Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Erring on the Side of Smallness

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received regarding my spiritual life came just recently (yes, it's an instant classic with me) from my parish priest. I was talking with him, inquiring about a suitable daily prayer rule, and when I laid out what I had planned, he said something I'd never heard from a spiritual leader.

He said I really ought to consider scaling it back.

Coming from traditions within the Evangelical world where "going all out for Jesus" is expected, I have to say I was surprised. I unwittingly had been projecting the expectations (which were projected onto me by others) I had had of myself within Protestantism onto my prayer life in Orthodoxy. There is often the pressure to read a certain amount of Scripture in a day, pray for a certain amount of time...of course, ultimately these things are left up to the individual, but the examples that we were given to emulate often devote substantial periods of time to these activites, periods that, for many of us, are not reasonable to expect. I was translating that into something along the lines of, "Trisagion prayer, 'Arising from sleep,' the Creed, a kathisma of psalms, the epistle and gospel reading for the day, the litany of prayers for the living and the dead (along with others we added in), a benediction and veneration of all the icons in the corner--that was morning. Evening prayers consisted of a similarly long rule. The idea was, "this is what is laid out in the prayer book as 'Morning/Evening Prayers,' so I'm gonna do it all." Needless to say, the variables of day-to-day life with toddler made mincemeat of that expectation--we as people must be more flexible than a by the book approach to rubrics will allow--and I was left feeling as though I'd bitten off more than I could chew, or "should be doing more" to accomodate this level of a prayer life within my life.

Not so, said Father. It's interesting to hear something I never heard in my years as a Christian: that we are actually better served by doing a small amount of prayer, consistently, than we are in doing large prayer rules in what inevitably ends up being in fits and starts. Humbling, this, as I no longer am expected to see myself as immediately capable of something having to do with prayer; it has allowed me to reevaluate just how serious, how weighty a thing like prayer is, and how incapable I am of actually tackling regular audiences before the King of Glory.

Sit in the lesser seats, desire them. If God moves you, fine. But err on the side of smallness, I was told--have a "bare minimum" where you can be sure, at least, to "check in" with God--makes days like today where I actually was up early enough to do almost all of the whole aforementioned Morning Prayer shbang all the sweeter. And when these moments happen, be sure to thank God for them, like this fella did (and probably still does). Speaking of thankfulness, I was surprised after today's prayerfest when, upon pulling out from the garage today, I openly wept for the joy of and thankfulness for having a sweet, kind, playful, beautiful toddler; an amazing, loving, nurturing, radiant wife; a life that, I sometimes fear, has gone too well (Fr. Alexander attributed it to God's awareness of Fr. Alexander's weakness...probably a wise take, that)...there's a wonderful comfort in small steps with this God, where we develop our soul slowly, consistently, the way we develop our physical bodies.

Apparently growing up the way we should takes time, and God's all right with waiting...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanks(giving) Be to God

Called different parishes around Lexington on Tuesday to see if any of them would be celebrating Divine Liturgies, praying Akathists, etc., on Thanksgiving Day morning. It's a tradition at our parish to celebrate a DL in thanksgiving--what better time for a Eucharist, after all?--for everything God's given us. The folks at St. Athanasius' parish in Nicholasville, if the Lord willed, had a "Glory to God for All Things" Akathist, as they do on the eve of Thanksgiving, but as we will only be travelling out that way tomorrow morning late, we couldn't attend. Ironically, St. Michael's in Louisville will have a DL, but we'll have gone the other direction and won't be able to attend that tomorrow morning, either!

Ah, well. 'Twas good to talk to the brethren regardless, wishing them a Happy Feast Day in the midst of in-laws--and don't get me wrong; they're wonderful in-laws--but they wouldn't understand (and are visibly uncomfortable with) the celebration we engage in with the Godbearer as "the prelude of the goodwill of God" was refreshing to wish "Spradznikom" to somebody while here.

An interesting event this evening...a crank call on my cell from someone calling herself "Whitney"--young-sounding, possibly bored on Thanksgiving Break--whose (repeated!) calls within a twenty minute period (nine, count 'em, (9) messages in the fifteen minutes I had turned off my phone after the first two calls) rapidly escalated in--ahem--"inappropriateness" once she found out that the person she had dialed was a guy who was married and who objected both to being called "Baby" and to the idea that he gave her his number in a bar recently. Once the phone came back on, she called again, and I decided to have a little fun. If you can't beat 'em, preach at 'em.

