Conferences


 

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I will be presenting at the second annual Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting conference (as you can see in the list of attendees in the graphic above. More information as it develops, but if you’re interested in writing or podcasting about the Orthodox faith, or if you’re interested in meeting other Orthodox writers and podcasters (and bloggers), please consider registering (link above).

 

Waiting and Being


It’s Holy Week and Minou is dying. She is old, older than we had thought, and her kidneys are diseased. Other than alleviating her symptoms there is nothing we can do. There is no cure for this. So we hydrate her, feed her, pet her, cuddle her, love her, but under all the doing we’re waiting until the time is filled and she is no more.

Waiting and being.

The last time I felt this helpless was during the birth of my twin godchildren. Their mother had asked me to be at the birth, and I was glad to go. Yet I’ve never felt as useless, as helpless as I watched my friend slip into preeclampsia and hallucinate through the middle of her labour. The nurses and doctors did the things they did, and it turned out well, but all I could do was sit in a corner, frightened and angry at my inability to help, to act, to DO something to alleviate my friend’s pain. All I could do was be there. Be present, witness her suffering and wait until the babies were born.

Being and waiting.

All I can do is be there while she labours to give birth. All I can do is hold the small furry body while it dies. All I can do is ache while the hurt heals. All I can do is wait: for life, for healing, for death, for the end, for the beginning, for the other shoe to drop, for the disaster. All I can do is wait: for the wound to heal, the breach to close, the child within to grow, the seed to germinate, the season to change.

It’s Holy Week and it’s filled with doing, with action. We clean, we bake, we prepare the baskets, we attend church and try to cram in as much good Lenten behaviour as we can before it all ends and we’ve fallen flat on our faces again, but under all that busyness, all that acting and doing, we’re waiting.

Waiting and being.

We want to do, we need to act. Action is right and good and necessary. We do things, we act, we make, we unmake, we change something, anything, whatever needs changing, making or unmaking. But, as the wise man said, to everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecc. 3:3). There is a time to act and a time to simply be and let what happens happen. But simply being is anathema to us. There must be something we can do! We endure it, we barely tolerate simply waiting, simply being while things happen that we can do nothing about: while the baby is being born, while the grandfather dies, when the child’s heart is broken, while the breach between friends or spouse heals. We twitch and fuss, wanting to get in and DO something.

In these long, tiring and out of time services we wait. We stand while around us doing happens: the prayers are offered, the hymns are sung, scripture is chanted and we in our wounded, broken selves are open receptacles for God’s love and mercy. The priest works, the deacon and subdeacons work, the readers and the choir work. Our work is to be open and receptive to God and the services, to witness the doing and the acting, perhaps even to join the singing and the prayers, but primarily our work is just to be. Even in the presanctified communion we do nothing as Christ enters us and sanctifies us.

This isn’t passive. Even though we are being done to, being acted upon, it is not part of our fallen nature to just stand and be, to open ourselves to God and the saints and the angels. It requires great courage, our full attention and an amazing persistence. We are, in the services, active in being who we are: broken, weak and prodigal children of our Father.

It’s during this busy, grief filled week of waiting and being that I’m learning that it is in waiting, in simply having to BE that I can draw closer to God. Perhaps it is one of the ways to theosis – to being one with God, to, as Athanasius pointed out, become God. He is the great I AM. That’s what he told Moses to say, when He met him in the burning bush. “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14) It’s said at the end of our services, “Christ our God, the great I AM”. He is. He doesn’t act, he doesn’t change, he simply is and the universe exists. The bush burned without being consumed, but we, in our need to do and act and make burn up our leaves, our stems and roots until nothing is left but dead branches and ash.

I need to burn less and I AM more. I need in these moments to be still and know that He is God.

God Alone is Enough


GOD ALONE IS ENOUGH:
A Spirited Journey with St. Teresa of Avila

CHAPTER 9: Ecstasy is not a Drug
By Claudia Mair Burney
172 pages Paraclete Press
ISBN: 978-1-55725-661-4

If I’d read this book and especially this chapter at any other time, in any other place, it wouldn’t have had the impact in me it did. But I got to chapter 9 on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, on my way to a writing retreat I had looked forward to for the entire year. Last year’s retreat, my first, had been a grace filled and healing time both for my writing and for my self and soul. Since Lent, though, the retreat became more a way to crawl into a hole and pull a rock on top of me than a time to spend with God and writing. It would be an escape from the ongoing, unremitting crises that have left me shell shocked and depressed. In the last year, I’ve lost 2 good friends to cancer. My aunt, the last of her generation, died in the middle of Lent. 95 years old, and sharp as a tack to the end, but it means that she’s gone, and that leaves a hole in my life and my heart.

