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.

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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.

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Share

Today i am linking up the Five Minute Friday group.

The word is SHARE. The rules are to write freely for five minutes. But first a favorite quote of mine from my Commonplace Book;

“We are as dwarfs mounted on the shoulders of giants so that we are able to see more and further than they, but this is not on account of any keeness of sight on our part, but because we are lifted up upon those giant forms. Our age enjoys the gifts of the preceding ages, and  we know more, not because we excel in talent, but because we use the products of others who have gone before.”

Bernard, Master of Chartres School (written in the mid-twelfth century).

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We used to learn to share. Everyone raising children still tries to teach them to share. It is difficult to let go of crayons, ideas, opinions, and power. Past cultures sometimes did a better job teaching students that where we are is only possible because of the others with us. We have become an incredibly self-focused society. Self-care is a key word today. i wonder what this will mean to those who will sit on our shoulders?

Today, we are browsing the Medieval section of the library.

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There is a lie that popular culture promotes that says that we are self-created. We all know deep down, narcissists excepting, that we do not exist in a vacuum. History is being forgotten and re-written.

Our culture acts like we believe we are giants who created the universe. The world was not created for us or by us.

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It was made by Love…so that He might love us.

To love we must Release control…

and learn to share.

 

Review of Time and Despondency

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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. 

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.

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!

Worship

One of the attributes of modern society that puzzles me most is the habit of denying the value of an action or attitude whilst simultaneously engaging in the same characteristics in a modified form. I know the simple nine letter noun that sums the habit up succinctly. Since i have always been a woman of more words rather than less, i will allow Miss Bates to run rampant for a minute, but only one, i can afford no more.

Worship is often relegated to the storage-rooms of history.

It is wrapped in archival paper and shut away in boxes by those who labourously toil behind a screen always scrambling to stay ahead of the market. The one thing that is valued most and occupies more of our time than any other pursuit; that which we treasure more than any other-this is what we worship.

We all worship something or someone.

Twenty centuries ago the Apostle Matthew told us that what we treasure most is where our heart will be. He did not tell us that where our heart is our treasuer will follow. We often think that our heart decides what is most dear to us. St. Matthew said that our money or treasure determines where our heart will be. We worship what motivates our spending or giving.

Where do your time and money go?

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Old Photos

My Dad with my Mother in front with his Mom, Dad and brother behind

My Dad with my Mother in front with his Mom, Dad and brother behind. This one he kept secure in an album.

Looking at old photos is heart-warming for the sentimental. I enjoy looking not only at my own old photos, but also the photos of others.

Today I have been looking at my Dad’s old photos.

That is the curious thing about old pictures, some people are not that attached to them. My Dad bought a camera and took enough pictures to fill an album when he was in the army. He developed his own pictures before he became busy with kids. He did keep the pictures he took.

The pictures that his mother had of him as a little boy and young man, however, he had no attachment to whatever.

My Dad on the right

My Dad on the right

After his mother died he put the old pictures that she had in the basement! They were virtually all ruined. I finally scanned some of what survived today. He took good care of the pictures that he took as a young man. Why didn’t he care about the pictures from when he was a child? I asked him. He just told me that he isn’t sentimental.

I even like stranger’s old pictures. I wonder about their stories. Were they happy? Did they only try to look formal and stiff because they thought that was how to pose for a photo?

People once posed in very series expressions with very stiff positions. In one of the “abandoned” old pictures of my Dad’s childhood they all look incredibly uncomfortable. My grandparents never smiled in a picture.

Finally when my Dad started taking pictures after he came home from the army his parents began to smile once in a while in snapshots. I wonder if all that stiff, formality was part of going to have a professional picture taken? My Dad looked miserable on the formal portraits of him and his brother before his brother went into the navy. What did they say to him? Did they tell him the pictures were to keep a memory if his brother was killed? Or did he have to stand very still for an incredibly long time?

Uncle Joe looks a lot happier than Dad

My Dad was the younger brother, by the way, don’t let size fool you. Is it the wretched expression of the sixteen year old having to stay at home with Mom and Dad while his brother goes off to see the world, win a war and gain glory and adventure?

That is more or less what my Dad said he thought of the war. Right until he was on a troop ship heading off to sea. Then it became real. He said that it was not until then that he realized he could die or be maimed. My Dad was blessed that when he arrived on the other side of the ocean the war had only three days left. He didn’t know when he set sail it was to be a switchboard operator in the occupation force.

He probably doesn’t remember that particular portrait, but I’ll have to ask him about all those professional portraits. He does remember that as a very young boy he was the one rubbing the fabric of his short pants. He was never good at holding still. Perhaps that is why he never liked the professional portraits his mother had. That could explain how they ended up in the basement.

