Thursdays

It was the late, great Douglas Adams who wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

Thursdays and I don’t get along. The other day, one of my close friends and I were trying to figure out when we could get together, and she innocently proposed a Thursday. My response was that I’m horrible to be around on Thursdays. And it’s true; I find Thursdays to be really difficult. They’re not as hard as Mondays, but they are hard for me. See…Thursday is not Friday, but it’s really close to Friday. At the end of the day, I’m really tired, but I still have to get up at 5:15 the next morning. And after a long, hard week, I often just want to curl up with a lovely beverage and binge-watch Parks and Rec or The Great British Bake-Off. I don’t want to think deep thoughts or have conversations about anything more serious than whether or not Tom Haverford would be a good friend.

But if I actually had to spend time with Tom Haverford on a Thursday? Oh, God help us all; that’d be awful. I already have no energy on a Thursday. And in the course of one evening, I have to somehow muster all of my nonexistent energy to make it through Friday. But if I had to do all of that while spending time with Tom Haverford? Oh man…like I said, God help us all.

Thursdays are hard. Many people find Mondays hard, and I completely agree. Wednesday during the day can be hard because it is the hump of the weekly camel. But for me, Thursday nights are the worst. I’m just so tired by that point. I need to do my best to guard my Thursday nights so that I can be my best self on Friday.

Am I nuts?

Maybe, but that’s nothing new. What day(s)/time(s) of the week do you find to be the hardest?

Simeon and Thomas

As we approach the first Sunday after Pascha, what we in the East call Thomas Sunday, I’ve been thinking about the famed Doubting Thomas of the Gospel in contrast with another man who met Jesus much earlier in His earthly life.

On one hand, you have a man who had followed the Lord for three years, had heard promises of the Resurrection, and refused to believe it until “I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 25) On the other hand, you have the man to whom it had been revealed “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2: 26)

It is, to me, a stark contrast. Thomas refuses to believe that the Lord is risen from death until he has physically seen and touched the Lord himself. Simeon does not require this; for him, merely holding the Christ child in his arms is enough. In contrast to Thomas’s demand to put his finger in the nail holes, Simeon tells the Lord that he can be dismissed in peace. Seeing the Christ child was all of the Lord’s salvation that Simeon needs. He can depart in peace because he has seen this Child who is “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your [Mary’s] own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Simeon is an old man near the end of his life. He has lived as long as he has with the promise of the sight of the Christ. He has seen what he was promised. He can depart in peace. He does not need to see the miracles that will come or the Lord’s glorious Passion. He has seen the Lord’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. He has seen the infant Light of the World, and it is enough. His soul is satisfied.

Thomas is not so easily appeased. Three years with the Master was not enough. The witness of his brother apostles (and the myrrh-bearing women) was not enough. The future evangelist to India is not satisfied by merely hearing the Lord has been raised from the dead. No, he wants to see and to touch for himself. He wants hard, tangible proof. And the Lord gives it to him. The Lord greets him with the offer to “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) Thomas is one of the privileged few Christians who had the opportunity to touch the Risen Lord’s hands and know that this Man truly is the Son of God come down to earth, crucified, died, buried, and risen. In the approximately two thousand year history of the Church, few Christians have had that opportunity.

And Thomas, to his credit, is chastened by this moment. The Lord greets his lack of faith with mercy, with a moment of proof, and Thomas is humbled by this moment. He acknowledges Jesus to be “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) His doubt is no more; he believes and accepts that this truly is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world to save sinners. This is the man who will go out after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to preach the Gospel, going ultimately to India. He has seen the Lord’s salvation. He has seen the Lord’s mercy. He has touched the proof. He believes.

But the Lord’s response to him has always touched my heart. Christ replies to Thomas’s profession of faith that “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (John 20:29) I’ve heard it said, and I believe this, that this is Christ’s reference to all Christians who will come after the Ascension. This is a reference to the men and women whom Thomas and his brother apostles will evangelize and all those who will follow after those first Christians. It is a reference to people like St. Helena, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Sts. Vladimir and Olga, St. Nicholas, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, and so many more. It is a reference to you and to me. We have believed in the Resurrection of Christ without having seen His physical body or touched His wounds. We have not put our fingers into the nail holes, but still we believe. And I dearly love that on that night eight days after the Resurrection, Christ thinks of us, makes mention of all of us who will come after those first apostles.

