Tag Archive - Orthodoxy

Return…

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Psalm 137: 1, 4-6

The Lenten season is one of the great good gifts of the Church….though it might not always feel like it. It is not punishment for all the bad things we have done the rest of the year. It is not an opportunity for us to prove our piety to God, or to one another. It is, more than anything, a return. A return to first things. To our most essential selves. A return home.

The way each of us go about getting there varies. Here is how it will look for me.

The Fast:

We do not fast because there is anything itself unclean about the act of eating and drinking. Food and drink are, on the contrary, God’s gift…We fast…so as to make ourselves aware that it is indeed a gift–so as to purify our eating and drinking, and to make them no longer a concession to greed, but a sacrament and means of communion with the Giver. ~Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

For Orthodox, the fast is prescribed. We will not eat meat, eggs, or dairy again until we celebrate the Resurrection. Wine, oil and fish are permitted only on Weekends. It will make me crotchety at times. It will reveal how accustomed I am to having what I want and indulging my cravings. I do not always like my fasting self. But it is important to bring that detritus to the surface. So it can be dealt with. It is important to learn to discipline my passions. It is much bigger than the food.

The Services:

I am grateful to spend much of this journey with my brothers and sisters. We need one another. It is impossible to do this alone. We began with Forgiveness vespers, one of the most powerful services of the whole year. It is important to begin this journey clean, unencumbered. This week the Canon of St. Andrew invites confession and looking inward. Each week we will receive sustenance from an extra liturgy on Wednesday. There are lots of prostrations. I can not tell you how powerful it is to wear your faith in your body. Hungry. Face to the floor. And during Holy Week, we will be there every day, sometimes twice, as the final week of Christ on this earth is re-membered in our presence.

The Books:

Don’t even act surprised. I am always reading. But during this season, I am especially purposeful in choosing literature that challenges, provokes, inspires, and nourishes. Here are some of the voices I have am inviting into my journey:

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Father Alexander Schmemann
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love by Nun Gavrilia
The Lenten Triodion by Mother Maria and Bishop Kallistos Ware
The Golden Key by George MacDonald

The Beauty:

As the natural world around me springs back to life, it is filled with reminders that what looks like death may only be a time of gathering strength…that if I am willing to surrender my striving and just be still, God will adorn me with beauty for ashes. He will work Resurrection in me.

How about you? What will the Lenten journey look like in your life?

*The idea of Lent as return is not original with me. Father Stephen has been talking to us about it for several weeks. Alexander Schmemann also speaks of it in Great Lent. For this lovely image, I am in their debt.

Waiting…

“You don’t grow anything,” he said. This after he had asked which of us were gardeners and what we grew in our gardens, to which some had replied roses and others tomatoes or herbs… It was, apparently, a trick question. “You choose the sight. You cultivate the earth. You plant, fertilize and water. Then you wait. The growing is up to God. Your job is to create conditions in which the waiting is likely to be fruitful.

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It commemorates the day when Mary and Joseph take the 40 day old Jesus to the temple for the purification rights. There they are met by two people who have been expecting him…

Simeon

Simeon is described by Luke as righteous and devout. God had promised him he would not die til he had seen “the Lord’s Messiah”. He is moved by the Spirit to come to the temple on this very day, and he recognizes the child at once. He takes him in his arms and speaks prophetic words over him, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel…the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” He acknowledges his wait is gloriously at an end with the beautiful words that form the benediction of our vesper services:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Today is a day of encouragement for all those who wait. A reminder that, though you may not see it yet, God is at work. That your job–my job–is to create conditions in which the waiting is likely to be fruitful. Perhaps we should take our cue from Anna. Worshiping, fasting, praying….

Hold on, dear ones! Spring is coming. Be on the look out for tiny shoots of promise.

*The garden illustration is borrowed and paraphrased from Father Stephen’s homily last night. The story of the presentation can be found in the second chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, beginning with verse 22.

Loving Humility: a Terrible Force

Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

The whole page is filled with underlines and little stars and notes to myself in the margins. I have read it over and over. It seems such a radical idea. “Loving humility is a terrible force…” Really?

…whenever we give up anything or suffer anything, not with a sense of rebellious bitterness, but willingly and out of love, this makes us not weaker but stronger.

It should not be so surprising to me. I have, after all, experienced it…

If you are a regular reader, you know that Mike and I have had our share of challenges. During the worst of it, one of the things I most despised about him was his humility. I told him he was weak. That he did not have enough self-worth to assert himself. I was horrible to him, yet he persisted in loving me. I could not understand this. It did not fit my picture of strength.

