One Old Lady and a Cabbage Patch Kid

I wrote this reflection several years ago . . . 

In a culture which fosters individualism and materialism it becomes easy to ignore the pain, suffering, and misfortune of others. Most of us live blissfully unaware of the millions of desperate and lonely people living in poverty around us—people longing for love, purpose, and a better life. Most of us are almost entirely focused on our own needs and desires or constantly engulfed in some form of mind numbing entertainment. This egocentrism, whether mild or strong in its manifestation, is the natural outgrowth of the Western Culture in which we live.  It’s important for us to recognize this because everything we think, everything we feel, and everything we do is in some small way influenced by our unconscious absorption of our culture. This is true for the faithful Christian, the ardent Atheist, and everyone in between.

While there is much about our heritage which is noble and beautiful, like any culture, ours is ultimately the product of sinful, self-loving, self-absorbed, fallen human beings and is therefore prone to developing dysfunctional modes of thought and behavior. It just so happens that in the West, this looks like materialism and stark individualism. Those of us who have grown up within the framework and influence of the West, no matter how sensitive to the plight of others we may be, are tainted by these negative and overarching forms of thought.  Even the kindest, most well meaning, person will struggle to think outside of these cultural norms if he is not careful.

This is precisely the position I found myself in several years ago.  I was a nice person:  I treated most people with kindness, I often befriended social outcasts, and I cared (that is, I had an emotional response, something like intense empathy) for people who were in pain.  I was also very religious: I went to church, I prayed, I read my Bible; I truly desired to have a relationship with God.  Yet, in spite of all this, I ultimately lived (on a day to day basis) in my very own self-interested, self-absorbed, bubble.  I would read passages in the Bible like James 1:27 which states, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” and nod my head in hearty approval . . . but that’s as far as it would go.  There were no works accompanying my faith.  I didn’t actually visit or care for orphans or widows in their affliction, I just thought it was a cool idea; and I was not keeping myself unstained from the world.  In fact, I was living very similar to the majority of people in my culture: self-obsessed and detached from reality.

I was completely wrapped up in my own little world—the Josh world—in which everything revolved around my goals, my desires, and my interests.  Overall, I lived completely unconcerned about the suffering of thousands of impoverished and homeless people living all around me.  I wasn’t totally unaware of their presence.  I was not like Siddhartha, completely sheltered from the realities of pain and suffering in the world.  It just wasn’t something I dwelt upon or did anything about.  The weak and suffering in society remained in my peripheral vision—slightly out of focus.  I never fixed my gaze upon them for any length of time.  That is, until the night I met the old lady with the baby doll . . .

At that time in my life I played the guitar in a local band which frequently performed in clubs in downtown Dallas.  Music was virtually all I thought about—much to the detriment of my marriage, my schooling, and my day job.  I viewed my music as a positive force in the world—I took great pride in crafting thought provoking lyrics which might encourage people to think about God.  In this sense, music was a ministry.  In another, more real, sense music was and idol.  It dominated every aspect of my life.  This was the state I found myself in after playing in one downtown club on a Friday night.

It was late, we had just finished our set, and I was standing outside of the club enjoying the cool nighttime breeze.  Suddenly I noticed something moving in my peripheral vision; someone was approaching me from out of the darkness of the ally which ran parallel to the club.  I turned to fix my gaze on this unwelcomed visitor only to discover that she was already standing uncomfortably by my side.

I stood in silence staring at the unusual figure standing before me.  She looked much older than she actually was—her skin wrinkled and worn from too much time in the sun.  She was small, fragile, and extremely skinny; you could see her bones through her skin.  Her clothing was tattered, grimy, and smelled of mildew.  The most distressing thing about her, however, was not her appearance or her smell; it was the small Cabbage Patch doll she gripped tightly against her chest.  There was something unsettling about seeing an adult in her condition clinging so tightly to a child’s toy.  I will forever remember that image.

