“…cleanse me from my unknown faults…”

Today I am feeling lighter. Even though it’s Great Lent and we are more reflective, I am thrilled at our progress with the “40 Bags in 40 Days” project. The idea is to take any sized bag and start purging things to give to the needy. Today I did our two bathrooms. I mean, how many types of hair conditioner or deodorant do we really need? How many hair brushes or hand towels? I got a bag of stuff to throw away, and a bag of things to give away, from those two rooms. [I will not give my cast-off products that are expired or just not very good to the needy or homeless. To me, that seems insulting on top of already needing help. When I do gift bags to the needy/homeless, I purchase new products in travel-sizes]. Yesterday, my husband and I spent about an hour and we purged our bedroom. We did our dresser and night stands, and our closet. I haven’t gotten under the bed, yet, but that is coming up. (Our home is very tiny and we use every place imaginable to store things, including under our beds)!  We got 5 bags of clothing to give away. We laughed that we have only lived in Alaska for 4 years and we got rid of things from living in CA and WA that we thought we would wear up here. Ha-Ha. We had no idea.

Our world is so crammed full of noise, chaos, and so much stuff. We are overfed, over-dressed, and over-stimulated. Paring down can do your psyche so much good. It is as if a burden is lifted. Turning off the TV and spending the day without that noise is pretty incredible. One of the things we are trying is to spend 1 evening per week with no electricity. What a lack of artificial light and stimulation does to the mind! You can think. You can relax and settle into the calmness of an evening with family or friends. You can play board games or craft (my goal is to someday master knitting/crocheting). And as you slow down, you can relax and get a better night’s rest.

And after reflecting on today’s readings, and keeping up with our Lenten practices, it makes me humble and a little quieter. “…cleanse me from my unknown faults..” (Psalm 19:15) truly struck me because I think I know myself, but perhaps there are cracks and crevices in my soul that I have hidden from myself. But nothing is hidden from God. Cleaning out our things, slowing down and stopping the use of electricity for just one evening a week, journaling on all of these things, has caused me to stop and reflect on who I am, who I purport to be, and what sort of witness I am for God. “Who may go up to the mountains of the Lord? Who can stand in His Holy Place? The clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols, who have not sworn falsely…” (Psalm 24:3-4).

I thank God the Church provides us with this time each and every year to re-orient our lives towards to God. It also gives me the chance to really dig into WHO I am. And with pretty much everyone I know, there is always room for improvement. I read some quotes today that really hit me. St. Paisios the Athonite said, “With fasting, man reveals his choices” and St. Basil the Great said, “By fasting it is possible both to be delivered from future evils and to enjoy the good things to come. We fell into disease through sin; let us receive healing through repentance, which is not fruitful without fasting.” And with the processes we put in place this Lent, we are learning where our choices truly lie, and how we have the time this Great Lent to rectify the diseases we received through sin. One great remark was made that actually made me stop and think. “Fasting has been in practice for the people of God since the Old Testament. It was the first law, the only law given to Adam and Eve.” Ponder that for a moment. It was the only law given to them; they rejected it and were expelled from the garden. Just that one thing. St. Tikhom of Zadonsk says, “Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language, and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds. Turn away from evil and do good.”

May the Lord bless your Great Lent and help you to choose to become the person you truly want to be. Don’t be afraid to hit your knees and allow the Lord to quietly come to you, as you reflect on His words for your life. I am looking forward each morning to the time I spend in quiet reflection on the words of God and His saints. I am being filled with the things that the Lord truly wants us to fill up on, while lessening the hold this insane world has on me. Fasting from so many things, including foods, is lightening my soul and gladdening my heart. Blessed Lent, my friends; Blessed Lent.

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“What do we do with it?”

IMG_5362We had the most wonderful time yesterday.  We have friends who we have known since we were all much younger and their eldest son was married yesterday. Boy, what a great wedding.  The thing that set it apart was the simplistic sincerity in each detail.  There were few of us (about 50 or 60) in a large parish church that was not overly decorated and the decorations they did use were all hand-made.  The clothes worn by the attendants were simple and tasteful (the girls wore cowboy boots, as did the bride) and the ceremony was simple, the readings perfect for them, and the singing was wonderful (the sister of the groom did a phenomenal job!).  Father’s homily was really good and you could tell he spent some time with the couple. We laughed with his stories and we just felt blessed to be there. The light coming in through the casement windows cast a surreal look over it all and I just sat there and smiled; I couldn’t help myself!

IMG_5358It is fun to see our friend’s children grow up and become husbands and wives, and eventually, parents. It was another example of the continuity of life.  A couple found each other on their first day of college and 5 years later, they are married.  They knew from that first day and never wavered in their love or commitment to one another. I am such a sap for a good love story!

