Being Found by God

I was flying into Denver a year or so back to speak at a conference. Seated next to me on the plane was a very well-dressed Muslim woman, who looked quite professional in her outfit and her demeanor. About 45 minutes away from landing, she turned to me and spoke:

“Are you a Christian priest?”

I was wearing my cassock. “Yes,” I responded.

“I have never met a Christian before,” she said. “Do you really believe that Jesus is God and that He died?”

I was immediately put in mind of an exam I took in seminary. It was called the “General Ordination Exam,” and was designed to test a candidate’s preparation for ordination. It covered a wide range of topics and often put them in practical, real-life situations. One section of the exam was called, “Coffee Hour Questions,” with very believable, theological questions that one might have posed to them during a coffee hour. So, this airplane test seemed to fit very well:

“You are flying into Denver seated next to an educated Muslim. Explain the incarnation and the crucifixion in a persuasive manner in under 45 minutes. Go.”

The woman, it turned out, was a medical doctor, from Saudi Arabia, flying in for a medical conference. She was genuinely curious and had never had such a conversation in her life. I knew that I would not only need to answer her question, but deal with the fact that she had been taught, all her life, things about Jesus that were simply not true (such as that He somehow escaped death on the Cross). Islamic teaching on Jesus is a mishmash of 7th century heretical gossip and confusion.

The 45 minutes that followed were not my finest. I gave up trying to “explain” everything and spoke about the nature of God’s love and why He would die for us. I was left with a sense of incompletion. Sometimes you can only sow a seed.

The conversation reminded me of a scene during my 2008 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Our bus pulled up in the main square in Nazareth. A huge white banner was stretched across one entire end of the square, with a slogan written in several: “God has no son.” It’s a verse in the Quran. Of course, the sign was another way of saying, “Welcome to Nazareth where Christians are not the majority!”

In a culture like our own, we meet the occasional contradiction. A city refuses to allow a creche on public property, or a Christmas concert at the local school has become a “Seasonal Festival,” etc. We meet people who are hostile to the faith, though most are more likely to attack the Church than the faith itself.

Not long after becoming an Orthodox priest, I went to lunch with a Catholic friend. His son had just graduated from Law School and joined us for lunch. No sooner had I seated myself at the table and been introduced than the son asked, “Why doesn’t your Church ordain women?”

There is never an easy answer to such questions, for the simple reason that they are not real questions. It is not the cry of a heart that is seeking the truth, but the cry of a hurt that is seeking to wound. In the conversation with the young lawyer (I remember Jesus having a conversation with a lawyer), I remember saying at some point, “You don’t know God. If you want to know Him, come see me. I can help with that.” It was spoken in kindness. I wanted to get past the hurt and speak to his heart. He never came to see me.

God speaks to the world largely in symbol and sacrament. The direct assault on reason is rarely effective. The truck pictured with this article used to sit in a parking lot along the main road from Oak Ridge to Knoxville. The many thousands passing by each day had probably learned to ignore it. I was always struck by its question, “Are you saved from the wrath of God?” which implied, in fine Penal Substitutionary logic, that God saves us from Himself. All of my life here in the South, I have seen Christian road signs of similar sentiment. I have never heard anyone speak of becoming a Christian as a result of these signs (not that it never happens).

Jesus Himself had a poor reception in Nazareth during His ministry. He was unable to do any great miracles there we are told, “because of their lack of faith.” They also tried to throw Him from a cliff. His claims to be the Son of God brought accusations of blasphemy. Indeed, His miracles (when worked on the Sabbath) were the subject of condemnation and rebuke.

I could multiply the stories of awkward and failed encounters in my ministry. I’ve been spat at, flipped off, yelled at, and cursed (and these were just times in which I was in my cassock). I will not begin to mention the less than happy emails or unfriendly videos thrown my way. They come with the territory.

What I will mention, with joy, are the quiet revelations that I have seen and witnessed, the tears of peace and happiness in the faces of those who have found the heart’s true home. In very few instances have any of those encounters come as the result of reasoning and speech. Instead, it is as though these events occurred in their “peripheral vision.”

There is, it seems to me, something of a block that stands between us and the things we see directly. The heart is too often on guard and unable to receive what is being given. As such, I think that symbol and sacrament have a way of speaking “laterally” (or some way that I do not have words for) such that the heart hears what the mind (or emotions) reject.

I remember the story a man told about his conversion to Orthodoxy. He had encountered a wonderful woman, a living saint, and wanted to rush into the life of the Church. When he approached her she said, “Yes. Become Orthodox. But wait ten years.” I was astonished at the story.

Some 15 years before I converted, I met an Orthodox woman who had been an Anglican nun. I was eager to hear the story of her conversion. She shared it with me, and listened patiently as I blathered all of my own thoughts about the “Orthodox” faith. She said to me:

“Stephen, you think a lot! Someday, you’ll think with your heart, and when you do, you’ll become Orthodox.” I met her again in the year after my conversion. I reminded her of our conversation. She did not remember it, nor did she remember me. However, I had never forgotten.

These moments: odd conversations, signs, symbols, and sacraments are sprinkled throughout our lives. They are like bread crumbs leading us into the Kingdom of God. Never imagine that you fully understand or that the journey is complete. Wonders abound. May God find us – for we are so often lost!

86 comments:

  1. I really have no conversations concerning Orthodoxy and my coming to it from being in a Southern Baptist church. But I continually find small wonders even in my sins and confessions, as if my failures were preparations for others to be raised. It is an amazing thing. I pray that God blesses it and I can be both thankful for them and someday see that failing, in whatever measure one uses, is simply another provision of God’s mercy and compassion in life.

  2. What does one do with they hyper-rationalist caught in a web or logic that is both based on an incorrect premise and self-will. Raised in the Church BTW. How does one encourage such a person to hear with one’s heart?

  3. Dearest Fr Stephen, thank you for this honeycake. The many ‘breadcrumbs’ here make for something delightful. It’s a perfect end-of-Advent piece.

    I once did a thought experiment on the awkward question thing which through up some surprises for me. I am sitting on a bus, and an earnest young man sits next to me, says he is a Christian and asks me “do you know the Lord”. I respond by saying that yes I am a Christian too and a member of the historic church. He says “that’s great, but are you saved?”. How in real life would I respond? How on reflection should I respond?

    Alas, the real life answers would probably involve awkwardness and maybe even trying to get off at the next stop. (Yep, I’m a coward.) Although in practice, I actually think I would be more likely to ask a question and start a conversation, probably something along the lines of “what do you think it means to be saved?” That has attractions, but the problem with that approach though is that I risk getting a pat 4 point brochure answer. So really, I ought to try and answer it. Particularly as by now there are probably other people on the bus listening in … Which is when the penny dropped that the question, and the awkwardness, were actually useful. (And I would strongly recommend that people actually think about rehearsing an answer to it, partly because that process is quite revealing about what one actually thinks about many things.) Maybe when the Lord puts us in these situations it’s not for their benefit, but ours? Or, more likely, both. And we don’t know what their journey encompasses, so we don’t know what the significance is of what we said or did not say. I did smile at hearing again that story of you and the former Anglican nun. Oh yes. 🙂

  4. “It is not the cry of a heart that is seeking the truth, but the cry of a hurt that is seeking to wound. ”

    Sometimes a few words can contain crystallize worlds of truth. This is one of those times. Thank you, Father Stephen.

  5. Dear Fr Stephen,
    I read your article thinking maybe this what I need to have hope for my , what seems, unsalvagable faith in Him.
    Sadly, nothing it seems gives me hope. Where is God in my life? Where is he to carry me.? Why am I not found by Him?
    I am deeply despondent. DEEPLY.
    Some may think well this person is full of pride, not doing or thinking in a Christian way. Not praying enough.
    Some years ago my Spiritual Father said to me about prayer that ‘Patience is prayer’. This has often held me to hope. But not now.
    I feel abandoned at every turn and even when someone is kind I don’t let on the truth or depth of my despair in living this life. I have no family and my Orthodox ‘friends’ are busy with their own things and families. For nearly all my life I lived an Orthodox centred life. My best friends were within the church. Even my church jurisdiction seems to have sold its’ soul.
    I want to speak to a friend about the depth of what I am going through but I don’t want to burden them or indeed for some I know I would only face more disappointment.
    I really wonder: Have I washed my life dedicated to this faith?
    Some may think reading thus, this person is ignorant of tge Holy Fathers teachings and advice, Christ’s teaching but Whilenot an expert as some, I have a fair knowledge in these things.
    Why does God allow someone to fall so deep down into despair not just once but many times over the years? Why doesn’t he make me feel ‘found’?
    I have now spent so many great feasts alone over tge years. Tge church is full of ‘do gooders’ who in truth don’t know what to really do good means.
    I am angry. I am isolated probably now because it feels safer from all the disappointment and abandonement.
    Sure, my situation is not as bad as some, but I have no place to call home anymore.
    All I can say to others is don’t ignore and turn your back on single friends who you were close with once. Make all the assertions tgat your friends are family real because if you fail at that it has devastating consequences.
    Sorry, Fr Stephen for such a low spirit here. I am tired and I can’t endure to carry my particular cross, even if it reality. I think, I really am done.
    Your right, words and rational attempts of justifying/proving/convincing about the Faith is hollow. And now even all thosecrumbs have just blown away.
    Forgive me for such a comment now when you are preparing for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

  6. Dodee,
    Your words touched me. If I were near I’d like to give you a hug.
    I’ll pray for your friend. Do the same for me, please.

