Easily Satisfied or Suffering as Communion

Christ the Bridegroom

“When conversion takes place, the process of revelation occurs in a very simple way- a person is in need, he suffers, and then somehow the other world opens up. The more you are in suffering and difficulties and are ‘desperate’ for God, the more He is going to come to your aid, reveal Who He is and show you the way out…”

―St. Seraphim Rose

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

―C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

We have been stuck in a rough patch for a while now which has been a learning experience for us. While there are worse places we could be and that we have been in, this has been a tough stretch and we aren’t out of the woods yet. (Days after starting this article, I came down with Corona and the majority of my house is sick as well). What we have been learning through this time is how easily we are satisfied with the faux solutions of this world that seek to lead us away from suffering rather than embracing it.

What brought this idea to mind and inspired this post was an incident that occurred the other day. For some reason, I woke up with internal pain. My heart was suffering. I needed to be alone and thankfully my wife encouraged me to go to the room and have some alone time. I sat in the chair and was alone with my thoughts that were going everywhere. I was feeling overwhelmed with many things. My wife brought me a piece of paper with the words of the Psalmist- “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19. I repeated those words over and over. While I was doing this the thought of doing something fun with my family came to mind and dispelled the pain.

On the surface, this seems like a wonderful thing- that just looking forward to that particular family activity brought me peace. However, as I was thinking about the Prophet’s words I realized that I was missing the mark. I was using a thing, that in itself is good, as a way to escape from the suffering- the pain of heart.

What gives evidence to the fact that this was not a good solution to my sorrows is that it took me away from where I should have been at that moment- in prayer. The time would come when we would enjoy that family activity, but it was not now. I needed to be present and I needed to endure this pain of heart and, by enduring, commune with God even if only for a short time. The quick solution sought to alleviate the pain and cut short my prayer, my communion with God.

The problem is that we try to run away from pain and suffering. That is the overwhelming goal of the world around us- to escape suffering. The world offers us its bread and circus to escape the pain. The world has something for everyone. The evil one is behind all of this. If, as Fr. Seraphim pointed out, the other world draws near to us through suffering then the evil one will gladly offer to bail us out. We must be careful not to fall for this.  

We are called to use suffering to draw near to God. We are called to pick up our cross and follow Him. We are called to participate in His suffering. And in this suffering, we find delight in His comforts. His comforts are, first and foremost, His Communion with us through the Sacraments and services of the Church. 

When we are broken we must not allow ourselves to be satisfied by the bread and circus of the world around us. We must not look for the easy way out. We must allow ourselves to feel the pain and to stay there until He comforts us with Himself.

This process leads to what the Orthodox Church calls “Joyful Sorrow.” This defies the logic of this world by bringing into one place what the world would consider complete opposites- suffering and joy.

We see this resolution of the opposites most poignantly in the life of the Saints and Martyrs of the Orthodox Church. They sought the crown of martyrdom because they know that it was in that suffering and pain that they would be united to their Lord. Suffering was not to be avoided, it was to be embraced. This is the mind of the Church and sets itself in stark contrast to the mind of the world. Set these Saints before your eyes and pray that we can come to acquire this mindset in ourselves.

 

“Remembrance of God is pain of heart endured in a spirit of devotion: but he who forgets God becomes self-indulgent and insensitive.”

― St. Mark the Ascetic

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

― Blessed Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

I write this in dedication to my Spiritual Father, Father Moses Berry, who is suffering and fighting for life even as I post this.

On Being a Consolation

by John Pealrstein

“If you give something to one in need, let the cheerfulness of your face precede your gift, and comfort his sorrow with kind words. When you do this, by your gift the gladness of his mind surpasses even the needs of his body”

— St. Isaac the Syrian, The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian

I have been wanting to write about how to console and comfort for some time now. I feel that it is an important idea to talk about as it is not something that comes naturally to all people. Though some have a natural gift of empathizing with others which gives them the ability to comfort and console without as much effort, this is not the case for everyone. Some have to put more effort into honing this skill. No matter which group you are a part of, we are all called to be a consolation to others. We know this because we are created in the image of the God who is The Great Consolation of mankind. There are suffering people all around us.

We live in a world of broken hearts. People around you are suffering whether you recognize it or not. These people need a kind word or even just a silent listener. To put it more poetically, in the words of my spiritual father, some people just need someone to “gently stroke their brow.”

