Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rod and Staff

Widows have occasionally told me you have to set a limit to your crying; otherwise, they say, you can drown in your tears; you can become lost in grief and be in danger of never coming back.

So I decided to follow my sister’s example. Barbara, when she was battling cancer, allowed herself five minutes a day for what she called “meltdown,” and no more. Okay, so she was braver than I am; I decided to allow myself 15.

Demetrios reminds me that if we cry to God, though, if we do our crying in His presence, laying our burdens before Him, we need not fear to cry as long as the tears come. Our Good Shepherd will never let us be lost.

The Hand You are Dealt

Is your plane falling from the sky? There’s not a thing you can do about it. Deal with it. Are you next in line for the guillotine or the firing squad or to be thrown to the lions? Are 15 floors of your office building burning, and you’re on the 40th floor and there’s no way out? Brace yourself, say your prayers, deal with it. Are you going to be paralyzed for the rest of your life? Are you going to lose an arm or a leg? Is something rotten in Denmark? Deal with it. Or don’t, depending upon whether you wish to minimize or multiply the trouble. Sorry if it sounds harsh, but there’s really only one sane option: deal with it.

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart” – never forget the hope! – “and you’ll never walk alone.”

Unless, of course, you fail to keep on loving, or at least striving to love, no matter what. Fail there and yes, for practical purposes, you will be very much alone.

P.S.) Deal with it HOW? I don't know. I do not know. But this I do know, that God will show His own what they need to do, when they need to do it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spirit and Emotion

"Be angry and sin not; may the sun not set upon your wrath." (Ephesians 4:26)

Your spirit goes in one direction; your feelings go in another. It is the spirit that counts! The feelings, says the shrink (my husband), are literally embedded in the tissues of your brain. They don't just go away. In fighting the good fight, we are literally battling our own bodies. The point is to keep fighting.

But if we become spiritually advanced, aren’t the feelings eventually supposed to fall in line with our true will? Yes, and eventually they will. But it takes a very long time for this (literally physcial!) healing to happen. In the meanwhile, the doctor says, a key thing is not to stimulate your bad feelings, not to keep nursing them or even thinking about them. Starve them out!

I know this is true, because long ago, while I was still a catechumen, there was a person I simply couldn’t forgive. I discussed it with a wise priest and he gave me various bits of advice long since forgotten. But what I remember clearly, because it startled me so, was what he said when I asked him shouldn’t I pray for this person? He said, “NO!”

“No? But didn’t Jesus teach us to pray for such people?”

“Yes, He did. But that’s for mature Christians. In your case, the applicable teaching is, ‘Flee evil.’ Every time a thought about this person begins to occur to you, wrench your mind away from that thought and fix your attention firmly elsewhere.”

So I did. For several years. And then, one night, the forgiveness just came – all unbidden, seemingly from nowhere, in a rush of tears.

One Cause of "Atheism"

Please read this by Fr. Stephen Freeman. The comments are also edifying.

Four Monks

An Account Demetrios Recently Read
(But Can’t Remember Where)

Four brothers all decided to become monks and to share the same cell. Unfortunately, they are all hot-tempered, and every single day they quarreled. The other monks were extremely sad to hear the shouting going on every day. What they didn’t know was that after every fight, the brothers would always repent, ask forgiveness from God and from each other, and make up.

One day the monks heard no shouting from the four brothers. When the silence had lasted a long time, the monks decided to go check on the brothers, to see what was happening. They found all four of them prostrate on the floor, foreheads to the ground, bowing before each other and God – and all four dead.

"Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” (Luke 12:37)

But of course, He didn’t simply happen to find these brothers watching and repenting. He purposely sought them at the right time.

Not Yet

We came back home. The doctor (Demetrios) says it is going to take Dad anywhere from 2-7 days to die, depending on what takes him first.

Mom is to call us when he reaches the coma stage, and that, God willing, is when we plan to go up there again. Then we will make sure one of his family is always with him; nobody should die alone.

He opened his eyes tonight and smiled at us. I shall always remember that.

Kyrie, eleison!
Kyrie, eleison!
Kyrie, eleison!

P.S. Today is Barbara's birthday.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Once Again

Once again, the call; the hospice nurse doesn't expect Dad to be alive by this time tomorrow. Once again, I don't know if anybody is crying wolf. This time, it's clear he needs antibiotics (has a very high fever). Perhaps, with antibiotics, he could recover once again from whatever infection this is. Once again, nobody has mentioned to me yet whether he is to receive any.

Once again, Demetrios and I will drive up there this evening.

Once again, please keep praying.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


by Ogden Nash
(one of my favorite humorists)

O Duty,
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie?
Why displayest thou the countenance of the kind of
conscientious organizing spinster
That the minute you see her you are aginster?
Why glitter thy spectables so ominously?
Why are thou clad so abominously?
Why art thou so different from Venus
And why do thou and I have so few interests mutually
in common between us?
Why art thou fifty per cent. martyr
And fifty-one per cent. Tartar?
Why is it thy unfortunate wont
To try to attract people by calling on them either to
leave undone the deeds they like, or to do the deeds
they don't?
Why are thou so like an April post mortem
On something that died in the ortumn?
Above all, why dost thou continue to hound me?
Why art thou always albatrossly hanging around me?
Thou so ubiquitous,
And I so iniquitous.
I seem to be the one person in the world thou art
perpetually preaching at who or to who;
Whatever looks like fun, there art thou standing between
me and it, and calling yoo-hoo.
O Duty, Duty!
How noble a man should I be hadst thou the visage
of a sweetie or a cutie!
Wert thou but houri instead of hag
Then would my halo indeed be in the bag!
But as it is thou art so much forbiddinger than a
Wodehouse hero's forbiddingest aunt
That in the words of the poet, When Duty
whispers low, Thou must, this erstwhile youth replies
I just can't.

