The Heavens are Crying

The skies are gray and it is raining. It’s not a gully-washer at this point, more a constant drizzle that seems suited for this Good Friday. The world has gone quiet and hushed.

It is not lost on me that the Lenten period and this Holy Week are periods set aside for repentance, for reflection, and for self-control. We are, in fact, to set ourselves aside. This is a difficult thing, though some make it look easy. Sometimes even getting to the services is a challenge, not of logistics but of physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual challenges (although we do not break these into separate categories, seeing them as all intertwined.)

For some of us, this period has been punctuated with death, death of friends, of loved-ones, of celebrities who have touched our lives, of the death of loved ones of those close to us..touching us by degrees and making us think of the end that is to come for us all on this earth. It is somber; it is sobering.

The dogwoods by the church are in bloom, a sudden profusion of delicate pink. It is a reminder that even though the world seem dark and dreary, life returns–resurrection,  life from death, comes to bring hope to this world.

Knowing this, we cannot be fully stricken with grief.  Our joy, our relief tempers our grief and sorrow, just as our joy and our relief are tempered by the knowledge that we haven’t fully experienced the resurrection. I think the earth weeps with us that it is so.

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Resting

It is Holy Week for us Orthodox folks, and I feel totally peaceful for a moment. Holy Week is a big part of what drew me to Orthodoxy. Some think I’m drawn to the “glitz”, that is the incense, the candles, the icons, the vestments, but initially, that was off-putting.  But I had a craving for something more…

I had vaguely heard of Holy Week services, although I could not have told you what or where, but I thought that somewhere the church was celebrating these moments, going through and commemorating the events of the Passion Week.  I tried on my own to pay attention to what would have been happening in the life of Christ in that week preceeding his death, burial and resurrection, but I had a sense that it was missing that communal–something.  The shared reverence, the shared expression of faith, the shared suffering, the shared joy…all of that was somehow missing, and a longing that I cannot describe came from the depths of me. I was hungry for this and yet could not find a way to satisfy this hunger.

Where did this hunger come from? Surely not from my upbringing. I’m not faulting anyone; we did as we have always done.  We prepared for Easter with a cantata, a choral presentation of the story of Christ. Yet still, my heart longed for more.

Where I attended church at the time was insufficient.  I have written about this previously, so I will not restate it now, but suffice it to say that the Easter service of that year, in that church was a defining moment in my life. I was done. How is it that the defining moment of our faith was not commemorated in a suitably massive way?  Why weren’t we happier about it?  Where was the joy? Where was the deep spiritual focus? Was it really this thing?

I did not jump easily. In fact, I secretly explored this weird Orthodox thing in Venice, Italy, the middle of a Roman Catholic city and was moved far beyond anything I could have imagined. I was particularly moved by an ancient icon of the Nativity.457px-mcb-icon12

This is not the actual image, but a similar rendition, from: http://serbblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/mir-bozhi-hristos-se-rodi-vaistinu-se.html

It…disturbed me.  Even today, the memory of that sort of empties me. It is a mystical thing that is difficult to describe adequately. Gazing at that icon I was both less and more than I felt I had ever been. It was and is holy. The prayers of hundreds, perhaps thousands, have made an impression here. The prayers of the one who wrote the icon, the blessings of priests, perhaps of bishops, it is there and it is a palpable thing.

It shook me.

This Holy Week I am similarly emptied and filled, just as I was at that museum. As I think of the path of Jesus and his disciples this week, in some ways we live this with them. The death, burial and resurrection are all too real. Glorious and humbling in the reality. There is a touch of holy in these weeks leading up to the triumphal celebration with which we will welcome the resurrection on Saturday night into Sunday morning.

At midnight, with lit candles we will circle around the church as we sing. We will gather at the church doors, our candles lit, our faces glowing as we hear the gospel reading and then begin to sing for the first time this year, “Christ is Risen from the dead!  Trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs restoring life!” It is a joyous occasion, and we celebrate with song, with shouts, with bells ringing, with scripture… oh my it is glorious and my heart is so ready to drink in this celebration. How I love these people that I celebrate with!  And as it happens, the same will be happening all over the world.  We will be celebrating with those in our time zone, but as the celebration continues, we will continue to sing.  Children will fall asleep only to waken each time we shake those bells and shout “Christ is Risen!”  “Indeed He is Risen!”

