Sunday, May 31, 2009

from St. Symeon the New Theologian

My blood has been mingled with your Blood,

And I know that I have been united also to your Godhead.

I have become your most pure Body,

A member dazzling, a member truly sanctified,

A member glorious, transparent, luminous ...

What was I once, what have I now become!...

Where shall I sit, what shall I touch,

Where shall I rest these limbs that have become your own,

In what works or actions shall I employ

These members that are terrible and divine?

(Hymn II, 13-29).

Saturday, May 30, 2009


"The horse is prepared for the day of war,
but help is from the Lord."

Proverbs 21:30


Friday, May 29, 2009



"Likewise anyone who wishes to embark on the labours of the virtuous life should train himself gently until he finally reaches the perfect state. Do not be perplexed by the many paths trodden by our Fathers of old, each different from the other; do not zealously try to imitate them all: this would only upset your way of life. Rather, choose a way of life that suits your feeble state; travel on that, and you will live, for your Lord is merciful and he will receive you, not because of your achievements, but because of your intentions, just as he received the destitute woman's gift."



Tuesday, May 26, 2009


* * *

"Now, we speak of God as a person. The word 'person' indicates a sense of limitation, at least as it is used in modern languages. Nevertheless, the Greek word prosporon, which was used from early times to speak of the three persons of the Trinity, did not mean a person in the modern sense. Rather, prosporon meant a face. It meant that God could be met face to face, that we can be face to face with the living God. God is not a faceless, eyeless being. He has a beautiful image--of this we are assured in the story in St. John's Gospel of the man born blind... This man was born blind; he had never seen anything in his life. When Christ gave him his sight, the first thing he ever saw was the face of God become human, and his eyes met the eyes of divine love and compassion. this is what we mean in saying 'God is a person.' And so, again, we must ask ourselves: Is our God personal? Have we ever had the experience or the certainty that faith gives us that we are face to face with God, with a living God, who listens, who sees, who understands, who is open to us, and who speaks to us?"

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

* * *

Monday, May 25, 2009



...and today I am also thinking about how the work of patience seems to be idiosyncratic to each particular situation in which it is required.

In one kind of situation, the struggle is about how to deal with excess energy whose time for discharge has not yet arrived--not unlike the plight of wiggly children during "break" at the swimming pool, waiting for the lifeguard to blow the whistle and allow them back into the water. The inversion of this, also requiring patience, is when you need to endure longer than you think you can.

In another kind of situation, the struggle might be more about how to bear deprivation, or suspense, uncertainty, or pain--the difficulties of wanting what you don't have, or somehow learning to treat with dignity and respect what you have but don't want, such as unpleasant circumstances in your neighborhood or at work, or a physical or emotional disability.

I'm suspecting that it can be helpful to think about the struggle of patience not generically, but instead, precisely, with attention and presence, and with a love for nuance, the way a painter thinks about each distinct brush stroke as the composition develops.

I am hugely impatient, but if I can learn to think about patience as an art, I might enter into awe at the work, rather than resisting it as I so often do!




Today I am thinking that courage consists of making your own mistakes and taking your own risks, not those belonging to someone else, not even those belonging to some alternate version of yourself, the "you" you would be if you tweaked yourself a little in this or that direction...




When I feel that I've somehow misspent or "lost" time for whatever reason--illness, interruptions, procrastination, indecisiveness, befuddlement, poor prioritization, etc.--the "logical" temptation is to try to catch up or even get "ahead" by hurrying, both internally and in my actions.

But I suspect that actually, the secret of getting out of that kind of cycle (because it does turn into a cycle, since rushing breeds an internal chaos that leads only to more lost time) is to do the opposite--to allow myself to become still inside--and then work and live from that quiet place.

Kind of like the Costanza the opposite of what one would think...


Sunday, May 24, 2009


"The odds against today were insurmountable, until it happened."

"Clarity's not light. It's the angle that suddenly lets you see through the window's glare, the pond's reflection."

"When you think in words, is it your own voice you hear?"

"You find your marginalia in a book and realize that for decades you have been walking in circles."

