Category Archives: quotes

Roused out of dreams.

This morning I attended the lovely Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week, cherished because it uniquely expresses the “bright sadness” of our preparations for the joy and victory of Pascha. In my parish we are able to hold these penitential services early in the morning, at a time when people might be able to attend before going to work. Even on my drive to church I felt the grace of the clear sky, a pre-dawn blue, with a friendly gibbous moon shining down on me.

 

 

Eight years ago after attending this very service I wrote a blog post about laziness, standing up straight, and what it means to be human. Whew! I feel a bit lazier of mind these days, so that I am amazed at all I learned from Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead and from just one chapter of Leon Kass’s book The Hungry Soul. I do often still remember the gist of the lesson, mostly when I am standing in church. If you don’t remember it well, I urge you to read it.

The article focuses on being physically upright, which helps us to be alert and attentive, ultimately to God and His will. It’s not hard to get distracted even in church, but at least we have in the Orthodox services many things to bring us back; for me it’s often necessary every minute or two, as I might simultaneously remember to put my shoulders back again and fix my gaze toward the altar. And especially during this week when we follow Christ to His voluntary sacrifice, our reverent attentiveness is facilitated by prostrating ourselves before God, which, though it is not upright posture, is the opposite of reclining in bed or watching whatever’s on TV.

When we are not in church, our Enemy probably has an easier time helping us to slouch away from Life, his methods so vividly portrayed in C.S. Lewis’s tale of correspondence between devils:

“You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep [your target] from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do…. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say… ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’”

One theme of Holy Week comes from Christ’s cursing of the barren fig tree, in the days just preceding his crucifixion. We exhort our own souls in the hymns of Bridegroom Matins:

Why art thou idle, my wretched soul?
What useless cares cause thee to be lost in dreams?
Why busy thyself with things that pass away?
The last hour is at hand, and we shall be parted from all earthly things.
Therefore, while there is time, rouse thyself and cry:
“I have sinned before Thee, O my Savior!
Do not cut me off like the barren fig tree!”
In Thy compassion, O Christ, take pity on me who call out in fear:
Let us not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ!”

Busying myself “with things that pass away”… yes… I mean, No! I don’t want to do that. Lord, help me to rouse myself!

After the service — I’ve also done this before and made a blog post out of it! — I walked around the church gardens and took pictures, with which I decorated this page. Wherever you are in your liturgical cycle or in your heart’s journey, I pray that your souls may flower and bear fruit after the manner of these beautiful blooms.

The hours of the ultimate hour.

In 2018 Orthodox Easter, Pascha, falls on April 8th, a week later than Easter in the West. So today is our remembrance of Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. Saturday evening I am writing after attending our Vigil service for the feast, where  toward the end of the service we were given palm branches to hold, to take home and bring back tomorrow morning and hold them all through Divine Liturgy.

This morning, on the feast of Lazarus Saturday, another feast of victory, five catechumens were baptized and received into the church. The scent of holy chrism drifted over to me as they were being anointed in chrismation and I began to weep.

All week the Newly Illumined will wear their white robes to services. I caught a picture of one of them receiving a hug. What a gloriously happy day for us all!

You can see how even before palms were given into hands, the cathedral was fully decorated with them. Blooms are opening to decorate the church gardens about now as well.

I wanted to share an excerpt from a pamphlet on Holy Week by Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

But as in Lazarus we have recognized the image of each man, in this one city we acknowledge the mystical center of the world and indeed of the whole creation. For such is the biblical meaning of Jerusalem, the focal point of the whole history of salvation and redemption, the holy city of God’s advent. Therefore, the Kingdom inaugurated in Jerusalem is a universal Kingdom, embracing in its perspective all men and the totality of creation.

For a few hours – yet these were the decisive time, the ultimate hour of Jesus, the hour of fulfillment by God of all His promises, of all His decisions. It came at the end of the entire process of preparation revealed in the Bible: it was the end of all that God did for men. And thus this short hour of Christ’s earthly triumph acquires an eternal meaning. It introduces the reality of the Kingdom into our time, into all hours, makes this Kingdom the meaning of time and its ultimate goal.

