Meditations in the Morning Room.

During the Great Fast, Orthodox Lent, we read a lot from the Old Testament, especially from Isaiah, Genesis, and Proverbs. Today we heard the day’s readings during the streamed Morning Prayers that I have been trying to tune into at 8:00.

Some of the verses from Proverbs 16 and 17 I am including in this post. They may not seem directly applicable to the context in which I place them, but they remind me to keep the right perspective.

For the last week I’ve been using my laptop in this room, which I showed you the Before picture of last week. That very day I cleaned it up and took the picture above before I ever sat down. I also cleaned up the Guest Room, mostly by tearing off the carpet protection, which took a great effort. I hadn’t figured out what chair to sit in by the window, where I imagined I would quiet my soul in contemplation. Here’s the Before:

…and a few more showing the process into After-but-not-Final:

Maybe you would like a refresher about what used to be here? Some pictures are just too painful to post, but I hunted these down, and they are a good refresher for me, too, for what I have been through, and why I might need an uncluttered spot in a light-filled room for a few months of recovery.

A patient man is better than a strong man,
And he who controls his temper is better than he who captures a city.

Also, it’s good to look behind at all that has been completed, tedious as it was, and to be thankful that all of that construction chaos is over!! The only things left to do are fairly clean and tidy tasks. Thank you, Lord.

I always knew I wanted one of the new rooms to be a place for sewing, because I’ve never found another in this house that really works. There are no windows on the sides of the house, until I had some put into this new room, and I think that was part of the problem.

Still, it’s been so long since I could even access my sewing machine, or settle down long enough between trips and big events to think of using it, I was starting to say about this room, “I don’t know if I ever will sew in it….” I knew I could not spread out into the space and figure out where to put the furniture and rugs and pictures until it would be fully mine, with no strangers coming and going. I don’t want to have the beautiful fabric I bought in India sitting exposed on the shelves of the cabinet when carpenters are finally putting doors on it.

A man wise in his deeds is a discoverer of good things,
But he who trusts in God is the most blessed.

It doesn’t seem smart to invest in a new chair that I’m not able to try out first, so I was glad to remember one that was given to me a few months ago by the same friend whose living room gave me the color for this room that has been known for two years as the Sewing Room — first in my imagination, then on the drawings, and as it is referred to by all the workers from painters to carpet installers, from age unto age.

That black table was my grandma’s breakfast table truly for ages, when it was the color of the chair in the top picture. I began last week to use it for my laptop, and then to write letters to my friends. I am better at letters than phone calls, but just as likely to procrastinate about either.

Considering the continuing upheaval, in my psyche if not in my daily life, it’s surprising even to me how happy it makes me just to be in this room, especially in the mornings soon after I get dressed. Whether the morning is cloudy or sunny, plenty of light pours in, and just the emptiness of it is peaceful; by contrast, my bedroom is always dark in the mornings, and still bears more than its share of clutter and mess.

The abodes of wisdom are more to be chosen than gold,
And the abodes of discernment are more to be chosen than silver.

What it is, is a Morning Room. Of course! I wasn’t trying to come up with a better name, but the room somehow revealed its own self and natural name, which plays itself like a song in my mind. It will be fitting for a long time, I think. More items have been coming in, even my sewing basket and mending pile. Who knows what might happen….

It’s taking me longer than I expected to find a routine and a rhythm that fits Lent and the Coronavirus Confinement and my own unique situation. Every day seems to be a new chapter in the story God is trying to write, and I often feel out of sync with the plot. But it is the most lovely thing to find that in this chapter of my story there is a Morning Room.

 

As silver and gold are tested in a furnace,
So are chosen hearts before the Lord.

Who might be up to something.

Many children first encounter our Righteous Patriarch Joseph as the one whose father Jacob gave him a “coat of many colors.” My husband was raised by people who knew their Bible stories well, and when as a very young child he was given this striped bathrobe (modeled here by our son 30 years later), they called it his Coat of Many Colors.