"A knot is strings getting in each other's way. What keeps us together is what keeps us apart."

"That one thing in life I'm meant to do?--well, I have to finish this first."

"Closing a door very gently, you pull with one hand, push with the other."

--James Richardson

* * *

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ordinary Water/Living Water


Saint Ephrem: Samaritan Woman

Blessed are you, o woman,
drawer of ordinary water,
who turned out to be a drawer of living water.
You found the treasure,
the Source from whom a flood of mercies flows.

The spring had dried up,
but it broke through to you
and gave you to drink.
He was poor,
but he asked in order to enrich you.

The Glorious Fount,
He who was sitting at the well
as Giver of drink to all,
flows to each according to His will:
different springs according to those who drink.
From the well a single drink
comes up each time for those who sup,
but the Living Fount lets distinct blessings
flow to distinct people.

Blessed are you
to whom he gave living water to drink,
and you did not thirst again, as you said.
For he called the truth “living water,”
since all who hear it will not thirst again.
Blessed are you who learned the truth and did not thirst;
for one is the Messiah, and there is no more.

Blessed are you, O woman,
for not suppressing your judgment about what you discovered.
Your love was zealous
to share your treasure with your city.
You left behind your pitcher,
but filled with understanding
you gave your people to drink.

In you, o woman, I see a wonder as great as Mary!
For she, from within her womb,
in Bethlehem brought forth his body as a child,
but you by your mouth made him manifest
as an adult in Shechem.
Blessed are you, woman,
Who brought forth by your mouth
light for those in darkness.

Mary, the thirsty land in Nazareth,
conceived our Lord by her ear.
You too, O woman thirsting for water,
conceived the Son by your hearing.
Blessed are your ears that drank the source
that gave drink to the world.
Mary planted him in the manger,
but you planted him in the ears of his hearers.
Your voice, O woman, brought forth first fruit,
before even the apostles, announcing the Messiah.
The apostles were forbidden to announce him
among pagans and Samaritans.
Blessed is your mouth that he opened and confirmed.


Monday, May 18, 2009

"Hermaneutic of Suspicion"


Because my "guest cat" is out of her comfort zone (her territory and owner) a hermaneutic of suspicion is what she has toward me--despite the fact that I've given her wet cat food, something she rarely gets at home.

She interprets everything I do as aggression and hostility, even if I'm merely walking past her, let alone attempting to proffer even the most gentle and tentative signs of affection.

She's already drawn blood! For a very small cat, she's quite fierce.

A few minutes ago, I lay down on the floor and was still, hoping that coming "down to her level" and simply being present might help her acclimate. She WANTED affection--she prowled around me again and again, but she was afraid--she growled and whined the whole time.

And this is how I so often behave with God--in the world of faith, I am out of my comfort zone, so I question and struggle with everything, assuming the worst...when God means only good toward all of us...


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"The Icon as Liturgical Analogy"

from Hymn of Entry by Archimandrite Vasileios


"The Divine Liturgy makes the whole world function in a trinitarian way. It puts the whole of nature into trinitarian action. Once man has participated in the Liturgy, he has an inner vision of the world. He observes one constant, made up of the chageable elements of this world seen in a trinitarian light. One expression of this inner vision is Orthodox iconography...

A religious picture is an altogether different thing from a liturgical vision. The one is the creation of someone's artistic talent, the other is the flower and reflection of liturgical life. The one is of this world. It speaks of this world and leaves you in this world. The other...speaks to you of something which has gone beyond the categories of yesterday and today, here and there, mine and thine. It addresses itself to human nature universally, to man's thirst for something beyond...

...'Time and nature are made new': worldly space is transfigured; perspective, which puts man in the position of an outside observer, no longer exists. The believer, the pilgrim, is a guest at the Wedding. He is inside, and sees the whole world from the inside. History is interpreted differently: the events of the divine Economy are not past and closed; but present and active. They embrace us, they save us. What we have in the icon is not a neutral, faithful historical representation, but a dynamic liturgical transformation. In iconography, the events of salvation are not interpreted historically but expressed mystically and embodied liturgically; they interpenetrate with one another. They become a witness to the 'different way of life' which has broken through the bounds set by corruption. They invite us to a spiritual banquet, here, now...