Another one of my Dad's pictures. Look at how proud his Dad looks. Is that why he kept this one safe?

Another one of my Dad’s pictures. Look at how proud his Dad looks. Is that why he kept this one safe?

From the Monumental to the Ephemeral

Paper

The series this month investigates unexpected thoughts upon the ordinary. We live in an era of plenteous, inexpensive paper. More paper is dumped in the landfill than is recycled despite the fact that we are becoming conscientious about recycling. More paper is made for temporary use such as bathroom tissue and paper towels than is manufactured for books or newspapers. In many ways we are just beginning to come to grips with how much paper we use. Most of us are not willing to adopt cloth baby diapers, although I know mothers who have done just that.

As an avid reader the use of paper for books is something that I am aware of. I personally regard my books as long-term companions. I was appalled when I discovered the old, “brittle-books” and was shocked to discover some of the lengths that librarians were being forced to go to try to save books that were literally disintegrating. In the second part of the nineteenth century the “acid” paper production began and made paper manufacture cheap. The resultant cost reduction has been touted as one of the reasons for the dramatic increases in book production that occurred. Cheap books were not the only result. A century’s worth of literary output was put in jeopardy since the paper deteriorates at an alarming rate and becomes dust.

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By the end of the twentieth century book producers had reduced the use of “acid” papers in favor of “alkaline” paper for all but mass market paperbacks. While I am grateful that most of my library is safe from the rapid self-destruction of acid paper, I bought a book a few weeks ago printed in England that turned out to be printed on the old foe. I bought it online and did not know it was printed on “acid” paper. Personally I don’t understand why any books are being printed on such paper. If you don’t intend to keep the book why don’t you borrow it from a library or read it on a digital device. Why do we need books printed on self-destructive paper?

We live in the unfortunate age where we must shred much of the paper we receive to avoid identity theft yet we still produce “acid” paper for some books! The advertisements for endless credit-cards do not appear to be on cheap paper. They are endeavoring to look as important as possible.

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What responsibility does the Western consumer bear for the manufacture of so much of the world’s “acid” paper in China? They are not known for environmental considerations. Ought we be buying mass-market paperbacks on paper that is more dangerous to the local ecology if that environment is half-way around the world? I think not.

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I love history and historic items. I don’t have any original Victorian papers, but I do think they are lovely. The collectors of the old calling cards, greeting cards, advertisements and other lithographs are hunting for the lovely pieces of the past that have endured. It is called the collecting of Ephemera since antique “bits of paper” are as ephemeral an item as exists.

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These tiny scraps of paper tell us so much about the people who lived before. Their journals, letters and other ordinary records fill in the details of remarkable and simple lives alike. Their legacy is valuable. They tell of life in an epic age of expansion. We are moving further away from paper today. In some ways that is good, but in other ways I do find a bit of doubt.

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How durable is our legacy if we are recording it with bits and bytes? They say that anything uploaded to the internet remains forever. However, will anyone have the tools necessary to read a blog from 2015 in 2080? This blog may not be important in the scheme of things, but could we be a part of something not much different from the “acid” paper debacle in our use of technology? We cannot know what lies ahead. Based on what we can learn from what went before, I think I should print paper copies of some of the precious photos I am storing on the “cloud” just in case I want to see them when I am an old lady.

A Soft Word

Proverbs 15:1-4
​A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

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In days of old Kings had retainers who were supposed to act as a filter since most of the government resided in the King himself.

He was the head of the highest court, head-of-state, the treasurer worked directly for him and the coffers were his to use as he saw fit.

He made wars, levied taxes, made laws and lead his armies into battle.

One man cannot accomplish this alone, so they developed loyal men who worked with them to make the government function.
They had no internet, blogs, post office, newspapers or telephones. The only way news travelled was by word of mouth or passed hand to hand in a letter that could only be read by a few since most people, even most Kings were illiterate.

The dependability of a persons’ word was of paramount importance.

That is one of the reasons kings depended upon their retainers being incorruptible. When the men a king relied upon could be bought or were foolish the king could die.
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Today we suffer from “information overload.” Cynics start to expect dishonesty. We no longer recognize a person’s word as worth a life.

Human beings are still the same, however. How many lives have been destroyed by lying words?

Marriages die from falsehoods. Livelihoods are lost from gossip. Bullying words relentlessly hounding young people driving them to wish for death.
Unkind words are still wrong.

We all fail. Foolish talk escapes us all at times. Sincere apologies are the appropriate response. Let us honestly reflect upon and seek to use only words that build one another up. Encourage each other.

Gentle words matter.

Now is still the time to speak love, friends.