Joseph was his father’s favorite because he was the son of his old age. When you read about the actions of the older sons, it makes you wonder if there were other reasons. His story is well summarized here: Righteous Joseph the Patriarch ; but the entire story as recounted in the scriptures, Genesis 37-50, is full of drama and many fascinating details – one of the most gripping true stories of all time, I think, and easy to read.

Some key events: Joseph is given a fancy coat; he has dreams which he tells to his family; the older brothers are jealous, they hate him and plan to kill him, but sell him as a slave into Egypt instead. There he is quickly elevated to overseer of Potiphar’s house, because the Lord makes everything he does to prosper. Potiphar’s wife repeatedly tries to seduce him, and when he doesn’t cooperate she accuses him to her husband of trying to rape her, and Joseph is put into prison.

I heard once that if Potiphar had fully believed his wife, he would have had Joseph killed. The scripture says Potiphar’s “anger was aroused,” but maybe he was angry that he had to give up this most helpful of servants in order to appease his wife.

Joseph was in prison at least two years, but he wasn’t the type to “languish,” and the keeper of the prison in turn makes Joseph his overseer: “The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.”

When Joseph’s “fortunes” begin to change, he gets promoted quickly, becoming the savior of Egypt and of his family, even his brothers who hated and betrayed him. I use the word savior because Joseph is a type of Christ. Many years ago I heard a long lesson about all the aspects of his life that point to the Savior of the World, which you can read about on this page, Joseph: A Type of Christ, where the writer has posted a helpful chart.

She even tells us that the name Pharaoh gave Joseph when he exalted him, Zaphnath-Paaneah, means “Savior of the World,” but elsewhere I read that it is “probably Egyptian for God Speaks and He Lives.” Even that reminds me of Christ The Living Word. By the way, I only ran across this site when researching this topic, and I can’t recommend it generally.

But one thing I found refreshing there was this point: “There is no record of Joseph sinning,” which corresponds to how Christ was fully human but without sin. The scriptures at least do not tell us about Joseph’s sins, unlike many people I have heard who love to find fault with him, and almost make excuse for his brothers’ jealousy. They accuse him of pride, and reveal their own arrogance in presuming to judge a holy man through whom God wants to reveal Christ to us. One even criticized him for wearing his special coat too much…? As to his brother’s hatred, isn’t it more likely that the situation is explained by John 3: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Joseph was the one to whom God revealed His plans, and whose work He blessed everywhere he went. He was a true prophet, and filled with the Spirit. If he had sinned against his brothers when younger I think he would have admitted it, especially when eventually his brothers meet him again and are feeling guilty for their own actions. He might have said, “It’s okay, I was the one who was at fault for thinking I was so great. It must have been hard to see me wearing that nice coat all the time! Please forgive me.”

But no, he is matter-of-fact about their motives: “You meant it for evil…” He doesn’t excuse their behavior, which at the time he knew was for envy. Being the man of God he was, if he had been at fault at all, he would have asked forgiveness right then. Still, he loves them and comforts them, because he knows that it doesn’t matter, as he goes on to testify, “…but God meant it for good.”

Joseph is remembered three times in the Orthodox liturgical year, and today is one of the days. The last time I blogged about him was during Holy Week one year. When I saw him on the calendar this morning I immediately wanted to share a much shorter post about him. But I get carried away when I start thinking about Joseph, he is so wonderful!

He is a good example to remember this week, because I know that a lot of people are trying to figure out who is to blame for the coronavirus pandemic. Or they think they already know that it is part of a world conspiracy that is going to bring worse effects still. It doesn’t matter. Our job, whatever difficult circumstances we are living through, is to be the best human beings we can be, to go on doing our work as Joseph did, thanking God for everything. Let’s not get distracted by speculations about things we can never get to the bottom of.

As Father Stephen Freeman said recently, “Are the leaders of the world up to something? Maybe – but don’t worry. Terrible things will happen no matter what we do. Fear not, little flock. Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”

When suffering and death come.

