“..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

“Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart.”” That is from Psalm 40, verses 7-9 in my New American Bible (2007).

As I read this during my prayer time today, I realized that I am a wanderer. We all are. Like someone roaming in the desert, as the Jewish people did for 40 years (there’s that number 40 again) searching for the Promised Land. We all try and fill ourselves with things of this world, thinking we will be satisfied. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can fill that hole in our souls like God. And today, as I prayed and read and journaled, I realized something profound. All God asks of us is an ear to listen to His commands for our lives. He just asks us to listen. Just listen.

As we raise our children, we begin young (hopefully) to teach them how to sit still. I can still hear myself admonishing my sons, “Would you just sit still and listen???” And hopefully they come to learn how to enjoy moments of stillness and silence. I have a very close friend who is a teacher. She had been teaching older kids for a few years and decided to return to teaching kindergarten. One of our first conversations after her change of grade levels this year was pretty funny. She kept telling me how exhausted she was and then she said, “Oh my goodness!! It’s like herding cats!!” And I just laughed. I know what it is like when I have just two of my grandchildren (both under 5) over here, and I try to get them to sit with me for a bit of quiet time. Ha-Ha! Not gonna happen. (Unless they happen to want to cuddle, then I just bask in the moment). Recently my oldest grandchild and I had a slight disagreement when he informed me that I had been “breaking the rules” when I wore my shoes inside their house. Long story short, I explained why I had mine on; however, I wanted him to just listen to me and he would not stop telling me I was in trouble and a rule-breaker. I held up my hand (signaling “stop”) and told him to just think on what I had been telling him for a moment (my reasons for having my shoes on). He kept trying to speak, and I kept holding up my hand. I’m sure you can just imagine the scene in your head – a grandma and a 5-year-old having a lively discussion! The expression on his face was hilarious, as his mind juggled “thinking” and “being quiet,” at the same time. Eventually he realized that at that moment, that it was okay we had our shoes on. And I also shared with him that I was glad he understood there were rules in his home, and that he needed to obey, as do we all. And that I was proud of him for finally listening, and being quiet.

Don’t we all struggle with being silent and listening, while learning at the same time? My youngest son loves to plug in and listen to his music while he studies, with those darn earplugs in his ears. It is so loud that I can hear it when I am in the room with him. He would wear them 24/7 if he could!  I just cannot read or learn that way. But for him, it somehow settles his mind so he can think. And sometimes things that “distract” us can actually be instructive, and bring us closer to what it is we need to hear. The world and all its chaos can be that thing that brings us closer to God. It has for me. I was able to see it as an entirety, and not as separate things. I chose to unplug from much of the noise around me.

The book of Matthew today was our Scripture reading and it was so perfect. Matthew 6: 16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father, who is hidden; and your Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you.”

We often want others to know and acknowledge our efforts at fasting and keeping other traditions in our faith life. As silly as it may seem, this can be seen in other aspects of our lives, as well. For example, who doesn’t want everyone in the world to see and acknowledge our new driver’s license? Or to share accomplishments like passing a course we were taking or graduation from schools? “Did you see what I did?” We want others to acknowledge us; to be proud of us. And that can be a distraction. The Lord asks us to work at our holiness with Him, and in secret. No one needs to know how we are changing, spiritually, or exactly what it is we are working on (“I gave up coffee for Lent and it is killing me” or “I gave up TV this Lent – what is happening on Chicago Fire?” “I spent three hours at Vespers last night; I am so tired!!” or worse, “I didn’t see you at Stations this week; why weren’t you there?”). Quite often our Spiritual Fathers or our Priest/Pastor may give us spiritual instruction – that is for our edification only. We need to do the work to become closer to God, but do it in quiet solitude. We should not complain that we can’t join friends for drinks, or food, and good times during Lent, either. A wise clerical friend of mine (you know who you are!!) once told me that we are also bound by the “laws of hospitality.” If a friend invites you over for dinner, or shows up at your home with foods that are not compliant with the fast, do you eat them? Or do you complain that you are fasting and cannot enjoy a meal with them? My wise friend insists that, no, we need to enjoy the hospitality of others, extending to them the art of friendship. The Lord will see what is hidden, in our hearts, and will know our mindsets. It does not mean, however, that we party every night and just say, “I’m keeping the law of hospitality,” either. We need to make our best effort to keep the Fast in our own way each Lent; but nonetheless, we can still be hospitable and kind to others. We smile, we wash our faces and “anoint our hair” even though we are fasting and spending more time in prayer than what may be our normal routine. “..your Father, who sees what is hidden…”

