Friday, February 26, 2010

Dear Miss Knits:

The following was inspired by Sarah in Indiana, who confesses that her stash is under control. “Stash,” for you non-knitters, is an embarrassing word referring to all the yarn you haven’t yet used. Some of it is left over from completed projects like the king-sized blanket that eventually became an afghan. More of it is gorgeous stuff you simply couldn’t resist when you were in the yarn shop. You had to have it. You will knit it someday, but you are waiting either to finish the other 6 projects you already have on needles, or for the yarn to call to you, to reveal itself to you, to tell you what it wants to become.

Now a True Knitter, simply put, is an addict. She has more stash than she can easily admit, more than she has good places to put it, more than she can afford, enough for years of projects even if she should keep all the promises she makes to herself and never buy another skein until the yarn she already has is (mostly) used up.

It is unsound doctrine, unscriptural, to call anyone a True Knitter whose stash is “under control”. (Sorry, Sarah.) While True Knitterness is beyond our poor, feeble, human attempts to define, the following, clipped from
True Knitters Daily Digest, illustrates it.

Dear Miss Knits,

Help! My husband has discovered my stash and he says we need to “take care of it,” which means throw it away. He says we need our attic for other things. Of course, he has no idea how much it all cost. Please tell me what I should do.

If you decide to publish this, please just sign me,


Dear Desperate,

Clearly you have made several mistakes, the first of which was marrying a Non-Knitter. The second mistake was failing at least to convert him into a True Knitter after the fact. (Miss Knits has no doubt you tried, dear.) Well, there’s nothing to be done about these missteps now, except to let them serve as warnings to other Knitters.

Fortunately, there is indeed something we can do about your third mistake, which was to store all your stash in one place. Never, never, never, keep your whole stash in one place! Smaller storage places are important because: they are less likely to be discovered, they limit our exposure if they are found, they are less likely to elicit a complaint from our spouses, and they do not display the full evidence of how much money we have spent on yarns.

Here is what you must do. Call upon your other Knitting Friends, explain the emergency, and beg them to keep portions of your stash for a while. (Do not ask them to keep very much of it or for very long, as their own stash is probably as much as they can normally handle except in emergencies such as this one.) Do not forget, as a courtesy, to provide your own mothballs or whatever you use to keep the bugs away.

After a week, retrieve your stash from your Knitting Sisters (and/or Brothers, if you are lucky). Divide it into several small stashes and store them in the small places you will have spent the week preparing, and keep a list of these places in the bottom of your knitting bag.

If worse should come to worst, part of your stash is discovered and your husband insists he needs that space, simply begin immediately to use the yarn from the revealed stash. It isn’t necessary to finish the project right away, just get it on needles.

Of course, the long-term solution is to buy a bigger house. Miss Knits understands this may not be realistic in the near future, but you should keep it in mind.

Wishing you Happy Knitting,

Miss Knits

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Place of Verdure

Last December, I had the joy of meeting Sarah and James up in Fort Wayne, at the chrismation of the Harju family. Now I discover she has a blog. It has recipes and book reviews and some things about Orthodoxy and - be still, my beating heart - she knits! And shows us some of her completed projects. I've linked to her blog on my sidebar, or you can click here to check it out.

Tip of the Day

You have no doubt been taught to shake hands firmly and not let your hand feel to the other person like a limp dishrag.

This is sound advice, but it needs to be modified for the elderly. Their fingers are liable to be arthritic and already painful before you squeeze them to death. If you don't want the little old lady to scream or faint, just close your fingers firmly but very gently around the palm of her hand, taking care not to squeeze. Let her do the pumping.

Of course, even with young people, a firm handshake was never supposed to mean wringing the other person's hand like a chicken's neck.

On Cheeseburgers: Note to Self

or, Can You Not Have Your Virtue and Eat it, Too?

Feeling secure in your intention to give in eventually is what gives you the "strength" to delay it - long enough to allow you to feel virtuous for having at least struggled awhile.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Later...

Early next week I hope to be able to post something more about thinking and over-thinking.  But I have company coming for the weekend, so won't be able to get to it before next week.  My son Mark is coming, together with his wonderful Katherine and their children, Kelly and her twin brothers, Ryan and Connor.

Please excuse me now; I'm off on a spider hunt.  While I am normally generous in providing these tiny eight-legged critters a nice, warm, predator-free home in various corners of my ceiling, there are occasions when I turn predator myself and go around and vacuum them up, together with their webs. 


Two Amazing, Short Videos

If you like wonderful animal clips, here's a most enjoyable one.  Very cute.  It begins with a baby moose discovering someone's backyard sprinkler and then things just keep getting better after that. 
Click here.

And then click here for a really heartwarming video, featuring a remarkable little girl making a 911 call for her father.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Station

We went to see this move over the weekend, with friends, and all of us just loved it. It’s entertaining, informative, moving, and thought-provoking. In truth, I’m not sure which delighted me more, the film or my husband’s analysis of it; read on! The film is about the final days of Leo Tolstoy. It stars Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as his wife, Countess Tolstoy. You may remember Helen Mirren from her role as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen.

We see the then most famous writer in all of Russia surrounded by adoring disciples who admit he isn’t Christ, but are sure he is at least a prophet, speaking for God. They have developed a whole ideology centering around Tolstoy. More accurately, they have projected their own ideals onto Tolstoy, who himself doesn’t quite buy them and whose life certainly does not exemplify them. The “Tolstoyans” are anti-church and supposedly promote love and freedom, although nobody in the movement seems able to love, and there isn’t any freedom, either. Their very ideology gets in the way of both; they sacrifice love and freedom and one another and descend to manipulation in their efforts to propagate their cause.

