but some days he’s not on my “favorites” list.  But that’s the reality of marriage!).  We just celebrated 29 years of marriage and I cannot imagine a life without him next to me.  And I know his life would be so much more difficult without me next to him, too.  We need each other to keep each other “our best selves.”  He is good for me, for my soul.  And I am good for him.  It’s why it works, and has worked, for so many years. But I wept at the thought of not being with him, next to him, loving him and feeling the warmth of him near me.

God tells us in so many places in scripture that we are not to worry.  One of my favorites is Matthew 6: 25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And as I sat there, catching my breath late last night, I tried to think of this, to think this way.  As St. Cosmas said in the first photo, “There is no better teacher than death.”  And I really think that when we put our very few days here on earth into a global perspective, we truly need to focus.  Life truly is short and the older I get, the shorter it seems.

There are so many little things I should be doing right now.  Why do I procrastinate?  Why do I waste time?  And no, for those of you who read these posts, I have not completed my office, yet.  My daughter-in-law offered to come over tomorrow and said that we can tackle it together. I bought a curtain rod for the drapes I have for the window (a very old wool blanket my parents brought from New Zealand more than 50 years ago hangs there now).  I have file folders ready to go. I even filed and labeled some of the stuff.  So why does her offer frighten me?  It’s almost like I won’t have anything to do if I do complete organizing that space.  And I thought about this and I realized that I am a big baby in many ways. I am afraid of what’s around the corner, because I know I don’t have that many corners left to go around!  And what do I have to show for myself?

St IrenaeusAs St. Irenaeus reminds us above, “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.”  In this photo of an ossuary in Eastern Europe, the monks keep the skulls of their brethren who have passed before them. Their names are etched on the skulls and the monks often come to sit and commune with their fellow monks.  We believe that when we die, our souls rise to be with God. If we have lived a holy life, we know, and we expect, that we will be with God.  By looking to those who have gone before us, certain of their salvation, we can emulate their lives and make similar choices in our own.  We also believe that the Church Triumphant, filled with those in the presence of God who have gone before us, await our prayers and will pray for us and with us, the Church Militant, here on earth. There is great comfort in knowing our community is larger than we can even fathom.  At Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that all the angels, “six-winged, many-eyed and soaring on their pinons” are before us at the altar.  We are in the midst of the Holy Communion of God and His people.

We are called to have our own “domestic Church” in our homes.  Places of refuge, prayer, comfort, and safety, where we bring and welcome Our Lord, our family, and our friends. A place where the Word of God is commonplace, prayer is daily, and we have reminders of God and His Saints before us always. I re-arranged our Icons from a wall to more of a corner.  I mushed them all together and left a corner section bare, waiting on my husband to construct an icon corner shelf for me.  Our incensor is waiting, with our candle and an icon of Christ Pantocrator, to be placed in the corner.  I love seeing the Icons, paintings and statues we have around our home; they give me comfort.  On the wall next to our bed is a beautiful painting of the “Flight into Egypt,” a photo of modern-day Jerusalem and the Tomb of Christ from above, another of a painting of the Theotokos holding the Christ Child while the angels serenade Him, and many more, including icons of our patron saints, St. Joseph and Ruth.  And as I panicked in the dark last night, I knew these images were all around me and I took comfort. I offered prayers to Our Lord and I prayed for strength, comfort, and peace. And I laid back down and promptly fell asleep.

Psalm 25-4-5…and all night long, too!