Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Blog

I'm moving to a new blog:

This blog in this spot was started with Lent only in mind, but I want to expand it in a different way.

Come visit!  I'm writing about crafting (including Orthodox-themed crafts), lesson plans for kids, and lots of other things.  I just posted a children's study I wrote for the Apostles' Fast.  Lots more to come.  See you there!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy Monday through Holy Wednesday

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying:  Holy, Holy Holy are You, O our God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

I am absolutely, positively in love with Bridegroom Matins.  Sung only four times a year, from Palm Sunday evening through Holy Wednesday evening, this gentle service paves the road to the Passion in a way that cannot be described but only experienced.  The highlight of the service is the above hymn sung to a haunting, profound melody.  Like any of the other hymns common to Orthodoxy, each ethnic tradition has its own special way of singing it.  I couldn't find the version we use sung in English, but I did find this lovely clip from Russia using the melody I know and love:

We've been so fortunate to attend all of the Holy Week services so far...twice daily from Saturday to Tuesday and three times on Wednesday.  The story builds little by little each day.  For Holy Monday, we remember the Cursing of the Fig Tree.  Christ warns us that we must bear fruit.  My priest gave a lovely sermon explaining this story.  He said that all our observances...coming to church, praying, fasting, etc....those things are not the fruit.  They are the leaves that protect and develop the fruit.  The fruit itself: humility, love, patience, etc. is under the leaves and sheltered within the tree.  You can't have one without the other.  They go together.  If we've struggled through Lent and kept "the rules" only to think that observance is the fruit, we've lost sight of the big picture.  It doesn't matter how much we fast or act like good little Christians on the outside.  It's the inside that must change and grow and bear real, tangible fruit in our lives.  If not, then we're wasting our time just sprouting leaves. 

Here's the learning box for Holy Monday:

*  "Behold!  The Bridegroom comes at midnight!"
*  A tree for the withered fig tree and a block with a drawing of a fig.
*  Grapes for the fruit we should bear.
*  The Old Testament Joseph, who we remember this day.  In icons, he is shown with regal Egyptian garb on, so I was pleased to find this Egyptian figure I thought would go well.
*  Also on this day, we read the prophecy in Ezekiel of the four-faced figure with faces of an angel, a lion, an eagle, and an ox.  The Church sees these to be symbols the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Jared drew the images on the block for us.

On Holy Tuesday, we remember the Parable of the Ten Virgins.  Here's that reference to the Bridegroom!  Five wise virgins were prepared and had enough oil for their lamps, as they waited for the bridegroom.  Five foolish virgins were not prepared and did not have enough oil.  While they went off to buy some, the bridegroom arrived and only the wise virgins were allowed into the wedding feast.  When the foolish virgins returned, it was too late.  Christ is coming..are you ready?

When I first experienced the Orthodox Church, I was perplexed by the services.  Every Sunday morning it was the same thing.  Over and over with only slight differences.  How boring it sounded on the surface!  As I began to experience more of the services and really started paying attention to the Divine Liturgy, I saw that no two services are ever exactly the same, and they are far from boring!  Yes, we have consistent parts that do appear over and over, but that sameness is comforting...not monotonous.  Each time I hear the words, it adds a new layer of meaning in my heart.  You can never hear the Truth too many times.  I also used to think there was very little Scripture in Orthodox services.  That one makes me laugh out loud when I think about it now!  There is Scripture everywhere in our hymnography.  Every hymn overflows with it.  I just didn't know my Scripture as well as I thought I did, so I didn't recognize it!

The beauty of the Bridegroom Matins service is how they daily set up the story of Holy Week.  The structure is the same each day, and some of the readings and hymns are the same, but verses change daily and cry out with a depth I found so lacking in my previous experiences.

How shall I, the unworthy one,
Appear in the splendor of Your saints?
For if I dare to enter Your bridal chamber with them,
My garments will betray me;
They are unfit for a wedding.
The angels will cast me out in chains.
Cleanse the filth of my soul, O Lord,
And save me in Your love for mankind.

Verse after verse.  Song after song.  Each word carefully crafted to tell a story...the story of our salvation.  No boring repetitiveness.  No mindless chatter.  The Orthodox services drip with meaning from every breath.  We do not cater to individual preference.  We do not perform.  We do not entertain.  We pray...we pray...we pray to God with all of our unworthiness and strive to have communion with Him in every part of our lives.  We do not separate life and church.  Orthodoxy is not a worship style.  Orthodoxy is a lifestyle.   

The learning box for Holy Tuesday:

*  "Let us love the Bridegroom, O brethren.  Let us keep our lamps aflame with virtues and true faith, so that we, like the wise virgins of the Lord, may be ready to enter with Him into the marriage feast, for the Bridegroom, as God, grants unto all an incorruptible crown."
*  Hilary drew the figures of the virgins.  The wise virgin has a smiley face.  The foolish virgin has a frown.  Between them is their lamp.  
*  The Parable of the Talents is also read today, so a coin is included.  We sing much about using what God has given us for others and not just burying our resources and our heads in the ground.
*  Lastly today, we remember the Last Judgment and the sheep and the goats.  Another reminder that when the Bridegroom comes, we need to be ready!

Holy Wednesday has a third service added to it with Holy Unction.  Unction is the Orthodox version of an old time healing service.  Seven Epistle readings and seven Gospel readings about healing and love comprise the majority of the service.  At each Gospel reading, the priest turns to the crowd and asks for a sick person to come forth.  He lays the Gospel book on the head of that person as he reads aloud.  Everyone else circles around and kneels or stands while touching the priest or the person closest to them.  There is an intimacy that is palpable.  Everyone lays their pretense aside and comes together to pray for the healing of ourselves and those around us.

I've had the pleasure of attending this service at a couple different monasteries.  There, it is truly magnificent with perhaps a dozen priests and hundreds of people.  It feels like you just became best friends with a crowd of strangers.  It's the true representation of loving your brother.  Peace fills the air...oh, the peace!  No falling down on the ground or emotionally charged hype that other traditions have in their healing services.  Unction is a sweetness, a quietness, a vulnerability that is unique and precious.  

It might be a physical ailment that brings us to our knees, but Unction isn't just about healing the body.  Emotional and spiritual healing are sought as well.  At the end of the service, everyone is anointed with oil and we leave with a brightness and comfort.

The learning box for Holy Wednesday:
*  "With his hands the betrayer receives the Bread.  With his hands he secretly receives the silver, the price of Him who fashioned man with His hands; So the servant and deceiver Judas remains depraved"
*  Today we remember two extremes involving money.  The harlot approaches Jesus at dinner and anoints Him with oil valued at almost a year's wages.  She does this in symbol of His coming burial, which she probably didn't understand.  She just knew she loved Him and wanted to show it in an extravagant way.  A perfume bottle is included to represent her gift as well as a figure of her.  At the other end of the spectrum, Judas agrees this day to betray Christ...for thirty measly pieces of silver.  I'll be keeping my eye out for some silver coins to include, but I couldn't find any locally.  Instead, we wrapped wooden circles in aluminum foil.  Good enough for now!  What a contrast today between the giver and the betrayer.  What am I willing to sell Christ for?  What earthly pleasure will I give up my soul to have?  I caution myself not to just assume I'm the loving harlot.  I can be just like Judas, too. 
*  Lastly, a bottle of oil is included to represent Holy Unction.

The Passion is close now.  The deal is done.  The preparations are being made.  It won't be long now.

I don't know if I'll be back to write about the rest of the boxes before Pascha.  So much to do and yet so much not to do.  We're trying to just rest between services and pray continually.  I'll be back when I'm able to complete the learning box series and share some pictures of other things we did during Holy Week.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

We got up this morning and dressed just a little bit nicer than normal.  Hurried to church with a bit more pep in our tired steps than usual.  Holy Week is in the air now.  Christ is making His entrance.  The atmosphere is electric with anticipation.

The palms from yesterday's assembling awaited us.  Kids and adults alike shook their branches and the attached bells throughout the entire service.  Yes, that's ninety minutes of tinkling and clamoring...depending on the size of the bell.  Some brought their own bells from home, and it was a festive mix of tones from shrill to deep.  The bells I strung together for the learning box sounded like sleigh bells when I shook them.  For a moment, I had Christmas carols running through my head.  Bing Crosby is a persistent fella...hard to get rid of him!

Orthodoxy is all about moving your body.  God is the god of our bodies as well as our mouths.  Crossing ourselves, kissing icons, prostrating, and even shaking a bell until our arms ache help us pay better attention to the service and makes every movement more meaningful.  We pray with every part of us, and this day was no different.

Usually, we process around the outside of the church at the end of the service, but alas, this day of jubilation didn't carry over to the weather.  It was cold and rainy.  No one wanted to go outside, so we stayed in and Father led the children through an extra procession in the center of the church.  We all shook our palms with a little extra bit of "umph" to make up for not going outside.

The learning boxes have become a bit of a sensation at church.  People are starting to look for the next one.  This idea is turning out to be just as useful for the adults as it is for the kids.  I know that making the boxes has taken my Holy Week experience to another level already.  It keeps me from going through the motions.  I'm listening for the symbols in the readings just as much as Hilary, and I get a little lift of excitement every time I hear one like she does.

Yesterday's learning box for Lazarus Saturday looked like this:
Martha and Mary are there.  Jared misunderstood my plans for Lazarus, so he drew grave clothes on one of the figures.  My plans had been to wrap a figure in linen strips.  He liked his, and I liked mine, so we compromised by putting both versions of Lazarus in the box!  This drove Hilary crazy.  She insisted that there could not possibly be two Lazarus figures.  Oh, of the many times in a day that I do not do exactly as Hilary desires!  The box also has a stone for Lazarus' tomb, and a quote from the Gospel reading of the story where Jesus reassures Martha that, "I am the Resurrection and the Life."  Lastly, the box has a wooden cube with the number "4" written in different styles and languages (English, Spanish, Greek, Russian, and Arabic) to symbolize Lazarus, the four-days dead.  We stumbled across these wooden blocks, and I'm going to use them often in the boxes for the things that are difficult to find an actual 3-D symbol to represent.

Palm Sunday's box looked like this:
It included:
     *  a donkey
     *  bells
     *  a palm cross
     *  the Troparion of the day
     *  two figures waving palms (note how those tiny crosses that Jared wove on Lazarus Saturday came in handy...the male figure has his very own palm cross made to scale!)
      *  a friend from church is intrigued by the boxes, so she gave me a special gift of a rock from the Mount of Olives.  She suggested including it on this day to remind us that if we do not praise God, even the rocks will cry out.

My Protestant upbringing had a giant gap in Holy Week.  Well...there was no Holy Week.  We had two celebrations: Palm Sunday and Easter.  No services in between.  Now, having the chance to go to church every day (God willing, multiple times a day) during this week really cements the events for me.  I'm so grateful for the lessons of Holy Week.  There's betrayal and death and tears this week.  There's agony and sacrifice and denial.  It's not just two parties!  Daily reminders of that this week are extremely helpful.

We've had our first celebration.  We're rejuvenated and anxious to continue our journey.  In just a few short days, the voices will be crying, "Crucify him!", but today, it's nice to feel just the joy of:

Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord! 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lazarus Saturday

Lent is over.  Where did it go?  It seems like this season has just flown by.  It is a bittersweet passing.  I feel excited on the one hand that the big day of celebration is almost here.  On the other hand, I feel like there is so much more I could have done with this Lenten journey.  So many opportunities I missed.  Missed time to pray.  Missed time to repent.

Holy Week begins.  It stands apart from the rest of Lent in its own time and space.  Holy Week is like a different world, a parallel life to the hustle and bustle around us.  Time seems to stop its chaotic churning and matches its step to the rhythmic flow of the services.  There's a slowness.  A purposefulness.  Everything comes together to march on...on to Pascha.

I decided to try my hand at Lazarakia this year.  These spiced breads in the shape of Lazarus in his grave clothes are just the cutest thing ever!  We had fun making them last night to bring to church to share this morning.

They turned out pretty good.  I think they'll be even better when I tweak some things for next year.

We had a baptism at this morning's Liturgy.  The sweet baby girl had absolutely no desire to be there.  She didn't like the people smiling and cooing at her.  She didn't like the cold.  She especially despised the priest!  Father can be encouraged, though.  It seemed to me like she didn't like anyone in a cassock.  Even the altar boys.  Men in dresses just don't sit well with her.  Makes sense I guess.  Of course, I must include the gratuitous naked baby shot.

As we sang "As many as have been baptized into Christ", I found myself making that mental switch to Holy Week.  It's so easy to get caught up in the fast of fasting.  To get distracted by the food.  But just how many times can I remind myself that it isn't about the food???  This baptism is what it's all about.  Dying with Christ.  Bathed in the water.  Rising again.  Lent is just a drop in the bucket.  A moment in an eternity of preparation.  It's all been building up to this.  Not just for the last forty days.  But since the beginning.  God's been preparing this moment for us.  The moment of our salvation that we enter in the Resurrection.  Life and death.  Time and eternity.  Love...boundless love.  How shallow and simpleminded I am when I just make it about the food!!!!

