Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude

Cor gaudens exhilarat faciem

“A joyful heart lights up the face”

Although I cannot remember from where it came, a quote was read by a religious writer that went something like this, ‘if only we may have a prayer of thanksgiving to our Creator, that will be enough..’

And so, as I struggle through a very fast paced daily living, it’s time to consider some things I am most thankful for :

* being raised in a loving Christian home

* our children

* good health

* time and trust given by friends

* freedom to worship God

* reading / gift of sight and ability to learn

* food on our table

* tenderness of my husband

* wisdom and example given by the Saints

* trials that bring me closer to God

* J.R.R. Tolkien

* loyalty of my dogs

* the wild cat and doe that sleep down by the St. Francis garden

* warmth and aroma of a crackling fire

* our children’s school

* peace as only God gives... and

* the hope that always remains in Christ Jesus.

Thanks for reading... may God grant you peace and abundant gratitude in your heart this day.

* Image of Mother Teresa was found here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where is your faith?

During this season of allergies, colds and flu viruses floating around, there has been discussion in our parish - among other churches- about precautions with regard to Holy Communion. In the Orthodox Church, the parishioners form a line in order to meet the priest at the foot of the alter. There, the consecrated bread and wine, the Body & Blood of Christ is together present in the chalice. The contents are then distributed to Orthodox Christians by means of a spoon.

If this is not the practice in your church, you may regard this communal cup warily. Surely germs and diseases of all sort are shared this way? Our parish advocates common sense guidelines; hopefully if you are feverish or have flu-like symptoms, you are home resting and taking the necessary treatments. The Sacraments may be given to such individuals at home or in the hospital.

Interestingly, over the centuries of the Orthodox Church using this method of Holy Communion, “there has been no recorded instances of it compounding the effects of any plagues or pestilence.” (Fr. Olaf Scott, in the Sunday October 25th Bulletin)

A few evenings ago, as our pre-teen son was getting ready for bed, this topic came up. I asked what he thought about the possibility of contracting illness through Holy Communion. His confident reply warmed my heart, although I was somewhat surprised at his maturity. He told me, “Well, the way I see can we get sick from the Body of Christ? Germs and that stuff can’t even be in there because it’s His Body and Blood. Like Fr. Scott says, “Where’s your faith” ? “

Indeed. If we have faith in believing Jesus’ words regarding Holy Communion (such as John 6:53-57), we should approach His table with humility AND confidence, believing we receive His Body & Blood for the remission of sin and for healing of body and soul.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Public Education in the USA: A Call to Dunkirk

“From kingergarten to 12th grade, children spend about 14,000 seat hours in school. Whoever controls those 14,000 hours, controls our children’s worldview” - Voddie Bauchman, Jr., D.Min

Public education is frequently discussed in our family and especially so over the past month as our county faced another bond vote in order to consolidate 4 of our county’s 6 public high schools. We’ve faced these issues time and again in Fayette County and it’s always a topic of heated debate at the Board of Education public meetings. As it turned out, the $49 million bond failed by a margin of more than 3 to 1. To me, passing the bond would have meant placing a golden window in a dilapidated building.

We have friends who either teach, work in administration or attend public schools and after listening to them and gaining a deeper understanding of the inner workings of our government-run system, I have come to the conclusion that our public schools are beyond being reformed. My hat is off to the dedicated teachers and principals who strive against a system that increasingly engulfs them in a sea of red tape, taking away their instructional hours in the classroom as well as limiting their disciplinary actions and harnessing them with responsibilities that belong to the parents.

With curriculum that cannot compete globally *, increasing “political correctness”, the indoctrination of secular humanism and more students who know all about sex and nothing about the US Constitution - or much history in general - it’s no wonder we now have over 1 million students in the USA being homeschooled * and roughly 4 million attending private christian schools. What else is a christian family to do amidst the destruction of our moral and academic fabric in America?

