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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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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Life with Books

i have challenged myself for the last few years with the 31 Days group. This year, i will link up and make the attempt to publish every day for the month of October.

Humility is the “one word” i am focused on for 2018. The journey to humility is exceptionally long! i have come just far enough to have lost my certainty about anything but Christ. Despite the added burden and unpredictability of life with a chronic illness, i will make my best attempt to share my greatest joy with you daily.

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have brought me more joy than i can describe. The fullness of experience makes writing about my love of reading all the more difficult. Yesterday i could only share some of the best-loved words from my favorite book, The Bible. Exhausted, i could only think of the Good Shepherd bringing me to serene fields to graze in peace.

My husband gave me two icons for my birthday. The Good Shepherd and Christ Blessing the Children are two of the most powerful images for me. When i am physically and emotionally broken they remind me of who He is and what He has done. My weakness allows His grace to shine through.YDJGBM0hSKGiuuvA1jWRwg

The analogy of a candle’s flame is a powerful representation of what i believe to be a great truth. No man is an island.

In the nature of this month, i will attempt only a version of my Commonplace Book.0AGHHfvERB2Zcu2jGd0lzg

In the category of fiction, i would recommend Middlemarch, by George Elliot. Though not an explicitly Christian book, the main character, Dorthea had a finely wrought spirit that i appreciated. I read the book years ago but copied down the following description of Dorthea’s character.

“That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the Divine power against evil-widening the skirts of light and making the struggles with darkness narrower.”

As the Church is transformed from darkness to light on Pascha (Easter), we are synergistically lighting the dark society we dwell in when we allow the Light of Christ to shine through. We can do nothing by our own power but we can maintain the wick and let the Holy Spirit dwell in us. Like the wise virgins, we must keep oil for our lamps and trim our wicks.

Therefore, i just live quietly. Daily prayer and Bible reading with my family and consistent worship in the Church are my little ways.

This month i share some of the books that inspire me and help me. October is a great month to curl up with a good book. Join me in the comments section and share what inspires you.

31 Days 2018

My Day

Psalm 22, 23 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;

he makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff,

they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

thou anointest my head with oil,

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life;

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

for ever.

i wanted to share more with you today, but life with chronic illness…

Even on hard days i know that i am exceptionally blessed. Goodness and mercy have overflowed.

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

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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Write31Days

This will be a challenging October. This blog will hopefully come to life again! For 2017 i am joining the Write31Days power group for the third year. In October 2016 i was about to get married and the last six weeks of a wedding is insane enough on its own, so i skipped the October mayhem. If you are unfamiliar with Write 31 Days 2017 it is a LARGE group of bloggers who all commit to posting every day for the entire month of October. Who needs scary costumes or candy when you are trying to accomplish that?

Since i am restarting this blog i am keeping it simple for this year. After all, what is writing and posting each day for thirty-one days in a row, with the deadline of midnight ticking away to get the lead out of your fingers and get a writer going again? Are we not a group who are infamous for needing deadlines and imminent peril to force us out of our comfort-zones and requiring us to share our writing?

Grammarly and i are entirely aware of the peculiar capitalization rule that i have suddenly forgotten. As i mature in years, faith and marriage (almost 11 months) i have come to realize that i am not the only one who is always sure that they know best. Following the example of Mother Gavrilia, i have begun a practice of keeping my i humble and not capitalizing myself. If i say anything that is any value it will not be because of my brilliance anyway. The practice of making the self the center of one’s thought requires no assistance and the remedy necessitates of extraordinary effort.

i will be joining the FMF team also this year. Check them out here.Five Minute Friday

31 Days themes are thanks to Kate Motaung! For simplicity check them out right here…

  1. worship
  2. tell
  3. create
  4. hope
  5. trust
  6. story
  7. hold
  8. truth
  9. plan
  10. listen
  11. remember
  12. write
  13. invite
  14. try
  15. remain
  16. read
  17. grow
  18. share
  19. brave
  20. discover
  21. give
  22. light
  23. work
  24. revise
  25. because
  26. change
  27. ? (FMF prompt)
  28. connect
  29. follow
  30. refine
  31. rest

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Hearts and Flowers

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your patience during the recent lull in my blogging. To explain in the fewest possible words,

I met the man of my dreams and fell in love.

There is nothing like meeting your soul-mate at long last to hijack all your attention and derail all your work plans.

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You are not forgotten readers. I intend to get back on track and begin to post regularly once more.

As we roll into February and everyone else talks roses and chocolates I will attempt to temper all my romantic hopes and thoughts with words of rest and reassurance found in Christ.

That is my plan, my mind may be distracted by thoughts of my Beloved and wedding plans, but I will attempt to share words of inspiration and reflection that will be meaningful for those in all relationship statuses.IMG_2739

I will begin by reflecting on the nature of wisdom.

I wrote before about defining success. Wisdom is often viewed as the quality of having good judgement. In James chapter three wisdom is described as being of two kinds. He refers to one kind of “wisdom” as being, earthly, unspiritual and devilish. This is said to come from envy and selfish ambition. He said that this type of wisdom leads to every kind of wickedness.

James is right in pointing out to us that why we are looking for wisdom will often affect what type of wisdom we acquire.

If we merely want to prove a point we look only for the facts that substantiate our opinion. We may not even consider or notice factors that work against our preconceived notions. Our ambitions can easily blind us.

The other type of wisdom that James mentions is A Gentle Wisdom described in James 3:17,

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

In my opinion this is the wisdom I value the most. I don’t want to be blinded by an agenda. I do not appreciate ideas that are driven by someone’s ulterior motives.

The quest to find Gentle Wisdom is long and arduous.