...The icon is a witness to liturgical life and to the unity of the Godhead. It is not the creation or improvization of some genius. It does not serve merely artistic ends. It does not divide up history. For the world of the icon, distance in space and the passing of time do not exist. What an icon expresses is not the fragmentation of the present age, but the unifying power of the Liturgy.

Within the radical transformation of the world represented by the icon--the abolition of perspective, the telescoping of history, the alterations in size and in the proportion of bodies and buildings--there reigns an atmosphere of total calm and life proceeds peacefully....We find ourselves in a state beyond any trials: in the eighth day, in the land of Paradise...

The light in an icon is not of the present age. It does not come from outside to give light in passing. An uncreated light that knows no evening, like the grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, is shed from within the icon itself, from the faces of the saints and transfigured creation: a calm, restful and joyful light. Icons depicting events which took place in daytime are no brighter than those showing us events which took place at night. The Last Supper and the prayer in Gethsemane are no darker than the Lord with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, the Resurrection or Pentecost. The event depicted by the icon is not lit by the day or darkened by the night. Here all mortal flesh is silent. No element or event from the created world strikes a false note or operates in a worldly way or 'takes the initiative,' but everything serves its function in a restrained and priestly manner, undergoing the strange alteration of the Transfiguration...And while the icon does not have need of anything, at the same time, it does not despise anything. Here everything is blessed, and exults and leaps for joy. Everything is filled with uncreated light.


The icon of the Transfiguration is no brighter than the icon of the Crucifixion. The Lord's face does not 'shine' at the Transfiguration more than in any other icon of Him. In iconography the Transfiguration is not an isolated and separate event, but a manifestation of the grace and mysterious illumination that fills everything and gives it life...So he who has spiritual sense can see the uncreated brilliance, invisible to the naked eye, that has glorified dark and bright alike....Spiritual joy cannot be perceived by the mere senses, nor is it confined simply within shades of color, just as the mystery of theology is not bound by 'certain formulations and creations of the mind.'

You cannot ask for Transfiguration or for anything else in the Church from a human point of view, by the criteria of created things. The grace of the Transfiguration has shone everywhere and strangely altered everything, pain and joy, life and death. Everything interpenetrates. It is everywhere and nowhere. It is perceived and understood in an unaccustomed way...


The icon...does not create romantic images for you or illusions about that time and place. It does not evoke in you human memories of bygone ages, events, or civilizations. The icon is a life-giving presence. It brings before you the transparency of transfigured history and matter: it brings you to the wedding of the created and the uncreated. Into the area where everything is true and free from sorrow--even the transient and ephemeral, yet without its transient and ephemeral nature being destroyed. Instead these things, motionless in a sure and boundless movement of life, enable you to drink from the exultation which wells up from the Tomb of Christ."


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nothing in Common?

"When I am certain that I have nothing in common with a person, I tell myself that we both know what water tastes like, and neither of us can describe that taste."

Susan Mitchell


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Good Intentions

This is what we sang at church tonight:

"Hearing the joyful words
of the angels sitting in the tomb of the Word,
the women who had run there with good intentions
knew that the purpose of their group would be changed.
No longer will you carry myrrh!
Instead, you will preach to the apostles:
He who was hidden in the earth is risen from hell!
Initiate them into the mystery
of Him who became man for us."

And what is it about women and sadness? Maybe this is true of men, too--I just don't know--but with many women, there seems to be a primordial and generational as well as a personal sadness not far under the surface.
I thought of this the other day when we sang, "By Your resurrection, You did stop the lamentation of Eve."
The resurrection that stops the lamentation takes us out of the realm of fixing things, patching things up, resigning ourselves to things (as the myrrh-bearing women were, with all good intentions, resigned to doing the right thing as far as they knew it in preparing to honor the loss of Jesus, the apparent destruction of all their hope).