Before I talked about how to console the broken-hearted, I want to discuss how not to do this. Both in my own life and the shared experiences of others I have seen/heard of some very poor attempts of speaking to those in need of comfort. I do not want to spend too much time on the negative, so I will tell you a story the illustrates a more grievous failure to comfort and then discuss a very common failure which has the appearance of piety, but in actuality is also likely to wound the recipient.

My wife just recently told me about an incident that occurred to someone she had seen on youtube. She follows a couple with several kids. The mother had just given birth to a set of twins which had to be placed in the NICU. The mother had been traveling back and forth between home and the NICU. Lord only knows the amount of stress and the range of emotions she had been experiencing through all of this. In one of her videos, when she was getting to hold both babies for the first time she broke down and cried. In the comments, someone told her that “she shouldn’t be crying- she should be thankful that her babies are alive.”

This comment is tragic on many levels. First, this assumes that his suffering mother is ungrateful. Secondly, since the comment is based on this false assumption it becomes an attack on the already broken heart. Lastly, this comment takes a truth- that you need to be thankful for what God has given you- and uses it as a weapon. Not everything true needs to be said at any given time. My spiritual father said that the term for that is “truthing people to death.” This comment, far from being a comfort, had the potential to wound the already suffering woman. Please don’t do this.

The story above is a pretty evident failure and one that I have thankfully not experienced personally. However, this next form of failed consolation is something that I see all the time and I believe it is because it has the sound of Christian piety. Here is an illustration of what I mean.

You may have found yourself calling a friend and sharing that you have had a bout with some kind of sickness that has run amok in your home. You are exhausted and the kids are really struggling because you have had to force them to rest. Everything feels like it is falling apart. After you have finished your monologue the person on the other end of the line says “God is in control and this is all for good.”

You can take the paragraph above and insert any kind of hurt or struggle and apply the same “pious response.” It fails in each case. Sometimes those “pious” responses are even used in more tragic situations such as someone who has shared the terminal diagnosis of a loved one. In these situations, I give these people the benefit of the doubt. I think that most of the time these folks are just trying to comfort and don’t know-how. I really believe that the times I have heard this in my own life it has come out of the lips of those who do love and pray for me. This is not malicious. I am writing this not to judge those who have said such things, but rather to give a better way for you to be a brother or sister to those that open up to you.

Now, moving on from the negative, let us look at some of the tools that are needed to properly console others. There are three that I think are the basics- Discernment, honesty, and empathy.

Discernment. To properly comfort others you must have some level of discernment. There are a variety of levels of hurt ranging from financial difficulties to tragic losses and everything in between. There are also an endless variety of personalities that you will encounter that will require different forms of communication. You cannot approach every situation with the same type of communication

Honesty. When I speak of honesty here, I am thinking of being truly human. The poor response of “pious truths” is what I would consider being less than honest and less than human. When someone has a bad day sometimes the best response would be to say “wow, that is rough.” There is nothing wrong with, and I would add, everything right with an honest and human appreciation of the hurt that someone has experienced. The time to give guidance may come later, but at the moment, be honest, be human.

Empathy. This is vital and, in reality, it is possibly the foundation on which to build discernment and honesty. I would say, that if you can empathize, then you will more easily be able to discern and be honest. Empathy is a skill that we must hone. Empathy is important because we do not all go through the same things and yet we must be able to comfort someone in a situation that we may have never faced ourselves. They say that one of the benefits of reading, fiction, in particular, is that it helps you develop the ability to empathize by placing you in the mind of the “sufferer” in the story. Whether or not your read fiction you must find ways to learn to empathize. You must be able to put yourself in their place to the best of your ability. Sometimes this is easier than others such as in the most tragic of situations. In those cases, you may not be able to imagine how they feel, but that in itself is a good place to be because, by saying that, you have just realized that they are in the depths of heartbreak and that will help shut your mouth from foolish utterances and instead lead you to be the silent listener whose only words are in the form of empathetic tears.

However, sometimes we must empathize in a place where we feel like the situation is trivial. Maybe a flat tire doesn’t bother you at all, but for others, that may wreck their day. Or, maybe you are dealing with a child who lost their favorite toy or had a friend stop playing with them. These appear to be nothing compared to the sufferings of your adult self, but they can break the heart of a little one. In either circumstance, you are still required to empathize. Or, further, you may be dealing with a drug addict whose problems are apparently self-inflicted. In this case, we are still called on to be empathetic. My spiritual father has said over and over again that you have no idea what people have experienced that lead them to their current condition nor do you have a clue as to how hard they may be trying even though they outwardly appear to be doing nothing. Empathy requires you to leave the Judgment in God’s hands. God doesn’t see any of our hurts as unimportant. He condescends to us all.