This couple gave me confidence in our young people! They chose to keep things very simple and they made so much of what they shared with us. The most amazing was their flowers – all made of paper! They had to let me see them up close to believe they were paper!  So wonderful.  They also took the time to learn to dance and their first dance had us all in tears.  It was just such a beautiful way for them to start their marriage. One of the groom’s brothers played his Ukelele and serenaded his brother and mother for their dance – not a dry eye in the place! (Somewhere Over the Rainbow!! The same version as in the movie, 50 First Dates!).  Even their centerpieces were crafted by the family and it helped to make it so personal and tight – like a community of families had come together to worship and celebrate together. It felt like a glimpse into another realm.

1069393_737670656253509_1832234864_n“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved!”                    St. Seraphim of Sarov.

And for me, it just became so clear.  We were surrounded by all these people who had one thought – to support and love this couple who were starting out together.  They all shared it with one mind; it was almost palatable.   For the record, there were quite a few people I had never met before, most of whom had come to our area specifically for the wedding.  So these people came together, as one, without knowing each other, but with one heart and one goal in mind – this young couple. It shows just how much we can affect those around us.  I love that quote above.  Imagine if we all acquired this sense of deep-seated peace, where we know, to our marrow, that regardless of our behavior, regardless of our doubts, regardless of our words or action, God’s got our back? Or as Mark Hart the Bible Geek likes to say, “God’s got this”!!!

Fr. Stephen Freeman said, “Each of us (certainly in our Baptism and Chrismation) have been given the grace of God for our salvation – that is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The question is what do we do with it?”  And in his article, “What St. Seraphim Meant,” he goes on to quote the Saint again:

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.”

He tells us that we simply cannot be too kind.  It is a stark reminder that the world around us is NOT a kind place.  Yesterday we shared a beautiful day with people all around us that were sincerely joyous. There were guests present who had flown in from as far away as New York.  They could not get over the beauty of the place in which we live.  They were overwhelmed by what we see, and are privileged to see, everyday. They kept rushing outside to take photos as the sun made its play on the snow and trees.  As the sun began to set, the colors and light on the mountains were overwhelmingly beautiful. The environment made their joy even greater! Everyone in that small lodge was there, laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating. You could not help but smile at people you did not even know.  I wanted, so much, to bottle that up and share it with everyone I see, day after day, after day.

1972401_737024466318128_1850487592_nAs Fr. Stephen said, we are all given this grace, but “what do we do with it?” Yesterday I was shown that we share it.  We certainly do not hide our light under a bushel basket, but rather we place our light on a candle stand, where it can light the whole room (Matthew 5:15).  And isn’t that part of the Great Command from Christ, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)?  

Through Grace we are given glimpses into heaven; glimpses into what eternity can, and should be.  One of the readings they chose yesterday, in which love was explained (1Cor13) has this phrase that I treasure, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1Cor 13:12).  This line promises me everything will come, in its time. I have had these moments of complete clarity, but they have been fleeting, coming in spurts, with no regularity to them.  As I progress on this road of salvation, or Theosis, God allows my glimpses to be more clear, regular, and far more enticing. It seems like the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know, and the more you want to learn.  Our process of salvation occurs over our lifetime.  We struggle, we fall, but we get back up and we keep on trudging forward.  And that is the beauty of this Divine Grace we have been given…we have the strength, the fortitude, and the resolve, to get back up again! We keep growing and learning through God’s Grace acting in us, and on us.  And that same Grace drives us to love more fully, and to want to share this love with those around us.

This Lent is becoming more fortuitous the longer it goes on.  It’s wonderful that God allows such a simple thing like a Thursday-afternoon, sunshine-filled, lovely wedding to become a lesson in my salvation.  And a glimpse into what being a part of the Heavenly Kingdom will be like.  We’ll be laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating together, filled with the joy of Christ in our hearts.

Blessed Lent.