This is what "duty" always looks like to us - yet the very same reality appears beautiful to us when motivated by love.

Blog Note

My computer came down with about 247 viruses after my protection service had lapsed. As a result, my blogroll has been displaying incorrectly. I think it's in good working order now, though.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fountain of Life

Angelina Bombolina (the orphaned mouse) crawls onto my hand eagerly as soon as I put it near her. Then she goes crazy, wriggling in my fingers, desperately looking for the miniature rubber nipple she has learned is somewhere nearby. I have to make her lie upon my third finger and grasp her head firmly with thumb and first two fingers, to hold her still long enough to make the connection. I squeeze one droplet of formula onto her mouth and then she calms down, opens up, and begins drinking.

The three infant squirrels start making sucking movements as soon as I pick them up. Blind and helpless, they, too, nose about greedily for their meal and require to be controlled and stilled before they can find it.

Somewhere in there, there's got to be an allegory of the Christian life.

A Family Weekend

This weekend, my father's brother and sister, both octogenarians themselves, came to visit him. Aunt Pat also brought her two daughters, Penny and Cindy. My brother, Mike, also came, and so did Tisho, Wendy's eldest, with Madison, Barbara's daughter.

So great to see everyone, especially feeling and looking so well! Penny and Cindy lost their father in 1989; he also had Parkinson's, with dementia, so they know exactly what it's like. Cindy is also a breast cancer survivor; I remember Barbara stepping up and providing all kinds of moral support at the time. Aunt Pat once had breast cancer, too. She looks wonderful today! Very pretty at the age of 86. Three years ago, she re-married, this time to her college sweetheart. Uncle Dick says he feels great; he walks unaided and is going to be 90 next March. He looks enough like Dad that seeing him was a little like seeing my Dad healthy and whole again.

Madison has had some sort of adolescent blossoming and has turned beautiful, even more so than she was just three weeks ago when I last saw her; I couldn't keep my eyes off her.

We looked through old family photos I (as family archivist) had brought, and at things our common ancestors had written, some of which I intend to share here, and had a grand time reminiscing, and an even better time getting reacquainted.

Mom and Madison and Cindy got a kick out of holding wee Angelina Bombolina, who turns out to be not a Deer Mouse, as I had first thought/hoped, but an ordinary House Mouse. Still adorable. She was a bigger hit than the three infant squirrels, who, still hairless and blind, aren't yet as cute.

Growing older has made us realize the value of staying in better touch! What we've missed by not knowing our cousins better over the years!

Here's Dad's birthday photo, taken by a friend who goes around to the nursing care unit and takes birthday pictures of the residents there. I don't know exactly when it was taken, but fairly recently. Must've been in a quite lucid moment, that he was able to cooperate by smiling. There IS still somebody home, behind those eyes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

If You Ever Encounter a Bat (Please Read)

A Few Dos and Don’ts

Pr. Harju’s recent misadventure with a bat prompts me to share with as many people as possible some tips concerning bats, people, and rabies.

The incidence of rabies in bats is approximately 1 in every 200 (half of one percent). In the United States, only about one person a year dies from bat rabies. Nevertheless, although the risk to humans is low, the stakes are very high, making even that degree of risk unacceptable.

In general, the best advice, if you should come upon a bat, is to leave it alone. If it is sick, even most wildlife rehabilitators will not accept it. Furthermore, bats are protected by state laws and it is illegal to interfere with them.

One exception to the “leave it alone” rule is if you find an orphaned baby bat. I raise those fairly often. The trouble with this exception is that in the U.S., many bats are so small that people assume they are babies when they are not. So unless you find it next to a dead mother, or have seen it nursing, or it doesn’t yet have hair or its eyes are still sealed shut, or you have some other very obvious indication that the animal is a baby, please leave it alone.

If you find a baby bat and wish to rescue it, you must capture it without touching it, or letting it touch you. That should be easy, as baby bats haven’t yet learned to fly. You must wear gloves. They don’t have to be all that thick, just thicker than the length of the baby’s teeth (if any). Some gardening gloves will do nicely. The rabies virus is carried in the sick animal’s saliva, so your gloves must be sufficient to prevent the baby not only biting, but also licking your hands. The best way to capture the baby bat is simply to lay a box over it. Then gently slide a piece of cardboard under the box. Alternatively, you can toss a light rag over the baby and pick it up inside the rag, with gloved hands.

Put the baby in a shoebox or other small box. Tape the lid shut all the way around, making sure there is no crack. Baby bats can squeeze out of almost any miniscule opening! The bat will not suffocate; anyway, you aren’t going to keep it that long. Keep the baby warm, dark, and quiet. Warmth can be achieved in a couple of ways. You can use a heating pad under half the baby’s box, set on low. That way the baby can move to whichever half of the box it prefers. Or you can take an old sock, fill it about a third full of dry rice, tie the end, and microwave it for 30 seconds or so. Wrap it in enough rags so the result is a gentle heat, such as a mother bat might provide, not enough to burn the baby. Place it under the box or against one side of the box. You'll need to re-nuke the heat sock approximately every half hour or 45 minutes.

Keep your pets and your children (and everybody else) strictly away from the bat! Besides taping the container shut, you should close the door of the room where you put the box, for double insurance. Don’t succumb to the temptation to show the bat to your friends.

Then call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Look online for ones in your state, or ask your vet for a referral, or call your state’s equivalent of our Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Or see this map of the United States, where you can click on your state to find rehabbers nearest you. A rehabber licensed to handle bats will be vaccinated against rabies, same as your dog is.

Do not attempt to feed the bat. Not even water. You don’t want to get that close to his mouth. You also don’t want to run the risk of actually harming him, by feeding him the wrong thing (he requires a very special formula) or by accidentally choking him. If the animal happens to be dehydrated (a good bet), his system won’t be able to handle any food anyway until he is rehydrated by someone who knows how. He is not going to die of hunger between the time you find him and the time you get him to a licensed rehabilitator. Resist the temptation to feed! (This goes for any wild animal you may find.)