It's going to be a long week.  Full of so many services, it will begin to feel like we moved into the church building to stay.  What a comfort it will be to be able to do that.  To get lost in Holy Week time.  I'm ready!

After Liturgy, we decorated the church with palms.  We tied palm branches with bells for everyone who will come to the service tomorrow.  We'll wave them with gusto during the entire service.  The green was lovely to see.  Especially with the cold snap and snow we've had this week, I was beginning to forget that spring actually officially began.  The green looks and smells of life.  The whole church glowed with a new warmth and vibrancy.

It looked like a jungle with all the branches awaiting their blessing for tomorrow's festivities.  In addition to the large branches, we wove small crosses out of palms for people to take home and put on their icons.  I don't know how Jared did it, but he managed to weave the tiniest crosses I've ever seen.  We're using one of them for a figure in the learning box for Palm Sunday.  (Pictures of the latest boxes to come tomorrow!)
I feel like I keep saying this lately, but I wish more people knew what they were missing when they miss this service.  In Orthodoxy, we love to prepare.  In fact, we even love to prepare to prepare.  Lazarus Saturday gets us ready and motivated for Holy Week.  A resurrection on the way to the Resurrection.  It's going to get dark very soon.  Will I be like Martha and be short-sighted?  Will I worry about the stench...the stench of my own death?  Will I pay attention enough to hear Christ when he tells me to come forth like Lazarus?  Will I believe Him when He says, "I am the Resurrection and the life."?  Will I wiggle and hop my way out of the grave, tightly bound in cloths, struggling to break free?  Will I? 

Christ is the resurrection.  Christ is life.  Oh that I not stay in the grave! 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I fell in love with Anna's Pascha Boxes, and I just had to have my own for my four year old.  Once I got to thinking about what we could do for Holy Week, it also got me thinking about feasts in general.  I decided to make this an ongoing project.  We will be making boxes for all the Twelve Major Feasts, Holy Week, our namesdays, and who knows where it will stop!

Jared and I have turned this into a school project of sorts.  We're taking full advantage of his creativity and amazing patience.  I am raising a boy who actually enjoys standing in a craft store and listening to me babble on about, "Maybe we can do, maybe we can do that."  Amazing!  Well, he does have his limits...mainly related to his little sister and her lack of shopping cart navigation skills.  It's been fun, though, to spend our afternoons searching for supplies and dreaming of possibilities.

The first box is actually not for Holy Week.  It's for March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation.

Mary had been brought to the temple as a child and dedicated to the Lord by her parents, Joachim and Anna.  One day, the angel Gabriel came to her and told her she would give birth to the Messiah, even though she was a virgin.  From that moment on, the world would never be the same.  The hope of the Resurrection of us all began at Annunciation, and it is there that we also learn to love the Mother of God for her humility and willingness to obey. 

The juxtaposition of Annunciation and Lent is always striking to me.  Since Pascha moves and this feast doesn't, it comes at different times during the period of the Fast.  This year, as we are knee deep in weeks of preparing and contemplating the death and Resurrection of the Son of Man, we make a dramatic switch to celebrating a girl being told she's going to have a baby.  The dissonance and the harmony makes me pause.  To God, there is no time, so it only makes sense that the beginning and the ending of a life overlap in this way.  It also refocuses us on who Christ really is.  He's not just a man.  He's the Messiah, and His death is not the end of the story of our salvation.  As we prepare for Christ's death, we celebrate the announcement of His birth.  Let us continue to anticipate the glorious Resurrection!

I think Annunciation often gets lost in the shuffle of Lent, but I encourage you to stop and embrace this feast.  It's full of symbolism and meaning.   

The boxes for the feasts of the Theotokos will be blue.  The feasts of Christ will be red.  The Annunciation box contains:

*  Theotokos and Gabriel figures.
*  A white flower to represent the Theotokos' purity.
*  Grapes for "the fruit of your womb".
*  In some icons, the Theotokos is shown spinning thread.  Since she lived and worked at the Temple, she probably helped weave the Temple veil.  The Temple veil was blue, red and purple, so there are threads of those colors included.
*  The Troparion of the Feast:

"Today is the beginning of our salvation.  The revelation of the eternal mystery!  The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.  Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with You!"

*  A book of the story.

Our parish observed the feast this evening at our Presanctified Liturgy.  The box was a success!  Hilary absolutely loved it.  She enjoyed reading the story and hearing me explain the symbols.  She really liked it when I reminded her that the icon of the Annunciation is always on the Royal Doors in an Orthodox Church.  I think it truly helped cement things for her!  Plus, it definitely kept her busy.  When Presanctified was over, she asked, "Why was the service so short today?"  Time flew by as she played with the figures and other items.  I'm pretty sure Gabriel and Mary were not just discussing holy things in her game, but thoughts of the Mother of God filled her head for 90 minutes straight.  That's a lovely thing! 

Can't wait to make the rest of the boxes!

Mary was the first Christian.  She literally took Christ into her own body.  Her willingness to be obedient, even when she didn't understand, is a compelling example for me.  As we approach Holy Week, I pray that I may also be obedient to God and all that He asks of me during this time.  May I put aside all my own desires, doubts, and fears and cry without hesitation:

"Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word."
I'm so sorry I disappeared.  This Lent has been one constant challenge for our family.  Illness, transition, and drama have overwhelmed us.  It has been quite the learning experience, but it required me to devote all of my energies to other things.  I am so sad not to complete the Lenten devotional this year, but it is NOT over!  I will complete it and have it ready for next year.  For now, I'm going to be posting about the other ways we are preparing to celebrate Pascha.  Thank you for understanding!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Week 4

I thought I would finally get an entire week posted at one time.  Alas, I don't think it's going to happen today.  I wrote a lot of this week by hand with good old-fashioned pen and paper, and I'm not done typing it and formatting.  My dear godmother's mother has died, and I have to leave now to help at the wake.  Also, I'll be going to our deanery's service for Veneration of the Cross.  In this time of sorrow for my kuma, I'm glad we can also remember that after the cross comes the Resurrection!  Amid death, there is life!

Here's today's reading.  After the funeral tomorrow, I'll type the rest of the week and post it.

If you're able, please say a prayer for the handmaiden of God, Julia.  May her memory be eternal!

From My Youth Master File

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Week 3

Final UPDATE:  Week 3 is completed.

UPDATE to the Update:  Tuesday and Wednesday now added.
UPDATE:  Monday's reading now included.

