Tag Archives: prayer

More or less in Poetry Month.

It’s National Poetry Month, and also Lent, which is a helpful confluence. “Less TV and more poetry” sounds to me like going in the right direction. But I don’t watch TV… What about my own tendencies to less housework, less attentiveness, less prayer…? Clearly, these things must be worked out on an individual basis, and may God give you wisdom. We are early in the month and I don’t think I’ve overindulged in poetry yet. I want to take advantage of the reminder and post a couple of poems before the month is over.

My thoughts about children’s books and Lent converge on this excerpt from Richard Wilbur’s More Opposites, which I think one of The Most Fun collections of poems and drawings. I don’t even require another person to read Wilbur’s humorous poems to — they often make me chuckle contentedly or muse to myself. I see that I already posted this particular one, but it was years ago, and I for one can benefit from a rereading.

The illustrations of this question in the book include a simple drawing of people with distressed faces holding their tummies. I think the cartoon at bottom makes a similar companion to the poem. It’s

#15 in the More Opposites book:

The opposite of less is more.
What’s better? Which one are you for?
My question may seem simple, but
The catch is — more or less of what?

“Let’s have more of everything!” you cry.
Well, after we have had more pie,
More pickles, and more layer cake,
I think we’ll want less stomach-ache.

The best thing’s to avoid excess.
Try to be temperate, more or less.

-Richard Wilbur

There is a Mennonite cookbook titled More With Less, from which I gleaned many good cooking ideas in the early days of my homemaking career. But more valuable than the actual recipes was the refreshing concept that one might have more health and more enjoyment of eating and probably more money to spend on other things if you ate less.

Of course this is something we need to keep in mind all the time, not just during Lent. The church fathers caution us not to eat so much food that we aren’t able to pray after eating it; an overfull stomach hinders prayer. If it’s possible that Less Food = More Prayer….

Let’s just pause and think on that.

(re-post from 2013)

Joachim and Anna, and Love.

In the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos on December 9th. Following from the fact that Christ received His human nature from his mother, she is of supreme importance in our salvation history.

Father Thomas Hopko writes in The Winter Pascha: In the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved. If Jesus Christ is the Savior, Mary is, par excellence, the image of the saved. She is, in every aspect of her life, as Father Alexander Schmemann so often said, not the great exception, but rather the great example. From her conception to her dormition, that is, her true and real death, she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ.

I had to keep pushing that last sentence to the front of my mind as I tried to think and write a little more about the mystery of our salvation…

The icons of this feast tell the story of Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna, who had been unable to have children until late in life when Anna became pregnant with the child who would become the mother of our Lord. “Iconreader” has an article on the festal icon with links to related articles and discussion about its theology, and why the icon has been so popular in Russia.

From that article on A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons: The icon of the Conception of the Theotokos is very simple. Joachim and Anna tenderly embrace, standing before a bed. Without being explicit, it is boldly confessed that, whilst a miracle granted to a barren couple, the conception of St Mary happened through natural means. This can be compared with Icons of the Annunciation, which could be described as the Conception of Jesus Christ: in those icons Mary is not shown with Joseph; Mary remained a virgin.

And from the Orthodox Church in America , an excerpt from an article on the feast that discusses beliefs about original sin: The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although she committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, she would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibility of our salvation is in doubt.

There is so much to think about here! I would like to read these articles more carefully and thoughtfully, to stretch my mind toward the theology of “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7) Whenever I think about theology as a field of study, it brings to mind these words about theology and prayer from Bishop Kallistos Ware, and they help me refocus on the example of Mary, who said to the angel, “Be it unto me according to your word.”:

Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed: a theologian, said Evagrius, is one who knows how to pray, and he who prays in spirit and in truth is by that very act a theologian. And doctrine, if it is to be prayed, must also be lived: theology without action, as St. Maximus puts it, is the theology of demons. The creed belongs only to those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable.

In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Creed is introduced with the words, ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity, one in essence and undivided.’ This exactly expresses the Orthodox attitude to Tradition. If we do not love one another, we cannot love God; and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith and cannot enter into the inner spirit of Tradition, for there is no other way of knowing God than to love Him.

At Christmas, the Truth that ties everything together is (I John 4:19):

We love him, because he first loved us.

What became of the stowaway.

Only in the 21st century was St. Porphyrios (Bairaktaris) officially recognized a saint by the Orthodox Church. He was born in 1907 and in this brief story of his life it is told that as a young boy he was inspired to go to Mount Athos, and stowed away on a boat to get there.

He wrote a book titled Wounded by Love. [correction: He did not write a book, but others compiled his sayings.] Just that phrase speaks something essential to my heart, and sort of sums up for me the example of the saints who shine the Light of the Savior into the world. The book I haven’t read yet, though it is featured in our parish bookstore and when I’m on duty I have once or twice looked inside the cover.

St. Porphyrios’s feast day is December 2, and while I have posted quite a few quotes from him on my blog in the past, I don’t think I have mentioned him on his day until now; here is a word of exhortation from, and to commemorate, this shining elder.

Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].  — St. Porphyrios

[Update next day: I have seen a video just now on YouTube of St. Porphyrios’s life, very well done, with scenes from Greece and stories from many people of his clairvoyance and healings. Fascinating.]

More than the rhythm of our breathing.

Remember God more often than you breathe, says St Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389). Prayer is more essential to us, more an integral part of ourselves, than the rhythm of our breathing or the beating of our heart. Without prayer there is no life. Prayer is our nature. As human persons we are created for prayer just as we are created to speak and to think. The human animal is best defined, not as a logical or tool-making animal or an animal that laughs, but rather as an animal that prays, a eucharistic animal, capable of offering the world back to God in thanksgiving and intercession.

Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia