Don't worry, we left a big old tip.
Well, it's quiet here, after a weekend of visitors - two full days of non-stop eating, playing, laughing and conversing. My youngest son cried when we walked into our empty house. "I can still hear their voices," he whimpered. "I miss them already."
Oh, I do too.
It's time to take things down a notch. Great Lent is coming. Tonight, on this Sunday of the Last Judgement, I am dwelling on this (from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website):
Another theme of this Sunday is that of love. When Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgment? The parable of the Last Judgment answers: love—not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous “poor,” but concrete and personal love for the human person—the specific persons that we encounter each day in our lives.
Love (not the "idea" of love, but rather the aforementioned messy, inconvenient, concrete and personal kind). Salvation (I fall down then get up then fall down and get up). I dare say (again and again and again…and yet again) nothing else matters.Read More
I posted not much of anything on this blog last week because I was in a tizzy getting ready for our family pilgrimage to Louisville, KY, where the Climacus Conference was taking place for but the second time ever. Last year we went, and it was great. This year, however, was even better. There was a buzz about the place, an electricity. Attendees were hungry for not only the local organic coffee (of which I drank at least a gallon) and amazing food prepared by my amazing, amazing friend, Jen, but also to learn. The speakers, including Vigen Guroian, David Bradshaw, Andrew Kern, John Granger, Aaron Taylor, Rachel Leake, Father Alexis Kouri, my own brother, Bobby Maddex, and more, waxed eloquent on topics such as education, literature, philosophy, food, patristic thought, marriage, and film. Theirs were heady lectures, thick and concentrated – brilliant even. I actually worried that those sitting next to me might be able to smell my brain straining (a burning, smokey odor) to take it all in. It was an invigorating mental workout, most certainly.
But here's the thing, never once did it feel like intellectualism for its own sake. What I appreciated most about this conference was how it challenged me to step outside my default "Reader's Digest level" comfort zone and work a bit at reading and consuming edifying, thought-provoking stimuli, while at the same time pointing me back to salvific love and mercy as the ultimate motivator for doing so. The specific goals I ended up carrying home with me involve finishing "The Brothers Karamazov," memorizing as a family more Psalms and poetry, patiently waiting for God to reveal Himself, His will – bit by bit, and rethinking our dependency on over-sized bags of generic Honey Combs for breakfast on busy mornings.
I so mean it when I say I'm already looking forward to next year!
Thank you to David and Jen Wright who organized this phenomenal event, to Father Alexis and Saint Michael Orthodox Church for hosting it, to my fellow attendees who blessed me (truly) with such inspiring and just plain pleasant conversation, to Eighth Day Books and the monks of Holy Cross Hermitage (I adore what we purchased from you!), and, of course, to the presenters!
by Scott Cairns
He did not fall then, blind upon a road,
nor did his lifelong palsy disappear.
He heard no voice, save the familiar,
of the sore perplexed. The kettle steamed
and whistled. A heavy truck downshifted
near the square. He heard a child calling,
and heard a mourning dove intone its one
dull call. For all of that, his wits remained
quite dim. He breathed and spoke the words he read.
If what had been long dead then came alive,
that resurrection was by all appearances
metaphorical. The miracle arrived
without display. He held a book, and as he read
he found the very thing he’d sought. Just that.
A life with little hurt but one, the lucky gift
of a raveled book, a kettle slow to heat,
and time enough therefore to lift the book
and find in one slight passage the very wish
he dared not ask aloud, until, that is,
he spoke the words he read.
Any true (enduring) conversions, either big or small, I've undergone have not been drastic, but rather gradual, incremental – less like a firecracker and more like a pot of cold water that warms up, then slowly simmers before finally boiling. I'm reading Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter right now for book club, on the heels of an inspiring two-day conference I participated in over the weekend (one I'll write about in more detail very soon). That string of outstanding presentations, and this quiet but extraordinary novel, have sparked yet another evolving rebirth. Baby steps – I'm taking timid, tiny baby steps toward allowing this Faith of mine to penetrate even more (oft unchecked) aspects of my day-to-day life, and the lives of my family members. I am inspecting a little closer my ingrained habits, ruts and thought patterns and wondering what kind of small changes, in terms of how I spend my time and what I put into my mind, my soul, my body, might lead to bigger ones, eventually paving the way for a full-blown resurrection of sorts (resulting in the death of my craving for "easy") - one not flashy in nature but eternal nonetheless.
Great Lent is around the corner. Well, isn't that perfect timing – a perfect gift for one like me whose wispy good intentions could use some serious fortifying? And speaking of Lent, of not all up in your face yet salvific transformations, of the power of the written word, of the talented Mr. Cairns, I present to you this excerpt from Scott's latest article in the Huffington Post entitled, Peering into the Looming Lenten Dark (Read all of it HERE):
"But then we begin to realize that this very length and monotony are needed if we are to experience the secret and at first unnoticeable 'action' of the service in us. Little by little, we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed 'bright,' that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us.