Lent continues to throw challenges our family's way.  More illness all around (or is it just the same illness dragging on and on and on?) along with almost unbelievable drama.  We press on, though, and the joy of finding God in the craziness of life is sweet.

Here's a revision with today's reading.  The rest of this week's readings will come...I promise! 

From My Youth Master File

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Completion of Week 2

Ever try to sleep in a room with a dog, a husband, and a flailing four year with a head cold all snoring to a different rhythm?  It's an...interesting experience.  Looks like we're on the downside of our sickness, though.  Back to work!  Here's the rest of the revision for this week:

From My Youth Master File

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday of Orthodoxy

I love Sunday of Orthodoxy.  I mean, I LOVE Sunday of Orthodoxy.  I look forward to it throughout the year, and this year did not disappoint.  On the anniversary of my Chrismation, I remember what it meant to personally become Orthodox.  On this day, I am overwhelmed by the magnitude and beauty of the Church, and I thank God for leading me to the One, True Faith.

In 787 A.D., the Seventh Ecumenical Council met to finally reach some peace on the issue of icons.  This hadn't been just a mild disagreement.  This had been years of icons smashing and martyrs dying.  Even though we celebrate on this Sunday the day that brought icons back into the Church, this day did not bring icons back into the world.  We were blessed to have Fr. Stephen visit us this weekend, and I thought a lot about what he said at our city's Pan-Orthodox Vespers, which also made me think about other things.  (On a side note, what a lovely man Fr. Stephen is!  My priest knows him, so he spent some time at our parish.  It was a pleasure to remember my roots and chat with him in that truly unique Appalachian way.)

Icons are the first thing that separate us as Orthodox from the rest of the Christian world.  Most Protestants think we're wrong to have holy images.  Even the Catholics, who do have images, don't quite get our use of icons.  When I was in college studying for the comparative arts component of my Humanities degree, I was glad when we sped through the flat, dullness of the Byzantine era to get to the plump cherubs of the Renaissance.  Icons were kind of the definition of bad art.  Just what people did before the talent showed up.

Icons aren't just art, and they certainly aren't bad art.  They are a visual link between us an God.  When we venerate an icon, we aren't worshiping it.  We don't think the wood and paint is a god.  Instead, we pass on our love and respect to the person the image represents.  It isn't about the icon.  It's about God.  And if the Word became flesh, then it is right to make an icon of Him.  Christ was God and man.  The icon is our visual proof of the Incarnation.

God created us, and He created us to use all our senses.  Come to any Orthodox service, and you'll know that.  We touch, we kiss, we prostrate, we fast, we feast, we cross ourselves A LOT, we use our entire bodies to worship God.  Our worship celebrates both our humanity and our divinity.  Icons encapsulate all of that.

I drifted through many flavors of Protestant before I converted, and near the end, I attended the non-descript mega churches that are a trend now.  One of them inparticular looked exactly like a school auditorium.  Plain walls.  Plain stage.  Plain everything.  This was supposed to help everyone have an unimpeded experience with God.  So, what happened?  Well, like I said, God designed us to use all of our bodies to worship Him, and since the eyes were out, everyone focused on another sense...hearing.  At these churches, it's all about the music.  The ups and downs are crafted to give people that sensual experience they crave.  And interestingly, if you look around, a majority of people have their eyes closed.  The sterile surrounding in fact does not encourage interaction with God.  It leaves something lacking, so people have to close their eyes to reach their hearts.  They desperately search for that connection between their bodies and their worship.  Taking the Church out of church left a hole that ever-changing denominations are still trying to fill.  

At an Orthodox Church, we have much to complete our sensual experience.  When I sing about Christ, I can look at a cross, His face, or stories of His life, and those images surrounding me make God present in real ways.  Christ was born...there's the picture.  Christ heals...there's the picture.  Christ died and rose again...there's the picture.  Meditating on the events of Christ's life is more effective when those stories are everywhere you look.  Additionally, the harmony of the hymns and the cling of the censer bells fill my ears, and it sounds like Heaven.  I watch my prayers literally rise like incense, as the sweet-smelling smoke fills the building, and when I go home and catch a whiff of incense in my daughter's hair, it's an "Amen" to my soul.  I cross myself, bow, kiss and use my touch.  I taste the body and blood of Christ as my lips glow.  My whole body worships, and that makes it much easier for my heart to do the same.  Our worship is not a concert or a performance, and it's not just me and my personal experiences thinking about God.  Our worship is living out God and every aspect of His Creation.  Close your eyes and you just might miss something!

I doubt there's hardly an American home that doesn't have pictures.  We have pictures of our families, vacations, departed loved ones, and friends far away.  Even those plain churches often have pictures on the walls of founding members or clergy.  As humans, we like those visual reminders.  Get out a baby book and watch a mother come alive with stories.  The past crosses over to the present, and it becomes as real and fresh as if it was happening today.  Icons are the same thing.  By making pictures of Christ and His Saints, we open up the past and realize that with God there is no time.  Standing among icons is being surrounded by God yesterday, today, and forever.

Our culture doesn't get icons, though.  They don't get the wooden version, because they don't get the human version.  Whenever the priest or deacon censes the icons, he always turns to the people at the end and censes them.  Why?  Because we are the ultimate icons.  We have Christ literally within us.  We are the holy images of God in flesh and blood.  Seeing God in an icon makes it much easier to see that God is in you and me.  I'm a hypocrite if I love my icons and hate my brother.  I'm a hypocrite if I treat wood with a gentle touch of respect and give a harsh and unforgiving slap of the tongue to my fellow man.  

I am so grateful to live in an area that is full of Orthodoxy.  We have Orthodox churches everywhere of all types.  At our yearly Sunday of Orthodoxy celebration, we gather together from Russian, Serbian, Greek, OCA, Antiochian, Ukranian, Romanian, and other backgrounds.  To say the Creed together is a powerful experience.  This is the unity of the Faith, the knowledge that even though our ethnic backgrounds are different (or non-existent!), we all believe the same thing.

I cry every Sunday of Orthodoxy.  When I used to stand in that plain church with my eyes closed, reaching and searching for God, I felt something lacking.  I wished for the nameless place that had all the pieces.  I found that place.  It is the Orthodox Church.  I don't have to make it up as I go along anymore, and I can't tell you the depth of the peace that brings.  We have our share of problems in Orthodoxy.  Our parishes are screwed up sometimes!  Our people are really screwed up sometimes!  But that's just humanity.  It doesn't change the fact that our Faith hasn't changed for 2000 years.  The icons tell that story of rich heritage.  Surrounded by different languages and different stories, I blubber like a baby every year when the gravity of the gift God has given me in leading me to His Church hits me.  It's not just me and my Bible anymore.  It's me and a great cloud of witnesses.  

