Monthly Archives: May 2016

In Memoriam

It’s a day to remember those who died. Graves with fresh flowers, parades in small towns, and patriotic songs. For the first time, my father is remembered rather than remembering. My mother, sister, brothers, and aunt will each honor the memory of my father.

Years ago, I gave him a couple of books by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Ethics and The Cost of Discipleship. We had a few conversations about Bonhoeffer’s life, especially his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Was this against his faith (he had been in favor of Gandhi’s non-violent approach to change)? Was Bonhoeffer wrong to condone assassination, even participate in its attempt? My father didn’t think so. His comment:

“He had to choose between killing a murderer or allowing a murderer to keep killing. He did what he could live with and paid the price for it.”

We had many other talks about God and living in this imperfect world. On this day of remembrance, I thank God for seeing in my father a living Christian faith. It was an honor to know him.

Sin behind sins

We thank you, for you have not destroyed us with our sins, but have continued to love us; and though we were sunk in despair, you have raised us up to glorify your power.
Prayer of Saint Basil, line 4

What are my sins? If I think of sins as specific acts or thoughts, the list isn’t short. But I don’t think that’s the real issue. Sin seems to be closer to missing the point, losing sight and direction; when I miss the point, I might see the harm I do my neighbor and myself as sinful, but I might not see the missing-the-point that gives it birth.

One of the ways I miss the point: mistaking my worth with the work of my hands. If I see my value only in my accomplishments, I’ll do my best to make myself indispensable. I’ll neglect everything that takes time from achieving, damaging family and friends. I’ll make sure to foster dependence rather than foster cooperative independence in my work. I’ll want my absence noticed, even if others suffer for it. I’ll destroy myself and others if I don’t feel valuable enough, and I’ll never fell valuable enough.

I can’t see this missing-the-point sin unless I know that it’s me who’s irreplaceable, not my work. Someone else can do my work, and the work I do should strengthen others rather than weaken them. The same is true for everyone else, too. Every single one of us is valuable and unique, loved by God for being, not doing. It’s the truth that lifts us from despair into joy. It frees us to offer our talents and support the talents of others.

Each one of us is irreplaceable, but someone else can do our job. Glory be to God!

For the complete prayer, click Prayer of Saint Basil above.


You grant us sleep for rest from our infirmities, and repose from the burdens of our much toiling flesh.

Many babies have a fussy hour every evening. Being rocked or walked helps sometimes, but sometimes it doesn’t. There’s nothing to do but wait for it to pass into peaceful sleep.

As we age, our feet hurt and our joints stiffen toward dusk. Getting dinner ready and putting in that last load of laundry take more effort than breakfast prep and the first load did. If we listen to our bodies, we put off whatever work we can until morning. When we don’t, we get short with children and spouses – our self-inflicted fussy hour. With life wisdom, we do our best to stop fretting as we get closer to bedtime. Without it, we bring our fretful frustration to bed with us.

Restful sleep is the letting go of the day, handing over the good and bad to God (or an oblivion, unconscious, or collective dreamscape if God isn’t acceptable). Problems get reworked and resolved if necessary, and dreams enrich the passing of the night hours. This recharging of body, mind, and soul seems to be done without effort. How wonderful that a biological necessity grants passage to an enchanted world.

Anxious sleep lets go of all the good in the day, but keeps a choke hold on mistakes and disappointments – masochistic treasures of our much toiling minds. Sleep may come with pharmaceutical or alcoholic help, but passing out isn’t the same as rest, and a drug induced stupor drains mind and soul instead of refreshing them.

There’s wisdom in physical labor that brings relief to its own exhaustion in sound sleep.
There’s wisdom in the hard work of spiritual and emotional growth that allows us to skip or leave behind our adult fussy hour. Such physical and spiritual labor doesn’t get much respect or positive press these days. How is it that something so fundamental is disregarded, even discouraged?

With, not For

You are always doing great and inscrutable things with us, glorious and wonderful, and without number.

I am aware of glorious and wonderful things that God does for me every morning I wake up to family and friends, every afternoon I work in the garden, every evening when the stars shine in heaven above. But with us isn’t the same thing as for us. I’m sure God is always doing great and inscrutable things with me/us, but usually I don’t look for them. With means working together, not one giving and the other getting. With means cooperation and taking responsibility, perhaps even partial credit, for the innumerable wonders that come into the world through us/God with us.

This is the second line of this 1600 year old prayer, and the second one that’s shaken me. If I take it seriously, if I really pray these words, there is no going back. I’ll see the great and inscrutable things God is doing with us in people I love and people I don’t even like. Not just a few things I can count on one hand (exceptions), but so many that they are without number (commonplace).

Lord, give me courage to pray these revolutionary words.
Prayer of Saint Basil
We bless you, O God, most high and Lord of mercy. You are always doing great and inscrutable things with us, glorious and wonderful, and without number. You grant us sleep for rest from our infirmities, and repose from the burdens of our much toiling flesh. We thank you, for you have not destroyed us with our sins, but have continued to love us; and though we were sunk in despair, you have raised us up to glorify your power. Therefore, we implore your incomparable goodness. Enlighten the eyes of our understanding and raise up our minds from the heavy sleep of indolence. Open our mouth and fill it with your praise, that we may be able without distraction to sing and confess that you are God, glorified in all and by all, the eternal Father, with your only begotten Son, and your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
[Daily Prayers for Orthodox Christians (Brookline, Massachusetts: The Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1986), pp. 9-10]

Prayer of Saint Basil: Bless You!

Bless You!

We bless you, O God, most high and Lord of mercy.

When my niece Jill was a few months old, well before she could walk or talk, she used to do something that I’ve never forgotten. When I held her on my shoulder, she would reach her hand up to pat me on the back. The kindness in her simple act of extending a comforting hand moved me to tears many times – giving back a loving touch she received so often from me and many others. It’s a blessed memory I’ve treasured for almost thirty years.

I’ve never blessed God before. I’ve always been on the receiving end. After all, what good could my blessing do? But I think I’ll say these words, anyway. If God is as touched as I was by Jill’s gesture, it would be a blessing indeed.

To read the whole prayer, click on Prayer of Saint Basil.

Giving Up?

A friend of mine decided in her late 20’s that she didn’t want kids. She just couldn’t see giving up what she wanted to have a child. She had a certain order to her life, with enough time to devote to work, husband, and hobbies. She had more than enough money for a comfortable life, home and vacations included. Another life, especially a young one, wouldn’t fit into the life pattern she had created. While she enjoyed playing with my two sons when they were young, she didn’t want high chairs and pediatricians and diapers and plush toys. It’s been almost two decades since then, and she hasn’t regretted her decision.

If I hadn’t had children, would I regret it? I don’t know. I’ve always thought of children as bringing something into life, not taking something away. I changed my life pattern when they arrived, but I didn’t lose it – I just added more people.

I don’t think any of us were put on this earth for the sole purpose of having children. Life is too big for such a limited view. Mostly, I think we are here to be a delight to God and others, whatever that involves. Children or no children, that’s a truth I’m not willing to give up.

Photo on 11-6-15 at 11.09 AM

A New Mother’s Day

For the first Mother’s Day in fifty-five years, my mother won’t get a card or flowers from my father. She won’t join him at the kitchen table for an early morning coffee, and they won’t watch birds and squirrels run around the yard from the back porch. For the first time, my mother is a widowed mother of four instead of a married mother of four. The story of her life has a loss that wasn’t there last year.

I will do the usual Mother’s Day things this Sunday: send my mother something, call her and my sister to wish them a wonderful day, and spend time with my two sons and husband, Dave. As is our tradition, I will pick dinner and dessert. I will relax while my sons set the table and Dave makes the meal. We will enjoy an hour over good food, and I will open cards and presents. As always, I will be surprised and touched by what each of my sons and my husband chose for me. Later, I’ll say a prayer of thanks for the family I was born into and the one that grew out of my marriage.

Next year, my older son won’t be home from college in time for Mother’s Day. In five years, my younger son may be living too far away to come home for a weekend in May. It will be a new chapter in my life story – something my husband, sons, and I will live into as we turn the page of our current one.

Who knows when, I’ll wake up on Mother’s Day without my husband, or he’ll wake up without me – a first after years of marriage. One of us will grieve and remember the past; the other will already be in the unknown adventure beyond this blessed life.

Love brings joy and it brings grief. New life enters families and so does death. But this I know for certain: there hasn’t been a single day in my mother’s life that she hasn’t been loved. I’ve been loved in every hour of my life. There hasn’t been a single moment in my children’s lives that they weren’t loved. With all the love surrounding each one of us, surely what comes as we journey through death into the cosmic book of life will be blessed beyond understanding.

Blessings for all mothers, blessings for all daughters and sons. Amen.