Moving through the sadness, we glimpse the joy. We feel its effects on us, and feel how it changes us. We are thereby led to a place where noises, distractions, and false importance of the street, of our dissipated lives — finally "have no access — a place where they have no power."
Similarly, then, in those seasons of our afflictions — those trials in our lives that we do not choose, but press through– a stillness, a calm, and a hope become available to us. They are a stillness, a calm, and a hope that must be acquired slowly, because — as Father Schmemann says of our joy in Lent — "our fallen nature has lost the ability to accede there naturally."
So, we are obliged to recover this wisdom slowly, bit by bit.
And I will leave our final bit to the amazing Simone Weil. She writes: "The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it."
Δόξα το Θεό.
May our afflictions be few, but may we learn not to squander them.
To sprint is to set myself up for a discouraging case of the burn-outs, and thus I put but one foot slowly, prayerfully, in front of the other. Little by little, bit by bit, by "pressing through," I begin to understand.
Thanks be to God.
I lost control of our minivan on the icy highway last week. One minute everything was fine, and the next I was skidding and sliding, and then spinning, just waiting for the impact of a semi unable to avoid me. When the whole thing was over – when after two good samaritans tied my car to their truck and pulled me out of danger, and when my hands stopped trembling and the butterflies in my stomach finally settled – I thought, “Wow, well isn’t that something, how life truly can change, or be snuffed out, in but a matter of seconds?” And, no lie, I’ve cried every day since then because of that heightened awareness that I most certainly do not have all the time in the world to forgive, say what’s on my heart, love hard without embarrassment or need of reciprocation.
I teared up yesterday during Divine Liturgy at the Gospel reading about the Publican and the Pharisee, and then again when hearing the row of small girls next to me singing the Lord’s prayer in their sweet whispy voices. I took the Eucharist, expectantly, and then later swallowed the urge to lash out at one of my children, to defend my position on a matter of little importance (an un-acted upon urge that burned like heck going down). They mingled there together in my soul, Christ and my meager effort to kill off my egotism, creating an unexpectedly potent concoction of momentary relief from the staleness of my own self-consciousness. Oh so that’s how it works! Sacrifice first, resist first the impulse to nag, complain, assert my opinion, accuse, gossip, assume – pray first – and that miraculous kind of pure love capable of healing, of moving mountains, of freeing me from me, will bloom slowly, but surely.
This Valentine’s Day, I wish for you and me both enough faith in the grace of God to serve meekly our spouses, children, neighbors, co-workers even when it hurts – even when everything in us wants to scream: “How could you?!” “Do it yourself!” ”Can you not see how hard I’m working here?!” “No, listen to me, hear me, understand me, think about me, be the husband, child, neighbor, co-worker I want you to be!” Let’s just give it a shot – to, in the name of Christ, go out on a limb and keep our mouths shut but our acts of service plentiful and see what happens. I’ve got a good feeling about this – like maybe within the testing of our patience lies the key to a joy impervious to our fluctuating circumstances. I’ve got nothing to lose (but a whole bunch to possibly gain) by trying, right!
Love to you, every one of you! XOXOXOXORead More
I was listening to Johnny Cash singing hymns like "Just as I am" and "In the Sweet By and By" – hymns my grandmas used to hum while rubbing my back to get me to sleep – in the car this morning. There's something about those twangy ballads, especially when performed by the older version of Mr. Cash, that tugs at my heart. How full they are of acceptance that life is hard, really hard sometimes. The faith expressed within them comes off not so much as glossy as raw and desperate:
Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt
fightings and fears, within, without
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
This week I was convicted big time about what an ass I make of you and me by assuming – by summing people up all neat and tidy in my head. In a round about way, I was accidently exposed to the private overwhelming trials of an aquaintance, and then BAM! it all came flooding back to me, those occasions within the past month I had jumped to conclusions about the intentions of others. This realization (and chance to repent) is a gift, truly. Being made aware of how susceptible I am to the making of loveless and ignorant judgements about my fellow human beings carrying burdens I can't imagine, and how yucky it feels to wake up to your own hypocrisy, makes me all the more hungry for death to my prideful self.
"You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil."
—St Seraphim of Sarov
That quote right there packs one serious punch. If I spent the rest of my days here on earth focused only on that singular goal of never condemning another individual, it would be time and energy so very well spent. Oh the freedom inherent in love void of condemnation, envy, selfishness, and malice! Lord Have Mercy on me that I may never grow numb to the sting of being misunderstood or mercilessly categorized. Help me strive not to" be right" but for an inner peace that heals and brings hope to all it touches.Read More