Category Archives: Poems, Books and Reviews

reading list

I was asked to coffee today by a Roman Catholic woman who spent Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha with our church in Mesa. She heads home to Washington next week and wondered what books I might recommend for her continuing journey towards Orthodoxy.I do not consider it complete. It was written at the spur of the moment and is on the back of a receipt. I would like to note that I am not recommending the Philokalia. She had already purchased the Philokalia from a monastery and I was redirecting her to Tito Coliander’s excellent little book…

Two friends have already suggested that Facing East by Frederica Mathews-Greene should be on the list. What other books would you recomend?

reading list written in a Starbucks on a receipt..

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Solitude and Anxiety

I have always thought of anxiety as something outside of my control. I thought anxiety was an expected result of dealing with stressful situations or people. I come off easy going but I often feel anxious.  My thoughts on anxiety are evolving because of a book I started reading this week.

I have begun reading, Solitude by Robert Kull. He spent a year alone in the Patagonian wilderness. He went to “integrate Ph.D. research into the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of deep wilderness solitude with personal spiritual practice.” I am not sure how that sounds to you but, it is a page-turner. I will hold off recommending it until I have finished it or at least until he has survived the harsh winter months. What I have read so far (including the scripture below) has me reflecting differently about anxiety.

Robert Kull's Cabin, Photo by Bob Kull

I want to explore the anxiety I so often feel. It’s deep and poisons my life. I’ve seen over and over that things work out — not always as I’d planned, sometimes much better — yet still I look ahead with fear. Instead of relaxing into life, I’m often needlessly tense and worried. This last storm was an example. I worried that the cabin wouldn’t hold together, that the plastic over the tent would tear loose, that the boat would break free, or that some other undefined bad thing would happen, but I hadn’t thought at all about what actually did happen. Once faced with a real problem, I dealt with it. Even when things get really nasty — like my foot getting ripped off in the motorcycle crash — life continues. So why not let go of the worrying? Kull, Robert Solitude, page 104.

Anxiety is not based on reality, the way things are. “What if,” is the name of the anxiety game. Anxiety is an uneasiness of mind caused by fear of a future possibility. It is a state of uneasiness caused by a future uncertainty. Living in the present moment brings certainty, serenity and tranquility.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… Matthew 6:25a

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. Matthew 6:34

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 RSV

Do you have trouble with anxiety? How do you let go of worrying? The way the verses from scripture read below it sounds like anxiety is in our control. Outside of an anxiety disorder would you say that anxiety is your control?

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Filed under Beaches, Canyons, Deserts, Mountains and Monasteries, Poems, Books and Reviews

Fr Sophrony’s Prayer

Elder Sophrony

I received this from Fr. Tom last year – it was time to share it. Enjoy!

O Eternal Lord and Creator of all things, in your inscrutable goodness you have called me into this life and have given me the grace of baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You have instilled in me the desire to seek your face.  Hear my prayer!

I have no life, no light, no joy, no strength, no wisdom without you, O God.   Because of my unrighteousness, I dare not lift my eyes in your presence.  But I obey you who said:

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  (Mark 11)

Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father He will give it to you in my name.   Until now you have asked nothing in my name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16)

Therefore I now dare to approach you.  Purify me from all stain of flesh and spirit.  Teach me to pray rightly.  Bless this day which you give to me, your unworthy servant.

By the power of your blessing enable me at all times to speak and to act with a pure spirit to your glory; with faith, hope and love, humility, patience, gentleness, peace, purity, simplicity, sobriety, courage and wisdom.  Let me always be aware of your presence.

In your boundless goodness, O Lord God, show me your will and grant me to walk in your sight without sin.

O Lord, unto whom all hearts are open, you know what I need and what is necessary for me.  You know my blindness and my ignorance.  You know my infirmity and corruption.  My pain and anguish are not hidden from you.  Therefore I beg you:  Hear my prayer and teach me by the power of your Holy Spirit the way in which I should walk.  And when my perverted will leads me otherwise, O Lord, do not spare me, but force me back to your way.

Grant me, Lord, to hold fast to what is good by the power of your love.  Preserve me from every word and act, which corrupts the soul, and from every impulse that is unpleasing in your sight and harmful to the people around me.  Teach me what I should say and how I should speak.  If it be your holy will that I be quiet and make no answer, inspire me to be silent in a peaceful spirit that causes neither harm nor hurt to my fellow human beings.

Establish me in the path of your commandments, and until my last breath do not let me stray from the light of your ordinances.  May your commandments be the sole law of my being in this life and for all eternity.

O Lord, I pray to you:  Have mercy on me.  Spare me in my affliction and misery and hide not the way of salvation from me.

