Saturday, January 26, 2008

Modern Heroes

Reading the Saturday mail, I noted some interesting facts as pertaining to Afghanistan.  It was only a small paragraph, certainly not something you’d ever find on the front page of the liberal Gazette:

-Afghanistan has held two peaceful elections, with women casting 40% of the vote.

-In 2001, only 8 percent of Afghans had access to health care; now 82% do

-Polio inoculations have risen from 35%  of the pop. two years ago to 95%

-The child mortality rate has dropped 25%


The number of children enrolled in school has risen from 900,000 under the Taliban to 5 MILLION today including 2 million GIRLS.

This is why wars are fought.  This is why loyalty to the sanctity of human life will always prevail.   It is the Truth of the Divine in us that keeps men sane, for in the end, the only true strength in this life resides in virtue.  Men can stand on integrity, self-control, honesty, and Truth but may die a thousand deaths from betrayal of conscience. 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”.  St. John said that.  It’s one of my favorite verses from the Bible because it is a daily reminder that no matter how vile, no matter how dark the valleys, the Light will always prevail.   That Light is in every one of us who profess belief in Christ as Lord and Saviour of Life.  We are the hands and feet of God.  It is us who take that Light into the dark places of the world.

One such light I came to know about several years ago: Greg Mortenson, an American and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute.  He is also the author of the best-selling, Three Cups of Tea about his remarkable journey to build schools in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.  As quoted from his website (photos are also from his website) :

“As of 2007, Central Asia Institute has successfully established 58 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide (or have provided) education to over 24,000, with a emphasis on girls' education. A few additional projects are in Mongolia (rural health education) and Kyrgyzstan (teacher training scholarships).”

He is a hero; he understands the heart of war with a deftness that I perceive little of in the brash political arena.  Mr. Mortenson has been unafraid to take on the battle at the front-lines for 15 years now, arming children and communities with the power of literacy, health care, education, conservation.  He understands the connection between valuing and nurturing life and long term peace.

My hat is off to our men & women in the U.S military who must battle not only with reckless hate from our enemies, but the weak media machine that perceives so little of Truth.   And thank you, Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute, for working to promote peace by touching the heart of new generations in a war zone.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Well

Just a little poem I jotted down a few nights ago....

Women came to gather by it

And take what they would

But the well is dry...

Children tossed pebbles

And hoped for a splash,

But the well is dry.

And the builders then came to

Find remedy for naught

But the well is dry.

They knew the shaft deep,

The walls sturdy and sound,

But the well is dry.

Then townsmen and country folk

Came to shout down the dark,

“How dare you run dry?  We need your life blood!”

With curses and stones they made their angst known.

But the well remained dry.

The walls torn by anger, the shouts falling in air

Gave tremble to waters flowing East to dwell there.

©2008 ALT


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lessons in Basketball

I’ve never been a fan of basketball, either to play or watch the sport.  Our son has changed my mind.   He has played several seasons now for our church league and his  enjoyment of the game and camaraderie with teammates is clearly seen.

From where I sit, it isn’t just a well-organized league with fun opportunities for the kids, it’s a practice of our daily christian living.  I have witnessed some heartwarming actions from the parents, coaches and referees.  When Ben played in the young schooling league (under 8)  one referee in particular held my admiration.  He made a point to help the smallest kids, directing them, helping them dribble, and asking the taller ones to allow the little ones a chance at a basket.  He set a great example.

More recently, this year, Ben is in the older kids league and the games are very fast paced.  Since some churches do not have enough kids for a team, the league assigns the kids to other church teams.  We were fortunate to gain Nathan on our team this year.

Nathan has autism and, according to his father (who is a Presbyterian minister), he has not had much success in participating in team sports.  Nathan needs to understand activities in small steps and with kind patience.   The happy look on Nathan’s face tells me that he enjoys making a successful pass to a teammate as much as sitting on the bench with his new friends.  Greg, our team coach, has worked with Nathan and demonstrated this kind patience and guidance on a regular basis.  