To my great shame, my first reaction was one of disgust.  All I could think about was how uncomfortable and inconvenient her presence was.  Before I could say a word, however, she started begging me for money, “just six dollars,” she said, “all I need is six dollars so I can stay at the mission.”  As she begged, tears streamed down her weathered cheeks.  Before I could reply she began telling me about her beautiful baby daughter—the love of her life.  All the while she rocked back and forth, clutching the baby doll as If it were here only connection to reality.  Her eyes sparkled as she recounted her most cherished memories of her sweet little darling girl.

By this point the disgust I had felt when she first approached me began to fade away.  In spite of her startling appearance and quirky mannerisms, I began to feel something entirely different—compassion.  As she continued speaking about her daugher, however, something began to trouble me.  “Where was her daugher?” I asked myself, “Why was she holding a baby doll?  Afraid of what the answer might me, I finally built up the courage to ask her.  Her eyes glazed over and she starred off into the distance.  “She died . . . she was burned in the fire.”

These words pierced my heart.  It literally felt as if the entire world had come to an end.  My soul sunk into despair and agony: “Oh God, how could you have let this happen?” I thought.  With tears in my eyes I reached down and gave the empty shell of a woman who stood before me a huge hug.  She began to cry harder as I embraced her.  I held her hand, I prayed for her, I gave her the money she had requested, and she walked back into the darkness.  My life was forever changed.

The world which lay on the peripheral was now the only thing I could see.  When I closed my eyes I saw her face, her poor broken face, weeping over the loss of her child . . .

**This was originally published on Truth is a Man.

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Anguish, Despair and Comfort in the Incarnation . . .

I wrote this last year during a difficult time in my life and thought it was worth sharing again  . . .  

There are times when I feel that life is too difficult to bear.  When death and darkness and pain and suffering and listlessness force themselves upon my soul.  I cry out to the Lord in utter desperation:  “Father, please!  Why is this happening?  Please save me, please have mercy . . . I can hardly bear it anymore.”  I wait for a response but I hear nothing.  Am I alone?  Days and nights blur together as each week presents another challenge, another tragedy, another heartbreak . . . “O God!”, I cry, “I’m so afraid!”  I turn to the Psalmist for comfort only to find despair:

“O Lord God of my salvation, I cry day and night before You.  Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my supplication, O Lord.  For my soul is filled with sorrows, and my soul draws near to Hades; I am counted among those who go down  into the pit; I am like a helpless man, free among the dead, like slain men thrown down and sleeping in a grave, whom You remember no more . . . Why, O Lord, do You reject my soul, and turn away Your face from me?”

It feels as if my heart is in constant anguish.  I weep bitterly as the people I love suffer.  I look on as my beloved wrestles with deep wounds from her past and unending physical maladies.  I feel helpless.  I feel lost and out of control.  I feel unable to provide.  Why must life be this way?  Why are there so many sorrows?  Why is there so much pain? O God do you hear me?  Do You understand me?  . . .

I stare at the icon of the Theotokos holding her child.  There is sadness in her eyes as she clings tightly to the boy of promise – the One born of the Holy Spirit.  I remember that the first Christian, my spiritual mother, the one who gave birth to God in the flesh, struggled and suffered.  My eyes fixate on the little boy in her arms, so small and fragile . . . I remember that his mother could find no place to sleep, no rest, and no safety on the night of his birth.  I remember how she was forced to have her baby in a stable surrounded by animals, hay, and the fresh cent of manure.  I recall her fleeing to Egypt to rescue her son from the hands of a mass murderer.  I remember how He experienced the limitations, temptations, and futility of human existence growing up in a small town in the desert.  Everything flashes forward.  I remember Jesus languishing in the garden . . . the blood dripping, the agony, and the resolve.  I remember the guards lashing out at Him; tearing open his flesh.  I remember the crown of thorns and the intense mockery.  I remember how He carried the cross and was nailed upon it; how He died.  I envision Mary weeping at His feet . . .

