October 23

…how impossible it is to conform to God without complete stillness; how stillness gives birth to ascetic effort, ascetic effort to tears, tears to awe, awe to humility, humility to foresight, foresight to love; and how love restores the soul to health and makes it dispassionate, so that one then knows that one is not far from God….

For the soul’s passions are allayed by stillness; but when they are stimulated and aroused they grow more savage and force us into greater sin; and they become hard to cure, like the body’s wounds when they are scratched and chafed. Even an idle word can make the intellect forget God, the demons enforcing this with the compliance of the senses.

~A Discourse on Abba Philimon

Chapter 2—New Beginnings

Chapter 2—New Beginnings

Spring is a time of new beginnings. We have all felt the excitement and joy of anticipation for warmer weather and longer days coming soon. For Fritz and Rocco it was also a time of growth and discovery.

Rocco had found his voice much earlier than Fritz. In fact, for months, perhaps longer, Fritz never made a sound. He watched his brother with interest when Rocco would bark at some unexpected noise, or growl at the neighbor’s dog, Lucy, who came uninvited into their yard to smell the shrubs, and ‘water’ the lawn. Rocco’s growl was like a little lion’s—a very little, little lion.

And his bark came in tiny bursts, short staccato outbursts, in groups of threes or fours. This was his song: it began with a low murmuring, barely audible, and grew into a full throated growl, and the growl terminated in a crescendo of stabbing barks. He was a maestro, with themes and variations on this pattern, but all of his utterings were signature Rocco. None lasted very long, mere movements, a phrase or a line, but never a symphony. If he were a poet he would utter limericks or haiku, never epics.

Fritz was the silent partner. But one afternoon he found his unexpected voice in a most surprising way. Fritz is a spinner. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a dog that can spin such tight circles, so swiftly as Fritz can, and if you have seen this, you’ve probably become very dizzy as you watched them. But when Fritz plays, he has to spin, he can’t help himself. He hears some kind of music in his head, and when the music plays, he just has to dance. But it isn’t just a dance, it is also a sport, like Judo, or Karate, or most especially like Capoeira, that rare and beautiful blending of martial arts, acrobatics and dance.

Fritz spins, stops, dodges left and quickly right, then spins in the opposite direction, and bounds across the room, leaps onto a chair, spins, turns and leaps off the chair, briefly touches the floor and propels himself up onto the couch, stops, looks left, looks right, and somersaults onto the floor, landing face to face with Rocco. Rocco looks bewildered. What just happened?! Before Rocco can collect his wits enough to begin to growl, Fritz spins again, round and round and round again, in quick succession, and then he stops and…he coos.

Yes, he makes that same fluttery cooing sound mostly associated with pigeons or with doves. Fritz looks around to see where the noise came from, Rocco looks also, then they look at each other for a moment, and Fritz coos again. Rocco steps back, unsure what to do next. Fritz understands now that he is responsible for this new and unfamiliar sound so he does it yet again. And then he spins and stops and coos one last time.

Over time Fritz learned to turn his cooing into more of a hollow howl, and then ultimately into a true dog bark. Even so, when he gets excited and begins his special dancing, he often includes his unique cooing as accompaniment, saving his barks for other things, such as neighborhood dogs, the cat next door, and errant squirrels.

~FS

October 22

The contemplation of God is attained in many different ways. For God is known not only when we marvel at His incomprehensible substance, that which is still hidden in the hope of promise, but we see Him also in the greatness of His creation, or by pondering upon His justice, or helped by the though of His daily providence, or when we run over in sincerity of mind the things He has done for His saints generation after generation…

Many other subjects of contemplation are there of a similar kind which will rise up in our minds, according to the holiness of our lives and the purity of our hearts, whereby they of clean vision may see or lay hold upon God. These no man will constantly retain if in him any of the carnal appetites still subsist, for the Lord saith: ‘Thou canst not see My Face, for man shall not see Me and live’ (Exodus 33:20) that is, in this world, and amid earthly affections.

~St John Cassian (Conference I, 15 with Abbot Moses)

Chapter 1: Introductions

Not long ago, into a world of warmth and love, two puppies were born. Theirs was a world of discovery and of peace. A place of wild, simple exuberance, and of long, cozy naps. Nestled into the blankets, with their brothers and their sisters all around, they slept, and they dreamt of things unknown to us.

