“Crazy Quilt”

“Crazy Quilt”

We all respond to stories. The desire to make sense of our experience is part of the human condition. I think stories are compelling because as we watch, read or listen to other creatures responding to stimuli and understanding it in a coherent way we see parallels to our own situation. Even in fantasy we sometimes see most clearly  the similarities since the stark contrast allow the coherence to be more vivid. Stories are what bind experience together. Our own stories are just the way we retell our own experience to ourselves as we seek to understand the three-year-old’s relentless question that we ceaselessly ask ourselves, “Why”

On a cosmic level we are like unto a crazy quilt. Each one of us is composed of an odd collection of scraps held together with threads that bind the bits and pieces of our lives into a whole. All the while something beautiful and cohesive is constructed of every day and the everyday overworked with intricate stitching becomes something remarkable that to the unschooled observer appears random. Actually we see with enough information a complete story arc that has meaning only because of the skill of the Maker. Our stories, the reasons why, are the threads that hold the incongruous pieces of our lives together. We are irresistibly drawn to compelling stories because they resonate so deeply with us.

All our media is filled with stories. Our tv and movies, books and podcasts all help us make sense of why we are here. We choose our media because it helps us to either unravel or develop our own stories. The stories, what we typically call “explanations” for why our lives are constructed in a certain way, the way we deal with the why of our lives. Stories are always about the overcoming of some obstacle. We like some stories and not others because they help us to narrate our own lives.

Crisis remove the “stuffing” or “quilt batting” from our lives. All good stories have a dramatic period where the hero copes with the un-stuffing of their life and rises above their circumstances to reconfigure their story in such a way as to restore themselves. This heroic action of willingly undergoing trial and loss only to rise again in a new form, willingly transforming through loss into a better wholeness is the stuff of greatness. Our continual failure to rise above our own un-stuffing is the disintegration that overwhelms and undermines much of modern life. Stories become even more of a popular tonic, or escape in a society that provides very little deeper meaning for people to fall back upon in the remaking that is intrinsically part of every life.

The curious thing about “crazy quilts” is that unlike other blankets described as quilts, they do not contain “batting”. Batting is the lofty material between the layers of fabric in a quilt. “Crazy quilts” may be filled with a layer of fabric like wool, but they do not contain the “batting” and the actual quilting stitches that hold the layers of a typic quilt together are not present. They are created for the design, not the warmth. We are all in a way, “crazy.” We don’t exist to provide some other creature warmth or function. We are here because we add to the design of the whole. All of history is somehow incomplete without our tattered contribution.

Living in a pandemic has left many of us feeling like un-stuffed rag dolls. We feel frazzled, limp and lifeless. We are probably more like “crazy quilts.” We were never designed to be stuffed. All of the frantic rushing from event to event was what made us truly crazy. Life at home may be helping us to pare-down and focus on the actual story that our lives are telling. What we need most is not something to puff us up. Rather we need to let the hand of the Maker stitch us together and overwork us with the embroidery that will make sense of us.

On the Bookshelf

On the Bookshelf

i just finished reading Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple and the Early Church a revised edition of the book by Benjamin D. Williams and Harold B. Anstall.  Written with the average lay reader in mind this modestly sized (199 pages) book offers a history and explanation of the Divine Liturgy. 

The book explains how early Christian worship developed out of Hebrew worship as demonstrated by the descriptions in Acts and other New Testament references. Antiphonal singing of the psalms, a practice that comes from Jewish worship practice is still a feature of the liturgical churches of numerous denominations.  The eucharistic focus becomes the dominant feature of Christian worship practice. After the legalization of Christianity under Constantine vestments distinguishing the clergy develop along with church architecture. 

By the latter part of the third century the structural change had concluded and the recognizable form of the Divine Liturgy was complete. The movement from Jewish worship in the temple or synagogue, followed by an Agape meal culminating in the celebration of the Eucharist in private gathering had become a divine joining in the heavenly worship in a beautifully adorned Church filled with rich fragrance, and glittering icons. 

Liturgy means work of the people. We were created to worship, thank and praise God. In the Fall, our worship became self-centered. As the royal priesthood of believers worships, they join the heavenly worship with the communion of saints. Linear time is transcended in the Divine Liturgy and the worshiper co-celebrates with eternal worship. “…we join with those in heaven before the Throne of God and offer Him praise and blessing.”

