Monthly Archives: May 2016

Loose ends and small blessings

Tonight, I’m just tying up some loose ends and sharing some little blessings. Hope that doesn’t disappoint.

For any who may have lost touch, I just wanted to mention that I have now resumed the discussion of Orthodox Prayer Life by Matthew the Poor at Here to Pray. Of course, if you are the e-mail list for that blog, you will already know this. However, I am mentioning it here because, when I took the break, I didn’t fully appreciate what a critical point we were approaching in the book – we were just about to discuss “Union with God”.

Of course, intellectually, I knew it. But I was too distracted at the time for that to make any difference in my ability to do other than what I did. Forgive me if my distraction became your distraction. I hope that you may join back in, now or in the future. My plan is to keep reading and posting, even if I see no activity in the page views. Fr. Matta has been helping me grow and I do not want to stop the process. Here is the link to the current post: Union with God.

While making myself blog-crazy, I am also reviving my much-neglected blog, O Holy Earth. (This is the “Small Blessings” part.) Having received many small blessings recently while spending a couple of days at the hermitage, I wish to share them with you, my beloved readers.

As camera and I walked through the familiar forest and field, I spoke to the plants and animals and insects about our loving Father and how we must give praise to Him. They do this much better than me, I explained, for I am one of a fallen race. I need them to teach me.

In explaining how their beauty gives glory to God, I asked them if I could receive their images to share with others who might not be able to come there to see them as I am so privileged to do. Many shared generously of their images and thus it is now my responsibility to give to  you what they shared with me.

I will be posting one or two images a day at O Holy Earth until I run out. Here is a link to the first post, though I admit that I didn’t tell these creatures that they were beautiful when I first met them! Hermitage (#1).



You may not have ever noticed this about me before me but I have a defect. OK, probably more than one. But there is one you can readily see in this photo taken of me last summer. I may look like my glasses are on a little crooked but that is not the case.

It is my eyes that are crooked! If you look at the top of the glasses, you can see rather plainly that there is a bigger gap between the frame over my left eye than there is over my right eye. My eyes were not set evenly on my face.

Now this is not a big deal really. After all, I can see well with my glasses and most people either don’t notice or are too polite to say anything. But the interesting question is: why didn’t God get it right?

Compared to creating and keeping the stars and planets in alignment, getting my eyes evenly placed on my face should be a pretty simple job. I wonder why He messed this up, even if only a little.

If this was all there was, perhaps we could let it go. But there seem to be some pretty major mistakes being made. I was looking on YouTube for videos on how to score and cut glass since, as some of you know, working with glass is one of my hobbies. I came across a video that fascinated me.

As with many instructional videos, the instructor’s face are not shown. Only his hands can be viewed as he carries out his task, scoring wavy lines and achieving flawless gentle breaks of the pane along his score. Exquisite.

But there is something else intriguing. There is something different about this man’s hands. Though our politically correct world likely has a better term for it, he clearly has a bilateral birth defect in the way his hands and arms are constructed. God really missed the mark on this one.

And then there is this other YouTube video I came across by chance months ago. (I really don’t spend that much time on YouTube but, when something strikes me as this did, I file it away.) This video is about a beautiful little girl and her parents who have been faced with and are living out a great dilemma. This little girl was born a boy.

This child was born with all the male parts but, from the time she was very little, she wanted to wear dresses, automatically reached for “girl” toys, wanted to wear her hair long and wanted to be addressed as a girl. To be dressed or addressed as a boy made her very upset. Her parents, whose other children did not have this issue, finally, in consultation with doctors, decided to allow their child to live as “she”, the self she experienced herself to be.

Wow. A transgender child? Obviously way too young to have chosen this, it seems like a gendered soul went into the wrong body type – or something. What was God thinking on this one?

How is that God who is perfection itself makes so many mistakes? Or are they not mistakes? Are all these anomalies the result of sin? God made human beings perfect, we sinned and, when evil entered the world, all of these strange things started happening?

Before we jump to any conclusions, let’s watch a little. You’ve already seen my flawed face above. So let’s watch our glass cutter:

This fellow, whom I have never met, is a master with stained glass and offers many online tutorials. What he is doing is nowhere near as easy as he makes it look. It is interesting to note that, early on in the video, he refers to himself as a “freak” – and his viewers have some things to say about that. I made a comment too when I first watched it.

