There is a Beauty…

in the night as the sun sets over St. Paul. The pavement is hot because the July sun baked it then frosted it with oil and tire rubber, but the air quickly begins to cool as the tall buildings push themselves in front of the waning sun.

I used to ride my motorcycle at times like this. In part it was because the traffic was lightening up and the road seemed more free and then, again, it was also a good time to see and hear and smell a city settling in for the night. As the sun descended lights would turn on one by one and a kind of calm would fall.

As a younger person I remember coming to St. Paul while my dad was commuting each week from our home in Wisconsin. Everything seemed so tall, so large, so much more of everything than where I was from. It still is that way and there are times when it all seems so noisy and oppressive and hot and full of people crawling around like ants. Yet it has also become my home, the beauty of it, the quiet tree lined streets and even the places where it would be wise to leave before the street lights come on.

When we moved here more than two decades ago we came because we could find places we could afford and we came because we wanted to live, serve, and minister in the city. Older now, we sometimes think of selling and finding a townhome in the suburbs where someone else will mow our lawn and shovel our walks. Yet we are still here, most of the neighbors who were there when we first came have come and gone and the lady across the street who was there before us is thinking about selling and taking up an apartment somewhere. Yet we are still here.

Sometimes I like to drive through the city with the windows down and take it all in. If we ever leave I will miss the sights, sounds, and even the smell that comes up Swede Hollow from the Mississippi. Sometimes at night when I’m awake I just pray for my neighbors, and the city; pray for God to take care of us all in the night and that peace would fall on our little patch of a sometimes crazy world. For the most part everything has been good.

One day its almost certain that a truck will come and take our things and ourselves away from this place. That’s the way of life. Yet here we are on a hot July night in this place we’ve made home, this place where a church was started, this place that we can move away from any time but never leave. That’s also the way of life.

God, in your mercy, wherever we may travel in this life please keep an eye out for St. Paul.

When you realize…

everything you could possibly own is temporary and often unnecessary

science and technology are full of amazing things but there is a reality of human life which science and technology cannot define in and of itself

your discontent in this world may be a sign you were meant for something more than just the here and now

when you realize things such as these you begin the journey through knowledge to wisdom.

 

On Children and the Eucharist

There’s a child in your arms, or perhaps in front of you, a squirmy little person accompanying you to receive the Eucharist. With each step you draw closer to the Priest and now the moment has arrived. The spoon draws closer and…

People are sometimes surprised at the communing of infants and young children in an Orthodox church but it’s something we encourage and hope develops into a lifelong positive spiritual encounter. Yet people sometimes wonder what do with their child when the time comes to receive the Holy Gifts. As a Priest of a decade plus I have some ideas.

The first is that you, as a parent, be a regular communicant yourself. More than anything else your children will learn, not from your words, but your actions. If they see you receiving the Eucharist often they will become comfortable with the same. The youngest, especially, need to be assured that everything is “okay” and you can do this by taking the Eucharist often, and when they are with you, before they do so they know what to do and how to do it.

Never force a child to receive the Eucharist. I have seen parents tilt a crying child back and force their mouths open and every time that happens I cringe. That sends a terrible message about what the Eucharist is and, quite frankly, who God is and the trauma can be difficult for a child to shake. I know you want your child to comply and I know you want to child to receive the blessing of the Eucharist. Force, though, never helps.

You don’t have to lift the child up under the arms so I can reach them. I am more than happy to bend down and let them take the Holy Gifts standing up. If you have an infant, of course, you can hold them in your arms but toddlers are perfectly welcome to “toddle” up and I will go to meet them. In fact one of my great joys is to bend down to meet a child where they are with the Eucharist. It’s good for me, and them, spiritually. Me to reach to them and for them to stand as a person in their own right.

Don’t be embarrassed about crying, whiny, or wiggly babies. That’s what they do and I’m not bothered by it in the least. I will adjust to them and do my best. If they really don’t want to receive, for whatever reason, I will bless them and we can both move on. The vast majority of the people in the church won’t care about babies and their noises and if someone complains I can talk to them privately later. You don’t have to have a perfect kid to come up front, and you don’t have top be perfect either because I certainly am not.

Finally, always bring your children to church for any service. The seeds you plant in these days will bear fruit well into eternity. It’s okay if they’re being kids sometimes. It can’t always be helped. Do your best and know that our doors are always open to you and your children every time the church is open.

 

 

Of Cemeteries and Life…

old_headstone.jpg

The miles passed beneath our wheels as we headed west from the city to the Minnesota prairie. Among the towns that dot the rolling hills and open sky is Osakis, a small dot on the map with a life all its own, a town nurtured first by farms and then by tourists who come to the lake just off of downtown.

There were things for us to do in Osakis, possessions to clear away and graves to clean after the winter snows left them inaccessible. A family member had died in that same winter, just before Christmas past, and before the family went their separate ways for the summer there were things to handle. So back home we went past farms and fields to a place rich, like many small towns, with the memories of people who long ago left but somehow still feel they belong.

Arriving, we sat for a while and filled the air with small talk first putting boxes of knick knacks together for a rummage sake and then gathering in the car for the trip to the graves. In a small town nothing at least the cemeteries are not far away and in the time for a sentence or two we were at the graves of grandparents on the Protestant side of the family. We stood for a while and retold a few stories about who, and when, and where, put the flowers in place and then returned to the car. Next was a brother of the family, by himself in a cemetery west of town, a new one because even if prairie towns don’t grow their cemeteries can and do. Arriving we repeated both the rituals and the stories as we looked around the cemetery.

Here there was a stone for a baby who lived just over a week. They would have been in high school and driving now had death not intervened. A few feet away was the grave of a young man around 20. Pulling aside a metal cover you could still see a color photograph of a boy, really, who’s journey stopped for reasons that weren’t shared but at the bottom of his stone was an inscription “Mike, my friend, my friend.”

In what seemed like no time at all after leaving we were at our final destination. My father in law had died in 1985, his wife just before last Christmas. After decades apart they were finally next to each other in presence as they had been in spirit for all those years. There were flowers for that grave, too, and thoughts among us because the memories of her passing were still so fresh. Around that grave there were others of the family, each of them eliciting a story. For the most part they were pleasant but some were hard because lasts longer than death but so do some kinds of wounds. No one cried, though, because I suppose we all felt some pang but we also knew that this was the way things are.

Not too far away from these family graves are the graves my wife and I will one day inhabit. They sit on a hill overlooking a lake in the farm country a few miles south of Osakis. I know there are more years behind than ahead of me and that perhaps, one day, some members of the family will visit my resting place, clean the headstone, and put up some flowers. My hope is that anyone who comes will hear what I hear when I visit the graves of those I love, a voice of hope from heaven and the insistent whisper of God reminding us all to live holy, true, and well.