In my foolishness, O God, I plead with you for many and great things.  Yet I am ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness.  Have pity on me!  Cast me not away from your presence because of my foolish presumption.  Increase rather in me the right presumption of your grace and grant that I, the worst of people, may love you with all my mind, all my heart, all my soul and all my strength, as you have commanded.

By your Holy Spirit, Lord, teach me good judgment and sound knowledge.  Let me know the truth before I die.  Maintain my life in this world until the end that I may offer worthy repentance.  Do not take me away while my mind is still blind and bound by darkness.  When you are pleased to end my life, give me warning that I may prepare my soul to come before you.  Be with me, Lord, at that awesome hour and assure me by your grace of the joy of my salvation.

Cleanse me from secret faults.  Purify me from hidden iniquities.  Give me a good answer at your dread judgment seat.

Lord of great mercy and measureless love for all people:  Hear my prayer!  Amen.

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Filed under Contemplative Prayer, Poems, Books and Reviews

Consumed by either Fire or Fire

Little Gidding from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre –

To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable short of flame

Which human power cannot remove.

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.

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The Holy Longing

The Holy Longing By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tell a wise person or else keep silent

For the massman will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive

And what longs to be burned to death.

In calm waters of the love nights

Where you were begotten,

Where you have begotten,

A strange feeling comes over you

When you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness

And a desire for higher lovemaking sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.

And now, arriving in magic, flying

And finally, insane for the light

You are the butterfly.

And you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced this,

To die and so to grow,

You are only a troubled guest on a dark earth.

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St. Symeon’s Really Good Question

St. Symeon is not a systematized theologian (and therefore not scholastic) but rather a theologian using his heart. He is a mystic! He uses seeing and feeling words to convey awareness of God beyond what the mind is capable of grasping on it’s own.

He feels that all Christians, according to the teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament, should directly experience the grace and indwelling of the Holy Trinity.

The important question that St. Symeon poses to his listeners (these are sermons after all) is not whether the Holy Spirit lives within them but whether they are consciously aware of the presence within through continued penitential conversion. – from the Introduction to The Discourses.

So let’s have the really good question… Are you consciously aware that the Holy Spirit lives in you through continued penitential conversion?

St. Symeon is not teaching a moral or philosophical system but a therapeutic model of people being healed by Jesus Christ. He is right in line with what has been taught everywhere at all times in the Orthodox Church. The Church is not a religion. It is the Body of Christ, the Church, the Kingdom of God and, as such, we see ascesis (exercises) and theoria (vision / contemplation of God) are the two main sermon themes. Ascesis and theoria for the healing of soul and body by uniting us to the Uncreated energies of the Holy Trinity.

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Filed under Flames of Wisdom, Poems, Books and Reviews

Authentic Christian Mysticism: Fighting off your own Monks!

St. Symeon the New Theologian

 

The Discourses are the collection of St. Symeon’s catechetical sermons given during morning prayer to the monks in his monastery before 1022 AD.

The best story I have read so far about St. Symeon is about him delivering these sermons. One morning a group of 30 monks rose up against him “like enraged dogs” and tried to lay hands on their abbot. St. Symeon was able, by the grace of God, to repel them and keep them at a distance. They ran out of the church breaking the windows as they left. The patriarch sided with Symeon and the rebel monks were sent into exile!

What were in those sermons that could make monks get crazy and try to beat up their abbot? I don’t know but I am getting ready to find out.

The forward to the Paulist Press copy I am reading described The Discourses this way:

They are marked by the saint’s burning conviction that the Christian life must be more than a routine observance of a rule, however strict that rule and exact its observance. To be at all meaningful there must be the personal experience of the presence and the power of the living Christ. The Discourses, page xvii, The Classics of Western Spirituality.

In the introduction it is noted that St. Symeon called himself the “enthusiastic zealot” who burned with a holy zeal to call Christians back to an authentic mysticism, which he considered available to all baptized Christians. St. Symeon shared his own mystical experiences because he felt that God was asking him to do so. Here is his a portion of response to accusations:

We have not written these things for the sake of exhibitionism – may God who has had mercy on us this far not allow it! We have written them because we are mindful of God’s gifts… How can we be silent before such an abundance of gifts, or out of ingratitude bury the talent that has been given to us (Mt. 25:18), like ungrateful and evil servants?

What did he do in exile? He rebuilt a chapel that had laid in ruins and built a small monastic community where he had more solitude than ever before. When the patriarch came to offer him a position as archbishop he said, “no thanks!”

Fights off his own monks, speaks with a personal love for Jesus, shares his own mystical experiences with his monks, goes into exile and likes it better… you have got to love St. Symeon!

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