The Kingdom was revealed in this world – from that hour – its presence judges and transforms human history. And at the most solemn moment of our liturgical celebration, when we receive from the priest a palm branch, we renew our oath to our King and confess His Kingdom as the ultimate meaning and content of our life. We confess that everything in our life and in the world belongs to Christ, nothing can be taken away from its sole real Owner, for there is no area of life in which He is not to rule, to save and to redeem.

– Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Weddings and Road Songs

Today is my wedding anniversary! It was sweet of God to arrange for me to attend a wedding last night, in the neighborhood where my late husband and I honeymooned so long ago. I drove down after church yesterday and listened on the way to Alexander Hamilton on Audible. I’m more than halfway through that book now, only 17 hours to go 🙂

The wedding stirred up memories of our own youthful idealism and exuberance. I often think about weddings Then and Now and will probably have enough material for a very irritating book before long, so I will leave that topic, except to say that I am comforted that there are still weddings happening, and that one still encounters couples who have a vision of what a marriage can be.

When we left the wedding hall in the Santa Cruz mountains the sky was cold and clear, and Orion and the Big Dipper were sparkling up there as huge and bright as could be. I had to be careful walking the 1/4 mile in the near dark to my car, hungrily craning my neck at the stars with an eye on the mudholes below. Then it was only five minutes back to a humble Airbnb room where I slept soundly in a good bed.

This morning I made use of the organic coffee in the fridge and a French press to brew it in… I indulged in carafe full. As I was packing my car and finishing my coffee I got a text from a cousin who lives just up the hill from where I had stayed. Yes, he said, we are home, please come.

The house that he shares with his wife is a mountain cabin only a few doors down from the little place where we newlyweds spent a few nights back then. This very cousin had been visiting his parents’ cabin while we were honeymooning and had stopped in to say hello one morning; I remember it vividly. Now here I was with them in that cabin that has been their home in retirement. It was almost as good as being with my children, to be with this man  who knew my husband long before I did and misses him, too. They gave me coffee that was even better than my first cups, and listened to as many honeymoon or deathbed stories as I wanted to tell them.

When I made a pit stop on my way out of town I tried to eat some sunflower seeds; my hand shook and I scattered them around in my car. Hmm, I thought, being this buzzy from coffee might be as bad for my driving as being drunk. I texted my friends and asked for prayers that angels would keep me, and calm me.

My whole eight weeks of traveling to Wisconsin and India, I felt that angels were carrying me on their wings, or God was keeping me wrapped in a protective cloud, or however He handles these matters. I had accidents, things went wrong, but no disasters… For decades I’ve believed that on the highways, heavenly hosts intervene constantly between all the hunks of metal barreling along, carrying tender flesh — otherwise all of our distractions would cause many more collisions than actually happen. So it was natural for me to count on angels to shield me from harming myself or others through my foolish coffee-drinking.

I didn’t listen to Hamilton at first, because I had to drive on Highway 17 from the coast to San Jose, which always feels like fast slalom course through the hills. I knew it would take all my concentration and I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to American history at the same time. So I let the music play through my phone as iTunes always insists on doing, and it began to shuffle through a hundred or more songs in one folder.

I’ve written before about how my husband had been the owner and manager of the iTunes account; in the last three years I have occasionally sorted through and weeded out, and added new songs. Mr. Glad had several songs by Fernando Ortega, and I heard one of them today. It reminded me of the last weeks of my husband’s life, and the many hours when, wanting to play music that was restful to him while not annoying to me, I settled on the songs of this gentle man.

Nowadays I only have one left in my playlists. It doesn’t come up very often, but when I was just getting in the groove of rapid steering wheel work on the curvy road, there he was singing “Road Song.” I’m sure some of you know this song — don’t you think he is singing about angels? I always do. By the way, I never felt the jitters at any time during the next two hours.