I almost broke out of my “cage” last week to visit my husband’s grave. My priest would meet me there, and we would pray on the memorial of my beloved’s repose, five years ago. But we changed our plan and had a virtual gathering with him praying in the church and more of us praying along via Zoom than would ever have been able to come to the cemetery. Before we had conceived the graveside plan and given it up, we had planned for me to bring a koliva to church to serve after a service there. I know people everywhere have been accomplishing many and various quick-change feats lately.

The Zoom meeting/service was a little odd; I’m certain it was the first prayer service ever held that way in my parish, but under the circumstances it was the best, and I was really glad we did it. More than 21 people were able to be with me that way, and some of you were among them. I could see that 21 devices were tuned in, and some of them represented couples or families.

Most of us had our microphones turned off, but even having two or three people singing or praying together on Zoom confuses the audio stream. I was thankful to all of those who were willing to listen above the superficial distortion to the beauty of the memorial, for the sake of praying with me and for my husband. It was sweet to see their names and/or faces, and after the hymn “Memory Eternal” more people turned on their mics to say it individually.

That was a blessing of the current version of normal, and a good alternative to standing in the rain six feet away from my priest. But when I do eventually feel free to visit the cemetery, that real and physical resting place (I will choose a sunny day), I can see me with my face in the grass, smelling the earth, feeling the breeze blowing over me and over all those waiting for the Resurrection of the Dead. Until then I am sharing a few pictures of events featuring more concrete, material remembrances, the sorts of gatherings which we will be less likely to take for granted in the future — I hope!

Today as I write, it is Saturday, which is the Sabbath, as we were reminded in our (streamed) morning prayers from church. The day of rest. But most of us don’t rest ourselves on this day. Rather, the church remembers those who are resting in death, waiting for the Resurrection, Resurrection Day, which we both celebrate and look forward to on Sundays, as Sunday is the Eighth Day.

When I “came home,” which meant coming downstairs, I read the passage from I Corinthians appointed for the day, and it is on the on the same theme, a topic on the minds of many in these days of a world pandemic, a time when death statistics are in nearly every news article one comes across. I keep thinking about Ivan in Tolstoy’s story, and how it was only in suffering that he began to get understanding. I will quote from my own blog post, written only a month ago, so soon pertinent to our moment:

“It is the disruption of Ivan Ilyich’s pleasant life, the pain of his illness, and the growing realization that he is dying, that make him pay attention, and even pray. His prayer is along the lines of, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ but nevertheless: ‘Then he was still, ceased weeping, held his breath, and was all attention; he listened, as it were, not to a voice uttering sounds, but to the voice of his soul, to the current of thoughts that rose up within him.'”

It is always a good thing to realize that one is dying. Those of us who will survive this recent threat and go on to live many more happy decades are no less under the sentence of death than those who will die from Covid-19. The realization can lead to repentance, and that in turn, to life.  Here is the epistle reading for today:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O[Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -I Corinthians 15:50-57

Let’s not only pray that we and the people we love be delivered from physical suffering and death, but also that when suffering and death come, as they will, we all will be able to hear the voice of God in our hearts. As it was for Ivan, for some it will be the beginning of true life.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

-From Prayer for the Departed

Daily Sustenance

It’s been cold here this week, and hailed for a few minutes yesterday. I hope my plum blossoms were not damaged! Maybe some that were hiding under leaves will be able to become plums.

Last Sunday our parish women’s book group was scheduled to meet at Ann’s house to discuss Father Arseny. I hadn’t planned to be there because Soldier and Liam were flying in from Colorado to celebrate my birthday with me; so I didn’t reread the book in preparation.

Of course my guests cancelled their plans, for everyone’s safety, and the women held a lively Zoom discussion which I “attended” along with eleven others. I sat in my garden at my laptop most of the time, until it got too chilly. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, and decided to meet again in a week just to chat; we’ve been missing each other and don’t want to wait a whole month or more till we’ve read the next book.

