Roused out of dreams.

This morning I attended the lovely Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week, cherished because it uniquely expresses the “bright sadness” of our preparations for the joy and victory of Pascha. In my parish we are able to hold these penitential services early in the morning, at a time when people might be able to attend before going to work. Even on my drive to church I felt the grace of the clear sky, a pre-dawn blue, with a friendly gibbous moon shining down on me.

 

 

Eight years ago after attending this very service I wrote a blog post about laziness, standing up straight, and what it means to be human. Whew! I feel a bit lazier of mind these days, so that I am amazed at all I learned from Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead and from just one chapter of Leon Kass’s book The Hungry Soul. I do often still remember the gist of the lesson, mostly when I am standing in church. If you don’t remember it well, I urge you to read it.

The article focuses on being physically upright, which helps us to be alert and attentive, ultimately to God and His will. It’s not hard to get distracted even in church, but at least we have in the Orthodox services many things to bring us back; for me it’s often necessary every minute or two, as I might simultaneously remember to put my shoulders back again and fix my gaze toward the altar. And especially during this week when we follow Christ to His voluntary sacrifice, our reverent attentiveness is facilitated by prostrating ourselves before God, which, though it is not upright posture, is the opposite of reclining in bed or watching whatever’s on TV.

When we are not in church, our Enemy probably has an easier time helping us to slouch away from Life, his methods so vividly portrayed in C.S. Lewis’s tale of correspondence between devils:

“You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep [your target] from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do…. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say… ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’”

One theme of Holy Week comes from Christ’s cursing of the barren fig tree, in the days just preceding his crucifixion. We exhort our own souls in the hymns of Bridegroom Matins:

Why art thou idle, my wretched soul?
What useless cares cause thee to be lost in dreams?
Why busy thyself with things that pass away?
The last hour is at hand, and we shall be parted from all earthly things.
Therefore, while there is time, rouse thyself and cry:
“I have sinned before Thee, O my Savior!
Do not cut me off like the barren fig tree!”
In Thy compassion, O Christ, take pity on me who call out in fear:
Let us not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ!”

Busying myself “with things that pass away”… yes… I mean, No! I don’t want to do that. Lord, help me to rouse myself!

After the service — I’ve also done this before and made a blog post out of it! — I walked around the church gardens and took pictures, with which I decorated this page. Wherever you are in your liturgical cycle or in your heart’s journey, I pray that your souls may flower and bear fruit after the manner of these beautiful blooms.

18 thoughts on “Roused out of dreams.

  1. Yes, beautiful blooms. Easy to pause, stand still, attending; or bending over, even kneeling–the better to inspect and inhale the beauty. But not sitting of course. Not in a garden.

    And not sitting during certain church services either, I had heard from a friend, though I wasn’t sure why not.

    Just now I went back and read about “hungry” souls and their “Struggle to Stand.” And I thought: standing ovations are common, often spontaneous, but short. One to two hours is different. I wasn’t sure I could stand half that long, even if in a inspiring setting as other worldly as that “pre-dawn blue, with a friendly gibbous moon shining down” (which you drove through to get to church) — until I met a priest who said that’s why we have benches. Eventually I found that following the services on my feet was as natural as those ovations, or as time spent standing among blooms in a garden, and maybe somewhat similar too.

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    1. I need the benches more, the older I get. Sometimes our Pascha service is so crowded, one can’t count on finding a seat, so I bought a folding stool to take with me in case I get desperate. Last year I didn’t need it, but I lent it to someone else.

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  2. I find I feel very healthy and connected with the earth when I spend a lot of time on my feet, walking and gardening outside. I am loving spending hours in the garden most days with my new job. A new connection with the wonder of the world. That CS Lewis quote is so true. So often we squander our lives doing things that don’t even make us happy. We are designed to be walking on our two legs out of doors – I think that state of being makes us feel.. right.

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    1. I know I am always thankful that I can still walk on my two legs! And you and I both live in climates where we can fairly comfortably be out of doors all year long 🙂 That’s a great gift.

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  3. Oh so well written, Gretchen Joanna! I have often found myself distracted by thoughts in services, especially when very long but posture should certainly help. I like your reminder of the Screwtape letters and the business of idleness. Thanks for this great reminder and Happy Easter!

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  4. I bet that early morning felt like leaving the Paschal service…that time when the birds are chirping and everything else is quiet and peaceful. I wish we had bridegroom matins in the morning! There are so many distractions in my life, yes, but I’m constantly being reminded of what’s most important. Your reminder of Christ willingly going to his death is written in such a beautiful way.

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  5. The C.S. Lewis quote got me right between the eyes. 😉 I’ve read Screwtape two or three times and didn’t remember that quote.

    As we get older it gets harder to stand up straight and be attentive to God. But I don’t want to give up the struggle. 🙂

    Pretty flowers in the church yard!

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  6. I love insight that comes with age because for so long I adhered to discipline and used a strict rubric but now I feel free to respond to Christ’s great love with awe, adoration, relief, and joy. In that response I follow Him.

    I always love your church yard photo shoots, GJ! ❤️❤️❤️

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  7. You fed my soul with this post!! And I had missed your 2011 post about Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead. Thank you for linking it here today. So much food for thought.

    I wanted to weep when I read the Bridegroom Matins.

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  8. Calla lilies! they’re one of the flowers that just appear in our grocery stores, utterly out of context. And there they are.

    This line from The Screwtape Letters — “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked” unaccountably reminded me of this, from the venerable Lao Tzu: “To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” Learning the art of adding and subtracting properly is integral to spiritual formation, I think. East and West alike have figured that out.

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  9. Gretchen, you write the most beautiful posts, of ultimate importance. I am so blessed when I come to your site, and I thank you for that. I haven’t been around much, with preparing to retire in June, and not having proper equipment with which to blog since my laptop died, but I am glad to be here now. I am especially mindful of this part of your post: “When we are not in church, our Enemy probably has an easier time helping us to slouch away from Life…” It is time for me to read more of C. S. Lewis. I just read an article from Crossway which said that John Piper was so influenced by C. S. Lewis, which I think applies to so many of us Christians. Xo

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  10. Beautiful flowers at the end, and beautiful words. Today I’ve been watching Orthodox services online, trying to understand them better, and I did notice the standing. Worshipers seem very engaged, alert, participating, and the church seems full. Thank you for your thoughts.

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  11. This has me remembering when the Lord told Job to stand up as a man and prepare himself to answer God’s questions. (Around Job 38:3). I have often thought of our particular bodies as collaborating with our souls on this journey towards The Father, but the exact idea of posture (obvious as it is) hadn’t really been part of the thought. Neat! Love seeing the pictures. I think we have twin cars. Lol. Thanks for extending to joy of this time and sharing your meanderings.

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