Friday, August 12, 2016

Secret Acts of Mercy

Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.

#10 Do acts of mercy in secret.

I'm sure you're all familiar with the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks about alms-giving:
 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.   ~ Matthew 6:1-4

As I spent time pondering this precept, thinking about what I'd write about it, I found myself focusing on the idea of keeping our acts secret. I also thought a lot about what acts of mercy even are: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick. Usually we think we must leave our home to go and do those things; we believe that the people who need our help are far away and we must search them out.

But what if the sick, the hungry and the naked are right here, next to me? How if they live in my own home with me? Is a person only hungry when they are at the point of starvation? Is someone only sick if they are hospitalized or near death? Are those who are penniless and homeless the only people who run the risk of being unable to clothe themselves?

I've often found myself feeling badly because it's not very practical for me to leave my home and go serve meals to the homeless, or to visit the sick in their homes or the hospital. I thought that I was failing at giving alms because I didn't see myself going out and doing it. The reality is though, that my neighbor, the person right next to me, right now, is the one I must seek to serve. The acts of mercy I must do are the ones which present themselves to me throughout the course of the day through the people, big and little, who are in my path.

In one of my favorite books, Way of the Ascetics, it says this:

The externally noticeable happening is not the decisive one. The little thing can be big, and the big, little. 
You are working for the Invisible One; let your work be invisible.  
Remember: there is no place, no community, no external circumstance that is not serviceable for the battle you have chosen. 
In order to do acts of mercy then, it is not always necessary for me to seek without and go in search of opportunity. Opportunity is always available to me if only I can learn to recognize it. And perhaps that is the best way to remain secret. If I can hardly see it myself, chances are not many other people are going to notice.




Monday, June 20, 2016

Answered Prayers

Once upon a time there was a young woman who was raised by pious parents and had a childhood filled with love and a multitude of good things. This young woman was taught by her parents to love God and to seek Him throughout her life. She was content to follow her parents' example and for a long time all seemed to be well.

But one day the young woman looked into her heart and saw an ugly creature hiding and making its lair there. She had had glimpses of its ugliness marring the beauty of her heart before, but they had been fleeting and had always left her uncertain as to what it was. This time there was no doubt; she recognized it for what it was Pride. This creature had a firm grasp upon her heart and was slowly but surely dragging her further and further from her Heart's Desire. The young woman realized with dismay that she could not rid herself of the thing on her own, so she said a prayer, beseeching God to take the ugly creature from her at any cost.

God loved this young woman, and He looked upon her with tenderness. He heard her prayer and answered it again and again in many ways over the years, but His biggest gift to the woman was to send her a husband and make her a mother.

As time passed the woman had almost forgotten about her prayer, but she knew that the demon still lurked within because from time to time it would raise up its hideous head and show its face. And every time she saw it she would run to God once more and beg for His help. And every time, God heard her prayer....

____________________________________________

This story does not have a proper ending because it is not over yet. I can't say how it will end, but I pray that by the end of my days, by God's grace, the evil creature will be ousted and unable to return ever again.

What I can say though, is that I am amazed by how faithful God is. I prayed that prayer many years ago, before I had a husband or any children, and looking back over the years since that time I am beginning to see His hand at work in ways that I never thought were possible.

If I had known then what I know now I don't think I would ever have asked what I did. I tremble to think of asking it now because now I begin to understand what it means. It is a fearful thing to look into one's own heart and to see what lurks there. Spouses and children have a way of acting as living mirrors, reflecting and shining light into dark places that had previously never seen the light of day. Most of those places are dreadful and some absolutely hideous. Having a family has begun to open my eyes to see that I must be willing to bear the reality of who I am without trying to hide or make excuses.

Knowing who I am and being forced to bear the burden of sorrow that comes with that knowledge and the knowledge of its effects on those around me is a hard thing. It weighs heavily on my heart sometimes, and I occasionally forget that He who is answering my prayer by showing me my own heart, is also the One who will wipe away every tear and who turns sorrow into joy.

I pray that I might remember, and keep that remembrance ever present, so that I might give glory to God, Who hears the prayers of His children and Who never lets them walk alone.






Thursday, May 5, 2016

Silence

(Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here. This post deals with numbers 8 and 9 )


Silence.

I have been thinking about this for awhile now. Mostly thinking how I don't have much to say on the subject because I am in the midst of my child-rearing years and physical silence doesn't exist is rather hard to come by. Perhaps that's why I find myself able to appreciate silence so much; I treasure those moments of peace and tranquility that are so few and far between.

But there is another kind of silence that is not the same as the absence of sound. There is a silence that is interior, one which is dependent upon the state of the heart rather than one's physical surroundings. This silence is even more valuable than the elusive exterior silence that I crave so. The silence that comes from a careful guarding of the heart and mind is the kind of quiet and steadfast stillness that is immovable and unshakable. Interior stillness allows one to remain calm in the midst of the surrounding storm and chaos that is daily life.

It is this inner silence that I am beginning to understand these days, even if only a little. I have come to realize that even when my house grows still, as little bodies rest from the laborious and joyous daily task that is growing up; even as the sounds of little voices stop and breaths slow and become peaceful; even as the lights dim and the evening song of the birds begins to quiet, my own mind is still noisy.

The swirl and rush of thoughts, ever spinning, never slowing, continuously moving in and out of my mind in a whirlwind of worries, cares and concerns leaves me with hardly a second to catch my breath.

The ability to just be, to just exist, right here and right now, without engaging my thoughts, and without getting sucked back in to the maelstrom of madness that never ceases is an ability which requires practice and patience. I am learning, slowly yes, but also steadily, how to let it all go. I am beginning to practice being mindful of this present moment, the eternity that exists now, and I am finding that this ability can carry over into my daily activities.

There is so much to say on the subject, and yet I can't seem to find a way to say it. I don't have the words at this time. Perhaps they will come some day. But for now I am thankful that I am being given the opportunity to struggle with, and even to succeed on occasion, in my search for silence.