Another exception to the rule about leaving bats alone is if you find one in your house. If you find a bat in your house, you must capture it. Follow the instructions in this video. It also shows you the most likely ways the bat got inside in the first place. (The woman in the video, Barbara French, is one of the foremost bat experts in the whole world.) The only thing amiss with the video is that Barbara, although she cautions you to wear gloves, isn’t wearing any herself!

Provided there is absolutely no chance the bat has bitten or licked anyone, take it outdoors and release it. With gloves on, place the bat on a tree trunk, as high up as you can reach. Watch to make sure it flies away. If it doesn’t, try to retrieve it; then call a rehabber.

If you should find a bat in the same room where you have been sleeping, or anyone else has been sleeping, you must take the bat the same day (or the next day, if you find the bat at night) to your county health department. This is because while you are asleep, you may not be aware of having been bitten. (Even while awake, you may not always be aware of it, as bat bites are so tiny; their teeth are so small.) Visual examination can’t be trusted, either, since the bite can be so tiny as to be all but invisible. Moreover, all it takes to expose you to rabies is being licked by the bat. (The rabies virus is carried in the saliva.) Anyone who has been sleeping in the same room with a bat is automatically considered to have been exposed to rabies, unless tests on the bat prove otherwise.

The Health Department will euthanize the bat and examine its brain for rabies. Chances are no rabies will be found, but bear in mind that the incidence of rabies among bats that get lost and wind up in your house is probably higher than it is in the general bat population.

If rabies is discovered, you will need prompt treatment. Or if the bat was not captured and cannot be tested, you will likewise need prompt treatment, as rabies has to be assumed.

Don’t believe the stories about excruciatingly painful shots in the stomach. Today’s treatment is a series of shots in the arm and is no more painful than any other injection, less than some.

Don’t be reluctant to take the bat to the health department because of the fact that it will be killed. Your life is so much more important than his.

Next, you will need to have your house thoroughly inspected to see whether a bat colony is roosting there. If so, you must get the bats out of your house. You may be a weirdo like me who thinks having bats in the house is an honor or is romantic or enchanting or something. Right, but having them is also too hazardous and also quite smelly after a while, so be ruthless. (Your church steeple/belfry is a much better place for them.) The video I’ve linked to above shows you how to exclude bats from your house in a humane way, but you also need to read details here.

Bats are wonderful creatures, soft, furry, warm mammals. They are very charming when you get to know them, partially on account of their extraordinary intelligence and delightful personalities. (In fact, there is some question nowadays whether some bats are actually primates, like us!) It is not true that a bat may become entangled in your hair; its sonar prevents it from making such a mistake. And bats do not suck your blood. Even vampire bats, whose range is Central and South America, only suck the blood of cows and goats and such. Bats are not vicious or aggressive, but very shy. They eat hundreds of insects apiece every hour all night long, so are important for insect control. But you just have to be careful around them, as with the other rabies vector species (which in the U.S. are foxes, groundhogs, skunks, and raccoons).

Armed with this information, I hope you can avoid not only tragedy, but even the unpleasant scare, inconvenience, and expense (maybe) and that befell the Harju family. They must now undergo a series of six shots each to protect them from rabies. Okay, so a shot is just a shot and not a tragedy; six of them still make something of an ordeal. Please keep Pr. Benjamin, Emily, Evelyn and Dominic in your prayers.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Episcopalians Debate Ordaining Heterosexual Males

A satirical article, hat tip to Fr. Hollywood (Pr. Beane).

Happy Birthday, Dad!

You have surprised everybody and made it to your 88th birthday. Even though you aren't aware of it, and perhaps don't even remember what a birthday is, congratulations!

You may not know who we are, but you seem to sense we are people to whom you can still say, "I love you." And we are grateful that we can still see in you some of the same beloved mannerisms, ways of putting things, and especially, the same, wry sense of humor.

Watching you has also removed from me the fear of dementia; I see it causes you no great suffering, if any.

Mom says she has bought you some balloons. Maybe seeing them will remind you from time to time that today is your very special day. May it be a good one for you!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Nursery Today

Or, How I Distract Myself from Woes

Sammy Squirrel's eyes came open over the weekend, at long last. High time he had a squirrel friend to grow up with, lest he begin identifying as a small, furry human being with superior climbing ability.

I called up Chris. "Do you have a buddy for my squirrel?"

"I've got 25 of 'em in assorted sizes to choose from," she said.

Yikes! Gone are the days when I last had 25 squirrels at once. That takes over your whole life.

So I went to see her little darlings, and there were two just Sammy's size, and they all liked each other.

"Why don't you just leave him here?" asked Chris, "and take these instead?"

Off came the cover of a small basket, and nestled inside were three "grayling" squirrels, as we call the ones who are no longer pure pink. Three little girls, two of them with umbilical stumps still attached. Five days old, give or take a day.

Of course she knew I couldn't resist. Besides, Sammy is quickly getting to the stage at which he will need a wire cage so he can begin learning to climb. And a wire cage, unlike a small box, doesn't fit very well in my mother's apartment, and I expect to be spending quite some time there in the coming days.

Then this morning a veterinarian's office called me and the receptionist said somebody had just dropped off a little Deer Mouse, eyes still closed. They had called Chris, and Chris had suggested they call me; she knows I love mice best of all.

When I picked mousie up, I just casually asked, "Does she have a name?"

"The girls here have been calling her Angelina Ballerina."

"Then that's who she shall be."

Except I've modified the name, to suit her personality better. She's Angelina Bombolina. (I know it's ridiculous: a mouse with an 8-syllable name!)

