Thoughts on Fasting

Last night I heard one lady saying that fasting began “In the Beginning…” as it were, when Adam and Eve were told to fast from this one thing, this one fruit. Because of their disobedience, humans have been fasting ever since. 

We fast, not just because the church fathers fasted, not just because the apostles fasted, but because we have a Semitic heritage and fasting is part of that heritage.

None of those are my thoughts, but I am thinking about them still today. A non-fasting friend said something like “Fasting, ugggh,” and I said that it was not so different from what she is doing, on her modified paleo diet. She is giving up certain foods for a time (perhaps for life, that remains to be seen) and we give up certain things for a time. We give up meat and dairy, fish, wine and oil for a time. In this way, we eat much as they would in the Garden of Eden, when the diet was vegetarian. It is not so very different. Why is it that it seems so much more logical to eat nothing but grapefruit for a week for our waistlines than it does to go without meat and dairy for our souls?  That’s a question I am asking myself, for I find this fasting period a time of reworking my pre-conceived notions of what it means to fast and what the benefits are. It is also, for me, an exercise in humility and trust, in that those who have gone before may have understood something by doing it that I do not understand simply by studying it and reasoning about it.

There is something learned in the doing of something, don’t you know. I can read all I want to about crocheting, or painting, or exercise, but until I actually begin to do those things, I don’t truly understand, for the doing is an explanation without words.  There is something in this that informs me in a way that isn’t simply intellectual.  And that’s fast-inating. 

Part-time Professors

I want to talk about something a bit different, right now. Different than my usual fare, that is. As a part-time college student, working toward and hoping to attain a professorial position in the future, I am appalled to find over the years that some of my best teachers, some of my greatest professors were piecing together bits of positions at various colleges and universities to create a better than full-time position in many parts. These teachers work long hours but have no health care, no benefits of any kind, no chance at tenure.

At the same time I have seen heads of departments, fully-tenured professors, who were far worse teachers than their graduate teaching assistants, and far, far worse than the part-timers. It is offensive to me that colleges, with their ever-rising tuition, cut teachers and professors positions to the bone, in what is surely an abusive process.

I have read of professors who live in shelters, or have to move in with family, who lose their homes and are stretched financially as badly as any fast-food worker. Meanwhile we pay actors and musicians obscene amounts of money, athletes, the same, CEOs and administrators are often making 300 times the average wage of the people who work for them, and professors, those teaching and guiding and attempting to light the spark in the brains of the rest of us are struggling with food stamps, being treated as if their calling were somehow an avocation to which they should count themselves blessed to partake.

I have to wonder why the boards at these institutions don’t worry that the quality of education might be harmed while a professor is struggling to keep a roof over their heads, when they are teaching and training people who disrespect them, in institutions that also disrespect them. It’s offensive.
I expect that when I spend $30,000, $50,000, $75,000 or more for my education that the people who are teaching me are able to be paid living wages, that they would not have to worry about medical insurance, that they would have a pension in their future. I am wounded to learn that my professors may be struggling to feed their families or that the best of the best may never reach tenure-track.

It is discouraging, but then again, I am quite willing to teach overseas. In fact, I would truly love to do so. But in the meantime, aren’t you as horrified as I am to find that adjunct (that is part-time, not staff, non-tenure track) professors have grown to four times the number they were a generation ago? That tenured-track is going away? That we value the teaching profession so little, while valuing education so highly? How can this be? This is a travesty and unutterably sad.

Gearing Up For a Fight That Never Happened

I am conflict averse.

Some people like it, gear up for it, are ready for it at the drop of a hat, and even look for it. I dislike it. I will stand up when it is necessary, but if there is a way to avoid conflict, I will try it. It knots my insides. It knots my outsides. I hate it, hate it, hate it. Sometimes it is unavoidable.

You can’t let your kid continue to go down a wrong path without trying to do anything and everything to stop it. And you can’t let people walk all over you endlessly. Sometimes it must stop.

This week it had to stop. I knew it. I dreaded it, but geared up for it. My insides tried their very best to escape my body, while my outsides went into full lockdown mode to contain them. If you have fibromyalgia that sentence may make sense. If not, be glad.

I will admit that part of my conflict avoidance is fear that I will get nasty and say terrible things that cannot be unsaid. I fear the mean and nasty in my own soul will come out in those moments and spew all over someone else.

And so I tried to prepare myself.

Through the prayers of God only knows how many people, of the Saints and of the Theotokos, the conflict simply vanished. The situation resolved itself with no drama, no conflict, no difficult conversation, no damage to relationships…it simply and quite unexpectedly went away.

