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.

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Praising God in the Dark

The February rain has usurped the modest daylight. i lie here trapped in a body that rarely tolerates being upright and i confess ingratitude. Recognizing how blessed i am to be watching a tufted titmouse at the feeder on the hill facing my patio doors stops me. A pile of rocks and roots that is the steep hill a few feet from my window blocks the view. Or, perchance, it is the glorious view of chipmunk, wren, and squirrel.

KQzoK4%+TVuQ2twtOQpuJwThe infirmity that keeps me lying and prevents me from participating in our society is the burden God gave me to bear. All our burdens are custom designed to help us grow toward Him.  The gloom and haze that infects the weather and our mood is the very medium we need to move our gaze to Him. i only feel sorry for myself when i am thinking about myself.

i am not the point. Period. Full stop.

Repentance, metanoia means to turn around, change direction and move the other way. i repent of thinking about myself.

The only reason i feel low is that i am thinking about what i would like to be doing. Being is more important than doing. i am learning in the lying down all the time to be. To be with God. In prayer.

Ceaseless, relentlessly He pursues me. Like Peter, i look about at the waves and cry that i am drowning. How can i drown when He is near?

i fear because i forget to be in His presence.

The hill does not block my view, the hill is my beautiful view even in the dismal dank rain.

My physical limitations are not preventing me from having a full life they are teaching me how to live a full life.

i praise God for His extraordinary blessings! His mercy never ends!

Create

A deep desire to create lies within many people. Creation can take many forms and often expresses itself in guise of ordinary life. For some it is dinner at home or a program at work. Many people find their deepest desires met in teaching and guiding the children they helped to create. Watching new life develop and grow inspires us since we are all made in the image of our Heavenly Father, the Creator of all.

Fear can be a companion of the creation process. Self-doubt nips at my heels when i engage in creative endeavors. Why would anyone want to read this blog? What is the purpose of passing up some time with my husband? i am a fool to babble on the internet.

Recognizing our limited ability can help or hinder us depending upon our personality. For me releasing control is difficult but essential. i must surrender to the fact that i can not place myself at the head of the creation process.

Once i become humble enough to accept my place as a recipient, i can learn to receive the creative gifts that He gives.

i am nothing; He is everything.

Lord, make me an instrument of your orchestra and play Your will through my hollow life. Amen.

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Do You Practice?

Brushes are versatile and solve many of our needs. We can brush our hair, clothes, clean electronics, or paint with a brush.

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Cleaning and painting are important activities. Despite the functionality, I wonder how many people today actually have brushes? I have noticed in stores a tendency to see paint rollers over brushes. Clothing brushes are rare to see today. We seem more likely to take garments to dry cleaners and shoes to the shoe-shine. Hair brushes are often made with plastic bristles so that they can be used on wet hair.

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My favorite brushes are used for painting, but not walls. I confess that not being an experienced wall painter I used a paint roller. Painting watercolors has made me aware of brushes in a way that I never was before. The variety is astounding. Varying the construction slightly creates an inviting array of results.

Effective use of all brushes requires practice.

In our modern culture we do not often allow ourselves the time to master the use of brushes. Practice is becoming something of a lost art. In most areas we expect to become functional almost immediately.

  • How much time do we spend practicing?
  • Do you practice? If so, what do you practice? Is it a sport or a musical instrument?
  • Or did you give up practice time when you left school?

The demand to be instantly competent has crept into our culture with stealth. It can be difficult to find a time when church choirs can practice. People want choirs. They even want to be in choirs, but they have no time to practice.

  • Why has practice become less important than actual performance?
  • Do you think God only hears you during worship?
  • Or is it that we unconsciously feel like practice is unimportant since the congregation will no long hear?
  • Have we been acclimated to value only performance and not practice?

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In some ways I wonder if this has even crept into our attitudes toward children?

  • Have you not heard of parents who search high and low for something their child has natural talent for?

If the child believes he/she must be “great” at an activity in order to participate they will never learn the value of hard work, or the sense of accomplishment when they finally master a skill that challenged them.

Where I worry most about this is in the area of our faith.

  • Who has mastered faith?

No one! We practice our faith. If we feel that we are really weak in one area, that is the place where we need to practice most. When we remove the time to practice and believe that we need only perform, how will any of us retain our integrity and be able to worship?

  • Why would worship be a performance?
  • Who are we trying to impress?

