The End of Another Forty Days

Six and a half years ago, I reflected on the death of my father. It is barely conceivable to me that I am now living in the aftermath of the death of my mother. Although I have had my own home since my twenties, and although my parents divorced while I was in college, there is something about your parents’ home being “home.” It doesn’t have to be the home you grew up in. And, as in my case, even if your parents are divorced, there’s just something that feels like home whenever you’re with them. My dad’s death was difficult, as all such deaths are, yet in his departing a feeling of home left with him. And while Mom lived, there was a “home” that seemed, somehow, just as much, perhaps even more, a home as my own. Now she is gone.

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A Brief Note

In mid-April, I made a commitment to return to more regular blogging, and began to post once-weekly posts. A month and a half later, my efforts were put on pause. I have been working on some personal matters, and a great deal of internal resources have been devoted to those efforts, which left little for simple every day life. And so writing was put on hold.

While I’m still working on those matters, I have been thinking more often in the last couple of weeks about writing, and began to feel the pull to more regular and disciplined writing. So, God willing, I will be once again posting more regularly here. While I hope to post weekly, it may be less often as I sort through my daily life and determine what is worthwhile in maintaining and what is worth letting go.

This blog is my general blog in which I post (mostly) my thoughts on things philosophical and theological, from an Orthodox Christian mindset. I also have a writer’s blog where I will be returning to a more active posting schedule.

Stay tuned.

One of the Means by Which I Became Orthodox

Fourteen years ago, I was chrismated in the Orthodox Church.  That year it was the Feast of Pentecost.  (We have a ways to go until Pentecost this year.)  It was the culmination of about seven years (five with focused intentionality) of inquiry regarding the Orthodox Faith.

I had begun attending an Orthodox parish in the summer of 2000, while in graduate studies in Chicago.  I did not have a clear set of reasons why I wanted to become Orthodox.  I had not been satisfied by the way of Christian living given me by the churches in which I grew up, and while I delighted in the liturgical forms of prayer in Anglicanism (the Episcopal Church) I was also much disturbed by how politically oriented things were among Episcopalians.  In Chicago, I became aware of many other religious groups I otherwise might not have encountered in my life had I remained in my hometown.  One group that struck me was the orthodox Jewish community in and around Skokie, and how distinct was the way of life they led.  I learned through that, that it was a way of life, not a new set of beliefs or liturgies, for which I was hungering.  I had not found it among my heritage churches, among the Episcopalians, or Roman Catholics (all of which I had considered after entering graduate studies).  All of these groups seemed more or less to be imitations of various aspects of American political culture (either right or left depending on the group), dressed up in moral strictures like the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.

I understand my tone is somewhat critical, and I suppose it must be.  I do not, however, mean to disparage any of the various groups and traditions.  But what is most certainly true is the way in which I had been approaching each group.  I looked at their beliefs and dogmas, determined which ones I agreed with, then tested the group (participating in public worship, using their materials for private devotions), but ultimately, I ran up against something that necessitated my departure from the group.  By the time I came to the Orthodox Church I knew, and sometimes expressed, that this was it.  After this, there was nowhere else to go.  If this failed, it would be simply falling back to wherever I could best make my way on my own.

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Vernal Restlessness

REI Outfitters tempted me with a clearance offer today, so I succumbed to the 60% off offer of a 3L day pack with water bladder. When will I use it? I’m not sure. During the previous year of lockdowns and no one going anywhere, I began to build my backpack from scratch. Things like a compass, fire starter, first aid kit, and so on. But the only sort of back pack I had was a military hand-me-down (buddy who’s a former Marine gifted me his), which was for multi-day hiking and camping use. What I was needing was a day pack. Start small, as they say.

I haven’t been tent camping in quite a long time. But every spring, and in the fall when the weather cools, I get the itch. I only got a tent in the last couple of years (work anniversary gift from my employer). I only got durable hiking boots last December. So, yeah, despite the urge to “glamp” or even day hike, I didn’t have the equipment. So last year, I would look for things on sale, and get the things I could afford. Ten dollars here. Twenty dollars there. I’ve got more tent than I need, but I’m going to wait and set aside funds a little here and little there, till I can get a lighter one that’s good enough for just me and the dog.

Oh, yeah, there’s a dog.

But of course all this hiking and camping talk isn’t about hiking and camping.  It’s spring and I’m restless.

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Wasteful Fecundity and Narrow Order

I’m still trying to find my way forward for a more organized life.  It’s not about getting more done, though there’s that.  It’s not about “becoming a better me,” though there’s some of that, too.  It’s not even about gaining control of my time, which is a bit of a fool’s errand, truth be told.  But there does seem to be a felt need at present to be more orderly.

Order and design are built in to the universe, no doubt about it.  We live in a “just so” world, in which cosmic measurements such as the distance of our planet from the sun, or the composition of gases in our atmosphere, or the tilt of the planet’s axis, and so on, are so precisely balanced as to defy mathematical odds.  If the Creator of the Universe can so balance on a pinpoint the seemingly infinite number of precise ratios, distances, angles, forces, and what not so that life can not only happen but can flourish on our planet, surely little ol’ me can figure out how to complete a list of less than a dozen items on a to-do list, and, at the same time, also be accomplishing those things that are meaningful to me (writing a book, losing weight, playing with my dog, and so forth).

Alas, it is not the case.