The journey has a variety of challenges and the landscape changes and we are refashioned by the adventure. This is the pilgrimage of life. If we are not shaped and refined by the process we are not really engaged in the journey.

When we encounter life fully and skirmish with the truth we learn more of Gentle Wisdom.

In some respects it is only possible to see this wisdom after we are wounded and battle-hardened by the struggle of life. Wisdom is the reward of those who grapple with Truth and Life. Those looking for the easy way inevitably end up seduced by the worldly wisdom that leads to despair. For those who undertake the campaign for Truth the victory is not the cessation of all difficulty, but the blessing of Gentle Wisdom.

Endeavor to hold fast to the Truth and Gentle Wisdom will be the crown that is placed upon the head of the righteous.

If we fight for a crown of our own making we will drive ourselves to defeat. Abide in Christ-the Truth and victory is assured.

Grace and Blessings on you all in 2016!

A Tangled Life

child-562297__180 When I was a little girl I loved reading the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think that is where it actually began. She described the rag doll that Ma made her for Christmas in The Little House in the Big Woods. I’m pretty sure she had knitted garters and stockings.

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Sewing, cooking and knitting occurred in various degrees in all the books. My mother taught me to sew and cook. I wanted to learn to knit and crochet like a well-rounded Victorian little girl. My mother didn’t know how to work with yarn. She tried to get me in a class at the local yarn purveyor, but they didn’t want to teach a child. I eventually got in a class at the local creative arts center.

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You wouldn’t expect it to become that important, but in a way my life has been a steady stream of yarn knitted into a whole.

I’m not sure I remember everything that I have knit. I was taught to knit a rectangle that was made into a simple slipper. One was so badly done as to be unwearable.

Somewhere in that second slipper my fingers learned the process. It quickly worked it’s was into muscle memory and my hands know how to knit and pearl without looking, or even much thinking about what I am doing.

Knitting has become ingrained into me.

I find knitting very relaxing. Some people talk about running and reaching a state of peace and pleasure from the experience. I think they call it a, “runners high.” For me that is the feel of the yarn flowing through my hand and the twists and turns of my hands.

The extra blessing of knitting is that useful garments ooze out of the process. I bore easily, so I always knit something new each time. One year I made all my friends mufflers for Christmas. I began in June. The interesting part is that each scarf was different. A different pattern and new type of yarn. It was a fun way to experiment with novelty yarns.

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When I don’t have a project on my needles I feel like something is missing. Honestly, I find myself looking at my knitting basket, then remembering I don’t have anything to knit, and feeling empty.

I knit continental. The fact that I always have the working yarn running toward the needles makes me a fast knitter. My fingers start to fly as soon as I start to learn the pattern. Being a fast knitter means that I run out of projects ready too quickly.

I just knit a new fall hat last month. I bought two balls of a merino-silk worsted weight blend. I knew I probably needed only one ball, but it would be close and I buy most of my yarn mail-order. Now I have a finished hat and a second untouched ball. I thought about mitts and looked through my patterns, but nothing really spoke to me. I already have a matching caplet I knit a few years ago.

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The merino-silk blend has a wonderful feel as it slide through my fingers. I think it is the feel of the yarn that I find most pleasurable in knitting. I don’t like knitting rough or synthetic yarn. Wool is my favorite due to it’s stretch. Fighting my yarn is not enjoyable.

The absolute most important feature of yarn is the idea of one long continuous piece of fiber. The concept represented in knitting is the best characteristic. If there were no other reason to knit I would knit to remind myself that it can all be unraveled.

No matter how tangled, confused, unworkable the piece becomes it can always be fixed.

Because it is one long, uncut piece of yarn it can be “unknit.” If it tangles it can be untangled.

Life can feel too much like a messy piece of knitted work.

There are moments when you think that you cannot go on. It can never be made right. Life leaves scars. Knitting does not. Knitting can be undone and remade exactly right.

As a recovering perfectionist I do not remove all my mistakes.

Unless it will alter the usability of the item, or leave a hole, I leave my mistakes in and simply correct the row in which I found the error.

In quilting there is a concept of the “humility block” where if the piece would otherwise be prefect they add a mistake to remember that we are only human. I regard the slight imperfections in my work as signs of the fact that while I am flawed I am made and loved by a perfect God.

Nothing can happen to me that God cannot help me to redeem. In Romans 8:28, St. Paul reminds us that, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” In my tangles I feel confident in my ability as a knitter of many years experience that I can repair the problem and move on.

Both the repair and the moving on are important parts of the crisis redemption. In life the same process must be undertaken.

Sometimes I must unknit in order to create something new. Always I need to undertake the process of remaking in light of the pattern. What was the purpose in the first place? Look at the big picture. What does the finished garment look like? How can you get back to the appropriate pattern?

I have never had anyone else able to find my corrections when the garment is finished. Even the worst mistakes can be worked out with a ball of yarn. It can be twisted and pulled into an amazing array of items. The longer you work at it the easier it becomes to unravel mistakes.

The more time we spend in Bible study and prayer the better we understand how to unravel life. It is one, long story. We are just a strand in a magnificent whole. Sometimes what looks like a mistake turns out to be a new stitch. Those of us who think ourselves particularly flawed are just the ones adding “texture” to the fabric of life. It all come out in the end. Fix the problem and move on. And On…

What should I knit next? Do any of you readers have suggestions for something that could be made with one skein and might be of some use with a hat?

Today I am linking up with Holley Gerth and Coffee for Your Soul. What encourages you to keep going when things are rough? How can you use that experience to encourage others to hold on to Jesus when life unravels? Holley-Gerth-Button-250x250

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