That's why tonight we sang:

"The women sprinkled spices mixed with tears on Thy grave,
but their mouths were filled with laughter
when they said: 'The Lord is risen!'"


Monday, May 4, 2009

An Exquisite Poem


Havana Birth

by Susan Mitchell

Off Havana, the ocean is green this morning
of my birth. The conchers clean their knives on leather
straps and watch the sky while three couples
who have been dancing on the deck of a ship
in the harbor, the old harbor of the fifties, kiss
each other's cheeks and call it a night.

On a green sofa five dresses wait
to be fitted. The seamstress kneeling at Mother's feet
has no idea I am about to be born. Mother
pats her stomach which is flat
as the lace mats on the dressmaker's table. She thinks
I'm playing in my room. But as usual, she's wrong.

I'm about to be born in a park in Havana. Oh,
this is important, everything in the dressmaker's house
is furred like a cat. And Havana leans right up
against the windows. In the park, the air
is chocolate, the sweet breath of a man
smoking an expensive cigar. The grass

is drinkable, dazzling, white. In a moment
I'll get up from a bench, lured
by a flock of pigeons, lazily sipping
the same syrupy music through a straw.
Mother is so ignorant, she thinks
I'm rolled like a ball of yarn under the bed. What

does she know of how I got trapped in my life?
She thinks it's all behind her, the bloody
sheets, the mirror in the ceiling
where I opened such a sudden furious blue, her eyes
bruised shut like mine. The pigeon's eyes
are orange, unblinking, a doll's. Mother always said

I wanted to touch everything because
I was a child. But I was younger than that.
I was so young I thought whatever I
wanted, the world wanted too. Workers
in the fields wanted the glint of sun on their machetes.
Sugarcane came naturally sweet, you

had only to lick the earth where it grew.
The music I heard each night outside
my window lived in the mouth of a bird. I was so young
I thought it was easy as walking
into the ocean which always had room
for my body. So when I held out my hands

I expected the pigeon to float between them
like a blossom, dusting my fingers with the manna
of its wings. But the world is wily, and doesn't want
to be held for long, which is why
as my hands reached out, workers lay down
their machetes and left the fields, which is why

a prostitute in a little calle of Havana dreamed
the world was a peach and flicked
open a knife. And Mother, startled, shook
out a dress with big peonies splashed like dirt
across the front, as if she had fallen
chasing after me in the rain. But what could I do?

I was about to be born, I was about to have
my hair combed into the new music
everyone was singing. The dressmaker sang it, her mouth
filled with pins. The butcher sang it and wiped
blood on his apron. Mother sang it and thought her body
was leaving her body. And when I tried

I was so young the music beat right
through me, which is how the pigeon got away.
The song the world sings day after day
isn't made of feathers, and the song a bird pours
itself into is tough as a branch
growing with the singer and the singer's delight.

"Havana Birth" from Rapture by Susan Mitchell.
Copyright © 1992 by Susan Mitchell.

Saturday, May 2, 2009



That's my acronym for the Influenza Formerly Known As Swine.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that the famous influenza pandemic that followed WWI began in springtime with a mild wave, as we are currently experiencing, and then returned far more virulently in the fall; those who had contracted the mild version already had immunities from it, and therefore, did not get the deadly version. So, as my friend asked during our conversation, why should we not all be working hard to personally contract the present strain, so as to immunize us in case it mutates and returns in full force?

Just wondering...

Interactive Entry


Christ is risen!

"But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported 'We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.' Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, 'Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.''"

The apostles in the locked prison; the disciples and Thomas in a closed room; Daniel in the lion's den; the three youths in the fiery furnace; Gideon hiding in the wine press; and, primarily and meta-gloriously, the Lord in the sealed tomb--and of course, the entire Incarnation--!--

Thus, the kingdom of heaven seems to be exothermic as opposed to enthothermic (unless I've accidentally mentally reversed these);

and unlike all those action movie heroes who rescue hostages by blasting their vehicles through plate-glass windows, God seems to love to work from the inside-out --

I wonder why,

and I wonder what other examples of this there might be in Scripture, and in history, and in our lives...any ideas, anyone?