As I was reading some articles on homeschooling, I came across Exodus Mandate, and their bold proclamation for christian families to remove their children from government schools immediately:

“The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

*source: The World Bank; World Development Indicators, 2009 national sources

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Fun Theory

This was just too delightful not to pass on. The idea behind this Volkswagon initiative is that human behaviour may be changed by simply adding an element of fun.. .=-)

Check out more entries - or submit your own! - to this international contest at The Fun

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thoughts on Prayer

As I recently spoke to a church group on the topic of prayer, I thought I’d share some highlights here:

* Prayer is “raising up the heart and mind to God” - St. John of Damascus

* Prayer is an encounter and a relationship - by nature, a relationship implies mutual freedom. Archbishop Anthony Bloom’s book, Beginning to Pray, was most valuable in sharing why it is that we sense God’s absence at times. Even though God never abandons us, we do feel at times as though He is far away.

“If we could mechanically draw Him into an encounter, force Him to meet us, simply because we have chosen this moment to meet Him, there would be no relationship and no encounter. ...We complain that He does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer , ‘I am too busy, I am sorry’ or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life.” -Anthony Bloom

* We discussed approaching prayer and the example given to us of the publican and the pharisee from St. Luke 18:9

* I encouraged the group to develop a Prayer Rule, or habit, by which they might be encouraged to pray even when they don’t FEEL like it, as oftentimes, the action begets the feeling.

* And, probably what I consider the most essential element in prayer is HUMILITY. The most profitable advice I ever received regarding prayer is humility. Of my many sins, I struggle with anger the most and have found it very difficult to pray during these times... wise counsel instructed me to immediately turn from my wrath, go to my prayer corner, make the sign of the cross and worship Almighty God with prostrations. This I did, while saying the Jesus Prayer and to my joy, God blessed me with that peace that passes all understanding. If nothing else I can share, it is that St. Anthony’s words ring true throughout the ages:

“I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “humility” “.

P.S. ...I just love it when my internet searches lead me toward profitable discoveries. The beautiful watercolor is by Mirja Clement and titled, "Praying for the Bird". What a lovely surprise to see that she also writes byzantine icons.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Ancient Faith Radio Podcast

I was pleased to read at Fr. Andrew's blog this morning that his current lecture series is being recorded for podcasting on Ancient Faith Radio! The title is Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and the first lecture is "Understanding the Terms"

In his matter-of-fact way, he addresses the current cultural attitude toward God that states, 'whatever God means to you' when we should be asking 'who is God?' and why theology matters in your spiritual life.

Cheers to Ancient Faith Radio for including Fr. Andrew's lectures in their podcast program.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nazanin Afshin-Jam: A Woman of Inner Beauty & Strength

While reading on the VOM website recently, serendipity led me to a video about the former Miss World Canada (2003), Miss Nazanin Afshin-Jam. As an Iranian born Canadian, Nazanin is passionate about working for human rights in her home country. The video posted below tells a little of her story and how she was able to aid a young Iranian couple who had been imprisoned and tortured because of their conversion from Islam to Christianity:

When sycophantic Columbia University extended an invitation to the dictator, Ahmadinejad, it was Nazanin’s voice among others who countered his words; and in September last year, she organized “Ahmadinejad’s Wall of Shame” rally in New York as Ahmadinejad was addressing the UN General Assembly. Listen to her strong words here:

Hats off to you, Miss Nazanin Afshin-Jam. You are a woman of strength, integrity and conviction... may God continue to bless your life and the challenging work you are doing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Driving a few hundred miles to be still...

Speaking of Cass in my earlier post, here are a few additional images made from this area of West Virginia.

Clayton Spangler, one of my best friends and photography mentor, taught the workshop. One of the unique aspects to Clayton’s seminars is the fact that they aren’t hurried and for this, I am grateful. It may seem a bit dull to tell you how much I savored the breeze and the sounds of the creek rushing by, but keep in mind that my day-to-day life could easily follow the tempo of William Tell Overture.

When Clayton encouraged the group to take time by Leatherbark Creek to look at the rocks and swirling water, some were stationary, quiet observers while others moved from rock to rock looking for a bit of foam...a frog, a dragonfly perhaps. It’s no secret that I was in the latter group. It’s so hard to be still. I’m always thinking I should be doing something else, that there is something more interesting around the bend. But one of the great things I learned about landscape photography over this weekend, is that all you need is patience ...the willingness to be still. Nature is always changing and providing exquisite displays of light and motion... we just have to be agreeable to waiting for the next show.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thin Places

There is an outdoor place I go to pray where the atmosphere is different; it’s marked by a peace that is palpable. I don’t have the opportunity to visit daily, but I try to go there at least once a month because it provides such a nearness of God’s presence. It’s a thin place, in the sense of the Celtic peoples who describe such places in ancient Ireland and Scotland. A place where the veil between the heavenly and earthly realms is very thin and transparent. In looking for others with similar experiences, I found a thought-provoking article by Mindie Burgoyne you might also enjoy.

