Orthodoxy?

IMG_0525i encountered Orthodoxy through my husband. Our first real date began with the Divine Liturgy. i was a life-long Lutheran and my faith was always the central focus of my life.  i was blessed to have been raised by godly parents who took me to church services weekly and taught me to pray frequently throughout the day.  My desire to read the Bible and learn more about my faith was encouraged. The church was the most important part of our activity in my family. For sixteen years i worked for the Lutheran church and my work was my whole life. Chronic illness eventually took its toll on me and i could not continue my work. 

When we were planning to be married, my husband and i began a practice of worshiping at both my Lutheran Church and his Orthodox Church. Because of my health problems i was ultimately unable to continue attending two worship services each Sunday. At first, i missed my worship when i was unable to attend. When i first experienced the Orthodox services they were somewhat familiar in the sense that they had a liturgical structure and chanting. However, the Orthodox Liturgy was also very surprising in length and richness. As my understanding and appreciation of the Orthodox worship grew, i found that what i missed the most in my Lutheran church were the people that i loved. 

Thankfully, over time my husband was able to explain to me the depth and meaning contained in the services and the hymns as i came to know Orthodox worship. Even though i had come from a church with liturgical worship, even the moderately “high church” worship of my childhood had not prepared me for the intensity and passion of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Understanding why each word and action was included was invaluable for me to “unpack” the vivid texture of the service. In addition, the physicality of Orthodox worship can be puzzling to western Christians, but once it is understood it becomes deeply meaningful. 

i also appreciated the richness and fullness of the Orthodox worship life of the Lenten season. We had Orthodox Lenten services Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, along with Bible study and a potluck meal together on Wednesday evenings.  While i was not always well enough to attend every service, i found myself wanting to be a part of all that i could. In Holy Week there are services each evening and most mornings. Holy Friday was a day filled with corporate worship with three profound services. Physically it took a toll on me. At the same time, i found myself growing spiritually. At the outside liturgical procession of Holy Friday evening, as the Kouvouklion (tomb of Christ) is carried around the outside of the church building, i will never forget the experience of walking under the raised “tomb” as a reminder that through Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection we have gone through the tomb into newness of life. Re-entering the church through the tomb moved something within me, and i knew that i wanted to know more about becoming a part of the fullness of the Christian Faith. 

One of the things about Orthodoxy that resonates with me in these turbulent times is that no human has the responsibility of determining the truth. This is truly the work of God taught through the centuries. The faith the Orthodox profess is the very same faith as that of the early Apostolic Church; 2000 years of Orthodox Christianity. It does not change with the “spirit of the age.” In a world dominated by relativism, the Orthodox Church provides one place where truth has not changed. 

IMG_0514The Orthodox Church has provided a place where my faith is nurtured, challenged and allowed to expand and grow.  There are elements of the traditions that don’t fit neatly into my western-trained worldview. At a certain point, i decided to accept what i cannot understand on faith. The realization came, that if i decided what is true for myself, rather than relying upon the authority of the Church through the ages, i was making myself the arbiter of truth and an equal to or even superior to God.

i was chrismated into the Apostolic Church of the Fathers, St. John the Divine Orthodox Church in August 2017 and continue a life-long process of growing in Christ.IMG_0523

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Review of Time and Despondency

woman looking at sea while sitting on beach

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Despondency is not a word that we use very often in the twenty-first century. It is our loss since we are just as plagued by this silent evil as our ancestors. In her book, Time and Despondency Nicole Roccas, places the concept of hopelessness as it was understood through history and the Church.

i long to be really present. i carry the ubiquitous phone everywhere. In fact, it is right beside my computer as i write this post. i feel torn. There is real struggle between living in our society and being an authentic Christian. Life is hard for everyone. There is an honest tension that we all need to live with unless we are in a Monastery. Living fully alive to the present-tense is in some ways harder now than in any time in the past.

What is most distinctive about this book is that she postulates that despondency is the rejection of the present time. When we become despondent we think about the past or the future and refuse to contemplate our current reality. It is incredibly easy to be lulled into fretting over past problems, future worries or enticed by fantasies about the life we wish we were living. Many of us have had the experience of falling into a reverie and losing our sense of time as we live out our dreams of the glorious future we should have or rewrite history by telling off our nemesis after some past encounter. 