The heavy, hard housework is done for now, which is fortunate, as our air conditioner is not working and the repair people won't be here until evening. Demetrios is at work Tuesdays through Thursdays. So today I am happily ensconced in my nursery, feeding Angelina Bombolina .2 ccs of formula every 2 hours and the three infant squirrels 1 cc every 4 hours, and keeping everybody clean and sweet-scented. By tomorrow I will have synchronized their schedules, but today it seems I have someone to feed almost every hour on the hour, and that suits me just fine. I'm taking a break from tears, from worries, from woes, tending my babies and doing little spurts of gentle housework in between.

Lord, have mercy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

His Mercy Endureth For Ever

This phase occurs at least 41 times (or more, depending on how you count) in Holy Scripture.

Matthew Gallatin's latest podcast discusses how the penal substitution theory of atonement depicts a changing God (and how ironic that is, given that this theory also relies upon the Platonic God of Perfect Order). This alone, he points out, is enough to refute that theory.

But what interested me most about this talk was a different point I've never heard anyone mention before. It has to do with the Platonic belief that the soul is naturally immortal.

Orthodoxy insists this is not the case. St. Paul writes that Christ alone has immortality. (I Timothy 6:16) Immortality is a divine attribute, like being eternal. "I am the way and the truth and the life," says Christ, and, "I am the resurrection and the life." Christ, by His resurrection, has shared His immortality with the whole human race, conferring it upon one and all. Nevertheless, it is still in God alone we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28) God's gift of life is ongoing; He sustains us in life at every moment, and if He should stop for an instant, we would all perish.

Some of us may turn this gift of immortality to our own everlasting regret, which is entirely and in every sense our own doing.

Here's the point: if it were God's doing (as a reaction to sin), this would mean God was every moment keeping the damned alive in hell specifically for the purpose of everlastingly tormenting them. He wouldn't even be merciful enough to let them just die.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Zaccheus Cried Himself to Sleep that Night

When you begin to understand
(begin, because you never can, fully)
how hugely you have damaged and deformed yourself,
how deeply you have wounded others,

when you get a true glimpse
of the aching beauty you have missed,
the True Love you have scorned,
and trashed what is most to be cherished,

when you truly know the reality
of how ugly are the pleasures you grasp,
and how ruinous, and hateful,

and when you see, right there,
immediately next to your heart,
forgiveness, healing, a new start, real life,
all yours for the taking,

that’s when the tears come,
in a flood, all by themselves, guaranteed.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Foes in Heaven? Friends in Hell?

Christians have been known, when contemplating others who have hurt them or have committed great evils, to take comfort in the thought that God will get them in the end. Everybody will get his due. People have even told me it is this thought the allows them to refrain from exacting their own vengeance. Or, a variant of the same thinking is when people tell themselves Jesus took everyone’s punishment upon Himself; hence, we can afford not only to refrain from retaliation, as God has achieved that for us (albeit vicariously in Christ), but can also afford even to forgive.

Some forgiveness!

This is not really a very loving, hence not a very Christian attitude. Better is this, from the Morning Prayers that each Orthodox Christian is supposed to pray each morning:

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on those whom I have offended or scandalized by my madness or inadvertence, and whom I have turned from the way of salvation, and whom I have led into evil and harmful deeds. By Thy divine providence restore them again to the way of salvation.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on those who hate and offend me, and do me harm, and let them not perish through me, a sinner.

On the other hand, we hear people wondering how the saved are supposed to be happy in heaven if some of their loved ones are not there.

I don’t have an answer to that, but there are some clues. The first thing to note is that we are not going to stop loving them, ever. But here on earth, when we say “love”, usually we are speaking of a compound reality. It’s made up of something spiritual and something emotional. Part of it is attachment, in an earthly, fleshly sense. We enjoy having warm feelings toward people, enjoy being pleased by them, being stimulated or entertained or challenged or agreed with; we enjoy their companionship. In short, part of what we call love is actually what we might call social and emotional consumerism. It is fleshly, carnal.

And that component, in heaven, is going to be burnt away in the Purifier’s Fire. Our destination is to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” (Romans 8:29) Who is pure, selfless giving. We shall no longer “need” anything from anybody, but be interested only in pouring ourselves out to God and one another in perfect self-emptying. That’s what heaven is.

Since we shall not be interested in what others can do for us, what joys they can provide us, but all our joy will be in seeking to give them joy (for it is more joyful to give than to receive), then neither shall we be hurt if deprived of the joys a person used to give us here on earth. We will be relating to everyone spiritually, not carnally. (This is also why there will be no marriage among us in heaven.) That’s the first clue.

The second clue is that God Himself is going to be absolutely everything to us: our food and drink, (Revelation 19:7), our clothing (Revelation 19:8), our day and our light (Revelation 21:23; 22:5), our Temple and our Comfort (Revelation 21:22-23), our healing (Revelation 22:2), our life (Revelation 21:6), our all. Everything we need for perfect blessedness He will provide, He Himself will be.

The third clue is, “Hell is locked from the inside.” If anyone is ultimately lost (and that’s a huge “if”, given that God’s mercy and ability to save are beyond what any of us can imagine), it is because of his own, ongoing choice. It’s because he actually prefers the darkness to the light. We will know it is his choice, but his choice will have no power to wound us.

C. S. Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce, has some further excellent points on this subject.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Church, Scripture, Theotokos

The Church is Christ. She is not something else, of which Christ is merely the Head and His followers are the Body.

Instead, what it means to speak of Christ as the Head and Christians as the Body is that Christ includes His followers, incorporates us into Himself. It is by incorporation into Christ that we are members of the Church. The Church is “the fullness of Him, who fills all in all.” Christ is not “full” without all His members.

It is because the Church is Christ we do not say the Bible has authority over her; for what can have authority over God? Or if heterodox teaching were true, and the Church were some other entity than Christ, larger than Christ, notice, because Christ would be merely her Head instead of her whole, then even more so must we ask, what could have authority over an entity larger even than Christ?