I want to share one last example which comes from my wife’s experience. She was 30 weeks pregnant and had to find a new midwife. She was in a rough spot and didn’t know where to look. It was an emotional situation all the way around. She called up two separate friends to share with. The first friend, after hearing the situation, said “it will all work out.” I want to be clear that this friend meant well, but my wife went away feeling worse than before making the phone call. She then shared her grief with another friend who, after hearing, expressed empathy and affirmed the difficulty of the situation, and told her she would be praying. My wife felt heard and as a result felt comforted.

Final thoughts. Next time someone opens up to you, whether it be about how hard their day at work was or about their husband’s recent diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, be that gentle stroke on the brow that they need. If you don’t know what to say then just listen. And no matter what, refrain from harmful “truths.” Do not tell them that it’s all going to work out. That is not the time for that. Just listen and place yourself in their shoes the best you can. When you effectively comfort and console another person you become closer to that person and it deepens your relationship. And, as Christ has said, “ Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Suggestions to help hone your skills.

  • think about how you like to be comforted.
  • read the Scriptures and pay close attention to how God comforts His people
  • find someone who you know be good at comforting others and ask for advice from them
  • read the lives of the Saints

Embracing Suffering

 “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”

Psalm 119:71

My wife read this verse to me last night while we were discussing all that we have been through in the past month. This Scripture was illumined through the light of our recent affliction/suffering. I have read this Scripture before and maybe understood it somewhat in my mind. However, I do not believe that I have ever truly understood it in my experience and I am sure I still do not fully understand it.

This past month has been filled with Covid, colds, flu, more and more of a realization of the demonic state of our country, the possible threat of losing my job, and multiple close calls with my spiritual father, Abba Moses. These things have caused my wife and me to do a lot of thinking/rethinking our life both in the general and in particulars.

The general conclusion is that I do not want to go on living the same way I have up to this point. I want to become a more pious, humble, and loving person. It is time for me to make first things first. 

I have been given to leisure and without realizing it piety has not always been the priority in my life. This is not to say I have neglected piety or that God has not been working in me. I just realize it is time for some changes and a little reorientation. I am grateful for this self-knowledge and these new desires. I pray that these are not soon taken from me.  

These things have been given as a direct result of the suffering we have recently endured and because of that, I want to change the way I respond to suffering.

I have always feared suffering. I do not pretend to not fear it now, but I feel that God has taught myself and Brooke the importance it has in our life. I am not ready to run toward it and I pray God allows me many years with my wife and children. However, I cannot live in fear. When I found out that Fr. Moses was in desperate shape it shook me to the core. I was tormented by fear. 

I had recently written down a journal post expressing my fear, sorrow, and torment at the prospect of losing Fr. Moses. Fears of being left an orphan. Not knowing who to turn to for guidance, confession, etc. It was terrible fear and I am still subject to that temptation though I hope I will refrain from allowing it to take me in. When I hear those whispers of the evil one I want to recognize them for what they are. God does not speak those types of words. 

I hope that I can hold onto these thoughts. I hope that I can learn to embrace suffering as a gift that brings me into closer communion with God which is what it is intended for.

The evil one also knows that that is the purpose of suffering. This is why he is zealous to help us to evade it.  He did this to Christ during the 40-day temptation. The evil one was trying to lead Him to flee from the suffering that would work out our Salvation. Christ rebuked all of the efforts of the evil one because He came to suffer. In like manner, Christ has called us to do the same. To suffer willingly, to embrace it and allow it to bring us into communiton with God.

We must embrace suffering because suffering itself does not necessarily lead to communion with God. The results of suffering have to do with the way that we respond to it- fleeing from it vs. embracing it. 

I have spent more time practicing the art of fleeing suffering than I would like to admit to. 

I have not been able to completely evade it, no one can. However, on the whole, I think I have been fairly successful. Even when I lost my mother during my senior year of high school, which is one of the most severe sufferings I have experienced, I immediately fled. I went out that very night with friends to chemically run from my suffering. I continued that path for a good while and hardened my heart in the process. From this form of response, I just got better at fleeing.

To use suffering, as it was intended, you must receive it with the right disposition. Do not flee from it. Embrace it. Let it pin you down. Let it hold you in the fire. Let it bring you to prayer and let it bring you inside yourself, inside your heart, that is where God is. There, in your heart,  you will meet God, and there He will teach you His ways.