So, last night I cried and blinked through my blurry contact lenses as my favorite part of the service came.  The children and the priests had processed around the church carrying icons.  They stood in the front representing all those who have come before and who are yet to come.  Their icons spoke of blood and tears and joy.  Their icons spoke of man and God.  Everyone stopped singing and spoke the following words.  First gently, then building to a crescendo.  This is the day of God in His Church, God in His icons, and God in you and in me.  Thank you, God, for bringing me to this place... 

"As the prophets beheld, as the Apostles taught,
As the Church received, as the Teachers expounded dogma,
As the Universe has agreed, as Grace has shown forth,
As Truth has revealed, as Falsehood has been dissolved,
As Wisdom has presented, as Christ has awarded,

Thus we declare, thus we assert, thus we preach,
Christ our true God, and honor His Saints,
In words, in writings, in thoughts,
In sacrifices, in Churches, in Holy Icons,

On the one hand worshiping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord;
And on the other hand honoring the true servants of the same Lord of all,
And accordingly offering them veneration.

(loudly and with feeling!)

This is the Faith of the Apostles,
This is the Faith of the Fathers,
This is the Faith of the Orthodox,
This is the Faith which has established the Universe."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Revision for 2nd Week of Lent

Doesn't it always seem that when we get wonderful plans laid out, they all fall apart?  I was so looking forward to the first week of Lent.  I was going to go to church everyday.  I was going to fast and pray and write.  I was going to be peaceful.

Instead, I got slammed with a virus that gave me a fever, chills, extremely unfeminine sweating, and literally knocked me on my behind.  I spent most of this week on the couch sipping broth and watching the Olympics.  Now, we are huge Olympics fans, so the last part wasn't all that bad, but I missed going to church.  I missed having a clear thought.  I missed having the Clean Week I envisioned.  I didn't miss out on a good lesson, though.  Lent isn't about what we think it's going to be in our little well-crafted spiritual plans.  The Christian life is how we react to whatever is thrown at us.  Even when we're thrown a curve ball.

So, I'm a bit behind in writing.  Here's the next few days of readings, and I'll post the rest of the revision after this weekend and a bit of wrapping things up.  I pray that Lent has begun well for you all.  Even if it's not quite how you envisioned it!

From My Youth Master File

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Clean Monday

Lent is here.  Sunday night, at Forgiveness Vespers, the moment of anticipation was heightened when Lent began at a moment halfway through the service.  As the choir sang, all the colors of the church were changed from gold to purple.  The gold cloths under the icons were removed to reveal the purple ones waiting underneath.  The glasses in the lampadas were switched.  All the altar boys scrambled in hasty disarray behind the altar to change their robes along with the clergy.  Visually there had been a change, and you could feel it in the air.  It was subtle and serious.  Joyful and mournful.  The time has come.  Here we go!

After the service, we all participated in the rite of forgiveness.  The line snaked around the nave as we individually went up to Father, got down on our hands and knees in prostration before him and asked for forgiveness for anything we did to him this year or anything we left undone.  He did the same, and we embraced in the kiss of peace.  We then went down the line, repeating the same action with each and every person in attendance.  Even if you barely knew the person.  Even if the person was your own angst-ridden teenager.  You asked for forgiveness from them all.  We all fail each other in one way or another.  We all need forgiveness.  Lent is about repentance, and if we ever hope to be forgiven by God, we have to start by doing some forgiving of our own.

Even little Hilary participated this year.  She's been too shy in the past, but this time, she basked in the love of dozens and dozens of kisses.  I wonder what she thought she was doing?  She was told, but what did she really think it was all about?  When she came to me in the line, I had to hold her back as she immediately lunged at me to kiss.  I grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to look in her eyes.  I hadn't even asked for forgiveness yet.  She just smiled and pushed through my grip to kiss my cheeks.  Isn't that how it should be with everyone?  What if I could do that?  What if I could forgive before other people even get a chance to ask?  To push through the barriers of tension and baggage to forgive first.  To kiss and forgive with abandon.  What a place that would be!

Afterwards, we indulged in an ice cream social.  Piling the mounds of frozen goodness with chocolate and whipped cream, we enjoyed one last celebration.  The fast begins in earnest, now.  Meat has been gone for a week, and now dairy is gone, too.  We won't see them again until Pascha. 

Clean Monday, the first day of Lent, is a chance to clean out your body and your mind.  In Greece, they make it a celebration, complete with kite flying.  When I suggested that we try to fly a kite, my husband and daughter laughed so hard, I thought they might hurt themselves.  It really wasn't that crazy of an idea!  O.K.  Maybe it was...but it would have been a good memory.  No kite flying here on this bitterly cold day.  Instead, we walked our new dog at the park in between snow storms.  Isn't she cute?

There's something about Lent beginning on a cold, snowy day that is fitting.  We're at that point in winter which comes every year.  That point where I'm beginning to doubt that spring could ever come.  It's cold and wet and snows almost every day.  The cold has seeped into my bones, and I'm never truly warm.  Pascha in the spring seems years and years away.


Sin is like this winter.  It blows and drifts in every corner of my life.  It comes every day with no break and seeps down to my bones.  Sometimes, I can't begin to imagine a life without it.  I can't even begin to see spring.  Lent, the journey of repentance, takes me there, though.  Takes me to the Resurrection.

There's some cleaning I need to do this Clean Monday.  Clean my body.  Clean my soul.  The crisp, bitterness of the day is a good place to start.  In Christ it's warm and inviting.  In Christ, I'm just around the corner from the thaw.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Revision through Week 1

Finally an update!  Sorry for the delay.  Here is the revised document with readings through the first Saturday of Lent.  Remember, starting on Monday, there will be readings every day.  I'll post them in chunks of one week at a time with as much advance notice as possible.

I will give parents a heads up that in this revision, I talk one day about the Prayer of St. Ephrem.  In that discussion, I speak about chastity.  There is a brief reference to sex as I define chastity, but the emphasis is on the fact that there is much more to chaste behavior than sex.  Just wanted you to know I use the "s" word, though!

From My Youth Master File

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple


Christmas is over.  Granted, it has felt over for a long time.  Well, at least for me.  Apparently not to those who still have their Christmas lights up, but...  The Christmas season actually just ended today, though, for February 2nd is 40 days past Nativity.  On this day, following Jewish law, Joseph and Mary brought the Christ child to the temple for presentation.  The law stated that all firstborn males must be dedicated to the Lord, and women also had to appear to be purified of their ritual uncleanness from childbearing.

So, we have this feast, called Candlemas in the West.  In the East, we call it either the Meeting of the Lord or the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple.  Not the most famous of feasts, but I like this one a lot.  

We are reminded of the story of the righteous Simeon, who had been told that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.  The poor man was incredibly old, and the end of his life probably didn't sound like too bad of an idea.  Simeon was ready to go, but he had yet to meet his Lord.  When he came out and saw Christ, he sang the song from Luke 2 that we sing at every Vespers service:

"Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, 
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people.  
A light to enlighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of your people Israel."

The church fathers and hymnographers can't seem to agree whether this is a feast of Christ or the Theotokos.  It's not either/or.  It's both/and.  Did Christ have to deign to follow Jewish law and be presented at the temple?  No, but He did, so all could see that the Messiah had arrived not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.  Did Joseph and the Theotokos have to keep the Law and treat Him like any other baby?  No, but they did, and through their actions, they show us that we should keep our vows to God.  On this day, we praise both the child who was the gift and the mother who made the offering. 

It's traditional to bless candles at this feast.  Just like we bless fruit on Transfiguration at harvest time, we bless candles in February when they were probably traditionally made.  The candles take on a meaning more than just a product of quiet, winter days, when the priest prays that not only will these blessed candles be brought home and lit, but that when we take those candles outside the church, we will also carry the fire of the Holy Spirit.  The Light has come into the world through this child, may we all be enlightened!  What better way to show that yearning for the Messiah than to light a candle?   The Holy Spirit is a fire that burns with a clear and true flame.  There can never be too many candles to light the darkness of our sin.  Christ is our salvation, and every light proclaims it.

For the past two years, our parish has celebrated Godparents' Day on the Sunday closest to this feast.  When I was going through some old papers, I found that our parish had observed a day of remembrance for godparents in the past, but the tradition had fallen away.  It was definitely something I wanted to bring back, so I looked at the calendar and tried to think of when a good time would be.  After some thought, I knew it had to be at the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  At baptism, the godparents also present a child.  They are the voice of the baby who can't speak for himself.  They say the words of declaration of our faith.  They offer the child to Christ, but they don't walk away.  They also make the commitment to pray for that child for the rest of their lives.  To nurture that child in the faith.  To be a spiritual parent.  Remembering that moment on this feast is fitting and true.

Since it's also a chance to bless candles, all the children of our parish decorate candles to be blessed and given to their godparents.  That candle can be lit throughout the year at special times.  I also brought some taper candles to be blessed for our family's use.  We'll light them on feast days, namedays, etc.  Anytime I can show the kids that there's a tangible and literal way to bring the church home with us, I jump at the chance.  They might not remember all the theology, but they're Orthodox kids...they know about fire! 

Additionally, we prayed for all those godparents and godchildren connected to our families.  Those who have passed away.  Those who have left the faith.  Those with whom we didn't have quite the relationship we would have wished.  For all of them we pray, and we remember a child, a mother, and a much-anticipated gift that was worth the wait.  

Let the gate of heaven be opened today,
For He who is without beginning, the Word of the Father
Has made a beginning in time forsaking His divinity
And as a Babe forty days old
He is, of His own will, brought by the Virgin His Mother
As an offering in the temple of the Law.
The Elder received Him in his arms,
Crying as a servant to the Master,
"Let me depart, for my eyes have seen Your salvation,"
Glory to You, O Lord, Who came into the world to save mankind.
----from Vespers for the feast; Tone 6

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sunday of the Prodigal Son


O.K.  So, Lent is definitely close now!  I successfully dug through my freezer last week and used up almost all my meat, while we still have the chance.  My husband cooked up the final thing Sunday night...a turkey.  Normally, I would cook a bird, divide the meat into measured portions ready for multiple meals in the future, and refreeze them.  No time for that now, so the menu for this week is turkey and gravy on Monday, turkey pot pie on Tuesday, turkey crescents on Thursday, and turkey soup with turkey salad for lunches.  We'll be so sick of turkey that Meatfare will be a welcome blessing!

No craft projects for this week.  Instead, we had a celebration.  When the Prodigal Son returns, the Father has a huge party.  Everyone rejoices that he who was lost is found.  Hilary helped me make a chocolate pie for our celebration.  I told her that we were going to have a party where we would eat the pie, but first we had to read the story in her Bible.  She said, "I dunno...I don't think my Bible has party stories in it."  Oh, my!  We had to fix that misconception.  Bibles definitely have party stories in them!

I identify with the Prodigal Son.  There was a time in my life where I ran away from my Father's house and went to live with the pigs.  I'll never forget the yuck and muck.  It wasn't pretty.  When I, too, had enough and realized my stupid mistake, I was welcomed back with unbelievable mercy.  This story reminds us that no matter how much we sin and how far we wander from God, there is always, always, always hope.  That's a reason to celebrate!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Take to Flight

Yesterday, I took Hilary to a nature class at one of our city's lovely parks.  We try to explore as many of the different nature centers as possible that were so wisely laid out before urban sprawl swallowed every green thing into its stifling grip.  Many of them have monthly classes for preschoolers that we enjoy.  This was at one of my favorite nature centers.  It's a teeny lodge in the depths of the forest, a lengthy distance from our house, but always worth it.  The craftsmanship is inspiring, the setting is perfection, and on a sentimental note, it smells just like the log cabin we stayed in on our honeymoon.  One end of the narrow building is nothing but glass, looking out on a collection of bird feeders.

I love looking at birds.  So many different reasons why their grace and dainty determination speak to me.  I was drawn to the window especially yesterday, since we have been having a bird drought at our own feeders.  I don't think we could even pay a bird to come to our house, for reasons I haven't quite figured out.  We have three different feeders for winter birds, arranged in appealing, squirrel-proof places.  There's a birdhouse that my landlords put up long ago, and when spring comes, we'll have multiple sets of babies born there, but birds.  Maybe it's the traffic of the busy road on the other side of the trees.  Maybe all my neighbors have fancier birdseed.  Whatever it is...they won't come.  Jared and I were going to do a year long study of ornithology.  We were looking forward to bird walks and tracking visitors to our backyard.  We've counted birds in the past for a national effort to track numbers and species, and we thought we'd do that again.  I canceled the study.  I didn't want to skew their results by making it look like all birds had mysteriously vanished from existence in Northeast Ohio.

