“…My own personal flurry…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

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

“You are light when all is dark.”

candle holy crossSometimes when we are troubled or need to focus our thoughts, it has been said we need a “focal,” like a lit candle in front of a cross or perhaps an Icon, gently lit by candles.  I find that candles and dimly lit rooms helps me to calm my mind and allows me to focus my thoughts on what I need to chat with God about.  Elder Thaddeus tells us that prayer should be like talking to our Parent, our Father, in a very personal way.  God knows our thoughts, so trying to gel them into something coherent is not necessary for God to understand our coming to Him in prayer, but it helps us to focus our issues and perhaps even to whittle them down to something tangible.  For me, I often find myself rattled over things like budgeting for things that are coming up, and trying to manage our household in a thrifty way, to secure our future.  More often than not, when I actually dive into a spread sheet, things are much simpler and not as horrid as I thought.  Numbers arranged in pluses and minuses is somehow easier to manage than my imagining it! Our minds are powerful things that can carry us off into waters we needn’t necessarily be wading into.  Which is why my Lenten reading is more important than ever for my peace of mind!

Abba AgathonAs I was waiting for a friend last night (we try to meet about monthly while I wait for my son at his CAP meeting) I was enjoying a nice cup of Hazelnut Latte (easy on the hazelnut) and reading Elder Thaddeus.  His book is great in that you read it in sections, and within those sections are numbered items he is relating to that topic. It is almost like a tabletop book you can easily pick up, except that the content is pretty “heavy” at times.  Earlier in the day I was waiting at the DMV while we got my son an ID card and one of the workers called out to me, “What are you reading?”  I did not realize, at first, he was speaking to me, but when I looked around me, he continued, “Yeah, you; you’re the only one in here with a book.”  When I told him the title (again, Elder Thaddeus), he shrugged it off, more interested in why I was reading a book instead of using a “Nook” or “Kindle.”  He has no use for books, so my reasoning did not interest him in the least.  I tried to explain that I love books and love the process of reading from one.  I feel so much more connected to the toils of the author and the words contained inside the pages, if I am holding the book.  My son has a funny habit of smelling a book before he buys it.  He insists that if it does not feel right in his hands or smell right, it won’t be a good read.  I have met many others who feel the exact same way!  And I am clinging to the process of reading a book from a book, rather than an electronic reader.  I just do not want to switch over.  The content of Elder Thaddeus’ book would seem to agree with me, in that he is always cautioning us, in all things, to be simpler and quieter.  Therefore, using an electronic device to read that seems somehow wrong to the intent of the book.

This morning I am all a-twitter over our immediate future and am praying almost non-stop, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The “Jesus Prayer,” or “Prayer of the Heart,” is an ancient way of connecting to our Lord.  As I drove across town to the CAP meeting last night, I had the radio turned off and used my fingers on the wheel to tap out each time I prayed that prayer.  What I do is start by offering the prayer for a particular intention, and then just keep praying.  I know God is listening and is pleased by the words I am using, but much, much more is occurring while I pray.  I found that last night, as I was driving and praying, I was also thinking about what I was praying about.  It was an amazing thing.  I actually could still feel myself tapping out the prayer each time I said it, with my fingers, and I also knew I was driving and that I was talking to God on a completely different level.  The traffic did not stress me out; I was able to answer my son when he asked me questions from the back seat (where he was, of course, watching a movie on the DVD player); I was also able to continue praying.  My mind was settled and my heart was clear – and it was amazing.  I did not allow the distractions of the world to stop me from continuing my prayer.  Elder Thaddeus says “Because God is everywhere, the fallen spirits cannot do what they want.  They can harm us mostly through other people. We can protect ourselves from them only with the power of God. Man has been given great strength, and if only we could concentrate our thoughts in prayer, the fallen spirits would not be able to harm us or do anything contrary to the Will of God.  Where there is prayer, the fallen spirits have no power.”  I know that God allows distraction and temptation in our lives in order to strengthen us, and it is amazing to witness inside your heart, the power of that prayer to overcome the distractions in life.

St. Ambrose of Milan2