Tolstoy is struggling with his guilt over being upper-class (a count) and privileged and wealthy. We see him succumb to the flattery of his worshipful followers – to the point that he has agreed to bequeath the rights to all his writings to the Movement instead of to his family. He has driven his wife to desperation by being so taken in by all the hoopla surrounding himself. She in turn makes his life miserable with her rages and the public scenes she creates, the screaming, the tears, the pathetic pleading.

Mirren as Queen Elizabeth        
Demetrios’ opinion was that she was the only sane character in the movie; all the others had gone off into la-la-land, driven and blinded by their passions masquerading as ideology. The Countess, though, wasn’t fooled. And, Demetrios added, neither was Masha, the other female protagonist in the movie; at least, not for long.  The two women were the only ones not living a delusion.

“My dear,” he concluded, laughing, “the take-home lesson is this: we have a much better life than Tolstoy!”

I have to warn you there is the obligatory sex scene. It’s hot and heavy but mercifully brief. And it really is an integral part of the movie, part of the plot. But if you can live with that, go see this movie. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll think, you'll be grateful. Oh, and the acting is superb all around.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Smart and Stunning Kelly-doll

My oldest grandchild, Kelly, called us with some exciting news last week. Next year, in the 3rd grade, she is going to be in the AG class, Academically Gifted. She wasn't allowed to tell anyone outside the family, but I am certainly allowed.

She is indeed gifted, and her mom is a schoolteacher, so...

Here are some pictures of her at the Father-Daughter Dance she and her friends attended Saturday night. This is her second year, I believe...

That's Kelly on the Right.
Looks like her friend Morgan has the same dress.

Yet Another Confusing Word Pair

Hung and hanged are both past tenses of to hang, which is what makes them confusing, but they have very different meanings.

Hung is something you did to inanimate objects. She hung all the old familiar pictures in her new apartment. She sent the curtains to the dry cleaners, then hung them back up. They hung garlands on the Christmas tree.

Hanged is something you did to a person; it is synonymous with lynched. The court sentences you to be hanged. The prisoner hanged himself in his own cell.

To say a man is well hung is to admire certain of his natural endowments (in slang), while to say a man is well hanged means you are glad he has been executed.

These are definitely words we want to keep straight.

P.S. All this reminds me of a favorite poem, by A. E. Housman. Mom used to pay us to memorize poems and this one was probably worth a whole quarter. (Okay, we're talking the 1950s.)

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

All the cherry trees I ever met were wearing pink, but I think I may have seen photos of white cherry blossoms...??? Never mind. Hung is the point, hang it all!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Avoiding the Extremes

In the year 843 at the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the Patriarch, the Emperor, and Empress, and others came in solemn procession to bring the icons back to their proper places. The iconoclasts were officially anathematized (delcared heretics). And that was supposed to put an end to the iconoclastic controversy in the Church, once and for all. It's amazing, how many iconoclasts are still around.

The first thing I always have to think and say about it is that I am very sure I would have been among the heretics. The abuses of icons had become so rampant that they were being virtually worshipped, and I would have been strongly in favor of abolishing them altogether rather than keep them if they were going to turn into idols. I'd have smashed them with my own hands.

But today, as every year since 843, we celebrate the middle way, the Orthodox way, avoiding both the worship and the abolishing of the holy icons. You cannot properly even recognize Christ, let alone worship Him, if you fail to see Him living in His saints. (Or if you cannot see His life being lived in their flesh, then perhaps it isn’t a real saint, but only a super-pious person; heterodox hagiography is full of such.)

One of the hymns we sang today is this one, the "theme-song" for the day, as it were:

We bow down before Your pure Image, O Good One, and ask forgiveness of our sins, O Christ God; for voluntarily You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver from slavery to the enemy those whom You had created. Therefore we thankfully cry to You: You have filled all things with joy, O our Saviour, by coming to save the world.

One thing that strikes me in this hymn is how, immediately after we sing, “We bow down before Your pure Image,” we go on to affirm that Christ Himself, not His image, is our God. And we do this not once, but (depending on how you count) at least four or five times in this short hymn:

First, we call Him “Good One,” when, as He Himself taught us, no one is good except God alone.

Next, we ask Him for forgiveness of our sins, knowing that only God can forgive. He is the One who ascended the Cross.

Then we call him, “O Christ God”.

And then we acknowledge that: He created us, He fills all things, He is our Joy, and He is our Savior.

As the prophets have seen,
as the apostles have taught,
as the Church has received,
as the teachers have set forth in dogmas,
as the whole world has understood,
as Grace has shone forth,
as the truth was demonstrated,
as falsehood was banished,
as wisdom was emboldened,
as Christ has awarded;
thus do we believe, thus we speak,
thus we preach Christ our true God and His saints,
honoring them in words, in writings, in thoughts,
in sacrifices, in temples, and in icons,
worshipping and respecting the One as God and Master,
and honoring the others,
and apportioning relative veneration to them
because of our common Master,
for they are His genuine servants.
This is the Faith of the apostles,
this is the Faith of the fathers,
this is the Faith of the Orthodox,
this Faith has established the whole world.

P.S.) And something in today’s Gospel lesson struck me, too. Nathaniel, on first meeting Jesus, confesses Him the Son of God (John 1:49) Right at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Long before Peter. So I poked around a bit and discovered that Nathaniel wasn’t the only one. Immediately after He calms the storm (Matthew 14:23), all the disciples profess their faith in Christ as Son of God.

Think It, Think It! Part II

In case anyone should misunderstand my post, “Think It, Think It!", I wish to clarify that I am not against thinking. Anyone who has followed this blog for long knows that in fact, I regularly rail against the oft-heard admonitions from certain heterodox quarters to “Stop trying to sort it out rationally and just adore the mystery!” First of all, only the Holy Trinity is to be adored, but no doubt this is what they mean, so never mind. The thing I want to point out here is, this is exactly when we need to keep on thinking, lest we mistake sheer nonsense for genuine Mystery. (How to tell the difference is discussed in this post and in the 48 comments that follow it.)