A few of my friends know what I’m speaking of when I mention thin places, each has their own description for such areas...”the energy is different”, or “the atmosphere is charged” and I have found it fascinating to hear about their own locales and experiences. Some of the monks at Holy Cross Monastery have told me about visiting the graves of saints, sometimes in ancient catacombs, where it was difficult to speak because there was such an overpowering presence of God. In each case, we all have a difficult time describing such places because they seem to be perceived outside of our five senses. It's almost easier to gain a sense of understanding by beholding the face of the witness rather than absorbing their words.

I asked the abbot of the monastery what he thought about “thin places” and he was quick to remind me that while there are holy places on the earth where we come into contact with God and His saints there are also “thin places” where we come into contact with spirits that are not from God, but from the evil one. He cautioned that I should be wise about discerning these places.

I thought of the abbot recently, as I visited Cass, WV for a photography workshop. While the workshop exceeded my expectations in affording dramatic images of the rare Shay engines and surrounding rugged West Virginia landscape, I learned that the community of Cass (population 16) transforms into something altogether different when the tourists have gone home for the night and the train depot is silent. The atmosphere was so dense and disturbing that my friend & I cancelled our reservation to stay in the immediate area and lodged 11 miles away instead. Pictured below is the old Cass Company Store. More on Cass later...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Literary Critters?

"What's that racoon, mommy?"

My 8 year old daughter was working at her little desk beside me, when she uttered this question very quietly. I got up from my desk and walked over to look at her artistic creations displayed across her work space.

“What’s that, honey? What did you say?”

“That racoon...I am trying to remember it because I want to put it on this paper.”

Completely confused, I just stood there looking at her colorful papers, the cut-outs, the glitter, the stickers, looking for some clue as to what she meant. The only thing I could think of was a conversation we had recently:

“The racoon? Do you mean the little racoon that Aunt Jenny raised years ago? Are you doing a story about it? Her name was “Cootie”.

Frustrated at my lack of understanding, her irritated voice said, “No ...not that. The racoon! You know, those words.... I’m trying to remember if it’s seven five seven or five seven five. “

My mind was searching, trying to focus on those key words... five, seven , five..hmm

“Oh! You mean a haiku! “

Her face beamed. “Yes! That’s it! Is it five, seven, five?”

“Yes, it’s five syllables, then seven, then five.”

I smiled, happy with myself for solving the puzzle and relieving her frustration...and even happier to read her creativity:

Joy to you and me!

Springtime is the best of all!

Snowflakes fall down fast!

She inspired me to write one of my own:

Sweet evening sunshine

It must be a blessed cure

For sorrows untold

Racoon portrait is by Ryan Berkley

Monday, July 20, 2009

Anti-American = Anti-Humanity

Hats off to you, Mr. Hannan. It's nice to know at least one European who appreciates the USA. I concur with the airport lady; I'd vote for you too!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

She Tended the Roses

I don’t watch much t.v., but one show that does draw me in is Extreme Makeover; Home Edition on ABC.  In case you aren’t familiar, this likeable crew of home renovators & designers selects a deserving family every week to grant a dream come true, a brand new home.  

A family may be deserving in a number of ways but most often they are recognized by their community as selfless people who give much to their family and neighbors and ask little - if anything- in return.  They may have suffered devastating losses from natural disasters or accidents.  In some cases it might be a single mom who is caring for a special needs child and is barely making ends meet.  It’s about individuals who make a positive difference in this world by giving and helping others and then, for a variety of reasons find themselves in need of a functional living space.

Enter Ty Pennington and crew from Extreme Makeover; Home Edition.  In one week, with help from hundreds of local volunteers, the current home is demolished and a new one, complete with all the furniture and trimmings, inside and out, is built in it’s place.  In one week.   The week not only honors the deserving family, but it brings a whole community together in goodwill, not so unlike the spirit inherent in a good ole barn raising found in Amish communities.

