Lenten Journey Day 30 – Why Evil?

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 30: Rice Desert with Cherries

Lenten Journey Day 30 – Why Evil?

Of all the questions that have plagued humankind, of all the questions that have demanded an answer, perhaps there is none greater than “Why Evil?” Why is there evil in this world? The question is asked by people who profess a religious belief as well as those who disavow any notion of deity. For the Christian, the “Problem of Evil” is troubling a puzzle because it can shake the very foundation of faith and belief in God.

The Problem of Evil is expressed as follows: If God is good, and if God is all powerful, why does he allow evil? Why do bad things happen? Why are there earthquakes? Why is there cancer? Why wars and genocide? Why do we have to deal with so many tragedies? And so the problem is, either God is not all-powerful, and therefore allows evil, or He is not all good and therefore is responsible for the evil. The are other questions which are related and follow: why does evil happen to innocent people? Why do the good suffer?

Today we will look at the problem of evil, and build upon the themes that we have been exploring during the Lenten Journey, especially along the lines of our Parable of the Judge and our need to pray unceasingly. We keep in mind that on this 30th day of Lent we understand ourselves to be in a process of maturing and growing spiritually. Things look differently today. Things are understood differently today. Putting away our preconceptions, we open our heart to an answer that is coming to us from the definition of God being love.

In yesterday’s journey we were challenged to make our prayer life real. God is not some Santa Claus/Superman type of person to whom we can give our list of demands and wants. Rather, we submit by saying “Thy will be done…” or “Let it be Your will that is actualized in and through my life.” In so doing, we accept a new responsibility, a more mature outlook on our life and our surroundings.

The Christian is called to a life of responsibility. If someone else is in charge of your life, you cannot take responsibility. If it is someone else who is doing your work, it is not your fault when problems occur. But, the Christian stands firm and says, “It is my doing. I accept the love that God has given me in my heart and therefore I need to act on that love.”

Prayer is a conversation with God and also a conversation with the self. This is the idea of meditation, of secluding oneself, getting away from everything and really having that honest conversation with the self. What is it that I need in this life? Who am I? What special talents do I have that I can use and perhaps even exploit?

Now let’s move over to evil, because if I am in charge of my life, how do I explain the big evils within life? That is, what about those things over which I am completely powerless? Earthquakes that take away villages and towns where thousands upon thousands are destroyed? What about the evils of famine and war? More closely, what about illness that devastates families and relationships? I am completely powerless. And as much as I pray about them, I know they are not in my hands. How can I effectuate the change upon these big issues or upon the evils which occur on a grand scale? True, they are not individually in our hands, but this is where the power of the collective, of the Church, comes in.

We believe with Christ, all things are possible. We believe that love is more powerful than evil. Where is love going to manifest itself to this magnitude, but in the body of Christ? Two thousand years ago we had the example, we had the manifestation, we had the incarnation of Love. We touched that incarnation, and in so touching, we were healed. That Incarnation was taken up to a crucifixion and we witnessed a resurrection. If we accept this, then we have to also accept the entire package. The package says, “I am with you to the end of the ages.” In that package we understand – as Jesus says, “Have courage. The victory is mine” – we too, are worthy and capable of resurrecting from our crucifixions and can now have a different understanding of events in our life. In fact, earthquakes, hurricanes, catastrophes, illnesses, cancers – they are not the end. They are the crucifixions that we endure just as the Son of God endured. God did not prevent that cancer, that earthquake, that hurricane from trying to destroy love. Evil did try. But evil is all around. It is not a question of combating evil with more evil. It is a question of enduring and overcoming evil with only one power, the only power that we have – with love.

In enduring, we find the resurrections in our lives. We see that generations are built upon love that cannot crumble, that cannot be destroyed neither through earthquake nor famine nor through the cancers of evil, hatred, bigotry that are all consuming. You see there is evil in this world and God allows it even upon the cross. Does that make God powerless? We will look at that question was we continue our Lenten Journey during this season of prayer as we look at our prayer lives, as we look at the idea of evil and the power of love.

