Make me to awaken daily with a willingness
to roll out readily, accompanied
by grateful smirk, a giddy joy,
the idiot’s undying expectation,
despite the evidence.
– Scott Cairns, The Idiot Psalms
Perhaps it is because I am getting older that I feel more vulnerable to various catastrophes; newly emerging wrinkles and aches and pains won’t let me forget that that years are passing by with alarming speed, and four decades of life experience have stripped the rose-colored tint off the lens through which I view this chaotic world. Upon waking each morning, my mind is flooded with possibilities, the majority of them ranging from unpleasant to nightmarish unfortunately:
Lost library books
I’m not a grim person, honest – just an aware one. I can’t listen to the news or log onto the internet without being reminded in a thousand different ways of how much evil, stress and illness is pouring down upon our lives. And what makes it weirder is that these hellish stories are intermixed with celebrity gossip and beauty tips. It’s all kinds of crazy and unpredictable out there.
And yet, in spite of it all, I believe with all my heart that serenity, love, beauty and goodness are accessible at any time, in any circumstance. They must be sought after of course, and we must sacrifice quite a bit to acquire these heavenly attributes, but if we are willing to put in the effort, then authentic, eternal joy can and will override our tendencies toward fear and despair.
Recognizing that each of us is unique in terms of our weaknesses, strengths and backgrounds, I do not assume to know what coping methods would work best for you when it comes to finding peace in the midst of chaos but for what it’s worth, I will share some of mine. May God bless us all with a sustained desire for what is good and profitable for our souls, and the strength to release that which keeps us shackled to earthly cares.
1. There is such a thing as being “too informed”:
Web MD, CNN, My Yahoo Homepage: these are all things I have grounded myself from due to their propensity for working me into a no good, hysterical frenzy. You know those waves the apostle Peter took his gaze off of Christ to ogle at when attempting to walk on water? That’s what news and medical sites are to me. The moment I start fixating, all wide-eyed and slack-jawed, on their up to the minute updates, gruesome details and doomsdayish predictions, I start drowning. It is not naive to protect your brain and heart from an onslaught of sensationalist journalism, only prudent . A “well-informed” yet paralyzed with fear Molly Sabourin is no good to anyone, my precious family most certainly included.
“Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.”
~ Elder Sophrony of Essex
2. Live in the moment, with Thanksgiving
I have written about this ad nasuem but I am absolutely convinced that present tense living and gratitude are the keys to all peace, all wisdom, all joy. The following piece from “Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns,” nails it! If you read nothing else in this post, read the paragraphs below and be comforted, challenged, inspired!
If we as Christians truly believe that our lives are lived under the sign of the Cross and in the light of eternity, then we must believe that God is with us in all the changing fortunes of our days. And we must also believe that despite natural disasters and human ills, evil is not finally triumphant and death is not victorious. In our lives there are no chance events, no irrational twists of empty fate, but rather the ever-present workings of a provident God, Who uses all means to lead us into the harbor of Christ.
When we begin to feel, however faintly, the truth of this, we shall find much to be grateful for. The spirit of thankfulness is a necessary part of the spiritual discipline of living in the present moment – with God – and not in the past or the future. We cannot know what will happen tomorrow, or even tonight; we cannot change what is already past. But we can be grateful today for the blessings of today – the blessing of life itself, the blessing of communion with God through prayer and the Holy Eucharist, the blessing of repentance, the healing of forgiveness. Even the small, seemingly trivial, moments in our day – the sight of a bird in the sky, the greening of a tree, the laugh of a child, the voice of a friend – speak to us of God if only we wish to hear, for everything of beauty, of light, of love, comes to us from Him.
In such small moments, as much as in the dramatic crises of our lives, the headlong rush of time opens upon eternity. If we learn to live quietly, attentively, faithfully, in the “now” which alone truly exists for us, we shall be prepared by degrees for the “everlasting now” which awaits us after death. If we do not find and follow Christ in the present moment, we shall not recognize Him at the end of time.