I think it is just as dangerous to stop thinking as it is to reduce spiritual things to mere concepts (and/or emotions). And in fact, the latter mistake is what usually causes the confusion that results in the former.

This has made it all the more delightful for me to discover a new (to me) blog, The Well Thought-Out Life, by Kacie, a young Evangelical. The subtitle of the blog is a quote from Galileo: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.” I love it!

If you check out Kacie’s profile, you’ll discover she grew up the daughter of missionaries “on the islands of Indonesia and the mountains of Papua” and you’ll find a link to her other blog, Papua Girl in Dallas. It’s also an interesting blog, more newsy and personal, while the first one is more her place for wrestling with theological matters. I’ve enjoyed both blogs enough to recommend them to you.

And while you’re at it, another new blog I like is Thesauros. It’s anonymously written but as of this writing already has 13 thoughtful and edifying posts. No idea what tack it may take in the future, but so far, so excellent!

Think it, Think it!

That’s what my husband and I say to each other whenever we come across an example of somebody trying to reduce a spiritual reality to a concept –a tendency we think has pervaded all of Western culture for several centuries.

We derived, “Think it, think it!” from this excerpt from a book I bought many years ago at a used book sale. It’s a collection of essays by notable Catholics, most of whom explain why they no longer practice that religion. This passage in particular struck us hard.

A beautiful Mass is very important, and the Russians and the Greeks have that. I can intellectualize, but I’m more intuitive and I like that whole multisensory approach where you can see and smell and feel instead of just having to think over and over again, This in holy, this is holy, this is holy.

I deeply resent Vatican II. Mother Church doesn’t embrace you anymore. You go there and she says, “I love you — think about it.” But she’s not going to hold you and make you feel warm. She wants us to be tough — tough grown-ups who just think. Now it’s all conceptual. It’s as if at the Last Supper Jesus said, “Take and eat, this is My concept.” That’s what the Mass has become…conceptualism replacing Incarnation. But man does not live by concepts alone.

--Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt,  artist, in Once a Catholic by Peter Occhiogross (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1987), p. 34.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Bravest Mouse of All

A mouse stealing a leopard's Lunch.... Are you serious?

This extraordinary scene was captured by 19-year-old photography student Casey Gutteridge at the Santago Rare Leopard Project in Hertfordshire, England. The student, photographing the leopard for a course project, was astounded by the mouse's behavior.

Seemingly unaware of the beast towering over it, the tiny rodent grabbed at scraps of meat thrown into the African Leopard's enclosure. But instead of pouncing on the tiny intruder, the 12-year-old leopard Sheena kept her distance. After a few minutes she tried to nudge the mouse away with her nose, but the determined little guy kept chewing away until he was full.

Perhaps there's a fence we don't see here, but it kinda looks to me like the bravest photographer of them all, too.

God’s Risk

Here is more from Olivier Clement, in his Book, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology. This is from page 37.

The human being, the being who is personal, is the pinnacle of creation. With humanity the omnipotence of God gives rise to something radically new. Not a lifeless reflection or puppet, but a freedom which can oppose God, and put the fulfillment of God’s creation in jeopardy by excluding him from it. In the supreme achievement of God’s creative omnipotence – for only lifegiving Love can create a free living being – there is an inherent risk. Omnipotence finds fulfillment in self-limitation. In the creative act itself, God in some manner limits himself, withdraws, to give human beings space in which to be free. At its highest point omnipotence thus conceals a paradoxical impotence; because the summit of omnipotence is love, and God can do everything except force human beings to love. To enter into love, as we know, is to put ourselves without protection at the mercy of the worst suffering, that of rejection and abandonment by the one we love. Creation is in the shadow of the cross. The Lamb of God, according to the Book of Revelation, is slain from the foundation of the world.

Friday, February 19, 2010

God is Love, Period.

I’ve sometimes thought it might be a good idea to go through all our religious literature and cross out the word, “God” and substitute, “Love.” But then again, that might mislead people who have wholly inadequate notions of Love and similar notions of God, so that for them, “God has got to be more than that!” Or, “Yes, God is love, but that is not the whole story.”

Well, it is the whole story. God is Love. Is God nothing else besides? Is He not, for example, also Just?

He is, but the question assumes that justice and Love are two different things. For us human beings, in our fallen state, they indeed often are two things, but in God they are one because they are perfect, and nothing is “just” unless it is an expression, an application, of Love. That is why Justice, for God, requires not punishment, but restoration.

God is also Truth, but there is nothing true that is not Love. Neither is there anything good, nor worthy, nor mighty, nor creative, nor beautiful, nor immortal, nor all-knowing, that is anything different from Love. Love is that beside which there is none other.

So I was relieved and grateful to find this in Olivier Clement’s book, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology, page 43. The author is discussing how communion in God on the one hand doesn’t destroy our unique personhood, but affirms it, yet on the other hand, does not admit of any separation or duality:

Personal existence has a ‘vertical’ dimension, a desire to be plunged into the fullness of God. And this fullness is not a solitude but an ocean already alive with the movement of infinite love. The depth is not an unrelieved gloom; it contains reciprocal activity, interchange, the presence of the other, while duality is avoided in the communion of the Three in One. The depth itself suggests the inexhaustible character of the Persons and of their love. We can now say boldly, ‘God is love’, without fear of blaspheming by appearing to trivialize.

So maybe it wouldn't be all that bad to cross out "God" and write in, "Love."

And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD LOVE smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that [was] in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

Now THAT would give us a lot to think about, wouldn't it?  And yet, this is how we must learn somehow to interpret the passage.

The letters in the "spokes" of Christ's halo say, in Greek, He Who Is, recalling God's Name as revealed to Moses: YAHWEH, I am the 'I am'.  Here, crowned with thorns, is Yahweh.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Be Still and Know That I am God."