Both Thomas and Simeon are given to us to encourage us. Simeon believed in the hope of a promise he had received from the Holy Spirit. He saw the Christ child, and he was satisfied. He had seen but a taste of the goodness of God’s promise; it was enough. Thomas doubted the Resurrection (after all, who had ever seen a man come back from the dead of his own power before?) until he had seen it for himself. But when he saw the truth of the Lord’s promises and the Lord’s mercy to his doubt, he embraced both the truth of who Christ was and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. I think that St. Thomas is intended to encourage and support us in our moments of doubt. May we also embrace both the truth of who Christ is and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. And may we cry out with him, “My Lord and my God!”

It’s Okay to Mourn

Every year, I have certain expectations of Easter. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I do expect it to be A Certain Way. Usually, my Easter lives up to my expectations-at least in the spiritual sense.

But this year, real life intervened. Not only was Easter imperfect, it didn’t live up to my expectations. People were late for things. People were sick. Things weren’t where they ought to have been. There were miscommunications.

And Easter wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Now, is Christ still risen from the dead? Yes! Absolutely, He is. Is Resurrection Matins still the Most Beautiful Thing in the Whole Entire World? Uh, duh. (I had a rough day; I didn’t become a different person.)

But I’m human, and in my humanity, I experienced disappointment. I had been looking forward to certain things, and I didn’t get to experience those things. I was sad.

But I felt bad about being sad because well…it’s still Easter and it’s still Resurrection Matins and even if it wasn’t perfect it still was the basic thing that I love.

(Also, I got to hold a cute baby for a few minutes of Liturgy; that was awesome. I love holding babies.)

Last night, I was sitting there beating myself up for being unhappy because things weren’t exactly as I’d wanted them to be. Resurrection Matins was lovely. Pascha is still the most beautiful feast of the year. Christ is still risen from the dead. Sure, I didn’t get to have the experience that I’d wanted, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

And that’s true. No matter how beautiful or ugly your Paschal celebration/experience is, that does not change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

But that does not mean that you’re not allowed to be unhappy or sad if your expectations aren’t met. That doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to set expectations for what I hope Pascha 2018 is. We are human beings who were created with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. God wants us to have hopes and dreams. But He does not want us to get so caught up in our hopes and expectations that we miss out on what is happening in front of us. It’s okay that I was sad about some of my experience yesterday. But I can’t allow that to keep me from experiencing and embracing the joy of the Resurrection.

That’s not just Easter. That’s life. My life may not look like what I might have hoped it would look like by the time I was almost 29. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) I’m allowed to be sad about that. But I should not allow my sadness to keep me from experiencing and embracing the place in which God has put me. I’m allowed to have plans and hopes for my future. But I should not allow them to keep me from seeking God’s will and living the life to which He has called me.

It’s the second day of the Paschal season, and I think that at this point, the Lord is showing me that sadness is not a bad thing, but I cannot allow it to consume me. I need to share my sorrow with Him and ask Him to show me what He wants to do with my life. I need to continue to be patient and open in my walk with Him.

Psalm 103

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my post about why you should visit an Eastern Church. As I’ve been preparing for Holy Week, I initially felt inspired to write a Holy Week-centric post. I intended to use the video below in that post, but the music and the psalm kept digging themselves deeper into my psyche, and….well, I just felt better equipped to write a blog post about Psalm 103. And maybe, it will inspire someone reading it to come experience some part of Holy Week in one of the Eastern traditions.

The above video is of the beginning of Entombment Vespers on the evening of Great and Holy Friday. It’s from St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church where the psalm is chanted in Ukrainian. I know the text of the psalm that they’re praying as we sing it at my parish in English. I love the idea of beginning Entombment Vespers with this psalm. As we celebrate Christ’s glorious passion, we begin with our eyes fixed on the greatness of God. We will later pray through the sufferings He endured for our sake. But we begin by looking at His Majesty.

I found myself reading through this psalm and thinking about it in the context of Great and Holy Friday. “Bless the Lord, o my soul,” the psalmist begins. “Oh Lord my God, how great you are!”

That is the God we hail as great. Beaten. Battered. Bruised. Crowned with thorns. Crucified between two thieves.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

You stretch out the heavens like a tent. Above the rains you build your dwelling. You make the clouds your chariot, you walk on the wings of the wind; you make your angels spirits and your ministers a flaming fire. You founded the earth on its base, to stand firm from age to age.

The One who stretched out the heavens, who founded the earth on its base, who hung the earth upon the waters…he is slapped on the face by those whom He created. He is spat upon. He is mocked. He is hung upon a tree. He bears all patiently. He gives His back to those who beat him and His cheeks to those who pluck His beard. (Isaiah 50) For our sake, He bore it all.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

That is the beauty of Great and Holy Friday to me. We in the East do not ignore Christ’s brutal sufferings, but we look at them in the light of their broader context. Christ suffered and died for us because of His love for us. He became the sacrificial victim so that He might also be the Victor over sin and death. Christ’s Passion and Death are not only acts of love but also acts of victory. Christ took crucifixion, a brutal way of death, and turned it into an act of glorious victory. He trampled Death and despoiled Hades.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

Thoughts as Lent Ends…

Today, when the sun sets, my Church Tradition will consider Lent to have ended. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Lazarus Saturday and move into Great and Holy Week. Although we will continue to fast next week, the Great Fast that we began forty days ago will be at a close.

