The Language of Beauty

Inspired silence, you are my friend, revealing beauty all around me—and in me.

I bite my tongue, lest I interrupt your sage instruction.

And I hold my thoughts still within me,

lest their noise distract from your divine eloquence.

 

Please continue, as you were saying…

you were beginning to share the mysteries of this life, the magic of our times.

You were enunciating the language of beauty,

of which all creation has spoken, since the beginning,

but which I have forgotten through misuse, and moreover by abuse.

 

I am not certain when I ceased speaking our native tongue, dear silence,

and commenced instead to speak other languages, coarser and ill-refined.

I have allowed myself to become a Tower of Babel—

strange languages have infested my inner halls,

a multitude of voices competing to be heard; a rabble within me,

loud and echoing, stark against my soul’s chamber walls.

 

I must confess I’ve spoken the languages of anger, and greed,

and above all vanity and pride,

and I’ve uttered words of lust and sadness.

I’ve made speeches of self-conceit,

and made myself hoarse asserting my ambitions—

my love sonnets have been composed for and about me alone.

 

But no, dear silence, I must now refrain;

and by pain of humility,

I have stilled these foolish voices.

Please, silence, dear friend, begin again…

 

I will listen to your unspoken words—

as they glide across the morning sky,

and unfurling like newborn leaves,

glittering, and sparkly in the dewy sunlight—

they do transfix and transform me.

 

Silence—

yours is a magnificent soliloquy,

spoken in a mystery,

ushering all into a world of beauty.

 

I do perceive you speak of God.

 

~FS

To Be Taken Internally

The Jesus Prayer can be strong medicine in the battle against our passions, but it must be applied to the source of our illness. It does no good to treat a stomach ache by applying ointment to the surface of the skin; so too is it ineffective to say the Jesus Prayer with inattention or a distracted mind. To fight our passions with this prayer—to combat sadness, or anger or sinful thoughts with it—requires that it be applied deep into our heart, the place of these illnesses, and this necessitates vigilant and focused prayer, developed with effort and mental focus over time.

~FS

Dangerous Rapturous Love

I have often struggled with the imposition that is Christian love;
a love so different from the love that is often exchanged in our world,
a love that asks us to give our lives away incrementally, or all at once…
What would we have and where would we be, had Christ turned away from His cross?
If His love was not sacrificial love, and had He not given His life away?
Instead, perhaps merely leaving us with a kind word, and a smile, and wishing us the best…
Is there a true love that won’t also require us to sacrifice ourselves?
This is a love that is risky, dangerous, and can expose us to losses;
literal losses of money, property, time, sleep—
and other essential, or superfluous pleasures.
Christian love is the prototype and embodiment of selflessness,
when practiced in its pure form, following in the steps of our namesake.
Worldly prudence has taught me to count the costs, weigh the risks,
and back away from any that cross the line, that are too costly.
Divine prudence teaches me to give more,
to extend this line further towards my neighbor, or erase the line altogether.
Experience has shown me that sacrificial love engenders a joyful bliss,
a type of euphoria, and a freedom that calls out from within me, wildly…
and rapturously,
when I am courageous enough to follow, and do this love—
the will of my Lord.
 
~FS

A World We Want To Believe In

It is difficult, maybe impossible, to understand what it means to be homeless unless you have experienced it first-hand. For those of us who have been raised, and have lived, for the most part, without real want or need, the world looks very different than it does to one living on the streets, exposed not only to the elements, but also to humiliation, frustration and despair. Living without a structure to call home is fraught with dangers, extreme difficulties, and a host of mental and emotional pressures which can slowly weaken and undermine even the strongest of people.

For myself, who have had the pleasure and good fortune to have lived under a roof for the vast majority of my life, it is easy to forget the daily realities of living without this essential necessity; yet for several periods earlier in my life, I did live without a roof over my head, which gave me direct insight into this harsh reality.