Rather, Scripture has authority in the Church. That's a huge distinction.

It’s because we are members of Christ’s Body that the Most Holy Theotokos is the mother of us all, she who gave birth to that Body.

On Forgiveness (Note to Self)

Albert Einstein, upon hearing that one of his scientific colleagues (I forget which one) was very modest about his achievements, quipped that the man had nothing to be modest about.

As modesty without having anything to be modest about is fatuous, as to stop complaining when you have nothing to complain about is no virtue, so it is with forgiveness. We should be modest. We should stop complaining. We are commanded to forgive. Yet the underlying reality is, WHO AM I to think anybody else needs forgiveness from me? What entitled me to judge or condemn that person in the first place? It’s continuous, unconditional love that is required; for me to “forgive” anyone is sheer presumptuousness.

This is much clearer, of course, as applied to the other person. If someone has mistreated you far worse than you think you have mistreated him and he says to you, “I forgive you,” you stare at him in mild disbelief and wonder, “Who are you to forgive me?”

Far harder to see that the same applies in reverse; in fact, applies in reverse only.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kyria Polyxeni

(Not her real name.)

Kyria Polyxeni was 93, very devout, extremely kind, even to those hardest for anybody else to love. She lived alone and did her own housekeeping, cooking, shopping, and gardening.

She took a bad fall one day and spent months in convalescence. When we visited her in the hospital, she expressed a wish to die rather than be a burden to her family. We said no, she must accept to live for as long as God appointed her to live, and must continue to rejoice in Him during her remaining time, just as she always had, must cherish the gift of life and guard and protect it. I called the priest, who went to her the next day to tell her the same thing.

So she did. We noticed a marked change in her thereafter when we’d go visit her in the hospital.

Then one day we noticed she was no longer connected to the IV.

"Terminal dehydration," as they call it, is among the most common ways to hasten a person’s death (along with Terminal Sedation). So we made her drink a couple of glasses of water while we were there, and told her how important it was for her to keep on drinking plenty of water. We said she must not simply wait for more to be brought to her if she should run out; she should ask for more and keep drinking at all costs, even if she didn't feel thirsty. (The elderly often don't.) She understood.

That night, I telephoned her family and said, “Did you know, Kyria Polyxeni’s doctors have disconnected her IV? And that’s dangerous because –”

“We are very satisfied with her doctors,” was the curt reply, clearly meaning, “Butt out.”

But guess what? Kyria Polyxeni kept on drinking water, and kept on living. Her family brought her home but would not allow her any visitors. “She’s our baby now,” they said. “She’s ours to take care of, and we need to be left alone to do it.”

Several weeks went by and Kyria Polyxeni still lived. Then one day she telephoned the priest and asked for his blessing to die. She said she was pretty sure her time had really come now and it was not just wishful thinking. So Father Nicholas gave her his blessing to die.

Kyria Polyxeni telephoned her best friends, of whom there were many, and asked them all to come over that evening. They did, and when they were all assembled in her room, she said, “I called you here to say goodbye.”

“Where are you going?” they asked.

“Home.” And she pointed upwards.

Some of the women began to cry. She chided them. “I’m happy,” she said. “Please, share my happiness; rejoice with me. I’m going home!”

So they dried their tears, hugged and kissed her one by one, and departed.

Kyria Polyxeni lay down and closed her eyes. Her lifeless body was found early in the morning, peace and joy still written upon her face.

She died on her own terms, and God's, when the time was right. She died peacefully, in her sleep, without suffering Terminal Dehydration. May we all die like that. May we all live like that!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blog Recommendation

Belatedly, I've discovered Macrina's wonderful blog about her family's month-long pilgrimage to Greece and the Holy Mountain. I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing, but from what I've seen so far, it's a must read!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Complete Family in Christ

On Sunday, I sat smack in front of the Icon of the Theotokos, and a sweeter one of her I never saw, the Mother of every Christian. Then I contemplated the Babe in her arms, the imprint ("express") image, the very stamp, of the Father of every Christian. And then I saw that Babe as our brother, the Son who makes us all sons and daughters of His Father. And then it struck me that this Babe dwells in all of us.

Which means, no Christian is ever without father, ever without mother, ever without siblings, or ever childless. Christians are closer to one another in the Holy Spirit than they ever could be in the flesh.

While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You."

But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:48-50)

Dad is Better

In fact, he seems to be back to where he was two or three weeks ago. Except of course mentally, but he was already losing ground there steadily. He's also physically weaker, but again, that was already happening.

Today Rossi and I (his private-duty aide) borrowed a "gerry chair," which is basically an armchair, a recliner, on wheels, and took him outside to the gorgeous garden. We bade him feel the breeze, look at the blue sky, the bright flowers, and the water fountain, all of which he did. He seemed to enjoy it. Even should this prove to have been the last time he is ever outdoors, espcecially if so, I'm so, so glad we did this. Mom and I are going to look into getting him a gerry chair of his own.

No time this moment to write more, except I hope to go home to Richmond tomorrow,

Thank you again and again for your prayers, and be certain I've been praying for every reader of this blog, as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Various News on our Patients

Dad seems to holding his own. Doesn't seem to be getting any worse, but not much better, either. Maybe a little. They still won't put him in his wheelchair, saying he is "too agitated." Not sure that's right. He doesn't seem to have any trouble breathing. No rattling in his chest. He SAYS he breathes just fine and gets enough air. He denies being in any pain. And only gets the morphine if he says he IS in pain. So as far as I know, hasn't had any since I got here Friday noon. I make him drink as much fluid as I can when I'm with him. He's eating well. Can't talk much, probably due to his dementia more than anything else. I have no idea how long he can last. Sometimes I give him a day or two, other times, a month.

