Saturday, March 30, 2013

Edith Schaeffer

Edith Schaeffer died today!

I only heard by just now reading this blog post, from a friend of mine whose mother and I are friends and fellow home-lovers. Edith Schaeffer through two of her books, What is a Family and The Hidden Art of Homemaking, helped me in many ways to develop my own style and philosophy of homemaking.

Several particular principles and practices, from the importance of caring for the sick to table decorating, became part of my being and contributed to the joy of being the woman of my home. She was the first decidedly Christian person I read who understood the importance of beauty in the home, and she gave many (I remember I thought almost too many!) examples of how one might create a home environment that was rich in all the important things, even if worldly riches were lacking.

I am very thankful for this sister in Christ. May she rest in peace, and may her memory be eternal.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Snow falls but I am warmed.

On the plane to Philadelphia I got halfway through Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's God and Man. It helped to calm my jitters that had developed since the initial excitement and decision to go to my last remaining aunt's memorial service. I was about to arrive at an event and to enter a house and family where every person was a stranger.

Eeek! What was I getting into? Metropolitan Anthony encouraged me with words about love and life, and before I knew it a first cousin once-removed was hugging me at the airport and driving me to a houseful of other huggers and gracious people. I stayed up with them later and later every night sharing stories of our grandparents and parents, digging up memories and laughing with happiness over all the many connections we have by way of genetics and family traditions.

The realities of The Kingdom I had been reading about are certainly pertinent to the activity in my heart last weekend, but I'm still debriefing myself about what happened. I may never figure it out enough to put it down in words, but it was exciting and glorious.

What I am able to do is share some photographic images of the little bit of Philadelphia I experienced. Cousin #1 put me in The Nursery at her house, which is decorated in the most comforting and cozy way, with pictures of the Teddy Bears having their picnic, and Babar, and more pictures and items that probably helped me feel that I was falling asleep with the Sandman's help as when I was a child. Stuffed animals sat around on the stuffed chair and on the extra bed, and green leaves were painted on the creamy yellow wood floor.

In the kitchen Revere Ware pots had been hung on the wall - hey! just the way Grandfather used to do! - and science "experiments" I won't describe sat on a shelf all ready for the grandchildren, my first cousins twice-removed. Flowers filled the air with sweetness - We would soon load them in the back of the car to drive to the memorial service and reception.

See that orange towel on the kitchen counter above? I brought it with its citrus-y design as a gift to remind my cousin of the boxes of oranges my father sent across the country to their family every Christmas in bygone days.

Out back, raised beds were awaiting spring planting, and pussy willows budded right off the kitchen porch. I sat on the steps going down to the garden to talk on the phone to Mr. Glad who was still back in California missing me.

The morning of the memorial service we walked a block to the train station to meet daughter Kate who had come from D.C. to be with me. She had never even met her great-aunt whose life we were honoring that day, but she was happy to get acquainted with the cousins, and she slept in The Nursery in the bed next to me.

One night Cousin #3 cooked dinner for the two of us at her place, a very "vertical" row house in South Philly, narrow and rising five levels. She honored the first owners with a photo on the wall showing a very sober and Italian wedding party featuring the bride-and-groom owners. It's a pretty old house of the sort that has (newly refurbished) rosettes on the ceiling in some rooms.

All the long weekend, all the folk I met were amazed at how much I resemble my late aunt; the cousins in our branch of the family haven't been together in a long time, and for most of their lives they had been daily surrounded by people related to my aunt's former husband. I was happy to provide a facial link to her instead. We pored over all the old photos we had assembled, staring at the faces as though trying to penetrate the souls of our ancestors to understand who we are.

I woke up the morning of my departure to see the ground all white, and snow falling. The birds arrived at the feeders, and I even saw a female Cardinal for the first time. I've never lived where this classic red bird does.

After I was dropped at the airport, I wandered around waiting for a flight that was delayed for weather, and wondered at how fast I had made a fast friend of my cousin. Someone told me before I set off on my adventure that a cousin is sort of like a sister, but better in that you don't have the tension that can happen between siblings.

So it seems at this point, and I'm grateful for the gifts of God. He is everywhere, of course, even in the middle of a bunch of strangers. We don't have any love that doesn't come from Him. But that provides plenty.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Humility is also a gift.