The Lenten struggle, which is but an intensification of our everyday struggle, involves all sorts of things: fighting against temptation, learning to trust and to hope and to love and to forgive, weaning ourselves from addictions to the things of this earth, acquiring virtue, rooting out vice.

None of which we can accomplish ourselves, even though love prompts us to struggle with them. Struggle we must, but the main struggle must always be to stand still and simply receive God's grace and mercy, to let Him work in us. If we can but be faithful in this, all the rest follows.

Happy Birthday, Wendy!

Today is my sister's birthday. She is 59. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SISTER! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!

With Our Brother, Mike

Sloth, Disguised as Humility

It's no good being ever so humble about your lack of Christian maturity if continually acknowledging it becomes a substitute for doing anything about it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Test Swatch and Tentative Verdict

Top photo shoes the "Print o' the Wave" pattern I've published here once or twice recently.  Bottom photo is my attempt to reproduce it

Can you tell that the difference is (other than that mine is so inexpertly stretched and pinned out)?  That could be fixed. What can't be fixed is that it still needs to be knitted more loosely; viz., on even larger needles. (These are US 11s.)

The other difference is that in real life, my sample here is probably twice as large in scale as the lavender one. What I actually need is not larger needles, but finer yarn. And of course, real wool instead of acrylic, so it will block. This is fingering yarn and I need laceweight.

Verdict:  I don't think I will bother. First because I've never knitted with such fine yarn before and feel intimidated. Secondly, and more importantly, because I don't know what I'd DO with the pattern. It's too sheer to be good for a blanket or sweater. Can't be attached to a solid backing without spoiling the effect. I don't wear shawls. I wouldn't want curtains out of this because (a) I'd be afraid moths would get to the curtains and ruin them and/or (b) I'd have to block them all over again (and blocking is a royal pain) every time they were washed or drycleaned. And finally, the pattern, with its 17-stitch repeat, takes so much concentration to knit that all the enjoyment of doing it is spoiled.

Lesson:  there are many reasons, other than gauge, that it's important to knit a test swatch before undertaking a project.

Tough to Take

Demetrios' patient Kevin (not his real name) of whom I've written before (here), died early this morning. His death was totally unexpected and sudden.

He got up from bed just after midnight, with a very runny nose. The physician on duty offered him a little Benadryl, but Kevin refused. He sat up for a while, not appearing at all ill (except mentally, of course), and finally went back to bed around 2:00. The nurses, making their routine checks at 3:00, found him dead in his bed.

The suddenness of it probably means heart attack, stroke, or blod clot, any of which is surprising as his cholesterol was low and his blood pressure normal. He was not a smoker and not obese. He was not on any particularly dangerous drugs.

He was only 49 years old.

We hope he is in better shape now. Please pray for him. And I think Demetrios could use your prayers, too.

On the Tragedy and the Glory of Human Freedom

Here is more from Olivier Clement, in his Book, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology. This is from pages 35-36.

Then the question arises: Why has God created us tragically free, tragically responsible – so heavy a burden that we constantly lay it down at the feet of idols and inquisitors? To which the great Christian Tradition replies unanimously: God created us free because he summons us to deification – to a divine-human condition in which our transformed humanity will find its fulfillment. This call demands a free response. Union that resulted from mere magnetic force would be automatic, instinctive, unworthy of a personal existence which, even in its wish for union, requires complete responsibility.

There does exist, it is true, an impersonal love which is the working of desire. Some contemplatives have stressed the spontaneous return or nature towards its origin. Denys the Areopagite, for example, saw the world as a kind of immense liturgy, a sacred dance revolving around the divine Centre, held in its attractive force. However, Denys was accepted into the Tradition only when corrected by Maximus the Confessor who, in his own writings and experience, emphasized the terrible freedom of man.

That is why Adam had to undergo the test of freedom, to grow in maturity towards a conscious love. That is why sacrificial Love could not be revealed until Abraham’s knife had glinted in the eyes of Isaac …That is why the chosen people were a stiff-necked people, who got their name – Israel – after wrestling in the dark with the unnamed Stranger. That is why, finally, when God took on himself the destiny of Isaac and of Job, he came in secret, so that only by the free love of humankind could he be recognized in a crucified slave, defiled with blood and spittle.

. . .

We can really love God only because we can refuse him. The book in the Bible which most clearly expresses this truth is possibly the Song of Songs, where the one painstakingly seeks the other. God seeks us more than we seek God.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Metphors Become Literal

I love it when this happens!

The first time I can remember it happening was one morning when I was changing the sheets on the bed. You know how you sort of flap the top sheet to make it billow? Well, I let this sheet go too high, and it got caught by the rotating blades of the ceiling fan. I yelped.

"What's wrong?" called Demetrios from the next room.

And I said - are you ready? - I said, "The sheet hit the fan!"

Another time was while I was raising a baby robin. I stood looking out the window one rainy afternoon, wishing aloud I had gone out in the rain to collect some of the worms that had emerged from their flooded holes in the ground.

"Why don't you go out now and get some?" asked Demetrios.

"Too late; they'll all be gone by now. The other birds will have gotten them all."

"You mean...?"

I nodded, and in unison we said: "The early bird gets the worm!"

Yesterday, it happened again when I went to transfer a load of our undies from the washer to the dryer. The washing machine stretched and twisted one pair into a long rope, which got caught in the agitator and snagged half a dozen other pairs into a huge, tangled mess. I was bending over the washer, my head almost inside, tugging and muttering to myself, when Demetrios came to see what was the matter.

"Panties all in a wad?" he asked.

On Learning to Live

Repentance is not awareness of my personal guilt, as St. John Climacus says in the Olivier Clement snippet I posted yesterday. Repentance is awareness of “the daily murder of love” in me, of my loveless and therefore separated condition. Repentance is that awareness plus the longing to overcome it.

Simply keeping the Law won’t help. And this is not because I cannot do it, although that is also true. It is because there is no law that could give me eternal life even if I did keep it. (Galatians 3:21). Eternal life is the very same thing as true love, and no keeping of any (or every) law can instill in me that kind of love, the love we find perfectly expressed only in Christ, and less perfectly (but still marvelously) expressed in His saints.

Such love comes only from Christ, for only He has it, or rather, is it. Put another way, “Only [Christ] has immortality.” (I Timothy 6:16; see also John 5:26) Christ, by that immortal Love, transfigured death, proving Love stronger than every torment, and stronger even than Hades.

To be rescued from death, I need the Immortal Life, that is the Love, found in Him, in His Person. That is what Baptism and Chrismation together accomplish; the one plants me into Christ, into His death and resurrection, and the other plants His Holy Spirit deep in my own heart.

Now I am immersed in Love, in Life. Now He breaks the bread of Life with me.

There remains one issue, the one we tackle especially during Great Lent, and that is learning what to do with that new life, how to exercise that new love. As the wings of a newly-emerged butterfly do him no good unless he flaps them, so new and eternal life avails me little or perhaps even nothing unless I learn to live it. I have been awakened from sleep, but what does that mean if I never open my eyes, get up, move about? I am a newly-delivered infant; but what does that mean unless I breathe this new thing called air, unless I suckle, unless I can cry and move? Or what does it mean to be a fish that cannot swim?

Great Lent is for exercising our weak spiritual muscles and learning to use our new spiritual faculties, that we not enter the realms of light blind, nor deaf to the heavenly anthems, nor mute instead of singing, nor paralyzed instead of soaring.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Ultimate Meaning of Death: Lovelessness

It’s true: to be unable (or unwilling) to love – and by this we mean loving as Christ loved us, with a freely-willed, unconditional, self-sacrificial love that asks nothing in return and includes so-called enemies – to be without this kind of love is the worst aspect of death (as we had known it before Christ). It’s worse than being without sight or speech, worse than being without breath, worse than your heart being unable to beat. It’s far worse.

To be without this kind of love is to be dead already, spiritually. Yes, that’s exactly what spiritual death means: lovelessness. To be spiritually dead does not mean we cannot, with divine assistance, come to believe or that we cannot repent. It simply means love in us is inoperative. That’s another way of saying our spiritual life, life in and with the Spirit of God, doesn’t (yet) exist. “God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

And it (lovelessness) also affects us bodily, distorting our perceptions, darkening our reason, deforming our emotions, motivating our sins, making us miserable. In fact, the lovelessness (spiritual death) in us is the ultimate cause of the physical death to come.

Perhaps this explains why the saints often seem to us to be so profound and even clairvoyant. The love they have cultivated inside themselves, the life of Christ in them, cleanses the perceptions, the reason, the emotions, the motivations. They see and understand a lot more than the rest of us can. They are more aware than we are, are more alive than we are, who go about like sleepwalkers.

This also explains why “good works” (somehow a very wrong term) are something we Orthodox insist are necessary for salvation, and not merely symptoms of it. What we mean is, we must work hard at learning to love, at removing the obstacles within us and the many resistances to love. We must cease what Olivier Clement calls “the daily murder of love” in us. Because the more we grow in love, the more Christ’s life, which is eternal life, grows in us. The more awake and alive we become, the more conscious, the less crippled, the more whole, the healthier, the freer, the more full of joy and peace. The more able to live and rejoice in the glorious, divine Life hereafter, as well as here and now. The “more saved”.

Repentance: It Is Not Awareness of Individual Guilt

Here is one of countless wonderful passages from On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology, by Olivier Clement (New City Press, New York, London, Manila, 2000, pp.2-23).

3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us ] that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more."

An intolerable text! It is missing from several manuscripts. Our moral conscience, indeed our religious conscience, cannot admit that Christ refuses to condemn this woman who says nothing, who shows no repentance. She has been taken in delicto flagrante; the crime she has committed is one of the most serious known to the Law, not only because it undermines the patriarchal structure of Jewish society, but because Scripture describes the relationship of God with his chosen people in terms of marital faithfulness and unfaithfulness. Christ confounds her accusers by reminding them that evil is universal: spiritually, they also are adulterers; they also, in one way or another, have betrayed love. ‘Let him who is without sin…’ No one is without sin. And he concludes by saying, ‘Go and sin no more’, giving her a new start in life.

Being aware of our state of separation, while longing to end it, is a prerequisite of the breaking up of the superficial self, of the shattering of our stony heart. Without this breaking up, Christ cannot be resurrected in me. That is why the monks say that repentance is the ‘reminder of death’, making us personally aware of our state of separation.

St. John Climacus says, ‘To define repentance as the awareness of individual guilt is to risk emptying it of meaning (Sermons, ed. Constantinople, P. 118). Again, to define sin as mere individual guilt would be to do without God, since all we should have to do in order to quieten our conscience would be to keep the Law. But, as St. Paul reminds us, the law cannot ‘make alive’ (Galatians 3:21). We who are reminded every day of our death, that is of the daily murder of love, know that only the victory of Christ over hell and death can ‘make alive’.

Once we have made this great return journey across the flood, receiving presentiments of the nature of death, we are thenceforward filled with a sorrowful joy. Our whole being is pervaded by a tenderness which is not the denial of passion, but its transfiguration by the passion of the Lord. We become capable of receiving others no longer as enemies but as brothers and sisters – this is the mysterious ‘love of enemies’ of the Gospel – of welcoming them without judging them, and perhaps of finding the right words to enlighten them in their turn. Without any effort on our part, we become different in our most ordinary words and actions, and may succeed in conveying to others that there is a meaning to life, that death has not the last word.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Patience and Wisdom and Kindness...