By loving or hating another, I cause the other in some measure to become that which I see in him or her. Not for myself alone, but for the lives of all around me, my love is creative, just as my hatred is destructive.

Mike’s love….which at times I did not even want…created a safe place for me to deal with my own demons. To learn to allow God to fill the empty places inside me, instead of demanding that of others. Though he could not fix me, his love WAS creative. His relentless faith in who I could be nourished me, even when I was unaware of it. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

[Christ’s] suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him.

When I see my children, my family, my friends making destructive choices, I want to fix them. But this usually lies beyond my control, even if I knew what was best for them, which I often do not. So I will love them. Without arrogance. Without manipulation. Humbly and generously. As I have been loved. And I will trust in the creative power of love.

Love is strong as death…Many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away. ~Song of Songs 8:6-7

*Unattributed quotes in the post are from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in The Orthodox Way, page 82 (the page with the underlines and stars and notes and such…).

 

empty

No one has to teach us to inhale. It’s instinct. So strong, in fact, that the very first act we perform on this earth is a great, frantic grasp for air.

However, exhaling is something most of us do badly. Or, at least, incompletely. Yoga instructors spend a great deal of time teaching students to slowly and completely empty their lungs. Creating space for air requires great purpose. Filling it does not.

Life looks very like that sometimes…

I am a threshold kind of girl. I love reflecting, evaluating, dreaming, setting goals. I always do this at the threshold of the New Year. But this year it has been difficult. As I have pondered new challenges and activities, they have felt like so much clutter.

Inspired by the OneWord365 project, I thought perhaps I would instead select a word to give shape to the coming months. But this too eluded me. I read posts from others who had selected their words–words like Choose, Begin, Discover. I loved them! I tried to steal borrow their words. But none of them fit.

On Monday night our priest came to bless our home. As we were talking afterward, he shared with us a concern that has been on his heart of late. He talked of how we constantly seek to fill ourselves, when what is required of us as followers of Christ is that we be emptied. In fact, it is impossible to pour into a container that is already full. But emptying is much more difficult, more unnatural, than filling.

Just like breathing.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this. And the longer I pondered, the more I knew that I had found my word. The word that tied together the random longings that have been swirling round in my heart. That bristled every time I tried to decide what I was going to add to my life this year.

empty

I am only beginning to imagine what this will look like for me over the next twelve months. But here are a few places where I hope the word will have its way with me…

To stand silent and empty before God. Without demand, without pretense, without excuse, without words. To be still. To be with. It is harder than it should be. For me. But I am learning. A little.

To empty myself of arrogance and self-sufficiency. To walk humbly with others. Most especially with my family. And close friends.

To empty my life of clutter. Frivolous pursuits (ie: the black hole of the internet, mostly), Items I no longer use (which could benefit another, and occupy space in my home), Things I might like to buy (or that might be a really good deal) but I don’t need, etc…

It scares me a little. This idea of seeking to be emptied. Quite frankly, I have always seen emptiness as something to be fixed. But I believe it is the next right step.

Here goes….

Lonely…

Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures…
~Henri Nouwen

This has been a raw, cantankerous, no one will answer my emails, tired, overwhelmed, everybody needs something from me, tears in the dishwater kind of week. I am not sleeping. I have no talent for sleep anyway, so it is usually the first thing to go. That, of course, only makes matters worse. I am frenzied, withered, spent.

I have been here before. And I have come to understand that when it seems as though everyone is conspiring to make me insane, the problem is probably not with “everyone“.

And even though it never works, I begin by trying to eliminate the stresses in my life; by wishing everyone would just do what I need them to do.

It’s kind of like putting perfume on sweat. The first impression might be tolerable, but it doesn’t take long before the stink wins out.

I was awake last night. In the middle of the night. Again. This time, instead of repeatedly calculating exactly how much sleep I will get if I fall asleep right now, or fretting over everything in my life that needs to be done for the next 2 weeks years, or trying to escape by planning our next vacation… I picked up a book…one of the books I began reading at the beginning of Advent…and found the familiar, but forgotten, words above. And I began to understand…

I had made a worthy start to Advent. Finding time for stillness. For peace. Peace that I could carry with me into my days. And give to others, if need be. I’m not sure where things went wrong…

You cannot bring peace to others if you do not have it yourself.
~Fr. Alexander Elchaninov

Today, roughly half way through the season of expectation and longing, I begin again. Pursuing loneliness. For myself. For my family and friends. I will follow the One I love to the lonely place. I will sit with Him. And I will invite Him to set me aright so that I might love as He loves. So that the sweet aroma of Him might linger upon me…

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. ~Mark 1:35

Abide…

The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must be heard by the soul.
~St. John of the Cross

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Advent season in the Orthodox Church. For us it is a forty day affair, much like Lent. A season of preparation. Of expectation.