Then in the midst of the storm I hear the still soft voice, “I love you Josh . . .”

* Originally published on Truth is a Man.

On Humility

I found this over at Orthodox Christian Life and it is utterly delightful, deeply convicting, and hopefully uplifting! Read and share! May St. John’s words bless you and guide; may his prayers intercede for you!

On Humility

By St. John of Kronstadt

When you are slandered, and therefore grow disturbed and sick at heart, it shows that pride is in you, and that it must be wounded and driven out by outward dishonour. Therefore do not be irritated by derision, and do not bear malice against those who hate you and slander you, but love them as your physicians, whom God has sent you to instruct you and to teach you humility, and pray to God for them. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.”[131] Say to yourself, “It is not me that they slander, but my evil passions; not me that they strike, but that viper which nestles in my heart, and smarts when anybody speaks ill of it. I will comfort myself with the thought that, perhaps, these good people will drive it from my heart by their caustic words, and my heart will then cease to ache. “Therefore, thank God for outward dishonour: those who endure dishonour here will not be subjected to it in the next world.” She hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”[132] “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us: for Thou also hast wrought all our works for us.”[133]

We must by every means humble our hearts and subdue our proud intellect, lest we should be like the contemporaries of the prophets, who looked on them only as sweet-voiced singers, and nothing more; they did not wish to fulfil their commands, they even despised, persecuted, beat, and killed them; lest we should be like those, by whom “no prophet is accepted in his own country.”[167] However insignificant and unimportant the man may be, honour in him the image of God, especially when he speaks with love, and, above all, when he speaks of and does the works of love.

When anyone blames the imperfections and faults of your works, humbly acknowledge the justice of such censure, and say: “Yes, it is true, I am sinful, most sinful, I do not do my work with due care and willingness. Pray for me brother” — (saying thus to him who blames you) — “that the Lord may teach and help me, by His grace, to fulfil the duties of my calling and the work of serving others with due care and willingness.” Should anyone find fault with your abilities, say: “I do not give myself such and not other abilities, they are the gift of God; therefore to find fault with my abilities is the same as to find fault with the Creator, Who gave them.” When your own relations blame you and expose your weaknesses in the hearing of others, say to them: “I am truly such as you describe me; but it is no advantage to you that I am really such, nor that you should defame me and mock at me: to mock at the infirmity or weakness of your brother is foolish and inhuman; it is better to hide such an infirmity, because my infirmity is your infirmity, my shame is your shame; for I am your member, and you, too, are not without infirmity; let us, therefore, pray that the Lord may heal our infirmities, for all of us are infected with the leprosy of iniquity.” “Charity,” it is said, “endureth all things,”[1420] and does not put weaknesses to shame.

When your heart inclines to evil, and the evil one begins to undermine your heart, so that it is completely removed from the rock of faith, then say to yourself inwardly: “I know of my spiritual poverty, my own nothingness without faith. I am so weak, that it is only by Christ’s name that I live and obtain peace, that I rejoice and my heart expands, whilst without Him I am spiritually dead, I am troubled, and my heart is oppressed; without the Lord’s Cross I should have been long since the victim of the most cruel distress and despair. Only Christ keeps me alive: and the Cross is my peace and my consolation.”