We are created to worship simply because we are made to stop and tell God how wonderful He is. It is not about what we get out of it. It exists to give God glory.

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I think that we leave the doing of faith, like the singing and teaching in church, to the professionals out of the same place that causes us to take the suit to the cleaners rather than brush it ourselves. We don’t have skills to brush mud off wool. We aren’t skilled musicians. We are not trained theologians. Someone might ask us a question that we cannot answer about the Bible.

We need to relearn the art of practice in our culture. There are plenty of skills that we can learn if we practice. It is good for us to learn how to hold a paintbrush even if we are not planning on becoming professional painters. Most of all we need to let the children around us learn that we do not need to perform every minute. There is time to learn all our lives. We can try, and fail and try again. We can worship God as imperfect creatures. Making time to practice is a productive use of time.

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Schedule some time this week to practice something. Perhaps some use of a brush that you have never mastered would be your choice. This might be the time you clean out your electric shaver, or paint a door, a picture, or brush your cat.

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  • What about one-hundred strokes with your Grandmother’s beautiful hairbrush that you inherited and never used?

The biggest challenge of all is not to tell anyone what you practiced. Let it be an offering between you and God. Tell Him that you will try to be more patient in practicing your faith. What is seen is temporal what is not seen is eternal. We need to allow ourselves time for the eternal.

Planning

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I have a complex relationship with planning. I have always been a list maker who loves her planners and creates outlines in copious detail. I confess to being one of those who will add something to the list and check it off if I accomplish something that I did not have on the list to begin with. The sense of self-worth that comes with the check mark warrants the extra seconds it takes to add the new activity. I always plan. It seems hard-wired into my personality. My sister and I are regularly at odds over the topic because she is positivity list-averse. I was really lucky today. When I handed her a copy of the grocery list she put it in her purse. She never looked at it, but she accepted the proffered paper and she has refused in the past.

The complication in the planning exists in the fact that life often refuses to cooperate with my plans. If I have an important event planed I have backup plans for my backup plans. No matter how much I plan, something will always occur that I had not expected. This past week has been a case in point. A series of health problems occurred that have left a string of cancelled appointments and missed due dates. This post was supposed to be on Wednesday but it is now Sunday night. I have lived my life buffeted by endless health problems by always believing that tomorrow will be a good day. Today may be miserable but tomorrow holds the promise of greater strength. Sometimes my hope is fulfilled, sometimes it is not.

I often think that planning is just another way we humans seek to be in control. I have a valid reason for writing everything down. I often become very faint, have blurry vision and short-term memory difficulty. After I lie down long enough to get the blood back in my brain I remember everything. However, sometimes I need to be reminded of something while I am “hazy.” The help of written notes and computer generated alert tone reminders is tremendous.  In all candor, that is not the only reason I make so many plans. I also plan to have a sense of what to expect. I plan for today, tomorrow, next week, next year hoping to achieve a certain outcome.  It would also be true to say that no matter how successful the event I plan turns out I am never fully satisfied. Nothing is ever entirely what I had envisioned.

I have trouble getting everything on my To Do list done. I found that I average seventeen tasks every day on my list. Some days I expect still more. No, I do not list things like feed the dog or make my bed, the list is based on the assumption I will do the basics. There may be some wunderkind who can accomplish seventeen tasks on average every day.  I envy them. I have recently come to the realization that I may be expecting too much from myself.

I have decided to rename the list the Opportunities list as opposed to the To Do list.

Since I have plenty of vision and ample imagination it truly is a list of opportunities for what I may be able to accomplish. I may not be able to fully realize all of these goals in one day, but they are recorded so that I may accomplish them sooner as opposed to later. I will likely add new opportunities to the list in an hour. That is just fine. I will always see room for improvement and keep trying to perfect myself. Caught inside my own human limitations I aim for that which cannot be had. There is no need to despair. Tomorrow will be a better day!

I am not in control. Ultimately, God is the only one who knows exactly what tomorrow holds. I find comfort in this thought. He who holds the future in His hand, loves us unconditionally. I release my need to be all that I dream. I allow God to be in charge. Everything actually will work out according to His divine plan in the end. That does not mean that I will stop planning. On the contrary, my lists and agendas are one of the ways that I make my best effort to live my life fully for God. Migraines may come, but I know that the agenda will help me to do everything possible given the resources I have to work with that day. Things probably won’t turn out exactly as I expected every times, but sometimes they may exceed my expectations. There are times when things appear very bleak. That does not lead to despair. God sends His children on course-corrections. These are the very times I must let go of my fear over my loss, pause and like a wondering child ask with anticipation of my Abba*, “What’s next?”