  7. Dodee,
    I know from experience that depression isn’t driven away by words. Right now, anybody who is prone to depression (and a number of us fit that category) is having a difficult time. The world’s trial is simply not at all geared to help with it. Quite the opposite – even those who normally have little trouble with it are struggling now.

    So, we’re probably in a common boat. I told my wife a couple of days ago that I was depressed. I could tell that I was angry, a bit grumpy, and that it was getting worse. My strategy that day, was to reflect on my anger and work at letting that part go. Anger is a trigger and drags you down. I prayed and asked for help (there were no miracles). My second thing was to concentrate on softening my heart. When I’m depressed, I seem to lose my compassion – I get caught up and surrounded by myself. That helped. I prayed for a couple of people that I knew were have a difficult time (I’ll pray for you as well).

    A life-long strategy (at least since I was 19 and hospitalized with a clinical depression) has been to out-live them. Depressions come and go (and often return again). So, I work at waiting them out. It is particularly difficult that the normal settings for friendship have been diminished lately.

    It’s ok the share depressing thoughts here – you’ll find sympathetic ears – and people who will pray for you. God give us all grace for these times!

  8. Dodee, I am crying for you. My heart aches for you. I have been in a place like you are in before, once for many years. I will hold you in prayer. I wish I could hold you in person.

  9. Tell all the truth, but tell it slant –
    Success in circuit lies.
    Too bright for our infirm delight
    The truth’s superb surprise.
    As lightening to the children eased
    With explanation kind,
    The truth must dazzle gradually,
    Or every man be blind.
    —Emily Dickinson

  10. Dodee, I too have felt many of the things you describe as have my wife and son. You are not alone. We do not suffer in vain however. May God grant you surcease of sorrow. The very fact that you shared it here shows hope.

  11. “Thinking with the heart” Yes

    it reminds me of something of Maximos put in my path this week as I heard about how Western Christianity, which increasingly seems to be part of the Platonic cave of these days, was unable to communicate to the culture it bore. He was speaking of how the Passions divert the mind from God. This spoke to me of how we get lost in our minds when our minds are divorced (perhaps the right word?) from our hearts. When the mind resides close to the heart, like that of the Evangelist, we begin to truly think, I think 🙂

  12. A friend of mine once said this; “We weren’t lost because we sinned; we were lost because we forgot where we came from and where we’re going (that’s why it’s called “lost”).”

    Despite intellect, knowledge, Biblical insight, extensive reading–even prayer– so much of the time I *feel* lost-ness. When I do feel found it is when another person looks into my eyes as though they understand all about me, though maybe we have just met. It’s rare, but when this does occur I sense it as a sacramental moment, a found moment.

    May God find me and all of us without surcease.

  13. The modern world distances us from our hearts, and that inner place of stillness. I am finding that life is unnecessarily complex if you think too much in your head, but simplified when one thinks with their heart. Found this quote that stuck me, “If you wish to be a warrior, prepare to be broken. If you wish to be an explorer, prepare to get lost. If you wish to be a lover, prepare to be both.”

    I think I underestimated the work God did on preparing and opening my heart to Orthodoxy, now I truly feel at rest in my heart in my Christian faith. Father you mention ‘It is not the cry of a heart that is seeking the truth’, I myself have been finding the wisdom, which is evident in Christ life, of primarily speaking the truth only to those who are receptive to it. This takes humility, patience, wisdom, grace, love, peace etc. I think this is something unfortunately lacking in the modern world. All too often we are speaking past each other or not speaking at all.

    I heard that Saint John Chrysostom’s last words were Glory to God for all things. Does he happen to be your favourite saint?

  14. I am dealing with some interpersonal challenges at the moment, I would appreciate anyones prayers for me. Dodee I have been in the place of deep despondency as I am sure others have, I will certainly pray for you. My advice would be to take one step forward at a time, trusting in God that one day you will be on the other side of this dark tunnel.

  15. To Dodee and all the others who have posted with depressive thoughts and feelings: I have added you all to my prayer list – it is long with people going through severe depression. I would like to add one suggestion for all of us: whatever we are dealing with, depression, physical illnesses, spiritual crisis, – keep praying. Pray for yourself and pray for all the others all over the world who are suffering from this same affliction – bring the world to your cross for who can understand their suffering better that one who is going through it themselves. This was a suggestion from a monk, Fr. Seraphim Aldea. It really helped me in a time of physical pain to pray for all the ones around the world with this particular ailment. May God have mercy on all of us.

  16. Dodee,

    I could have written every word you wrote!

    I know a man (and I dare not say, “in Christ”) who has not switched on his mobile or opened his email or tried to speak to a friend for almost a year now because being on the receiving end of “well-meant” advice, suggestions, consolations and “I told you so”-s from so many Job’s Comforters is so completely overwhelming.

    I won’t offer you any words of consolation, because I can’t think of any words that console more than they would insult. Anything people say seems like empty platitudes to me right now, though my rational mind keeps trying to give others the benefit of the doubt and to find the truth in what they say, but it’s wearying work.

    Partly for selfish reasons (i.e., if there’s hope for you, there’s probably hope for me too, right?) I sincerely wish you find your way out of where you are now, by the grace of God.

    I know every spiritual author worth his/her salt says not to compare oneself with others, but psychologically I simply can’t stop myself doing so. It seems to me that Providence arranges for almost everything to go smoothly in the lives of those who are unconcerned with God, and as for those who are trying to be friends of God, they invariably get stabbed in the back over and over again by life. (sometimes I almost think, “by Providence” and then my scrupulosity leads me to kick myself and feel guilty for entertaining thoughts bordering on blasphemy)
    Sometimes (God forgive me!) it seems to me that God’s major pre-occupation is finding ways to teach those who would be His friends humility through repeated humiliation. When do we finally get to graduate? The worst part is the derision of those “successful” folk who are “practical” and “normal” and “not obsessed with religion” for the rest of us who haven’t got our the ducks of our life all in a row yet. I used to think the spiritual life was a straightforward school of progress in virtue. Now I’m not sure what it is anymore, except that it is a school of humility, but very little beyond that is clear to me now.

    There is one thing I can say, though:
    The major difference between you and me is you are Orthodox and I am Catholic. No matter how much you may think your church jurisdiction seems to have sold its soul, believe me, if you just head over to any conservative or traditionalist Catholic blog or news site these days and take a look at the wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the shenanigans going on over here across the Tiber, you might begin to think things are not so bad in your ecclesiastical corner, after all.

    I will close with the typical trite-sounding “I shall keep you in my prayers” because what else can I do, really?

    Fr. Stephen,
    Yes, you can outlast the episode, but what of the damage that happens due to a period of anger/depression? The damage that keeps compouding? I remember the experience you recounted, with the verse from Joel regarding the restoration of the years eaten by the locust and the cankerworm. I wish I could believe that with all my heart.

    I actually went and looked up the verse, and it goes “And I will restore to you the ears which the locust, and the bruchus, and the mildew, and the palmerworm have eaten; my great host which I sent upon you.” (Douai-Rheims) God seems to go into great detail about the various ways in which he has permitted chaos to wreak havoc on our lives! So he DOES know exactly how much we’ve been damaged. 🙂 And yet He is largely silent…. It is beyond my understanding. (And yes, the translation I looked up [drbo dot org] does say “ears” and not “years.” So is the verse talking about lost time or destroyed resources (as in “ears of corn”)? Not sure.)

    -NSP

  17. Father Stephen, you mentioned planting seeds….
    The seed is planted, God gives the increase. The seed can be ever so small. We know a lady who had been badly burned. At the time she was not Christian. While in the burn unit, a lady dressed as a nurse, opened her door and asked, “Sue, you’re a Christian aren’t you?”
    Caught by surprise she blurted out, “Ah, yes I am.” She had never seen the nurse before nor after the encounter. Yet this moment set her on the path toward Christ. A godson of mine had the seed planted in his heart in this way. He was having lunch with an Orthodox coworker. This coworker drew on a napkin a diagram of apostolic succession. My godson said this little diagram was an “aha” moment in his life. The seed grew and he became an Orthodox believer. I sowed seeds in my nephew’s life for 20 years. Finally, one of these little seeds germinated and he came to the Church. Few of us are evangelists but all of us can
    be spiritual Johnny Apple Seeds. We sow, God mysteriously gives the increase.

  18. I sense that God is using this time in the life of the world to bring us together, to gather His children to Him. Unfortunately we will not be gathered until it is made extremely obvious through pain just how much we need Him and each other. It hurts down to the very depths, but it is the right solution for the situation.

    I know that He’s a good God and that He loves us. This knowledge helps me submit to the pain of the loneliness, vulnerability, and a sense of utter meaninglessness. And once I submit, the pain does its work through tears and prayer – and causing me to reach out to others, helping and looking for help.

    We ask God to have mercy, but this current state is part of what that looks like – and it is good, though we don’t recognize it as such.