Today we conclude with a different type of prayer. It is an inspirational message. It is something I found a few years ago that brought a lot of comfort to a patient, and I wish to share it with you today. It has many applications, please use it accordingly as a prayer in your lives. It is entitled, Cancer is So Powerless.

Cancer is so powerless, 

It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope, 
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace, kill friendship, suppress memories, silence courage, invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life. 
It cannot concur the spirit.
We confirm this by saying “Amen.”

Confirm by pronouncing the real power: Love.
Photo: (c)2006 Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Church Altar in Rwanda

Lenten Journey Day 29 – God’s Way

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 29: Mediterranean Bean Salad

Lenten Journey Day 29 – God’s Way 

The Lenten journey is much like a set of stairs. As we ascent upward, we acknowledge the foundation built by each step. Each stair is dependent upon the previous steps we have taken and the success of our climb relies on us placing a firm foot on the stair before.

Yesterday’s step introduced the parable of the Unrighteous Judge. Through it Jesus taught about the nature of prayer. Because our Heavenly Father already knows our needs we therefore understand prayer not only as a conversation with God but a conversation with the self. As we climb the steps, we come to understand God as a caring and compassionate Father who works with and within us, not outside of us. Many times our prayers are based an expectation that God, like Superman, will come swooping down from the heavens and rectify the situation that we’re in. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we should not expect something outside of us to take control; that is, a “Superman” effect by God. Our understanding of prayer today is that we are open to the possibility of God’s will being done. Not to merely sit back and say, “Thy will be done,” and expect some power from outside to overtake us, but now we are open to the possibility of God working through us. That means we open our hands and embrace those who need love. That means we put one step in front of the other and we walk in the paths of righteousness. That means we open our eyes and open our ears to God’s justice. That means we become the instruments to do God’s will here on earth. This is quite different from a lazy man’s prayer wishing that God swoop down from the heavens and take care of his every need.

“Thy will be done” is a prayer of us engaging – being in fellowship with God, allowing God to work through us. Allowing God to be a partner with us in this lifetime. This is the mature prayer of the Christian. This is the new step that we take today. We understand God through the conversation that we are having with Him. Prayer is this new conversation with God and it is not a one-way street. It is not a request list that we hand out and expect to be filled like a Santa Claus does who comes down a chimney and delivers according who’s been “naughty or nice.” The dreams that we have may be wild ones, but to actualize those dreams, God works through us. He becomes a partner with us so that we become the legs, the hands, the mouth, the strength of God here on Earth.

St. Paul likens the Church to the Body of Christ specifically talking about the members of the body in terms of hands, feet, legs. Why? Because the only way Christ can work in this world is through a physical presence and a body. And here is the next step upwards… You’ve arrived at day 29, stepping on the previous steps and moving forward. You’ve made the transition in understanding. Prayer is your a partnership with God.

Yes, the Lenten journey has brought us here. What began as a solo venture is now a partnership between you and God, between you and others. You are not alone. There is a reason that Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there shall I be.” He does not say, “Where one is gathered, “ for there cannot be one Christian. Christianity implies a community. It implies working together. Faith without works is meaningless says the apostle.

On this day of Lent, we understand that prayer will have a different meaning for us. The words, “Thy will be done,” will be a call for action for us to open our hearts, open our senses to the possibility of the Eternal God of the Universe to work through us and not outside of us.

But what of problems that are beyond us such as earthquakes, hurricanes, illnesses and disease? We’ll take a look at those problems tomorrow as we continue on this thread, as we take the next step up the staircase of Lent.

Accordingly, for our prayer today, let us pray the prayer of St. Francis of Assissi.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love.
For it is giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

Lenten Journey Day 28 – Perseverance

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 28: Broiled Lemon-garlic Mushrooms

Lenten Journey Day 28 – Perseverance

Of the Lenten Sundays, three of them are named after parables which spotlight questionable character. During the last two Sundays we met the Prodigal Son and the Dishonest Steward. Completing the trilogy of Parables-Sundays is the dedication for this 28th day of Lent to the Unrighteous Judge. All three parables come to us from our Lord and are found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, 17 & 18, respectively.