 In the second section of the book entitled, “A Journey Through the Liturgy” the reader is thoughtfully led through the entire process of the Preparation Service of Matins, also called Orthros to the Divine Liturgy. This is particularly instructive since many people arrive after the process is underway and never experience the Orthros. The authors clearly show how the service grew out of the original practices of the first Christians. Each part of the worship as celebrated by the first Jewish Christians is still present in the Orthodox service. The vesting and preparation of the Bread and Wine in the Orthros is clearly explained. 

The Liturgy of the Word will be the most familiar to Protestants, although most Lutherans will also be well acquainted with the Liturgy of the Eucharist along with the Roman Catholics. The differences between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western Rites is striking. i for one love the power of the scripture evident in the Western practice and the music in western churches can be hauntingly beautiful, but St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil packed a theological depth and richness into their liturgies that stagger the careful reader. Those accustomed to “high church” worship in western churches will be able to see an echo of what they see on some Sunday’s but the processions of the Gospel and the Communion elements are often simplified drastically or eliminated altogether even in traditional services. The dismissal of the catechumens (no one is sent away) harkens back to when Christianity was illegal and those who were not baptized were sent away before the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. The reminder of the ancient past is still included in the Divine Liturgy. In Eastern Christianity time is transcended in many ways and the past, present, and future are all joined together in the worship of the Lord Eternal.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Cherubic hymn which says, “No one bound by fleshly desires and pleasures is worthy to approach …You, the King of Glory…Yet because of Your ….immeasurable love for mankind…You became man…our High Priest…” The great entrance then processes the Eucharistic gifts. “Your own of Your own we offer you…” the priest sings.  Orthodoxy adamantly declares the Eucharist to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Unlike in western theology, the Orthodox do not offer speculation on how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Mystery is embraced. Holy Communion is called the Mystical Supper. 

The Nicaean Creed is proclaimed by the Orthodox in its original form as agreed upon in the Ecumenical Councils of 325-381. In the West the “Filioque,” Latin for “and the Son” was added to the creed. This has been the subject of heated debate among theologians for 1000 years and i will not enter the fray here. The statement of Faith which the creed represents is incorporated into the Liturgy in both Orthodox and western liturgical churches. 

The Great Anaphora follows. Anaphora means elevation or lifting up. In all liturgical traditions, we are told to lift up our hearts. In Orthodox Worship, we learn that we are lifting our souls to join in the Heavenly worship. The original Greek word for remembrance that Our Lord requested in the Gospel carries with it a sense of process and continuing. Christ offered Himself for the whole world, for all time. There is an “Eternal, eschatological dimension of the Kingdom of God to which we ascend spiritually.” The Holy Spirit transforms the simple bread and wine into the very Body and Blood which the faithful will receive. 

The Church Militant, “earthly,” joins the Church Triumphant before the Holy Gifts in the eternal. The saints throughout time are present and remembered including the Virgin Mary the “Theotokos” or “bearer of God” in the next prayer. Then, “… with one mouth and one heart we glorify and praise Your all-honorable and majestic name: of Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit, now and ever unto the ages of ages. Amen.” The Lord’s Prayer follows as we dare to call God our Father.

The entire Divine Liturgy is included and clarified in a way that is accessible to anyone, teenager or adult. The sacrament is placed in the mouth of the faithful by the priest directly from the chalice on a spoon. Having received the Divine Mysteries, “…turning wholly to Christ, that we may perceive the world as it really is, the full glory of God’s creation in the reality in which it was made. In Communion, Christ comes to dwell within us, and we partake of Him.” Thanksgiving is next, for it is in receiving Communion that we become capable of real communion with one another.  We “… go forth from the Church, having partaken of heaven, to live out the Gospel.”

Those interested in the Divine Liturgy succinctly and simply explained will enjoy this book, which i was pleased to receive from the publisher.

Who Are All These People?

Who Are All These People?

Each day the Church remembers a long list of saints. We may wonder why each day has so many otherwise forgotten names attached to the Church calendar. These are the names of some of those who gave their all for Christ. A Daily Calendar of Saints, by Lawrence R. Farley is a new publication by Ancient Faith Publishing that provides an introduction to the saints of the ages for the modern reader.