  19. In the worst of my times, I have found that sometimes I feel much closer to God in unexpected ways. I think the key for me when in a dark place is to always remember to turn back to God, and cry out for help if that is the only thing I can do, no matter how angry at God I might be or how depressed, and keep doing so, even if it seems like I am over the top with the pleas and even if it means many cries. My circumstances might not change right away, but there is often some lightening of the dark, or something that happens that was unexpected, a call from someone, a new poem, a song, a dream or beautiful thought that appears out of nowhere and helps break the grip of a sad feeling or whatever pain is going on. I think it is important to tell God when one is angry and does not understand – who else can one speak to about these things if not God, the saints, etc. Friends and acquaintances are often the worst persons to turn to or respond when one is in the dark night experience, even when they mean well. For me, these experiences open up my heart and consciousness in a way that makes it more painful than usual when the world impinges on vulnerability. I often need to be protective when struggling, and I can really relate to Job and his experience with his “friends”. I try to think, however, that people have good intentions, which alas go awry, so I don’t lose whatever connections I have that might blossom in some other time. At the end of Job, the resolution was to realize how much greater, different, God is from what we think a lot of the time, and one can only be humbled before that. I do think these dark night experiences hold within them the possibility of a much deeper understanding of God, born out of the suffering and maybe that can only be grown through suffering.
    I relate to your experience with the church, and I think your writing is a prophetic call to the rest of us to shape up. After becoming Orthodox, knowing I was in the right tradition, I was surprised to find how ethnically focused some parishes are, how focused on family life and intermarried families, and, well, insular they can be. This is not what Jesus taught – lepers, mentally ill people, sick people with contagion, tax collectors, prostitutes, everyone was welcome, and not just welcome, but reached out to, allowed to sit at the table and be part of the group. I think this is a vision that Orthodox churches should really reflect heartily on, as it is often lacking if one is single, without children, has a spouse that doesn’t attend or is not Orthodox, is from a different ethnic group or race, speaks a different language, and many other things. I like to think if Jesus were there in the body on a Sunday morning, coffee hour would look like a totally different thing — no one would be standing or sitting alone at a coffee hour without His doing something about it. And He would be going out to visit anyone who hadn’t been there recently. So, I do my best to reach out and make connections at church, whatever church I am at in the moment, as it is not just Orthodox churches with this issue.
    Just this week, reflecting on these types of experiences, I thought of my guardian angel, something I have not really done before. I researched guardian angels, and I think I will find a nice icon. I realized that when lonely and not connected to a parish or social life, having a guardian angel with one all the time is a great comfort. Being new to this thought, I don’t know where this will take me, but I recommend thinking about it as I was immediately comforted by the thought. There is a nice Orthodox prayer somewhere in regard to the angel, too, for when one has no other words. I am going to try to remember this when I am low about being lonely, especially with the pandemic — the idea of the guardian angel applies to everyone, Christian or not, and I can’t help wondering whether this isn’t the time of the angels when we are alone with ourselves.
    Last, but not least, my best musical compositions have been born out of suffering, often the deeper the suffering the more beautiful the music — perhaps there is a creative thing waiting to be born from your dark night. I started composing when I was ill in bed for months at a time, with nothing else to do, and haven’t looked back.
    I wish you all the best and will have you in mind!

    I will keep you in mind. All the best to anyone else struggling with this.

  20. NSP,
    The most therapeutic thing I have found (and only in these later years) has been exploring the dynamics of shame and the role it plays in these things. I continue to work on the book that treats this topic – and to work on me. But, I would point people in that direction as a fruitful place of insight to help untie some of the knots.

    On the whole, I do not find that the non-religious are more immune to these various problems.

  21. Fr. Freeman,

    Owing to your recommending it, I bought John Bradshaw’s “Healing the Shame that Binds You,” but it’s been sitting unread on my table for months now. Perhaps I shall use the motivational potential of Christmas Day to get started with it.

    Thanks for the reminder, Father! Given your recent research on this topic for your upcoming book, is there any other resource you recommend? What about this one from New Harbringer Publications? I just last week completed a year-long process of working through another book from the same publisher and found it useful.

    -NSP

  22. To those suffering from depression and anxiety,
    We are not only spiritual beings but physical also. That is how God designed us. Please find a Naturapathic
    physician to help you with a ‘gut’ friendly diet . Only recently has the gut-brain connection been verified.
    Even addictions are responsive to a positive change in gut bacteria. Our Western diet is partially to blame.
    We’ve drifted away from simple wholesome food and substituted processed convenience ‘stuff’ !
    We really do have to take reasonable care of our’ Temple of the Holy Spirit.’
    I pray that this information offers a ray of hope.

  23. Seraphima,
    Your words were quite helpful for me. This time indeed is exasperating and amplifies our suffering. As I’m learning to play an instrument, occasionally I attempt to improvise. It is as you say that when I’m suffering and attempt to improvise on the instrument, sometimes, something amazing happens. I suppose it is a form of prayer, of supplication, not said with words.

    Dodee and NSP,
    I once believed God cursed me. There were so many tragic things that had happened in my life. It got to a point where I wanted to live as a hermit, far from everyone and everything. (And I did do this but will not elaborate here) Ironically, it was at that stage of my life that I met my husband to be. Yet there was no interest on my part whatsoever. I did all that I could to remain apart from people, including him. The one ‘friend’ that I had, called me anti-social.

    Later I learned, when I became a catechumen in the Orthodox Church, that “Christ became cursed” entering our humanity and our suffering, transforming it. As I’ve come to understand my own suffering, such transformation doesn’t make suffering go away, but it does become transformed. Our suffering is our own incarnation of the suffering cosmos. The entire cosmos is in the throes of becoming. All is entering birth and the birth pangs hurts. Remembering St Paul’s life, prayers our necessary, but prayers do not make our suffering go away. Having love in our hearts helps with this transformation. And more often than not, having such love in our hearts brings many tears (speaking from experience).

    I pray daily that my beloved will someday come to services with me and worship and love our Lord, Jesus Christ, together with me. Someday, God willing.

    Indeed Father, my beloved says he doesn’t believe and yet he often suffers these problems. Shame indeed, Father, is at the core of these things. I pray daily for your writing Father. And I’m ever so grateful for your ministry.

  24. God found me long before I realized He had. Over 100 years ago my mother had an encounter with the Holy Spirit in Taos NM in which a wise Native man named “Adam” told her she would have two strong sons who would push out the horizon all around. She gave birth to two sons. We are both Orthodox, my brother a priest. She also brought back an old iconic painting of Our Lady of Guadeloupe which I was drawn to as a child and I still have it with me. God knows us before we are born, each od us.

  25. God keeps finding me no matter how much I fight Him or try to ignore Him. The way into the Kingdom is not easy and the closer we even try to get the more the world, our flesh and the devil conspire against us.

  26. Dee,
    I have to echo your thoughts here. God has united Himself to us in our suffering – He is a co-sufferer. That doesn’t make our suffering good, nor does it make it lighter, but it makes it His. This is significant.

    I do ponder the “where is God” thought that assaults us so many times. I take it as a matter of course, as certain as the sunrise, that God is with us. What I feel is about what I feel and not about whether God loves me or whether He is with me. He loves us and He is with us.

    The feelings of abandonment, loneliness, etc., are aspects of shame. To a degree, they are saying to us, “You are not worthy of having friends, etc.” It is not the truth, but is how we feel. Many of these feelings are deep, deep emotional habits that we likely formed at a very young age (almost undoubtedly). It can be of help to go back to young age (mentally), and speak with that lonely child. “I have comforted my soul like a weaned child at its mother’s breast.”

    For example, I was a second son, always smaller and less athletic than my older brother. “Small” and “little” are words that are inherently shaming as a child. We want to be bigger, stronger, etc. To make matters worse, my next door neighbor, a boy who was a year older, was also named “Steve.” To tell us apart, we were nicknamed. He was “Big Steve,” and I was “Little Steve.” That lasted until I was 10 years old. I had no awareness of these things as issues in my life. Only in these later years as I’ve explored deeper causes of various things did I find out that those were bitter wounds.

    How do you comfort that? I speak to myself when I find echoes of those childhood experiences. When I feel weak, or lonely, or left-out, or disappointed, etc. I speak comfort to that child with reassurance and warmth, in the presence of God. I would have probably thought such a thing to be a silly indulgence once upon a time – except that it was recommended to me by the Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex. It is a godly exercise and healing.

    It’s a personal example, but is a pattern, for what it’s worth. God is always with us.

  27. Dear Father Stephen,

    How do you comfort that? I speak to myself when I find echoes of those childhood experiences. When I feel weak, or lonely, or left-out, or disappointed, etc. I speak comfort to that child with reassurance and warmth, in the presence of God. I would have probably thought such a thing to be a silly indulgence once upon a time – except that it was recommended to me by the Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex. It is a godly exercise and healing.

    It’s a personal example, but is a pattern, for what it’s worth. God is always with us.

    These are helpful words. Thank you for sharing them. Indeed this was a needful lesson, a healthful pattern for me, too. In my case, someone was very hurtful in my childhood. In this scenario that you describe, I also speak words of comfort, love and forgiveness, embracing them as well. It has taken a lifetime to do this. But such practice heals my soul and I believe it may heal the soul of the person who has long since reposed.