Consider yourself worse and more infirm than all others in spiritual respects, and despise, hate yourself for your sins, — this is pious and right — and be indulgent to others, respect and love them in spite of their sins, for God’s sake, Who commanded us to respect and love all men, and also because they are created after His image — although they bear the wounds of sin, and because they are members of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual poverty consists in esteeming oneself as though not existing, and God alone as existing; in honouring His words above everything in the world, and in not sparing anything to fulfil them, even one’s own life; in considering God’s Will in everything, both for ourselves and others, entirely renouncing our own will. The man who is poor in spirit desires and says with his whole heart: “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy Will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” It is as though he himself disappears; everywhere and in everything he wishes to see God — in himself and in others. “Let everything be Thine, not mine. “He wishes to contemplate God’s holiness in himself and in all — His kingdom, also His Will; also to see Him alone entirely filling the human heart, as it should be, because He alone is All-merciful and All-perfect, All-creating; whilst the enemy — the Devil and his instruments, and those who oppose God — are thieves in the kingdom of God, and adversaries of God. To him who is poor in spirit the whole world is as nothing. Everywhere he sees God alone giving life to everything, and ruling everything; for him there is no place without God, no moment without God; everywhere and at every minute he is with God, and as though with Him alone. He who is poor in spirit does not dare and does not think of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, to discover God’s mysteries, to philosophise on the highest; he believes in the single word of the Lord, the Life-giver, knowing that every word of His is truth, spirit, and eternal life; and in the words of His Church, ever instructed in all truth by the Holy Spirit, he believes as a child believes his father or mother, not requiring proofs, but perfectly relying upon them. He who is poor in spirit considers himself the very last and the most sinful of all, reckons himself worthy of being trampled under foot by everyone.

If you truly wish to be humble, then long to be in every way offended and persecuted, as a hungry man longs for food; for by the justice of God you are worthy of this.

If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.

What is a pure heart? It is meek, humble, guileless, simple, trusting, true, unsuspicious, gentle, good, not covetous, not envious, not adulterous.

All you who draw near to serve God in prayer, learn to be like Him, meek, humble, and true of heart; do not let there be any deceitfulness or duplicity nor coldness in your soul.

If, during service, your brother does anything irregularly, or somewhat negligently, do not become irritated, either inwardly or outwardly with him, but be generously indulgent to his fault, remembering that during your life you yourself commit many, many faults, that you yourself are a man with all infirmities, that God is long-suffering and most merciful, and that he forgives you and all of us our iniquities an innumerable multitude of times. Remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” These words should always remind us that we ourselves at all times are great trespassers, great sinners before God, and that, remembering this, we should be humble in the depths of our hearts, and not be very severe to the faults of our brethren, weak like ourselves; that as we do not judge ourselves severely, we must not judge others severely, for our brethren are — our members, like ourselves. Irritability of temper proceeds from want of self-knowledge, from pride, and also from the fact that we do not consider the great corruption of our nature, and know but little the meek and humble Jesus.

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who fills the whole universe, passes through all believing, meek, humble, good, and simple human souls, dwelling in them, vivifying and strengthening them.

But at the same time, the Lord said: “Be harmless as doves;” that is, simple and guileless. Borrow from the serpent his wisdom only, but let your heart remain simple, pure, and uncorrupt. Be meek and humble as I am; do not give yourself up to wrath and irritability, for “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God;”[303] keep yourself pure from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit.

When a man is about to pray, he must humble his proud heart, must cast away earthly vanity from it, and must bring into it living and undoubting faith.

Why does the Lord allow people to be poor? For the same reason, amongst others, that He does not make you righteous all at once according to your wish. God might have made all men well off, even rich; but then a great forgetfulness of God would have arisen, and pride, envy, and so forth, would have increased. And you would have thought too highly of yourself had the Lord made you soon righteous. But as sin humbles you, showing you your great infirmity, impurity, and constant need of God and His grace, so likewise the poor man is humbled by poverty and his need of other people. If the poor were to be enriched, many of them would forget God and their benefactors, would ruin their souls in the luxury of this world. So destructive are riches, and so do they blind the spiritual vision! They make the heart gross and ungrateful!

Be as kind, meek, humble, and simple as possible in your intercourse with all, considering yourself not hypocritically inferior to all in respect to your spiritual condition; that is, more sinful and weaker than all. Say to yourself, “Of all sinners I am the first.” From pride proceeds self-sufficiency, coldness, and insincerity in our behaviour to our inferiors, or to those from whom we do not expect to obtain any advantage.