 

Half-brothers, born four days apart, they shared all the hallmarks of their breed: little button noses, soft wavy hair, large wide-set eyes so dark and deep and sparkling, fluffy tails that curved upwards and over their backs when they walked, and proud little chests containing gentle, loving hearts within.

 

Fritz was the younger, with russet brown hair, hazel eyes, and had a love for comfortable pillows. Rocco, though older by just a little, was smaller than his brother. He was black and white, with dark brown eyes, and had a love of writing pens.

 

They began their lives, and happily passed the days, sleeping amongst the pile of warm hair and fluff that was their family and their tribe. Their siblings provided heat and security, while their parents were always nearby, ready to calm a fight, with a kick or a swipe of the paw, or ready with a warm, wet lick to soothe the hurt of a fall.

 

My wife and I first met them on a cold winter day in February. The leaves had long since fallen from the trees and the sky was a cloudy grayish-white. As we entered their home, the rooms were filled with the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking, and of coffee brewing. Of course the dogs weren’t responsible for either of these, they were still only puppies after all, and their minds were filled with other things.

 

Rocco had found a new black pen that someone had dropped on the floor, under the desk in the kitchen the night before, and this was occupying his attention. Not that any of his siblings were interested in his treasure, but nevertheless he protected it with determination and enthusiasm.

 

Barely larger than the pen himself, at a mere eight ounces, he could easily fit entirely into the palm of your hand. But what he lacked in size he made up for with ambition; and he fancied himself to be a ferocious tiger.

 

Fritz was dreaming, and by all appearances he seemed to be in a hurry to get someplace or to find someone. For as he slept, his little body twitched, and his little paws danced as they tapped the pillow, or stretched into the air as he rolled over onto his back. A big huge yawn revealed a little mouth beginning to fill with baby teeth, and a tiny pink tongue which curled up and out and touched his nose.

 

 

 

We came to bring them to a new home, a place of equal warmth and affection to the one they had grown accustomed to, a place that also smelled of chocolate chip cookies (which they would soon learn to desire, but couldn’t have) and of coffee (which they had no use for at all).

 

They left their parents and siblings behind, but this is the nature of things in the world of dogs, and they didn’t miss them, well, perhaps a little, but they had many new things to distract and occupy their attention and they usually forgot from where they had come. Neither did they know where they were going but this also was of no concern. They were comfortably consumed with the moment they were living, the treats they were eating, the squirrels they were chasing, or the adventures they were creating.

~FS

 

 

 

 

October 19

First, every man is said to be made in the image of God as regards the dignity of his intellect and soul–as regards, that is to say, the quality in man that cannot be scrutinized or observed, is immortal and endowed with free will, and in virtue of which he rules, begets and constructs.

Second, every man is said to be made in the likeness of God as regards his possession of the principle of virtue and as regards his imitation of God through virtuous and godlike actions. Such actions consist in having deep sympathy for one’s fellow men, in mercy, pity and love towards one’s fellow servant, and in showing heartfelt concern and compassion. ‘Be merciful,’ says Christ our God, ‘for the gifts of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29).

But only a few–those who are virtuous and holy, and have imitated the goodness of God to the limit of human powers–possess that which is according to the likeness of God.

May we too be found worthy of His sublime compassion, having conformed ourselves to Him through good actions and become imitators of all who have ever been faithful servants of Christ. For mercy is His and to Him are due all glory, honor, and worship, together with His unoriginate Father and His all holy, blessed and life-creating Spirit, now and always and through all the ages. Amen.

~St John of Damaskos

Come Back, Please

Healing…Elusive…what will become of me? I’m no better now than I was on March 28 when she died. In fact, I may be worse off now. I’ve been told it is depression, by several people. How could that be? Nothing happened to me. Death happened to somebody else.

 

But something did happen to me and I can’t reverse it. It seems like it should just be hyperbole, or the stuff of a good poem, or something that tugs at the heart and then we move on.

