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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
It was made by Love…so that He might love us.
To love we must Release control…
and learn to share.
For October 3 my Commonplace Book quote comes from my favorite atheist, Percy Bysshe Shelly. "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.
“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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
i 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.
The 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.
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.
Today i will try to write.
When i saw the word i felt a wave of relief.
The only thing that i consistently believe that i can in fact do is try; i do not know what my body will permit me to do. i often have difficulty being upright for extended periods. The definition of upright varies based upon a whole host of issues too numerable to be of any interest to non-P.O.T.S. sufferers. i can always do my best, however.
Action verbs can fill me with trepidation if they are on my agenda. They are wonderful to characters in a book. In real-life, they can prove unpredictable. Trying is always doable.
Yesterday i faced the issue of inviting. Today i actually made and received phone calls. Trying to find a time for a whole group of friends to meet for lunch can require a significant amount of negotiating. The amusing aspect is that this is a group of ladies that i used to lead in a Bible study. We went out to lunch together every week for more than a decade. Now that we are no longer all starting from Bible study, trying to coordinate everyone’s schedule requires a number of back-and-forth phone calls.
We have a date and restaurant, but the time is still contingent upon another event that may be scheduled for that afternoon as well. We are trying to meet for lunch.
It appears as if life would be preferable if it were more predictable. Upon consideration, however, it probably serves us better that we do need to really work hard at living.
The fact that we are trying so hard teaches us something about the depth of our desire for community, and how much we treasure our friendship.
i am reminded of the ladder to heaven. Once we gain some spiritual maturity, we recognize that the gulf between our ability and the throne of God is immeasurable. In St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, he talks about the skills the soul needs in order to live fully with Christ. How can i be meek, obedient and renounce the world while i am still living in the world?
In every aspect of my life, i am finding that challenge helps me rise to greater heights of spiritual maturity. i know that i have not mastered any of the rungs of the ladder. i appreciated reading Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou’s book, Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life. In consideration of the obstacles of life, i comprehend that i am extremely blessed. God only allows us to face what can make us more faithful. Surely, the paths for me have fallen among the pleasant ways!
The petty trials of every day are blessings in disguise. By trying to climb the larger steps like repentance and simplicity we grow by grace closer to the One who made us. We become more fully human when we try to renounce worldly ways and give precedence and kindness in all our actions. The more i attempt to live with time dedicated to prayer and stillness the closer i grow to Grace. Perhaps trying is a success for humans in God’s great beneficent plan.
If there were a list ranking things that i most despise about myself, the top position would be occupied with the summation:
i miss my friends. i long to talk to them, meet with them and find out what they are up to. You would expect me to call them and invite them to meet with me. I want to do this. My husband has pointed out that once i start talking to my friends the conversations last a very long time. Despite my desire to make the call, the actual process of tapping my phone and hitting their name on my “favorite” list is surprisingly excruciating.
As the TV detective Adrian Monk ubiquitously said, “Here is the thing.” i dread making phone calls. i desperately want them to call me. It does not come from my rational faculty. i don’t expect them to pick up their phone and call me just because i am looking at my phone and praying that they will call.
Inviting someone is very stressful for me. There is an indefinable question that lingers just below the surface. An invitation is an offering of vulnerability. When we ask someone, they could turn us down. Rejection, however remote is possible.
i am convinced that those of us who are very comfortable with being alone are proportionally more uncomfortable bridging the divide of possible rejection. We check one more thing off our To Do: list while we wait on the possibility that they will call us first.
An invite is a loaded term. i love to be invited, but life would be so much easier if i didn’t have to initiate the conversation.
P.S. i actually did leave a garbled message on my friend’s machine telling her that i wanted to get together for lunch soon. It was mixed with phrases about how i would love her to call me and, vacillating introvert that i am, i said that i would call later. Ouch!