God be praised and thank the Saints. Blessed Mother of God, Saint Brigid, Saint Nicholas and our blessed Savior Jesus Christ.

To the fast

I want to address one of the things that is hard to understand about the customs, traditions and sacraments of the Orthodox Church: fasting. It is so foreign to the western Protestant mindset that anyone should tell you what to do.

Fasting practices among western churches, in my experience, are personal and largely non-existent. In my pre-Orthodox days, fasting was reserved for special prayer when my uncle was gravely injured, with prayers for his recovery, and once, when the worship team decided to do this together as a practice for a season. Each of us “fasted” from something, be it entertainment, food, whatever. Each of us chose our own thing. It seemed oddly forced, and missing something, although that may be more a sign of what was happening in my own heart.

For me, however, this fasting thing is an odd practice, and yet anyone who has read the New Testament has probably been puzzled as to why we don’t fast today like the early church appeared to do. And what does fasting mean? I tended to think of fasting as a medical term for refraining from all food and drink for a period of time. And that is surely one type of fast. Another is to refrain from all food for a time. Still another, in Orthodox practice, at least, is to give up certain things for certain periods of time. Wednesdays and Fridays, for example are considered a strict fast, and if one is to keep it strictly, one gives up all meat, dairy, oil and wine. There are additional fasts throughout the year, for longer periods and may refrain from meat, but dairy, oil and wine are permitted, or just oil and wine are permitted, but for the lenten fast, a period which varies in time but is approximately 40 days, it is a strict fast, with few exceptions. There are a few days in there when oil and wine are permitted, for example. The apostles fast is a shorter period of time, but is similar, and a fast preceding Nativity is lengthy, but not as long as Lent. And there are feast periods where fasting is not permitted.

Doing this as a community makes it easier, and each of us keeps the fast “as we are able”, and as to cause us no physical harm. Some have dietary restrictions that must be followed for their health, and that is understood. Also, before Liturgy and the taking of communion/Holy Eucharist, one refrains from eating or drinking (some say even of water, though I find that one impossible). If, though, one must have food with a medication, that is permitted. Certain medications will make me ill if I don’t eat something, but a couple bites of dry toast suffices for me, so that is what I do, I don’t eat eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy!

Why fast, you ask? There are many reasons, and as fasting is a fairly new practice for me, I am trusting others on this one. First is that if I cannot control what I put into my mouth, how am I to resist other sins? This seems a fairly logical and practical reason, though it is certainly not the most important. Fasting removes us from the physical, and allows us a deeper sense that we are not merely physical, temporal beings. And fasting is not a solitary practice. Fasting is to have the companions of the giving of alms, prayer, and good deeds. Justice, mercy and kindness are all to be the companions of fasting.

Others have written far more eloquently about fasting, the benefits, the discipline, the spiritual aspects, and such, so I won’t attempt to recreate their work…but I do want to say one thing. For those who snort, “Oh, so they still EAT, that’s not a fast…” as if it is less difficult to do an Orthodox fast because you may still eat SOMETHING…please, try it. Give up meat, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, fish, poultry, oil and wine. One minute? Great. One hour? Standing on my head. One day? Usually not so bad. A week? Ummm,… A month?




Longer?

Have you fainted yet? Are you trying to figure out what on earth to feed yourself while avoiding all those things? Yeah, me too.

We are weak. The fast teaches us this. Or, it teaches ME this. I once thought this sounded an easy task. It is not. Sometimes a single day is more than I can manage, as terrible as this sounds. And to do this, one must plan ahead. Plan, plan, plan. It is required, or you will find yourself at Wendy’s trying to force yourself to buy a plain potato and a garden salad (no dressing please) and instead ordering a mushroom cheeseburger.

And the weakness is not just in the eating and drinking! It is also in our hearts, and I think the fast teaches us this. The fast, in some mysterious way, helps me to see my own lack of love, compassion, mercy and justice. It challenges me to be more holy, to act with more mercy and love. And it reveals to me how much my heart rebels against such acts of love. It reveals my own selfishness to me. I am forced to ask for the mercy of Christ to work in me, for the Love of the Father to work in me, to have the Holy Spirit work his compassion through me, this weak, miserable vessel.

To the fast!!!!!

Thankfulness – Part 1

I have a great need to cultivate thankfulness in my life. As an Orthodox Christian, thankfulness NEEDS to be a way of life. Thankfulness allows me to more properly glimpse the gifts of God in my life, and to recognize God as the Giver of All Good Things.

