Category Archives: church

A Week of Palms and wildflowers.

This is the week in which I finally got out walking. I guess I had before been doing too much of a more sedentary kind of work — God knows in what realm of my being — that made me too weary for walking, other than around the garden. Evidently I’m in a new stage of dealing with the pandemic and its ramifications.

Herb-Robert

For the first walk, I went on the lower unpaved path next to the creek, and didn’t meet anyone. Pretty quickly I remembered the Seek app on my phone and started pointing it at weeds and other plants, many of which I was already pretty sure I knew… just checking. There was lots of Sow Thistle, Bull Thistle, Bristly Oxtongue and Burr Clover. Those are the less pleasing explosions of springtime, which I won’t show you. Tiny white willow puffs drifted down on to my head, and the sun was shining. I discovered a bay tree on the bank above.

For us Orthodox, it is the last week of Lent; Holy Week is not considered part of Lent proper and our Holy Week and Pascha are a week later than Western Easter this year.

So… one period is ending and the intensity of Holy Week hasn’t begun. It reminds me, this year, of the week before finals in college: a week of transition between the end of classes and the beginning of exams. It was called Dead Week. You were supposed to use the time to study hard, but some friends of mine always had a giant jigsaw puzzle going at their apartment, and anyone was welcome to come over and work on it when they needed a break from studying.

Poison hemlock

It’s not dead by any means in Lent, unless you are talking about Lazarus, who died this week and spent most of it in the tomb. For me, it has been more life-filled than ever. My feeling of renewal began with the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, whose story I’ve never paid enough attention to before. Technology failed me, the evening that we were going to have a parish reading of her life on Zoom, so I took an hour to read it aloud to myself (with my brothers and sisters not virtually, but in the Holy Spirit). She helped me to get my bearings.

Now our focus shifts, from our journey of repentance to Christ’s journey, having “set His face like a flint,” to Bethany and on to Golgotha. Soon it will be the resurrectional Lazarus Saturday, and Palm Sunday. This whole week is called the Week of Palms, or Week of Branches. I don’t think I knew that before.

aeonium

This year, because we aren’t able to celebrate Pascha in church, with our glorious middle-of-the night Liturgy and festal hymns and countless shouts of “Christ is risen!” in a dozen languages — it also seems that we are having to set our hearts determinedly to receive what God has given us with thanksgiving. The wife of our priest explains our sadness:

“Sundays, which are a dim picture of how we will spend eternity, are meant for us to be praising and worshiping God together for ages of ages.  Every Sunday is a mini Pascha, and we are being kept from celebrating together in completeness.

“The good news is that these feelings tell us that this isn’t right. This isn’t how things are supposed to be. We shouldn’t be content with just doing our own thing. I literally weep every time I think about missing Holy Week and Pascha with you in our spiritual home. But I cling to the hope of the Resurrection. I look forward to the day when we can come together again in person in the church, to partake of holy communion, and to be refreshed.”

Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill

On another level, I especially appreciated the refreshment of some exercise and fresh air yesterday and today. I was happy to see a striped bumblebee in my neighborhood — until this morning I’d only seen black ones around here. My app told me that the buds on this bush below belong to the Eastern Redbud. I thought that strange; why would someone plant an Eastern when we are here in the West? So I looked at pictures of both species in bud, and I can’t see much difference. So I’m just calling this one “redbud.”

redbud

This week was “enlivened” also because Alejandro came to work in the garden, and we had two sunny days and got a lot done. That made it feel more normal.

But as to the abnormal — Father John Parsells, in “The Pascha Nobody Wants,” encourages us that in our present obedience and isolation we have the opportunity to participate in a way that we ourselves would never choose, in the sufferings of Christ.

“His ‘social distancing’ was so complete that He even experienced divine ‘abandonment,’ crying out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken Me?’ The sinless One became sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:20) and the One who said, ‘I and My Father are One’ (John 10:30) experienced ‘separation’ from His Father.”

“What we go through now can feel very isolating for faithful Christians, yet we are resolutely encouraged, remembering that the Cross of Christ reveals isolation as the door to communion. In obedience even unto death, we find the life that can never be put to death. Amidst our distress and anguish, we find the ‘man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3), Christ Himself who says to us what He promised His disciples in their own time of tribulation: ‘I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy!’ (John 16:22).”

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.

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

Everything depends upon that moment.

Today is the beginning of our salvation;
the revelation of the eternal Mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

I had wanted to continue my ruminations on The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air by further considering The Moment that Søren Kierkegaard refers to when, after waiting in silence, “…the silent lily understands that now is the moment, and makes use of it.”

I don’t know what that moment consists of for you, for me, for us as a world community, or in our cities or church communities or families. No doubt there are overlapping times and seasons containing infinite instants, and only by quiet listening can we make any sense of them. But this passage in particular I wanted to pass on, in which the writer discusses what is missed when we fail to make the proper, standing-before-God kind of preparation:

“Even though it is pregnant with rich significance, the moment does not send forth any herald in advance to announce its arrival; it comes too swiftly for that; indeed, there is not a moment’s time beforehand…. But of course everything depends upon “the moment.” And this is surely the misfortune in the lives of many, of far the greater part of humanity: that they never perceived ‘the moment,’ that in their lives the eternal and the temporal were exclusively separated.”

So many thoughts swirl in my own noisy mind and heart that I could not imagine how I might find a way to share even these few gleanings with you. Then, in God’s providence and the church calendar, appeared someone who is the supreme example for us of being ready for the moment, that time in history and that time in her life, in a particular moment of a day, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Today we remember that event, when Mary listened, and responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

The Word became flesh and came to live with us, taking on all our human experience, its weakness and suffering and  death. He defeated death, and opened the gates of Paradise. The Incarnation, the beginning of our salvation, is The Moment of history; our own “Yes” to God, echoing Mary’s willingness, can be the essence of our every prayer as well, as we wait on Him.

Kierkegaard exhorts us, in words that seem especially fitting for this time of uncertainty and change: “Would that in the silence you might forget yourself, forget what you yourself are called, your own name, the famous name, the lowly name, the insignificant name, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Hallowed be your name!’ Would that in silence you might forget yourself, your plans, the great, all-encompassing plans, or the limited plans concerning your life and its future, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your kingdom come!’ Would that you might in silence forget your will, your willfulness, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your will be done.'”

We know that God’s will for us is good, now as ever. Our inability to see or understand that is due to our weakness or sin, or His hiding of His works. May He give us grace to wait and to pray, and eventually we will see the full salvation of the LORD.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11