This is the tenth installment On the Writing Life: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts, Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig. The online discussion group is hosted by Kate Motaung. See what everyone else is saying by clicking here.
*”Abba” is the Aramaic name that Jesus used for God our Heavenly Father in the Lord’s Prayer. It is actually the name little children use for father, probably better translated into modern English as “Daddy.”

Define Success

imageI am thinking that how we define failure and success tells more about our faith and character than we like to admit. It is relatively easy to say that we are followers of Jesus when times are stable, but it is another thing altogether when it will cost us significantly to behave in a meek way. How do we define success? Is it a nice house, a good job and others treating us with respect?

As Christians we are called to view success as following our Servant-King and responding with gentleness even when life-changing issues are on the line. Failure would be recounting who did and said what, and when. Assessing the situation from a worldly, get-ahead viewpoint would be failure. It should not about us or our feelings. It is all about glorifying God. Contributing to dissension and conflict would be putting ourselves first.

If our job as the Church is to demonstrate Christ’s teachings, then we are required to turn the other cheek. Human desires include slamming the door on our way out to shake things up a bit. That is not what our Savior taught.

A friend once told me they worried about me being such a “gentle person.” They feared that others would take advantage of me. After the conversation I pondered their comments and realized that by the Christian definition  for success, they had paid me a very great compliment.

It is surprising what incidents linger in our long-term memory. When I was interviewed for my job in the Church I was asked one question that startled me. I had been asking and answering questions in the appropriate college graduate manner when I was asked how I saw myself leading. I paused because I felt an answer jump up in my heart that did not seem an appropriate response. I felt the answer driven to my mouth by a force too great to resist. It was a Church so I replied honestly with the truth I couldn’t contain. “With great love, I hope.” I never forgot that part of the interview and I have unceasingly endeavored to live up to the style of leadership I believe in.

I have loved the Lord in the good times and the hard places. To love is to put the beloved ‘s best interest ahead of our own wishes. I will always have great love for my congregation. I have done all in my power to serve and please them all. I have fervently sought to share the love of the Lord and His Word.

This is a season where my health has become an insurmountable problem. My chronic health problems have been exacerbated by trying to remain upright for too many hours a day. My body withstood over a month of the new schedule, but I became ever weaker with mounting tachycardia and fainting. In the end I had a second full outbreak of chickenpox, which is not healing as it should. I am being forced into a period of rest.

To the core of my heart I am grieved that we have come to the end. As an optimist, I cannot help but add that according to 1 Corinthians 13:8, “Love never ends.”

How do you define success? Please tell us about a time of transition that you have experienced. Share with us what you think are some of the hallmarks of a life well-lived.

What I know

I’ve been thinking about what I know and questioning almost everything. Just now, a savvy debater could push me into doubting my own name. There is one thing that I KNOW. God is good and loving all the time and I am His beloved child because of what Jesus did in taking my whole, messed-up, confused, human sin to the cross. Period.

I don’t believe this. I know this. I cannot define why I am so certain. The conviction comes from somewhere beyond myself. Faith is a gift from God. Despite the constant barrage of signs to the contrary, I have the assurance of God’s love from the Holy Spirit.

The certitude strikes me forcefully enough share it with you. Over and over I have planned what I wanted to tell you. Over the last month I have written several brilliant blog posts in my mind. Somehow every time another demand on my time caused me to see to more pressing needs. God is who He says He is in the Bible. Jesus Christ is the invisible God made human and the Gospels and New Testament are lenses through which the whole of human history makes sense. Everything else can slip though our hands like sand. 

Truth is very hard for a grieved soul to hang on to. Truth is the reason I am rambling online at a moment when I am least myself. Pontus Pilate, the epitome of the educated cynic, asked JESUS, “What is truth?” Philosophers have argued about truth for millenia. In this dark moment I know truth.

It does not come from my degrees. It does not come from my family, although they are very faith-filled. Truth is not dependent upon my church, which I faithfully serve. Truth is a gift from God. It is a knowing too deep for words. The Holy Spirit utters our prayers for us with groans that exceed words when we cannot pray ourselves. We can only receive truth, we cannot find it ourselves. We can spend our lives in study, search with unquenchable vigor, but we cannot discover it of our own making. Science cannot prove truth. Human endeavors are all in vain. Truth is not beyond the human grasp, however. I have witnessed little children innocently uttering truth that startles the adults.