The Unrighteous Judge is a man who, as Jesus explains, did not fear anyone – not even God, nor was he ashamed of any person. In the town where he served as judge a widow kept coming to him and pleading with him, begging that he hear her case. For some time he refused, but finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God, nor do I care about men, but because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so she won’t eventually wear me out!” Jesus concludes his parable with an interesting statement. He says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says and will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night. Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

Indeed, this is an odd story. At first reading you might think that Jesus compares God to this unrighteous, unjust judge. The parable creates this image of a God who can be worn out, or worn down. It is as if, should we keep persevering, if we continue to pray over and over again, God will eventually wear down and He will say yes to our needs and to our desires. So keep praying, keep being persistent. Persevere like the old lady! And in the end God will wear down and will give you what you want.

On closer inspection of the parable, that is, when we read it in its entirety, we see that the evangelist, St. Luke, writes a few words of explanation as a preface to the parable. He says, “Jesus told His disciples this parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” So yes, this is a story of perseverance, but it is not to wear God down, it is to keep in mind that must continually be in communion with God. St. Luke’s preface to the parable suggests that during his time, as is the case today, there is a misconception about the nature of prayer.

When Jesus teaches us the “Lord’s Prayer” he warns, “Do not heap up extra words. Your heavenly Father already knows what you need. Therefore when you pray, pray like this. Our Father, which art in heaven … ” Let’s think about that for a moment. If our Heavenly Father knows what we need, why then should we pray?

God knows our needs, so obviously, we have a very real misunderstanding about the nature of prayer.

Prayer is not merely a conversation with God. We pray because we need a conversation with ourselves. God already knows the desires of our heart. He knows our needs and wants, most probably, better than we know them. God knows where we are going. The real question is, do we? It may sound strange, but unless you have a true focus on your life, it is questionable whether or not you know what your needs are.

How often do we give time to hear ourselves, to hear the inner self speak? Part of this Lenten journey has been to open the ears of our heart, to be able to listen attentively. The Psalmist says, “Be still! And know that I am God.” Lent is giving us the opportunity to sit still and listen, hear, absorb and thereby grow spiritually. Lent is not merely to cut down on food, but it is to come down to the bare essentials: What is necessary to survive? Or in Jesus’ words (to the tempter), “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the Lord.”

When teaching us to pray, Jesus directs us to go into a small room and pray without any distractions so that you understand what your needs are. Because when we pray for the good things, God already wants us to have the good things, but how are they going to arrive to us? We need to find the strength. We need to find the patience, the devotion. We need to find the correct values. We need to wake up, put our dreams aside and put on the new garment of hope to walk forward. This all comes from the person – you and me – taking action. When we accept that we are God’s children and that He is our Father, then we know that He will take care of us in all circumstances. Just as He takes care of the birds in the air, as He takes care of the lilies of the field who are here today and gone tomorrow, so too, He will take care of us. Jesus tells us, “How much more are you worth than those lilies of the field, than those birds of the air? Your Heavenly Father takes care of them. How much more He will take care of you.”

Do you have that faith? It is an unquestioning faith and is difficult to achieve, hence the need to discipline ourselves. What remains for us is to continue to pray. Persistence! Persevere! Consistency! Like the woman in the story, never doubt that in the end, you will get what you need, because in that persistence, it is not God the Judge listening, it is you listening to yourself. In your persistence you’ll find that these prayers turn into mantras. They turn into guidelines by which you start living, by which you start accepting responsibility in your life. And much as your life has changed during this Lenten season, your prayer life will begin to mature, and your prayers become real mantras toward action, to realize the dreams that are set deep in your heart and not the desires based on the whims of today.

We conclude today’s Lenten journey with the prayer that our Lord, Jesus Christ, taught us,
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Lenten Journey Day 27 – Martyrs of Sepastia

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 27: Cold Linguine with Red Pepper, Artichoke and Sun Dried Tomato Sauce

Lenten Journey Day 27 – Friendship

The Armenian Church celebrates the 40 Martyrs of Sebastia during one of the Saturdays of Lent. Although Sebastia is a town in Armenia, the entire Christian Church commemorates the martyrdom that took place there as a lesson in Christianity, perseverance, sacrifice and friendship.