This is not a one-and-done action. This is not something you will perfect in a moment not even if the moment is that of intense suffering. This is something that will need to be worked at every day of this life.

The work will not be finished until the last breath is ushered out of your body.

Suffering is at the heart of the Christian life.

By John Pearlstein 

Guest Post: Enjoy Every Moment

Today’s post is an essay on a timely theme, with Clean Monday around the corner.  Guest writer, Michelle Rinehart, mother of four young children and a sister of ours in Christ from St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Warren, Ohio, considers the deeper spiritual implication in a well-meant but perhaps overused phrase. To visually illustrate the theme, we’ve chosen the icon of the Nativity of Christ, in which we see both the sober joy of childbirth and motherhood and the foreshadowing of death (the manger tomb). 

Related image

It is nearly impossible to be on the journey of motherhood and not be offered unsolicited advice, often in the form of platitudes. Every mom likely has her own “words of wisdom” that drive her particularly crazy, but for me, nothing elicits that nails-on-the-chalkboard sentiment more than:

“Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast.”

I worked part time as a receptionist in a mental health office when I was pregnant with my oldest two sons. During that time, one of the counselors gave me a book called The Language of Letting Go. For all of the advice contained in that book, the title has spoken to me more than anything over the years.

If true loss might be characterized by deep and profound pain, suffering and grief, I think of “letting go” as being more characteristic of accepting what I am leaving behind as life changes.

“Letting go” is not so much calling-hours worthy events as much as it is watching fall melt into winter or my oldest child waving to me from the window of a school bus for the first time.

As a mother, “letting go” means witnessing time and seasons passing in a form that is most concrete and intimate: through the lens of the precious flesh and blood of my children.

Somehow, at least for me, the wrinkles, grey hairs and other aches and pains that come with aging are not nearly as gripping as, say, hearing the “moo” of a cowbell in a grocery store dairy aisle and realizing that one of my children has just become too old to ring that now.

It is baby clothes that are now too small. It is a book that is now too short and simple to read before bed. It is a crib that someone doesn’t need anymore. It is my children’s lives going from lost teeth to lost innocence in what seems like the blink of an eye.

It is the mystery that in the victory of seeing a child grow up, there are more than 1000 moments of “letting go” that have gone along with it.

My husband recently told me about a practice in some monasteries where one of the monks is tasked with giving a daily reminder to the others: “Brother, we are going to die.”

The remembrance of death may seem morbid, but it has the paradoxical effect of inspiring living life fully and striving to do the things that matter. For the monastics (and really, not ONLY for them), this means a life of repentance and prayer.

I don’t live in a monastery. But, nevertheless, I have no shortage of women who pop into my life seemingly tasked with offering me a remembrance of death.

“Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast” often sounds to me like, “sister, we are going to die” as life races through its seasons toward its final destination.

“But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; / And yonder all before us lie / Deserts of vast eternity…” wrote 17th century poet Andrew Marvell in his poem, “To His Coy Mistress.”

In my mind, Marvell’s winged chariot of time is often followed by a companion refrain from 19th century poet Emily Dickinson:

“Because I could not stop for Death – / He kindly stopped for me –  / The Carriage held but just Ourselves –  / And Immortality.”

The carriage of death will come to pick me up when time’s winged chariot brings me to its last stop.

But before I reach that last stop of letting go of this life, I am offered practice at letting go in a thousand little ways, especially as I raise my children. I am letting go of something at each mile marker as I strive to fulfill the task of teaching them how to be without me.

“It goes so fast” might be a trite platitude, but perhaps it is a palatable way of reflecting on the profound mystery of mortality and life’s transiency. When I remember that, I can let go of my frustration over hearing it so often.

Sister, we are going to die.

So don’t forget to say your prayers and hug your children.

Sister, don’t forget to stop for death…

Or, if that’s too much, maybe I will just say, “Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast.”

 

Forgotten Gifts

by John Pearlstein

A couple of weeks ago I stopped into the bakery that was once my place of employment. I went there because I wanted to bless my children with their favorite bread- Challah. I used to bring home a loaf every once in a while when I was their delivery guy, but it had been a long while since my kids had enjoyed the special bread.

Friday is Challah day at the bakery and I was running late after a long day of work. So, I called and made sure that they had the Challah and secondly that someone would be there when I arrived. I stopped by on the way home. I was very excited to bring the loaf home as a surprise to the kids. They would be able to enjoy some of it that night and then make french toast with it for Saturday morning breakfast which is a special time that I have with them every week.