All episodes are moving, but one scene is etched in my mind, as lovely and rich as the stained glass windows at St. George Orthodox Cathedral.  

The crew was working on a home in Kansas, owned by the Tutwiler family, which had been destroyed in a tornado. Prior to this, Army Spc. Patrick Tutwiler had been injured in Iraq (read the full story here) and his wife was battling cancer.  

As the crew toured around Chapman, KS, to see the extent of the damage from the tornado, compassion moved the network to donate more to this community than just one new home.  During one segment, I watched an elderly woman kneeling over the dirt in front of her once charming home.   Her voice was weak and her eyes, kind.  This gentle soul had been making the trip from her apartment to the devastation of her former home in order to tend the roses there.   They had survived the storm and she would not abandon them.

What selflessness...what a rare and precious beauty seeing those frail hands nurturing life.   I hope this mental image will serve to remind me to look for beauty in all places and persons, especially devastated souls.  

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God., -from St. Matthew 5

In the end, “Extreme Makeover” completed many projects for the community of Chapman, such as bringing joy to this elderly woman by transplanting her rose garden to her new apartment.   

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

John Adams, the miniseries

We’ve recently finished watching the entire 501 minutes of John Adams, the miniseries originally featured through HBO, now available on a three part dvd set.  Although it took us a few months to squeeze in those minutes, it was worth it.  

The series, which spans America’s first 50 years, was directed by Tom Hooper with the screenplay  based on the book, John Adams, by David McCullough.   Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney were outstanding in their portrayal of John Adams and Abigail Adams and the love story between the two was an unexpected delight. 

I don’t know my history well enough to say if the series was 100% accurate with regard to historical events, but then I love a movie that spurs my interest in historical figures I previously thought dull.  I’ve done some light reading on the John Adams family since watching the epic and marveled at the story of his daughter, affectionately known as Nabby.  

Aside from being reminded of the wonders of our advancements in the medical field, particularly anesthesia, my appreciation increased for our founding fathers as a whole.  Their intellect and vision for this nation is something that seems altogether lost in our modern age.  I couldn’t help but wonder what Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would think about our current state of affairs.  

My only criticism of the miniseries is that on the 2nd dvd, which includes the time period when Adams was away in Europe as Minister Plenipotentiary,  the story is continually far removed from the action of the Revolution.  It probably seems absurd to say that a series over 500 minutes long could be fleshed out, but I would’ve enjoyed fewer scenes of Adams and Franklin in Europe and more of General Washington on the battlefront.  David Morse was excellent as George Washington and I enjoyed the nuances that his part brought to the credibility of the story.  

The ending was marvelous, a perfect way to conclude the story of his life and legacy.  It’s a blessing that so many of Adams’ words were recorded for posterity, especially those written to Abigail, his beloved friend, counselor and wife of over 50 years.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lord's Prayer in Old English

I found this striking video as posted by a friend in a Christian discussion forum.  It is supposedly in the standardized West Saxon literary dialect of Old English also known as Anglo-Saxon.   The accompanying landscape videography is most appropriate, being filmed at Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Watching this brings to mind the questions of the relationship between prayer and landscape. If, during our corporate prayers, we worship within the Body of Christ, surely in private times of communing with God in a garden, a solitary trail in the woods or by the sea, we are enfolded by the hands of creation.   

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Resting in the Shadow of the Cross

These past few weeks have been busy ones and I have found little time to indulge my thoughts here. Interesting though, how my desire to write is intensified by the time spent apart from it. For me, writing is therapeutic and often helps to sort out issues and focus on the essentials in the Christian life.  Nothing could be truer of this week in particular.

Our son is away for his first experience of church camp and I have had restless moments, wondering if he is having a good time, resting well, making new friends, etc...the list goes on.  My son has often said that I'm overprotective and I can see that he's right... it has been hard to let go this week and completely trust his well being to others.  It's a test of my faith.  How much do I really trust God?

Last night I was struggling, unable to sleep and plagued with anxious thoughts.  I went to my prayer corner, before our icons of Jesus Christ and the Theotokos, lit the candle and wept.  I recalled the words of Fr. Seraphim, from Holy Cross Monastery, who reminds me that it is humility that defeats the snares of satan.  Our enemy knows our weaknesses and will attack us at every turn through those vulnerabilities.  

