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. St. Basil’s Prayer
That’s enough! Go pick a stick!
When I was a kid, two of my playmates were Linda and Brenda McDonald; they lived in the house across the street from me, and they both had a great sense of adventure that got them into trouble. I could always tell when it was their father who caught them in one of their misadventures because of the punishment they received. He sent them out into the back yard to pick the stick he would use for their spanking. Linda always picked the thinnest, greenest one she could find; Brenda always chose a fat, rotted one that was falling apart. Sticks chosen, they would sit on the back stairs to think about what they had done and wait for their father.
It only took a few times for Linda and Brenda to realize that the outcome was always the same: their father would come outside, sit down with his daughters, then declare that he just didn’t have it in him to spank them. He’d give them a hug, ask them not to repeat whatever had gotten them into trouble in the first place, and tell them to go play.
Perhaps our own misdeeds end in similar circumstances, with us thinking we need to choose the stick we’ll be beaten with. Perhaps the point isn’t choosing a stick; it’s taking the time to think about our actions, fess up to them, and remember that we are loved even when we have made mistakes. And be grateful our sins haven’t destroyed us.
For the full prayer, click St. Basil’s Prayer: Lent 2024 above…
You grant us sleep for rest from our infirmities, and repose from the burdens of our much toiling flesh. Saint Basil’s Prayer
[For the full prayer, click St. Basil’s Prayer: Lent 2024 above.]
Sleep is one of those graces that I only notice in its absence. It is how the body and mind repair themselves, and the place of dreams. A good night’s sleep can restore our good humor and our perspective as well as refresh our bodies. It is a nightly blessing, and its absence can feel like a curse.
Why am I so willing to give up this blessing to worry or overwork?
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. St. Basil’s Prayer
[For full prayer, click St. Basil’s Prayer:Lent 2024 above.]
When my sons were born, they were measured and weighed almost immediately. While these numbers were an important part of assessing their health, they had nothing to do with the immeasurable joy and love each brought into the world. I suspect counting and measuring the things God does with us is much the same.
You are always doing great and inscrutable things with us, glorious and wonderful, and without number.
[For the full prayer, click St. Basil’s Prayer: Lent 2024 above.]
Inscrutable – impossible to understand or interpret; impenetrable; incapable of being analyzed or investigated.
I don’t think this means that God is doing things in a devious way, or with the intention of keeping us ignorant of divine actions. I think it’s more a matter of scale and depth. I can no more comprehend the great things that God is doing with us than I can view the entire state of Vermont from my living room window. I can only see a part of it because my life is held in its geographical embrace. What I see is real and true, but the view is limited and my understanding equally limited. I’m in no position and in no shape to claim anything I experience as universal or all-encompassing.
I hope I remember this when I am tempted to discount the ideas and vantage points of others.
I hope I remember this when I am tempted to limit God’s great doings with us to God’s great doings with me.
I’m used to God blessing, and people blessing all manner of life and situations in God’s creation. I’m comfortable with any and all of that. But we the creatures blessing God? I’m not used to that, and the words feel strange in my mouth when I’m praying them. Until I remembered something that happened in December, 1986.
I had just fed and changed my three month old niece, Jill. When I picked her up and held her, she did something I’ve never forgotten. Resting her head against my shoulder, she reached up and over, and patted me on the back. A simple gesture that conveys comfort and deep love; something Jill had received for her whole life, something she returned to me in that moment and in many moments to come. Even now, tears come when I remember that marvelous gift of love.
I’d like to think God feels the same way when I offer a blessing as I did so many years ago when Jill blessed me with a pat on the back.
[For the full prayer of Saint Basil, click Basil’s Prayer above.]
Lent begins early this year. Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day are coming in less than a week. It’s time to pare down and choose a focus – in daily life and in writing. In my blue and gold copy of Daily Prayers for Orthodox Christians I found a guiding prayer for this year’s walk to the tragedy of the cross and the joy of Easter:
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, to the ages of ages. Amen.
I hope you will pray with me on this Lenten journey.
[Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, was born in 330AD, and died at age 49 in 379AD. He is remembered as a powerful theologian and orator, who helped define and defend what became Orthodox theology from Arianism. He worked for the uplifting of the poor and needy, and is remembered for his pastoral work. His feast day is January 1st or 2nd, depending on the tradition.]
Tell me, what is this mystic secret hiding behind the semblance of our lives,
And living in the heart of our existence?
What is this vast release coming as a cause to all effects, and as an effect unto all causes?
What is this quickening that gathers death and life and from them creates a dream
more strange than life, and deeper far than death?
[Kahlil Gibran, Prose Poems, (Andrew Ghareeb, trans.); New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1934, pp.5-6]
At the end of this Lenten journey, almost at the feast/betrayal/death, how can I not wonder at the vastness of God’s love and the dreadful depth of human fear that would kill it rather than embrace it?
An almost-healed ankle sprain has me walking a bit slower than usual, and taking advantage of the many benches Manchester’s downtown offers. That’s how I ended up in this spot on Saturday, seated on one stone bench and facing another – a pause between the bookstore and the woodworkers’ shop. What has hindered my activities for weeks has also opened spaces in going from one item on my to-do list (Easter cards) to the next one (box for organizing). Had I not needed to stop, I wouldn’t have noticed the beautiful curve of the walkway I was soon to take.
The curve itself is an example of functional beauty, but it also offers something in its curvature: a change of perspective for anyone who walks it. What a lovely way to be reminded of the world that lies between point A and point B – and what a grace it is to spend time in the in-between part of the journey.
Letting go of what doesn’t matter: The frustration of moving slower than usual.
Loving what does: The beauty that a slower pace and curved path offer.
Rain has buried most of the scattered snow islands, giving the wild thyme a drink and encouragement to grow. There’s still snow on the mountains, creating the fog rising over Route 7 – a ribbon of mist that marks and obscures the highway all at once. With the drumming of the rain on the roof and the cover of mist on the road, I have no idea how many people are on the road, what they are driving, or which direction they find themselves going. I acknowledge the mystery that I see, but my recognition of it doesn’t give me any insight into what is behind the veil. Unless I travel the road myself, or someone gets off at my exit and tells traveling tales, I’ll never get beyond knowing that there’s a mystery in my backyard.
Where are you going? What wonder, grief, and joy accompany you? Who has loved you, and whom have you loved long and well? Do you know how precious and unique you are – and how that’s true for every living thing?
If there’s any chance of catching a glimpse of what’s behind the veil, it’ll come through just such questions. All that’s required of me is a listening ear, time, and hospitality – and, perhaps, a willingness to share my own life’s travel tales.
Loving what matters: The mystery of the here and now – and a glimpse behind the veil.
Letting go of what doesn’t: The worry that there’s nothing behind the veil.