Monday, July 31, 2006

Eucharistic Relations

I did not commune this morning. Suffice it to say, I was not prepared. We'll leave it at that.

It's always interesting to me to deal with my thoughts on mornings I don't commune. Why are my sins, which really are ever-present in my life, all of a sudden so serious now that they keep me from the chalice, when on other weeks such is not the case?

St. Paul, it seems, is quite merciful when he tells us that "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:27, emph. mine). He does not say, it should be noted, that we are not to partake "unworthily"--for none of us could claim to be such--yet we are not to partake in an "unworthy manner." My manner of preparation, or lack thereof, was most definitely unworthy of the supreme gift that was offered today for all of us, and for all the world. A bit of the foretaste of that Day, perhaps, when all those who come before the Lord unprepared will see that they are unable to partake of His presence as joy and rest...

What is the Eucharist for us Orthodox, exactly? My thought while driving to church today was that the Eucharist is, for a person who's living an upright Christian life in relation to his God and his neighbor (especially his brothers and sisters in Christ), what sex is for a couple in a healthy marriage. Does the sex make the couple one? Not really; the act of marriage itself is what unites a man and a woman, while sex is the celebration of the union that's already been formed. In the same way, the Eucharist is not the thing that truly unites us to Christ--that happened at our baptisms and chrismations--but the Eucharist is the (if you'll pardon the somewhat vulgar pun) "climax" of our already existing union with the Almighty, a celebration of a union that is healthy and open, both as individuals with their Maker and Bridegroom, and as individuals in community with each other as the Body of Christ.

For me to have communed today would have been like cheating on Audra, lying to her, verbally abusing her, ignoring her--then turning right around and having sex with her. While such an act would probably still be pleasureable for a selfish b****** who cares nothing for the feelings of the spouse (in this case, me), such an act could hardly be seen as an expression of a sacrificially giving husband towards his wife (and vice versa) that is described in Ephesians 5. So, too, would communion today have been my getting what I wanted--to live like the devil but still make "my communion" (as if it were actually mine alone to be had) in order to look good or lull myself into a stupor of false piety--but in no way making it a genuine reflection of a cherished, healthy relationship with my God and my neighbor.

No...time to get off the couch, out of the doghouse, whatever--hey, I put myself there--and make amends. Transfiguration looms close...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