WHITNEY: "Hey, baby, I--"

ME: "Wow, Whitney; nine messages in fifteen minutes; you must be ridiculously bored, huh?"

W: "Well, I love you, baby, an--"

M: [said without letting her get a word in edgewise] "Well, I have to say, it's interesting that your messages took the tone that they did, because you see, some of the things you put in those messages might be taken to bring strife into a marriage, possibly breaking the marriage up. And it's a shame that you'd want to break up a marriage, seeing as how God Himself has ordained and blessed marriages as a way for two people to come into total union with each other."

W: "I--"

M: [still goin' strong] "--and it's a shame that you'd want to do something that would endanger that, seeing as how it disrupts something that goes back to the creation of the first man and woman, who God created to become one flesh, to be fruitful and multiply--which my wife and I have, with a beautiful toddler who's a real spitfire and a blessing from the Lord, by the way--and this is really a representation of the Kingdom of God, whose goal is the reunion of all men and women together, since sin and death has fractured mankind's relationship one to another."

W: "Well, I--"

M: [yep, still goin'] "'--I mean, my wife and I had crowns placed on our heads when we were married, and not only did that represent that we would be rulers over our household, guiding our children to follow and serve and love the Lord, but that they would also serve as martyrs' crowns, since we would be prepared to sacrifice our own desires--even our very lives if need be!--for the sake of each other and for each other's salvation--"

W: [dial tone]

This is the way it went for about two more times after that. Haven't heard from her all this evening. Now, I did think about putting the kerygma, or basic gospel message, out there for her--the fact that there is a God, we were separated from Him by nature, personal sin, and death in our members due to the falling of our ancestors, and that God became one of us in order to deify our nature, forgive our sins, and destroy death (which He did), and that we could participate in this life, this reconnecting with God the Father in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit working in the Church--but I stopped, as I got a "pearls before swine" feeling about all of that. Perhaps I was wrong--Lord, have mercy on me if I did not make the most of the opportunity--but perhaps something mentioned in the "blitzkrieg" of references to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony will stick with her and she won't do that again.

Regardless, it was fun, I have to admit...

Evening prayers tonight with Anza, her little head on my shoulder, her Buddha belly going in and out more and more regularly while Papi chanted prayers. Sleepy kisses given to the icons of Christ and the Theotokos...amazing how she knows which pictures are icons, and which are not, regardless of what or who is on an icon. The gospel from today--"you must enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a little child." Indeed, she shows me how. Tomorrow is the commemoration of the repose of St. Alexander Nevsky (pictured here)--I shall have to call our friends the Wingerds and ask if it is indeed our little godson's first namesday. Regardless, God grant that little man many blessed years!

Thanks be to God for His many indescribable gifts! Y'all have a blessed Turkey Day!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

On the Road Again


I'll be driving to KY this evening w/family and will be staying in Lexington for most of the upcoming week. Should be back next Sun. night. Prayers for safe travel are coveted.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, all.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fear of Life as Prayer

Colossians 3:17 (Revised Standard Version.): "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

vv. 23-4: "Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ."
I am a Spanish teacher by trade. Yes: in the world, I am that guy--the one who dragged you through (or, if you were like me, dragged everyone else through while I enjoyed) endless vocabulary words, conjugations, and dialogues/stories in the target language you've long since ceased using and, therefore, remember "un poquito español," as I hear all the time.

I am a husband and a father. Breadwinner, peek-a-boo engager, companion and helper, I've been charged with, well, "leading the charge" within my household in taking the Kingdom by force, all the while working to help keep things organized, clean, and otherwise appropriate for sane, mature adult life.

It is, therefore, required of me as a follower of Jesus Christ to offer up these positions to Him in gratitude, as well as with the greatest amount of preparation and thought put into exactly how I am going to execute what I firmly believe to be my divinely appointed niche in life. This is done "so that it may be profitable to myself and others, and to the glory of [God's] Holy Name," as goes the prayer. Ideally, such a venture is to be surrounded by and permeated by prayer--a morning and evening habit of meeting with God, along with as much during-the-day meditation on the Name of Jesus as running frantic through life in this world will allow--and thus is itself infused with the presence of the divine and made into a prayer. Life as prayer, worldly vocations as ministry for others (not to mention salvation for self)...nothing so repulses me.

