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.

On the Bookshelf

On the Bookshelf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anamaximand​er

Anamaximand​er

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

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.”

 

Share

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.

 

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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Life with Books

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

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?

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