New Mexico

God be praised for a wonderous and relaxing vacation. The trailer my aunt and uncle own--we call it simply "The Place"--is in Angel Fire, NM, and was a welcome relief from the 100+ degree temperatures that were/are baking the majority of the rest of the country. Audra, Hope, my mother (we call her "Gammie") and myself spent the week before last up there and got a great deal of relaxation done.
We quickly realized that we'd left Hope's ducky bathtub in Ft. Worth, so the sink had to serve as bathtub while we were there.
Hope took it all in stride, cool as she always is...
This is me out front attempting to start a fire for BBQ burgers and franks. Said fire was, we found out later that night, illegal due to dry conditions that prompted an area-wide ban. Neverthe- less, the fire did its thing. Meat good.
Hope is learning Baby Signs (see the link for an explana- tion), and here you can see her with her version of the sign for "cat" -- brushing her cheek (supposed to be whiskers) and giving a higher-than-normal-pitched cry for a "meow." She got that cemented in through lots of practice using the neighborhood cat as an example. She's gained the ability to express, either verbally or through a sign, around 20 words in the past month, much to the relief of her parents, who now no longer have to be frustrated by the "she's STILL crying/what the #%!^ does she WANT?!" phase that plagues parents. Good stuff.
Walking in the path in front of the house, picking up pebbles ... good times. She did, unfortunate- ly, trip and fall on a larger rock (smacked her little forehead, but it's nothing a band-aid and kiss couldn't cure).
Audra and I were able to convince Gammie to watch Hope (because getting grand- parents to watch their grandkids is so hard, don't you know) while we took a scenic chair lift ride up a mountain in Red River. Here's me at the top...
And a picture from our chair on the way down, overlooking Red River. Very nice having this to look at each morning...
Got down from the chair lift, and this is what we saw; apparently Hope had had enough ... and snagged a bear in the process and promptly tuckered it out, as well...
Taos, another city in the "Enchanted Circle" area of NM, is one of the older cities in NM, colonized early on by land grants from Spain, as the monument attests to. Side note: IF ANYONE WHO SMOKES CIGARS IS GOING TO GO TO THE ENCHANTED CIRCLE AREA, PURCHASE CIGARS BEFORE LEAVING HOME! Cigar places are pretty much nonexistent, much to my surprise; I had hoped to purchase a nice cigar, sit out on the front patio of the trailer, and pass a relaxing hour reading, smoking, and looking at the mountains while listening to the wind blow through the trees. Finally found a place here in Taos where I bought a very nice Bolivar Maduro, much to the ladies' relief (they no longer had to endure my hunt for cigars, which entailed following this lead or that from every shop owner in the Circle re: where I could buy one). Enjoyed aforemetioned, early-evening smoke with book and mountain view. Truly thankful for the peaceful hour.
Went on a hike through an Angel Fire park. Gorgeous smells--we were suprised at how good clover could smell!--and humbling sites. Trails were well-marked for us; we imagined what it would have been like to pioneer places like this, sans trails.
On our last day in Angel Fire, we nailed down a rumor of a hot-air balloon event that happens every so often in the Circle. Unfortunately for us (or fortunately, if you want to look at it that way, as this could NEVER happen anywhere else in the country right now due to heat), the early morning fog prohibited the event from actually happening; this balloon was the only one that even got all the way inflated. Still, it was impressive, and it's a sight to see a couple of dozen of 'em floating over the little village of Angel Fire.
We broke up the drive both to Angel Fire and back to Ft. Worth by stopping in Canyon TX and staying with my Granny. I just wish she and Hope could pretend to like each other, even a little bit...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"That's Just What We Do"

Back from NM. Pictures will be posted as soon as they come back from the photo dept. of Wally World. Thanks so much to all who prayed.

Have been trying for the past week or so to get in touch with my godfather, , as he's Lebanese. Many worried prayers (which aren't really prayers at all, I guess, as we are not to pray in such a state) were uttered and a few phone messages left in an attempt to nail down that, no, he was not in the crossfire of the current conflict between Lebanon and Israel. Tonight, God be praised, I got a call back from him.

He'd been in Lebanon just two weeks prior to the inital hostage taking and Israeli response. He was reflective, now, on how beautiful everything seemed while he was there, which only added to the surrealism he is experiencing now. He informed me that another beloved family from the parish was actually in South Lebanon until the third day of bombings, when they were able to get out. God be praised, the checkpoint that prior to their crossing had been backed up with hours of traffic was a cinch for them to get through, and they're now staying with family here in the States.

He laid the blame for all this squarely on the Lebanese government, which, as much as I tend to sympathize with Palestinian/Arabic sentiments of being dispossessed of their homelands by Israel, strikes me as the right take on this. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that, as my godfather said, plays games by building schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc -- which endears them to the Lebanese people -- but they also have rocket launchers that they use (as lackeys under orders from Syria) against Israel. They're the only militia in Lebanon that the government hasn't disarmed (in defiance of UN orders, surprise, surprise), the rationale apparently being, "better the devil you know than the devil you don't." Regardless, why the Lebanese as a whole don't finish the job -- which would entail disarming Hezbollah and cutting them off from government recognition -- is beyond me.

What really was fascinating (as well as assuring) for me to hear from him, though, was his take on how the Israeli attacks are being carried out -- specifically the destinction being made between the Muslim and the Christians. Lebanon is unique among Arab nations (with the possible-but-not-quite-as-exceptional exceptions of Jordan and Egypt) of being nations where the Muslim and Christian Arabs get along and have deep, generations-long friendships with each other, yet Israel understands that all of these Hezbollah-driven attacks are from one source and one source only: Islam. You do not see Orthodox Christian (or Melkite Catholic) suicide bombers; no little altar boys are missing from Sunday Divine Liturgy because they stepped on an Israeli bus and detonated the explosives strapped to their little chests.