Nevertheless, these memories can remain latent until something, or someone, stimulates them and brings them to mind. Recently, I’ve met a young couple who have been living out of their car, just like I once did. They have been trying desperately to discover and create a stability that is, at best, fleeting, and at worst, completely beyond reach; and they are fighting a difficult, daily battle to survive in a world that is predominantly indifferent to their plight, often antagonistic to them, and in some cases openly hostile. Too often the thin veneer of civility collapses around the world of those in need, and they discover, much to their dismay and terror, that there is little safety, or security, to be found in this world.

I had the opportunity just the other day of having lunch with this couple, hoping to afford them this small luxury, at least. While sitting at the restaurant table we discussed some of their daily challenges, and I was struck by something the young man said, which I could instantly identify with, recalling my own similar experiences. In essence, he said that he feared losing his mind, of seeing his mental faculties slip away due to the ceaseless stresses and anxieties of living without a home; he fears becoming the crazy guy on the corner talking to himself and staring off into space, lost in his own world, trying to escape the misery he encounters in nearly every direction one turns. He went on to say that this possibility seems very real and possible to them because it is so overwhelmingly tiring living this way day after day—and it is terrifying—and mostly he tries not to think about it, not to think about this possibility, or to think about the frustration and hopelessness they feel, and certainly not to think or believe that this is really what the world is—that he can’t allow himself to believe that this is the way the world is, he doesn’t want to believe it.

Even as I sat listening, I didn’t want to believe life was this bad for them; from my comfortable position as a homeowner, I found it hard to grasp the reality they described, and for a moment I wanted to pretend it wasn’t so bad, to turn away, to forget, but I knew what he said to be true. I remember feeling exactly that way, sensing at times that I was losing my mind while living in constant fear, with no place to sleep that was my own, and nowhere to spend the day that I could consider safe. Every moment of every day, and every night was spent on alert, looking this way and that in hopes that nobody would tell you to leave, that you can’t park here, or you can’t stay here, that this is private property and you are trespassing, that you’re loitering, or we’re closing and you have to leave now; I remember spending hours each day trying to figure out where I could sleep that night, since the place I slept last night was now being patrolled by police, or someone else found that place to sleep and it was no longer safe.

They described how this searching for a place to call their own—even for just an hour, or a night—that this constant searching all day for a place to park for a few hours left them little time to work out how to get a job, or to keep a job, little time to plan how to earn the real money one needs for a room or an apartment, and little time or energy left for the myriad of other necessary things such as getting a postal address needed for job applications, time to make relationships needed for good references, or just the sleep and energy needed to simply live in a normal way.

As we talked I remembered how different the world had looked from this vantage point—from a life without a home—it was as if I was always on the outside looking in, and not really belonging to this world. Everyone seemed to have a home, or a place to call their own, except me, and even though I had a strong mental and emotional inner stability, this feeling of not belonging anywhere began to weaken me, and I began to doubt myself, wondering what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t, even with all of my skills and abilities, why I couldn’t thrive, why was I becoming a stranger in this world? I didn’t belong in any store because I didn’t have money to be a consumer, I didn’t belong in any house that I passed because I didn’t have money to own or rent, I didn’t belong in the park because I was a loiterer, restaurants weren’t for me, theaters weren’t for me, everything was out of reach.

Some people want to be homeless, and for those people they have made their peace with many of these realities, and after weighing the pros and cons of such a life, have chosen it over the alternatives. This couple, however, in no way want to be homeless, and they want a home as soon as they possibly can get one, to leave this ceaseless wandering behind them.  I can see this in their eyes, I know the difference between the types of homeless—between the ones that have made their peace with life on the street, and those who have not, and will not—God help them.

They are, at times, desperate in the face of the challenges impeding this goal, the countless things which seem nearly insurmountable. But they are strong, and resilient, and determined, and also they are smart. They each tell me, at different times, that they aren’t giving up until they get a stable place to live, and I can see a fierce determination in them. But also a vulnerability, frustration and traces of despair, because, after all, they are merely human, like we all are, and can only take so much. Regardless of how strong and talented we are, all of us have a breaking point.