And I have found that, this Lent in particular, I am enjoying the separation from distractions even more than I thought I would. I never could study like my son, in headphones or with noise. I did my best studying at a library, surrounded by books and quiet. At my quiet time in the mornings, I am so excited to read more and learn more, that I have no other distractions! Now, don’t get me wrong – I approach it sort of backwards! Usually, I get up and have my coffee, catch up on social media (I am only checking in once a day, if I can limit it to that) and then I have a second cup of coffee while I enjoy the daily press briefings from Sean Spicer. I know it is weird, but it gets my day going and I love how he does his press briefings!! By that time, my son has left to catch the bus and I make my way to my office, in silence, TV off/social media put away for the day. I am ready to truly start my day. It is profoundly effective for me to shut myself away in the stillness of my home. And I am also discovering I would much rather do this every day than go back and forth on social media. I realized that I am not missing a whole lot. And I may just continue to use my phone as a phone, and not have social media run/control my life. I miss some things, yes, but I sure am gaining an awful lot, too. Detoxing from anything is hard, and this is no exception.

And today, as I entered my little office and opened the drapes for the morning sunshine to sweep over my desk, and when I saw the Psalms and the Scripture from Matthew, I was so happy. I realize that this Lent, I am happy. Honestly happy, with a slight tendency to giggle and enjoy my days. I am not wearing “sackcloth and ashes,” and I am prayerfully aware that I am in a good mood. I am in week 2 of Lent and I can feel that my life is being redirected in a good way! I love that I am once again tying myself to my spiritual roots and it is invigorating me. It is making me come alive. One other thing that has begun to really help with this is our weather. I find it so interesting that the Church, in all its wisdom, ordained that we have Lent when we do….as we are emerging from the cloister of those many dark and wintry days, as we are beginning to “see the light.” We have had some extremely cold days – it was -10 again this morning – but the sunshine has been spectacular. The icicles on our house are shrinking (as my son happily pointed out to me today – I am challenging him to not knock them off so we can see how long they get) as the days alternate between sunny and sunny/windy. But for me, this is the first winter when the glorious days of sun have really affected me. I happily pop my vitamin D every day, but seeing the sun itself is glorious. (It also shows all the places I need to clean. Which goes hand-in-hand with my “40 bags in 40 days” cleaning spree! God is so good!). I am not over-sharing, I hope, with this Lenten experience, because there is just oh, so  much more, that I am learning and discovering. But I also share to inspire! I know my Lord sees what is hidden, and that just makes my joy even bigger!

So for me and my experience this year, I’m all about digging in to this Lent. I am loving it so much! Reading, learning, quietly praying, and always giving gratitude for my many blessings. Let us all clean our homes and our hearts, and prepare for the upcoming rough days of Holy Week, when we somberly walk with our Lord through to His tortuous death. But let us also be ready to open the windows, let the spring sun shine in through our clean windows, and celebrate His Glorious Resurrection!

 

“…handle what we are given…”