So, I arrived home and everyone was playing outside while mom was watching from the porch. I told the kids I had a surprise for them out in the car. They went and got it out and brought it up to the porch. They were very excited! They passed it from kid to kid to see what it. When the initial excitement was over and everyone knew what the surprise was they got back to playing. However, in the midst of the bustle of outside play time, they forgot that gift on the porch.

The next morning I went looking for the gift and could not find it. I then went to the porch and found that the gift had been enjoyed by something other than the intended recipients. Some critter had enjoyed a good quarter of the bread after tearing through the brown bag and plastic wrap. As the giver of the gift, I felt some sadness that my kids had left it on the porch to be eaten by neighborhood wildlife. The gift I was so excited to give had been forgotten, left for critters, and had to be tossed into the trash.

I was tempted to get sad and upset, but as is often the case, I saw in that moment my own failure. I was immediately made aware of the fact that I am neglectful of God’s gifts to me. When I felt that surge of disappointment of my gift going to waste because of the kids’ forgetfulness I then saw how often the Grace of God and His gifts to me are wasted because of my forgetfulness. How often am I distracted by the cares and pleasures of this world that I forget the gifts that God has so graciously given me.

As I thought about this it caused me to reflect on some of the many gifts that God has given to me- my wife and children (including the one which we will not meet til May), His bringing us into the Church as a family, His bountiful mercy that brought us through nursing school, my job and the wonderful work hours I have (which is rare in my field), our brothers and sisters at Holy Theotokos of Unexpected Joy, our spiritual father, the ability to call on Him (God) at any time and at any place (He is everywhere present and fillest all things), etc. The list is endless and there are so many gifts that I am blind to now but will realize later on in life. So many gifts and so often they are neglected and thanksgiving is left off. Not to mention the gift of His Flesh and Blood given continually for the remission of sins and for life everlasting. How often is this greatest Gift received and then forgotten. I am doing well if I have not forgotten it by coffee hour.

My gift of bread was wasted by being left on the porch to be eaten by critters, but God’s gift of the Eucharist is received and ashamedly forgotten about just as quickly. If I am excited to give a gift of earthly bread bought at such a small price how much more is He excited to give the gift of His own Body and Blood bought with His priceless Sacrificial Love? If I was so disappointed that my children left my gift on the porch then how much more so must He be grieved to see His Love forgotten about and His Gifts neglected.

I pray that my remembrance of God’s presence and His Grace may lead me to be more grateful for the same and that in turn the gratitude for the Gifts may instill in me a deeper and more constant remembrance of the Giver.

On Reading Too Much

“And further, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12, KJV)

by John Clayton Pearlstein

During a recent talk with my spiritual father, we discussed books. Specifically, he asked which books I was currently reading. When I finished giving him the rather long list, he told me that during fast periods it’s best to focus on one book and explained that this is a good way to go about reading even outside of fasts. We can be so dense, he said, that God can usually only teach us one thing at a time. If we’re reading all sorts of books simultaneously then we’re probably not learning like we ought to. He went on to tell me a story about a monk whose spiritual father told him to read the 23rd Psalm. After a week, the father asked the monk how far he had gotten with the Psalm and the monk replied, “I got as far as ‘The Lord is.’” After another week, the father asked the same question and the monk replied, “I now have ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’” The story goes that it took the monk the rest of his life to know the 23rd Psalm.

As my spiritual father explained it to me, we think we know something simply because we speak the language. When we hear the word “Shepherd” we say to ourselves “yeah I’ve got that.” For instance, he said that when we come to the Eucharistic consecration of the bread and wine in the Divine Liturgy and hear the words “Thine Own of Thine Own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all” we think “I know the words ‘Thine’ and ‘Own’ etc. so, I’ve got it.’” But we don’t really know what those words mean. His advice to me was this: to slow down and focus on one book at a time; to read a book and really attempt to grasp what is going on and what is being said.

Realizing how deficient I am in knowledge, especially when it comes to the Orthodox Faith, I thought I needed to read as much as I could, and quickly. I see now that reading in that way will at best give me a head full of knowledge that will likely never reach my heart and, if I’m honest, will probably not even accomplish a head full of knowledge. It’s embarrassing to me how often I find myself saying “I’ve read that book but I’m not sure how much I could tell you about it.” And yet there are Saints like Saint Mary of Egypt who, although she had never read or even heard anyone else read the Scriptures, had them inscribed on her heart and quoted them to Saint Zosima, much to his amazement. Or like Saint Spyridon, who was also illiterate, yet was able to overcome the heresy of the much-learned heretic Arius and played a significant role in the formation of the Nicene Creed. I don’t hope to achieve anything close to what they did, but maybe if I slow down I can at least catch a few crumbs from the Table.