This man has beautiful hands. They are very different from standard hands. But when I watch him work, I simply cannot say that this is a defect or a deformity. Perhaps God didn’t make a mistake…

Now let’s watch our child. (If you find the notion of transgender disturbing or repulsive, try to set that aside for a moment and watch, realizing that this is just a child who came into the world like any other child.)

Such a beautiful kid. No, I cannot bring myself to say that God messed up on this one either. I don’t know why there are these differences, but I cannot call Jazz a “mistake”.

Although it is possible that it is because of sin that illness and “defects” exist, other ideas have been given to me to consider.

We were not there when God created the heavens and the earth. None of us are His counselor (to paraphrase the book of Job).

We have many assumptions about how things are supposed to be in order to be right or “perfect” – but do we know what God’s idea of right and perfect is?

There is a saying among some religious people, when disparaging homosexuality, that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. This is supposed to be a witty confirmation that God does not approve of same-sex attraction.

But my rejoinder question always is, “But who then created Steve?” (Let no one say the devil, for he cannot create anything.)

It is an interesting pattern that, throughout history and across cultures, approximately 10% of the population experiences same-sex attraction. I have counseled many people over the years from this 10%, for issues related or unrelated to their orientation. Many have said, “Why would I choose this?”, a lifestyle that they must keep secret lest they be ridiculed or persecuted.

I do not know what God’s idea of right and perfect is. But I feel quite sure that when we become too convinced that we do, we humans commit some of the worst and most hateful sins known to humanity. All in God’s name.

We make other people feel like they are nothing. Or worse – that they are freaks of nature, unfit for human company, unlovable, unwelcome in the house of God.

But there is something else. My intent here is not to discuss gender identity or sexual orientation issues, the Church’s position on these or any such controversy.

Rather, I feel called to write about God’s perfection.

If my eyes were set perfectly on my face and every other little (or big) difference and deviation from the seeming ideal were corrected, what would we have?

Perfectly symmetrical, exactly formed Barbie and Ken dolls, all just alike.

And that would be perfect?

Herein lies the paradox, the beautiful paradox – perfection in life seems to be based on imperfection.

If you have ever loved anyone closely enough to have explored them physically, even just their hands or their face, you have likely noticed how delightful are those special little differences that make their index finger unlike any other, or their nose or earlobe especially memorable.

And life, when viewed on a larger scale, seems to be based on a similar notion. I do not know if it is literally true that every single snowflake is different, but certainly they are seldom if ever alike. There is sameness and difference in all of the creatures of a species – and likewise with the plant life. Each daisy is similar to every other daisy – but they are never identical.

And why is this? I do not know God’s mind – most certainly I could not. But I do see that life is dynamic – ever-growing, ever-changing. Only a static “life” (which would be no life) could produce the sort of assembly line “perfection” that we humans imagine to be perfection.

God’s perfection is apparently something different. I don’t know what is part of His perfection and what is the influence of evil corrupting it. I’m too blinded myself by sin to know the difference with any certainty.

As I indicated recently, I don’t believe that aggressive cancer is a “variation” designed by God. I believe it is evil. But I cannot even know this with certainty because I am not God’s counselor.

I don’t know about the artist’s hands or the transgender child or the many other differences that we encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps some or even all do stem from our ancestral sin and God in His goodness has allowed good to come from them.

I do not know. But I do know that God has created life to be wildly and beautifully growing and changing – not becoming increasingly uniform but rather increasingly variable and interdependent in a communion of love.

Though it may not immediately occur to us that this is so, God in His own Being is both sameness and difference. This is how God can be Trinity, Three (different) yet One (same).

Hence, it only makes sense that He should create life in this same fashion, in His own likeness, with both sameness and difference. There can be no Love in sameness, only when there is the difference of Other.

Our adversary tries to twist our thinking, however, to convince us that “perfection” is not in Other-relation but in sameness, i.e. “being like me”. Violation of this principle, masquerading as divine perfection, provides the basis for an insidious hate that seems justifiable to many a believer.

But for we who listen to the Spirit, difference is the air that we breathe, it is what keeps our souls alive because it makes love possible.

It is God’s greatest gift to us. It is our invitation into the communion of His love.