  28. Father, being no stranger to feeling shame and being shamed, usually for no good reason, I appreciate your comments on shame and the issues it poses. I would add, though, that, no matter how well one is doing on the shame front or not, whether one has friends and family in one’s life does not depend totally on oneself, and really can only happen if other people want to be your friend or act as the family they are. One can be a wonderful person and a great potential friend, and still not be liked by the people around you, especially if they are dealing with shame issues or are unable to love, are too busy, get their social connections elsewhere, or any other of many reasons. I think one can be lonely for friendship for reasons beyond one’s control or one’s own growth, and the more one grows into the person one really is, I think the more one runs into this in some situations. (I’m thinking of Jesus in writing this.) All one can do is continue to love, to plant those seeds, and see what happens and be open to finding friendship everywhere. God’s being everywhere and in all things is a comfort, but, as Job shows, being face to face with the living God is not a small thing and upends your life, so I am not sure comfort is necessarily the most salient feature I would think of for the feeling a deep connection with God, although it can be and often is. If one is inclined more to seeing the immensity of God, God’s presence can be discomfiting and incomprehensible, too, to such small beings as we are. Spiritual practice helps in being able to stand on one’s own feet in the presence of God (barefoot, I guess), but I think one works on this forever, and the path has its ups and downs. The saints, angels, church, friends and family if one has them are a great help, but there are saints who had no friends or family and progressed. The pandemic challenges everything to the nth degree, but I am sure God is to be found in it, perhaps in a new way. I look forward very much to your book on shame! And seeing the new things the pandemic situation leads to for all of us.

  29. Did she really believe Muhammed was transported to the Al-Aqsa mosque from Mecca on a winged horse-like white creature or Gabriel actually visited him and told him he was Allah’s prophet and supersede all others?

  30. I am having very major surgery in two weeks. I am scared; more so for my wife who, if I die under the scalpel, will live on with loss, grief, and loneliness, cry herself to sleep, live on without me, her best friend and protector. I will know none of this. I will sleep under anesthesia, and hopefully awaken to provide for and comfort my wife, and continue leading our church’s board to serve our Orthodox family. Or I won’t awaken, or will awaken to pain, a stroke, being a difficult project for my wife to manage. I know not what lies beyond “count backwards from ten.” I am afraid – of the unknown! God help me.

  31. I appreciate all the heartfelt stories shared. I warn that my response happened to get quite lengthy.

    NSP I think you could benefit from some of the wisdom of Jordan Peterson or at the very least learn of his story of suffering.

    Father I concur that shame should be focused on and worked through. I have been reading some of your articles on mental health, most notably I appreciated this one: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2017/06/26/priests-thoughts-depression-anxiety-soul-body-brain/#comments . And I am impressed and heart-warmed to hear your great wisdom and knowledge on these deep, sensitive issues. Personal experience is the best teacher makes a lot of sense in regards to mental health, it is rare that I meet someone IRL who has the depth of understanding I have, but I have managed to find one guy who I am able to converse with on these kinds of issues. And I agree that speaking lovingly to one’s inner child, or self-parenting is an essential part of the healing journey and it is featured in a variety of psychological approaches to healing from trauma.

    Seraphima after reading your comment, I feel better about going through my dark night of the soul experience ‘alone’. The sad truth is that I didn’t have an appropriate person who I trusted to reach out IRL that would have been more of a help than a hurt. I very much agree with this: “I do think these dark night experiences hold within them the possibility of a much deeper understanding of God, born out of the suffering and maybe that can only be grown through suffering.” One thing I might say is that one learns or grows to have the peace from God instead of a worldly peace; John 14:27:”Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

    Dee I am sorry to hear of your tragic sufferings. I pray for your continued healing and growth. I agree that by no means after having healed one’s wounds are you the same as you where before, suffering really does change you whether for better or worse. I relate to feeling cursed and the desire to live as a hermit. You might resonate with Avoidant Personality Disorder. As well as my own life experience I have heard the stories from people identifying themselves with this disorder and fundamentally they suffer from a lack of love. I think this quote by Fyodor Dyostevsky is key:“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” For me the beginning of the journey was to realise that God really did love me as I am, and then that I could begin to really love myself and properly love others.

    Seraphima I concur with your thoughts about growing closer to God in struggle and solitude. Also this:” I think one can be lonely for friendship for reasons beyond one’s control or one’s own growth, and the more one grows into the person one really is, I think the more one runs into this in some situations.” After having found myself there is nothing quite like the joy of solitude here are some of my favourite quotes:

    “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”

    “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”

    “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

    “To live alone is the fate of all great souls”

    “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

    We live in a world where we are connected everything apart from ourselves. The modern human has lost connection with the being mode, entrenched in having and doing. We forgot the ancient wisdom ‘know thyself’, hence we have the modern malady of a host of mental unhealthy people living in material prosperity.

    Why did the desert Fathers, and many early Christians move so far in the spiritual life? I contest it is because they knew the value of solitude. While it might be harder to pursue in the modern world I think it is all the more important!

  32. Thank you. This is beautiful and so necessary for those of us so desperate to be able to “defend” our faith or have others understand it. In Christ. Sasha

  33. A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, in spite of everything! God bless us, everyone!

    Apologies for the longish post and for the lack of Christmas cheer herein:

    Anonymo,

    NSP I think you could benefit from some of the wisdom of Jordan Peterson or at the very least learn of his story of suffering

    Thanks for the recommendation, Anonymo!

    As it happens, I’ve listened to his Bible lectures, read 12 Rules for Life, listened to the Maps of Meaning audiobook on my morning runs (took half a year to complete the book), done his Self-Authoring programme, and am currently working through his Personality Course (thanks to the COVID discount pricing).

    There is tremendous value in Dr. Peterson’s work, but there are portions he needs to clarify more, I think. (for example, what exactly does he mean by his exhortation to “become a monster?” He did clarify a bit on one Joe Rogan episode by making a distinction between intentionally becoming a monster vs. accidentally becoming one, but it’s still not clear enough, I think.)
    Intruiged by some things he said, I dipped into (not in any great depth, though) CG Jung and Joseph Campbell, and while it seems that such pioneers of depth psychology have some interesting insights I often got the feeling that they were passing off speculations (even if highly intelligent and well-thought out ones) as established fact! (e.g., the archetypes of the collective unconsious)

    I recently came across this passage of Elder Aimilianos:

    In addition to their pastoral work, [priests] should also foresee the degree to which they will fail in the work they do. Fail, not because they are themselves incapable of succeeding, but because – so we would say – the apostolate of the worker in the Church is precisely to fail, to fail in order to demonstrate the power of God. Elijah the Zealot was sent to witness to the truth and preach the living God. But what results did this holy prophet see from his mission? The way in which God snatched him from this life was wonderful, certainly, but we might also say that it must have been a blow: it meant his replacement by another prophet. Yet is was exactly for the seed of his witness that God sent him. John the Forerunner bore witness to the truth and reproved the lawless. Yet, while transgression went on and seems to prevail to the present day, he lost his precious head! He did not succeed. Yet again, he remains the Forerunner of Christ, the very summit of the prophets. Where is the multitude of churches that the Apostles founded in the East? Where are the ascetic feats and miracles accomplished by so many saints? What has happened to the preaching of ten thousand heralds of the divine Word? The world continues to wallow in the mire of sin. And our own children, our own flocks, our own people for whom we grow weary and over whom we agonize? Let us admit that they will go on living in the sins of their hearts, in those passions by which the whole society lives. They shall, however, survive into eternity when God snatches them up in the hour ordained for each of them, and which He alone knows. God is the One Who gives the victory, even while we ourselves suffer perpetual hardship. It is He Who wins our people, not by our own labor but via the way He revealed to Isaiah, whose own failure He foretold when He prophesied to him: ‘The holy seed is its stump’ (Is. 6:13) – that is, the stump of Zion – as if to say to him: ‘You shall fail.’. . . So let us admit to ourselves that we are useless and fit as witnesses only to be crushed beneath the tread of that toe of God’s love, be trodden in the winepress of the ascetic and Christ-delighting monastic life, be poured out as new wine to gladden the Lord and be changed into the sacrament of the world to come.

    Okay, fine! I can look into my heart and see all the dirt there: anger, lust, lack of industriousness, laxity, etc, etc.

    I don’t need any more convincing that I can do nothing by myself, that I am nothing and Christ is everything.

    But now one thought keeps dominating my mind: WHAT IS THE POINT OF IT ALL?

    If I am nothing, Christ is everything, and the greatest achievement I can make in my life is to come to see this, why am I here at all? Why did God create any creatures? Surely He has all He needs for His own happiness in Himself, being all perfection in Himself? Isn’t that what the theologians say?

    Dr. Peterson often says in his lectures that “humans are aiming creatures,” which seems to ring true to me from personal experience.

    But then what is the point of creating “aiming creatures” if the greatest target one can aim at is to realise one is almost no good at aiming at anything? Why can’t God just do all things Himself and be happy? Why are we here at all? Are we some sort of stage chorus? Just assisting as admiring onlookers? Why did God make us such that we desire to do great things when it turns out the greatest thing we can do is to realise we are incapable of doing anything great, and even on those rare occassions that one does manage to accomplish something worth doing, there is no guarantee it will endure?

    I am at an impasse. I can no longer go back to thinking I can make good by my own strength or even go back to my older expectations of steady progress in virtue as long as I adhered to the correct principles and acted in the correct way towards God.
    At the same time, while I clearly see what it means not to hope for anything in myself, I do not have the slightest understanding of what it means to hope for everything in God.

    How does one even get out of bed in the morning? What is there to look forward to?

    I remember reading in the lectures of St. Aimilianos (in the book “The Way of the Spirit”) about the monk who praised God for the doctor who gave him wrong medical advice which resulted in his blindness, and accepted it joyfullly as God’s will. Sure I can admire that, but to be frank, it seems like madness to me. Is there no path to sanctity other than that of the holy fool?

    I find myself relating to the character Lionel Rackstraw in the Charles Williams novel, “War in Heaven:”

    “I fear all things,” Lionel answered, “and I do not understand how it is
    that men do not fear them more. In the town it is bad enough, but there
    one is deafened and blinded by people and things. But here everything is
    so still and meditative, and I am afraid of what those meditations are.”