I hope to slow down. And by slowing down, I pray that through the Grace and Mercy of God something precious will actually find its way into my heart. Maybe the dullness that I’ve experienced in the multitude of words will be replaced by a few that become a flaming arrow that finds its mark and illumines the darkness of my heart.

Lord have Mercy on my pitiful efforts.

(I want to note that the guidance of my spiritual father was directed at me in private conversation, and that it was in specific reference to spiritual reading, though (for me) I think I could apply it to secular reading as well.)

Dancing Through Holy Week

Jessby Michele Latham

“This is the sad part.”

These were the words spoken by a cherub-faced toddler in a second hand pink tutu; a happy, spoiled child who hadn’t known a day of sadness in her three years on this earth. And yet…as the minor chords of a Vivaldi concerto flowed from our CD player, she swayed and danced in the saddest way. Her eyes were downcast, shoulders slumped and each step and movement seemed heavy and labored. She may not have personally known a deep sadness, but I feel sure Antonio Vivaldi did, and it translated from the instruments to her tiny soul. She was feeling it.

Then, two things happened. The movement ended and I could hear a new, more upbeat melody forming. At the same moment, my daughter looked at me with a sparkle in her eye. She didn’t have to say the words, I could read it in her face and movements. The happy part was coming! As the strings sang out a light, joyful melody, I saw her jump and twirl, smiling from ear to ear.

I’m always reminded of my daughter’s words when Holy Week arrives. There are some really tough services ahead. You might even say, “This is the sad part”. We, as modern day Orthodox Christians weren’t actually present when our Lord suffered and was nailed to the cross, but we experience it through the words and melodies of our divine services. We hear the events of Christ’s last days as a man on earth. We attend His funeral and lament along with his beloved followers. The sadness almost seems unbearable…

But then, we hear hints of what is to come and we know the sadness won’t last. Christ will trample death. He will rise from the tomb on the third day.

And that’s when we remember the joy. We will feel it in our bones and in our spirits. And at midnight on Holy Saturday, we finally get to the happy part! We may even jump and twirl because we know for certain that Jesus Christ Conquers and He is Risen!

Love: 10 Uses You May Not Know

Love you! Love you, too!

These words are heard everywhere. Between friends at the shopping mall or school parking lot as they take leave of one another, spoken into cell phones (loud enough for all to hear) or typed in the comment section of a million facebook posts. When this “Love you!” trend first started, I was disgusted and vowed not to partake of the casual, insincere tossing about of the word “love”. It seemed to trivialize the meaning.

However, I have lately changed my mind. Maybe the addition of the word “love” to our everyday vocabulary isn’t a bad thing.  Maybe we need all the love tossed about in this world we can get. Because love is a thing. A real thing. It’s powerful and mighty and is one of the last defenses we have against despair. Why not pass it around to as many people as we can?

It was many years ago when my husband and I were in the midst of parenting our young children. Back then, it seemed that as a society, we tried to shelter children from too much adult information or ideas which would confuse them during the tender stages of becoming people. I held to thisbutterfly_flower_02_hd_pictures belief and still think that parents should be the filter through which young children learn important life lessons. That being said, communication is tricky, even with one’s own children. During this fledgling stage of our family, we were friends with several couples who were in the same boat. We always shared the happy news of expected babies and celebrated recent births with our children. Things got a little complicated when an unmarried friend got pregnant, the kids were curious how this worked since she wasn’t married like the other parents in our lives. It was too early for “the birds and the bees” or any other weighty  discussions, so I told them that she and her boyfriend loved each other…therefore, a baby. My youngest son apparently latched onto this theory, because he applied it later when trying to understand another new situation. We had a friend who miscarried when she was 6 months along in her pregnancy. My son knew she had been pregnant and when we told him the grievous news, he immediately questioned, “why would the baby die?”. As my mind worked to choose the right words, I saw the look of sad realization dawn in his eyes. He thought he had the answer. “The mommy and daddy stopped loving each other?”

 

 In his mind, it was love between the parents that created that new baby and without the love, the baby couldn’t live.