A little effort, of course, is required, but profound humility is not acquired only by struggle and exertion. It is a gift of grace. I say this from my own experience: what I have, I have by grace. Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Christ gives everything.

-- Elder Porphyrios

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Flying and Flowers

At least, I was able to be home and in wonderful services at my home parish for the first few days of Lent. Now I am flying away to Pennsylvania for an aunt's memorial service and to be reunited with some cousins after almost 50 years. Not the ideal time, but part of me is excited about the familiness. Daughter Kate is coming up on the train to be with us, too.

On the home front, recent rains brought out more flowers. These daffodils are always looking down at the ground where only the snails can enjoy their faces, so I cut a bunch and brought them indoors for us humans.

Only two ranunculus are coming up from a previous year's huge planting.

But the freesias multiply year after year.

I'll be back in a few days, maybe with a tiny travelogue. Good Lent!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The soul wanders and gets cold.

The heart is cold when the thoughts are scattered and when the soul is not at home but wanders about.  When the soul is at home, it warms the heart.  As soon as it leaves its home it receives blows.  It receives blows from thoughts when it is away from home.  One thought is accepted, another is rejected…and of course the heart is torn asunder and it grows cold, as though saying,  "This does me no good and that does me no good either…”  All of this wounds one from the inside and the heart is burdened.  But when the soul comes home, when it is reconciled with the Lord, then the Lord is the center of one’s life and there is a feeling of goodness and warmth.  We are scattered and broken, and only the Lord can make us whole again by His Grace.

-- Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Forgiveness Sunday - Schmemann

Forgiveness Sunday

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent – the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated – is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:

"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses..." (Mark 6:14-15)

Then after Vespers – after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: "Turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!", after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special memories, with the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations – we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.

What is the meaning of this rite? Why is it that the Church wants us to begin Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a "good deed" required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But, the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:

In vain do you rejoice in no eating, O soul!

For you abstain from food,

But from passions you are not purified.

If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast.

Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, Whom He sends to us, so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God. Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a return to it, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of and the proper condition for the Lenten season.

One may ask, however: Why should I perform this rite when I have no "enemies"? Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them, it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine commandments. But the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them -- in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being "polite" and "friendly" we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual "recognition" which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.

On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As l advance towards the other, as the other comes to me – we begin to realize that it is Christ Who brings us together by His love for both of us.

And because we make this discovery – and because this discovery is that of the Kingdom of God itself: the Kingdom of Peace and Love, of reconciliation with God and, in Him, with all that exists – we hear the hymns of that Feast which once a year, "opens to us the doors of Paradise." We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage. Forgiveness Sunday: the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting – true fasting; our effort – true effort; our reconciliation with God – true reconciliation.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Beautiful Beans

A few weeks ago I bought a bag of Bean Soup Mix, with plans to use it during Lent. If those beans looked cheerful through the plastic bag, they more than brightened up the kitchen when released. I couldn't stop taking their picture.

Then I washed them in the colander, and Mr. Glad said they looked like pebbles on the beach. Ah, no wonder they were captivating me. So I took their picture again.

I wanted my soup to be heavy on the vegetables, so one day I chop-chop-chopped and made colorful piles of collards, carrots, celery and several other ingredients all over the kitchen. After the beans soaked overnight and cooked a while by themselves, in went the vegetables, then some herbs and vegetable stock, and it seemed no time at all before I had my soup just the way I wanted.

It would be minestrone if it only had some tomato -- that's the one common soup ingredient I didn't add in this case. The soup is not Asian, Tex-Mex, Italian or curried, so it will do nicely as Plain Food. We can use the break from the many spicy or highly flavored dishes I make so often. And vegetables - I think they are, dietarily speaking, my staff of life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Butter Week Quiche

Don't know yet how it will taste, but it has the desired cream, cheese, milk and eggs, and butter in the crust. When I took two leftover lumps of pie crust dough from the freezer and mashed them together before rolling them out, I didn't think about how they might not behave identically in the oven. I'm blaming the wonky edge on the split personality.

Other ingredients: spinach, Parmesan cheese, some leftover mix of cheeses from the freezer, caramelized onions, and tarragon. S & P. The Frugal Gourmet uses 4 eggs, 3/4 cup cream and 1 1/4 cups of milk in his basic quiche, so I followed those proportions approximately - and sliced a Roma tomato on the top for color.