And so, today I am Thankful for the following:
1) The crochet hook dashing in and out of the yarn creating new and useful things.
2) the brilliant colors of the yarn and the hands that spun it, and those that dyed it, and the hands that sheared the sheep.
3) For a warm home on cold snowy days.
4) For brilliant writers who toiled long to bring me to other lands, other places, other worlds, other faces, and introduce me to new friends.
5) for the delight of a new book, with it’s pages yet unopened, the brilliant slipcover hinting at the wonders inside, and the smell of new ink and new paper.
6) for the warm comfort of an old, much read, much beloved book.
7) for “The Princess Bride” and the warm humanity displayed, which stands the test of time.
8) for a home which is able to shelter not just us, but visiting family, whether for days or for a season.
9) for Priests who devote themselves to their God and to their parishioners, pouring themselves out for us.
10) for those who pray for me, whether I know it or not.
11) hearing the recorded voice of a friend from far away.
12) for the delight of chocolate and coffee together.
13) for a warm sweater that has seen me through many cold days.
14) for a husband who will wear my first attempt at crocheting an adult hat.
15) for gainful employment.

I Heart Orthodoxy

Okay, I know the title is childish, or at the least of a different generation.  I feel silly using it, but bear with me…I have tales to tell.

Odd things have happened to me.  I dreamed I was holding a picture of an Orthodox dude in black cassock and the tall black hat thing some of them wear.  I was in a crowd of people and we were weeping and laughing with joy, holding the picture as I and those around me all were proclaiming “He is released!  They let him out of jail!”  I knew that I had been praying for this person.    The next day my brother posted a news story about an abbott who had been jailed by the Greek government.  It was the man in my dream.

I have been struggling to understand some of the claims of the Orthodox church, wanting to disprove them.  The most important ones I could not disprove or deny, no matter how much I wanted to do so.  In spite of that, my heart was drawn to this despite myself.  Orthodoxy is not comfortable for me.  Not remotely.  I don’t know the language.  I don’t know the history.  I’m confused by some of their beliefs and some of the arguments.  I understand Protestantism.  I can argue the doctrinal statements, even when I don’t agree with them.  I get it.  I know the arguments against Orthodoxy, from someone who doesn’t believe it.  I can argue with myself.  I can anticipate the objections of my friends, my family…

Speaking of family…I let my church know I was investigating Orthodoxy, then I let certain friends and family know.  I have done my best to keep this from my parents.  There are a few reasons…I did not want to upset my parents, I don’t want to argue with them (and won’t) and I don’t see the point in upsetting them when my dad is old.  Old and sick.  Old and sick and…dare I say it…nuts.  This isn’t mean, it’s factual.  It’s a long, sad story, but the truth is, that my dad doesn’t care so much about ME, as he does about his legacy.  That legacy is only intact as long as his children and grandchildren believe exactly what he believes in the way he teaches it.  If there are questions, his family is to ask HIM.  There is not doubt at all that his interpretation of Holy Scripture is correct…at least not in his own mind.

My doubts began a very long time ago…mostly my doubts were about a faith that preaches things it does not practice.  Why, I wondered, do so many preach mercy, but have none?  Why do so many preach that God is love, then act as if God is waiting to pounce on us?  In actions and attitude I saw what I think is the true belief…and that belief is not the God of love, mercy and grace who from the start provided ways for man to be reconciled to Him.  They believe in a God of vengeance and wrath.  They destroy each other in the name of this God of Love.   When a man or woman can study Scripture their whole life but treat their children with cruelty, I have to wonder what is wrong with them?  How is it that Scripture can fail to change a heart?  I have to wonder, what is wrong with me?

The biggest reason that as an adult I have chosen to get my scriptural and doctrinal teaching from elsewhere is that I want to know What does Scripture look like when you live it?  That is the crux.  That is what I find important.  If our faith does not change our heart, what good is it?  If we have not love…

I have been sick for a few weeks…the kind of sick that means I can’t talk without coughing…that I sleep nearly as much as I’m awake and I have laryngitis.  I was home for a while and going stir crazy.  I thought I was getting a little better so I decided to meet some friends who were getting together at Starbucks.  I had my husband drive me as I was still feeling rather shaky and weak.  I was talking/coughing to a friend on the phone when my parent’s number came up.  Because of some recent  events, I thought it better not to call them, but I was worried as my dad had emergency surgery recently and I was afraid that they were calling because something had gone wrong.  They haven’t called me in perhaps a year or more.

Despite the voice in my head saying don’t do it, I called back.  Dad answered and sounded cheerful and in his right mind.  He briefly asked about me, and despite my being unable to talk (the laryngitis and coughing were in full force) he got to “the real reason I called…”  Somehow he had heard I was exploring the Orthodox Church.  The call was not pleasant.  After hanging up, I turned to my husband.  “He doesn’t care about me at all, he just wanted to harass me about Orthodoxy.”  I was understandably angry.  I don’t want to go through the whole conversation.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m heartbroken, but not for the first time.