We do not need to know from whence the difference originates because the orders from our divine Commander in battle are the same in any event. If one is different by God’s design, our orders are to love. If one is different because of sin, personal or ancestral, our orders are even more so to love. We are commanded to love our enemies and to love the sinner.

And in God’s command lies our life, our hope, our salvation.

Without it, we would be lost in the “perfection” of our making, which is no perfection at all. It is death, not life. Hate, not love.

In Him, the “imperfections” of His creation are like the countless parts of a living orchestra of infinite dimensions, ever changing in color and shape, movement and sound, that He conducts and choreographs in an eternal dance called “Love”.

Come, let us join the dance, one and all. Let us dance and sing and love each other as we are in His great symphony of merciful love that knows no end.

The ABC’s of Salvation

The following poem is in abecedarian form, with an added challenge. Generally, in this form, each line (or stanza) starts with the next letter of the alphabet until the entire alphabet has been used, from beginning to end, in order. The added twist here is that I made every word in each line begin with the given letter. My only “cheating” was to use one Greek word and one Hebrew word. I have provided a recording of the poem as well as the print version, so that you can hear all of the beautiful alliteration this created.


anguish, agony, as adversary afflicts

before battle begins –

cowards cower, churchmen chide, children chant.

deep dark death damning Deity’s dawn.

even everlasting evokes ego, evil

finding fools fancying fawning faith for

gods, grinning, grasping, glorifying greed, glamour

hell’s hero howling hate; heaven’s heart

incarnate, illumined, infinitely immersed in

joy – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!

knocking, knowing, kneeling,

lifting Love, laughing Light lives.

maiden mother Mary,

numinous nurturer needed near,

overflowing offerer of obedience,

proclaiming praise, purity prevails.

queen quieting questions, quelling quarrels.

rest, receive, rejoice – redeemed

souls singing sacred songs, see saving Son.

transformed, transfigured, theosis-touched

utter union unfolding

vision vast, virginal, vowed.

wondrous works worship


yearning, yielding, yes.



+ Courageous Warrior

This week, one of God’s most courageous warriors passed from this life into the Kingdom of God.

And I had the privilege of knowing her.

If you were to have met her, you would not have noticed anything extraordinary about her appearance. The only hint to her inner holiness was the simple claim printed on the key strap around her neck: “Jesus loves me”.

To some, this might have given the impression of oddity rather than sanctity, both in the wearing so many keys and in the bold simplicity of the proclamation.

As I came to know her better, I began to understand that for her these words were far more than a dime store slogan. This strap and these words were more like a “coat of arms” that she carried bravely into battle on a daily basis.

My description of her as a warrior might create a false image of her as one of those aggressive believers who accosts strangers to ask them if they have been saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as she told it to me, people were always coming up to her.

She could not understand it, she would tell me. She could be in a public place minding her own business and people would just approach her needing healing. She might take a seat by herself on the bus and, despite there being many other seats available, the next thing she knew, someone was practically sitting on her lap, trying to get near her or touch her.

Many of these strangers were very grateful for her touch or kind words. But there were others who seemed to be possessed of a fury with her, despite her never having seen them before. Why did she draw such people?

It all seemed to have something to do with love and its healing power. Yet it was a funny thing about this warrior and her outlook on love. “Sometimes”, she said, “I don’t even want to love them but I can’t help it.” Sometimes she did not want to love, she indicated, because love was just so painful.

Why call her a warrior, this kind and ordinary-seeming woman who involuntarily loved and drew the afflicted to her touch?

It was from this “ordinary” woman that I first came to really understand that we are indeed at war. I am not talking about tensions in the Middle East or the violence of city streets. I am referring to the war of good versus evil, of the followers of the Lord Jesus versus those enslaved by the prince of darkness. (See my previous article Spiritual warfare.)

How she taught me is almost impossible to say. I am sure she did not set out to do so. I feel confident of this because, to her, the reality of spiritual warfare was so obvious that it did not need to be taught. It would not have occurred to her to tell me this anymore than it would have occurred to her to tell me that I needed to breathe.

What was so interesting about the lessons I learned from her was that I had to overcome obstacles in myself in order to grasp them. I had not set out to do this. Initially, my goal had been to understand her and help her find healing from the considerable pain she carried within.