We are so much alike, I think to myself, as I look at the couple across the table, but with one clear and vital difference. When I had spent my time on the street, I always had a wonderful family I knew I could trust to fall back on, and in particular, a generous and loving mother who I could depend on for everything if, and when, that life became too difficult. And so it was for me, when I had had enough of that life I simply went home again, and hardly missed a beat. I rebuilt my life and quickly enjoyed all of the benefits once again of those who “belong” in this world.

But this couple doesn’t have a loving mother, or father or a family that cares for them. They have each other, and while this is a great deal, it isn’t enough. They need someone to help them. We all need someone to help us. We’ve all had someone to help us; and that is likely the only reason we have a home, and the blessings we enjoy, and are not living in dire straits.

How could I turn my back on this couple? How could I just try to forget they exist; to look the other way and pretend they don’t exist? Or how could I argue that their problems are their own fault, merely in order to absolve my conscience of any responsibility for them.

They aren’t my flesh and blood but they are my family. We all need each other; those who have the things of this world need those who don’t have these things, because only in service to those who need us, do we grow outside of our selfishness and arrogance, and only by transcending our selfishness can we discover the joy and peace that comes of giving ourselves, risking our security in order to make this world the kind of world that we all want to believe in.

~FS

The Daily Miracles of St Elizabeth Parish

The Lord is the one who answers prayer.

He has heard our prayers and satisfied our requests.

Let us glorify the Lord, for He is abundant in kindness, and in compassion towards all who follow Him, and trust in His name.

 

I have been like the Israeli children of old, as they wandered in the wilderness.

I have forgotten the good things that God has done.

Even now, I must work to avoid forgetting.

His blessings are all too numerous to mention, but hear of just a few—

 

We called upon the Lord to bring healing, and long life for Cornelius,

and he was healed and stands among us.

We prayed for safety and strength for Rachel and the child Sam, born of her,

and God has brought them through a long trial, healthy and strong.

We hoped for work closer to home and more convenient for Rafael and his family,

and just like a vision, after months of waiting, God answered our prayer and fulfilled our hopes, granting him the work he desires.

 

I have seen these things first-hand, and they have inspired and encouraged me.

 

We prayed that Helen would recover from her stroke, and that she and Kirk might have more time in this life, to share their love and time with one another,

and You, Lord, are giving Helen strength and ability once again, in answer to our prayers. We hear of her progress daily.

 

These are only a few of the daily blessings God has given.

Help me to remember You Lord, always, and bring to mind all of the remarkable and surprising things that You do for us.

Likewise, help us always to call on You, God, and to look to You for all our needs.

 

Forgive me for my blindness, to the miracles that stand, literally, all around me—testaments, all of them, that You are, truly in our midst.

 

~FS

A Vain-Glorious Trap

The mind can act like a vain-glorious trap—catching the gifts and virtues which have been given to us on loan by God, and holding them as mental images depicting us as men or women in glory, worthy to be admired, or honored, or even worshiped by others and ourselves.

Every good gift is from above, and one can receive nothing, unless it has been given them from heaven. Yet the mind can imagine itself to be the originator, and cause of every good thing; and then it can falsely endow our self-image with these gifts, convincing us that they are really our own.

Beware the vain-glorious trap, that our mind can be, and its creative capacity for delusion! For the Spirit, the giver of every gift of grace and virtue, is like the wind—moving this way and that—and impossible to contain.

Behind every goodness we think is ours, is the Creator of Goodness, the only Goodness. At best, we are merely the glass through which His light shines forth. Are we wise, are we knowledgeable, are we talented in some art or music, have we love, or mercy, kindness or compassion? Beware! Lest these good things become bad, being twisted by the minds-eye, which inclines to fantasies of self-love.