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Holiness and salvation

“Every Christian should find for himself the imperative and incentive to become holy. If you live without struggle and without hope of becoming holy, then you are Christians only in name and not in essence. But without holiness, no one shall see the Lord, that is to say they will not attain eternal blessedness. It is a trustworthy saying that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (I Tim. 1:15). But we deceive ourselves if we think that we are saved while remaining sinners. Christ saves those sinners by giving them the means to become saints.”

– St. Philaret of Moscow

Making the Bed Basics; a Miscellany of Order

I’m not sure whether this blogpost belongs here, or on my other blog, A Writer’s Journey, but I recently made a commitment to myself to post one blogpost per week at each blog, and today, on the calendar, it is the day to write the blogpost for this blog.  So here I will put this post.

Today I made my bed.  This really is not much of a claim, but, for several months I have not made my bed each day.  This is something I did (or is it failed to do?), even though, a couple of years ago, I developed the habit of making my bed (after years of not making it).  

I developed the habit a couple of years ago quite deliberately.  And all those who advise making one’s bed each day, and all their reasons for so doing, are all correct.  It provides an easy “win” for the daily checklist of to-do’s.  It brings order to chaos in one little part of one’s world.  It adorns one’s room, bringing a beauty of cleanliness, neatness and tidiness to the room, even if there’s clutter elsewhere.  It is also a line in the sand: I will not be returning to this place today (or at least not until bedtime); I am up, the day has begun, there will be no return to sleeping.  And, it is also a sign of hope: a day of activity lies ahead, and afterwards, tired, I will be able once again to pull back the covers, and slide in, head on pillow, and rest once more.

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Sacramental Realism: The Healing for Mind-Body Dualism and Monistic Materialism

It was the late 80s and I was writing a paper for my Corinthians class, an exegesis from 1 Corinthians 10, and specifically the verses “the cup is a participation (koinonia) in his blood” and “the bread is a participation (koinoia) in his body.”  I had been raised to understand the elements of bread and wine (or in our group of churches, grape juice, “the fruit of the vine”) were mere symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood, that there was no change in the elements in the Lord’s Supper, and, further, that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial of a past event, which event (Christ’s death, burial and resurrection) was the sole means of our salvation.  These verses in 1 Corinthians 10, however, cut right through that.  Only the slightest of research led me to understand that this was the belief of the earliest Christians (for which see St Ignatios of Antioch, and St Irenaeus of Lyons, among others).  Some years later, I learned that the belief that the Eucharist was a memorial and the elements were symbols and not really Christ’s Body and Blood was a belief that was no earlier than, and sprang from the dream of, one man: Zwingli.  That simple class assignment was the fulcrum which leveraged me right in to Orthodoxy, though I meandered a bit first.

After more than a decade of living in the light of the Sacraments, I recognize that accepting the reality of the Sacraments, that is to say, that they really are a participation in God, not merely symbolically but really and in all ways, body and soul, brings healing to the whole person, and even without a class in dogma, the Sacraments heal certain distortions of mind and heart.  Here, particularly, I wish to write of how the Sacrament (or as the Orthodox prefer to say, the Mystery) of the Eucharist is healing for the bent thought systems of mind-body dualism and monistic materialism.  I’m not going to be very technical or philosophically precise (though I hope to be accurate and correct), because the healing spoken of here is not merely of a certain form of rational thinking, but extends to ways of living.  That is to say, mind-body dualism and monistic materialism are ways of living that are counter to the way of life provided by the Sacraments, and the Sacraments heal in such a way that this distorted way of living is made whole.

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The Poverty of Materialism

About three years ago, perhaps four, I was in the Divine Liturgy for the Angels’ feast, when, during the homily, our priest made reference to the “medieval” belief, which C S Lewis makes central to his Space Trilogy, that angels guided the planets in their orbit, and ensured the movement of the stars and galaxies, that they had charge over various locales, and of course specific angels were tasked with guarding each of us, once the waters of baptism and the oil of chrismation had dried.  He commented, that this was a common belief, not only for Christians, but even, though in distorted ways, of the pagan world.  That is to say, it was simply taken for granted that spiritual beings played a part in the moving of our physical world and watched over our social and political affairs, including taking care for us individually.  (This topic is being explored in significant depth of detail in the podcast “The Lord of Spirits” which can be accessed online here.)

This made a forceful impression.  First of all, I knew what he was saying was true.  I’d read enough Lewis, and works in medieval spirituality, to know that this was the dominant view at the time, and in the historical eras preceding it.  It was certainly, I knew, the view of the Church.  Yet, it was “new” to me.  That is to say, in that moment, I began to recognize just how secular my own worldview was.

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Fasting and Communion with God

Yesterday morning, during the last service for Lenten Matins offered at our parish for the week, we heard chanted

“With great gladness let us accept the proclamation of the Fast: for if Adam our forefather had fasted, we should not have suffered banishment from Eden.  The fruit that brought death upon me was pleasant to the eyes and good for food.  Then lest us not be taken prisoner by our eyes; let not our tongue delight in costly foods, for once they have been eaten they are worthless.  Let us shun all greed; then we shall not become slaves to the passions which follow an excess of food and drink. Let us sign ourselves with the blood of Him who for our sakes willingly was led to death and the destroying angle will not touch us; and may we eat the Holy Passover of Christ for the salvation of our souls.” — Aposticha of Matins for the Friday in the first week of Great Lent (The Lenten Triodion, p 272)

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