Jared tagged along to Hilary's class, so he and I watched the birds together with delight.  So many different species.  So many birds!  We smiled at the chickadees darting from feeder to feeder.  We laughed at the mourning dove who crashed the party of all the smaller birds and pushed everyone else out of the way with his lumbering girth.  Jared commented on the voracity with which these birds were eating.  They were eating like this was their last meal.  Like they didn't know good and well that they could come here anytime.  Like their lives depended on it.

As I watched the birds and their near frantic determination, I answered him that they were just doing what birds are designed to do.  A single, focused mission to stay alive.  To eat when fuel is available to fight against the frigid temperatures.  To just do what God intended birds to do.

From that moment, I was sucked into their world.  I watched their faces, their steps, and their purpose.  What would my life be like if all I did was concentrate on what God meant ME to do?  What would be different in a day filled not with means of my own diversion, but rather with purpose and an underlying, driving force to get the fuel to survive?

I am human and...oh, about a million times more intelligent than a bird.  I have a soul.  Therefore, I can't make a direct comparison between the two of us.  I know this.  But bear with me in the analogy for a minute.  At that moment, I felt that even though I may be higher up on the food chain, those birds are way smarter than me.

I get distracted.  I get tangled in meaningless passions that skew my life.  Even when I try to repent and change my ways, I end up right back where I started.  I live like I don't know where to go.  Like I don't know what God meant for me to do.

God intends us to spend our lives drawing closer to Him.  To seek him out in a forest of distractions.  To fill ourselves full of Him.  Like its our last meal.  Like our lives depend on it.  Why then, do I settle for junk food that may satisfy me for a time with its ooey-gooey goodness, but quickly leaves me crashed in a heap of emptiness?  Why then, do I turn my back on the shelter of stability and fly around in the dark and uncertainty, only to see that while I changed, He's just where He always has been?  Why do I think I know better than the One who designed me to be me and not a bird or a fish or any kind of animal?  Those birds were made to be birds, and they do it well.  I was made in the image of God to be like God, and I'm awful at it!

Life is work.  It's so easy to just get off the path.  To live like I forget my purpose.  There are things I will do in my life.  Things I will accomplish.  Those things are wonderful.  They mean nothing, though, if I live my life and don't live it with God.

As Orthodox, we don't believe in a secular world.  There's no separation between our spiritual life and the rest of life.  Life is life, and every moment can be filled with God.  Heaven and earth are not separated into different, neat compartments.  This is the kingdom here and now everywhere you look, and blessed is that kingdom.

I left the nature center and filled my lungs with the chilly air.  I thought about the rest of my afternoon.  I had to drive home, get Hilary down for her nap, and watch a documentary for school with Jared.  Not the most newsworthy day!  Nothing that sounded all that meaningful.  As I drove home, I thought about how I could do each of those things like a bird.  With purpose.  Without distraction.

I could choose not to lose my temper with Hilary.  I could give Jared my full attention.  I could pray, and pray, and pray while sanctifying the time...simple and ordinary time.  It's hard to stay in that state of sanctification and not drift back into "regular" life, though.  Where life is life and God is God, and they don't always mix.  Not that we're out there purposely trying to push God out of the small moments, but let's face to day life can be pretty dull.  It isn't all mountaintop spiritual moments.  It isn't flashy.  It doesn't seem like much to bother involving God in.

Life is simple and complicated and dirty and downright boring sometimes.  It's achingly routine and normal.  It's easier to remember God in the big moments of joy and sorrow.  It's easier to reach to Him in the extremes.  To find Him in the small and boring stuff...that can be hard.  It's way too tempting to lose focus.  To get caught up in things that are too great and too marvelous for me.  When I do that, I miss a great opportunity.  The opportunity to redeem those small, simple moments and claim them for God.  The opportunity to just be a bird and be what I am meant to be.

When I don't do that, I'm just wasting time...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee who stood at the temple and declared, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men."  The Pharisee went on to give specific examples of who he was better than and why.  You can tell he had really thought this out!  He had a very, very high opinion of himself.  Meanwhile, a humble Publican stood far off with downcast eyes and a contrite heart.  Beating his breast, he was able to say nothing else but, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!"

This story is one of those that just makes me internally say, "Ouch!"  Been there.  Done that.  I am sooooo a Pharisee sometimes.  Pride is a passion with deep and far-reaching roots.  It rears its ugly head every chance it gets.  Even when we don't realize it, we size people up and make judgments.  Often, those quick judgments are way off the mark, but they will color our perception of the person in every way.  We think we're better than other people.  Maybe it's the guy at work who just never gets it right, and you're the one having to come behind and do all the clean up with no credit.  Maybe it's the relative who has made a royal mess of her life, while you and your excellent wisdom saw it coming from a mile away.  Maybe it's the family at church who just doesn't ever seem to do it the way it should be done, while you are a model of piety.  The opportunities to make ourselves feel better than someone else are everywhere.  Everywhere.  Even if it's just getting huffy,  because you didn't get to go first in line at the grocery store.  Doesn't everyone know that you only have three items in your cart and that lady has five hundred and forty-three and you've been waiting there for two whole minutes and she just walked up and by golly you deserve it???  Thinking we know it all, can do it all, should be it all.  Pride, pride, pride.  Even when we do well, sometimes we ruin it by patting ourselves on the back for a job well done.  Where is our humility?  Where is our brokenness and emptiness that realizes our sin and our distance from God so profoundly, that all we can do is ask for mercy?

After we did our reading last night, we discussed pride as a family.  I asked Lonna and Jared to go around the room and name three things that each person did well.  I made them start with their little sister, which really made them have to think!  Then, my husband and I added things to the mix.  Finally, I gave them each a name of a person outside our family who I know they struggle getting along with.  Someone they complain about who just doesn't do things right.  Someone they think they're better than, whether they realize it or not.  I asked them to name something that person did better than they did.  I was impressed with their answers.  They didn't go for the surface.  They saw those people in a different light and bent those heads in humility.  Good job guys!

Four year old Hilary listened to the Gospel reading, but then I did an activity with her to bring it on her level.  "The Big Brag" is a story in the collection Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss.  A rabbit and a bear get into an old-fashioned bragging contest, each claiming to be the best of the beasts.  The rabbit brags that he can hear remarkably well.  So well, that he can hear a fly on a mountain ninety miles away cough.  Next, it's the bear's turn to brag.  He claims that way, way past that silly little fly on the mountain is a tree.  In that tree is a hummingbird nest.  In that nest are two eggs.  The bear can in fact smell that the egg on the left is a little bit stale!  Just when the bragging is at its peak, a lowly worm appears.  He claims that he can see better than they can hear or smell.  He can see all the way to Japan and China.  He says,

"I'd looked 'round the world and right back to this hill!
And I saw on this hill, since my eyesight's so keen,
The two biggest fools that have ever been seen!
And the fools that I saw were none other than you,
Who seem to have nothing else better to do
Than sit here and argue who's better than who!"