(LATER EDIT: This post on the blog of a UK Antiochian priest very much disputes the above paragraph, and for good reason; it's come to light recently that, indeed, Christian sites are being bombed as well as Muslim ones)

Why is this? My godfather, I think, summed it up best when he told me what Metropolitan + PHILLIP of the Antiochian Archdiocese said in the recent clergy symposium regarding this. All we can do, Sayidna said, is be prayerful. "That's just what we do," my godfather said in response to the Metropolitan's advice. What a stark contrast to followers of the "Prophet" who work under orders of jihad and deception to further their cause; we are called to pray, repaying not evil with evil, but attempting to overcome evil with good, and trusting in our God to do this.

(Also, God be praised that there is still a bishop in the southern Lebanese Christian cities that are under the worst of it; my brothers and sisters in Christ will at least have a loving pastor to guide and nourish them with Christ as the Word of God in the Scriptures and the Lamb of God in the Eucharist.)

May God preserve His estate in Lebanon, and may Jerusalem, Beruit, and all other cities know peace soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Fear and Travelling

We'll take these in reverse order: We'll be out on vacation in NM for a week, so blogging will be pretty much out of the question (though I will check in from libraries from time to time to read the throngs of comments y'all lavish on me **rolls eyes at self**). Prayers for safe travel, save vacationing, and a safe return for all involved would be appreciated.

As to the first subject in the title, the relatively recent and beloved mantle of fatherhood which has been placed on my unworthy shoulders has awakened a very real passion which I have, in all honesty, struggled with immensely. The first post I ever placed on this blog, in fact (back in the "Stumble On Water" days that some of you may remember), dealt in part with this very thing. I've been told by Audra that I "scare her" with the paranoia I can sometimes display: hanging around Hope like a bodyguard, keeping my back between her and any opening for kidnappers, locking the door after I put her in her carseat and have to walk around to the driver's side--all this brought on by horror stories of middle-of-the-night kidnappings or sleep apnia (cessation of breathing in the middle of the night), or like the one where an American couple was walking down a Mexico City street and, out of nowhere, a man runs up from behind them in a dead sprint, rips their child from their arms, and disappears into the throng, their child never to be seen or heard from again...these and other scenarios of the sudden and/or violent taking of my daughter and/or wife from me are rather commonplace, happening several times a week if I'm honest...

This is part of my current internal landscape. There is, of course, the understanding that one of the things we pray for (and firmly believe in) as Orthodox Christians is an actual guardian angel, given to us at baptism/chrismation, who serves as our agent of protection for the glory of God. God is not unmindful of his creatures. As I put it in the abovementioned linked post from a year and a half ago, "I know the real to allow my Lord to "direct my life in the paths of peace," as one prayer puts it, realizing that all is a gift, my loved ones included. If...something were to happen, all things would return to Him who sent them and owns them. [My feelings] must be tempered with the knowledge that I brought nothing into this world, and I truly can take nothing out." And even the destruction of our bodies, should it come to that, will be overcome by the glory of the Resurrection, if indeed we are also dead to sin in our lives.

Tonight I will pray the last kathisma of the psalter: Psalms 143-150 (144-150 in Protestant Bibles). Lots of "Praise ye the LORDs" in that section. Would that I could be the kind of man to say, if it came down to it, "The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the Name of the LORD," or, as our Savior exemplified for us in the moment of His most agonizing torment, to scream out first, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" and yet follow immediately nonetheless with, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit!" Trust is not seen in the absence of, but rather in the midst of pain.

So the idea, I know (funny how the head and mouth can babble on about what the heart still needs convincing of), is that I must trust God to "be their guide and guardian in all their endeavors" and "defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life, and direct them in the way of salvation," yet I must also understand that, if God should allow for these precious women to be taken from me, even in an atrociously violent and unjust manner, they were not mine to begin with, so I have no right to demand them back from God (no matter what my 21st-Century, western mind tells me), and God is no less good and no less loving for having allowed that than He would have been had He shielded us from it.