And so, my prayer was the Jesus Prayer,   "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"  with prostrations, for satan & his minions cannot bear the true worship of God.  As I signed the cross and sat on the floor watching the flickering flame, peace came.   

"You know, you hold Truth in your hand when you sign the cross" Fr. Seraphim has told me.  By placing your three fingers together you proclaim the Holy Trinity and the last two fingers resting against your palm signify that Christ is both fully God and fully man.  Sometimes this signing of the cross is my prayer ...when I cannot think of words to say, I can rest in the shadow of the glory of the cross.  

As Fr. Peter Gillquist writes in his book, Becoming Orthodox, "...the cross is more than a symbol for earthly decor;  it is a weapon of peace that sets us free from being slaves to sin, death and the devil."   

A mighty weapon indeed. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Snapshot ~ Thursday Morning

I am reading:  Father Seraphim Rose, His Life & Works by Hieromonk Damascene

I am listening to:  The Northern Athos Choir of Valaam Monastery

I am seeing:  rain and gray skies and my faithful companions at my feet (Shiloh & Mr. O'Malley)

I am thankful for:  the State Trooper that gave me a warning rather than a speeding ticket ;-)

I am smelling:  L'Occitane Honey incense

I am praying for: Our dog and God's grace to be plentiful in my heart

I have discovered:  that my children always want to wear what's in the dirty clothes basket

I am thinking:  about my road trip this weekend!

One of my favorite things:  hearing my daughter read and make up songs and watching my son tend his tomato plants

Friday, May 29, 2009

Miraculous Healing in Our Parish

It was only in April of this year that a dear lady from our parish was diagnosed with brain cancer and given only a few months to live.  Such devastating news for not only the immediate family, but the entire church body who esteem her highly.  

I first learned about Mrs. H on our trip to Holy Cross Monastery, near the end of April when a moleben (muh LEH ben) was served to ask for the intercessory prayers of St. Panteleimon (the patron saint of Holy Cross)   for Mrs. H as well as other ill family members of our group.  

St. Panteleimon lived in the 4th century A.D. and was martyred under Emperor Maximian.  His name means all-merciful and is frequently invoked by those seeking his prayers to God for their health and healing.  St. Panteleimon had been trained and educated as a physician and spent his life with the suffering, the weak and those in prisons, praying for them and healing them in the name of Jesus Christ.  His gifts of healing became so well known in the Roman Empire that other physicians became jealous thus creating the catalyst for his martyrdom.

An akathist to Great Martyr-Healer Panteleimon begins:

“Chosen passion-bearer of Christ and gracious healer, who freely grantest healing to the sick, we praise thee in songs as our protector.  As thou hast boldness with the Lord, free us from all harm and sickness who cry with love to thee:

Rejoice, Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon!

Most Holy Saint and Martyr Panteleimon-the-Healer, intercede to the Most Merciful God for the healing of (names for the healing of his/her) in soul and body.

We know thee, glorious Panteleimon, as an earthly angel and a heavenly man.  For adorned with angelic purity and martyrdom thou hast passed from earth to Heaven, where with angels and all the saints standing before the throne of the Lord of Glory, thou prayest for all of us on earth who venerate thee with these invocations...”

Just as of yesterday, the 28th of May I learned of a miracle, through the intercessory prayers of St. Panteleimon to Christ our God, in the life of Mrs. H.  Upon visiting the Cleveland Clinic, her doctors were happy to report that there is no trace of cancer.  It is believed that she did suffer a mild stroke; a full recovery is expected.

Glory to God for all things.  Glory to Thee!

*Photo is a shrine to St. Panteleimon at Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV

PS.  Just in the short amount of time since I've posted this, Fr. Andrew, our assistant priest at St. George Cathedral,  has informed me of yet another miraculous cure of cancer in our parish!   Praise God!!  This is a quote from Fr. Andrew regarding this latest information:

"The smart medical people I've talked to tell me that the only way these could have been medical flukes or mistaken diagnoses would be for multiple doctors, labs, and high-tech medical machines to have been wrong multiple times in a row over the course of weeks and months."

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