In the meantime, we grow quiet inside as we pray. Many of us go through great trials at this time. It seems almost universal that great challenges arise at this time, whether illness or struggles at work, or family issues…it is difficult. I’m learning to rest in it. After all, my God shall supply all my needs.  And really my struggles are small. So many are going through horrific things.

The so-called glitz is not what drew me.  At first I found it repellent, but I had read Exodus and was dumbfounded by the elaborate nature of the preparations for the tabernacle.  The plans are so precise, so detailed, so beautiful and ornate, how can I find an Orthodox church overmuch? It isn’t the church that is the problem, it is me that was the problem. That scripture, read over and over and over again, came back to me and informed my view of the Orthodox church. And I have grown to love it, to learn the beauty of icons, to enjoy the smell of incense and to appreciate the smoke swirling through the room, to enjoy the faces as they light their candles and place them in the stands as they pray.

The glitz did not draw me, but the thing which once made me uncomfortable is now a delight. I love the gleaming candle stands, love the swirling smoke rising from the censors, swinging from the hand of the priest or his helpers. I love that we bind the Gospels in the finest we have to offer. I love that our treasures are here and shared with the community as a fitting offering to our God.

 

 

 

 

Drowning

Despite an allergy regimen that involves antihistamines (oral and nasal), decongestants, cough medications (one kind for day, one for night) and oral steroids, I am drowning as my body tries to fight off the masses of pollen.  At this point, I’m not even sure it is the type of pollen as much as the sheer mass of it that is doing me in.

Everything is affected, my energy, my thinking processes, my breathing, sleeping, focus, emotions…all seems to be centered around this one thing, trying to breath freely.

It is difficult, nearly impossible to make decisions at this time, or hold rational conversations.  I’m trying to decide whether to trade in my car for something smaller, less expensive and with a greatly reduced car payment.  I can’t seem to decide what to do.  And I have a greatly increased workload this week that I am slogging through.  Lots of balls in the air to keep afloat. Spin, spin, spin.

And yet…for some reason, I am resting in this drowning. I recognize that I can’t fully get my breath, that I can’t maintain full focus, that I have to work extra hard at concentration, and I’m okay with it all.  Today, anyway.

I’ve got some stuff coming up…medical tests I’m awaiting results on, another dr. appt for a surgical consult…I’m in the midst of a class, and it is still Lent, what with additional services and choir practices and such.

Sleep is elusive, except for when I’m supposed to get up in the morning, which seems to be when I have reached my deepest state of sleep and cannot be roused by that beeping, beeping, beeping that is the backdrop of dreams.

On the upside, the steroids have helped with my pain, ENORMOUSLY.  I’ve worn heels–HEELS–two days this week.  HEELS, I’m telling ya! And a friend gave me this marvelous raw honey/lemon stuff that has been making a huge difference with my cough and even some of the congestion.  Why?  I don’t have any idea.  But I’ll take it!

I ordered two boxes from the manufacturer.

 

 

Favorite Books

I have a lifelong love affair with reading. Reading expands my mind in ways little else does, teaches me empathy, helps me to think through problems and provides context and a platform from which to expand into new territories of thought. In no particular order, here are some books I enjoyed which greatly affected the way I think:

  • Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkhin

Fabulous. Not only is it a particularly interesting story told from the fascinating viewpoint of the boy who grows to become a fine healer, with a troubled secret. He becomes a “holy fool” and…oh, I’m not doing it justice.  Trust me. Read this book. This helped explain some of the mind and heart of Orthodoxy, and to understand Russians in some small way.

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Though I haven’t read this in years, I remember the feeling, the utter pain in and beauty of the story. My heart still squeezes tight at the ending. I cannot forget. This book fuels my courage when it is faint, and inspires me to small acts of self-sacrifice, and a longing to be the kind of person who would make great sacrifices should the need and opportunity arise.