miniature-schnauzer-3

Today has been a rough day. Today I had to take two dogs to the groomers. The one pictured above is Chet. He is 15 years old now. He is stubborn. He runs away. He has dementia. Today he took off, in falling snow, running away from me. I was finally able to step on his dragging lead and stop him…in snow up to my knees. I was not a happy mamma. And then he planted his behind and refused to move. So I dragged his butt so far, until he was under the snow and gave up and walked. He had yanked so hard against me, he lifted two of my fingernails. Ugh. I wasn’t going to pick him up, because he was soaking wet. I had on ankle boots and leggings – the snow was up to my knees, still falling, and I was soaked. Our other dog (God bless her) was running around, having a ball. She was teasing Chet and me, loving being in the snow, having her leash on, knowing she was going for a ride. She is over 10, but was acting like a puppy. Poca is our sweetheart. She is such a “velcro” dog – she wants to be with you and would never run away. (That’s her below). Not like Mr. Chet – Mr. Independent; Mr. Stubborn; Mr. Goes-His-Own-Way. He’s been that way since we got him at 6-weeks old. Runs away the first chance he gets. He’s done it so many times and it’s always at the most inconvenient time. Like today. I tried not to be too mad, because he has doggie dementia and a bad hip, but he sure seemed fine as I was trying to corral him today!

poca

So we get to the groomer’s, after slipping and sliding through town. I go to get the dogs out of the back seat and notice that Mr. Chet had not moved, and he had pooped in my new car. He pooped in my car. I was beyond frustrated. And wet. The groomer, bless her, had cleaner for me, so I could clean up the mess and remove the odor. In my new car. Ugh. You’d think it was a Monday. Ha-Ha. But no, just a snowy, cold day in Alaska!

whatwecanhandle

And so I called my husband. And he laughed. And and it made me laugh. And then we spoke about his mom, who is ill and was rushed to the hospital early this morning. My anger dissipated in my concern for her, and for her children, and our children. She has been an integral part of our lives for so long, that in perspective, my morning was stupid to worry about, let alone get so angry about. (Although dog poop in my car is something I can get angry about, right???).

I have been thinking so much about how invested in this world I have become. There are memes galore about wasting our time online. About forging relationships that are not real, but seem to be, because we are not out and about, investing in personal relationships. Even if you are out in the world, working every day, how well do you invest in your co-workers and people you see every day? I saw a sign a preschool posted, asking parents who were picking up their kids, to not have their phones with them. And it hit me. We all grab our phones, looking at the latest post or text, over being present to the people we are with. Some people are creating phone “stations” where guests and family alike are asked to deposit their phones when they walk in their homes. I am leaning that way.

I have been influenced by the sites I have allowed in my life and the things I give great importance to. Each day, I get my coffee and eagerly await the morning press briefing from the White House. Why is that? I don’t even check the weather! LOL! I check statuses and notices on Facebook and voila! Two hours have passed. That is insane. I read news bits after news bits. I see videos and sound bites. Are they making me a better person? Are they edifying my life? Are they helping me to achieve my daily and lifetime goals?

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be obvious to everyone. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4: 4-9

One of the things I believe is a catalyst to the further downfall of our society are “reality shows.” I know so many people who cannot get enough. Who tape them and binge watch  them for hours on end. Who comment on reality star’s Facebook pages like they are personal friends. Who share their status’ like it is their own information or status. Who somehow relate and feel attached to these people. Most of us could never emulate the life styles of these mega-rich stars who are rich just because they are famous…and famous because they are rich. It’s so weird. I have some friends who discuss actors and actresses who appear on soap operas and care about who plays the role and who they are replacing and it is a life-or-death event. I just don’t get that. But I see it influencing people around me. I see people forming relationships with famous people, or people they have met online on some forum, or gaming site, and feel like (and treat it like) it is a real relationship. And when you look around, they don’t have very many actual friends they do things with. Or friends they call and chat up about life. Or friends they go to the movies or dinner with. No; their friends are all online.

facebookfriendsfuneral

Lent is fast approaching and I am attempting to do something for myself that is so very difficult. I am going to attempt a Facebook fast. I am already getting rid of groups and news in my feed. I have blocked people who make me worse, and not the best I can be. I am endeavoring to listen to better things than what I have. I love the local Christian Radio station here called Air1. They have such great music. I am going to try to listen to that more. I am trying to adjust my online experience to one that makes me a better person. I need to stop being a slave to automation. I need to be more present to my home, taking care of it and my family, and I need to read more and watch less. We all get to a point where we realize we are sinking and not being the person we could be and that is one of those “man in the mirror moments.”