I prefer, rather, to "talk shop" in Church, substituting a lively theological debate or a "basics" rundown of Orthodox theology with an inquirer for another, perhaps "uneventful," encounter with God that provides no "rush." There's blogging--everything from customizing a "look" to a "comments blitz" that can take you late into the night--and discussion forums that can sap the time clear out of a day that was supposed to go towards grading papers...TV to books to even YouTube...most anything can be and is preferred to the slow, simple, obligatory (and often unnoticed) work of daily's been said that the problem with life is that it's so daily, and these sugar-pill distractions tend both to tantalize and edge what matters most--my life as prayer--outside the edges of my life's picture.

This happens, of course, due to its being the "quick and easy" route, that of least resistance, where we can (at least temporarily) fool ourselves into believing once again that reading about Chalcedon can sub for our humanity meeting the divinity within us (and all the terror and sacrifice that entails), that debating Protestants over justification, sanctification, sacrament, et al is tantamount to letting this life in Christ mold me into one who loves God and neighbor. Not that these things are always to be avoided or seen as unnecesary, but rather prioritized and lived instead of told so much...

Ora et labora, St. Bendedict said: Pray and work. The challenge, then, being not to consume our every waking hour obsessed with work obligations or (even worse!) turn actual prayer into no more than an obligation, but rather to find the "rest you can find in your work, that you can't get out of sleep,"* the trust that takes us through mundane tasks because we've seen the One for Whom we're doing this and we love Him with an Eros that at least rivals that which we give to our own, personal, sugar-pill gods.

Lord, have mercy on us. St. Benedict, pray to God for us.

*(referenced here)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Church Website

Thanks to the diligence of my lovely wife, our parish has a website! Click here, or in the sidebar to check it out.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ochlophobe's Apologia

Looking for something beautiful to read about our faith?

Owen of The Ochlophobist has a four-part apologia for Orthodoxy that is literally stunning in its intimacy and enthralling in its eloquence.

Pt. 1
Pt. 2
Pt. 3
Pt. 4

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Quick Political Blog...

Just to's a good day for us pro-life Democrats.

We got to add six likeminded souls to our congressional ranks: Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, Charlie Wilson of Ohio, Chris Carney and Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania.

Whooda thunk; the Democratic party has to get away from the liberal monopoly wielded by the New Englanders in order to be relevant enough to gain any kind of political clout...hmm...might there be a lesson here for '08? (As in a resounding rejection of Hillary and her ilk?)

OK, done...


Thank you all for praying. I was feeling better last Thursday, though I still stayed home. Now this week is taken up not only with bringing some sense of normalcy back to the class--just in time for Thanksgiving Break next week! Yay!--but with correcting the truncated version of grades that had to be submitted since I was too weak from illness to finish off the grades as I would have liked.

Also...Kaylyn has been removed from my roll sheet. I have not heard if she has been found or not.

A few weeks back, a bunch of us at St. Barbara's went to Mineral Wells State Park for our annual fall retreat. A good time was had by all; we had everything from fishing in the lake (which also provided a lovely chilly wind at night that blew right into each campsite, glory to God for all things...), to BBQ dinners over the fire and s'mores for dessert (not to mention late - into - the - night talks over Shiner Bocks re: everything from faith to politics to hobbies...good times...), to readers' vespers that, though they be chanted into the wind and the tones be mixed up every so often, were still the center of the evening and an excellent "point of contact" for all of us to touch base and put everything in context: to remember the One who created all these things around us "in wisdom."

I'm biased, I know, but our little sweetheart had the time of her little life crawling around the rocks...y'all pray for us; we've got a real explorer on our hands.

The whole gang; it's nothing short of a miracle this one picture came out with everybody visible. We had to leave early due to Hope's not feeling well, but overall it was a highly enjoyable weekend.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I've been home all this week with strep, and this is the first time I've been able to sit in front of a PC for more than five seconds without feeling exhausted. I may have to miss the rest of the week, too, if I don't feel better by this evening or early tomorrow...

Prayers, y'all...