At a game a few weeks ago, both teams showed what good sportsmanship is all about.  They quieted their fast pace for a few minutes in the 4th period to allow Nathan the time to dribble in and shoot.  He concentrated, making sure to dribble as coach had showed him, found his spot on the court and gave it his best.  He missed.  He smiled as everyone applauded his great effort.

A lady beside me in the stands whispered, “I’d love to see him make one..”  Again,  Nathan was given a free opportunity.  The teams watched, the stands were silent as Nathan dribbled in again, took position, and shot.  This time the ball found it’s mark and sunk through.  Everyone cheered!!  Nathan’s teammates applauded him and the look on his face has been etched in my heart.

Thank you Lord for hearts turned to Thee.  Glory to You for every good example you provide in building our children’s character and reminding us grown-ups what teamwork and sportsmanship is all about.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

St. Benedict and Octpob

Octpob, is the Russian film that is currently being acclaimed in Orthodox circles and with good reason: excellence. This film sets the bar on several fronts including cinematography and powerful themes expressed poignantly through stark minimalism.  I fancy St. Benedict would smile at how well the monastic life is portrayed in Octpob.

For those who may not be familiar, Octpob (“Ostrov” meaning, The Island) is a Russian film (available with English subtitles) about a fictional monastery located on an island within Russian borders during the 20th century.  The story is focused upon the main character, Father Anatoly, who seems a most unlikely vessel of Divine gifts and his relationship with his fellow monks.   

Thankfully, the film moves slowly which makes following the subtitles rather easy.  I found the Russian language as beautiful as the film itself; it is worth watching several times in order to harvest the pearls of wisdom scattered throughout.

There are several themes I could write about with regard to Octpob, but growth of stability comes foremost to mind as I have been re-reading St.Benedict’s Rule (6th century) lately.    To state it quite simply, St. Benedict believed stability entailed meeting God exactly where you are, not seeking to escape the mundane, but accepting the present reality as our medium to commune with the Creator.

In the movie, the monastery is located in a very desolate, forbidding place full of rock and snow.  A harsh world with much labor, little food and, to a casual observer, dim color.  Father Anatoly’s job is to tend the furnace and we see him toiling at this dirty and monotonous work daily, for years on end.   

How easy it is for the viewer to imagine this drudgery, this dull work and to abhor the thought of it.   Maybe also, it would be easy to relate Father Anatoly’s work with our own, perhaps a colorless office job or toil in the coal mines: dangerous, dirty and thankless.   And then, to think  ‘only if ...’    We may seek to escape and believe true happiness will be found somewhere else, someplace more fulfilling, in another job, another mate, or a bigger house.  

“Stability”, as St. Benedict would have you know it, is apart from geographical space and routine, but rather an internal, spiritual place of the heart.  Stability allows for strength, creativity....even joy in the heart of mediocrity.  There is great beauty to be born out of drudgery when the heart is fixed on God:  

“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.  I will sing and give praise” Psalm 57:7

Stability is achieved through perseverance: waiting in long lines, traffic jams, loading groceries in the rain, parenting tired grumpy children, tempering anger at some injustice, recovering from illness .....the list goes on.  Stability says it doesn’t matter the place or time or routine. When our heart is fixed upon God, we have an unending reservoir of peace that affords us growth in God’s abundant grace.  Or as one monk put it, 'an anchor that holds me in a restless sea'.

Romans 5 tells us to exult in our tribulations, that they bring about perseverance and perseverance, hope.  This is the path of the saints.  Or, as a Desert Father said, "The reason why we do not get anywhere is that we do not know our limits, and we are not patient in carrying on the work we have begun.  But without any labour at all we want to gain possession of virtue."

The world will lead you to believe in a quick fix.  The path to true joy, strength and hope comes only from Christ; He leads us on the high road, to virtue and salvation.

I highly recommend Seeking God- The Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal if you are interested in understanding the Rule and practical application for  Christian living.

Related Posts with Thumbnails