I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right…

As I turn up the collar on my favorite winter coat
This wind is blowin’ my mind
I see the kids in the street, with not enough to eat
Who am I, to be blind? Pretending not to see their needs
A summer’s disregard, a broken bottle top
And a one man’s soul
They follow each other on the wind ya’ know
’Cause they got nowhere to go
That’s why I want you to know

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)
(Na na na, na na na, na na, na nah)

I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realize
That there are some with no home, not a nickel
to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they’re
not alone?

A willow deeply scarred, somebody’s broken heart
And a washed-out dream
(Washed-out dream)
They follow the pattern on the wind, ya’ see
’Cause they got no place to be
That’s why I’m starting with me
(Starting with me!)

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
(Ooh!)
I’m asking him to change his ways
(Ooh!)
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself and then make a change)

Those are the lyrics to the song by Michael Jackson – the Man in the Mirror. And I really feel like right now, in our world, we could all take the time to reflect on the “man in the mirror” and “make that change.” I know I need to hit the brakes before I become someone I would not like to be friends with…someone who disregards what she knows is right, what is true, what is God’s plan for me, rather than the world’s. Satan is working overtime right now, trying to destroy us all. It’s the game plan and we witless idiots are following it like it’s tattooed on our foreheads.

“For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2Timothy 4:3-4

And so I would like to challenge those who read this to think about changing the direction in which they are going. Perhaps just change the way they are going, to the goal they have. My ultimate goal is to be in Paradise with the Creator of the Universe. Between then and now, my goal is to edify God and myself, by being the best person I can be, to those I bang into every day. And to that end, I need to make changes. Those changes are to what I see, watch, listen to, what I read, and those I associate with. Man, is it going to be tough. Because it is so much easier to be lazy and simple and follow the lemmings over the side of the cliff.

From Wikipedia, we find the history of the saying, “They way to hell is paved with good intentions. And it is this: The saying is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote (c. 1150), “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs” (hell is full of good wishes or desires). An earlier saying occurs in Virgil’s Aeneid: “facilis descensus Averno (the descent to hell is easy)”. In any respect, we know that it is far simpler to be bad/evil than it is to be good. I know being a Christian is far more challenging than being a hooligan, protesting and rioting in the streets. So we are called to transform ourselves from our lowest common denominator to our best selves. We are not guaranteed our next breath, as Fr. Justin Rose is fond of saying. And we are not. Little things get in our way and make us lesser beings…the peas in our mattress of life. We allow the setbacks to be stumbling blocks. We come to expect less of ourselves. And every, single year, the Church, in her Wisdom, gives us the period of Lent to reflect and reform ourselves. We have this 40+ day period to stop, reflect, and reform ourselves into the people God calls us to be. And I met the “man in the mirror” today and I know I need to change.

lentwords

“…being God from all eternity.”

Snow cabinThis is the season I love the best.  I love winter and I love Christmas.  We were married on December 29th because I wanted to have our wedding and subsequent anniversaries around this time of year. I had always dreamed of a winter wedding, complete with white fur muffs, a horse-drawn sleigh, and wearing red in my wedding outfit.  I loved having a candle-lit, winter wedding.  I love the cold weather, the snow, the lights on people’s houses, the tree with all the ornaments that tell of our lifetimes in them, the smell of Christmas baking, the Christmas music my husband plays continually from Thanksgiving Day onward, seeing friends we haven’t seen in a long time, enjoying the joy of gifts given and received.  I especially love Christmas Eve Vespers and staying out late and seeing all the lights, drinking hot cocoa and splurging on Christmas cookies.  I love making Gingerbread Houses, a fairly new tradition my daughter-in-law brought to our family.  I love baking during Christmas.  I was never much of a holiday cook but since I married into this family, I learned so many delicious holiday treats.  I love preparing the stockings even for our grown and married children.  This year we get to add three stockings of our grandchildren.  I love the prep and the running around and the chaos of it all.  There are days I just sigh in contentment.  All of it, Christmas; I just love it.