 

It was actually sound logic. After all, I told him that babies were brought into the world as a result of the parents’ love. So it would only follow that without the love…the baby couldn’t survive. I assured him that the parents did indeed still love one another and that there were reasons couples sometimes lost beloved children, but I’ve thought about his theory often throughout the years. How many other things have trouble surviving without love? Families? Relationships? Peace? Compassion? It is evident all around us. Love is so powerful, that the lack of it is making a mess of our world. What makes love so powerful? Simply put:

Love is God. And God is All Powerful

Anything is possible with Love. So I say, let’s hear more voices proclaiming love! Love everywhere, love in all things. Let’s rack our brains to come up with new uses for love…

as a lifeboat,

as a shield,

as a cocoon,

as a butterfly net,

as a remedy,

as a beacon,

as an answer.

Let’s hold one another up with love and send it shooting through throngs of strangers!

Let’s remind our children that they were created by love and that love from God will never, ever stop.

God is Love.

Love is real.

Part Two: Interlude from “A Road to Laurel”

by Donna Mills

The followiDonnang is part two of an interlude in the book, “A Road to Laurel,” which tells the story of a black man’s trial for alleged rape of a white woman.  Although the story is about my father’s defense of the man, I included interludes that spoke of my own experience with race and prejudice. This one includes my experience in the Orthodox Church, with Fr. Moses as my priest.  His oversight of my striving to shed any of my own prejudices was mostly silent and non-judgmental, which gave me the room in which to grow and a perfect model to follow.

 

Interlude III – cont’d

 

In the book “Black Boy,” written in 1943 by a native Mississippian, Richard Wright, about his life as an African American raised in the South, he bemoans the fact that the white culture experiences such different day to day life from the black. He wrote that the white culture has no idea how the black man has to adjust his nature to fit in. From his perspective, while he had “All my life…done nothing but feel and cultivate my feelings,” the white youth had “all their lives done nothing but strive for petty goals, the trivial material prizes of American life. We shared a common tongue, but my language was a different language from theirs.” It was true that he had suffered in certain ways, while it appeared that they no suffering at all. In fact, it may have been true that the shallowness he saw in their souls, which he described as “…like the syllables of popular songs,” was an accurate comparison of their experience compared to his – a life filled with hunger and disappointments, a life of fear and unwarranted reproach. As a young adult, Wright joined the Communist Party and felt that it had the answers for living in peace in this nation. Even there, however, he found himself to be misunderstood and finally, an outcast. After finding himself utterly alone, watching a Communist march he had been thrown out of, he wrote:
“My thoughts seemed to be coming from somewhere within me, as by a power of their own: It’s going to take a long and bloody time, a lot of stumbling and a lot of falling, before they find the right road. They will have to grope about blindly in the sunshine, butting their heads against every mistake, bruising their bodies against every illusion, making a million futile errors and suffering for them, bleeding for them, until they learn how to live.”
Wright spoke of a spiritual blindness, and hoped that his words would “…create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”
Fr. Moses, whose great-grandfather was a slave, taught our congregation that the fathers of our Church spoke of suffering as the way to follow Christ, to win the freedom, peace and joy our souls hope for. He also told us that the old gospel tunes that the slaves sang held a deep spirituality that came from their suffering. He displays in his African American Heritage Museum in Ash Grove, Missouri an iron neck clamp that had been passed down in his family, as well as slave dogtags for remembrance of the cruelty that took place.
Yet, the Socialistic or Communist approach, which seemed to promise suffering for none and appeared to champion the minorities, in the end yields only empty surfeiting and enslavement to its system. I puzzled, as my Dad must have, to determine how to find the “True North,” until I found the saving Grace of faith.
Attempting to convey the substance of this lesson to my children, I read to them from “Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry,” by Mildred Taylor. They cuddled beside me to hear a nightly chapter of the tale of a black family in Jackson, Mississippi whose children walked to a school just down the way from my elementary school, both named “Jefferson Davis Elementary,” but one was for black children and one for white, who were privileged to ride the bus. My three children found it hard to understand why, and wondered at the family’s plight. The words of wisdom from the family’s mother gave perspective:
“Baby, we have no choice of what color we’re born
or who our parents are, or whether we’re rich or poor.
What we do have is some choice over
what we make of our lives once we’re here.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

by Donna MillsDonna

The following is part one of an interlude in the book, “A Road to Laurel,” which tells the story of a black man’s trial for alleged rape of a white woman.  Although the story is about my father’s defense of the man, I included interludes that spoke of my own experience with race and prejudice. This one includes my experience in the Orthodox Church, with Fr. Moses as my priest.  His oversight of my striving to shed any of my own prejudices was mostly silent and non-judgmental, which gave me the room in which to grow and a perfect model to follow.

