Category Archives: Lent

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).”

The best fast is this.

The best fast is to patiently endure everything that God sends.

-St. Anatoly of Optina

St. Anatoly knew what it was to endure; he was arrested by the Bolsheviks and his monastery was closed in the 1920’s. I only today read about him after seeing the quote above in this calendar I’ve been using lately, at the top of the page for April 1. So many readings for Lent take on new significance this year.

If you want to learn more of his story it is here.

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.

Providence and Photography

Long ago in Fantasyland, I thought my remodeling project might be done before Lent 2019. And again this year I thought so, but I had less hope than last year. 🙂

I hate to take the time to tell you properly why it’s not done, and how it makes me feel. But I will say that at worst, I feel like a homeless woman who for a year has been camping in an increasingly disorganized storage unit, who must still be presentable at 7:30 every morning to welcome visitors who are working on the place, very close to my bed and bathroom.

But I do have the loveliest bed, plenty of food to eat, and I have a bathroom. My wonderful house has windows through which sun often shines. I have hope of my affliction coming to an end. Millions of people in the world would love to experience my problem. Besides, God knows what I need, doesn’t He? He does. The last fifteen months have not gone the way I expected, but I can’t help but see, even with my bad spiritual eyesight, much good coming out of “everything,” and I’m not talking about my closet makeover.

The providence of God was crystal clear this week, when it’s the first week of Lent, and precisely for the first three days of this special week my project stalled; it wasn’t the first occasion when I could appreciate the timeliness of delay. Unlike most truly homeless people I have a car and could drive to church! I love to attend Matins and other services that are at 8:00 a.m. during Lent, and it’s not difficult during this season of my life when I can’t sleep past 5 or 6. And as often happens, when we have said the last “Amen,” I’m not eager to leave.

Today I lingered to straighten some of the new purple cloths on the icon stands. On Sunday a dozen of them had been quickly exchanged with the previous cloths of Pre-Lenten color — was it gold? — right in the middle of  Forgiveness Vespers, and a few were a little wonky. Then I went out and wandered in the church garden with my camera. I had already taken a couple of pictures on arrival, when the sun was barely up.

I went into the kitchen where Herman and Maria were just unloading their shopping bags of vegetables and clams and yummy things with which to make soup for tonight. We will have the first Presanctified Liturgy of Lent, and on Wednesday evenings we eat together afterward, a simple soup-salad-bread meal together, which people take turns cooking. I’m planning to prepare one of these midweek soups in April.

Before I could leave the parking lot I got a phone call from the painting contractor saying that they will finish this week, tomorrow and Friday. I had been prepared to wait much longer than that, but this seems perfect. One never knows what a day will bring — that is one way of describing the uncertainty, lack of routine, and waiting that has often been crazy-making in this last year.

But If I don’t have to wait here at the house, and I am physically able to take walks or go to church while I’m waiting, it’s not hard to be content. A thousand flowers decided that March 1st was a good day to bloom; there’s no denying that spring has sprung!