  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

I highly recommend the first two trilogies in this series. There is a third, but I could not get into it at all. These series are very dark, and Thomas Covenant is an anti-hero, reluctant, horribly flawed…yet this series taught me the value of pain. Having dealt with fibromyalgia for twenty-four years, this series helped me greatly to accept that pain has a vital purpose in our lives.  This is not a light read.

  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

This is the edition that I own, though I also have this volume on my Kindle.

For a frightened child wanting to be brave, Bilbo delighted me. From the opening pages I wanted to be brave enough to head off on adventures, but how I longed for a Hobbit hole with a perfectly round green door with a brass knob right in the middle. Tolkein’s wonderful descriptions of places and peoples, his characters, some of whom drip with goodness, some with evil, there is an innocence that is surprisingly sophisticated, a sophistication that loves the simple in an honest, non-mocking way that is soothing in the midst of our derisive, contemptuous media.

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

This is the edition that I own, though I also have this volume on my Kindle and am currently listening to this on Audible. In Audible, make sure you get the unabridged versions.  why on earth would you bother with anything else?

I can’t say enough about these books. Adventure, courage, salvation, loss, self-sacrifice, friendship, treachery…I’ve read these and “The Hobbit” more times than I can count, and am currently listening to this in an Audible (unabridged) version. Though the movies are great, the books are rich and worthy of reading again and again and again.

  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I’m not stepping out on a great limb here to praise these books. To this day, many of my friends will occasionally repeat Lewis’s assertion that Aslan is not a tame lion, but he is good. This theological understanding of God is rather profound and has influenced me and many others. Lewis was such a deep thinker, it is no wonder that his books breath his understanding of life and faith, but in a form that delights children and adults alike.

  • Longitude by Dava Sobel

A friend recommended this to me, and it has inspired a fascination with the men and women of science who labored long and hard amidst great difficulty to solve problems. Their solutions seem commonplace today, but Sobel guides the reader through the need for these advances through rich story-telling that brings the past alive. Because of this book I see science and scientists in a new way.

  • Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father, translated by Vera Bouteneff

  • Father George Calciu: Interviews, Talks, and Homilies by Father George Calciu

In the same way that we collectively gasped hearing the story of Jim Elliott and his fellow missionaries killed in Ecuador, these stories of faith, courage, suffering, endurance and of God’s faithfulness and miraculous presence will challenge you, will open your eyes, and for me, encouraged me greatly in my faith. You may ask why men can be so awful to other men, but these two will have you asking how can a man be good in the face of such evil.

  • The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun

Another story of courage and faith amid some of the darkest adversity known to man. Such beauty! Such suffering!

So…this is a long-enough list for today, don’t you think?  There are so many more books to read and to write about.  Share your list with me!

 

 

Logging Roads

The car would fight it’s way over boulders, gullies where the rains washed part of the road away, a gnarled root protruding across the way. As I recall, we took Toyota station wagons, VW bugs, a Honda or two…over the years, whatever vehicle we had, it likely found it’s way past Taylor Reservoir heading for our spot.

Looking back, it doesn’t seem like those cars should have made that trek, should have surmounted the obstacles to get us to the end of the logging road to the start of our backpacking path. There wasn’t a single four-wheel drive among them, no raised suspensions, just normal ordinary cars, but they made it. Granted, some of that is due to the skill of the driver, but a good portion of that is due to the vehicles themselves.  They were simply capable of more than people give them credit for. I certainly won’t question that there may have been a great deal of divine intervention in those trips, but I believe there is divine intervention all over the place in our every-day lives.

