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.

 

 

Since Childhood…

my mind has been filled with many thoughts from the sublime to the ridiculous and often more than one at a time. There is a beauty and creativity to it and a frustration as well. It’s also why I truly enjoy the focus of performing music live, of sharing homilies, and of serving at the Altar. In each of those there’s a need to be in the moment as completely as possible and when that happens there is for me both great challenge and a great peace. Someday, presuming that heaven is my lot (and for this I trust God and not myself) I believe that one of the greatest joys of it will be having only one thought, that being God. That for me will be a most sublime rest.

 

 

The Tree is Set and Lit…

in white as the darkness falls over St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s been a rainy day, warmer than usual and the ground is still soft without a blanket of snow. There’s a warmth in the house, a warmth of electric lights, an occasional burst from the furnace, and the sense of being in the same comfortable place where you’ve spent more than twenty years.

In these days preceding Christmas there is both a kind of busy rush and moments of quiet that dance with each other throughout the day. In the quiet moments I’m visited, like clockwork, by people and memories from the distant pass. Friends from school. People I’ve loved who’ve gone to be with God. Moments in time and memories of Christmas past. Each is a little pause in the rush of time. Each is a little gift. Each becomes very special and present and alive this time of year like welcome visitors from a long journey.

I hope the friends who have walked with me for whatever time are being blessed in this season. I hope they have food enough, warmth enough, and people who love them in abundance. I pray that those who are with God have found the promised rest and never grow in that place where time means nothing in the light of eternity. I hold on to the memories as a kind of nourishment, food for the journey home.

And now my mind wanders back to my grandmother, my mother’s mother and the only grandmother I ever knew. I remember her kind face, the house she shared with my grandfather, and the gifts that would make their way north like clockwork about this time of year.

They were slippers, hand knit and always just the right size. They came from Florida or later Arkansas where my grandparents spent the winter. I don’t necessarily remember the colors but they were always done with a kind of art that only comes from a person who really knows how, and likes, to knit. One pair each, and all of us boys got them every year. They were warm and most of all they were great for getting a running start and sliding across any smooth surface. Mostly I think we wore them out about spring time and so we needed new every Christmas. More than just something to wear they were a kind of reminder that we had people out there, far away, thinking about us and sending something special, something they made themselves, as a reminder.

My grandmother died in 1982. Has it really been that long? Sometimes when people ask me to share a favorite memory of the Christmas season I remember and talk about those slippers and how much I miss her and how much I wish I could get just one more pair for Christmas. There’s a sadness to that, but a joy as well because when I recall it’s if as the years have vanished and I am somewhere back there and we are not that far apart after all.

And there is peace.

 

Sometimes I Cry…

14721698_1721834671476975_1070972089214771431_n

because the leg is so uncomfortable. The knee is new but to place it there muscles had to be stretched well beyond the range of comfort, muscles now telling me with pain about what happened when I was under anesthesia.Sleep is hard to come by because just when you find a comfortable spot your leg reminds you of what occurred a little over two weeks ago. I sit in the house, a lot. I hobble up around the block with a cane just to keep things moving. It gets better, but often so slowly that it’s hard to notice. I wonder why I signed up for this sometimes.

Yet, at the same time I’ve had moments when I’ve been buoyed by the knowledge that people are praying for me. I have people caring for me who have been gracious and kind. I am being humbled by not being strong and yet learning so much about the grace that comes in weakness. I’ve cared for people all my life and now I have to learn about how to be cared for, a humbling and challenging thing for a person who’s pride was often too much about being strong, capable, and in control.I simply cannot be strong for anyone but myself these days and anything I have is grace because my body is still far from recovered by the short term damage done for my long term healing. I must wait. I must be patient. I must be many things that are hard for me so I can be better.

Little things are so much more important now. A few minutes outside in the sun. Little acts of kindness seem like amazing gifts. My wife helping me get on my socks. The cat sitting on my lap. The autumn trees outside my living room window. Even the shortest trip in a car. I wish I could do so much more, and sometimes tears of frustration well up in me but I’m coming to understand things about God and myself that I perhaps could have never learned otherwise.

In time I will be better. The knee that feels swollen and painful will give way to way to one that works so that I walk and be free of pain. A little while longer, one hour, one day, one week or however but it will come. Until then, in my own way, I am God’s wheat.

