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!

 

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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.

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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.”

 

Gardening the Soul

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i once had a garden. It was a Victorian cottage garden. It was a small glimpse of paradise for me. Today the Commonplace Book is taking us to the gardening section of my library, a small reminder of those days.

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” Do whatever falls into your hands, in your circle, and in your situation and believe that this is and will be your true work; nothing more from you is required.”

St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life-And how to be attuned to it, Number 16, The True Goal of Life

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“That every plant should select only its own colors and forms from the great laboratory of Nature has always seemed to me a very wonderful thing…For instance, the California Poppies, if left to themselves, will take yellow of many resplendent shades for their color, and never vary their cool, gray-green, ted-tipped foilage…” Celia Thaxter, An Island Garden

If we believe in Master Planner we allow Him to decide what shade or character our life produces. Sometimes is a humble cottage. For others, it becomes a great manor.

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“God arranges the lot of each person, and the entire course of the life of each one is also His all-good industry, as is each moment and each meeting.

St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life-And how to be attuned to it, Number 16, The True Goal of Life

IMG_9650 2“Put yourself in God’s hands and pray that He will put you in the place that He considers best.”

St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life-And how to be attuned to it, Number 16, The True Goal of Life

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It is easy to imagine that our job is to live in an impressive and formidable life. We are all the heroes and heroines of our own life story.

My garden consists of three succulents in a little  Wardian case on my windowsill, along with an orchid and two (?) African violets.

Humbly living the life we are given for Christ is the hardest job we will ever have.

Giving up and Release(ing) my plan is harder than i could have ever imagined. i am happier than i thought possible.

When the goal of life is no longer our happiness, God acts in ways that astound our expectations. Being disabled means i cannot tend a “real” garden, but such grace has come to me in my houseplants.

One African violet has decided that it is not happy in my window. i am allowing it time to recover, but i will probably have to replace it. When i went to buy a new violet i could not find a suitable one and came home with a glorious pink orchid instead. i am trying to learn to leave space in my soul for God to be the Master Gardener.

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Colossal​ Wreck

For October 3 my Commonplace Book quote comes from my favorite atheist, 

Percy Bysshe Shelly.

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"I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them. on the sand,

Half-sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And Wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that it's sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, snapped on lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear;
"my name is Oxymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

In an age of vicious political discourse, i am reminded that all worldly power is fleeting.

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“13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. 18 And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 RSV

As i was reading Shelley’s poetry i couldn’t help but think about the tragedy that in the words of his contemporary, William Wordsworth, “The world is too much with us…” and poor Shelley did what so many do, he looked for God within himself. My heart aches at the darkness of the culture. The Shelly’s of our age feel the pain and know no whence to go to find the light. When they find darkness within, they deduce that God does not exist. All the while we, who have been blessed to have been given a flicker of light blow out our candles by hurling vituperative at the dark.

i am thinking that St. Silouan the Athonite was on to a greater truth when he began to pray for the world. “The ontological unity of humanity is such that every separate individual overcoming evil in himself inflicts such a defeat on the cosmic evil that its consequences have a beneficial effect on the destinies of the whole world…Prayer keeps the world alive and when prayer fails, the world will perish…

To be light we need to pray for the world. We don’t need to pray that our enemies will be vanquished. We can remember that all earthly kingdoms fail. “The great ones” are just modern day Ozymandias. We need to be praying. If we pray in the spirit, in the Spirit, as James epistle teaches above, we can allow the Spirit to burn through our prayer.

Are we praying for the world?

 

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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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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…