Mom is fine. She has a brace on her left wrist to keep her from bending it, not because of anything broken, but because of a deep cut around the base of her thumb from her fall. She also has deep, gorgeous shades of blue, purple, and pea green spreading from the middle of her forehead down the side of her face to below her ear. Her bangs cover up the forehead; makeup helps hide the rest. Yesterday she needed my help getting dressed, but today she did it all herself. The swollen knee has gone down and she walks well. Last night she even went to a movie here on the "campus" of the retirement home.

Sammy is the infant squirrel I've had some two-and-a-half weeks. I've brought him with me on this visit to my parents. His eyes are getting ready to open. He is thriving and I take some small comfort in watching him grow. I brought along a big bottle of antibiotics for him, as I routinely do, because he is such a greedy eater that a time or two he has aspirated some of his formula and choked.

Yours truly is exhausted and suffering headaches a lot. But fortunately, I brought along a bottle of aspirin, good for the heart as well as the headache.

Confession last night, Communion this morning; God is healing me spiritually as well. Glory to Him!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Here We Go Again

Dad is doing worse tonight. One reason is probably that he is still on morphine, which ought never to be used on the elderly unless they are in extremis. My pleas to get him off it are thus far to no avail. (He needs the morphine, I'm told, because he is in pain again. The pain, this time, is from constipation. The constipation is caused by the morphine! Am I in the Twilight Zone, or Through the Looking Glass?)

Meanwhile, Mom tripped over a cord in his room this evening. She's is in no danger, but is pretty badly bunged up. Wendy has taken her to one of those private emergency clinics, where they are right now, and is to call me when they get back.

Wendy is also flying out at the crack of dawn for her long-awaited reunion with her husband, after a six-year separation.

So that means I'll be heading up there in the morning, grateful for the opportunity to take care of Mom -- and Dad, insofar as I can.

Your Prayers and My Dad

This is part of an e-mail my sister, Wendy, sent this morning:

Dad seems to be making some sort of a recovery. Today he has a different look about him, still pretty lost but still with us. He is responding more to direct easy questions, still eating and drinking well, much more like he was just over a week ago. He isn't coughing now, or at least not much, though he still indicates pain from time to time. We have started thinking that much of that is when he is just upset and embarassed about not being able to get to the toilet. So we believe we will have him with us awhile longer after all.

Glory to God; thanks to you! I'm crying too hard to write any more now.

Who Said That?

And of what country or countries was it said?

1.) By the most brutal methods of terrorism, a regime sought to maintain an existence that was condemned by the overwhelming majority of its people. I have tried to persuade the responsible authorities that it is impossible for a great nation, because it is unworthy of it, to stand by and watch million belonging to a great, an ancient civilized people be denied rights by their government… I have endeavored to find some way to alleviate a tragic fate. One agreement was signed, only to be broken. I then tried a second time to bring about an understanding. A few weeks later, we were forced to the conclusion that the government of ____ had no intention of carrying out this agreement in the spirit that had inspired itm, but in order to create an excuse. I have determined therefore to place the help of our country at the service of these millions.

2.) We have no interest in oppressing other people. We are not moved by hatred against any other nation. We bear no grudge. I know how grave a thing war is. I wanted to spare our people such an evil. It is not so much the country of ____; it is rather its leader, _____. He has led a reign of terror. He has hurled countless people into the profoundest misery. Through the continuous terrorism, he has succeeded in reducing millions of his people to silence. The _____ maintenance of a tremendous military arsenal can only be regarded as a focus of danger. We have displayed a truly unexampled patience, but I am no longer willing to remain inactive while this madman ill-treats millions of human beings.

3.) The wave of appalling terrorism against the minority inhabitants of _____, and the atrocities that have been taking place in that country are terrible for the victims\, but intolerable for Great Power, which has been expected to remain a passive onlooker. We will not continue to tolkerate the persecution of a minority, the killing of so many, and their forcible removal under the most cruel conditions,. I see no way by which I can induce the government of _____ to adopt a peaceful solution. But I should despair of any honorable future for my own people if we were not in one way or another to solve this question.

[Scroll down for the answers.]

1. Adolph Hitler, March 12, 1938, announcing the invasion of Austria. The next sentence he spoke was, ”Since this morning, our soldiers are on the march across all of Austria’s frontiers.”

2. Adolph Hitler, April 14, 1939, on why it was necessary to invade Czechoslovakia

3. Adolph Hitler, August 23, 1939, on why it was necessary to invade Poland

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Christianity vs. the Culture of Death

Elizabeth has a post, “How to Make Evil Sound Acceptable” about the euphemisms people who favor abortion use when discussing it. I’d like to tackle the same subject from the opposite direction: the slogans and phrases used by the culture of death concerning not the beginning, but the end of life.

First, this discussion should be prefaced by noting that for every rule, God's love can and does make exceptions, and so must ours. Every rule depends upon love (Matthew 22:38) and love trumps all.

Here, then, are some of the things urged upon us by the surrounding pagan culture; and here is how they contrast with Christian faith.

“We shouldn’t prolong a person’s life if –” wait! Stop. Halt. We’ll get to the “ifs” in a moment. But even before that, Christian teaching disagrees. You cannot “prolong” a person's life. It will never be longer than God wills it to be. You can either actively or passively shorten it, because God's will includes your freedom to do that, but it's a sin; it's playing God.

In Christianity, the right thing to do is leave it to God to end a person’s life at the time He knows is best. We do not presume to be wise enough, knowledgeable enough, or frankly, disinterested enough to know when that is. We do not take the decision out of God’s hands, for to do so would be to distrust Him. We support life to the best of our ability until God brings it to its close (recognizing that our ability may fall short of what it ought).

“We shouldn’t prolong a person’s life if he is in misery.” In Christianity, suffering has meaning. It even has deep meaning, precious meaning; yes, even salvific meaning. That is, suffering can actually be an indirect cause of our salvation. Dixie was kind enough to point out to me the story of Nun Synkletiki, who miraculously survived the collapse of that skywalk in Chicago, to illustrate the point that suffering, for us, is NOT something to be avoided at all costs. Go read it if you want to see some uses of suffering. Suffering can purify us, can provoke much growth in faith, in love, in character. I have a post on the subect here.