 

 

 

It’s in the Book…

and that’s part of the reason we Orthodox Christians call Mary the Theotokos (God bearer) and venerate her.

The Reading is from Luke 1:39-49, 56

In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” And Mary remained with her about three months, an d returned to her home.

I’ve played music…

from a least the time I was in elementary school and even performed from time to time since then. Piano, violin, mandolin, guitar, bass, ukulele, vocals, all of them at one time or another were part of my musical life. Music was always just there, inside, outside, in my head, and flowing through my life.

In the lean years, especially during high school, it was my comfort in those uncomfortable times when I hid in the band room and played piano instead of facing where and whom to sit with during lunch. Out there was a place where I didn’t really belong, in the room with the piano I was safe.

College came and the music took a back seat for a bit but then after seminary in those painful first years of ministry it came back again, an old friend come to comfort me as my prayers flowed through my fingertips in song. From then it has never left and in my early 30’s I encountered the instrument that changed everything.

I had always wanted to be in the band but for the sake of shyness, the fear of other’s ridicule, or the people in my life mentioning the sheer impracticality of it all, such things never seemed to happen. I would play for small groups and at church but mostly it was about me alone with everything from the inside finding an outside with my songs. At a friend’s urging I borrowed the money and purchased my first bass, a black and white Fender Jazz and a small amp actually made for a guitar.

It took a while to teach my fingers to find the spots but they did and then the spirit of the instrument began to capture me. I began to love its sound and its place, the rhythm, the solidity that only bass notes can provide, and it opened up doors. The time for being a virtuoso guitarist had, perhaps, passed but there was always a need for a bass and I had one. I could be in the band even if it was for playing the instrument no one wanted to play but everyone needed.

And out I went, first playing by myself and trying not to irritate my wife or frighten the cats, then on to the local jams, and from there into small groups. I still recall the almost dreamlike sense of realizing that here I was on a real stage making music with real people and what I had too often enjoyed alone was being shared. It’s an addicting thing, really, and I can see why famous musicians, when they are not on the stage, could contemplate drugs to replace those short two or three hours when there is nothing better than making live music.

The instrument became a part of me and I could slap, or pluck, or tap, or mute, whatever I needed and sometimes, because it was a bass, I could just thunder to the point where the motion of the music was like a second heart beat. Perhaps it was the instrument that no one else wanted to play but there were, and still are, times when I  don’t just play but feel the music and it’s everything to me in that moment.

Yet, being a bassist also means you need other people in ways that some musicians don’t. Bass is a team instrument, vital to the group but very alone without it. On the stage it’s a glorious rumble, in the quiet of the practice space it can be notes without the larger context. And did I mention that people, especially musicians (myself included) can sometimes be very quirky. One band fell apart because the guitarist lost the use of his hands. In another someone, and I think it was after being overwhelmed by seeing the inside of my church, decided I was wasn’t a good “fit” in his evangelical band and off I went. In between there were tryouts, tryouts that were masked as jams, and moments where there was promise and then promise found a way to be dashed.

I understand. The life of a Priest is very different from the life of a musician. I couldn’t always make the kind of promises that are the mark of being in a band like Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent and all the potential time changing emergencies and fluidities that happen when you work in the Church.  For some, too, there is just something about the “vibe” of having a Priest in the band and, again, I get that. Sometimes that means I feel alone and outside even if I know that I could knock it out of the park with the right bunch of folks. But the truth is that I would try, even if I weren’t a Priest, to live this Christian life as best as a sinful person can and Jesus would always come first even if I never wore a collar. I owe Jesus that much, at least, for all the grace, forgiveness, and mercy that comes to me daily from His hand and, in the end, it is before Him, and no band or record company, that I will stand.

So I juggle my life with that in mind. God first, family second, music third. Some day, of course, I’d like to be in an ongoing and vital band. There’s nothing like it. Until then I pick up a jam when my schedule allows, perform as a solo on the uke when the opportunity presents itself, and share my music with the Seniors who live where I work. Every so often the longing, and I have to admit this, for the limelight beckons and a certain sadness sets in thinking about what could, should, or might have been. Still, there’s a different kind of light that calls out to me. Long after the lights on stage have gone out this Light will remain and there is nothing that can extinguish it so I choose to be wherever it shines and let everything else fall where it may.

%d bloggers like this: