“The next station will be…”

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. For sometime, my Orthodox life and writing have been called elsewhere. Those tasks remain, and the context of blogging calls for a new direction here as well. That will come over the next year, God willing, if I can seize the opportunity to drive content here consistent with my commitments – both wider, within the church and more personal… though anything along personal lines is merely a self-indulgent possibility of little interest.  What this means among other things is that I will shortly dismantle the archival pieces here that are inconsistent with the new direction so that a fresh start can be made.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading (and have read) Gillian Crow’s “This Holy Man” on the life of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. I’d read most of his books, so a biography seemed a good “next” although more than a few suggested the book would have a deleterious affect on my opinion of the man (not!). I’d think this would be the case if one’s formation tends toward dealing with others as abstractions, but that’s not my bent, nor did it seem to be the Metropolitan’s. Thus, I find in this work much to like and my esteem for him expanded rather than lessened.

Crow makes no secret of Met. Anthony’s mercurial temper, his prickliness, or his neglect of certain niceties. People can be like this. She acknowledges also that many separated themselves from the community he led as a result, but others stuck it out… and as she quotes, just forgave him and loved him anyway. That’s what we do in this life. There’s a friend who’s aunt is up for canonization in the Roman Catholic Church… but “the family says her sisters were the real saints… they had to live with her!”

All of which attests to the ground we might gain in mustering the courage to reveal the whole of the person in our hagiographies rather than hide the warts. The warts are there… they may not be beautiful, but more damage is done to the image of what it is that is a saint and how to become one… by pretending otherwise. A fuller revelation… might yield more, not fewer saints! (Just sayin’ btw).

And with that, here are a few of the gems Gillian Crow uncovers:

On Selecting a spiritual father: 

“So and so is a monk first and then a Christian; Father Afanasy is a Christian first and then a monk.” p 45

Crow explains this further:

“There were two encounters in particular that influenced his thoughts. The first was with one of the hermits there, who illustrated for him the severity of the monastic life by colorful example, in the manner of the Desert Fathers of Egypt. The second was another old man, still a novice after fifty years in the monastery. He explained his indecision: a monk was a man who wept out of compassion and who prayed for the whole world, yet after half a century, he still felt he had a heart of stone. He could not make his vows until he had learnt to be compassionate.

This was a revelation. To become a monk did not mean leaving the world after all, but continuing to bring it to God through the mystery of prayer.” p. 46

On Accepting Spiritual Advice – even unwanted

“You are surrounded by so many sins and weaknesses that you cannot possibly conquer them all at once. If you tried you would be defeated before you had hardly begun. Instead you must learn to be like a little mouse and nibble away at them bit by bit.” p. 50

Crow continues that as a Reader, he inquired of Fr. Georges Florovsky regarding pursuit of ordination:

“Go away and read the lives of the saints and the Fathers – and come back in fifteen years’ time.” However, despite his pain he accepted Fr. Goerges’ judgment, and came to consider him someone for whom he could have the greatest respect  both as a person and as a theologian. With the doors of St. Sergius closed against him Andre’ had to reassess his position. He talked it over with his father. In what he described in the sermon he gave on the fortieth anniversary of his consecration as a bishop as a sad moment, Boris asked him: ‘What is the dream of your life?’ Andre’ had no hesitation in replying, ‘To be with God alone.’ Then his father looked at him with sadness in his eyes and said, ‘You have not even begun to be a Christian.’

As he later came to realize, to love God did not mean retreating into a private realm away from society, but sharing with him all his concerns for the world and for each person. It was not enough to have in one’s heart a warmth for God. The test of one’s love was to share God’s own love for one’s neighbors.” pp 53-54.