Orthodox Easter or Pascha comes late this year, not until May 5th. This week is our last before the beginning of Lent, which officially starts with the Vespers of Forgiveness on Sunday. We sort of ease into Lent by fasting from meat only, and know it as Cheesefare Week, or as I enjoy calling it, Butter Week. Yum!

[later in the evening] It was indeed yummy, better than I expected. That pie dough didn't suffer at all being in the freezer for months, and the Frugal Gourmet's advice to pre-bake the shell for 12 minutes was well taken; the crust came out just perfectly flakey and rich.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Here they come!

Iceland poppy

bearded iris
Tomorrow may be a gardening day, of the sort on which one digs and pulls and gets dirt under the fingernails, says the lazy procrastinator. But today one Iceland poppy bloom is out, and irises, and the manzanita is a wall of pink-on-green. So it was a photographic sort of gardening day...

I only took close-ups, because broader views show too dramatically what lackadaisical workers have oversight here. God is favoring us anyway! Isn't He just like that.

Dutch iris

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bridges and Streams


Last week was filled with historical talk and images - even theology. First there was the cemetery where we had buried my father-in-law in January. We checked to make sure that the gravestone had been cut and set properly, and then we visited the graves of Mr. Glad's great-grandparents and grandparents on both sides of the family, and several aunts and uncles.

At left is one set of the great-grandparents whose graves we visited, people born in Cornwall in the mid-19th century. They came to California to work in the New Almaden quicksilver (mercury) mines near San Jose, where the wife Eliza gave birth to my husband's grandmother and several other children.

When I look into the bright eyes of that face I just wish I could hug her. Why do you focus on her and not him, my husband asked? Because she's a woman and I'm a woman, I answered. I feel strangely connected to her across the years and in spite of the fact that I never knew her nor are we even related by blood. I wonder if she is praying for her descendants, including my children and grandchildren? I can't see and touch her right now, but (Matthew 22) "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." She is a real living person, not an idea.

New Almaden Englishtown
The novel Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner tells the story of a miner and his wife who lived for a time there in Englishtown, with tales involving Mexican miners in the camp's "Spanishtown." The Cornish people attended the Methodist Episcopal Church on the hill and Eliza is remembered as loving to read her Bible.

When her children were grown and the parents had moved into San Jose, she still prepared a large spread every Sunday afternoon and expected all the children and their families to come for Sunday dinner. She was especially fond of her grandsons.

Many of the women those days kept chickens and cows but Eliza was the only one in her family who had the gumption to kill a chicken. When any of the others wanted chicken for dinner they would take their bird to Eliza to chop off its head.
A mother and father not ours

On the first night of our trip to these forbears' old stomping grounds we had dinner with a dear cousin who also is linked and indebted to them. We came bearing gifts of photographs of some relations who have passed on, and we talked about our family -- and of course, our own childhoods.

Next day the Mister and I ate a picnic next to the Felton Covered Bridge in the Santa Cruz mountains. It's the tallest known covered bridge in the country, built of redwood in 1892 to span the San Lorenzo River. No one knows why the builders made it so high.

I started thinking about bridges as a metaphor, as in "Bridges to the Past"....What would be the thing to be bridged, the gulf over which we can meet on a bridge? If we are on this side of the bridge, what or who is on the other side?

burned redwoods at Henry Cowell

The bridge lies near the Mt. Hermon Christian conference center, where my husband from his earliest days enjoyed the creeks and paths and sleeping on the porch of his grandmother's cabin.

He and I spent our brief honeymoon in that cabin, and strolled dreamily around the redwoods of Henry Cowell park nearby. It was drizzling that day in March 41 years ago and we had the park to ourselves, no doubt breathing the same woodsy, cold and moist air that we drank up on this trip.

Our marriage has endured to the present; it's a continuing thing, so the bridge idea doesn't exactly fit in that case, but it was pressed back into my mind a few more times anyway.

Mr. Glad and "The Giant" redwood tree

Our Cabin in the old days

From the covered bridge and the park we drove up a hill to the neighborhood of the old cabin where we'd spent so many happy times with several generations sleeping in nooks and corners and beds tucked into closets. Another cousin and his wife live around the corner in a cabin that's been in his family for many decades, too.

We two couples walked up and down all over the place remembering the fun and family going back 60 years. Mr. Glad and I hadn't visited "his" cabin since 23 years ago it passed from our family. We saw that trees and ferns and birdbath have been taken away, to make space for parking trucks.