 

 

Interlude III

I surprised the family in my young adulthood by making a 180 degree turn and committing my life to spiritual discipline. It looked as though the seeds of influence planted by my grandmother had somehow survived and taken root, saving me from the road to perdition I had earlier started on. I converted to Orthodox Christianity and joined myself to a church whose African-American Priest, Fr. Moses, I greatly admired. I prided myself on the lessons learned from my Mom and Dad, and I believed myself to be non-prejudiced. Ironically, the small congregation was mostly white, as was Fr. Moses’ wife. The differences in our color of skin made no difference to me, but I ran into troubles with one of the few black ladies in the church.

Shelia had a propensity for getting under my skin, as she seemed to have a chip on her shoulder, and would engage me in conversations with what I considered a cynical and opinionated view.  I wondered if her attending an all-white women’s college in Mississippi precluded her cynicism, or it had been inbred through a family who desperately wanted to infuse self-esteem into their intelligent girl, who would otherwise have been vulnerable to the lack of opportunities she would find for herself in the society of the South. Whatever the case, I must have symbolized to her the privileged Southern white girl, and it may have been hard for her to see me as anything different.

I went to Fr. Moses to confess my irritation and lack of ability to love for my sister in the church. He kindly suggested that we go out together and have some fun – just get to know each other.  Easy enough, I thought. However, Sheila was not delighted at the prospect to get to know me. Either she didn’t think I was really worth the time or money for a frivolous outing – she was a single mother with tight funds – or she was as timid about what the intimacy might bring to light as I was. Then there was the deciding of what we should actually do. Watching a movie together sounded non-threatening. She suggested Spike Lee’s new movie – “Do The Right Thing.” Thinking I would be caught up in a heated racial discussion, I hedged.  I offered to see “Dead Poet’s Society,” only because of my admiration of the comedian, Robin Williams. Her equally oppositional reaction to seeing a movie about a rich white boys’ private school took me by surprise. Both offended, we decided to put the outing on hold.  After some time she called back, possibly after talking to Fr.  Moses herself, and we agreed to go to a local Indian concert she had seen in the paper.

On the way, we chuckled as we realized that we didn’t know if we were going to a concert of Native American people or folks from India. The issue was cleared when we saw the women in their beautiful saris and the sitars carried under their arms, I felt somewhat awkward and out of place as those dressed properly for this event paused at our jeans. Sheila was used to being a minority, however, and returned my nervous glance with a stoic one of her own. We eventually found our way to the auditorium and took our seats. After a brief welcome and introduction of the musicians, the room darkened. The first performer, a young woman, walked on stage and seated herself on a pillow.  With sitar in lap, she began to play to a hushed audience – one string at a time. The reverberation of the music seemed to stun the crowd and as we heard deeply felt utterances from the people around us, we glanced sideways at each other to catch some understanding of what everyone seemed to be so in awe of.  Sheila shrugged at my questioning eyes, and we turned our attention back to the performance. Although we were used to listening to flowing music with a little action and melody, we attempted to open our senses to the mystical sounds of this strange instrument. Truly, there was beauty in the sounds, but when the crowd once again began to ooh and ahh in amazement at the twang of a single string, Sheila and I again looked at each other for a clue of what we should be amazed of. She was the first one to let a laugh slip, and I, too, failed when attempting to conceal mine.  We were instantly corrected by the frowns of those seated in front of us, who turned to see who could be so impudent.  We silently mouthed an agreement after a few more compulsive chuckles to leave after the performer had finished a set.

The laughter and conversation that followed brought Sheila and I closer together than we had ever been, though we never really acknowledged that this bond came about by our mutual lack of understanding of yet another culture in our midst.  At least we had learned an unspoken lesson together of what it is like not being able to relate to another race outside the mere black/white split.  We understood that being a part of our cultures alone had a great impact on our inability to communicate another culture’s “language,” no matter if our words were the same, or if we both bought our groceries at the same corner store.  There were generations behind each of us whose cultural nuances were unconsciously carried in the makeup of our thoughts as well as our genetics.  There were values and goals that had their own familial roots, traditions and foods which might seem strange to others.  How would we learn to be truly unprejudiced?