    “Is there, then, nothing pleasant in life?” Prester John said.

    Lionel answered, almost savagely, “Can’t you see that when life is most
    pleasant one suspects it most? Unless one can drug oneself with the
    moment and forget.”

    Perhaps what I need is to encounter Prester John myself! 🙂

    Fr. Freeman,

    Regarding the immunity of the non-religious to problems, it seems to me that St. Silouan thought that those who attempted to live the Christian life were indeed at a disadvantage in a worldly sense, compared to others:

    And soon after the end of the First World War (1918), at the monastery of St. Pantaleimon, it was decided to buy a steam engine for the saw-mill and to turn to account the monastery forest. The steward, Father F, a capable, naturally-gifted Russian, pleased with the machinery after it had been installed and set to work, began to praise German genius (the machine was of German make). Extolling the Germans, he inveighed against Russian boorishness and ineptness. Fr. Silouan, who in his free time went to give a hand with the felling, listened in silence to Father F. Only in the evening when the working monks sat down to supper did he ask Father F:
    “What do you think, Father F, why to the Germans know how to make machinery and so on better than Russians?”
    In reply, Father F. started praising the Germans again as more efficient, cleverer, and more talented, “whereas we Russians are no good at anything.”
    To which Fr. Silouan remarked, “But I think there is an altogether different reason than Russian inaptitude.It seems to me that Russians give their first thought to God and pay little attention to earthly matters. But if Russians, like other peoples, did devote themselves to earthly matters and engaged only in them, they would soon overtake the others, since that is less difficult.”
    Some of the monks who were present, knowing that there is nothing on earth more difficult than prayer, agreed with Fr. Silouan.

    – Archm. Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, pp 70-71

    -NSP

    P.S. Praying for you, Cliff!

  34. NSP,
    I think there is something that needs a balance in your thoughts. The “I can do nothing” is easy to misconstrue – particularly when combined with a depressed state of mind. “What is the point?” The point is union with God in Christ. It is joy, it is utter wonderment, it is life in its total fullness, etc. Those words can feel hollow when you’re depressed. It has been important for me over the years to make a distinction between the voice of my depression and the voice of what is true. I fully understand from an experiential point-of-view the darkness of depression and the thoughts it nurtures. Been there many times.

    If I were to break my toe – it would hurt. The pain would be real. However, the pain of my toe should not constitute a world-view or an existential moment. I treat depressive experiences and thoughts the same way. It is the sound of my brain on depression – and distorts the world.

    I constantly go back to the resurrection of Christ. That, and that alone, constitutes the truth of existence. Though my brain may shout pain, or curse the darkness, and urge me to dark places – (in the words of the 3 Young Men) “nevertheless!” I will not go there and worship at that altar.

    To stand before the empty tomb of Christ and cry out for help – or simply to rejoice that His resurrection has and will triumph over all things, including my depression.

    These things have been helpful to me.

  35. This time of year I have no celebratory spirit. I see no “magic” in the manner in which society celebrates Christmas. It irritates my wife no end. She is Mrs. Claus. We do have a Christmas Liturgy (attendance by sign up). In the morning. For me I would prefer quiet, a cave and in the night. This is just the beginning. In the quiet and dark there is something new, gentle and fragile. If I shout out “Christ is Born!” “Glorify Him!! I half expect Joseph and Mary to admonish me to not wake the baby.

  36. Cliff and all who suffer here, I will continue to pray for you. Please pray for me as well. May God save us all.

  37. Dear Michael,
    Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

    Also: I’m with Merry on this one. I’m Mrs Claus in my family. My poor husband puts up with a lot, including my going to serviced on Christmas Eve. He’d rather that I stay home.

    He notes the secularism in our cultural celebration of Christmas and in the past preferred hanging up cards depicting the Nativity. But since my conversion, he has withdrawn from such obvious displays of his heart.

    Anonymo, I appreciate your thoughts. When I was about 35 years old I received counseling, while attending school. It seemed to the counselor that my response was primarily PTSD, due to a series of specific traumatic events, some of which were not related to abuse. I won’t list them all here— too depressing. Thankfully he was a counselor who was a Vietnam War Vet. He easily recognized the symptoms and provided a behavioral method to deal with my anxieties. That helped enough to keep me reasonably functioning since then. But it is interesting that I am still happy as a ‘loner’ of sorts. Despite my ‘Mrs. Claus’ attitude, for example, I’ve never been much of a partier this time of year..

    Dear Cliff you have my prayers too. God is with you and your family.

  38. Michael, et al
    I long ago reconciled myself to how the culture handles Christmas – and I’ve laid aside any resentments that it provokes. My children, over the years, loved the feast and it has always been a great joy in our household. My oldest child is now 40 and the youngest will soon be 30. Covid, and distance, will prevent us from all being together this year (a rare thing in the past number of years anyway). But, I have a 4 year-old grandson in town, and his newborn little brother. We’ll celebrate together, God-willing.

    Even the commercialism doesn’t rattle me much. If you go to the Holy Land, you’ll find vendors everywhere near the Holy sites. This has been true, most likely, for many centuries. Living, as we do, in a secular Protestant culture, feast days get a very poor treatment. Most of us actually have almost zero experience of a culture where the Orthodox feasts have a prominent role. So, we have Christmas. We do it sort of badly, marred by our sin and such, but many of the customs are good, and there is, even in our commercialism, an echo of what it means to actually have a Feast in a culture.

    So, though we do it badly, I’ll gladly take what we got, and work at offering as much gladness as possible.

  39. Wow, great comments! Cliff and others who have asked prayer, you will have mine. It is foggy, gray, gloomy outside this morn. Yet my heart rejoices knowing our Savior was born in a cave and even comes to abide in the “cave” of our heart, if we but invite Him in. Glory to God for all things…Christ is born!
    (Continue prayers for my wife, Freda, and her battle with lymphoma). Thank you dear friends.

  40. Dean, thank you for the update concerning Freda. I will continue praying for you and her in these times. God grant healing!

  41. Random Comment:

    In the past I have been one of those who find it a little irritating that the ability to like and reply to comments is not turned on for this blog. But recently I’ve realized the value. The lack of these shortcuts causes commenters to be more intentional and even take more time to think about what they’re saying and who it should be directed to. It makes the blog experience just a little more like a real, in-person conversation – something sorely lacking these days.

    So thanks, Fr. Stephen, for your wisdom in this matter.

  42. Cliff, I only got to 8 when I went under for my heart surgery. I was confident. I knew God was with me and my new wife was praying for me. I knew God loved her and paid attention to her. Still it can be a frightening time. May God and His saints and angels watch over you and your wife and keep you safe and guide your surgeon’s hands for you healing.
    May the Holy Unmercenary Physicians and Healers intercede for you, you wife and the team doing your surgery.
    Christ is Risen!

  43. NSP – I am sorry you are struggling with the meaning of it all, but also glad you are because I dare hope you will find the meaning in it for you. If you did not search, you would not find so keep searching and asking. Humility and wonderment are key states of being to me — one can cultivate humility and being a good, kind and loving person, while keeping an eye out for the opportunity to do the “great” thing, which may turn out to be as small as a mustard seed, more often than not. Failure and success are in the eye of the Beholder. Our idea of a great thing might not be so great, but, in my view, humility and doing a “great” thing are not mutually exclusive. My great ideas often don’t pan out, and the unexpected small things blossom in ways I might never have imagined. I once thought I had completely failed at being a teen choir director, and actually gave it up; but years later, one of the teens, all grown up, came back to tell me she had been inspired by her choir experience to study fine arts and teach. Of course, I should not have given it up! I can assure you that that was through no particular skill of my own, as I am awkward with teenagers, despite loving them and their world. I think humility and trust in God that all things work for good to those who believe get one a long way in the search for meaning and the missions one has in life. You can never know the full effect of your attempts at goodness and kindness in this life. I hope one day all shall be revealed and I will see that something, anything I did in life, had a positive outcome. The beatitudes are clear that the humble and pure in heart are the ones who see and find God, so I try to focus on cultivating my better self, a daunting task some days as I can find so many things to be differently than I am. I struggle to accept just who I am, and incrementally move along the path. And my “great” things, often turned out not to be so great, although I ardently longed to accomplish them and did. So, there you go with pursuing “great” things. But the real key to meaning in life at my late age is wonder, as Father said in one of his posts. Job’s experience shows this — in the end, the experience of God is ultimately one of awe and wonder, and the immensity of God and the creation, and trust in one’s place in it, even after great despair and suffering. I think we were made for communion and union with God, to enjoy the creation and our place in it, to see the beauty, truth and goodness that inheres everywhere, and even under the bleakness of the overlay of human activities. I can’t do this much now where I live, but my favorite thing is to be out in nature just taking it all in — I think God is a playful, joyful, effervescent being, as the world is a wonderful thing, even with its current deformities. I treasure the moments when I can walk in the world in the wonder of a childlike nature just enjoying every little thing out there. I wish I could do that more with respect to human beings, but I find that harder, but I think it is possible; Mother Theresa comes to mind. The moments of wonder overshadow everything else, including the suffering. I have lovely memories of the magnificent fall foliage this year, which I will treasure forever, so bright are the images in my mind. I feel like I never saw the foliage before this year, although of course I had; but with the pandemic and the solitude, everything burned more brightly, and the glow from the sun just lit up the whole world in incandescence. Music is the same type of thing for me. That is one of the things I live for, and I know God is in that in invisible, indefinable, and just incomprehensible but incontrovertible ways. Walking in effervescence, perhaps that’s a good motto for late life, I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m wondering why I’m here. 🙂

  44. For Seraphima regarding 12-23-20 @10:26 am comment: Your comment reflected exactly my experience in various churches I’ve attended but also in the Orthodox church as well.