It is one thing to theorize about all this, I know, and another entirely to say it through teeth clenched with rage at a God who would allow it to happen (for an actual example of this contrast, read C.S. Lewis' The Problem with Pain, which was written before his wife's long struggle with a terminal illness, and follow it with A Grief Observed, which came after she succumbed). To stand in the presence of God within my own heart, "communing with Him in the paths of peace," in spite of the dangerous waves (real or imagined) that threaten the hull of my soul and those of the ones I love, so that if or when a wave hits, the pressing would not crush--this is the goal of a Christian in the war against fear. Would that I could continually be in such a place.

Perhaps I'll go and try to do just that now. Prayers are appreciated. Lord willing, I'll have some vacation photos for y'all in a week...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Fourth

Quite a day! We started off the day with each of us getting decked out in our red - white - and - blue stuff--Hope is here with her obviously beloved hat (which would have come off in half a second had it not been tied on under her chin with straps), then heading off with Gammie (my mother) for a train ride.
Here we are aboard the train; Hope did really well with all the whistles and brakes hissing and such...of course, there was plenty to look at, so of course she was more or less happy...
A great picture of my lovely daughter watching the woods whiz by as we head down the tracks. And no, that's not me about to throw her out the window, that's just paranoid Papi knowing good and well that he has a daughter that at any moment could lunge unpredictably out to grab anything she sees, and thus is determined to keep her inside the car, thankyouverymuch...

Audra loves this pic, as do I...Hope had too much to look at, if that's possible; our little explorer just got tuckered out about two-thirds of the way into the return trip and nodded off on Mommy's chest. Awwww....

Papi, Gammie, Mommy and a completely zonked-out Hope in front of the train after arriving back at the station.

Later that night, Hope gets an up-close (emphasis on the "up") encounter with Uncle Sam. Didn't quite know what to make of it, but didn't cry...

From L to R: My uncle Jeff, my uncle Kenton, and Yours Truly, finding creative methods of flag-display (and, in my case, enjoying a nice Shiner Bock or three...).

The ladies, from L to R: My aunt Judy, Hope, Audra, my aunt Terri, and Gammie.

A VERY fortunate pic of Anza and Mommy looking up at the fireworks later that night. I say "fortunate" because almost immediately after this was taken, Hope began to cry from the fireworks, and Audra took her inside to watch from the bay windows.

The rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air...

Yep...still there... (A pic of three of the six flags over TX taken outside the train station)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Football, Circle Dances and Unity

Sky's got an excellent post--as does Pitts--about how World Cup soccer is affecting everyone in the world, and/or how we here in the US just don't get it. I'll admit, I'm only recently getting into it, and that because I can relate it so much to hockey in terms of basic similarities of strategy (centering pass to slam in a shot past the goalie, man-on defense, etc). I just wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Me likey.

But I'll tell ya'...when the USA scored a goal (both times, if memory serves), there was no pandemonium in the streets, no audible screams from neighbors' houses down the Brazil, apparently, the cities become ghost towns and, when a goal is scored, the buildings scream. When Brazil would win, the streets would be flooded with celebrating fans who would party until the next morning, or something to that effect. People who otherwise had no other common bond than football (which is enough in other parts of the world) were hugging each other, jumping up and down, crying, etc.

The only time I've seen people who otherwise wouldn't readily converse with each other was at Steve and Luda's wedding reception a month or so ago. Joy over a union, good booze to lubricate conversation and music to dance to...this was all the excuse we needed to find a common point of reference and come together in fellowship.

I guess I'm just lamenting how America in general--most likely due to our diversity--lacks such a common point of reference--a sport, a religion, a cause, an event--that will cause all of us who identify so thoroughly with this one, distinctly American thing to drop whatever else we're doing for however long is necessary in order to participate in this unifying ritual, this common cultural dance. It's lamentable enough that we can't join el baile futbolístico with the rest of the world, but even sadder is the fact that we lack even a dance of our own.