After the story, we talked about bragging.  We started out by naming all the glorious things about the people in her life.  We discussed how God made everyone good at different things, and how instead of seeing how good we are at something, we should focus on how good our neighbor is at what they do.  Now, that concept flies in the face of much of our society's message to kids.  In an attempt to build self-esteem, the world bends over backwards to give kids the battle cry, "I'm special!"  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying any child should be made to feel worthless, but sometimes it swings too far the other way.  There's often no counterweight to kids being told they're the best.  It's very difficult to be an American kid and not be filled to bursting with pride.  Our "me" society grooms kids early to have it their way, on their schedule, and in their favorite color to boot.  "No" is often a word that doesn't even appear in their vocabulary.  Later, these same kids grow up to struggle with issues of tolerance and acceptance.  They run over others in their endless pursuit to be the best, and they are devastated, when in shock, they realize that in fact they are not the center of the universe.

What a change there might be in our culture if we didn't wait so long to tell our kids that they're not always the best.  Yes, shower them with praise for all the unique and generous gifts that God has given them as individuals!  But also point out how smart, how talented, how loving, how giving, how beautiful, how wonderful the other kids are, too.  Teach your child how to see that shining icon of God in everyone else.  Especially the people that get on their nerves!  Teach them how to go last.  How to be a good loser.  How to celebrate someone else.  Teach them to be merciful, so that they may see how much they need to ask for mercy.

After our discussion, Hilary did some handwriting practice.  We didn't use the words, "I'm the best," but rather, "You're the best!"  As she wrote, we continued to talk about how loving it is to put others first.

Next, we used the idea of this craft.  Hilary threaded beads on a chenille stem to make a bendable version of the worm from the story.  I sneaked in some math skills by asking her to follow the pattern of one big bead and two little beads.

She loved the finished product.  We bent him around her bedpost, so he could watch her sleep.  She named him "Butter", which has nothing to do with a lesson on pride, but it's such a completely random and silly name, I had to include it!


The prayer that the Publican prays is the basis for that cornerstone of Orthodox prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer.  In it, the words, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," are repeated over and over.  In mystical simplicity, the heart turns to God in communion, and the soul repents anew each moment.  No bragging about what we can do.  Just humility and a yearning for the only One who can do it all.  I'm encouraging Lonna and Jared to pray the Jesus Prayer more often this week.  Pray it and think about the Publican who inspired it.

This week, I'm challenging myself to find one person each day who is better at something than me.  Doesn't mean I'm bad, just that I'm not the best.  We'll also refrain from fasting this week as a reminder that we can't use it to point out, like the Pharisee, that we're better than people who never fast.  I'll defrost my turkey still waiting from those holiday sales and begin the ritual of getting rid of all the meat hiding in the depths of the freezer before Lent starts.

I think I might just have to make myself a worm, too.  He would have a good home at my desk or somewhere else he could easily be seen.  I need a reminder, too, that I'm not the best.  My way is not the best.  My ideas are not the best.  My behavior is not the best.  I am chief among sinners, and every time I think so highly of myself, I stand in the way of God.  Only with humility, a bowed head, and beating my chest can I cry, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!"  I'm not the best, but I know Who is.  I need Him more each day.  Lord have mercy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ice Age

Since it's been unseasonably warm this week, we finally got to resume our weekly nature walks.  Winter always makes it obvious that I'm not from around here.  I'm one of the crazies that loves the snow!  Where I'm from, snow never stays on the ground for more than a few days and ice comes in the form of the dreaded ice storm.  So, ever since we moved here, admiring the ice on Lake Erie is a treasured winter pastime.


The first thing that always strikes me about the ice covered lake is the sound.  The sound of silence.  No waves lapping at the sand.  No sea gulls squawking for a bit of your lunch.  No crowds.  Just silence.  Like the world and all its cares stopped in icy suspension.  Like peace and quiet has a shape you can touch and a texture you can feel.

The hills of ice made it look like Jared and Hilary were starting out on a great Arctic adventure.  Which way to civilization?  Is there any land anywhere or only this vast expanse of snow?  The beach melts away, as just a few yards out, it seems like a brave new world.  (Never fear...they're not as far out as they appear!)

As we wandered and filled our lungs with the crispness of the cold air, my mind and heart replayed the line from the sixth chapter of Isaiah, quoted in the Divine Liturgy:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth.  
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

I thought about God.  About the massiveness of nature.  We drive past beauty every day and don't notice it.  We so rarely allow our minds to grasp the world outside our bubble of busyness.  What color was the sky today?  Ask a thousand people that question on any given evening and how many would know the answer?  How many would instead live a whole day and never once look up?  I gave thanks for this day that God allowed me to notice the sky.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth.  
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

I thought about the awesomeness of Creation.  How unpredictable and mighty and glorious it is.  Even in the tiny gentleness of  a snowflake.  Even in the crushing devastation of natural disaster.  I prayed for those suffering in Haiti.  Those who died even during the time we stood on that beach.  I prayed for their souls and the lives of those still suffering.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth.  
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

I thought about all those who suffer today.  In war, in persecution, in sickness, in hunger, and in despair.  Some a world away.  Some right down the street.  It doesn't take a natural disaster to see the suffering if we open our eyes.  It's in you and in me.  We can't bear to see it all the time, though.  So, we pretend it isn't there until something major happens, and we can no longer ignore it.  We freeze our hearts just enough to dull our pain and make the thought of everyone else's pain manageable.  I prayed for all those suffering today on the outside, and all those aching on the inside.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth.  
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 

I thought about emptiness and fullness.  For Heaven and earth are FULL of God's glory.  It's not hidden.  We don't have to go on an expedition to find the wonders of God.  The earth is full of them.  Filled to overflowing with glory.  But we must be empty of everything else to be full of God.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth.  
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

Unseasonably warm is still pretty cold after awhile, so we left the beach with one last look over our shoulders.  I came home and tried to find the glory in the sink of dirty dishes; the laundry; the to-do list.  If earth is full...really, truly full...of God's glory, aren't all those things just trips to the beach?  Moments of silence, clearness, and beauty.  Full of glory.  I prayed and thanked God for the glory, and I prayed that today...of all days...I'll see it.  Everywhere.