That's too bad. Well, let's keep going downhill toward the kind of landmarks that don't change so easily.

Two Cousins on New Swinging Bridge
The natural beauty endures - some of these redwood trees have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. The unnamed tall tree above looked to us as large as The Giant we had seen a few hours before in the state park. We were gazing up at it from the Swinging Bridge, a suspension bridge that still sways when you walk on it, though it has been improved from what it was in Mr. Glad's younger years.

Cabin Cousin named this scene "Stumphenge." People are always making structures and arrangements that are symbolic of the most meaningful things in their lives. Some of those structures, as I was to reminded the next morning, are intangible.

It's obvious I love a good bridge -- some of them are majestic works of art, and even the less dramatic show the human need and desire to go from here to there on the earth, to interact with the natural landscape in practical and artistic, and sometimes playful, ways.

I am often more comfortable on a sturdy bridge than I am down in the canyon or river below. Two creeks come together on the Mt. Hermon property. This confluence of Bean and Zayante Creeks is just about The Most Favorite Spot from the Mr. Glad history files. I have waded in the creek here too, with our children, and have sat picnicking on lovely warm summer days. We looked down from the swinging bridge and sighed our contented memories.

At this time of year we didn't want to be down there in the chilly water. From the bridge, wearing our cozy jackets, we could get a wide view. You feel that you know where you are, and there's no sand or pebbles scratching between your toes.

The next day as we drove home Mr. Glad and I listened to a discussion about a famous theologian who is now acknowledged to be a BRIDGE between East and West, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals, and other disparate groupings. If I tell you his name many of you will feel an immediate urge to click away to another blog, because the Unitarians have done that to you.

When they controlled the educational system of this nation Unitarians worked hard to steer young people away from the Puritans, and one small tactic in this program was to inoculate them against a man who preached a lot on themes like humility, beauty, and the sweetness of the Love of God. They did this by making sure that schoolchildren had in their curriculum one of his worst and least representative sermons.

In our usual intellectually focused condition we search for these rational bridges to connect us to our roots and to each other. I'm afraid the Unitarians were trying to keep us on a platform without even a good view of the life-giving stream. If I stay in my mind and only think about God, it is like looking down from a bridge at the river, when what I am dying of thirst to do is splash and drink and be refreshed by the Living Water.

But in the presence of God, living our theology by prayer and love to one another, we can be part of a continuum, like the earthly water that over the millennia constantly comes back to us as rain into the streams and snow on the mountains, evaporates from the oceans to make clouds that float inland again....

If Jonathan Edwards and I both live in Christ, who said, "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you," then we are in the same vital current. And that's the important thing.

One of my dearest and most influential friends, Anne, gave me a copy of Edwards's Religious Affections more than twenty years ago, and I spent a while this morning becoming re-acquainted. But I don't think it's likely that I will read much more of the works of this brilliant thinker who is for some people a bridge. I already spend too much time standing on and studying bridges and platforms.

Instead I want to live in communion with God and with His people -- including my distant-but-near relations from the 19th century, the 18th century -- even the Holy Apostles, and all of that Cloud of Witnesses who (I Corinthians) "did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ."

San Lorenzo River

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When it rains it pours.

We got rain in the night, and we're getting a little today. A little rain, and that's not the pouring I refer to.

It's our Glad life that has become a little too much for us of late -- or so it would seem, but we haven't left anyone in the lurch yet. We had a blessed and happy visit from Mr. and Mrs. Bread, alongside difficult and sad situations to bear up under with other friends. That kind of thing always feels like too much.

The dirty dishes have been left to sit on the counter (in the lurch?) longer than I like, and it hasn't done any permanent damage that I can see.

The Johnny Jump-Ups appear to have been nibbled by snails, but as I breeze by I don't want to take time to hunt under rocks for them.
My kitchen didn't produce any bread -- the disorder was beyond the point where I could be creative that way -- so thank God I was on the communion bread team at church yesterday and could happily knead and cut and stamp and let the senses of both my body and soul fill with warm and satisfying smells. Even the dough smelled good and soothing. In the photo I am the reflection in the oven door.

And even before the rain, the freesias started blooming, almost too brightly for my camera's limited settings. We did go for a quick walk around the neighborhood, and I saw that even the most rundown ugly house with junk scattered about has been blessed with a gorgeous tree all in blossom, sitting as though dropped from heaven in the middle of the front yard.