A young acquaintance of mine lives every day on her own logging road. Each day it seems there is a new boulder or gully or downed tree in her path, but she and her family press on. It is a financial struggle from day to day, an emotional struggle as she deals with the seemingly endless physical difficulties she and two of her children have had to endure. Add those health struggles and financial struggles to the ordinary struggles we all go through, and those boulders get big and the gullies get deep.  Some families would fail in the midst of all of this, much as the Reliant K car I once had would likely do. It was fine for paved city streets and highways, but it would have hung up on the first rocky obstacle. But this family? They are holding together.  Granted, the mom and dad driving this particular family through this are ordinary, but they aren’t ordinary street cars, they have far more to them than is obvious on the outside. And now that I’ve stretched that metaphor as far as it can go, and further than I should have…

Many of us have our own logging roads, our own boulders to climb, down trees to drag from our paths, and gullies to cross. Some of us need a push now and again, and that is where we come in. This family needs not just financial help, but the encouragement that that help provides. But we can do much to ease their burdens, and to help push that car over some boulders. They are on a rocky path, not of their own choosing, but they are facing it with grace and courage. Help them here.  Read more of their story here.  

 

Consolation

The day dawns bright and fair. I tip-toe so as not to wake my sleeping boy, though the bedroom door squeaks so loudly I don’t know how he sleeps on. He’s laying asleep on the couch, covered in an afghan made with these two hands and my heart skips a beat, the love so intense, the joy so full at seeing him, here, in our home. The dog is happy to see him again, too. She is not an exuberant dog, but the signs are unmistakable. She lit up when her boy came in the door. She snuggles with him on the couch, so happy to have her boy with us.

I wonder if she hopes to go away with him when he leaves.

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My boy

At least this time, he needs a ride to the airport.  This time he won’t be able to just grab his bags and leave without a warning as he is wont to do. This time my heart isn’t in my throat every day, all day, as I’m at work, wondering if he will be there when I get home. He’s different, my boy. Hilariously funny, but his humor is dry, and sparing, like his words. Few, his words, he drops them like gold, which I eagerly gather and hold to my heart.

I’ve seen glimpses of him everywhere for months now. Each time my heart skips a beat as I see his walk, his shape, someone wearing his “uniform”. And each time I’ve been disappointed to realize it isn’t him, but here he is, and I’ve forgotten to thank God for this delight.  I pray St. Philaret’s prayer, “…”I do not know what to beg of Thee…to ask for either a cross or for consolation.” Ah, my soul, He has provided consolation to me and I am so, so thankful.

Emoting is not my thing, but I could probably write songs about my love for my son, but who would sing them? Who would want to hear them? I love that face.  I love that walk, honed in years of marching band. I love (and hate) his silence. I love how he watches TV (when he watches it) as he selects the most interesting things. I love that he reads books that are deep, interesting, weighty things. I love that he quietly, and without ever saying a word, has been supporting children through Compassion for years. I love how diligently (and quietly) he goes on seeking work, interviewing here and there and everywhere, seeking possibilities that others might ignore. I love how he pushed himself through high school, determined to be the “good child” and then pushed himself through college, earning a prestigious degree all on his own. What a marvel of independence he is. He seems to know no fear.

Not a day goes by when I don’t think of my children, when my heart doesn’t ache to see them, when I’m not bursting with pride over them. To have one here makes my heart sing.

Coming Fast

Today is the second day of Cheesefare week, when we use up the dairy products we have left in preparation for the long Lenten fast.  Each year I have approached this with dread, but this year I feel almost relieved. It is simpler, even though it is difficult. This means that a sweet potato can be considered a meal, that homemade vegetable soup will soon be cooking on the stove top. It means I pull out my recipes for white bean vegetarian chili.

It simplifies my choices for grabbing a quick meal out if I need it.  Black Bean Soup at Panera?  Yes, please. Veggie Burrito Bowl at Chipotle?  Oh my, yes.  No need to analyze the full menu. Look for the vegan option and be done with it.

I come to the beginning of Lent weary: mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I find it kind of amusing that my month off will be smack dab in the middle of Lent and encompass Holy Week.

Or rather…now that I’ve checked with the financial aid office at school I’ve found that I don’t have a month off at all.  I will get to move while taking a class!  Yea me!

Note: to those who have expressed concern about my reference to moving.  Our lease is up in April.  We are not renewing. Meeting this rent has been just too much over the past difficult year, and they are raising it again.