Our self-love and pride manifest themselves especially in impatience and irritability when some of us cannot bear the slightest unpleasantness intentionally, or even unintentionally, caused us by others; or obstacles lawfully or unlawfully, intentionally or unintentionally, opposed to us by men, or caused by the objects surrounding us. Our self-love and pride would like everything to be as we wish, that we should be surrounded by every honour and comfort of this temporal life; would like all men, and even — how far is pride carried! — all nature itself, to speedily and silently obey a sign from us; whilst, alas! we ourselves are very slow to faith and to every good work — slow to please the one Master of all. Christian! you must absolutely be humble, meek, and long-suffering, remembering that you are clay, dust, nothingness; that you are impure; that everything good that you have is from God; that your life, your breath and everything you possess are God’s gifts; that for your sins of disobedience and intemperance you ought now to redeem your future blessedness in Paradise by the long-suffering which is indispensable in this world of imperfections and innumerable transgressions of the fallen men living together with us, and forming the numerous members of the one sin-sullied human race.” Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”[453] He who is impatient and irritable does not know himself and the human race, and is unworthy of the name of Christian. In saying this, I pronounce judgment against myself, for I am the first of those who are afflicted with impatience and irritability.

Receive everyone who comes to you, especially with a spiritual purpose, with a kind and cheerful aspect, although he or she may be a beggar, and humble yourself inwardly before everybody, counting yourself lower than he or she, for you are placed by Christ Himself to be the servant of all, and all are His members, although like you they bear the wounds of sin.

In order that men should esteem and love each other, should not be proud, should not be arrogant to each other, the most wise Lord has given to different men different natural and beneficial advantages, so that they may have need of each other. In this manner each one of us must involuntarily acknowledge this or that infirmity and humble himself before God and men.

Do not be despondent and do not fall into despair when you feel within your soul the deadly breath and ferment of malice and evil, impatience and blasphemy, or any weakness from impure thoughts; but fight against them unremittingly and endure valiantly, calling with all your heart upon the Lord Jesus — the Conqueror of hell. Humble yourself deeply, deeply, acknowledging yourself from the depths of your soul as the first of sinners, unworthy of human fellowship, and the Lord, seeing your humility and your struggle, will help you. Call also to your help the speedy Mediatrix, the Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, saying: ” Heal, most pure Lady, the many painful wounds of my soul, and strike the enemies constantly fighting against me.”[481]

Through masterful, or rather through mercenary pride and incomprehensible wickedness, we often do not deign to speak to those whom we feed and support, often behaving inimically to them, instead of rather humbling ourselves before them as their servants, in accordance with the words of the Lord. “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant,”[490] so as to redouble our recompense of the Lord by sincerely and unfeignedly serving Him in the person of the least of His brethren. O, meek and humble-hearted Creator, Giver of Life, Redeemer, our Nourisher, and Preserver — Lord Jesus! teach us love, meekness, and humility through Thy Holy Spirit, and strengthen us in those virtues which are most pleasing to Thee, so that Thy rich gifts may not make our hearts proud, so that we may not deem that it is we ourselves who feed, provide, and support anyone. Thou art the universal Nourisher. Thou feedest, providest, supportest, and preservest all; under the wings of Thy mercy, bounty, and loving kindness all are provided for and are given rest — not under ours, for we ourselves have need of being covered with the shadow of Thy wings at every moment of our life. Our eyes are fixed upon Thee, our God, as “the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress: even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until He have mercy upon us.”[491] Amen.

If Christ is in you through the frequent communion of the Holy Sacrament, then be yourself wholly like unto Christ: meek, humble, long-suffering, full of love, without attachment to earthly things, meditating upon heavenly ones, obedient, reasonable. Have His spirit unfailingly within you. Do not be proud, impatient, partial to earthly things, avaricious, and covetous.