    I think your idea about our guardian angel is good. I too have been trying to be open and friendly at my Orthodox church but nothing has come of it.

    I found a lot of good ideas in your other comments after your 10:26 am comment and will be giving them much thought.

    Thank you all for sharing such personal and edifying comments.
    Anna

  45. Thank you for this Father and for your response to my previous comment, which I have been reflecting on

    When people have ‘poof’ moments where they understand (I had one big one) it is like the question ceases to be a question

    I often think of your story when a woman visited you parish, a scheduled first time visit of an inquirer, and she burst out in gentle tears immediately upon entering the building and when you asked why she said ‘it smells like heaven.’

    I have been thinking about how what is accessible to us as gift is not accessible to us as payment, we can’t earn our way in though I have wanted to and wanted to do everthing right

    I think when we conceptualize it as God is never trying to hurt us and always tryong to keep us from harm, trying to show us who we are with Him, then it is like we are tuning (music) rather than earning

    Thank you again. Happy to see that new grandbaby in your arms

  46. Doses and all who are dealing with terrible depression and anxiety- I have lived there too and know the pain. My heart goes out to you, and you have a friend in me. I was on antidepressants and anti anxiety drugs for over 20 yrs. I know what it is to stand in front of a mirror and force myself to find a reason to stay alive one more day. The negative loops that play in the mind telling us over snd over how worthless and useless and alone we are. Life has thrown me some hard things, but I found natural enzymes that worked better than any of the drugs ever did and they are inexpensive and my body does not make enough on my own. 5HTP is what our bodies make serotonin from. I use 300 mg daily. GABA – 500 mg nightly- replaced lorazepam and stopped the panic attacks that were so bad people thought they were heart attacks three times. I have been free of the drugs and the depression for 20 yrs now. But I take them daily. Without them I can slip back easily.
    Dee thank you for the backing on Christmas. I want there to be joy snd love and magic! Michael had very bad Christmas memories from his late wife and their marriage . In 11 yrs I finally have some lights on the porch and. Three decorations in the house. I buy and give all the gifts . I have three children of my own, 8 grandchildren-One married-
    And four great grandkids from 8 1/2 to 6. I love making them smile. I give to the poor and to charity for Christmas and love surprising people. I find the joy. I live with the Grinch and his son, who let the past steal the joy of the present. When I felt alone and sad I always found helping others took me out of myself and gave me purpose. God bless you all and Merry Christmas!! Christ is born

  47. NSP it nice to hear from another JP fan. I myself listened to most of his lectures and I have read Maps of Meaning. It was a hard but meaningful slog; only read a little at a time, I do wonder what the audio experience was like for you? Without JP I might have found Orthodoxy much later if at all. I am immeasurably thankful for God sending JP into my life he had a profound impact on me. I am guessing it is similar for you though you might be a cradle Orthodox?

    NSP you are here because of the overflowing love of God. He desires us to be in union with the source of all goodness namely himself. I have experienced existential depression seems like you are right now; have you done much reading into it? I read Tolstoy’s Confessions and found it helpful. At the risk of coming across as unempathetic I want to rebuke you to come to grips with the truth of the Orthodox faith and life… I had a much poorer theological framework that send me into a tailspin, but with the firmness of the Orthodox worldview and life I don’t surmise that I will come to a spiritual crisis any time soon. Again I would rebuke you to know and appreciate your ancient faith. I would say that this would only be a part of the problem, usually an existential depression is multilayered so I would recommend a wholistic approach. If I am not mistaken most people would experience something like existential depression at least once in their life. And I would say that you do not need to answer many of your intellectual questions to move past it, instead you try to grow and will grow in virtues (now or later) particular those like faith, hope, love, humility and wonder. Anyway you are in my prayers; Christ has Risen!

  48. I guess it is my Protestant mindset that makes it hard for me to think of Christ being born apart from him dying and being raised. I am still trying to come to understand the full meaning of the incarnation, from what I hear this is of manifest importance in Orthodoxy.

  49. Anonymo, No other saving work happens without the Incarnation. A great book to read is St. Athanasius “On the Incarnation” with the forward by C.S. Lewis. It is quite approachable. Many years ago I was blessed to lead an adult study of the work. It was a bit like unpacking a treasure box. We would spend the whole 45 minutes sometimes on one sentence.

    Unless Jesus is born fully human, we all die in our sins. Once he is born, fully human, the path to salvation through repentance and worship is possible. Not easy, and always by His grace, but possible. We are not alone in that either.

    My late wife, may her memory be eternal, struggled in this life. A great deal of pain, abuse and bitterness. Yet as she lay dying in the hospital, our priest and several parishioners were with my son and I at her bedside, praying and singing psalms. I have no doubt those prayers gave her a great defense before the dread judgement seat of Christ and raised her up. Sixty days later, as we celebrated Pascha (The Resurrection) I experienced it for the first time. My wife and I were raised from the dead by our Lord.
    Without really being born and really dying, that would not be possible

    Yes they are all interrelated but they are discrete events too. So as with the joy we have when we proclaim Christ is Risen at Pascha, we say with just as much gusto Christ is Born.

    The days leading up to the birth are solemn days of waiting and preparation (one of the reasons I have trouble the the pre-Christmas festivities. I would much rather spend the time in relative silence, contemplation and prayer. Fasting. I don’t do that well so I get grumpy instead. I realized that when I walked into the Christmas Liturgy today. It was CHRISTMAS. Now is the time for rejoicing.
    I say bring back the Seven Days of Christmas (from today until the end of the year. Christ is Born!

  50. Thanks Michael, I added that to my book list. Once I discovered Orthodoxy I discarded most of the books I had planned on reading (no wasted money, as I read free pdfs), and now I have created a new list mainly of Orthodox material. I have to get back into the rhythm of daily reading of books again too!

    I see the mercy of God in my life that he taught me early repeatedly the evil of bitterness. I had a teacher tell me something to the effect of: “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies” and it has stuck with me ever since. I remember one of my primary school teachers saying something like we don’t ask God to remove the mountains in our life but ask for the strength to climb. I don’t remember much of my early life so I am glad these pieces of wisdom stayed with me!

  51. I am a fan of C.S Lewis having read many of his books! He shaped my understanding of heaven and hell among other things that made my entrance into Orthodoxy mindset more smooth. I hear him praised by the Orthodox often and I think I at least partially know why.

  52. Anonymo,

    I am a cradle Catholic, but I take it as a complement that you would mistake me for a cradle Orthodox. 🙂 I’ve been trying to learn to “breathe with both lungs” as John Paul II said, in my personal spiritual life. Perhaps it’s showing.

    I became serious about the life of faith in around 2005 (largely thanks to Chesterton, CS Lewis, Hilaire Belloc, Charles Williams, JRR Tolkien, et al – finding material for spiritual reading became easier with the broadband internet explosion – God uses all things to draw us to Him!) and have done a reasonable amount of regular prayer and reading since then. Also, I’ve been drawn to the spirituality of Orthodoxy since around 2008 (I’ve been reading Fr. Freeman’s blog from around 2009, when he used to blog on fatherstephen.wordpress.com , but I never commented back in those days). So I’d like to think I have some sort of grasp on a theological framework (a Catholic one, at least), even if I say so myself. 🙂

    Of course, I’m fully prepared to concede that the Orthodox framework quite possibly has its advantages over ours when it comes to existential spirituality. After all, even the noted traditionalist Catholic author Prof. Geoffrey Hull, in his book The Banished Heart traces the current problems in the Catholic Church to the diminished importance given to the heart, at the expense of the increased importance to speculative theology and enforced authoritarianism as stop-gap emergency tactics adopted by the Catholics since the Great Schism, especially during the firefighting period against Protestantism and the aftermath.

    Michael Bauman,
    I read the introduction by C.S. Lewis to “On the Incarnation, translated by a Religious of the CSMV” around ten years ago, and have been meaning to read the actual work by St. Athanasius since then but haven’t got around to it. Now that I think about it, in the intervening years, though, I have read almost all of Lewis’ writings! Ironically, that is exactly the kind of thing Lewis deplores in his Introduction! 🙂 Perhaps now I shall do so.

    -NSP

  53. A sermon really, minus the sermonising. Thanks again Father. And belated Christmas wishes. Your blog is a bit of a treat.
    p.s.
    Was also reminded of St. Francis of Assisi’s, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”

  54. NSP if you liked Jordan Peterson’s work then might I recommend checking out John Vervaeke’s series the Meaning Crisis; there is 50 hours of academic content. I found it tremendously interesting particularly as their was an emphasis on philosophy, psychology and neuroscience as well as a survey of important historical developments in the aforementioned areas.

    Breathe with both lungs, I like that. Not sure if many Orthodox would be onboard though as we ‘arrogantly’ or humbly think we have the fullness of the faith 😉

    NSP I apologise for making too many assumptions about you, hard to judge someone on a few comments on a blog haha. It is good to hear of your spiritual experience, might I ask your opinion on Richard Rohr or his work?

  55. Dear Anonymo,

    Thanks for the recommendation. Hadn’t heard of John Vervaeke till now. Will check him out. Thanks.