 

But I don’t move on, and it doesn’t go away either. She died and somehow that is making all the difference in the world. The world is different now. My world has changed so substantially, emotionally and in my thoughts, that it isn’t recognizable to me. I’ve written about this before so I’m not sure why I find it so surprising. In fact as I write this I find it tedious and rather boring. Same old, same old…

 

However, the part of me that takes an interest in observing myself, is shocked and more than a little scared by all of this. It isn’t an experiment, or a clinical trial, as I’m so in the habit of treating my life’s events. This is bigger than me and seems to have swept me away, or is sweeping me, or will sweep, or could sweep…I’m not sure which.

 

I have a wonderful wife. I have fantastic friends. A very good job, with kind and loving co-workers. My dogs bring me great joy and I get lots of exercise. In many ways things are better now than ever. My life has a depth and beauty that I’ve long sought and I’m very grateful for this. It’s a wonderful life…

 

and yet, without her, I feel such emptiness within. I reiterate, I have a wonderful wife, and a wonderful life, and at the same time I am empty…

 

God.

 

Of course, this is the answer that comes to mind and heart. For me, I know this is the answer but I’m not feeling it, or experiencing it, or however you’d like to say it, and right now, this isn’t the answer. It should be the answer? It could be the answer? But it isn’t.

 

My prayers actually are quite good and I have a regular habit of prayer each morning and evening and at certain intervals throughout the day, along with my attempts at praying without ceasing throughout the day which is admittedly spotty but also somewhat consistent. Generally I feel God’s presence and I know His love, except at times of fatigue and weariness in life’s battles.

 

Even with all of this, I still feel empty and alone within my being. And I want to return to how it was before she died. It is a vast emptiness and an acute longing. The only solution that is any good is the only one that can never happen. I’d like her to come back please.

~FS

The Wretched

The Wretched

St Paul says that we are the most to be pitied among all men if our hope in Christ is only for this life, and if there is no victory over death, and no resurrection.

We don’t need Christ in order to enjoy the beauty of this world, nor do we need him in order to explain creation. We don’t even need Christ to enjoy this life, or find purpose and meaning in our lives.

In fact, morality, virtue and ethics are not exclusive to followers of Christ, and this fact is evident to everyone. Good living is not dependent on Christ.

The only thing that can come to us in no other way is a good eternal life; with Jesus alone we are promised victory over death, and an eternal life to anticipate with joy and thankfulness.

But where is our salvation? How can I know this promise is true, that I’m not being duped. We’ve heard the story, the eyewitness accounts to His resurrection, the hundreds of people who staked their reputations and their lives upon this account, even on what they witnessed first-hand with their own eyes.

But that was two thousand years ago. It starts to sound a little like a fairy tale. Is Jesus my imaginary friend? Even if the accounts are true, and it happened just like that, somehow the waiting is demoralizing and frustrating.

We wait upon God’s perfect timing and we trust in Him. We live by faith, and are justified by this. Perfect endurance will have its perfect reward and those who endure to the end will wear the crown—the crown of eternal life.

Meanwhile here I am, waiting in this valley of tears, under the shadow of death. I sit in my room trying to communicate with God, but without the apparatus to do so. I’m a radioman without a radio, an internet surfer without a computer (or smartphone). My prayers, like sonar, bounce off the walls and echo back inside my head.

Why is it so hard?

Well, I’m not ready to see him anyway, most likely. I’m filthy and shameful and need more time. But what do I really do with all this time? I watch television. I earn money and spend it. I eat far more than I need. And I struggle.

Oh wretched man that I am. One moment talking to an empty room inside my soul, the next running in circles trying to get somewhere; anywhere, just not here. What a way to spend the day.

I know I’m not alone

October 16

A person is humble when he knows that his very being is on loan to him.

…both God and the devil naturally impart their qualities to those who approach either of them: God bestows eternal life on those who love Him, while the devil, operating through temptations that are subject to our volition, causes the death of his followers.

~St Maximos the Confessor

October 11

Spiritual knowledge unites knower and known, while ignorance is always a cause of change and self-division in the ignorant. Hence nothing, according to sacred Scripture, will shift him who truly believes from the ground of his true faith, in which resides the permanence of his immutable and unchanging identity. For he who has been united with the truth has the assurance that all is well with him, even though most people rebuke him for being out of his mind. For without their being aware he has moved from delusion to the truth of real faith; and he knows for sure that he is not deranged, as they say, but that through truth–simple and always immutably the same–he has been liberated from the fluctuating and fickle turmoil of the manifold forms of illusion.

~St Maximos the Confessor