On Exile – a common sense at conversion:
“For exile had taught the Russian community in Paris one important thing. Just as Christ on earth had himself been an exile, born as an outcast in a stable and dying outside the walls of Jerusalem, so the vocation of every Christian was nothing less than understanding life as exile from the Kingdom of God, which could only be regained by treading the Way of the Cross.” p. 47

Speaking of the Brotherhood of St. Photius’s (recovered) theology:

“They (Fr. Gregory Krug and Leonid Ouspensky) understood the icon to be a witness of theosis – deification of the human person – and an expression of how humanity in a state of prayer is sanctified by grace.” p. 49

On Orthodoxy:
“…knowing nothing of theology and aware, albeit in hitherto negative terms, of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches around him, he was anxious to discover which church was the most faithful to the Gospel message that he had discovered.

Over a period of time he investigated the differences between the churches, and his study confirmed Orthodoxy as the one whose teaching and experience accorded most closely with the truth and beauty of the Gospel as he understood it. Divine love, totally self-offering, limitless unwavering, was something Andre’ had experienced irrefutably in his personal encounter with Christ. He was to go experiencing it in the faith and expression of Orthodoxy for the rest of his life. ‘I am passionate about Orthodoxy’ was one of the phrases that readily fell from his lips.” p.44

Orthodoxy’s Visual impact:
“The Liturgy was in Slavonic, and at its close Andre’ went up to the old lady and said, ‘Oh Gran, it must have been very boring for you, you couldn’t have understood one word!’ The old lady replied scornfully, ‘How can anyone who is as big as you be so stupid? Of course I understood. I have eyes.’ She went on to give an account of the service to him, explaining how, although she couldn’t understand the language she had been able, through all the visual symbolism of the Russian Eucharist, to relate it to her familiar Roman Mass and so follow everything that was happening.

This visual impact of Orthodox services was something Metropolitan Anthony came to recognize as very important. During his ministry in London he was to come across another striking example when a deaf man, previously used only to the undemonstrative and word-focused services of Methodism, discovered in the Liturgy a form of worship where, to his delight, words were not essential to his participation and meaning was conveyed through actions and visual symbolism.

In his work as a youth leader Andre’ discovered that words could sometimes do more harm than good. One day a renowned preacher was invited to give a lesson to the Sunday school pupils. Andre’ and the other leaders arranged themselves around the walls, listening with admiration to this man who spoke so magnificently. However, when the lesson was over one of the teachers asked a seven-year-old what he thought of the talk and the child replied, ‘It was good entertainment, but what a pity Father doesn’t believe what he says.’

Andre’ realized that the child had reacted negatively because the priest’s words had come from the intellect – and the children were left cold by his reasoned arguments, when they would have responded to a message from the heart. This was point he was to keep in mind when he began to preach. He always spoke ‘from the heart’, because he knew that what convinced people of the truth of the Gospel was not a matter of words but of life.’

He knew, too that there was a need for believers, even children, to have their own experience of the things of God, as another anecdote from the camps showed. A little boy came out of the chapel tent, his face shining with joy, and the leader said, ‘What’s up with you?’

‘Oh, I went into the chapel and suddenly there was an angel there,’ replied the boy. He was not a mystical child and he did not develop into a mystic, but he had perceived something. Metropolitan Anthony was quick to explain the boy’s experience to people to whom he told this story, ‘When he said an angel was there he did not mean, ‘I saw it with my eyes,’ but ‘I knew that it was present,’ which is very different, because what you see with your eyes may call for an interrogation mark. What you know for sure, without any kind of visual or auditory or other phenomenon, is another thing.’ It was reminiscent of his own conversion experience.” pp. 52-53

I encourage you to read the book, to read Met. Anthony’s works, to take them in, and enjoy what they offer. You’ll be well rewarded.

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“Let your soul rejoice in the Lord”

“Let your soul rejoice in the Lord,
for He has clothed you with the robe of salvation!
Let your soul rejoice in the Lord!
He has covered you in a garment of gladness.
Let your soul rejoice in the Lord!
And as a bride adorns herself with jewels,
so has He adorned you with comeliness.
Let your soul rejoice in the Lord!”