On Sunday, our priest encouraged us to approach the Nativity season with two thoughts: Rest and Abide, Search and Seek.

Rest and Abide: The Soul of the Shepherd  Distractions keep us from abiding in the field of our hearts and keeping watch, he said. We are to guard our hearts against distraction. To be still.

Search and Seek: The Mind of the Magi The Magi were seeking. They were looking for signs and knowledge. We are to seek Christ.

The two of these might seem antithetical. One implies stillness, the other journey. But perhaps this is a journey within.

There are two contemplative practices of fundamental importance in the Christian tradition: the practice of stillness…and the practice of watchfulness or awareness.
~Martin Laird

Parallel  messages of silence and awareness have come to me from three different sources over  the past three days. Even I am not dull enough to miss the significance of that. Thus, I am embracing this theme for my Nativity journey this year. A cultivation of stillness, and a practice of watchfulness.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. ~Matthew 5:8

Here are a few resources I will use to help me remember. To be still. To watch.

Into the Silent Land: A guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird

The Inner Kingdom by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season by Father Thomas Hopko

Watch For the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

Daily Advent Readings from the Merton Institute

I will avail myself of the services of the Church. I will strive to keep the fast. I will, to the best of my ability, make room for silence. And in that silence, for the Light.

How are you preparing to receive the Christ? What will Advent look like for you?

In Deep Nights…

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

There has never been a time in my life when God was not a principle character in the story of me. I have spent much of my life attempting to apprehend Him. To know Him.

And He has eluded me.

I came to a place where I very nearly hated Him. I felt He had made a promise to me. To all of creation, for that matter. That we might know Him. Intimately. As close as breathing. Yet, I had nearly killed myself trying to be good enough. Trying to prove my worth to Him. Volunteering for everything. Practically living at the church.

Somehow, He remained untouchable. So very far away. And I had these cavernous empty places. Since He would not fill them, I began to grasp at other things. Trying to make it not hurt.

And sometimes they helped.

For a while.

But the empty did not go away. And now there was guilt and regret piled on top of the empty. And I was angry. Angry at God. Angry at all the people in my life who did not love me well enough. I needed someone to blame. Someone to be responsible for my pain.

Then God gave me a gift. Unexpected. Unwanted. He taught me to die. It was a bloody, excruciating experience. I had to let go of all the things that I thought made me me. Everything I was proud of. My gifts. The service I provided others. My striving and digging.

And stand before Him.

Empty.

Naked.

Alone.

It was terrifying. I felt as though I were melting. Like the wicked witch, you know. In The Wizard of Oz.

It was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

It was the beginning of healing.

Once I stopped blaming others, and defending myself…once I was willing to be nothing…then…we could begin.

And grace became that soft rain, falling. And I had to do nothing, but receive.

I am done hating, and blaming. Mostly. I am learning to revel in being nothing. Because in this place…where I bring none of my striving, or digging, or proving myself, or being right…God is. And all I must do is fall into Him. Receive the rain of grace He pours freely over me.

He is still far away. Above me. Outside me.

AND

He is as close as breathing. A reality I taste when I approach the Cup. I breathe Him in the incense. I hear Him in baby girl’s laughter. I feel Him, soft, in the wind.

And the empty places are not so empty any more.

I am wordy. It is too much. Rilke said it best. And Job. We are, the three of us, of the same cloth. We have known the death…that yields life.

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  ~Job 42:5

I Know That the Immovable Comes Down

I know that the Immovable comes down;
I know that the Invisible appears to me;
I know that he who is far outside the whole creation
Takes me within himself and hides me in his arms,
And then I find myself outside the whole world.
I, a frail, small mortal in the world,
Before the Creator of the world, all of him, within myself;
And I know that I shall not die, for I am within the Life,
I have the whole of Life springing up as a fountain within me.
He is in my heart, he is in heaven:
Both here and there he shows himself to me with equal glory.

~St. Symeon the New Theologian

A Sabbath meditation.
Read it.
Then read it again.
Slowly.
Out loud.
Allow each line to seep deep inside.
I dare you.

