All posts by GretchenJoanna

About GretchenJoanna

Orthodox Christian, widowed in 2015; mother, grandmother. Love to read, garden, cook, write letters and a hundred other home-making activities.

As with marrow and fatness.

The Psalms of the Bible are the poetry that I am focusing on this year in National Poetry Month. They are helping me to also keep a Lenten focus. I’ve had my eye on two Psalms in particular that I wanted to memorize, but deliberately working at memorizing  seems to “not be happening.” Maybe if I at least read them (a little) more frequently some of the lines and verses will start to stick. I love this green pocket Psalter so much. It is from Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

For years I’ve also made heavy use of a recording of the Ancient Faith Psalter, available from Audible. Before John Oliver begins the actual reading, there is this encouraging introduction from Fr. Michael Gillis, which I have transcribed:

Introduction to the Ancient Faith Psalter

The Psalter is a prayer book for the church. It has been so before there was a Christian church. There is an ancient saying attributed to St. Athanasius the Great that the Psalms are different from the rest of Scripture in that while the rest of Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us. When we pray the Psalms we are praying the words God has given us to pray.

It has also said that the whole story of God’s dealing with Israel is an allegory of each person’s spiritual journey, the story of God’s dealing with every human soul. Therefore, inasmuch as the Psalms sum up and interpret the story of Israel, the Psalms also sum up and interpret the spiritual journey of every human being. The Psalms touch every experience of human life in our fallen world; every joy and every terror, every fear and every hope are found expressed in the Psalms. Some Psalms are beautiful, to the point of seeming sentimental. Other Psalms are bloody and apparently vindictive.

Such a range of emotion and experience is offered to us in prayer because in some inner or outer way, at some time in our life we will all experience this full range of thoughts and feelings. In fact, because some of these thoughts and feelings are so extreme, so evidently horrible, it is only through praying the Psalms that we come to realize and then confess both to ourselves and to God in prayer that yes, even such terrible things as these at one time or another have passed through our minds and perhaps even our hands.

This literal reading of the Psalms however is only the beginning. As one prays the Psalms one soon begins to realize that the enemy, the Amalekite or the Philistine, the nations that rage against God, are not people or situations outside myself, but are most poignantly referring to the wicked impulses and evil thoughts that I must battle within myself. The psalmist’s cry for deliverance becomes my own as I see within my own heart and mind the struggle between good and evil; the betraying thought, the accusing word, or the mocking laugh.

The Psalms give us words, images and metaphors by which we can cry out to God for help in the midst of our inner struggles. What the psalmist describes as external speaks to our internal struggles, because all outer conflict is a reflection of an inward struggle. Is this not what Jesus told us when he said it is out of the heart that murders and adultery flow?

The Psalter is a prophetic book; it is prophetic of Christ but it also speaks prophetically of all who are in Christ. Just as “strong bulls” surround Christ on the Cross, so too all who pick up their cross and follow Christ experience in one form or another this attack of the strong, and come to know their own weakness in resisting it, their own need to be delivered from the “power of the dog,” “the mouth of the lion” and “the horns of the wild bulls.” Similarly, the prophetic declaration of the Resurrection of Christ, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered;” this also is our declaration as we experience moments of deliverance and help over our inner enemies.

The Psalms speak of God and man, Christ and Christian, inner and outer conflict, victory and defeat, heaven and earth, wisdom and foolishness. With few words and much meaning, the Psalms provide the images and words for every prayer, every need, every celebration on our journey through this world.

-Fr. Michael Gillis

A beautiful Pride, and the Cross.

One day during this week of the Cross, which comes now in the middle of Lent, I drove to the coast. It was cloudy but not as cold as inland. Here the north wind has been blowing, and a different night Susan even built a fire that I was so glad to sit in front of when I came home late. I will write about the beach on my Sea Log eventually, but here I wanted to post pictures of the Pride of Madeira echium that are so abundant out that way in this season.

In the past I’ve mentioned how my late husband and I, celebrating our wedding anniversary in March, often used to spend a night or two at the coast, and it was on those trips that I first encountered this plant. We were always delighted to see it again and again up and down the California seashore, for more than forty years.

 

It does grow a ways inland, even in my neighborhood, but it seems to prefer the coast. And the botanical cousin that I have in my back yard, called Tower of Jewels, I do not love as much, even if it is more rare. I’ve never seen so many and varied colors and forms as I did this week along one stretch of Highway 1.

I also wanted to share something of the wonderful homily, “In the Days of His Flesh,” which I heard on a podcast. Fr. Patrick Reardon gave this homily on the Sunday of the Cross. But I am too sleepy, so I’ll just leave you with the link, and this little quote from elsewhere:

“The cross stands in the midst of the church in the middle of the lenten season not merely to remind men of Christ’s redemption and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved.

“‘He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’ (Mt.10:38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ for those being saved (1 Cor.1:24).”

Mosaic is in the apse of the Church of San Clemente in Rome. Prompted by a comment from Jeannette, I have added a larger image showing more of the setting, here at the bottom.

To be near the fountain.

“If anyone happened to be near the fountain which Scripture says rose from the earth at the beginning of Creation and was large enough to water the earth’s surface, he would approach it marveling at the endless stream of water gushing forth and bubbling out. Never could he say that he had seen all the water…. In the same way, the person looking at the divine, invisible beauty will always discover it anew since he will see it as something newer and more wondrous in comparison to what he had already comprehended.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs

Tenaya Creek in Yosemite Valley, 2010

Listening in Poetry Month and beyond.

April is National Poetry Month, but also the whole month is full with Lent and Holy Week for us Orthodox. I have plans to combine poetry with repentance, but before I get into that here I want to share this podcast I recently became acquainted with, which might be a blessing to some of my readers. It comes from the CiRCE Institute, and David Kern reads the poems.

In the first few episodes I listened to, one of them was less than two minutes, during which time the selected poem was read three times. And two of the ones I heard were perfect for young children, if you have any of those around, or if you are a child at heart.

The Daily Poem