There’s a setting, an arrangement of the melody for this text of “Let your soul rejoice in the Lord” by Ivan Moody (linked here as Track # 5 ) that delights in lingering in my ears, my mind and even on my lips… and lifts my heart wherever and whenever it’s fallen of late or become enmeshed in the mire of the everyday. And with just that easy recollection, all of a sudden there’s a way out from under the decay and darkness, a page is turned, my troubles seem to melt as I’m led back towards Christ and His grand calling for our lives. Like so many before, this has increasingly become my go-to recourse text… and I revel in its every word as I’ve done the others.

It’s as though in these brief lyrics, the words of (now – as of December, 2013) St. Porphyrios the New in his great work, “Wounded by Love” are poured into mind:

“…In your spiritual life engage in your daily contests simply, easily and without force. The soul is sanctified through the study of the words of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the singing of hymns and through repetition of the Jesus Prayer. …There are two paths that lead to God: the hard and debilitating path with fierce assaults against evil and the easy path with love. The shorter and safer route is the path with love. This is the path that you, too, should follow. Have as your aim to advance in the love of God and of the Church.

(And rather than) …fight(ing) to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul… open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear. …You don’t become holy by fighting evil. Let evil be. Look towards Christ and that will save you. What makes a person saintly is love – the adoration of Christ which cannot be expressed, which is beyond expression… The saints, the ascetics and the martyrs… cast themselves upon Christ’s love. They gave their hearts.

We must steal their method.”

But there’s more than this… the words “Let your soul rejoice…” take me back to that first “Let it be unto me according to your Word…” of the Theotokos… and her later Magnificat (one of my early “faves”), the song of the Church itself on the impending fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. This is all God’s doing… His will, His power, His salvation, His faith in us. And in all that He has done for us… all He asks is for our simple(!) assent that He might start the wonder of our own ascent. Yet we wrestle within ourselves for “my faith”, “my salvation” and doing things by “my own power”… and so often we put it off. But if we can let that go, relax and move forward, God will provide. He really will. He’ll overcome our doubt with love; He’ll fill all the rest… those holes where we have no answers… somehow… love will abide and prove enough.

But grand as the opportunity is when it comes, and as wonderful a calling as it’s meant to become, we (at least I do) get sidetracked, waylaid, distracted, and even lost and confused. I used to confuse the celebration of the divine in the ordinary with reveling in the freedom to be ordinary itself… as if these two were the same. They’re not.

While its good to aspire to no more than raising a couple of kids, working hard at a good job, and loving a spouse over a lifetime with all that you can… and while these are still treasured gifts, and even miracles of a sort in this darkened age… they can be so much more. For around us, the darkness still lingers like a forest awaiting its chance to reclaim the peaceful meadow bit by bit…or a sea lapping at a sandbar it wants to wash away. Yet transformed in the light of Christ, the love of God and our neighbor with all that we are and have… we can let Christ illumine the dark recesses that remain and literally lift our hearts… and our joy cannot be taken away. For like Christ, it abides even to the last.

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

This is not in the least a selfish work, for true acquisition of the Holy Spirit is a gift to all… not just in how it saves our brothers and sisters from the darkness that dwells within us, but in how that joy literally shines from one countenance to illumine another. As it says in the Gospels, our vocation is to let our lights shine from a lampstand! that we might share our joy with one another.

Yet while many of our happy moments seem frozen only to evaporate as did the “happily ever aftering” of Camelot, the Light of Christ endures, etching itself in our hearts even as the moment passes. With the work of earnest devotion, that memory can feed a life lived in Christ, sustained in Christ, and a joy that doesn’t yield to time, to circumstances or even necessity. It’s as though the freedom we grant in allowing these cherished moments to come, to pass, and perhaps even to linger feeds the vision that all the world, all Creation and everyone of us is Christ bearing, as “the Light of Christ illumines all.”