How many of us have behaved like Walter Mitty for a season? That time is all lost time. When we are dreaming or demanding justice we are missing the present time. This idea startled me. God is present-NOW! When Moses asks God to give His name God tells Moses that, “I AM!” God is in the present. He is in the future and the past also, but He engages with us in the present. When we let our dreaming become despondency we are no longer engaging with God. It is no wonder those who fall into despondency have a hard time making it to Church to worship. The physical struggle is compounded by allowing ourselves to be lured away from communion with Him for so much time.

Roccas says, “Potential time becomes actualized (Kairos) time when we respond to God’s love…. Actualized time consists of re-sponding, unfulfilled time of de-sponding.”

i believe she is on to something when she refers to the time we give in to despondency as unfulfilled time. In my experience, it is singularly unfulfilling in every way. From this perspective, real/actualized time is all the time when i am open to and/or engaging with God. St. Paul told us to pray without ceasing. This challenge is the subject of countless books. What Time and Despondency has done is carve out the idea that the only time in which we are real and present is actualized. Too much of my life has been wasted! 

In our culture, it is hard to remain focused on the present for more than a few minutes. Our multi-tasking, smartphone checking, disorganized, yet highly self-controlled minds are rarely focused and open to God. Whether hyper and distracted or despondent and trying to escape our present reality we cultivate extremes. 

i thought the book Time and Despondency was engaging and profound.

“Whatever the present looks like at any given moment, there are only two possible ways of responding to it: to enter or exit, to respond or despond. To enter the present is to surrender with thanksgiving to the time and circumstances God has placed before us, to abide in God’s presence in time and space. To exit, by contrast, is to reject this gift-really, to reject reality. Despondency begins when we step away from the present and fashion reality on our own terms.”

May i interject one word- Pinterest?

Time and Despondency goes on in part two to offer ways of combatting despondency.  The book is not large (177 pages) and well worth the read. 

Discover

The world is an astounding place.autumn-165184__480

The awareness of wonder is often lost living in the modern world. i think this is one of the things that is so compelling about time spent with young children, puppies, kittens, etc. They have not lost their sense of the endless discoveries lying all about us…cat-1992140__480

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This sense of the possibilities is an aspect of the internet that excites me. i have been considering adding a podcast to some of my blog posts, or perhaps in place of some of the posts.

As i glanced through some of the information, i was filled with the wonder of all that potentially lies ahead.

The density of the required new learning could be a burden. Rather it has peaked my fondness for discovery.toddler-1484720__480

The truth is that i have a low tolerance for boredom and i thrill to learning something new. Exploration can take many forms.

The pilgrim journey continues.

Remain

i thank my God in all my remembrance of you, dear readers,

Formal letters are rapidly fading from usage in our ultra-connected around-the-clock society. The format has drifted first to the succinct email and then to the acronym-rich twitter and now the thumbs-up emoji text. The Victorians, the literacy craving letter-writing crowd of the steamship and world exploration era often concluded their missives with the poignant, “i remain…”

St. Paul gave about two-thirds of the New Testament in the form of letters to the churches that he founded. A consummate world traveling Apostle he traveled the much of the then known-world with the Good News of the risen Lord. His familiar ancient world greeting begins each of his epistles, including the beloved letter to the church at Philippi.

In Philippians 1:21 he begins, ” For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain..But to remain in the flesh is more necessary”

As i pondered today’s theme i was reminded of this passage, which was one of this past week’s epistle readings for some of us. After randomly picking up a book of Emily Bronte’s poems the book fell open to a poem that resonated with me.

The Old Stoic

Riches I hold in light esteem,
And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream,
That vanished with the morn:

And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is, “Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!”

Yes, as my swift days near their goal:
’Tis all that I implore;
In life and death a chainless soul,
With courage to endure.