~FS

A New Declaration of Independence

When in the course of a human life one becomes aware of the bondage and servitude to which his or her inner nature has become ensnared, and it becomes necessary to dissolve these bonds and to reorient them from what is bad towards what is good, and to assume the natural use of the powers granted them by the God of nature, to which His image and likeness entitle them, then for the benefit of this person, and for that of all mankind, it shall be declared, the causes for which this reorientation is required, and for which this new independence is sought.

These truths remain self-evident—that all people are created free; endowed by God with powers of mind, desire and strength, for the purpose of growing in love, peace and joy.—That by using these powers in the way intended by nature and by God, every person can achieve these ends.—That by the misuse of these powers mankind falls into every kind of difficulty, suffering, pain, deception and entrapment. —That the ruler of this world has used deception, trickery, seduction and malice to corrupt these natural powers to turn humanity from what is good towards what is evil. —That because mankind has fallen into enslavement to this evil, by improper use of our freedom, so that we desire what we shouldn’t, and hate others whom we should love, it is clear that we have become self-destructive and it is our necessity, and our duty to abolish this rule of evil within us, and to lay a new foundation upon Christ, Who’s power will reorganize the powers within us, so as to attain liberty once again.

By a long train of abuses and temptations, the current ruler of this world has reduced mankind under an absolute Despotism, so that it is now our duty, by the right of our Creator, for each to throw off this tyranny, and shelter under God’ grace for his or her future security. The history of the present ruler is a history of diabolical malefactions and malicious deceptions, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over mankind. To prove this, let facts be submitted to an honest and straightforward world:

…he has rejected, and causes mankind to reject, the law and commandments given us for the public and private good.

…he has confused and confounded mankind into becoming lovers of ourselves, instead of lovers of one another; seeking self-gain first, and then what is good for others only to the degree it benefits us.

…he has manipulated our natural desires, causing us to turn them towards superficial, transient or forbidden things which don’t satisfy our needs and which, after fleeting pleasure, yield greater sorrow.

…he has caused murders, wars and every kind of violence, by turning our natural anger away from evil as its only proper object, and towards our brothers and sisters, and has deluded us into justifying our misdirected anger and our atrocities.

…he has caused us to lose our self-control, so that we are no longer masters of our appetites or our emotions; but have become slaves to the caprice and whim of our emotions, and easily manipulated by our desires.

…for entrapping us in despondency and hopelessness.

…for enticing us with money and fame, which never satisfy our inner longings.

…for mesmerizing us with possessions which we expect should give us joy, but only create a deepening emptiness within us.

…for isolating and dividing us from one another, under every pretext and justification, but yielding only more anger and misery.

…for causing us to see one another as objects, tools, or means for satisfying our own desires, rather than each as unique and precious images of God, with vast inherent worth.

…for using every kind of material deception to draw us out of ourselves, and away from God, so that we become lost and unable to perceive God any longer, so that we lose our relationship with the only One that can heal us and save us.

…he has bewildered us with entertainments, dulled our minds and hearts, and caused us to grow lazy and indifferent towards our spiritual realities.

…he has plundered us, ravaged us, burnt us, murdered us, raped us, and in every way destroyed the lives of mankind, all while hiding in the shadows so that mankind even doubts his very existence.

…he has made himself, thus, our perfect enemy, and turned each of us into unwitting accomplices to our own destruction.

We, therefore, each of us who desire to be truly free, appealing to the Lord of all, do, in His name, solemnly publish and declare, that we are by nature and by right afforded through His mercy and grace, independent and free from all allegiance to the ruler of this world, and that all spiritual connection between us and Satan, is and ought to be totally dissolved, and that as free and independent beings, we have full power, by God’s grace, to live virtuously and in accord with the commandments given for our peace, in control of ourselves, making proper use of all the faculties of our soul which have been given us for our fulfillment and blessing, and to do all things right and proper to those living in spiritual freedom.—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm and total reliance on the protection of the Triune God, we pledge to God our complete and enduring love, issuing forth from our mind, our heart, our soul and our strength, and we pledge to one another, a love that equals the love we have for our very selves.

~FS