Yet as creatures confined by time, experiencing life and illumination in sequence, we readily become enmeshed in the thought that this fleeting moment is all there is, rather than the concession it is in truth to our limited ability to absorb more than a smidgen here and there without harm. Unseen and unsequenced, surely the world is far richer. Consider how our liturgy reveals the truth that all the separate moments we experience, that our brothers and sisters bear as well, and all the moments of history – all of these are joined in the mystery of Christ as one and at once celebrated in the vision of the Church. For in the Kingdom, each of us and each of our moments and all others are part of one another.

Let it therefore be seen by the eyes of our hearts, how it shines forth, how we release it from the opacity with which God shields us in His mercy… that the light would otherwise blind and overwhelm us… literally exploding the eyes of our minds. But it is in God’s gentle spirit to allow this truth to be apparent only by our assent… even if it’s only for a brevity that we can bear. And so it becomes enough, and we know: “It’s all real, all true, God is God, and wonderful in His saints,” and His joy bears us forward.

Suddenly then… everything changes: We’re no longer dressed in the drab, dreary garments of our work-a-day world, but instead find ourselves adorned in the glimmering robes of salvation. Our tensions evaporate in something more than an instant, and as they pass, so our anger, our neglect, our self-centeredness, our lack of love… all that is gone as well. And at last we know and can find our place as creatures of the most high, the Living God as though every fiber were filled with the fresh breath of the first morning in Eden. We are renewed, and re-created.

God has given us this life, this second chance, and His raiment… and love… even these words and melody lift us literally out of the poverty, the smallness, and ordinariness of our own lives. Our hearts are englarged to chart another course; and thus it is that a simple juxtaposition of texts alongside a life, my life and yours, leads us along The Way to True Life. May it do so to from this day forward to our last.

Wither Wanderest Thou Spirit

Looking over the Orthodox Blogosphere, our once swarming horde of posters has receded like an ebb tide. Perhaps many have tapped their keys along the way of completing their transformation… or at least the molting of their old skins… and fulfilled their initial phases only to move into deeper waters. Perhaps others have found, that sticking in the uncomfortable middle between one life and another perpetuates a vulnerability they’d rather pass beyond. But whatever it is that thins our ranks, withdrawal for a space yields much fruit at times.

But consider that for each of us, there comes a moment in conversion that, like the Apostles in the Upper Room, leaves us quietly shut away in our own Upper Room,  We may wait patiently engaging in some measure of worship, prayer and sharing in the spirit of the Church, or we may wander off to Emmaus… as though we had something that drew us out ahead of time… as though there were one more glance, one more visit where Christ would manifest Himself before our full immersion and the illumination of the whole of our hearts.

No matter which we choose, ultimately we return to that space and wait for His initiative to give us a calling that serves His purpose rather than our own. Whether we know this is what we’re about or not, my guess is there’s something of this sort going on – all the time.  For my part, some of my writings indeed seem little more than the writhings inherent to discarding one’s old, wornout dry skin… and a bit of discomfort with the soft, moist, suppleness of the new. Guess the pains and agonies might have been better shielded from the eyes of others, huh?

So I’ll make no claim to complete healing in my case; far from it. Perhaps I’m less annoying, less annoying to some, or just annoying different folks with new “tools”. But there’s hope for “progress”, though considering I’d prefer not burden anyone… one of the side effects is that surely we burden our priests whose ministrations must amount to more of a public service and bearing of the cross than anyone can begin to imagine! Thanks for listening guys! My bad.

So perhaps the collective pause across Orthoblogdom simply reflects the maturity among us to know that no matter where we head or what we do… someone bears the burden of our misdoings… even if it’s only listening to them and wondering, “Will this guy ever shut his trap?” Ultimately… stillness descends upon us, upon our fingers and our lips… not because we’re “better”, but because we’re not… and we’re more and more aware that even our repentance risks becoming another self-absorption burdening others. Surely, as Yul Brenner’s “King” would have put it, “Eeeez puzzlement!”