As an ardent fan of Jane Austen’s fiction I compare A Daily Calendar of Saints to “visiting the upper rooms.” This book provides us with an introduction to those whom we will love. We are not meeting the social elite we are meeting those for whom love of Christ Jesus is foremost. There are no bores or self-absorbed scoundrels here. We don’t learn all that much about most of these people, but we do meet remarkable heroes who actually deserve the title.

A wide variety of martyrs and saints from every age and geographical area are included. The brief account of lives lived fully for Christ is the beginning of our knowledge of and admiration for the “great cloud of wittiness” that St. Paul reminded us are encouraging us. The professed purpose of the book is to enable us to cultivate the “friendship of the saints who are now in patria, in our heavenly homeland.”

This book is broken down as a calendar with a short paragraph or two for each day. We are briefly introduced to the key features of each saint’s life. We may not know them—yet—but they are some of the friends who are awaiting us with God. If our hope is heaven, then these are some of those with whom we hope to share our future.

The lives of these great men, women and children will surprise and inspire you. Hopefully you will want to learn more about some of these heroes of the faith. Find out more about their lives. Particularly be inspired to check out the books that they wrote. Reading their lives and letters, sermons and musings can profoundly influence us. Most of what the ancient fathers of the Church wrote is available free or at very low cost in digital format. That can be a good place to start. Once you find a saint who really engages you, buy a book or request one from your local library. Reading the words that have moved nations and changed lives for centuries is a powerful experience. I would also urge you to be on the look out for saints of more recent times. You may discover the writings of one who can speak God’s word directly into your heart and move you in ways you could not previously imagine.

The wonderful thing about this book is that every reader will be intrigued by the lives of different saints. By offering us an introduction to each of these people we have the chance to become acquainted with the lives of those who are most worthy of our attention. As you go through the year let yourself discover astounding people from every time and place. Adding this book to your daily reading is an amazingly simple way of meeting incredible men and women. Rather than viewing the long list of names attached to each day as challenge, recognize in them a glorious opportunity for you to become aquatinted with some of the most astounding people who have ever lived. These are those who can uplift and inspire us.

I am grateful to have received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Anamaximand​er

Anamaximand​er

Lying in the November woods Listening to the caw of crow and chip of Chickadee; Rush of wind through the canyon like a freshening stream, Pondering grey beginnings and ashen endings As afternoon falls quickly in the hills.
Time, an indefinite stream woven through, As a fawn runs white from shadows or fear Hill to hill, air to ethers, now and then blend into One. All pithy human attempts to describe fall like crumbling leaves Piling and crunching, composting, enriching the fragile soil. Listening, silent, i lie on the edge Between two worlds, or all worlds, i peer into the abyss; danger lies immanent. The woods are no more alive in the autumn Than the dense, rich forest is September. The cloak is torn and brown at my feet So i glimpse within the delicate dance Of chipmunk and wren. If i lie still and listen the movement awakens And the “relata” reveals chaos and harmony , Always movement toward and away. Rumbling echoes, a shaft of sunlight, It is all the November woods dying and generating.   i struggle for words or a foothold on the cliff Do i fall like a spent leaf surrendered in the wind Or victim of gravity, fallen to the elements i can no longer explain Lying in the November woods?
Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes

“Ultimately, genuine holiness attracts people more than clever publicity.”

This is a quote from my Commonplace Book. It is also the line that summed up for me why the book Beauty for Ashes, by Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett should be required reading for everyone who intends to become part of the leadership of a church in any denomination (or pre-denomination). The Subtitle for the book is The Spiritual Transformation of a Modern Greek Community. This is the story of one bishop who transformed a community through authentic holiness. The jurisdiction had suffered neglect and sin. It was a broken and worldly community that had fallen into a pattern of seeing the world as sacred and secular.

This is often the season where Church leadership for the next year is chosen. Communities choose council members who will guide them for the next year, or two. Thoughtful spiritual guidance is needed by everyone in leadership roles. The path to wholeness is not found in plans. What this book recounts is that true Christian practice is not found through sophisticated and elaborate plans.

Fabulous programs can be implemented. But, “…the spiritual struggle of the Church is everywhere and always the same.”  Programming will not make a Church whole. Each person participating in the worship life of the community with integrity is the only path to holiness.