They spare us so much!

A young lady was waiting for her flight at a big airport. As her wait would be long, she bought herself a book to pass the time, and a packet of cookies.

Then she sat down in an armchair in the VIP lounge to rest and read in peace.

Beside the armchair where the packet of cookies lay, sat a man reading a magazine.

When she took out the first cookie, the man took one also. She felt irritated but said nothing. She just thought, “What a nerve!”

For each cookie she took, the man took one. It was infuriating, but she didn’t want to cause a scene.

When only one cookie remained, the man divided it into half, giving her one half.

This was too much! She took her book and her things and stormed out of the lounge to the boarding area.

It was only when she sat down in the plane that she opened her purse, and to her surprise, her unopened packet of cookies was there, where she had put it.

Patience and Wisdom...

...are highly useful virtues!


(Photo received in an e-mail, originally coming from heaven only knows where.)

On Pins and Needles!

(In the UK, knitting needles, I believe, are called knitting pins.)

So, at last, my lace project is on the needles! Doesn't look like much yet, but I'm pleased with the start and thought I'd share pictures of the front and the back.

The the circular needle distorts the shape of the work but it's actually going to be a square afghan, knitted from the center outwards in rounds.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Evening with Met. Kallistos

For anybody who may be interested, Andreas shares his synopsis of the lecture Met. Kallistos delivered here in Richmond Wednesday night.

As I mentioned, it's a good, if lengthy, reply to those who accuse Orthodoxy of being overly influenced by Greek paganism.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The weatherman says our chance of snow is only 30% Friday, much higher on Saturday, but the "main event" will be on Monday. I don't like the sound of that. I'm ready for it all to go away.

One nice thing about it is that the reflection from it really lights everything up. Our house is light and airy anyway; we've worked hard to make it so, even adding three windows and making liberal use of the color white inside. With the light reflecting off the snow, everything looks VERY white.

So today I was inspecting the image in the mirror. With glasses on. (And I am sorry to report that my mirror's strange ailment has not cleared up; it reflects a worse and worse image as time goes by.)

Time to color my hair again. Cover up the ugly, dark gray roots. Wait a second. What gray roots? I don't see many. Most of my hair looks blonde right down to the scalp. In fact, brighter than blonde. Well, that's weird. Oh, of course, it's the reflection from the snow.

Isn't it? Look again. Part the hair frantically with the fingers. How in the world???

Flashback: Grandmother A to Grandmother B: "So what color is your hair, really?"

Grandmother B to Grandmother A: "How the heck should I know? I've dyed it red about as long as I can remember!"

Never mind. The hair color will cover up the snow-white roots just as well as the gray, or even better.

Met. Kallistos Comes to Town

Despite all the new-fallen snow, there was a big crowd at church last night for Met. Kallistos' Lecture, Athens and Jerusalem.

The event was sponsored by an organization whose purpose is to promote hellenism, so it was a scholarly lecture rather than His Eminence's usual, more spiritual fare.

It was still very good. It constituted an answer to those who, ironically, accuse Orthodoxy of having swallowed whole too much of pre-Christian Greek philosophy. Ironically, because usually our critics are the ones who turn out to have done that, and they don't realize it.

Maria snagged Demetrios the moment we got there, and marched him (with me close behind) up to two men in the front pew wearing RC clerical garb. "Here's the man who can answer all your questions," she said.

What they wanted to know was, who was that man in the icon painted on the back of the big chair up there?

Demetrios said, "That's where a Bishop sits when presiding over services, and the icon shows Christ, dressed as our Great High Priest. He is our true Bishop."

"And any bishop who sits on that throne isn't going to forget it!" I added.

They laughed, and one said, the other agreeing, "I wish our bishops knew that!"

"Well, if you know it," said Demetrios, "your bishops will soon learn it!"

More laughter.

Then they wanted to know what the open book meant, which Christ was holding open but, curiously, not reading.

I said, "That's the Bible. He's teaching us. He's excercising his episcopal teaching office."

I met these two clerics again at the reception after the lecture, and they turn out not to be Roman Catholics at all, but "Anglo-Catholics." And what's an Anglo-Catholic? I asked.

They're a group that broke away from the Episcopalians when the latter began ordaining women.

So I told them I, too, used to be an Episcopalian, and we compared notes for a while. I told them how my Episcopalian pastor had once commented to me: "Your trouble is that you have a love-hate relationship with the Church. You have no problem with God as your Father, but you are deeply ambivalent about the Church as your Mother." And how that was so true and so insigtful. I said I never resolved that issue until I became Orthodox, because Orthodoxy turned out to be everything I had always hoped the church would be but she never seemed to be. And I added that I hoped these two would find their way to Orthodoxy, as well. To my surprise, they both nodded and said, "We hope and pray the same. We want our entire church to become Orthodox."

So I said I'd join them in that prayer, and I'm sure they would be glad if you would join them, too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Well, Maybe One Theological Thought in My Head...

The past couple of days, as I sit knitting, I've been pondering militant atheism. Now a tentative atheism, or an agnosticism, or doubt, all those I can understand and respect. But militant atheism is just very hard for me to take seriously. The trouble is, people like that expect us to believe so many things that to me are just outlandish, that stretch credulity far more than Christianity does.

The only outlandish thing Christianity asks you to believe is that God became one of us, weak, hungry, tired, sometimes in need of washing - and suffered and bled and died for us. Now that is outlandish.

But it's not as crazy as thinking the universe happened by chance, or that there is no inherent meaning in things, or that intelligent life (us) came about by chance. There's a better probability that my cat designed the Internet. C'mon, dear atheists. Get serious.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Latest Obsession: Lace Knitting

Or, No, There isn't a Theological Thought in My Head

Warning: this post will be of no interest to non-knitters.