The Voices in My Head

I am a big fan of Ansel Adams. Of all his images, this has always been one of my favorites. This time next week I will be somewhere up in those mountains. I can hardly believe it. As I have looked at photographs in preparation I have found myself in tears, imagining what it will be like to finally see them for the first time.

Last week I talked to you about gear I am taking to care for my body in the Grand Teton Ultra. This week, I acquaint you with those friends I am taking along to care for my soul. Unconventional to be sure. Of all the ultra sites I visited, nobody told me which prayers, poems, and music would travel with them mile after mile.

But I know myself.

I chose this event because it is BEAUTIFUL. And I will need words, as much as I need water and food. God will give me words of my own. This I know. But there will be times when I need to borrow the words of another. For a space. So I am filling my phone with prayers and poems and my ipod shuffle with music.

Here is a sampling of the voices who will be in my head as I run…

 

Poems:

Praying by Mary Oliver

O Land Alive With Miracles by Thomas Merton

Point Vierge by Thomas Merton

The Summer Morning by Mary Oliver

Wild Geese by Wendell Berry

 

Prayers:

O Lord, how lovely it is to be your guest:
Breeze full of scent; mountains reaching to the skies;
Waters like a boundless mirror,
Reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds.
All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of tenderness,
Birds and beasts bear the imprint of your love,
Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness,
Which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever
In the land where, amid beauty that grows not old,
Rings out the cry: Alleluia!

You brought me into this life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky, like a deep blue cup ringing with birds in the azure heights. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the sweet-sounding music of the waters. We have tasted fragrant fruit of fine flavour and sweet-scented honey. How pleasant is our stay with you on earth: it is a joy to be your guest.

~excerpted from the Akathist in Praise of Creation. I am taking the whole of it with me on the trip. I want to read it in the gorgeous places where we will find ourselves. I will only bring excerpts on the trail.

*Portions of Psalm 104 and Psalm 148.

 

Playlist:

Andrew Peterson  Audrey Assad  Beethoven  Bela Fleck  The Brilliance  Cara Dillon  Carl Orff (Carmina Burana)  The Civil Wars  David Teems  Delirious  The Doobie Brothers  Eddie Vader  Eric Clapton  Gateway Worship  Gungor  Herbie Hancock  Iron and Wine  James Taylor  Javier Navarrete  Joe Cocker  Kaki King  Lion King Broadway Cast  Loreena McKennitt  Michael Buble’  Mutefish  NeedToBreathe  Nickel Creek  Norah Jones  Nuns of St Paisos Monastery  Old Crow Medicine Show  Patti Griffin  Ray Charles/Count Basie  Rachmaninoff  Russian State Symphony Capella  Soggy Bottom Boys  St. Petersburg Chamber Choir  Sufjan Stevens  Vivaldi  Yo Yo Ma

 

P.S. My travel reading list (for the trip, not the run. :)):

A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire (re-read)
Thirst by Mary Oliver

Bless My Enemies, O Lord


It seems that, as recently as the 1950’s, the tiny island of Guam was home to a number of native birds who were to be found nowhere else in the world. Today, most of these species are extinct. Why?

Guam became an important stop for trading ships plying the Pacific. Some of these ships came from Australia and New Guinea. Hidden inside their holds was a dangerous predator. The brown tree snake. He was offloaded with some of the cargo. With no natural predators, the snake thrived on this unsuspecting island. His principle source of nourishment?

Eggs.

These birds were not victims of a malicious attack. They fell prey to ignorance. A villain that was unseen could not be thwarted.

I am very like these ships. Inside me lurk villains, capable of hurting those I love. Anger, bitterness, regret. I am unaware of them. Until I’m injured. Then, they come festering to the surface. And must be dealt with.

In his remarkable book, Giver of Life, Father John Oliver says I should be thankful for people who bump up against me. Who hurt me. And provoke me. Because they help the toxic sludge find a way out. And I can be made right. If I am willing.

He’s right, of course. But I have really struggled with this over the last couple of days. So I return to this prayer. I am ashamed to admit how often I need it. It is not who I am. But, it is who I would be. Perhaps, if you find yourself in a similar place, it will be helpful to you…

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

 Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return
;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger
;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah,
so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Amen

~St. Nicolai of Zica

 

*The story at the top of the post is also excerpted (and abbreviated) from Father John Oliver’s book, Giver of Life. I highly commend it to you.

**The beautiful bird in the photo is the Mariana fruit-dove, one of the species who no longer breathes upon this earth. Lord, may Your Kingdom come. Make all things right. Amen.

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