It is unpleasant for a proud man when it is required of him to be humble to others; for an envious man when it is required of him to wish his enemies well…

“Every valley” and dale “shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight . . . and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”[560] The valley and dale are humble hearts. The mountain and hill shall be brought low — that is, proud men who think highly of themselves, and despise the lowly and humble. So it is: the Lord unceasingly acts through the spirit of righteousness and mercy in the hearts of men, humbling the proud by various worldly circumstances — by maladies, losses, humiliations from other people, and exalting the humble.

Strive by every means constantly to rejoice the Heavenly Father by your life; that is, by your meekness, humility, gentleness, obedience, abstinence, right judgment, love of peace, patience, mercy, sincere friendship with worthy people, kindness to everybody, cordial hospitality, universal benevolence, accuracy in business, simplicity of heart and character, and by the purity of all your thoughts. Teach and strengthen us, O God, to live in accordance with Thy Will, for Thou art our Father, and we are Thy children, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

But, in accordance with Christian love, you must be indulgent in every possible way to the faults of your neighbour, you must cure him of his wickedness, of his spiritual infirmity (for every coldness, every passion is an infirmity) by love, kindness, meekness, humility, as you yourself would wish to receive from others, when you suffer from a similar infirmity. For who is not subject to infirmity? Whom does the most evil enemy spare? Lord! destroy all the snares of the enemy in us.

Should thoughts of self-praise, of self-satisfaction, occur to you, say: “I myself am nothing; all that is good in me is accomplished by the grace of God.” “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?”[675] “Without Me ye can do nothing.”[676] Should the thought of despising any of your neighbours, or of your family occur to you, say: “The entire man is the beautiful work of God’s hands; everything in him is very well ordered.” For “it was very good.”[677]

To love God with all your heart means — to love with all your soul meekness, humility, purity and chastity, wisdom, truth, mercy, obedience, for the sake of God, and never to act contrarily to these virtues; that is, not to become proud, irritated, angry against anyone; not to commit adultery even in the heart; not to violate chastity, either by look, thought, or gesture; to avoid every inconsiderate, needless word and deed; to shun every iniquity; to hate avarice and covetousness; to flee from self-will and disobedience.

The Nativity of Christ. — He has come upon earth, He Who in the beginning created us from earth and breathed His Divine breath into us; He has come Who ” giveth to all life, and breath, and all things”[996]; He has come, He Who by a single word called all things visible and invisible from non-existence into existence, Who by a word called into being birds, fishes, quadrupeds, insects, and all creatures, existing under His almighty providence and care; He has come, He Whom the innumerable hosts of Angels continually serve with fear and joy. And in what humility has He come! He is born of a poor Virgin, in a cave, wrapped in poor swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Riches, honours, glory of this world! fall down, fall down in humility, tearful devotion, and deep gratitude before the Saviour of men, and share your riches with the poor and needy. Do not pride yourselves on your visionary, fleeting distinctions, for true distinction can only be found in virtue… learn here, before the manger, your vanity. Thus, let us all humble ourselves; let us all fall down in the dust before the boundless humility and exhaustion of the Sovereign of all, of God, Who has come to heal our infirmities, to save us from pride, vanity, corruption, and every sinful impurity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ’s purpose for us is to drive away from our hearts falsehood (flattery), pride, and diabolical malice, and to implant in the place of these His truth, love, meekness, and humility.

When anyone, out of kindness, praises you to others, and they transmit these praises to you, do not consider them as a just tribute of esteem really due to you, but ascribe them solely to the kindness of heart of the person who thus spoke of you, and pray to God for him, that God may strengthen him in his kindness of heart and in every virtue; but acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not out of humility, but truthfully, actually, knowing as you do your evil deeds.

If you meet with inattention or even disdain from strangers, do not be hurt or take offence at it, but say to yourself: “I am worthy of this. Glory to Thee, my Lord, that Thou hast granted unto me, an unworthy one, to receive dishonour from men like unto myself!” On your part always show love to all, especially to your relations, sincerely, zealously, heartily, loudly; not coldly and languidly, hypocritically, reluctantly, as if in a whisper.

