Category Archives: love

My discussion with the bumper stickers.

As I was pulling into a parking lot yesterday morning I was behind another car long enough to read three bumper stickers in slow succession, in this order:

I began to debate the first point and wonder if it were satire, when I saw the second, and concluded, No, it was a believer in Christ who stuck on the quote from the Bible…. Then I saw the last, and couldn’t figure out how it followed from the first extra-Biblical idea.

I went on to spend my afternoon with a friend whom I love dearly, and was thankful not to spend much time discussing with a phantom mind these points which, no matter how you arrange them, don’t make a very logical or appealing systematic theology. But I don’t want to leave you with this disheartening bit of slogan-and-sound-bite “communication.” I reread an old article by Romanos, who fell asleep in death in 2016, titled merely: Salvation, in which he points out that,

“Loving God will always bring you to Him, but thinking about God at best brings you to the threshold of love, at worst locks you into a mental prison. The invisible God becomes visible through love, but the visible God, our brother and sister, can become invisible through doctrine.”

And he quotes Archimandrite Vasileios in several paragraphs of which I’m giving you only the last:

…while the Jews of Christ’s day were so eager for theological discussions, He let them go unanswered; ‘But He was silent.’ For He did not come to discuss, He came to seek out and save the one that had gone astray (Matthew 18:11). He came and took on our whole nature. He entered into us, into the shadow of death where we are, and drew us to the light.

Christ is risen! In truth He is risen!

Update: A reader just pointed out to me that Father Thomas Hopko actually recorded a series of podcasts about the mistaken ideas in the statement “Relax – God is in Control.” The last one is here.

Recklessness, and words thrown away.

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors,
there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of night.

Lorrie posted that quote from Rainer Maria Rilke on her blog, and I have to agree with her that shrieking has somewhat the wrong tone as a descriptor… Even “reckless” can’t be right, because it’s all in God’s good order, even if it is more than I can fully appreciate with my puny and/or disordered soul.

She titled her post “Every Year is More Beautiful,” and I agree here, too, and that is part of the “problem.” The beauty in my world is magnified year by year, day after day, with over-the-top sweetness not to be compared with anything so flat as a slice of pie.

My garden is full of it, as is the sky above, and the birds’ songs. This week a house finch sang to me from the rooftop, and I realized I’d never heard his announcement before; it sounds like he is being quite emphatic about something. This morning I walked a little earlier than usual and saw and heard several more birds.

But what most occupied me on the path was hundreds of pages of Holy Scripture scattered on the pavement or in the leaves or grass at the side, and even in the creek. The first page was all alone, from the Gospel of Matthew, and as soon as I picked it up I saw another just beyond, and another… then larger parts of a little New Testament that had been ripped out of the sewn binding. I gathered each scrap or sheaf I saw, except for one of the orange covers and whatever parts might have remained inside it that I saw floating in the water below the bridge.

I read a line or two from a few pages, like,

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us,
from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son,
in truth and love.

But mostly I tried to be efficient
in the task of recovering the pages of more words similarly poignant.

It seems impossible for me to get a good picture of the cow parsnip in the creek. The whiteness of its flowers shrieks at my phone’s camera! This is the first year I’ve noticed that plant in our stream… and say, aren’t those some healthy nettles I see next to it?

Down there flitting among the willows and the cow parsnip was an unfamiliar bird. Dark grey, the size of a crow, but not acting like a crow. He flicked his tail frequently, and he had a black head and a vague black stripe down his back. I haven’t found him in the bird guide yet. To provide (so far) two new bird encounters in one week could be thought of as recklessly generous of my Father. How can He expect me to cherish His gifts if He lavishes them continuously?

And the button buds of the pyracantha are darling, not one as large as the head of a hatpin:

My neighbor Richard’s prickly shrubs are always half-dead, but they make white petticoated blossoms with blood-red hearts – so plucky and girly at the same time:

I wanted to read every wrinkled page of the Bible I picked up, because I was sure there were pertinent messages there… but of course I couldn’t, and I just brought them all home for a more honorable disposal. Eventually the evidence added up to three copies of the little orange Gideon New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs that had been torn and tossed.

I’ll type out just one meaningful verse from a photo above, that captures something of the excessive generosity of the Subject of these loosed leaves:

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
Sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

But wait —
In that modern translation, I’m afraid the syntax doesn’t satisfy, as the end of my post.
So here is another excerpt from those pages, for your edification:

Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,
And blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

Amen.