St. Paul writes:

We also glory in suffering, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

It’s not for nothing that the very symbol of Christianity is the Cross. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." (Galatians 5:24) "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Galatians 6:14)

“We shouldn’t prolong a person’s life if he has no quality of life.” The fact is that what the culture of death calls “quality of life” is subjective. We can look at, for example, a demented person and say he or she must be miserable, because we think we would be in the same situation. But the demented person more likely doesn’t have enough awareness of his or her circumstances to lament them – or at least will not for very long. As far as we know, he has no sorrows because he can’t remember anything sorrowful; has no worries because he can’t think of anything worrisome. As far as we know, but the main point is, we don’t. According to Christian teaching, even if we can discern what’s in a person’s mind, his deeper self, his soul, remains hidden to us, visible only to God. Maybe his soul, for its education, needs to experience what we imagine is a poor quality of life. Maybe his soul is rejoicing in affliction, as St. Paul describes. Christians trust God and consider it blasphemous as well as ungrateful to reject or (with rare exceptions) to fail to support God’s gift of life. Christian life, life with, in, and as Christ, is always worth living.

“I would rather die than have to be fed and bathed and dressed by others, and carried to the bathroom and have my butt wiped by others. That’s jut too degrading.” From a Christian perspective, such things are given to us to perfect us in humility, that cardinal virtue without which love is impossible, hence salvation is impossible (for to be saved is precisely to be conformed to and perfected in the love of Christ). Such indignities are to be borne with fortitude and patience. The Christian attitude is, “This is no more than I deserve; in fact, I deserve much worse.” The Christian attitude is that the all-loving God Who let this happen for our ultimate good knows what He is doing and we therefore accept any fate gladly, gratefully, believing it was chosen for our maximum benefit; that is, for the maximum benefit of our truest selves, not necessarily our animal selves. Furthermore, Christ Himself set us the example when He hung, naked, upon the Cross for our sakes. When we suffer similar indignities, we are imitating Him, we who are unworthy to do so.

And by the way, why is any of this any more "degrading" than, say, a Pap smear, a rectal exam, a colonoscopy, or lying on your back on a guerney, spread-eagled, bottom exposed, having a baby in the hospital? Or being a baby, for that matter?

“I wouldn’t want to be that kind of a burden on others.” The Christian experience – not just teaching, mind you, but experience – is that the more one loves, the less burdensome the burden is of caring for one another. At least, the less burdensome it seems. It may be physically and emotionally burdensome, but love lends it a unique delight, a piercing sweetness not to be had in any other way. To care for others, even when that requires much of us, isn’t some grim duty; it is true joy. It is the discovery of our best personhood. We are never nearer heaven than when we carry such burdens. We find self-sacrifice liberating and healing for ourselves.

Furthermore, to the extent we love, the person for whom we are caring will feel and know it. He will not be made to feel he is a burden. He will instead be someone with whom we share all our sorrow and joy, and all his. He will be an extension of ourselves, and we will be extensions of him, because we will all be cells in the same Body, the Body of Christ. We will all be partakers of the same Life, Christ’s life, the life of the Holy Spirit animating His Body. He and we will cherish every moment together, through every hardship and every merriment. My sister Barbara, as she lay in pain, didn't want to take much morphine, for fear it would deprive her of the joy she took in our company. In the end, she didn't even want to close her eyes even for a moment, "Because then you will all be gone." Love makes all suffering well worth it!

“There comes a time when we have to make decisions for the living instead of for the dying.” Note that as soon as we say this, we are giving up the pretense of acting in the best interests of the "dying" person. Can't have it both ways. Can't use both excuses.

The grain of truth here is that sometimes there is nothing we can do for the one seemingly nearest death, and must concentrate instead upon those around him. But we are all of us living until the moment of our death. We are all of us dying, too. And the person who never learns self-sacrifice will die without ever having fulfilled his own humanity. To be an authentic human person is to be a lover. To choose in favor of someone else, even at our material, physical, or emotional expense, is ultimately to choose in favor of ourselves, because our true, inner man grows and is made manifest to us only by being exercised.

“S/he isn’t going to get any better.” Of course, we do not actually know that for sure. But even if we did, it’s beside the point, for Christians.

“So are we doing her a favor by prolonging her life?” Yes! Not by “prolonging” it, but by supporting it and allowing it to be lived until its God-given end. Who knows what good, what precious moments, may also occur during those remaining days, weeks, or months; or whether the remaining time might make all the difference in a person’s eternal destiny?

In sum, all these pat slogans of the pagan culture of death, although they may sound pious on the surface, are actually expressions of distrust of God, rejection of His gift of life, rejection of His providence, pride, unwillingness to sacrifice for another or endure suffering for ones own growth. They promote an agenda that is thoroughly self-serving, yet for that very reason ultimately self-destructive. That is why they can’t help also sounding so smug.

Again, there are always exceptions. There are times when, due to human weakness and/or the imperfections of this fallen world, the most compassionate thing to do is indeed to let nature take her course. But such times are exceptions. When these exceptions become necessary, one should confess the human weaknesses that make them so. As in, "We simply cannot care for him any more. It is wrecking our marriage, our family, our finances, our sanity" or whatever. We should then go and do what is necessary, and best in the circumstances, but be honest about it, not using such slogans as I've noted here as excuses. If you consider yourself a Christian, take heed not to fall for them.

God Lets it Happen

Do check out Fr. Gregory's latest post. Christians all have to struggle, sometimes very, very hard, to forgive and to accept what we cannot change. I suspect it can't be done without remembering the wise words posted here.

God lets it happen - from His infinite, tender love.