At the beginning of the Great Fast, forty days always feels like a long time to me. I’ve talked previous about how I disliked Lent as a child because I viewed it as some sort of horrible deprivation. I didn’t fully understand it. Now, I still don’t fully understand it, but I find more value in it. I have come to realize more and more each year how God can use those forty days (however long or short they may be) to help me to grow closer to him.

This Lent, I have primarily felt the Lord inviting me to trust Him more fully. In that invitation, I have been working through some anger and frustration that I have carried inside of myself for a long time. Last week, I was driving home from work and raging at the Lord. I was about to go staff a youth group retreat, and I was badly hurting from a hard week. I was struggling with some serious questions, and I just could not understand what I saw around me. As I raged, I felt the Lord answer me with the same answer He gave Job. “Hush, child. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

Hush. You were not there when I spoke the world into being. You were not there when I laid the foundations of the world. You don’t yet see the full picture. Yes, you’ve seen hard things this week, but you don’t know yet how all of these things will play out. Hush. You can’t possibly understand yet.

Now, I understand how that “hush” could sound harsh, but I felt an enormous amount of love in that. Hush, and trust me. You may not understand on this side of Paradise, but all will be well. Trust me. Trust my plans.

I went on the retreat. I was tired and still struggling with the baggage of the past week. But I heard the Lord through the talks and sharings. I experienced His love through people around me. Now, I was given no immediate answers to the questions, but I chose to focus on trusting those questions over to the Master of the Universe. I chose (and am still choosing because it is a daily process) to let go of those questions and trust them over to the Lord who knows the plans He has for me.

On Monday, I went to confession, and I told the priest that I was struggling with anger at God. He looked at me and asked me if I’d told God that. I said, in my usual delightful way, “Well, yeah, of course!” Now, God and I need to work through my anger. As I said in the above paragraph, I need to let go not only of those questions but also of my anger. Like Job, I need to say “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 2, 5-6) I need to surrender my pride and trust in God’s plan that is both better than mine and beyond my comprehension.

It isn’t an easy process. It won’t be done by the time Lent ends. It won’t be done by Pascha (Easter) morning. It is the process of a life. But it is worth doing. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it require sacrifice? Yes. Will it require grace? Yes. Will it be worth it?

I sometimes expect Lent to be more dramatic than it is. I’m not sure what I expected of it forty days ago, but this wasn’t it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an interesting thing. If I want heaven, if I want holiness, then it follows that I must be willing to make sacrifices. I must be wiling to change. I must be willing to surrender my pride and trust in the plans of Him who is enough for us.

For in His Will is our peace.

-Dante Aligheri

Five Children’s Books that Shaped Me

(Screen cap from You’ve Got Mail, found on Tumblr)

I’m a teacher, and occasionally I like to share my favorite children’s books with my students. I was thinking about a few of my favorite picture books and what they mean to me, and I thought that I’d like to share these with my blog readers. Each of these books is a book that is very special to me and has become a part of who I am. (NB: I am planning a future post about chapter books. For the moment, I want to focus on picture books.)

  1. The Velveteen Rabbit: I liked this book as a child. As an adult, I love it. This story focuses on love and what it means to become Real. It is one of the most beautiful stories that I know of because it talks about the beauty that can come from hardships. It doesn’t sugarcoat life, and I appreciate that.
  2. Madeline: This book is filled with sentimental connections for me. One of my cats is actually named after this book. I love Madeline’s strong will and adventurous spirit. She is a little mischievous, but I think that’s a good thing. I find Madeline to be a good role model for little girls.
  3. A Chair for My Mother: As a child, I loved this book. I loved the character’s desire to get her mother a new chair. I loved the portrayal of love in this book. And I really, really wanted that chair; I thought it was soooo pretty when I was a kid.
  4. Stone Soup: This book focuses on finding and bringing out the good in others. I loved the story as a child because I thought it was fun. It’s also interesting to see how the characters change over the course of the story.
  5. The Mitten: I vividly remember reading this book over and over again as a child. Yes, it has a message about perhaps knowing your limits or something like that. However, mostly, I always find it be an amusing story.

These are just five of my favorite children’s books, and there are dozens more that I love. What children’s books do you love?