Truth does exist, Pilate. It belongs to God. He was right in front of you in the flesh! Faith does not depend upon us. It is certain. It is eternal. Faith, truth and knowing are gifts. All I can do is open my hands to receive today’s portion, like manna in the desert. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Whitespace on a Winters’ Day

After some days jam-packed with busy I found some Whitespace this afternoon.

 

The inspiration on my study wall

The inspiration on my study wall

1 Thessalonians 5:14
“ And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.”

The verse that really impressed itself upon my heart tonight. Help the weak. Encourage those who are disheartened. Teach those who seek to avoid self-sacrifice. Be patient with all of them.

My family is dealing with many health problems right now and being home just to tuck a quit around them when they are cold, or make them a good dinner is a gift that I am grateful to be able to give.

Pussywillow came to rest on my legs

Pussywillow came to rest on my legs

 

Rose leaning against the back of my head

Rose leaning against the back of my head

Miracles Still Happen

“Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air.” Annie Dillard wrote in The Writing Life. I was raised to value utility. I felt the need to prove my practicality. I have a degree in history with a specialization in medieval studies. Then to prove that the poet could be sensible I got a degree in business administration with a specialization in accounting. I think accountants are awesome! They amaze me and have my undying appreciation. Why? In part because I always found accounting tedious. I have a degree in a subject that I don’t enjoy. The brief time I worked in accounting I was miserable and wrote poetry filled with angst to try to endue it. I ended up in christian education and that has proven a field that uses my strengths to glorify God. The only one who was being glorified in the whole accounting period was my image as a practical girl. Getting a degree in a field you don’t like is not practical. It reeks of pride.

As life has become fuller, and time is now a precious commodity, writing fell to the background. Generally it has fallen away almost all together. I am so exhausted by the fast pace of my life that I think I need to reconnect in order to save myself. You see, I am on the edge of burnout. By the grace of God I haven’t burned all the way out, but I am often down to a dull flicker.

I have let fear hinder me. I am afraid to push my desk and chair out into midair. I once believed in miracles, ordinary, everyday miracles. Now I dread failure. Fear is self-fulfilling just like pride. Just as I proved how much of a dreamer I was by getting a degree in accounting, now I daily prove that I cannot write, by not writing. There is not time in my busy life to write, because it takes me so long to psych myself up into writing. It came effortlessly most of my life. Now I am in fear that I don’t deserve the miracle of words.

As so many have noted before, when we write it seems as though the hand of God is involved in the process. Now, the voice of self-doubt, asks why God would bother to send me meaningful words. Why would God use me?

As I pondered this question and this writing assignment, I was reminded of Jesus’ first miracle in John 2:1-11. At the wedding in Cana Jesus is asked by his mother to help the bridegroom who has run out of wine before the feasts ends. At first Jesus asks what that has to do with him, for his time has not come. Still his mother urges him to help them. His response is to ask the servants to refill the ritual purification jars with water.

We pause, wondering what good large jars full of water used for washing up will do. The problem is that they need wine, not water. The feast is already underway. They do not need to wash their feet and hands again. It looks a lot like he sent the servants off on busy work which will be useless in addressing the real problem. Ritual washing is practical, but it will not serve the purpose. Except… Jesus is there. This turns into a miracle. He tells the servants to take the full washing jars to the steward and the jars that were full of nothing important are full of wine, excellent wine.

The centurion came to Jesus in Matthew 8:5-13 seeking healing for his sick servant. but in verse eight he uttered the humble words that he was not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof, but, “just say the word and my servant will be healed.” This gives rise to the liturgical passage just before Holy Communion in the Roman Rite where the congregation declares themselves unworthy, but “only say the word and I shall be healed.”

I am not worthy for God to use my words. All the same, I believe that he does use words offered in praise of Him. If my words are actually offered in sacrifice to His glory then He may use them. It does not depend upon my wisdom, strength, power or influence. When I pour my words out for Him then I am healed.

God’s love for people is so extreme that Jesus took the time to provide a wedding banquet with more wine. If glorifying Him is the purpose then He will guide our words even today. Words as common as water can be turned into wine.