But if it’s a puzzlement, then perhaps that’s the moment that the saving wind of Pentecost descends on us and ushers us back out in the world to save us from ourselves. “Get busy! Get out there and busy yourselves about the needs of others! and enough of yourselves! One more prayer for ‘your vocation’ and I’m gonna have to let someone have it. If I want you to have a vocation… I’ll give you one. Meantime… get out there and get busy! Let’s figure the rest out as it comes!” And so they went, their lives picked up again, God even gave them the words to speak so they wouldn’t wander off spending days and days wrestling with those… and here we are… ready to do pick up our own lives as well. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever!

 

Resolve for a Lenten Life in Christ

“Our Life in Christ is a cycle of repentance and renewal. We must fast from ourselves, from our “me’s, our my’s, and our mines”, that we might find and shift our focus to feasting with (and on) Christ…. His body, His blood, His Life, His Kingdom, His people and His Word… that in all their fullness….  they might be embodied in us, run through our veins, fill our lives, and find their voice in our words and deeds.” This is our charge as Christians at all times… but especially here and now, especially in Lent and the run-up to Pascha. We’re called to re-commit ourselves to this path with more intensity, to celebrate the vibrancy of Christ in our lives as the Resurrection of our “inner child”, the once-wayward Adam and Eve, and find their Joy… their burst of energy in our lives in that second chance they seized in drawing close to the Source of Life in Christ’s Descent, and together exiting the nether tombs of Hades.

Our life beyond the tomb is here and now where the hand of God reaches out for us to seize if we will. But we have to let go of all we think we know as well. For this Life in Christ is no simple add-on, as though we might be filled with Life while still holding fast to all that kills and clutters our passing fancies. Truth is we can’t expect to botox our hearts down to some sort of core as though a preservative could do more than embalm and inure ourselves. We can’t expect to hold with racing through our lives, running right by those around us… and somehow claim we’ve lived. Today’s fascination with gore and violence of the Walking Dead isn’t as far from the truth as it seems… still, the challenge lies less in being held spellbound than in breaking free, illumining our lives in the light of Christ, and freeing ourselves from despair. It’s less about what we let go, and more in turning toward Life itself.

And if in fact we do, if we take up this path, renew and illumine our way with the light of Christ in our lives by living for others… we’re going to wonder not just at the outset… but surely here and there as well… at how small the outer difference truly seems – which by all accounts it is, but the inner change is wondrous. And yes, that small voice that whispers, “Nah… it’s much worse, much smaller than you think! Don’t do it…” will still worm its way in our heads from time to time. But its appeal is far less if we can recall how the path to The Kingdom begins far from highways, off a turn or two down a quiet lane where precisely the small turns and simple steps that seem the only ones we can manage at these times – are exactly the way we needed… as though it were this way and no other. For the Kingdom will in fact yield… and the magic of compound “interest” will work as slowly but surely on our heaven-mindedness until in time, and as God provides, wills and we allow… the door opens.

So yes, we can reach and even grasp the outstretched hand we can’t see …but only if we let go of what we do or think we see. We find this hard… harder than we know or can manage most of the time… and we miss, too. But there is no one without the other. And that’s just it: If we think it through, if we get it right, then Lent is far more of a measure of our possibilities and treasures… the stuff we’re after… or think we are, and shouldn’t be confined or bound by looking at our sacrifices – the things we let go. Our sacrifices are merely the steps we measure in moving toward and opening ourselves to Love and Life itself. What’s lost… never was, and what’s gained …is all there ever really is.

So here’s a resolution: By all the powers of heaven, may we let this time and this life we live become a testament to the great things that small steps can work in our lives, and by the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints, may God grant that it be so… that in all the small steps we make, we might move closer and ever closer to God… until one day… we find ourselves “suddenly” or as St. Mark might put it, “immediately” in the presence of His Kingdom.

Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

As this is the season of joyous renewal (Great Lent) together with awareness that the drifting accumulations in our lives have perhaps run other than expected, it’s clear that those things we once welcomed and treasured as the white snows of our childish delights and the promises of freedom for a day here and there, have perhaps darkened with time and the soot thrown off of our modern lives. So that now as the eye falls, we see these differently, and may seek after more authentic treasures with circumspect desires and the zeal born of our wading through twists and turns only to find there is indeed a light ahead.

So in pausing before our next step, perhaps it’s worth some effort to clear our view as in The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. The Canon offers self-deprecation and self-understanding without its common odd fellow – despair. And coming as it does within deep love, faith and confidence in the forthcoming requited love of the self-offerings of Christ, the promise of redemption, new life in resurrection, and all the treasures and joys of the Kingdom… perhaps there is something of use to keep in our hearts.

So it is a joy to find this musical rendering in English here. May you find the blessings of the Lenten Journey a time of joy and sweetness!

And FWIW, as we closed the Canon this Thursday night, my priest focused attention on the Kontakion at the end of Ode 6 as the heart of St. Andrew’s spirituality:

“My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near and you will be confounded. Awake, then, and be watchful that Christ our God may spare you, for He is everywhere and fills all things!”

As Father put it, “In the end, it’s not we who will “do” what needs to be done for our salvation, but Christ… who will lift us up where we are and as we are, and offer to do what’s needed, and save us. And in this, He will love us better than we love ourselves. In the accounts we find, if you look closely at St. Mary of Egypt, St. Paul, St. Peter, the Thief on the cross, …and so many others… what stands out is that no two are saved alike. You can’t just systematize and figure it out as if there’s a way to break the code… it just doesn’t work that way. Each course of salvation follows a different path even as ours will run as well. But the key to it all is that Christ gave each what they needed, led them where they needed to go… each found salvation by His hand, by His efforts… and not their own. Christ is the common thread, the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

Parish Council Meetings and Not

In our parish, we’ve now scheduled and cancelled three council meetings since the first of the year… which is great and all. I mean the best kind of meeting is the kind we don’t need… only at some point that’s gotta stop… and then what? So pondering this, I’ve been in communication with my crewe… which is not to say I have an important position. I don’t. But simply to say that I love poking our guys… being one myself… and not taking ourselves or our meetings too seriously.

First Thoughts:

Having checked with Punx, the weather forecast for Thursday suggests it may be 6 more weeks until our first Parish Council meeting. His fan page has all his posse’ wearing top hats. I’m thinking they must have missed all the Orthodox clergy hats those folks really wore… or maybe they just photoshopped them out thinking, “No one will understand this photo” or “Wait… what country is this?”

So there you have it. Have what? A reason for alternate dates “in the event of rain / snow / gloom-of-night”  and all that… the stuff the Post Office of yore used to laugh at and keep going. Presumably they call Fedex under those conditions? Dunno. One thing I do know? Nobody braves squat anymore.

And that’s something to think about while Mother Nature let’s us have it. Which of course left me  wondering where these strange customs come from… and yes I did google that… it seems you can (of course…wait for it… wait for it) blame it on the Filioque. You think I’m kidding? Hmmmm. Don’t answer that. Anyway… as the Dana Carvey’s SNL Church Lady would say, “Isn’t that special ?!”

This is the story from Scott P. Richert at “About.com Catholicism”:

“Over the centuries, then, the common culture of the various European peoples—tied, as it was, to their shared Christianity—developed other rituals attached to Candlemas Day. An ancient English poem (simply entitled “Candlemas Day”) read, in part,

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight; But if it be dark with clouds and rain, Winter is gone, and will not come again.

Throughout Northern Europe, various nationalities took such ideas and developed their own traditions, often tied to those animals—bears, badgers, hedgehogs—that, in early February, were beginning to rouse themselves from their winter slumber. German immigrants to the United States, who had looked to the hedgehog in their homeland, found the groundhog in more ample supply in Pennsylvania, and transferred their allegiance.