Now we are reading At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. This title is a good one for a few reasons:

1) Several of us love George MacDonald and his books have come up before in our list of possible group reads.
2) Even though physical libraries are closed, his works are easily found as free library digital editions, for 99 cents on Kindle and as audiobooks.
3) For families with more time together sheltering in place, it’s a good read-aloud.
4) I haven’t read it for a long time, but knowing MacDonald generally, it’s likely good nourishment for our souls that need extra sustenance right now.

 

Sustenance consists of those things we need for life and health. The opposite is deprivation or starvation. Often our souls are starving for spiritual food when our bodies are overfed.

I had the odd experience in the last week of several times being so busy socializing that I didn’t take time to eat. Because of the many anniversaries and birthdays in my extended family, in addition to dear friends phoning to talk about the pestilence, I was on the phone more hours that week than I had been in the previous six months. Because I’m generally overfed, that brief bodily deprivation had little effect. Since then I’ve also caught up on Alone Time.

And I’ve cooked some things. When my Painted Lady runner beans produced a bumper crop last fall I resolved to make soup with them during Lent. What I came up with was a vegetable soup rich with onions and garlic, and not too many beans. It’s sustaining for sure.

 

Over the decades I’ve discovered two sorts of (vegan) chocolate pudding that are great for breakfast, and I don’t see that I have shared the recipes here before. Well, I did share a link for this version of the chocolate chia seed pudding, and here it is again: Minimalist Baker.

But the one I’ve made many more times in various flavors is so simple and adaptable, I didn’t even measure yesterday when I made a batch.

SILKEN TOFU PUDDING

-an amount of silken tofu, say, 14 oz.
-cocoa powder, try 1/2 cup
-sweetening to taste: sugar, maple syrup, etc.
-cinnamon or vanilla or almond extract, etc.

Mix in food processor until smooth, divide into portions and eat or refrigerate. Of course you might top it with fruit or nuts or granola. The above amounts are what I used last night and I divided it into three containers. I think it’s a good breakfast food because it has protein and caffeine, and don’t we all like something easy for breakfast?

I have made it without chocolate at times, in the past. I think there was a lemon version, or a pumpkin spice, but as I remember, chocolate was the winner.

 

My remodel: It is not finished; some construction workers are willing and wanting to work at this uncertain time, and some are not, so I am preparing my mind for an indefinite prolonging of this mess. Three times over the last 16 months I’ve moved out of my walk-in closet, into a spare bedroom across the house that is even now serving as my dressing room, with my clothes stacked all over the bed, my laundry hamper squeezed in the corner, some of my hanging clothes squeezed into the wardrobe.

My goal now is to clear that room and somehow fit my clothes and shoes into my own bedroom, and use it as my dressing room. It has no closet currently, and is still full of storage, but I can move some of that stuff temporarily into the sewing room cabinet that is waiting for doors, as you can see in the photo above that I have already begun to do.

The workers’ clutter in the sewing room I hope I can stash in the garage or the unfinished closet, depending on whose it is, so I can clean up the sewing room, too. I am tired of waiting to wash the windows, and I want to be able to sit in there in the mornings. Do you think that as soon as I complete all this work, the construction guys will come back and make a mess again? If they do, I won’t complain. That’s the walk-in closet at right, which I can’t even shut the door to. It’s been the view from my bathroom for two months now, unchanged.

The new guest bathroom is usable except for things like the shower curtain rod and towel ring. There are six such accessories that a worker came to install one day weeks ago, and he completed two of them.

Outdoors, I myself have neglected the garden quite a bit, but it’s still a lovely place to stroll, and I’m cutting asparagus and waiting for snow peas to show on the tall vines. (You can see them at the back in the last picture below.) The Coast Bush Lupine I planted sometime last year is now covered with buds! Everything looked so pretty after the rain and hail, these recent mornings when the sun broke through.

There’s plenty of sustenance in my larders!