A deep feeling of spiritual poverty, a lamentation at the existence of evil, a thirst after salvation, are to be found in every straightforward and humble soul.

If you wish to be humble, consider yourself worthy of all malice and hatred on the part of others, and of every calumny. Do not grow irritated, and do not nourish malice against those who bear malice against you, slander you, or falsely blame you. Say: “Holy Father, Thy will be done! “Remember the words of the Lord: ” The servant is not greater than his Lord; if the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.”[1396] If the world hated Him, the Most-righteous, the Most-merciful, then why should it be wonderful if other people hate you, a sinful and evil man?

Prayer is the constant feeling of our own spiritual poverty and infirmity, the contemplation in ourselves, in others, and in nature of the works of the great wisdom, mercy, and almighty power of God; prayer is — a continually grateful frame of mind.

Footnotes
[131] St. Matthew v. 44.
[132] Isaiah xl. 2.
[133] Isaiah xxvi. 12.
[167] St. Luke iv. 24.
[303] James i. 20.
[453] Galatians vi. 2.
[481] Canon to the Guardian Angel.
[490] St. Matthew xx. 26.
[491] Psalm cxxiii. 2.
[560] St. Luke iii. 5, 6.
[676] St. John xv. 5.
[677] Genesis i. 31.
[996] Acts xvii. 25.
[1396] St. John xiii. 16; xv. 18.
[1420] 1 Corinthians xiii. 7.

Excerpts compiled from: My Life in Christ or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God, St. John of Kronstadt.

Eucharistic Reflections on 2013

1476109_10202253730839014_1193701229_nI spent the end of 2013 doing what my Johnson pals and I call living in the past with my Johnson yearbooks. All 5 years (freshman and sophomore on top; junior, senior, super senior on bottom)! Bringing in the new year by recalling past years called to mind some things in 2013 that are good things. 1512500_10202222937469199_885622157_n

2013 did contain some really big life events for which I’m grateful and for which I want to offer my thanksgiving to God:

  1. Courtney and I were chrismated into the Orthodox Catholic Church on Feb. 3rd on The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple at St. Anne Orthodox Church.chrismation
  2. Graduated with a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership from Johnson University on May 3rd.936162_10200711365720850_751389834_n
  3. Courtney and I got our first pet and puppy together, Charlie, our Chihuahua. We also got our first cat, Heisenberg.
  4. We moved to Oak Ridge to be closer to our parish, St. Anne Orthodox Church, to get to know our wonderful priest and parish family better.
  5. We got full time jobs with USAA at a call center that allow us to keep the bills paid and have insurance/benefits. It gives us a warm bed, food, and a car.
  6. We bought our first new car, a ’13 Honda Civic LX coupe, together, well, we got it on lease.
  7. We both learned more and grew more together in our second year of marriage.
  8. My little sister joined me as a fellow college graduate! 1510528_10202181025861435_1494886242_n

This is just a short list. Our failure as human beings is to offer unto God thanksgiving for our many blessings bestowed to us by Him. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. I do everyday. I ask for forgiveness from God on this and from you. Let us always keep a grateful heart for whatever we encounter. Glory to God for all things big or small. May His mercy be with us in this new year!

“When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks.  Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the life of paradise.  Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven.  But this perfect man who stands before God isChrist.  In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven.  He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being.  He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.” -Father Alexander Schmemann “For the Life of the World” (p. 38)

55 Maxims for Christian Living

55 Maxims for Christian Livingfr.thomas_hopko
by Fr. Thomas Hopko

1. Be always with Christ.
2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation.
8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
9. Spend some time in silence every day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly
12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person.
19. Be polite with everyone.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, and then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful in all things.
30. Be cheefull.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and be attentive.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

N.T. Wright on the Gospel and Advice to Young Christians

wrightN.T. Wright says some extremely beautiful and prolific insights in this short video. I really wanted to share it because I think he challenges us on so many levels whether it be how to present the Gospel, presenting the Gospel in a 5 minute window if asked, where repentance comes into play, and what the Gospel of Paul has to do with the Gospel of Christ (hint: they are the same). However, at the end he has some sage advice, especially for those like me who love theology, that is deeply practical, but full of wisdom.