    No apologies needed, because your rebuke was true in essence. (Iron sharpens iron, right?) I know the answers “in my head” (perhaps what Cardinal Newman would call ‘notional assent’), but I need to develop the spiritual discipline [I suspect greater fidelity to mental prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer, is a safe route] to know the answers “in my heart” or perhaps even “in my bones” or “in my entrails.” (perhaps what Cardinal Newman would call ‘real assent’). At present, I believe I am a “man without a chest.” The only problem is that, having diagnosed the problem, I find very little guidance in the established authorities (on the Catholic side, at least – though that could very well be my problem due to inadequate searching – which is the reason I was attracted to the Orthodox teaching on the “Prayer of the Heart” in the first place – I thought it might teach me how I could finally become a “man with a chest”) on the exact path to be followed to arrive at the solution. (I got a glimmer of a possible answer to this on reading Laurus, when Arseny meets the elder at the Tomb in Jerusalem and the elder says to him, “But is not Christ a general direction?” But I am still to digest this fully)

    Anyway, your rebuke did some good today because it inspired me to dip into “When the Lion Roars” by Msgr. Stephen J. Rosetti, which is one of my spiritual pick-me-ups.

    Fr. Richard Rohr – I’m not really sure how I would characterise him. I get uneasy when he dabbles with stuff like non-duality (If I wanted to read such stuff, I’d rather go straight to the source and read some original Hindu or Buddhist authors or their Western converts like Eugen Herrigel, Kenneth Kushner, Alan Watts, or even Douglas Harding) and he really did seem to flirt with heresy in The Universal Christ, and his repeated attempts to Christianise the Enneagram don’t help much either. However, there are times when he does say things worth saying which very few others are saying – like in the Naked Now and in the Wisdom Pattern, though, even in these works, some of his liberal biases do show through, I think.

    I think Fr. Ron Rolheiser goes over much of the same ground in a similarly accessible manner, though in a way that lets me breathe easier when I read his books.

    And by no means do you Orthodox have any sort of monopoly on “arrogance” 🙂 regarding the fullness of the faith. The traditionalists among us could give you a run for your money any day. At least, to look on the brighter side, both you and us reject the “branch theory.” So there’s at least that much common ground, isn’t there? (Even if the common ground is a negation of an error. Ha ha)

    -NSP

    Neurotic P.S. Of course, in my earlier comment, I meant “compliment” not “complement.” Can’t believe I made that mistake.

  56. Awakening from the Meaning Crisis did a lot to help me get out of my own meaning crisis/existential depression. Vervaeke is something of an athiest however he has had numerous conversations with christian pastor Paul Vanderklay.

    Good to hear that my rebuke was helpful. I appreciate what you elucidated in your comment. One thing I would like to query is on the enneagram. I am a fan of it, have heard numerous christian perspectives on it but have yet to hear a definitive orthodox stance on it. I think it is a valuable spiritual tool as well as psychological assessment but like all tools can be used for both good and evil. What is your opinion in brief on the enneagram?

  57. NSP, Anonymo,
    Just a comment, and a caution:

    Richard Rohr is someone whom I do not recommend. He is, essentially, a “perennialist,” and into “depth psychology,” which is not at all the same thing as authentic Christian teaching. Carl Jung is interesting in the same way – but no at all Christian – and even Jordan Peterson – who has much good advice – is not Christian and mistaken on a number of things.

    It is true that, along the way, we find help from many directions, and so, it’s of benefit not to speak evil of such things or utterly dismiss them. I speak a bit of caution because our conversations here are not private (they are read by thousands). And recommendations can be problematic. Also, it is my website – so – when someone takes a bad recommendation and is harmed by it – it comes back on me – “I saw it recommended on Fr. Stephen’s blog.”

    Lastly, there really are not “two lungs” of the Church. The Church only exists as “One,” as we confess in the Creed. It is not arrogance when the Orthodox speak of the Church as One – though it can be said arrogantly and often is.

    I have written on this and recommend it.

    Neither of you are Orthodox (NSP is Catholic and Anonymo is exploring Orthodoxy), which makes it difficult to do more than characterize Orthodoxy from what you see or read. This I understand. Even from the “inside” it is still an unfolding mystery. It is “fullness” simply because the Church only exists as fullness – it cannot be otherwise. That fullness is often far less than manifest in the words and actions of Orthodox believers. In this, they are being less than truly Orthodox.

    Having offered those caveats (and I apologize if they sting in any way), I want to be quick to say that Christians are surrounded by the same enemies these days. The deep errors of modernity (which is a Christian heresy), along with the many self-inflicted wounds of the last number of centuries of Christianity, make it hard to get through the culture fog and find God. It is that common struggle that makes me want to keep the blog a safe place (“safe” in the sense of “welcoming” and “teaching the truth”) for Christians regardless of background. So, I appreciate that you share your experiences of what has been of use to you – but I will, from time to time, add warnings when things are not “safe” in and of themselves.

    Ultimately, the “safe” place is the life of the parish Church. Local priests may be less than we dream of (though they often hide deep treasures within themselves) and a parish holds problematic personalities, ethnicities, etc. – but it is the place of true salvation, established by God. Our beloved internet is delusional in many respects – filled with promises that are as substantial as cotton candy.

  58. Anonymo,
    On the enneagram. It’s about as useful as any psychological assessment tool. No more, no less. Catholics in some circles have made it almost a cultic object. I think it is not the right tool for discovering the true self. That said, it’s like a toy. I have never seen it endorsed from an Orthodox perspective.

  59. Chris,
    I don’t know who was the author of the article on the GOA website, but it’s a bit inaccurate. The origins of the Christmas festival, and the period to the Theophany, are quite complicated historically. However, it does not seem to be the case that it had anything to do with competing with the Sol Invictus festival. The speculation about all of this is made yet more problematic because a great deal of historical pronouncements common in 19th century Protestant scholarship.

    There is no actual “season” of Christmas in Orthodoxy – thus, not an actual 12 days. That is a Western Catholic development. It’s not harmful or “wrong” in that sense – but it’s not an entirely accurate way of describing this. Sorry to be so pedantic!

  60. Be still, and know that I am God

    Martha was distracted with much serving or we could say much learning.
    Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

    Be still, and know that I am God

  61. Anonymo. Regarding reading “On the Incarnation”: It is a great book but I must caution reading it by oneself outside the Church and drawing conclusions. When the adult group and I read it together, there was a clear work of the Holy Spirit going on. Together in prayer, much was revealed to us. As the “leader” I was given quite a lot. Most of which I did not know until I began to read it out loud to the group. Meaning came. Deep meaning. “Where two or more are gathered…” All of us in the group had been Orthodox for some time. One great lady had been Orthodox her entire life and she was in her 80’s at the time. Yet she humbled herself to be “taught” by a couple of upstart converts as my co-leader and me. She, herself had led the group for some years in the past.

    Such a work should always be read prayerfully. If there is an Orthodox priest locally you can ask questions of as you read, that would be a good thing. That being said, the crux of the matter is revealed in St. Athanasius work. If we have eyes to see. As C.S. Lewis said, it is an “old book”. To read old books requires a suspension of disbelief to enter into the reality to which it points and from which it came. Sometimes such reading requires experienced guides to keep us on the right path. .Ultimately, St. Athanasius work is the work of the Church, i.e., the Orthodox Church. Much of what it says can only be fully understood from within.

    I had to put aside everything I thought I knew to learn a bit more of what is actual.

    Christ is Born!

  62. Fr. Freeman,

    I think your caveats are entirely appropriate. I certainly don’t want you to get into any trouble because of any careless words of mine.

    Just to clarify, I myself would never recommend Fr. Rohr’s books to anyone, and would only recommend authors of modern psychology with the disclaimer that though they may be useful as a fresh standpoint to look at things, they don’t have the full truth and sometimes even have points contrary to the truth.

    Further, to help in the attempt to clarify to readers, when I speak of “Two lungs” I don’t mean that the Church has two separate sections. It merely refers to my attempt to read both Eastern and Western Christian spiritual authors as a private individual. And I certainly acknowledge that the only knowledge of Orthodoxy I have is imperfect since it is, as you say, “looking in from the outside,” and not as experiential as that of someone who is a member of the Orthodox Church.

    And of course I agree that the Church is one which is why I put “arrogance” in scare quotes to indicate that I certainly don’t consider it arrogance for the Orthodox to assert that they are apostolic church established by Christ. You are stating what you believe to be the truth. We Catholics claim the same thing about ourselves. Only one of us can be completely right. The more I read on this topic, the more I realise my lack of knowledge and competence to speak on it. But I hope any re-union in the future if it happens, can happen without shame or theological compromise on either side. Books like “His Broken Body” by the Orthodox priest Fr. Laurent A. Cleenewerck give me the faint hope that this is not an impossibility.

    And I fully agree with you regarding local parish priests. I have myself encountered unassuming parish priests with those deep hidden treasures you speak of.

    -NSP

  63. Father,
    Sometimes the truth does sting, but when said with love, can be the open door to go further in.

    This blog and the commentators’ comments and your corrections were crucial to my catechism in the Orthodox life. However nothing replaces the parish life and immersion in the Divine Liturgy. While these words convey meaning, what takes form in the heart, the shaping of the heart to receive Christ, is an active work of the Holy Spirit within the Church body, indeed.

    The two lungs concept is frequently stated by Roman Catholics and I believe is asserted by Roman Catholic leadership. But I’ve never heard it as a description of the relationship between RC and OC from the perspective of Orthodox leadership. Please forgive me, as far as I know, it is an error, and not just ‘a way of seeing things’, whether personal or broadly theological.