Snow fence lightsIt was brought to my attention that I started sharing Christmas-themed posts and photos before Halloween.  I am not sure about the October date, but I do know I started before Thanksgiving.  It is my first season living in the Arctic Circle and I can tell you that weather definitely had an affect on me.  Up here, people try to hang the lights on their houses and fences, front yards, and outside trees prior to the first snow. It makes sense.  We were a little late, and with the help of our older son, hung our lights after the first serious snowfall (we got 6″ overnight) and it turned out to be a fun experience! The older sibling dumped loads of snow off the eaves onto his younger brother, as he carried the string of lights for his big-brother up on the ladder.  The oldest brought his dad a cigar and the two of them smoked cigars in the snow (it started to snow while they were half-way through) and they had a lot of fun.  We have since received a couple of feet of snow, and our Christmas lights glow through the snow accumulating on the roof.  It is pretty.  Because the house lights were up, we brought in all our decorations the following Monday and put up our tree and completely decorated our house.  My husband came home and just smiled.  Another tradition this far north is to keep house lights up until Spring and the days lengthen a little bit.  The basic decor is taken down, but the lights remain to keep our spirits up in these long days of dark.  And maybe I started a little early, but all this snow and minus temps just got me excited for the season, seeking some joy and happiness through decorating for it; I also was beginning to prepare for Christmas in my heart.  A friend also reminded me that I used to decorate my homes all in red and green, it was wasted in Southern California, and perhaps I was always meant to dwell in the Arctic!  She may be right, because I don’t like hot weather, the beach or sand, and I love wearing coats, sweaters, boots, and living in all this snow!

sit with you lordThe season of winter and Christmas is also a very interior or prayerful time for me.  We are indoors a lot, it is dark a lot of the time, and it brings with it a sensual experience of warm fires, gentle lights, and the quiet of the winter terrain, all buried in deep snows.  I have found myself contemplating the whys and wherefores of Christmas and the traditions that go with it.  And I have also been chatting with various people about Santa Claus, and other winter traditions.  For me, I find that matters of faith, tenets of faith, all germinate in reality.  The story of the Wise Men; the birth of Christ; the slaughtering of the Holy Innocents; the Crucifixion and Resurrection…these all had their start in truth and historical occurrences.  There are those who poo-poo the whole December 25th date and the fact that the “Church” stole the date from the pagans of the early centuries; the fact that pagans had trees indoors for far different purposes; the “wise men” were not all that wise, nor were there just three of them…on and on it goes.  I know that; I was blessed with studying Biblical Archeology as my minor in college.  I know what we have physical evidence for, and what is real and what is hysterical – or historical – and what is not.  And I acknowledge those who love just Santa Claus (made jolly and friendly by the early Coca Cola ads in the 20s), the Tooth Fairy (recently made famous again by “the Rock” in a movie), and the Easter Bunny (whose fame was resurrected in the movie, “HOP,” and which I just watched today with my grandson), and they do not want to know where those traditions come from. I will agree to just enjoy those “Hollywood” versions of the truth, but all the while knowing there is so much more to it.

I choose, however, to understand, celebrate, and share the historical roots of the things we believe in.  Our parish here is St. Nicholas of Myra.  It is the only Byzantine parish in the area and the diocese exempts our parish from the pre-Christmas Fast on the Feast of St. Nicholas, which we celebrate this Friday, December 6th.  I have invited my son and daughter-in-law to attend, so my grandson can be exposed to this story surrounding Christmas.  It’s wonderful to share these traditions with our families.  St. Nicholas has been real for my husband and myself at least all of our marriage. There were many Christmases where we were in such dire straits that we should not have been able to provide gifts for our sons; St. Nicholas always interceded for us and Christmas was always a joy for our children.  In Russia, St. Nicholas is the patron of the family and we took him as our family patron many years ago.  St. Nicholas exemplifies giving and his determination to help families in trouble is one of the many reasons he is a Saint of the Church.  (http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/fatherchristmas.shtml). Regardless of which story you have heard, or have not heard, Bishop Nicholas of Myra (now Turkey) was a Saint who later became a legend, and whose legend we keep each Christmastime.  I love St. Nicholas and I love keeping his memory alive.  This year, our youngest son remarked that he knows there is no Santa Claus and that we are the giver of the gifts.  But he also said he likes believing in things at Christmas, so he’s choosing to still cling to Santa, and enjoys the stories of St. Nicholas.  All of those heroes in our children’s lives are actually Saints, making their way into modern culture. A little twisted and turned to meet modern culture where it is, but they are present nonetheless.