I've been too busy for thoughtful writing sessions, but the pictures I snapped reassure me that the seasons are going around normally still. You know Who we have to thank for that.

The tulips are still making progress up through the now-softening soil, and Sweet Alyssum is growing the perfect blanket to spread below the blooms that are on the way.

Mr. Glad and I are going on a tiny trip this week, leaving behind the clutter of our forever unfinished business, and there will be time and mind-space enough for me to collect some more images and thoughts of Spring and Life. I think I just wanted to send this note that I am here and God is still at work.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Choose your tree.

Thank you to Leah for posting this excellent word from St. Nikolai.

excerpt: Prayer V
How stupid the servants of the tree of knowledge are! They do not measure their strength in You, but in their num­bers. They do not adopt a law of justice in Your name, but by their numbers. Whichever way the majority of them choose is the way of truth and justice. The tree of knowledge has become the tree of crime, stupidity, and icy darkness.

Truly, the knowledgeable men of this world know every­thing except that they are servants of Satan. When the last day dawns, Satan will rejoice in the number of people in his harvest. All the meager ears of grain! But in his stupidity, even Satan counts on quantity rather than quality. One of Your ears of grain will be worth more than the entire harvest of Satan. For You, O Conqueror of death, rely on the fullness of the bread of life, and not on numbers.

In vain I tell the godless: “Head for the Tree of Life and you will know more than you could possibly wish to know. From the tree of knowledge Satan fashions a ladder for you to descend into the nether world.”

Prayers by the Lake St Nikolai Velimirovic

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Rise and go and do the next thing.

I was reminded by another blogger this week of how we need to ask God, not to remove our burdens, but to give us grace to bear them, and to bear them to Him, so that He can use them in our lives to bring us fully into His Heavenly Kingdom.

In the Orthodox Church this Sunday of the Prodigal Son is one of our markers letting us know that Lent is approaching, and I've been thinking again about what I can learn from the story about this grace I need.

The parable for this week is about a journey, and every journey consists of putting one foot in front of the other, or "doing the next thing." We are all familiar with this sort of activity when we are ill, and need to take our medicine, follow the prescriptions of our doctors, according to schedule. And don't stop taking the medicine until you are all well!

The extra effort we put forth during Lent is not to show our zeal but to acquire humility which puts us in the place to receive grace. Paul Evdokimov writes about just one of the many "treatments to be taken" in the Church:
The sacrament of confession is metanoia or transformation more than penitentia. Confession is understood as a ‘clinic,’ that is, a place of healing. That prayer before confession says: ‘You have come to the physician, may you not return without being healed.’ ... St. John Chrysostom describes this quite precisely: ‘Time is of no matter. We do not ask if the wound has been treated often but if the treatment has been successful. The state of the wounded one indicates when the disease has been removed."
"In patience you possess your souls," the Lord has told us. (Luke 21:19) That is what I have to learn, to say, "I will arise and go to my Father," as the prodigal did, today, tomorrow, and the next day and the next, until I am completely healed. And I don't expect to see the day on this earth that I won't need to stay with the program.

Here are the thoughts I had on this parable a few years ago:

He Came to Himself

One thing that impressed me about the story was the distance factor. The son was in a far country, when he realized what he needed to do. He was hungry and wasted, but he still needed to rise and go, to travel a long way, which must have been a struggle.

All of humanity is represented by the prodigal son, and most of us are still on the journey. Some of us have begun to repent and are a bit farther on our way, but we are all clothed in our flesh, struggling with our sins, anticipating the day when we sit in the Kingdom and feast with our Father, enjoying the restoration of our full inheritance.

In the story, the son receives everything he had thrown away and lost. For now, we have the earnest of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God to help us continue. Every day I need to decide to take the next step on the way. But I know more than the son in the parable, who hoped for a corner of the pig shed. "...for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)

I'm afraid I often act a bit nonchalant, as though I am at the gate or even in my Father's arms already. My initial coming to myself has to be followed up by a constant facing-up to the toil of the road. Maybe I have been sitting on the grassy shoulder wishing the trip weren't so long, wondering if maybe someone will arrive and carry me the rest of the way.

St. Herman of Alaska reminds me: "The true Christian is a warrior making his way through the regiments of the invisible enemy to his heavenly homeland."