My thoughts coalesced around the idea that we are fleeting pilgrims who will not long remain in this world. Rather than fear, this is our hope. Tomorrow will soon be here. i know not what form communication will take in the coming decades. i look forward with hope and anticipation. Technology is exciting, but it is not the keeper of my trust. Our lives are as fleeting as the single blink of a flashing cursor.

i remain…

in Him.

Try

Today i will try to write.

When i saw the word i felt a wave of relief.

The only thing that i consistently believe that i can in fact do is try;  i do not know what my body will permit me to do. i often have difficulty being upright for extended periods. The definition of upright varies based upon a whole host of issues too numerable to be of any interest to non-P.O.T.S. sufferers. i can always do my best, however.

Action verbs can fill me with trepidation if they are on my agenda. They are wonderful to characters in a book. In real-life, they can prove unpredictable. Trying is always doable.

Yesterday i faced the issue of inviting. Today i actually made and received phone calls. Trying to find a time for a whole group of friends to meet for lunch can require a significant amount of negotiating. The amusing aspect is that this is a group of ladies that i used to lead in a Bible study. We went out to lunch together every week for more than a decade. Now that we are no longer all starting from Bible study, trying to coordinate everyone’s schedule requires a number of back-and-forth phone calls.

We have a date and restaurant, but the time is still contingent upon another event that may be scheduled for that afternoon as well. We are trying to meet for lunch.

It appears as if life would be preferable if it were more predictable. Upon consideration, however, it probably serves us better that we do need to really work hard at living.

The fact that we are trying so hard teaches us something about the depth of our desire for community, and how much we treasure our friendship.

i am reminded of the ladder to heaven. Once we gain some spiritual maturity, we recognize that the gulf between our ability and the throne of God is immeasurable. In St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, he talks about the skills the soul needs in order to live fully with Christ. How can i be meek, obedient and renounce the world while i am still living in the world?

In every aspect of my life, i am finding that challenge helps me rise to greater heights of spiritual maturity. i know that i have not mastered any of the rungs of the ladder. i appreciated reading Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou’s book, Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life. In consideration of the obstacles of life, i comprehend that i am extremely blessed. God only allows us to face what can make us more faithful. Surely, the paths for me have fallen among the pleasant ways!

The petty trials of every day are blessings in disguise. By trying to climb the larger steps like repentance and simplicity we grow by grace closer to the One who made us. We become more fully human when we try to renounce worldly ways and give precedence and kindness in all our actions. The more i attempt to live with time dedicated to prayer and stillness the closer i grow to Grace. Perhaps trying is a success for humans in God’s great beneficent plan.

 

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Invite

If there were a list ranking things that i most despise about myself, the top position would be occupied with the summation:

Introvert.

i miss my friends. i long to talk to them, meet with them and find out what they are up to.  You would expect me to call them and invite them to meet with me. I want to do this. My husband has pointed out that once i start talking to my friends the conversations last a very long time. Despite my desire to make the call, the actual process of tapping my phone and hitting their name on my “favorite” list is surprisingly excruciating.iphone-518101__480

As the TV detective Adrian Monk ubiquitously said, “Here is the thing.” i dread making phone calls. i desperately want them to call me. It does not come from my rational faculty. i don’t expect them to pick up their phone and call me just because i am looking at my phone and praying that they will call. networking-2752106__480

Inviting someone is very stressful for me. There is an indefinable question that lingers just below the surface. An invitation is an offering of vulnerability. When we ask someone, they could turn us down. Rejection, however remote is possible.

i am convinced that those of us who are very comfortable with being alone are proportionally more uncomfortable bridging the divide of possible rejection. We check one more thing off our To Do: list while we wait on the possibility that they will call us first.iphone-410324__480

An invite is a loaded term. i love to be invited, but life would be so much easier if i didn’t have to initiate the conversation.

P.S. i actually did leave a garbled message on my friend’s machine telling her that i wanted to get together for lunch soon. It was mixed with phrases about how i would love her to call me and, vacillating introvert that i am, i said that i would call later. Ouch!business-2610262__480

Write

My husband asked me why i write. i write because i enjoy reading. When i read i learn truths about what it is like to be a human being. i recognize things in others that i cannot make out clearly in myself until another author writes it down. i write to make sense of myself and the world.