Here, mistakes and all, is my first attempt to knit up a swatch of the "Shetland Bead and Madeira" lace pattern I've been stewing about for a couple of weeks now. (The background is actually fire engine red; I don't know why my computer distorts it so.) Both sides are done in 4-ply worsted weight yarn.

It's not quite lacy enough.

So I tried it again, this time with baby fingering yarn for the front side.

It looks better in person, somehow, than it does in the photo, but in my opinion, this is TOO lacy, too cobwebby.

So now I've bought some sport weight yarn and I expect it will be just right to give the effect I'm after.

Meanwhile, I believe I've FINALLY, at long last, found (for free) the "Print o' the Wave" pattern for which I've been searching high and low. It's this one, which I have NOT yet knitted. This picture is from the Internet and not (yet!) from my hand, unfortunately.

And the pattern is here. The picture that goes with it looks different from this one, but I think that's because the picture here was knitted using much larger needles. I've done a little swatch using fingering yarn and US size 9 needles (5.5 mm) and it's still tighter than in the picture, even stretched, so tomorrow I am going to try with size 10.5 (6.5 mm). Those are huge needles for yarn that looks more like dental floss!

The pattern is simple in a way, using only 4 stitches any beginning knitter knows (Knit, purl, K2Tog, and YO). Plus, every wrong-side row is plain purl, no pattern stitches. And the scalloped bottom edge creates itself.

And then in another way it's difficult: the pattern repeat is 17 stitches. That makes it hard to memorize and thus, easy to lose ones place. This will be a project to be done in solitude, at least in the beginning; maybe it'll become more or less rote later.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Christ's Sacrifice

Do check out Christopher Orr's blog for a post on the Christian meaning of expiation, here. It's a very helpful article by Fr. Patrick Reardon.

In the Midst of Winter, Endless Summer

It's always Summer in our wonderful sunroom. Sunday we sat there almost all day, talking, reading, knitting. Yes, the view was wintry. We watched the icicles melt. We watched snow on the branches turn to little water drops that shimmered in the breeze and turned into prisms in the bright sunshine. We listened to the meltwater gurgling down the raingutters, and to the snow sliding off our roof. We watched the sunshine clear our driveway and street.

But we were enveloped in Summer. Even on the shortest days of the year, that room is drenched in sunlight and warmth, mostly solar warmth, with very little artificial heat added, and none at all from about mid-morning until sunset. Being in it is downright mood-altering! It's therapy, as Demetrios says, like a sauna or steamroom or a good massage. Or lying on some tropical beach. We picnic there, on a little glass-topped table. We nap there, on a very comfy sofa. We can't get over how much we love being in it.

I no longer resent winter, as I always used to. It no longer depresses me. I have a roomful of Summer right here, year-round.

Had we known all this, we would have built this sunroom many years ago!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

More Snow

This is the most snow we've gotten in the Richmond area since 1996, a year I remember well because that is when Madison was born.

We still had about 5 inches on the ground yesterday morning when this latest storm began. The stuff is still coming down. We've gotten about 5 new inches so far. I have the feeling we'll miss church tomorrow for the second Sunday in a row, due to weather.

Schools have been closed all this week.

Demetrios is doing some dictation for the book he's working on. I've been knitting.

I went to the yarn shop earlier in the week and bought the stuff to use on my new lace project. I'm working on a swatch, which I'll show you later. I'm going to force myself, though, to finish the current project before starting the new. Current project is a cranberry colored blanket identical to the one I knitted for Ero (photo here), but much larger, king-sized. It still lacks nearly a foot in length, and still needs the edging added.

They're calling this a blizzard up in the D.C. area. Mom is ensconced in her retirement community and not cut off from any of her regular activities or her friends, most of whom live there, too. The place is laid out like a college campus, with "dormitories," and you can get to every building from any other building without going outside. So she can still play bridge, do her Wii bowling and her volunteer work, and get to the medical clinic (if the doctors can get there!) and convenience store and library and dining rooms and everything. Enviable, huh?

The Catholic Archdiocese there, according to our local news, "is urging Catholics to watch Mass on TV tomorrow and not risk coming out in this weather." Watch on TV? Well, I've never been Catholic, so what do I know? Maybe it is the same thing, or close enough. If you don't count receiving Holy Communion.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Our friend in Greece, Christos, had a massive stroke and was near death. When his wife Chrysoula heard about it, she immediately suffered a massive heart attack.

Christos has reposed in the Lord. Chrysoula has recovered and is back at home.

These two wonderful people could both use your prayers, and so could their family. (These are the in-laws of Elpida, daughter of our dear Kostas and Mena.) Thank you.


Sermon to Self on “Once Saved, Always Saved?”

People who believe you can never lose your salvation always point to a series of Bible verses about how God WILL save you. But I don’t know what they do with that whole other series of verses (and whole parables) warning that we can indeed fall from grace.

The Parable of the Sower, for example, speaks of those who “received the Word with joy” (emphasis mine) but then withered away. The Parable of the Talents says, at the end, that if a person does not profit from the great gift, then “even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29, Luke 19:26)

St. Paul writes, “…though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:2). Nothing. Not a child of God.

In Matthew 10:22 and Revelation 2:10 we learn that if we are faithful unto death, we shall receive the crown of life.

There is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, who was forgiven much, yet failed to forgive his fellow servant a trifling amount.

Probably the clearest verse of all on this subject is John 15:2: “Every branch in Me that bears not fruit He takes away.” And further on in the same chapter (v. 6): “If a man abides not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast [them] into the fire, and they are burned.” This passage clearly refutes the idea that if a person falls away, he must not have been a real Christian in the first place. You can! You can be a true Christian and then then turn your back on Christ, even learn to despise Him. And then what? You’ll never find heaven even inside the Pearly Gates.