Let us ask of God a grateful heart, and let us resolve to give thanks each day for the day itself and the presence of Christ in it, sustaining our life by His hand and giving courage to our struggles, zeal to our repentance, contrition to our prayer, and stability to our labors. If only we will make an effort, we will find that giving thanks to God – even in adversity – opens our hearts to see blessings we had not thought to find.
– Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns, Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 1991, pp.8-9, produced by The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, Pa.
3. Go Offline, and Be Kind and Helpful to the People in My Local Community:
Let’s face it, an excessive amount of social media can incite anxiety, judgey-ness, jealousy, insecurity and terrible un-productivity. Everything in moderation, right? See the problem, or my problem anyway, with Facebook and such is that it reduces whole flesh and blood individuals into mere holders of opinions on hot-button political, social, moral and Theological issues. If we agree with those opinions, they are our “friends”, if we do not, a chasm grows between us that becomes too hard to cross via 40 character rebuttals to their opposing positions. Relating to our “neighbor” in this way falls way short of Christ’s commandments to love, serve, turn the other cheek, etc. These on-line “relationships” are agitating instead of salvific, and discouraging instead of hopeful.
Investing in my community, however, allows me to work with, volunteer with, laugh with, and generally interact with my neighbor as a human being, as opposed to a faceless opinion. By going out of my way to find beauty in that person right in front of me, focusing on where we can connect, and by actively attempting to encourage that person in whatever big or small way I can (a warm smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a helping hand), divine joy spreads virally, and bridges are formed. Stepping outside of myself to uplift someone else always, always brings me peace.
“As Christians we are here to affirm the supreme value of direct sharing, of immediate encounter —not machine to machine, but person to person, face to face.”
—Bishop Kallistos [Ware] “The Mystery of the Human Person”
4. Surrender My Expectations:
The quickest way for me to get frustrated and irritable is by holding tight to my own assumptions about what would be “best” for me. See if I had my own way, I’d never be hurt, or stretched, or humbled, or uncomfortable; my patience would not be tried nor my faith tested. My default desire is ease and gratification, which are temporarily thrilling but not exactly character building. I lack the will power to choose salvation over self-preservation all on my own.
Many, many…many of my best laid plans have been thwarted, and I will admit I did not always handle the disappointment with grace and dignity. In hindsight, however, I can see exactly how those blows to my pride and presumptions were necessary for my spiritual growth, and for my ability to empathize with the struggles of others. As hard and sometimes scary as it is to surrender my longings and expectations to Christ, praying “Thy Will Be Done” with fear and trembling, the letting go brings with it a new realization of how omnipresent God’s compassion is. Viewing whatever befalls me as an opportunity to become ever more long-suffering and merciful allows me to rise-above the fear of failure, interruption or being disdained. Peace is trusting Christ to provide not what I want but what I need, because He loves me.
O Lord, I do not know what to ask of You. You alone know what are my true needs. You love me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I do not dare to ask either for a cross or for consolation. I can only wait on You. My heart is open to You. Visit and help me, for the sake of Your great mercy. Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Your holy will and Your unsearchable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to You. I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will. Teach me to pray. Pray You Yourself in me. Amen.
– Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow
5. Pursue Beauty:
And finally, there is beauty – the kind of beauty that brings me to repentance and inspires me to keep on keeping on believing in Light that cannot be extinguished by wordly darkness. True beauty quiets the noise causing my eyes to be blinded and ears deafened to all that is good, noble and pure. I find it in nature, in music, in literature and most especially in the hymns, sacraments and services of the Orthodox Christian Church. I’ve grown more cautious of what I allow to penetrate my fragile being. When I open my mind to depravity, titillation and materialism, they tend to take root and make me feel, well…just plain yucky and dissettled. True beauty is medicinal – very healing.
“i thank you God for most this amazing”
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
— E. E. Cummings
Peace to you all, my brothers and sisters! Stay strong, stay hopeful, stay clinging to Christ!