Gratitude

Gratitude

I just read an extraordinarily timely book entitled, Gratitude In Life’s Trenches. This new book by Robin Phillips is on a subject near and dear to my life-gratitude. The book thankfully is not about the ubiquitous, self-help propagated, “Be thankful for all the things that make you happy” nonsense that abounds in books and blogs today.

This book is about real, solid sustenance that can bring a person through the storms without drowning.

This book is about gratitude as Christian practice and recognizes the hard work that builds the spiritual muscle to endure when life shipwrecks your plans and “happiness”.

In a world where countless lives have been disrupted and most of us need strength to cope with lives that are less than perfect this book provides solid, thought-provoking yet eminently accessible ideas for how to live a full life even when that life is stunted, stymied, and shut-down.

Gratitude In Life’s Trenches appears a time when we are becoming more aware that the stress which bows us beneath its weight does not come entirely from our outer circumstances. Robin Phillips begins with the recognition that the meaning of our life does not consist in outward accomplishments, but in our self-awareness and attitude.

By considering our “valuation” we can recognize the crucial difference between appraising our value as children of God as opposed to contemporary fallacies of “self-esteem” which can easily cause us to lose our sense of value when our circumstances limit us. This is a common cause of our poor opinion of other people.

In an era when polarization is destroying our ability to converse rationally with people with whom we disagree, we must recognize the value of every human being. Respect for others does not depend upon our agreement with them, but it is impossible if our sense of self-worth is dependant on our accomplishment.

Self-loathing and pride are opposite ends of the same fallacy. We do not find value in our performance or persona. Our “likes” do not make us worthy of respect but that does not mean that truth is relative.

The range of source material that went into Gratitude In Life’s Trenches has greatly added to its appeal to me. Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives is combined with the latest research on neuroplasticity in a cogent appraisal of contemplative exercises and CBT. 

Robin Phillips uses resources diverse as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Victor Frankl, and St. Theophan the Recluse,and St. John Chrysostom. By using a broad and careful application of such comprehensive source material he has created a book that is infinitely worth the time to read and apply. Each chapter includes not only detailed notes, and bibliography but also thought-provoking questions. This would make an excellent study book for groups and a fruitful starting point for individual journaling and reflection. 

By combining his own personal story and struggles Robin Phillips leads the reader to recognize that gratitude and attitude are not sterile scientific or salvific attributes that we can merely memorize. Rather it is in the messy application of the principals that we receive the results all humans crave. Practice is a crucial component in any life-skill.

Gratitude In Life’s Trenches honestly is as the sub-title promises, How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything Is Going Wrong. I hoped to grab a picture of this new book before I had flagged it, but it was so easy to read that once I began to peruse it I couldn’t resist noting details I will go back to and practice again and again.

I am delighted to tell you that this book is now available for purchase and I would have bought it immediately if I had not received a review copy. I will be re-reading and practicing the life-skills Robin Phillips discusses many times over.

“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.

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!

 

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.

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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

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

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

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

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.