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Change and Loss

My mother had her 87th birthday this week. We had a long conversation. Two more of her peers–friends from my childhood, have fallen asleep in the past week. She is making plans to move out of the house we moved into just before my ninth birthday–52 + years ago, and into an elder community with provisions for graduated care as time goes by. Anticipating this, I wrote this poem some time ago.

You have always taught us that everything
in its earthly form will change.
So I am not surprised when I see it in a dream
But I wake up, if not weeping, still forlorn
at seeing my dead brother in a strange room
looking only vaguely like himself
and a beautiful tall and gifted young friend,
now with crippled, withered, truncated limbs.
But in the dream I am the lost one
and she makes light of the despair I feel
at having lost myself and my way out
of this dilemma.
I have again–as many times in dreams before,
lost my car–my means of transport, and as if it follows naturally,
my way in life.

Nothing is familiar.
Distances and obstacles grow before my eyes.
Friends are dying every week.
It is the old ones, dear ones.
When hometown friends are gone,
can it still be considered home?
Home is the place of being in communion,
and that is with persons.
It will be my mother some day–soon or later.
A call one day–your mother is ill,
is dying, has died. Come quickly.
And home–the house, the neighborhood,
still mine till now for walks,
for coming back to,
will lose its way of being mine–
No longer except in memory the place from which I went out
and to which I have returned
and gone out and returned again.
“My room” with the same paper on the walls–
and so on throughout the house,
the patterns I have followed without having to reconsider,
the habit of my feet, even in my mind a well worn path,
will be ploughed under for new paths to be worn
under the feet of strangers.

Do I weep now for loss that is to come?
Perhaps it has been happening all along,
and in this gradual way, will be a mercy.
The crossing from the substance which feeds but fades
to the communion that transforms us into its life
will always be saving us.

Fall 2004


About the Samaritan Woman…

and her meeting with Jesus at the well, where she was drawing water.
There is a moment I would like to hold up,
A point of light that has pierced the eye of my heart.
I know that I will have to be satisfied with walking around it,
as it is not the kind of thing that can be pinned down.
Here it is:
That Jesus saw her,
and when that dawned on her,
she was never the same.
In the light of His countenance she was undone,
unwound from her syndrome, wounded with eternity.
In a moment her desire was turned inside out, transfigured.
What possessed her now could no longer be her fragmented,
meandering and wandering ways,
but His seeing of her, and beyond all that she had been,
His showing her and freely offering her
what He knew she had always desired,
beyond her own knowing.
He was not looking at her askance to cast her down.
He was not rebuking her or taunting her,
not dwelling on her miserable failures.
In His knowing, He was turning a light on in her,
springing her out of prison.
The miracle is that she saw HIM,
and so, extricated from her shame,
shot full of wonder and expectation,
she bounded with joy into the town to share this news,
that she had found a man–the seventh one–
that knew her as she had never been known.

Christ God, my Lord and Savior,
I see that you come to me as to that woman,
that you can open my eyes and my heart as you did hers.
You offer me yourself even today
in the cup of Your Life.
As I approach and partake, may the light of Your Presence
pour into the dark well of my confused passions,
a provision of the Living Water
now and unto the ages of ages. Amen

May 6, 2007, The Fifth Sunday of PASCHA, the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Note: According to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, the Samaritan woman, who is commemorated on this day, bears the name of Photini: light. She is counted as the first missionary.

Write it on your life

I read this this morning and had to copy it into my journal. Maybe this is where the idea came from to begin with. Might not the sign upon the hand be the sign of the Cross? I like the idea of writing these words all over one’s life, so to speak. I am familiar with the impulse to make things real in my life by writing them down.

Deuteronomy 6
4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD;
5: and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
6: And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart;
7: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
8: And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
9: And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Sunday of St John Climacus

The past few weeks I have been reading The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St John Climacus (“ladder” in Greek). In the Orthodox Church, each Sunday of Great Lent is designated for veneration of a particular saint or (last Sunday) the Precious Cross. Today’s saint is John of the Ladder, so I was right on that page. One morning last week I was reading Step 22, On Vainglory, and the following passage loomed large, so I copied it into my journal. The next day, on in a program on the saints we remember during Lent, the discussion was on John of the Ladder. Out of the whole book, nearly 300 pages, the passage she chose to offer as a selection was this same paragraph. So it must be potent.