I let the music play, and thought about how the words of so many of the songs expressed my experiences of the last hours, or of my marriage, on this day of remembering it in particular. Gordon Lightfoot was singing about “Rainy Day People” and how “They don’t talk back, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.” That was my cousin and his wife whom I had just hugged good-bye.

Tom Petty sang, “We were built to last, on until forever. The world is changing fast, but our love was built to last.” Yes, the love between my husband and me was “built” by Christ Himself.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13)

It was not a nature-study sort of trip I was on, but I did wish I might capture some of the colors around me on my way. Driving home I stopped at a rest area south of San Francisco, down the hill from this statue of Father Junipero Serra who in the 18th century founded first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California. I have seen the statue hundreds of times from the highway but never hiked up the hill before for a close encounter.

The friar had a string around his finger — was he trying to remember something? I stood directly under his pointer to get this view.

Ceanothus (California lilac) was at its peak of bloom right by my car,
and I even got a new bee-at-ceanothus pic (top of page).

California poppies also dotted the hillside, but my favorite display was farther up the road. When traffic came to a standstill on 19th Avenue in San Francisco, I saw out my window by the trolley tracks a crop of those orange flowers brightening that drab space.

Now I’m home again and just under the wire getting this short report done when it is still the today I began to write about. Tomorrow is another day, if God gives it to me, another morning when the mercies of God are new again. That has been my experience, and as long as I’m on this journey that will be my Road Song.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Glad!

His house smells heavenly, too.

In the Orthodox Church, near the end of Divine Liturgy, there is a prayer to God to “Sanctify those that love the beauty of Thy House.”  Especially in my first months and years in the Orthodox Church I clung to that prayer, thinking, “Lord, there is a lot I don’t understand, and there are many ways in which I fail to live for You, fail to enter fully into the services; but one thing I know is that I do love the beauty of Your House.”

One aspect of that beauty that contributes to the worship I offer is incense. It is one of those elements that is left out whenever I post a picture taken in a church service. In those visual images you get, of course, only the visual.

When I shoot the photograph, it is in the midst of a lavish sensual experience: hymns and prayers being sung almost constantly, deacons and priests frequently censing everything and everyone in the temple, the smell of beeswax candles, and the touch of fellow worshipers as we bump past one another or when we arrange ourselves on the floor to hear the homily. Later when I look at the picture in my home, it so noticeably does not convey half of the sensations that were pressing upon my mind at the time. It is literally flat, and as a testimony of what went on, very lacking.

We believe that the heavenly Kingdom comes to us in the liturgy, so I can’t hope to give an inkling of what that is like to someone who has never been present, or whose heart is not ready to receive the Lord in these material ways. You really have to be there.

But I will include yet another image in this post, just to add visual interest, conceding to the limitations of this medium. This pic shows the people singing. Someone has said that the liturgy is like one continuous song.

I’ll let Wikipedia tell more about the tradition of censing: “As part of the legacy handed down from its Judaic roots, incense is used during all services in the Orthodox Church as an offering of worship to God as it was done in the Jewish First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Exodus chapter 30). Traditionally, the base of the incense used is the resin of Boswellia thurifera, also known as frankincense, but the resin of fir trees has been used as well. It is usually mixed with various floral essential oils giving it a sweet smell. Incense represents the sweetness of the prayers of the saints rising up to God.”

From The Lament of Eve by Johanna Manley:

The fragrance of love! When we burn incense, we think of the fragrant heavenly aroma of love. The Holy Spirit, like a heavenly fire, brings the warmth of love into the human heart, and like a fresh wind, chases away the stench of sin and spreads the aroma of Christ to the world. That savor all the saints have borne within themselves. People have sensed it in living saints and in their relics. The Apostle speaks of this: “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ,” the sweet perfume of recognition of the truth and the sweetness of love (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14-16).