Nativity_htmIn many Christian cultures, we celebrate Christmas until the 6th of January, or in the west, Epiphany (in the east, it is the Baptism of the Lord, or the Theophany).  In the west the different feasts were all celebrated together, and is where the tradition of the 12 Days of Christmas come from.  In the East, as these feasts began to separate themselves, the Byzantine and Orthodox chose to celebrate the Theophany, or Baptism of the Lord, on the same date the west celebrates Epiphany.  Interestingly enough, the term “Epiphany” is defined as a revelation.  We can all have epiphanies when we learn something new or gain an awareness of something we never knew before.  The Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Christ to the world, and started with the 1st of the 12 Days of Christmas when Mary accepted the Word of God and proclaimed her great fiat of, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38).  The Epiphany continues through the Birth of Christ, the visitation of the Magi, and the Baptism of the Lord.  Most people in western countries use the day to celebrate the Gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child and often have parties called, “Little Christmas,” where they give one another gifts (some families have adopted this date as their major Christmas celebration, keeping December 25th more as a reflective day and a day to celebrate the Birth of Christ). In the East, we celebrate the Theophany, or the Baptism of the Lord.  Theophany means: “the manifestation of God to man; the sensible sign by which the presence of God is revealed.” It is when Christ was Baptized and His Kingship made known to man through His Father’s recognition in his declaration of “This is my beloved son” and of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Both of the terms, Epiphany and Theophany, are words explaining the revelation of God to His People; to each of us.

Baptism-of-Christ-theophany-icon-444-200x300“At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father’s voice bore witness to You by calling You His beloved son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, who have appeared to us and enlightened the world, glory to You!” (Kontakion of the Theophany).

So much surrounds us during this Christmas season.  I don’t understand why we need to limit ourselves to specific times; artificial dates.  Some people will only decorate for Christmas between the day after Thanksgiving, and then take everything down by December 26th.  In the seasonal feasting and fasting cycle of the Church, the preparation for the Feast is almost as important as the Feast itself. We in the East began our preparation for Christmas on the 15th of November, with the Feast of St. Philip.  It is often called, “Philip’s Fast,” or the “Apostle’s Fast,” but is commonly called the “Pre-Christmas Fast.”  In the Melkite tradition, this is when we begin singing the Kontakian of the Preparation:

“Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds Him who shall appear as a newborn Babe, being God from all eternity.”

We’ve been preparing for the Birth of Christ since November 15th, and have been since the Council of Constantinople in 1166 AD.  Prior to that, the worldwide Church celebrated different dates, requiring daily attendance at Church for services and prayers, with moderate fasting.  After 1166, the tradition we now keep was begun in earnest.  So for at least the last 900 years in Christianity, the Preparation for Christmas began on the 15th of November.  This year, I opted to keep the tradition of the Preparation alive by decorating my home, to coincide with our fasting and liturgical year.

snowy tree.lights

The other interesting side-note to this is that our Liturgical traditions allow us to keep our Christmas decor up from November 15th through January 6th.  It is a good thing we use a fake tree! Up here it seems we tend to celebrate Halloween and run straight into Christmas, with a brief respite at a little family dinner – Thanksgiving – in between. Thanksgiving, to me, is like the practice run for cooking Christmas dinner!  It’s also a great day for Football on TV!  And this year, our Parish celebrated Divine Liturgy with a potluck afterward; it was nice to celebrate as a parish family.  Recently, my feelings were pretty stepped on and I was criticized for this early Christmas thing, and after thinking about it, and now posting about it, I feel sort of justified in keeping the traditions of my faith, even if public pressure is to downplay it.  I will celebrate through fasting and preparation, decoration and cooking, gift giving and singing of Christmas songs, putting my tree up and hanging lights, from November through January, at the least.  And in our tradition, you don’t party until AFTER the Feast…so true Christmas parties are from December 25th through Theophany on January 6th. It works perfectly for someone who decorates year round in red and green colors, collects antique Santas from around the world, loves the snow, and lives where people keep their Christmas lights up until Spring.  Maybe I was meant to live in the Arctic all along!