There are actually quite a lot of us who learn verbally. Words elucidate ideas which grow into concepts that lead to truth. We write to find TRUTH.

We cannot see the truth in all of its grandeur until we dig the words out of our own spirits. The truth does not come from us, but we need to excavate the rocks from our selves so that we can grow the truth in us. A harvest only comes from good soil.

i farm words.

My spirit is full of rocks and thorns. i have toiled away weeding and pruning for years. Part of my problem is that i have a hard time knowing what to remove. Some of the thorns that tear my hair and shred my skin and sweater grow on rose bushes that ought to be pruned but not destroyed. Other thorns grow on briars. When i become frustrated and begin to pull everything out of the soil i expend enormous energy to little effect. However, when i consider the origins and nature of what is growing carefully, only then do i begin to reap a harvest.

Reading, writing, editing, it all requires a surfeit of time. Farming takes time and diligence. i write in hope that someday, truth can blossom in my soul.

 

Story

Stories move us and drive us. A narrative is often our framework for understanding. When life fails to, “make sense” it is often because we don’t grasp a unifying narrative.

For those of us who are native storytellers most of the stories pass by unrecorded. 

i reminisced about all the stories that have flickered through my head as threads that i did not follow. They were not woven into the fabric of my life. They were left dangling.

i think all writers have these loose ends.

Stories that might have been.

The one who got away is not a man. The one who got away was a Viking…

Remember

i remember the wrong things. i make copious lists, keep multiple calendars both digital and paper, yet still, i forget things that are important and fail to reach my goals.

i blame my illness. i blame failing to remember my agenda. i blame myself. i pass out post-it notes to my family and tell them to be sure to, “write it down.”

i have a shelf filled with old planners and agendas overflowing with bits of paper flowing with all the things that i did do.

i have been guilty of calling that shelf the history of my life.

All the things that i have done do not represent my life.

i forget. My life is what i have done for Christ.

i have a little wallet-card that i received in Sunday School as a little girl For years i carried it everywhere i went. It had a picture of Jesus on the front and a verse on the back.

It was not a verse from the Bible. It simply says,

Only one life,

‘Twill soon be passed,

Only what’s done for Christ,

Will last.

i remember the wrong things.

Trust

Trust can be a mountain, or an entire range. As pilgrims in the foreign land we are naturally reluctant to trust other people. It doesn’t take us long to figure out that many people are living under completely alien purposes and ideals from the orthodox Christian.

The Post-Christian culture has produced generations of people who claim to believe in God, while they live out their lives in a totally self-absorbed manner. They don’t question the basic assumption of the modern moral order premised on relativism.

We are not living here, now to gratify our pleasure-sensors and avoid pain. As practicing, thoughtful Christians, we know that is not the ultimate reality. How then do we trust others when they are often motivated only by those goals?

For me, the pilgrimage metaphor is particularly apt. Pilgrims come from various locations all centered on a powerful, transcendant place of worship. The pilgrims journey with others as long as the path leads them the same way. As the route progresses some will follow one trail, some another, and still others will try to forge their own. i recognize that everyone is not going my way. They may not even define trust the way i do. In this i think that the relativism and multiple worldviews constructs have won a large segment of the population.

Despite my apparent acceptance of the modern order in the preceding paragraph, i believe in a thoroughgoing Orthodox Christian worldview. i believe in the sacred and cherish ultimate truth, goodness and trust. My beliefs may be regarded as outdated to some, but i firmly belive that most people long for these pillars of truth even if they deny the Christian traditions connected to them.

For orthodox Christians following the principles of Jesus Christ is the goal in life. There are more people than we realize on this journey. If we follow Christ we value living a life of truth, and we are worthy of trust. However, as fallen humans we will fail sometimes. We sin and fall short of the ideal. We repent. We turn completely around. And we try again.

The way is rough; The journey is long. We will arrive battered and broken. That is how the selfishness is scrubbed out of us. 

Let us press on in faith, dear friend!

Our trust will be broken, but we will be broken into wholeness.

One day we will wash our robes white in the blood of the Lamb, may it please the Lord!