Friday, March 6, 2020

Falling Down and Getting Up

Today is the fifth day of Lent. It feels like the fifty-fifth. I already feel battered and bruised from what seems like a neverending barrage of spiritual attacks that manifest themselves each day. We have barely begun and already I want to throw in the towel.

I went into my room today and closed the door and all I wanted was to be able to walk out of that room and find an empty house: nobody to fight with, nobody to sass me, nobody to scream when things aren't going their way.

But clearly that was not going to happen. People don't just magically disappear when you want them to. I lay on my bed wanting to cry in frustration, knowing that I had to go back out there and deal with the chaos.

I reluctantly let go of the wishful thinking and found myself remembering a song from twenty years ago,

"I get knocked down
But I get up again...

Of all the songs to get stuck in my head. *Sigh*

But I let myself hear the words and take in their meaning. Then more words came:

A monk was once asked, "What do you do up there in the monastery all day?" The monk replied, "We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up again."

I found myself thinking about how I'd rather not fall down anymore. I'm tired of falling down. The effort of getting back up is too much.

Along came the words to another song,

"Uninspired and much too tired
To bleed for the Word today.
I want
I need
To walk the narrow way.

Give blood to get spirit
Only soldiers storm the gate
Do I have the ears to hear it
Or to keep a warrior's pace
The servants will be greatest
But no sweat flows from my pores.
My hands are smooth and the gate is
Taken violently by force.

Sheesh. I guess that means I have to get up again, doesn't it? The battle won't end in this life. In Tito Colliander's little book, Way of the Ascetics, he says,

"Do not fuss over yourself, no matter how it hurts. Get up again and resume the battle. He who fights gets wounded. Only angels never fall."

So here I am. Time to get back up and resume the battle. Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

(Incidentally when I came out of my room everybody was getting along and there was peace long enough for me to write this. I know it's only a small reprieve, but I'm thankful. Glory to God.)

Monday, November 4, 2019

Reflections on reading scripture

Read the scriptures regularly.
Read good books, a little at a time

I've been hesitant to write about reading scripture. I felt like I didn't really have anything to say about it except that Fr. Hopko's advice to read scripture regularly is excellent and you should take it!

But when I looked at the next precept "read good books, a little at a time", I realized that I did have some reflections to share after all.

I have been reading and hearing scripture all my life, both as a child and an adult. From children's Bible stories to my own private reading, from church gospel and epistle readings to Sunday school lessons, I find that over the years the words have become familiar, comfortable.

I have followed different plans for reading, most often doing the daily lectionary readings throughout the year, other times using a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, sometimes choosing a specific book to read for various reasons. Most recently, aside from doing the daily readings with the kids, I have begun listening to Dr. Jeannie Constantinou's podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, called Search the Scriptures (it's excellent by the way).

Somewhere in the beginning of her series, Dr. Jeannie talked about how the Bible was put together and the work that it took to preserve and spread the gospel in the early centuries of Christianity, long before the invention of the printing press. As she was talking about all this it occurred to me that it might be interesting to try and copy out a book of the Bible myself. Obviously I don't have hours of time to dedicate to such a project, but as I thought about it I realized that I could commit to writing just a little bit every day.

So I began. 

And I'm not sure I'll ever stop. 

I haven't suddenly had all kinds of enlightenment or understanding revealed to me, and that was not my purpose in taking up this practice. But by taking time to pair the physical act of writing with my reading I have begun to pay better attention.

If I am honest I have to admit that all that comfortable familiarity with scripture that I mentioned above means that sometimes when I read or hear it I'm not actually listening. The familiar words flow in one ear and out the other and I forget what I read as soon as I close the book. Somehow the act of writing things down helps them to stay with me longer and I find myself pondering and reflecting more than I ever have before.

I purposely limit myself when I am copying out verses and I write out only 1-3 verses at a time. It would be easy to get carried away, and then burnt out, if I were to allow myself to do more than that. By only allowing myself to write a small amount I have found that I am better able to stay with this practice because it doesn't require too much from me on days when my time is short or there are other things that need my attention. 

These two maxims, regular reading of scripture and reading good books a little at a time, are powerful, life-giving tools that are easily incorporated into our everyday lives. My own practice is one way to live them out, but there are plenty of other ways to do so as well. I will perhaps write more on reading good books in a later post, but in the meantime I'd love to hear from you about how you make time to read scripture and to read good books. I always enjoy hearing from my readers, so please do share! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Revealing Thoughts and Feelings

Awhile back 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.

Precept number 14:
Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.

This maxim has been a difficult one for me to come to terms with. I find that I live very much in my head, and my thoughts are a sanctuary in many ways from the whirlwind of input in which I find myself each day. For me the idea of revealing all my thoughts, even to a trusted person, is very scary. I doubt I'm the only one who feels this way. Which of us has not had thoughts that would cause him or her to burn with shame if anyone else found out about them? Which of us has not had thoughts that would be hurtful to others, or that would cause strife and conflict if they were brought to light?

And yet... the more I contemplate this suggestion, the more I realize that perhaps Fr. Tom is onto something.

I am not my thoughts.

My thoughts may be a part of me, but they do not make up my whole person.

I have the freedom to choose which thoughts and feelings I will dwell on and which thoughts and feelings I will dismiss.

It's easy to think that because I have this freedom that I can just learn to be discerning by myself. Why should I bring anyone else into it? That just leaves me open and vulnerable doesn't it?

But do I really know myself well enough to evaluate my thoughts and feelings properly? Real, deep self-knowledge is harder to come by than it might seem.

There are some thoughts and feelings which, when grasped and clung to, lead down paths that are dark and twisted. These kinds of thoughts make it difficult to stay on the narrow way. There are other thoughts and feelings that can be cultivated and nourished in such a way as to shine light on the path and make it easier to walk.

Perhaps an objective perspective from someone who is not my self is important after all.

I'll be the first to admit that I have not lived by this maxim. It's scary to open one's thoughts and feelings to another person, even if it is a person one trusts. The fear of shame is real and powerful.

I find myself wondering if this is something that I can work towards, little by little, revealing myself up as I am able, keeping in my sight the end goal of humble openness.

I don't know if I will ever reach this goal, but I am beginning to see the value of its pursuit; sometimes the very journey itself is where much of the value lies in the end.