I have come to the conclusion that my understanding of my dad has been flawed.  I have been treating him as if he were the man I wanted him to be, under the assumption that that guy was in there somewhere but unable to come out.  I now believe that guy is NOT there. That daddy guy I have longed for isn’t there.  The challenge now is to treat him with love and forgiveness without the comforting belief that he is/was that guy.

I do love my parents.  I don’t want to be on the outs with them, but I cannot let that hinder my pursuit of truth.

I get how people will believe that I am abandoning scripture and denying the truth of scripture.  Actually what I am doing, is learning how the scripture was written, how it was perceived by the early church and being willing to ask the questions, how did we get here?  How did the Protestant church develop in such a way as to have thousands of denominations, all willing to fight over the smallest of things.  How is it that we,  most with great intention and honesty, approach scripture in prayer and with a serious and reverent manner, read and evaluate scripture but come to further and further disputes, schism after schism until church after church using the same scripture, has doctrinal statements that don’t reconcile.  How does this happen, assuming that most of these people are translating and interpreting in good faith, with good intent?

The Orthodox Church teaches that we have these disagreements not because scripture is not true, but because we are all interpreting separately, individually, we have lost respect for the Church, our place in it, and have lost the humility which would allow us to realize that we could be wrong.

The story of the gathering of the books of the Bible was my first clue that Orthodoxy could be right and true.  I had been taught how the canon of Scripture had been determined and accepted it without a lot of thought.  Now faced with the problem of Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia or Prima Scriptura, I was pretty shaken up.  I had to face the multiple “original texts”, the words of Paul “whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15)  It bothered me.  I nearly had a crisis of faith.  Instead of falling away or into endless struggles, I laid claim to that which I KNOW to be true.  I believe there is a God and that He is a good God.  I believe this because He has spoken to me.  He has spoken to me on many occasions.  Yes I was taught to believe, but it is more than that and older than that.  Can I prove this?  No.  Do I know it to be true nevertheless?  Yes.  This is woven into the fiber of my being.  No matter what else, should I choose to disbelieve, I would be denying what I know to be true and would simply be a liar.

So with the struggle, the problem remains: I was taught Sola Scriptura, that is, that Scripture stands on it’s own, that every word in my King James (or NIV, or Phillips) is true, and that each word is inspired by God, not just directed by Him, but as if the writers were puppets at the time of their writing.  Why are these books part of Scripture?  because the church agreed that they were so in the Councils.  So then if the Church determined what is scripture, and the church had been using these books and letters for hundreds of years, and indeed, had been meetingprior to the writing of these Scriptures.How then did the church determine what is scripture and do so in a way that we can rely upon some 1700 years later?

This point is not a small one.  And on this point, the crux of the problem for me lies.  If the church determined scripture, and this same church says that the scripture does not contain the whole of the teaching, how can I depend on the veracity of the church council determining what made the canon of Scripture, unless I can also depend on the teaching of the same church about that Scripture.

As I follow along this path, I find things that I struggle with.  Is this a doctrinal point or is it a habit and practice of the church?  Those are different.  Why do the Orthodox light candles?  It’s a habit.  It serves as reminders of the light of Christ, and illuminates the church.  It’s also pretty.  They are beeswax candles so as not to damage the icons.  Icons.  I was taught that these were items of worship.  They are not.  They are reminders of those who have gone before us and of the works of Christ and his people.  Mary.  I was taught that the veneration of and “prayers” to Mary were worship.  They are not.  The church clearly teaches that Mary is not to be worshipped, but that she is to be blessed above all women.  Crossing themselves, or genuflecting, is a practice that horrified me.  Why?  Does Scripture teach against it?  No.  What are the reasons we approach this practice in such horror?  Because the Catholics did it, and if you are a Protestant, about the worst thing in the world is a Catholic, and anything that makes you think of Catholicism is inherently bad.  That some people do this as a habit without thought, does not make this a bad practice.  It is a way to thoughtfully and reverently remind oneself of the three persons of the Godhead, and in the way one holds one’s hands, to remember those yet again and also a reminder that Christ is both fully God and fully man.

What’s with the incense?  You’d have a hard time reading the Old Testament without grasping that God ordained the use of incense in the Temple as part of worship.

 

Well…this is only a partial post, but it will be going up anyway, as to finish it in one sitting would be too much.  And there is much I still do not understand.  Orthodoxy is not a set of understandings, it is a way of life.