Are we going to criticize God's love, shall we rebel against His mercy?


Pr. Cwirla, a Lutheran, has posted a cogent critique of "happy-clappy worship" on his blog. While the Orthodox can't agree with everything Pr. Cwirla writes in this post, still he makes what I think are some excellent points. So do the commentators, in their replies to the post; read them, too, to get a better balanced perspective. Here is a small excerpt from the post.

Contemporary, Evangelical worship, what I call “Contempogelical” worship, is revival worship, the revival tent come to the stadium, turning the church into a concert venue. The intent is to manipulate the audience (aka congregation) into a certain mood, whether praise frenzy or prayerful somberness. Participation is individualistic - waving hands, rhythmic dancing, simplistic refrains. The focal point is the lead singer of the “praise band”, usually a drop-dead gorgeous female (aka Praise Babe) with a lilting soprano voice wearing a look of virginal innocence combined with a teasing come hither seductiveness. The songs fall into either of two categories - power chord praise songs that extol God in His majesty and glory or pop-ballad love songs, extolling Jesus as lover and friend. Guys put up with the latter category only because they think the Praise Babe is singing to them.

Revival always has a strong sexual component to it. During the “great religious awakenings” of 19th century America, it was noted with some degree of alarm that unwed pregnancies increased dramatically after the revival left town. The predatory boys knew to hang out at the fringes of the revival meetings knowing that the girls were ripe for the picking. It doesn’t take a libido-driven imagination to catch the same sexual undercurrent in a lot of contempogelical worship.

I just wish Rev. Cwirla wouldn't make the word "Greeks" synonymous with "enemies".


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Terminal Virtue

So you've repented and been cured of it, and I've contracted as bad a case as you ever had.

It always happens that way, doesn't it?

Kyrie, eleison!

Doctor's Report

Diagnosis: pneumonia

Usual treatment plan: 2 antibiotic pills per day for 6 or 7 days

Actual treatment plan: relieve fever, give cough medicine

Prognosis: death by suffocation, not necessarily soon

The Purpose of Life... not to enjoy it.

The purpose of life is to have a share in God's own life, to be healed and glorified and deified, to be gods with God forever, rejoicing in Him (and also in all His works).

We can still do that when we can no longer play golf or bridge, can no longer knit or keep up our stamp collecting. We can still do that when we are confined to one room, or to one bed. We can still do that if our bodies are paralyzed, or even if they are burning at the stake. We can still do that when all else is taken away. Even if memory fails and language itself is taken from us and we find no words, the sweet communion of His Life remains at a level deeper than thoughts or words - the level where its seat always was anyway.

It is the Holy Spirit Who gives life, Who maintains life, Who makes life always worth living - up to the very moment when, in His own good time, He gives us a different, purer Life.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Terminal Virtue

So I don’t have the perfect family; neither do you. I still have to love them anyway; why won't you? So you don’t approve of what my family is doing; neither do I. But (until now) you had some moral influence; why did you refuse to use it to encourage us toward a better course?

You admit my being with my family doesn't compromise my integrity. So what's with yours? Why feel you must stay away? Why should being there for us, loving us, compromise your integrity?

Alright, then, go guard your virtue. I freely admit it's of a higher order than mine. Wrap yourself in it as a bright, shining cloak, handcrafted by you. We need you - so much! - but we shall manage without you.

In your virtue, do me the favor of reading a very virtuous chapter of the Bible: First Corinthians 13.

And ask yourself whether Christ ever kept Himself aloof from sinners.

I bear you witness: virtue that prohibits a person from loving

P.S.) Could I perhaps persuade you to go back to being a sinner, like the rest of us? You were kind when you were a sinner.

Hospice Care

Everybody thinks of Hospice as a wonderful organization caring for the terminally ill. I have a very different perspective.

A volunteer from Hospice (100% covered by Medicare) comes in every day to do things for my father, like bathe him, change him, shave him, brush his teeth – all things we are already paying others to do.

It’s a bargain with the devil. Because to be in Hospice care means you receive no pro-active medical treatment. You receive only palliative care. That’s fine (perhaps) if (a) you know what the medical problem is and (b) you know for sure it is terminal and (c) it cannot be successfully treated and (d) the patient is in misery meanwhile.

But none of that is necessarily true in our case. Nobody knows what’s going on with Dad, or whether it may be treatable, even perhaps quite easily treatable. Nobody’s finding out. He isn’t in a hospital; he isn’t having any tests (except to determine whether he has another urinary tract infection: negative.) He isn’t miserable. (At least, that’s what we’ve been telling ourselves for the whole time, over a year now, that he’s been in this nursing care facility: he isn’t unhappy; he’s mostly content. Okay, he has some unhappy moments; who doesn’t? But overall, he’s too ‘out of it’ even to be unhappy. So we’ve been telling ourselves. Now all of a sudden he has no quality of life, he’s miserable, there’s no reason to “prolong his life.” Withhold any life-saving treatment.)

The worst of it is, if we’d had this discussion years ago with him, he would have felt the same way. A person's perspective may well shift once he is actually in the situation (I remember my young mother, who is 84 now, repeatedly saying she hoped someone would administer cyanide to her on her 80th birthday.), but it’s too late now to ascertain whether Dad himself still buys into this culture of death.

Ah, this culture of death, administered by the priests and priestesses from Hospice!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Continuing Vigil

Dad has been conscious for 3 days now, and no longer having convulsions. But he is still looking the way Barbara did 3 or 4 days before she died; there's that same "death look" on his face, in his eyes.

I'm staying with Mom in Springfield (Virginia); Wendy has also arrived. We sit with him in shifts, not yet including the hours between midnight and 6 a.m., however.

It won't last long, I'm thinking.

And there's no way, in a public blog, to express how awful all this is, for all sorts of reasons. Much, much tougher for me than Barbara's death in March.

Kyrie, eleison!