    Many converted Orthodox retain baggage from their former theological perspectives. And some comment here and assert their beliefs claiming that theirs is the “correct”, perspective. This does make for confusion, Father, which is why I sincerely appreciate your gentle corrections. I have received your corrections to my reflections here, also, on so many occasions and I’m ever grateful for your work and helpful words.

  64. Dee,
    The “two-lungs” was actually endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarch who immediately received massive criticism from across the Orthodox world for it. I think it was rather unfortunate. I am not a fan of ecumenical conversations of that sort – they represent little more than a political approach to a problem that is theological and substantive. But, I’ll say no more about that in order to observe my own rules.

  65. Dee, just want to tell you that you were a catalyst in my wife and I to come to a common understanding of how to celebrate Christmas. Thank you.

  66. Dear Father, thank you for your correction!!

    And Dear Michael and Merry, May God bless you both with many more wonderful and joyful years together! Thank you both for your kind comments.

    Christ is born! Glorify Him!

  67. Thankyou Father for your comment, caution and caveats, I am sure they will also be beneficial to readers of the blog. I think NSP and me were able to communicate transparently with each other but of course another reader could easily misinterpret our words or intent. I agree with what NSP said above.

    On the enneagram one useful thing it did for me was point to the importance of awareness from the heart and body as opposed to the mind, and thus provides spiritual direction in that respect. Ever since entering into Orthodoxy I have being praying the Jesus Prayer and I don’t think it would be a mistake to say this has been the most impactful change on my spiritual walk. It saddens me to think of how much spiritual tools Protestants are ignorant of and miss out on.

  68. Anonymo,
    Part of the rich inheritance of Orthodoxy is that it is not an ideological construct – but rooted firmly in human experience within the context of the living tradition as given to us in Jesus Christ. The dogma of the Church is itself rooted in what the Church know by its experience of Jesus Christ. These are not things that we simply think, or that were merely told to us, but they are a life into which we are invited to participate and, in doing so, we discover that it is, indeed, true.

    With the jettisoning of tradition and the living experience of the Church – Protestantism was thrust into a state of ignorance (I do not think this was at all intentional). As time has gone by, experience has forced it to look for other resources. Much of modern psychology is something of a “secularized” effort to rediscover how the soul actual works and is healed. Because it, too, is experiential (at its best), it frequently, rediscovers something very helpful. Of course, it then imagines that no one knew these things before, and tells itself that only modernity knows anything.

    One can say of Jung, for example, that he knew this was not true – that the spiritual tradition “remembered” many things. Of course, he took it on his own terms. His father was a Calvinist pastor, so, undoubtedly, he had a lot of issues with God.

  69. Father that was very interesting, thanks for sharing. I certainly have tried to explore much of modern psychology, and it is true that in my secular mindset I went there for insight and healing for the soul. I realised there was a massive gap in teaching and tradition, where I was, in how to live as a human person so I went to the fields of philosophy and psychology. Like you said what I liked most about it is the experiential nature hence I could by trial and error discard what doesn’t work thus praxeologically(?) coming to the truth of the human condition. Then by Jordan Peterson I rejected the lies of modernity so together in this way Orthodoxy was so appealing because I recognised the veracity of its ancient wisdom and truth about the human condition. This isn’t really an apologetical argument but it points to why my heart was drawn to Orthodoxy. Also why I rejected Calvinism in almost I
    a heartbeat once my buried questions resurfaced by divine timing.

    Interesting that Jung’s Father was Calvinist. I am attracted to Jung and his work and was planning to read more from him. Peterson loves Jung so I already got plenty of him secondhand also.

  70. Anonymo, I appreciate JP too. However he has not escaped modernity. He is still caught in the deepest delusion of modernity: self will. Without deep confession his “radical responsibility” is just another form of narcissism. Only in Christ is such an effort safe and fruitful.

    I have found Psalm 50/51 quite revelatory in this regard.
    https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/psalm_50

    About sixty years ago my father brought a tape home from a conference he had attended. The topic was Mental Hygiene. The speaker was a psychologist. It remains the funniest most insightful lecture I have ever heard. He ended his speech thus: “Happiness is like a beautiful butterfly in a verdant clearing. The more you chase it and chase it, the more it eludes you but if you sit quietly in the middle of the clearing in the sunshine, the butterfly will come and sit by your side.”

    Christ is Born!

  71. Just a word about the parish, St George in Kearney, NE whose website I linked to for Psalm 50. The parish was blessed by St. Raphael Hawaweeny. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raphael_of_Brooklyn
    in the late 19th century. He traveled on trains coast to coast by seeking out Syrian Orthodox Christians to marry and baptise them. In Kearney he found a community. The parish sent our first priest to my parish in Wichita which is now a Cathedral. They were found by God and continue to share His blessings. Their website is a treasure trove of the best in American Orthodoxy. They are a beautiful and warm people.

  72. I very much agree Michael that he has not escaped modernity. For me he however critically did provide insight into the value and nature of tradition. I see Peterson’s implicit or otherwise support of capitalism, globalism, individualism and the myth of progress in places to be condemning of the influence of modernity on his thinking. I naively accepted too much of Peterson’s ideas early on because I didn’t have the knowledge at the time to critique him appropriately. I am still of course eternally grateful for his formative influence on my education and personal development.

    I think his notion of ‘radical responsibility’ can be understood or even properly framed in the Stoic idea of taking responsibility for what is in your control, as well as the Orthodox understanding of synergy and God’s providence whereby God’s grace penetrates our reality and God is the overflowing fountain of all good. If this syncretistic mishmashing of philosophy and theology doesn’t work for you then don’t worry about it, I however find it valuable to integrate others ideas into my Christian worldview in the sense of providing more insight into the truth.

  73. Anonymo, been there, done that from 1973-1985 big time. It did not help me. It was all ideas. Not the person of Jesus Christ. He is in the Church. The Orthodox Church.
    He is not an idea. The theology and practice of the Church are expressions of Him as He draws us into Himself.

  74. Fair enough, I think I misspoke or was unclear in what I ment to say. I am a rather intellectual and metaphysical minded individual so I enjoy exploring ideas, however in no way do I consider this to be a replacement of the spiritual life in the Church. I also recently happened to read from the Imitation of Christ this:

    Having a Humble Opinion of Self

    Every man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars. He who knows himself well becomes mean in his own eyes and is not happy when praised by men.
    If I knew all things in the world and had not charity, what would it profit me before God Who will judge me by my deeds? Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God.

  75. Also I heard the emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus in evangelical circles but the Orthodox really give the tools and guidance for encountering the person (not an idea) of Jesus Christ in the Church. If we are joined to Christ body then he as the Head will guide us. That metaphor has been enriched for me since coming to Orthodoxy.

  76. Anonymo, forgive me for not understanding properly through the bias of my own experience. Christ is born!

  77. No its fine, I often prefer brevity over clarity, and I forget Jordan Peterson’s advice to be precise in your speech. Christ is born!

  78. Dee, thank you again for the comments.! Michael is the theologian at our house, and I am “Yea! God”.
    Seeing my comments in here, and yours, led to a really good discussion about Christmas with Michael, and how we celebrate it. It was a big turning point I am so grateful you unknowingly initiated. We seem to relate to the holiday much like a woman vs a man expecting a baby. The women prepare, buy or make things for the baby, have a baby shower, and the birth is the main event. For men, the baby becomes real the day it is born, so they celebrate afterwards. Michael and I have decided to celebrate both ways. Last weekend I got two small trees with decorations on them, and a wreath – clearance priced at $1 . Michael has decorated our porch beautifully with them, as well as the lights and nativity. Inside there are two large cats and a very active dog. Trees are safer on the porch. They are live so we will plant them this spring also. Forgive me guys for the side conversation. It was truly God bringing a real healing-to a situation that had become very sad and painful to us thru the years. Celebrating the birth of our Savior should be a joyful time,. Thru this blog and God’s help, our joy has been restored and enlarged. Glory to God.

  79. “These moments: odd conversations, signs, symbols, and sacraments are sprinkled throughout our lives. They are like bread crumbs leading us into the Kingdom of God.”
    I love these words…and I have found this to be so true in my own life. I have failed at persuading others to believe as I do. I had a family member who constantly attacked my faith, even as I tried to be kind and understanding of his lack of belief. As far as signs and symbols, there have been too many coincidences, that looking back, are not coincidences at all. More recently I had a nudge to call an old coworker (I retired earlier this year) to check on his elderly mother. We hadn’t spoken in months. Her birthday was actually coming up before Christmas, and she had been on my mind. He called me back the next day. His mother had died that night. Last year my family suffered a terrible loss when my brother was brutally murdered. Not going into details for obvious reasons, it had been a beautiful day and my daughters and grandchildren and I went to lunch and a movie. We changed plans a couple of times, as we all led busy lives. During the movie the police tried to contact me, but I had turned my phone off. They reached my daughter instead. Later, we looked back on our change of plans and realized that if we hadn’t made those changes I would have been home alone to receive the news. Instead, my daughters were with me for emotional support and one drove me to the police station. So even amidst an unspeakable tragedy we knew that God was with us.
    My heart goes out to you and your readers who struggle with depression. I am a widow and still have waves of sadness come over me at times. I am more saddened by how the culture has changed so much that I don’t recognize it and feel like a dinosaur. I can see how people may question God’s existence when Christians seem to be losing ground more and more. This blog gives me hope. Peace to all.

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