You’ll be there, alright. That’s not the question. The question is, will you like being there? Or will you hate it, because it is full of Truth but Truth tortures your guilty conscience? Because it is full of love, and love only makes you jealous? Because it is full of Christ, and you despise Christ?

A guilty conscience, lovelessness, jealousy, despising truth, these are the torments of hell, worse than fire. It is a flat contradiction to say you are saved unless you are – well, saved! Saved from all these.

So take heed. There is more for the Christian to do than simply celebrate. Let us take up our crosses and deny ourselves and follow Him.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Angelic Hymns

Here are two of my favorite pieces of Orthodox music, the Cherubimi (in English) and the Lord's Prayer.

Not necessarily my very favorite recording (I could do without the birdsong), but very lovely indeed!

Words to the first:

Let us, who mystically represent the Cherubim
And who sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn
To the Life-Creating Trinity,
Now lay aside all earthly cares,
That we may receive the King of All,
Who comes invisibly upborne
By the angelic hosts.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Or, How I Learned to Groom Poodles

Yes, well, I seem to be an old hand at stealing animals. (I prefer to call it rescuing them, thank you very much.) Well, not really. Despite my best intentions, I never managed actually to steal an animal. Okay, there was one time, but I ended up returning that puppy before he was even missed. Almost before. Alright, three days after...

But that’s another story. This story is about Toby, a black Toy Poodle who lived in my neighborhood many years ago. I wanted to steal him, but it didn't work out that way.

He used to run around loose in the neighborhood because his owners worked. And he was filthy. One day, I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and I brought him into my house and washed his hind quarters, which had his own turds caught in the hair. I cleaned him up – that part of him, anyway; he was still very dirty everywhere else – and then I took a pair of scissors and shortened the hair under his tail and along the back of his hind legs. What I had done wasn’t really noticeable, I told myself. And then I put the ragamuffin back outside. And that’s how it all started.

It was like an alcoholic taking that first drink and getting hooked. I couldn't stop. Next day, I combed out the bedraggled little pom-pom at the end of Toby’s tail. The day after that I trimmed it up just a bit, to make it into a nice, smooth sphere. I didn’t know much about grooming poodles, even though I had three of my own. But I did my best and it turned out fine. Toby still looked a mess, of course, because the rest of him was so tangled and dirt-encrusted.

And so it went from there. Every day, I’d steal Toby for an hour or so and work on a little patch of his hair. It was so badly matted, though, that I never got very far. It was way beyond my capabilities. He needed a professional job. I did manage to trim his very long claws. And poodles get this fine, loosely-rooted hair in their ears that needs pulling out from time to time, so I did that much. (Pulling it out doesn't hurt.) I cleaned the wax out of his ears.

Eventually, his family began to notice their dog’s gradually improving appearance. They made some inquiries, and apparently it didn’t take them long to identify the perpetrator. I apologized profusely for butting in to something that was not my business and then began, as gently as I could, probing to see whether they really wanted to keep such a high-maintenance dog.

They didn’t! If I could find a home for Toby, they would be very glad.

I bought him on the spot. Two hundred bucks, which is what they had paid for him. I had bought and sold enough poodles to know that was a virtual steal; he had good enough conformation to be worth about $300 (in those days).

The first thing I did was put an ad in the newspaper, because as I mentioned, With three poodles of my own, I couldn’t keep Toby.

The second thing I did was take him to a dog-grooming salon. I had hardly gotten home when the groomer telephoned me to say there was no way in the world she could comb out that hair; it would all have to come off. Toby would have to be shaved down to the skin.

Poor Toby! He was so ashamed of being naked! He began trying to hide and it took him several days to recover his dignity, along with a modicum of hair.

A couple of days later, I had a telephone call from Martha, one of the most interesting people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet, and she wanted Toby. I began telling her about all the brushing and clipping and cleaning a poodle needs, when she interrupted me. “I’m a dog groomer.”

Was that perfect, or what?

I took Toby to her house for her to have a look. And for us to get a look at her, as well.

Martha had her grooming studio in the back of her house, a large room with a vinyl floor, lots of cabinetry, plenty of counter top space, grooming tables, a laundry tub, driers on tall poles. And a sparrow named Alice. Alice was one of many orphaned birds Martha had raised, and Alice (for reasons I never ascertained) had the freedom of the house. But where Alice most liked to be was - in Martha’s hair! Yes. Martha had thick, tightly curled hair and is the only white woman I ever knew who sported an Afro. Well, that bird would fly onto her shoulder, hop up into her hair, turn herself around several times as if to wrap herself in a blonde blanket, and sit there while Martha worked. Or maybe the sparrow was sleeping in there, for all I know. You couldn't see her, to know what she was doing.

The birds outside the window, as if jealous, were beating their wings and beaks upon the glass. “Oh, they just want me to put out some more food for them,” she said. “Excuse me a moment.”

She loved Toby and Toby loved her. It was all perfect except that Martha didn’t have any money to buy Toby. She had recently found a stray horse, she explained. A stray horse?!?! Who finds stray horses? Martha does. The horse had been sick, injured and starved, and Martha had had him vetted and bandaged and medicated and cleaned up, and the horse was now living in the barn with her other horse. He had turned out to be a very beautiful creature, too, an excellent specimen of Quarter Horse. But she was having to pay for his room and board; hence, she had no money for the dog.

It was such a shame. She really was just the person I wanted for this dog... So we came to an arrangement. Martha agreed, in exchange for Toby, to teach me how to groom poodles. That would pretty quickly save me a lot more than the $200 I had paid for Toby.

So I came to work with Martha (and Alice, the sparrow) for a delightful and educational week. Martha got her dog, Toby got a new and happy home, his former owners got $200 and peace of mind, I became proficient at poodle clipping, and we all lived happily ever after.