Holy Season of Lent

“…which one to embrace…”

Sleep is becoming a rare commodity. I just cannot seem to shut down my mind for long.  We move this Saturday!  Today is my husband’s last day at work.  Things have been pending for months, so for it to all of a sudden be down to days, it is a little daunting.  Packing and purging are such a drudgery…everything aches. My head pounds as I have to sift through all these things we have accumulated, constantly asking myself if we need this or just want this particular item; can I throw it away or give it away and not need it or miss it later on?  It is interesting when you get down to some of the basics in life, how truly little you honestly do need.  I read this great Homily by Abbot Nicolas of Holy Resurrection Monastery today.  He gave it on Bright Monday and in it he addressed the issue of the western notion of “giving up” things during Lent and other times of fasting and abstinence.  And it struck me that I am slowly developing this attitude that while I am certainly giving up certain items that I have had for awhile in my life and in the life of my family, I am finding that instead of it being a sacrifice, it is more of getting into alignment with the person God is calling me to be.  Abbot Nicolas tells us that we are all called to these mystical experiences not just inside the Liturgy, but inside the life of all Christians.  We are becoming a part of the Trinity itself.  He further states, “Our vocation as mystics challenges us to be ascetics, to purge away everything in our nature that doesn’t support our deepest desire to be united to God. It is this ascetical dimension to our mysticism that makes the Byzantine “sense of mystery” so intensely practical.”  And this is where my purging to move has had not just a practical use (trust me, it all has to fit into a 20-foot truck) but also a spiritual, or mystical use.  When we pare away the dross of our lives and become a simpler, humbler people, we notice God working in our lives much easier.  There is so much noise and chaos in the world, and we surround ourselves with things that we hope bring us peace and quiet.  Sort of like wrapping a baby in swaddling – keeping them content and warm and baffled against the inputs of the world.  It is hard to go from a newborn, used to the quiet warmth of the womb, into the bright and noisy world.

Blessed Seraphim

Abbot Nicolas reminded me that we must live the Liturgy in our daily lives.  We must make room for God each and every day.  There is this great Facebook page that is called MonkRock and their motto is: You don’t have to be a monk to live like one!  I love that entire concept.  (They have a great web site called http://www.monkrock.com and offer lots of wonderful things for sale…support them if you can).  Abbot Nicolas said this about it, “There’s no competition here (shouldn’t be anyway!) between ceremony and charity, between social justice and moral living on one hand and sacramental ritual on the other. These are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. Our Temple must be cleansed so we can worship. Our legs must be healed so we can walk into heaven on our own two feet. The Saints have power to work miracles, but not because there’s anything wrong with nature! Miracles show us what nature is already in process of becoming in the continuous and never-ending process of creation leading ultimately to the “New Heaven and the New Earth” of the Eschaton.”  For me, cleaning out my temple has had a practical side – I have pared down our things to just the barest of necessities.  There are so many things which can place artificial barriers between us and those we love, especially God.

I have a son who has attention deficit disorder.  I was initially poo-pooing the whole ADD thing in pop psychology and have fought for my son to not bear labels he can never be rid of, so I approach his disorder in a natural way and ordering our little world goes a long way in dealing with his ADD. Being a teenager brings its own set of issues, and throwing ADD and homeschooling into the mix creates a miasma of circumstantial issues.  Everything in its place and a place for everything has been my motto for all of our children.  With this child in particular, it has had a huge impact.  It is as simple as no Legos on the table when he is doing math.  He will rebuild that Lego creation over and over again, even if just in his mind, and get very few math problems accomplished.  This process of our move has proved extremely agitating for him. His new pet saying is, “My world has been turned upside down and I can’t find anything!!!” usually said dramatically with both hands on his head.  He stood in the door of his room, after his dresser was given away and said to me, “Mom, I just don’t know what to touch first.  Will you help me?” Music to a mother’s ear! Ha-Ha!  And so we tackled his room, piece by piece, and inch by inch.

Gods planI am like my son with his ADD when it comes to God.  So much gets in the way and my path is not clear at times; I often stand there, with both of my hands on my head, too. The world offers us noise and chaos…that is what the lord of this world does to distract us from the path we need to take.  We all have a certain amount, or tendency towards, ADD when it comes to our relationship with God.  How many of us are exhausted at Liturgy some days and can barely hide a yawn, but after Liturgy rush off to hike in the local hills?  How many things do we place between ourselves and an honest relationship with Our Lord?  Abbot Nicolas encouraged us to see that there is no real separation between Liturgy and life, but rather these are all stages on the same road, or movements in the same dance. And as I look about me, there is less and less of the stuff of this world to get between me and living my faith in my daily life.  And as I have been purging my things I have also been purging the stuff getting in the way of my spiritual life.  When I honestly look at most of the things I am packing, I could really drive off in my car with my family, our pets, and the clothes on our backs and I could start over with nothing at all.  I would miss the memorabilia I have collected over the years, but the important things in my life would be with me…my family and my faith.  My pathway towards eternity would certainly have less clutter to wade through!!  All this clutter is both worldly clutter insofar as noisiness, stuff, and bother, but it is also the clutter in my heart and mind that I must process through…a simpler mindset is a simpler path towards God and is a part of my process of Theosis.

Kaliningrad Oblast Russia