It is because He wept.

LAZARUS SATURDAY

“It stinketh,” say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this awful warning applies to the whole world, to all life. God is Life and the Giver of Life. He called man into the Divine reality of Life and behold “it stinketh”…The world was created to reflect and proclaim the glory of God and “it stinketh.”

At the grave of Lazarus God encounters Death, the reality of anti-life, of destruction and despair. He meets His Enemy, who has taken away from Him His World and become its prince. And we who follow Jesus, as He approaches the grave, enter with Him into that hour of His, which He announced so often as the climax and the fulfillment of his whole work. The Cross, its necessity and universal meaning are announced in the shortest verse of the Gospel: “and Jesus wept” …We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus, that Jesus had the power of calling him back to life.

The power of Resurrection is not a Divine “power in itself,” but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is Life, Love creates Life…It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus. In them love is at work again—recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: “Lazarus, come forth!…” And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the beginning of both: the Cross, as the Supreme sacrifice of love, the Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.

-Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Icon from Sinai, 12th century

I map the topography of love.

Yarrow blooming in front garden.

March is the month that my husband fell asleep in the Lord, two years ago now. My experience of bereavement is all over the map, following the topography of the seasons and the holidays and whatever physical ailments fall on me.

Most of the time I am happily swamped by a myriad of plans and activities, and tasks I’m behind on. But sometimes the absence of my husband when I lie down and when I rise up, when I go from room to room or when I come home from a walk, is like a huge and strange presence.

March always features Lent, which is a mercy, because that is an opportunity to focus on prayer, which keeps me in the present, where my husband and I are both living in the Kingdom of God. I can put our marriage in historical perspective and in the context of eternity.

This year once again I cooked for 100 people, with the help of several dear friends, an agape meal after last Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, as a memorial for my husband. I made the same menu as last year. We had so much fun cooking on Saturday that I completely forgot to take pictures.

But the night before, I had been soaking 20# of Great Northern beans to make the Greek Beans , and I took pictures of them soaked and being dried off on a tablecloth. They have to be dried off a bit so you can sauté them in olive oil before stewing them. Neither of the photos shows the whole 20#.

I also borrowed some pictures from last year that are pretty much identical to the scene from last week.

garlic and bay leaves
Preparing tarragon for cabbage salad.

Partly because of Lent, March is always very busy. Not all Orthodox churches are able to celebrate a full calendar of services, partly because many parishes have only one priest, and he might also have another job. But God has arranged for me to be where I can be nourished and helped a great deal by praying in church and receiving Communion several times a week during Lent. We have so many services that no one can attend all of them.

Yellow freesias starting to bloom in the distance.

 

March is when the garden takes off. If I didn’t have my garden, what would my life be like? Would I keep a tidier house? Pray more? Probably neither. I am always happy in the garden – and it’s a good place to pray, without a doubt. Better to have a garden that is somewhat neglected than to have no garden.

I started thinning the lamb’s ears with the help of a kneeling bench
that my cousin Renée gave me.

I used to not like Euphorbia (above),
but now that it is falling over my own garden wall I find I am quite fond of it.

lovely lithodora

The native currant bushes (ribes) aren’t very bushy,
but they are three times as tall as last year.

Bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in a pot.

The first week of Lent I started out grumpy. But Lent is a good cure for that. I have since been given wonderful gifts of thankfulness. God has let me see how all through my life He has abundantly provided for me, and He continues to do this every day. When I think of the love that has been given me in my childhood, my marriage, my children and my friends – and now the Holy Orthodox Church that is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all,” my cup runs over.

No doubt I will lapse into grumbling and self-pity before long, and have to repent again (That’s what life is for!) but the view of my widow’s world from this mountain on which I stand at the moment is quite beautiful, and it’s a Happy Spring.

I began this post yesterday, and then went out to pull weeds and deadhead flowers. I was kneeling in the mulch by the yarrow when the florist delivery girl walked up with an elegant vase for “Gretchen.” Lilies, roses, carnations, blue flowers, sweet smells… Before I could get it into the house I started weeping, not being able to guess who would do this – it could be anyone, in God’s world that is full of miracles, and seemingly brimming with people who care about me. But it was my children and their spouses, with an early remembrance of their parents’ wedding anniversary:

“Mama, these are sent in celebration of you and Papa, and with love for you,
from your children.”  See what I mean about that landscape?