Remembering the Origins of Groundhog Day:

As time went by, the Christian origins of the various Candlemas Day customs faded into the background, and we were left with Punxsutawney Phil. But for those who remember the words of Simeon, Groundhog Day will always be Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation, and the light that shines on the beloved rodent will always remind us of the Light of the World.”

Who sent this? Dunno. Might even be ol’ Phil his own “bad as he wants to be” self. Yep.

Second Thoughts… ‘Cause Repetition is Better? (NOT!)

Once upon a time, Punxatawney Phil converted to Orthodoxy, and joined St. Dude in one of the wettest Baptisms and Chrismation ceremonies ever …and I say Chrismation ’cause I assume that part happened but I’m not sure …’cause it was one mess… like Phil’s shaking water off like some sort of dog or something… an’ water’s flying everywhere in a cloud… and Father’s reaching into the cloud with the oil… and suddenly it’s like we’re all getting changed at Jiffy Lube what with the oil flyin’ everywhere, and the awful mess….and yet it was strangely wonderful at the same time!

Anyway… whatever it was, the next thing you knew, poor old Phil’s just standing in the corner of the parish hall minding his own business one coffee hour, when George leans in and whispers,

“Hey Thickheaded, watch this… I’m gonna get that guy…”
“What guy?”
“The one over there… y’know… the furry kid from Caddyshack… ”
“You mean Phil?” “Yeah… ‘Phil”… is that his name?”

And like white on rice, George’s over asking his “ol’ buddy Phil” whether he wouldn’t mind running for parish council. But like many of us seasoned pros… not those of us here obviously… but like those NOT here… Phil counters… and quickly… saying, “Chuck? Chuckchuck? Chuck?” But y’know George… he doesn’t miss a lick. Noting nobody nearby is even remotely going by “Chuck”, named “Charles”, or hangin’ with the whole “Chas” biz, George decides (as he does with all re-directions) “Chuck”  means “Sure thang!”

And next thing you know, Phil gets elected. Bad news… as everyone also knows… Phil comes out of his condo literally the next morning, reaches down to get the paper…. sees his shadow…. and BAM! We’re rolling with the usual media/sports/celebrity hoopla…. cameras, hot lights, music, fireworks, dancing girls, marching bands… you know the drill. And what it all means is that… Phil’s an instant megastar, got his own posse’, his own private jet, recording contract, and even better… a private island… like all those of us George leans on. Only George leans on a lot of folks, and it doesn’t happen… or not at least not enough… or at least not to you and me… and so we’re left pondering what we should do, and especially how to jet off to a private island….  somewhere… anywhere… and there it is! Like a bolt out of the blue… it’s a call from Phil:

“Ciao, Thickheaded! ‘Sup? Do we have a meeting or what?”
“Dunno man. Can’t make it happen.”
“Who loves ya’, baby?”

Only before I can answer, his dudishness is gone.

And so it seems worth turning the whole over to prayer… the sort that takes us out on that edgey ledgey where it’s either ribbons or thunderbolts… ’cause there’s only one someone who does know….yep….  an’ all ya’ gotta do is ask… and by that I mean none other than our all Holy, Immaculate Theotokos, Joy of All Who Don’t Have Meetings. And so I asked her what’s the dang deal with all these meetings…. or non-meetings …and here’s what I learned:

Number one… she thought I was annoying. Wasn’t it obvious? Sure. Of course. But what about the meetings? Okay. Here goes: “There will be no parish council meetings until 6 weeks after their originally scheduled dates… or until Spring… whichever comes second. Oh… and …uh…hold the candles. You people must think I can’t see or something. I’m seein’ fine. Trust me on that… more than you, or I or you-know-who… want. No kiddin’, ’nuff said? What I could use? Yeah… I’m tellin’ you…  chocolates… even roses would be nice. .. like it’s almost Valentines… and who loves ya’ baby? Just sayin’.”