In the course of this journey, however, every now and then she let slip something that sounded, well, kind of crazy… And I would have to stop and puzzle over it. Was it possible that I was being taken in by some elaborate delusion?

I ran into this wall a number of times as I got to know her – and always landed in the same place: no, she wasn’t crazy. She was right. She might not have been right about the details of a particular situation (she wasn’t terrible savvy with regard to worldly matters) but she was right about the spiritual realm.

She once said to me, “I don’t claim to know everything, but what I know, I know.”

I was quite struck by this remark. I’m not sure why – but perhaps because the things she knew were things that I wished I knew instead of merely believing.

“I’ve always known there was a God, even as a young child.”

Could I say that? Can I even say as an adult that I know there is a God rather than merely saying I believe it?

I realized at the time, I could not. But now I can. I can say it now because I prayed that it might be so – I asked God to help me to truly know Him and not simply believe. And I’ve increasingly learned how completely He answers my prayers. Why have I been so afraid to ask?

But, returning to our warrior. I do not think I have ever encountered anyone who so much lived in the world but was not “of the world”. I do not mean by this that she did not deal with practical matters or that she was detached from others – certainly the latter was not at all the case.

She simply didn’t “get” the ways of the world. However, the ways of God she understood as well or better than many a preacher or priest.

Sometimes it seemed to be my role to try to help her better make sense of this world and the people in it.

I explained to her once that some people who have their doubts about God do so because they cannot accept the evil in our world. They assert that because God created all things, God must have created evil too and is either powerless or unwilling to stop it.

“Really?” she exclaimed incredulously, wrinkling up her nose. “They think that?” She could not imagine how anyone could believe anything so ridiculous.

It was also sometimes hard for her understand that not everyone had the same spiritual gifts that she had. For example, she complained that when other Christians visited the sick in the hospital, “The people are still sick – and some of them are even dying.”

When I explained to her that it was not unusual for people in the hospital to sometimes fail to get well, she said that when she visited the sick and prayed with them, they always got well. As a result of this, people often wanted her to pray for them. She didn’t mind doing so – but she struggled to understand why they didn’t pray themselves.

But all of this does not really explain why this dear woman was a great warrior.

Perhaps the best way I can explain it is to say that she was born on the front lines. When I explained that to her, I admitted that I did not know why God allowed her be born in such a terrible place, a place where the warfare was so intense and so very dangerous.

But, I told her, I could see that He had given her some exceptional weapons (gifts) that not many other people have. With these, she had been able to not only survive, but become a vehicle of His grace, healing and love in the places where evil seems to thrive.

Her life had more trauma in it than most people could ever imagine. She struggled but did not talk much about it. Yet, perhaps her biggest struggle was that she feared for the fate of the souls of those who had betrayed her, beaten her and even tried to kill her.

She worried about whether she had done enough to try to bring them to salvation. It was hard for her to let it go – to comprehend that anyone, if shown it,  could refuse the love of God that was so alive in her heart.

When I learned this past Sunday evening that this great warrior had been beset by an aggressive cancer, I was at the hospital Monday morning. She was not able to speak but she knew that I was there.

After greeting her, my next words were, “I heard that something evil has gotten inside your body and taken over.”

Neither of us were going to pretend that this horrible cancer had come from God. God does not do that sort of thing to His beloved.

Since she wasn’t able to say anything, I settled in and spoke some more. I asked her if she wanted to be healed, acknowledging that sometimes people are tired of fighting the fight. I indicated that we both knew perfectly well that God could heal her of this disease, regardless of how severe or advanced it was.

However, I continued, what we were to pray for was what was for her sanctification and the sanctification of those she loved. And thus, the glory of God.

While admitting that my vote was for her staying here – because I wanted her here – I readily admitted that my vote didn’t count for anything because I am not in charge. “God is in charge,” I stated the obvious, “and we need to trust in His wisdom”.

I sat with her for a while, reading from the first Letter of St. John and the Gospels. She was clearly in pain but her face relaxed some as she listened to the Word. Her hand rested on her heart and her breathing settled into a more restful rhythm.

Less than 48 hours later, she was with God.

Courageous warrior, faithful servant of Love, be at peace.

And pray for us.

Amen. Alleluia.