I am so, so thankful for THIS wonderful book I have been reading with my son. I don't know if you are aware of this or not, but explaining the complexities of Lent to naturally (hormonally?) skeptical adolescents missing, already, their X-Box and ice cream can, at times, be just a tad challenging for a mom – an Orthodox convert mom unable to draw from her own Lenten childhood experiences because she hasn't any. What is especially difficult as my children get older, I am discovering, is striking that balance between enforcing the Lenten guidelines in our home ("I know this is hard for all of us, but this IS the way it is and is going to be until Pascha) and stressing that these "guidelines" are a crucial means to an end, rather than an end in and of themselves. None of their neighborhood friends are fasting. "Is it just our own little parish," I'm sure they wonder, "inventing these extra services, these 'no meat, no dairy' rules?" My children are watching me like a hawk, observing my attitude, my actions, for clarification.
Troy and I, both, have been doing our best to replace the noise of the television, of the radio, of the video games with more time together as a family – time reading together, mostly, which brings me back to the book, that really wonderful book, I've been going through with Elijah, entitled, A Journey through Great Lent, by The Very Rev. Stephen Belonick. In it, he reflects on the Lenten Scripture for each day, provides "Daily Wisdom of the Fathers," a Hymn, the life of a saint, and concludes the day's reading with a small insightful prayer. His "voice" is very down-to-earth and his meditations quite thought-provoking. The other day, my son and I read the following meditation together, which helped renew my own determination to stay focused, and helped Elijah understand that:
1. This Fast is bigger than just our family, than just our parish, than just our country, our generation.
2. Without these "tools" the Church provides for us, it is nearly impossible to rise above our earthly cares and the passions keeping us preoccupied with our own selfish desires, or to shake the downward pressing, soul numbing, forceful grip of this materialistic and voyeuristic culture.
Yes, we actually had a real back and forth conversation about this. And for that, this Orthodox convert mom, praying ceaselessly for guidance as she imperfectly passes down the teachings and Traditions of the Orthodox Faith she so cherishes to her children, is extremely grateful.
Mountains figure prominently in many Bible stories. I am reminded of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God's hand; Mount Tabor, where Jesus led Peter, James and John to witness His Transfiguration; or the hill from where our Lord taught His famous Sermon on the Mount.
In all these cases, mountains express a theological principle – God reveals Himself and distributes divine gifts to those willing to rise above this world and seek a higher reality.
This is what Elijah envisioned when God spoke through him to call all people "to go up to the mountain of the Lord" in today's reading.
Climbing a mountain takes effort. It requires we have the right equipment. More importantly, it presumes that we are courageous and willing to attempt the climb.
Great Lent is such a mountain. God calls us to ascend to Him. The journey is difficult and requires effort. Rather than boots and spikes, our gear comprises of prayer, fasting, scripture reading, quiet and a willing heart.
When most mountaineers are asked why they brave the elements and dangers to scale a mountain, they often respond, "Because it is there."
When asked why we undertake this trying Lenten Journey, we must respond, "To ascend the mountain is not an option for us; it is where we will meet the Lord and receive true life from His hands." Surely, this gift is worth the effort.
- From a Journey through Great Lent by The Very Rev. Stephen Belonick