So now we know. And I sure hope we can stop with the channeling Telly Savalas.

Sloggin’ by the Way

“And it may seem strange to think of Orthodoxy in such a context – a world that has become a stranger to the gospel encountering the Church that wrote the gospels. But that is precisely where I think we are. My experience of Orthodoxy has not been with a new way of arguing the same old things (though it is possible to force it into such a position). Rather, reading and praying the fathers has been a path back to something prior to all of the arguments.” – Fr. Stephen Freeman, “Saving the Atonement” from 2/5/14 Glory to God for All Things Blogsite (a better read btw).

I’m thankful for the many blogs Orthodox Christians write. I read some others, too, and I used to read more. But increasingly, the irony that our Ancient Faith has need to urgently press the modern era with some or all of its wisdom on some minor point of modern life… just seems so beside the point. We cannot slow the whirlwind down. What we can do is remove ourselves from its turns and silence the noises of the winds howling as they rattle the windows of our souls and bodies. Huddling for a  moment’s respite has its merits, but also its limits… and in the end the virtue is found in something more.

But where and how we resolve to move and breathe towards this “more” and all that comes next is no simple matter. And it’s here that I struggle and benefit from the support of others, and offer my own… such as it is… in return. Worship directs us outward, towards God, and our life together supports our inward warfare so that the conjunction of these that comprises a life within our modern world manages something of real meaning. For without the ascesis of building meaning in this way, there is only the drudgery of the same-old same-old. Sure, many a day and many a moment can be quite wonderful in this drudgery, and I don’t mean to demean any moment by falsely characterizing a visit to Gramps or family holiday gathering as “drudgery”, and yet repetition without the leavening of the Holy Spirit lessens rather than enriches in the same way that a 34th trip to Disney (substitute wherever you like… and btw, I’m neither “for” or “against” Disney) never matches the first.

Yet this in fact captures something of the sort we DO seek: To see the 145th visit to Gramps with the same sort of wonder and warmth of our first visit to Disney where everything was so-new-and-all. And by contrast, having now just come from the still warm deathbed of my beloved father-in-law, I can say that there is indeed wonder, gratitude and meaning for sharing even in the privilege of that moment… a moment both raw, hard and beautiful at the same time. And yes, it’s not all about “me and my experience”… God did not want that moment, but He did offer the chance to experience it differently… in joy with grief… rather than in grief alone. Thus peering through the veil if we can, to really see all the great, good things of our world as God might want and as He gives them to us… rather than simply as they appear, to see Gramps as he is… as training to see more… even a father-in-law whose life in Christ surpasses most. He was one who succeeded beyond measure in “doing more with less” as my priest likes to say. And admittedly, I mostly fail at this… specializing in accomplishing less with more… and though I might recover here and there… my resolve is to both stand up and stand back… that it might become easier, and success occasion itself more readily here and there by God’s grace.

And so if there are blogs where argumentation runs more commonly than insight… or an emphasis on dogmatics, I’m not sure how this furthers my path along the way. (By no means do I want to suggest these authors don’t have insight… only they may not be sharing their treasures in ways  that reach my need at the time.) And so I’ll read on… ’cause most of us can (and do) often find nuggets buried like acorns under a tree. And it’s these that my inner squirrel seeks, where encountering the record of another’s memory transmutes my understanding, and renews the course of my experiences. It does happen, and I am thankful when it does… but at times it does seem as though you do have to be about as busy as a squirrel gathering for the winter if it’s going to work… running here and there, up the bark and down, out on the limbs and back, quickly away from the cat/dog/people, and slowly by hops towards the fruits fallen fresh on the ground…. all the while… finding and filling only small bites at a time.

But here, in a quote from Fr. Stephen’s blog is such a nugget. And I think it does no harm to suggest that by “prior” he may mean “supercedes” or “surpasses” all the arguments… and focuses on the peace of Christ… a worthy goal.