back lit blue trees.snow

There’s a random post going around Facebook, asking people to list 10 things you might not know about them.  It has been interesting reading about my friends and acquaintances.  It is a sign of the times that we have so many people in our lives, but when it comes down to it, there isn’t the depth we used to have in relationships.  I am opining here, so I know there will be objections!  And that is okay, too.  Our world has become so instant and so automated, that quite often, there is much we do not really know about the people we interact with.  Quite often I have been told people date, have a relationship, and break up – all either online or through texting someone.  I find that absurd in some ways, and infinitely sad in other ways.  And the other part is the instantaneousness of it all.  “I just met this guy and he is so awesome! I am in love” or I was friended by this girl online and we’ve been talking on Facebook.  I don’t know but I think she might be “the one!”  I find it all so indicative of our culture, and immensely sad.  We do not converse any longer, we chat.  We do not write or read, we text.  We do not sit down to dinner and actually talk to each other, rather everyone is on their phones.  A friend suggested this article to me and I just read it.  “18 Things Everyone Should Start Making Time for Again.” (http://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2013/11/18-things-everyone-should-start-making-time-for-again/).  I commented to my friend that just reading it was like a sigh, or a pause, like a breath of fresh air.  It is depressing to think we even need a list like this, but it is also wonderful!  It brings into the light things we do not often think about.  One of my favorites was #3 – Thinking before responding.  You can actually watch people in conversations and see (sometimes I feel I can hear the gears turning in their heads) them formulating their response before the speaker has even fully expressed their idea or position on something.

Intent to replyAnother point she made was #13 – Making sure relationships are based on spending time with people.  This speaks to our digital, instant, rapid-paced culture.  There is nothing like a cup of tea shared with a good friend, taking hours and hours to talk about our lives.  I miss the friends I have who enabled me to sit and chat with them. Those moments of my life are some of my most treasured.

The past few days there was a discussion on pews or no pews on a Facebook page, as well as another post about confession that was a video tape of a conference.  The talk was awesome; the discussion on pews was enlightening.  I enjoy the intellect and the banter, although I am saddened at the vehemence with which Christians attack or defend positions.  It still baffles me, but I love the fervor, nonetheless.

Tomorrow we begin our Advent Fast (well, we really start today).  Today is the Feast Day of St.Philip and the Fast is often referred to as St. Philip’s Fast.  Regardless of the title, this marks 40 days until Christmas.  This year has sped by so rapidly, it is hard to comprehend it.  We have had such an upheaval since the Holiday Season of 2012.  Thanksgiving last year we were hosting my god daughter for several days, and attended a dinner at some very dear friends’ home.  It was one of the most memorable Thanksgivings for all of us. A peculiar mix of people at the table, wonderful food traditions shared, great wine, and some of the best conversations, ever!  The joy, laughter, and love experienced that day will stay with me always. I loved that day.  And Christmas of 2012, we hosted extended family in our home and it was lovely.  It was a difficult Christmas, as it was the first without my father-in-law, but it was wonderful to sit with his brother and sister-in-law, as well as my mother- and brother-in-law, and share stories about Joe and his early life, and to hold each other up in our own grief over his passing.  It is hard to believe we are entering into the preparation phase for holidays so soon.  This year, I am facing the season without my stepfather, whose birthday is today (Memory eternal, Frank) and trying to support my mom, who is suffering with Dementia and the loss of her “anchor” in life.  We are also in a completely new community and physical environment, but have the blessing of family nearby (son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren) and a great support of our Church family.

All of this lead me to think on my relationship with God.  If I look back on all the things, events, and people who have made up my lifetime, I find that God is the constant – always there, always the same