When asked what advice he has for young theologians he recalls an email to a young man wanting to pursue graduate studies in Pauline theology (which was fitting to me like a glove to a hand). He remarked that he gave the young man the same advice he gives every body who desires to be a theologian/teacher/professor.

  1. “You just have to soak yourself in the Scriptures much more than you ever imagined doing; preferably in the original languages.”
  2. “You have to soak yourself in prayer.”
  3. “You have to listen hard to the cries of pain that are coming from the people next door who are your neighbors or from people on the other side of the world.”
  4. And he didn’t say it exactly, but he said we have to basically immerse ourselves in community and in the Sacraments, which Christ gave us for life and for a way of life.

I love when he says, “Jesus Himself and the New Testament itself teaches that the way we get to know who we are and where we’re called to be is through Scripture, through prayer, through the Sacraments (Divine Mysteries)…, and also [through] the cry of the poor [where we meet Christ].”

He goes on to say, “God wants to do new things, but he people through whom He will do those new things are people who are Bible people, are people who are prayer people, are sacrament people, and are people who are listening to the poor people. And somehow Jesus will come afresh to them and please God through them in ways that at the moment we can’t imagine, predict, or control.”

N.T. Wright is a brilliant man whom I respect and admire. He is a holy man filled with the light and love of Jesus. I hope his wisdom here is as beneficial to you as it was to me.

N.T. WRIGHT ON THE GOSPEL AND ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE (VIDEO IS HYPERLINKED)! 

Through Hope You Find Peace (I Know Not God Nor Myself)

St-Mark-the-Ascetic-774073I am a person who likes to think of himself as introspective and reflective. I desire to be transparent. I desire to be authentic. I desire to be real. I desire to know God and be known by God. I desire to know others and be known by others. I have been reading “Raising Lazarus” and it has had some profound insights into my existential struggle upon this planet and particular my post-graduation blues. I have gotten a little further up and in Orthodoxy as well. And perhaps what Paul Kymissis writes here is a profound insight into my own spiritual journey? I don’t know, but it hit me like a ton of bricks:

St. Mark the Ascetic said that there are two major reasons for a man’s unhappiness: love for himself and a love for pleasure. People who have been suffering from anxiety are able to find comfort when they understand the meaning of life. Anxiety is defined as the fear of something going wrong. Hope is the opposing emotion to fear. Therefore St. Paul writes that through hope you will find peace. An existential vacuum is another potential source of anxiety. This is where an individual who is created in the image of God fails to understand himself because he doesn’t know God. Orthodox Christian spirituality can be a major source of healing for many of these people” (page 48).

Perhaps I don’t know God? Perhaps I don’t even know myself too? Perhaps I have only scratched the surface of these boundless things? We can only be whole when we come to know the Holy Trinity in whom our personhood is grounded and defined. Perhaps my anxiety arises from a lack of being grounded?

I long to just abide, to be. To be grounded in That which is greater than myself, beyond my senses, and “nearer to me than my I,” as Martin Buber put it. The failure of men, my own failure, is that we forget God. We seek happiness in Egoism and Hedonism. We are so non-Eucharistic.

I’m rambling on in this blog; I’m well aware, but this quote has made me think of my own existential crisis of not only just getting done with undergrad, but also of life. This is our crisis is it not? The crisis is that we don’t know God and fail to understand ourselves.

I know neither God nor myself, but with some sort of strength I do utter this prayer from my sinful lips through hope to receive God’s mercy:

“O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in me and cleanse me from every stain, and save my soul, O gracious Lord.”

“I just want to be not what I am today. I just want to be better than my friends might say. I just want a small part in Your passion play.”