Like the sun which shines on all alike, vainglory beams on every occupation. What I mean is this: I fast, and turn vainglorious, I stop fasting so that I will draw no attention to myself, and I become vainglorious over my prudence. I dress well or badly, and am vainglorious in either case. I talk or hold my peace, and each time I am defeated. No matter how I shed this prickly thing, a spike remains to stand up against me.

This is only discouraging when I am preoccupied with my own sinfulness or self-righteousness in the image of some spiritually appealing or “correct” rules or precepts. It definitely reminds me that I am tossed about–hopelessly defeated without Christ–not some interpretation of His “teachings”, but His PERSON. So that any righteousness that I ever “attain” will not belong to me, but to Him, so it’s back to boasting only of my weakness through which He reveals Himself to me. It is ONLY CHRIST that helps us “do better”, so then, it is not to rack up points, but only to magnify Him (“for His sake”, “according to His will”).

I can’t resist including a few more passages which I copied. As always, it seems the truth is revealed in the paradox, the irony, the seeming contradictions.

When those who praise us, or, rather, those who lead us astray, begin to exalt us, we should briefly remember the multitude of our sins and in this way we will discover that we do not deserve whatever is said or done in our honor.

I think this is pretty interesting in the light of conventional wisdom–“stand up for yourself”, “don’t let anyone put you down,” “pamper yourself, you deserve it,” fighting for recognition, position, measuring ourselves by achievements, rank, etc. Surely it is the great and essential truth of Christianity that the only real glory is in losing our life (“the old man”, the idea of self we have fabricated according to our own will and imagination) for His sake, whereby we are transformed into His image and likeness. Because in the Cross His glory is revealed. In His death he defeated death.

The following are from Step 23, On Pride. John puts Pride and Vainglory next to each other because they are similar. Vainglory is the beginning, where Pride is the extremity.

…it is sheer lunacy to imagine that one has deserved the gifts of GOD.

Pride is utter poverty of soul disguised as riches, imaginery light where in fact there is darkness.

A proud man needs no demons. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself.

The strongest opposition to us [pride and vainglory] comes from the contrition of heart that grows out of obedience.

In a monastery, obedience is to the abbott or abbess and to the others with whom one lives, not because they are “right” or we agree with them or like them, but because we trust that GOD is using them for our salvation.
Sometimes it seems hard to discern “in the world” in what sense I am to be “obedient”–to whom, in what context, and perhaps more so without the more obvious structure of living in a family. I can’t give an answer. But I think the key is in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

From overflowing hearts: Lenten meditation

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

6: The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
7: Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
8: And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.
9: As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.”
10: He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
11: You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God;
12: for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God.
13: Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others;
14: while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you.
15: Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

The Word of the Cross

For the last few weeks I have been reviewing my journal from Great Lent and Paschaltide 2002. The following are some excerpts from a short treatise by Archimandrite Vaselios, Monastic Life as True Marriage.

Reject no one, forgive everyone, find a place for them in your heart. Pray for them with all your might, regardless of whether they hurt you. Be unable to inflict hurt, incapable of any such thing. Follow the Lord to Golgatha. (Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.”) Be wounded and know how to bear the pain. The Cross must be familiar and acceptable to you as a place to be and a mode of existence.

Then the LORD will come at some time, without fail, as He knows best. He will come and find you. He will speak to you. He will enter into you like light, repose, paradise. You will find yourself inside the icon of the Resurrection. of the Descent into Hell. This icon will be an expression of your life. Christ will be constantly leading you by the hand, bringing you to light, to freedom, to an unending journey which is himself.

How everything functions as a whole!
How nothing is irrelevant, nothing is wasted!
How the blessings go deeper than we hoped!
How the afflictions, the pains and the perplexities till the field of our souls like a deep-cutting ploughshare!
How totally and utterly the strange and heaven-sent rest differs in nature from the rest and satisfaction afforded by any earthly and temporary success!
How it teaches us humility, how it schools us in love, how it reconciles us with others!
It strengthens us, it invigorates us, and at the same time it makes us weaker, without any prickles or sharp corners which could wound others.


Continuing with transcriptions from The Lenten Spring by Father Thomas Hopko, SVS Press.

[from the Parable of the Sower, Luke 8]:
“And some (of the seed) fell on good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold”…they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

To produce these holy fruits is not any easy task…does not just happen…is neither magical nor a long, hard labor…requires much work…most of all takes patience.

“By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:19)

Patience: to endure…watch…wait, not to hurry and rush…to suffer with and suffer through, in quiet expectation of the hope for result
[union with GOD].

“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)