In this last year, as well, two friendships have blown up in my face, one of which was of 25 years close and loving duration. I lost another good friend to re-addiction and the streets, nursed a daughter through a three month illness and a son through a problematic relationship.

And those are only the worst things – all round, whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. This has been Murphy’s Year for sure.

BUCKETS TO WHEELS AND BACK

Claudia’s book, for those just joining the tour, is how to get closer to God. She paraphrases and explains the writings of Teresa of Avila, one of God’s best friends. St. Teresa talks about 4 methods of prayer, using the metaphor of a garden for our souls. God is the gardener, pulling the weeds and nurturing the flowers. St. Teresa likens the 4 methods of praying to our watering the garden – first from a bucket with well-drawn water, next by turning the crank of a water wheel, which is easier, but still a lot of work. Then we progress to irrigating the garden by using a river, which is better for both the garden and us. Chapter 9, the chapter I’m blogging on, describes the fourth method, which is, for us, the easiest of all – rain, lots and lots of abundant rain falling from heaven.

As Claudia explains, when the rain begins falling, we’d better prepare to get soaked. Once God takes over the watering, he’s not stingy, and the result, for us, is ecstasy, pure and simple. The senses are suspended; the self is enveloped by love and God’s presence and everything else just disappears.

Much of the chapter is spent trying to explain this state of being. From a writer’s point of view, what’s most interesting is that what both Claudia and Teresa are trying to describe is impossible to articulate. I not have experienced the ecstasy that both of these faithful women have, but I’ve encountered enough of God’s grace to know that you simply can’t translate it into words. It has to be experienced. And once you have, Claudia is right. It’s addicting. You can never get enough of it. But how to convey to someone who has never experienced it the overwhelming sweetness and peace and joy that infuses your entire being? You can’t. But that doesn’t stop either of them from trying, and the chapter uses some of the imagery that I’d been struggling with in my work on the last writer’s retreat. Imagery that was directly linked to the grace and healing I’d experienced last June, just before Murphy’s Year got underway.

LEAKY BUCKETS AND GRACE

That imagery and Claudia’s lively and lucid prose combined with my state of mind to bring me back to an awareness of what had been missing in my life. As the world kept socking it to me, my prayers (never one of my strengths in the first place) had dried up almost completely. The well wasn’t empty, since God fills it, but my bucket had definitely developed a number of leaks. The water I was carrying kept dribbling out the holes. I’d gone from every day formal prayers and my through the day “arrow” and “thought” prayers to just the arrow prayers to barely praying at all – and most of those consisted of variations of “When is this going to stop?” and “Can I please have a hug, God?” spoken into what felt like an echoing void. No hugs were forthcoming that I could feel.

The book, and especially this chapter, made me want Him all over again. Not in the little child curled up hurting in Daddy’s lap way that I’d been wailing about, but simply to rest in that marvelous peace and joy, the way I had last summer. I recommend reading this book, if only because it reawakened in me and I pray in you, the longing to go “further in and higher up”. But it also reminded me that I have work to do to. God’s not just going to shower that ecstasy on me because I demand it. I’m not going to be able to rest in his presence if I’m not doing my part.

I have to carry the buckets to the garden, turn the water wheel, fast, pray, confess, do all the work of building the spiritual muscles to keep the door of myself open to him. And I had been – well, except for the prayers. But it felt, as the year went on, that none of it was doing any good – if anything, I was losing ground, coming lower down and moving further away. But on the first leg of the journey to Oregon, I sat on the ferry, absorbing Claudia’s lively descriptions, her simple and humorous explanations, and yearned to return to my Beloved. Learned again that he never abandons us and is always there for us – we just have to turn to him.

Her last piece of advice in the chapter is to “Sit on that awhile.” I will, Claudia, and thanks for reminding me of what I’ve been missing by neglecting to water the garden. I think I can patch those buckets, pick them up and turn the water wheel, because I know the rain is coming.