The Church, “…does not rely on propaganda or publicity but on emptied wills  and quiet hearts.”

Every member of a Church should be sharing the Good News. We should all gladly “share” on social media the events of our communities. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God we should be living like it is true!

“Church leaders should…act as conduit or vessel of the divine, not marketing arm of God.”

This necessitates that all the parishioners of a congregation act like members of the body of Christ, and allow the flow of divine love and activity of the organism pass through them. We have fallen into a slothful habit in our society of “leaving everything to the experts.” We hire people to serve the Church, which is wonderful. Then we fail by expecting the “professionals” to do all the work. That is no more effective than a human body relying solely upon the heart to circulate all the blood.

May God grant us mercy to grow in grace and holiness!

 

Praise

Praise

Words are walls. Sometimes i am finding myself cleaning things rather than writing. Cleaning is very difficult for me. i know that if i can get the words flowing they will eventually break free with the force of the Colorado River at the Boulder Dam.

architecture boulder building canyon
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The force is caught in a quagmire of fear. i am not at all sure what fear holds the words like gelatine that has coagulated and will not pour. i wish that i were not a pitcher filled with praise.

Penitence for the brokenness of my soul warms my nous and like a flame melts my distraction. When i appreciate that everything is a gift, i am set free to glorify God. i want to blame the world. The culture has not refrigerated my soul. i have moved away from the flame of Divine Love. i was the one who focused on the fallen leaves and the grime in the oven.

Grace is so wonderful.  i can turn my attention back on Christ and His love warms my soul. All i need is to stop and praise God.

Glory to the Almighty Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Made One

Made One

Today the Commonplace Book is stopping by John Chrysostom’s Homilies.

Ephesians 2:11-22

One in Christ

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

From Chrysostom’s Homily on Ephesians 2:13-15

“I will give you an illustration. Let us suppose there to be two statues, the one of silver, the other of lead, and then that both shall be melted down, and that the two shall come out gold. Behold, thus has He made the two one.”

In Christ, we are made into gold. Each of us likes to think that we are the beautiful silver statue. In actual fact, living teaches me that i am lead. Illness makes my body feel heavier than lead. Despite, or perhaps through our inadequacy, we become something beautiful together in Christ.

Christian marriage is in many ways the perfect example. Joined together with Christ we become something ontologically more and different than we had been or could be on our own. Chrysostom was talking about the Church when he gave the analogy.

architecture beach blue sky chapel
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Everywhere Present

Everywhere Present

“Secularism is the compartmentalization of God and religion, and everything else, into autonomous and unrelated parts of our lives.”

“It would seem to me that anyone who comes from a sacramental tradition should feel a certain cognitive dissonance with the sounds and images of secularized thought.”

Excerpt From

Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, by Fr Stephen Freeman.

i will share more about this profound book in the weeks to come. For today this is the Commonplace Book installment.

Glory to God for my Gifts

Glory to God for my Gifts

This is not a post about presents, but it is about being present. Today’s Commonplace Book quotes come from one of my very favorite contemporary books. Indeed, it spoke right into my heart at a time that i desperately needed the message.

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook
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My absolute favorite modern non-Orthodox book is One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. You have probably read the book yourself. If you have not i cannot recommend it higher.

For this recovering perfectionist, she told me precisely what i needed to know. The heartfelt truth is that she told me what i already suspected, and was not ready to put into practice until i read the book.

“All my eyes can seem to fixate on are the splatters of disappointment across here and me.”

Without recognizing what i was doing, i was living the life God gave me inside-out.

God gives us everything we need. He blesses us beyond our ability to measure or comprehend, yet for too many of us, it becomes a life of scarcity.

We fear and fear gives birth to a lack of gratitude.

Humanity’s discontent is the genesis of the fall in Genesis.  Voskamp quotes Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the Word, C.S. Lewis, Julian of Norwich, and other great thinkers of the ages to guide the reader to a recognition that everything that happens is a gift from God.

After listing thousands of gifts myself, i can attest to the difference that an intentional attitude of gratitude can make.

Watching an art show reminded me today, that shadow creates form. My problem is that i am leaving the light out of my thinking some days.

God allows only enough dark for us to see the form. i forget to notice the light. The sun is always shining.

To quote another of my very favorite bloggers, Father Steven Freeman,

“Glory to God.”