The story of the 40 Martyrs of Sebastia takes place in the 4th century, when 40 soldiers of the Roman army armed with a faith in Jesus Christ, are put to the test: either deny their faith or lose their lives. They refuse to betray or deny their faith in Christ Jesus. They are sentenced to a torturous death by being thrown into a mid-winter freezing lake. The forty men reach out to one another. They hold on to one another creating a human life raft. The water miraculously warms up. God creates an opportunity for the freezing water to give warmth, to give life. In so doing the men are also given an opportunity to be crowned as saints.

There are many dimensions to this story. I invite you to read about it. It appears in many books and articles. For now, I would like to focus on the friendship that existed between these soldiers, particularly because they had the same goal and foundation of faith. Even more, they belonged to a community that brought them together.

We build relationships with others with whom we establish what is called “friendship.” Most of the time, these are limited partnerships; that is, we can talk about everything except matters of faith. We may be reluctant to talk about faith/religion. Why? Because we have been conditioned, we have been taught it is not polite to discuss religion in mixed company. After all, politics and religion are the two ingredients that you never want to take into a friendship. More arguments start because of politics and religion they tell us, than any other subject.

During this Lenten Journey we have looked within. We have looked without. We have built our prayer life with quality and quantity. We understand ourselves as disciplined creatures, assisted by the practices of fasting and of abstinence. Our Christian charity is defined by responsibility and stewardship. And so at the end of this 4th week, we understand that certainly Christianity is not that distorted view that so many people speak about, but there is a purity in Christianity. Not only is Christianity defined by love, but it is the expression of pure love. It calls us to extend and give ourselves to one another. It is sacrifice that manifests itself in friendships and relationships. We love, honor, respect and cherish one another.

Because Christ’s message is so pure, it gives each of us an opportunity to grow in that that same purity.

The forty martyrs found that purity in one another. They were able to hold on to each other and stay afloat in that lake. They were able to find strength from one another. We too are on a journey. It is called life. We look for friends and sometimes shy away because we feel others may not understand our position. Real friendship means that we can put all our cards out on the table. It means we can count on one another. We can lean on others and expect them to lean on us as well. To make this happen we need open dialogue. There is a formula to the dialogue. It begins by talking about the bare essentials of life including our faith, our spirituality, who we are, how we understand ourselves and what commitment we have to love. WE understand quickly now that there is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to matters of faith. It is now becoming part and parcel of our being to be able to stand tall and say, “Yes, I am a Christian because I am a member of Christ’s family.” Simply put, we say, “Yes, I am called to love.” Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

To love, to be able to stand up and help. To be able to sit down with a friend in trouble. To be able to extend a hand to someone in need. And to be able to offer the strength and the courage, to lift up someone who has fallen. You see, Christianity is all about continuing what Christ began.

The forty Martyrs of Sebastia understood the message of Christ as an expression of community. The name of the feast itself is about community. It is not one martyr that we remember, but 40 martyrs. It is a collective. People hanging on to one another, staying afloat, despite the difficulties in life. When we understand this, then we start reaching out to one another. We no longer fear confiding in our friends. Instead we have a healthy and open relationship, and we become true friends. Reaching out, hanging on, staying afloat in the waters of life… Understand that this is how miracles happen, because it at these moments that God heats the waters! We have yet another opportunity to really set sail and reach the dreams that we cannot do alone but certainly possible because of the community collective.

Today’s Lenten exercise is a simple one: reach out to your friends, reach out to your family. Engage them in a conversation of faith. Engage them to understand how important that faith is to you, and really explain what are the dimensions of that faith. Not merely stories, not merely myths, but a real story, a real story of hope, of faith, of really reaching out to one another and helping them stand up and for them to help you stand up. Together. With God’s blessings you reach the goals, you reach the dreams that are infront of you.

In that same spirit, let us pray from St. Nersess Shnorhali:
Glorified Lord, accept the supplications of your servant and graciously fulfill my petitions through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, John the Baptist, St. Steven the first martyr, St. Gregory our Illuminator, the holy apostles, prophets, divines, martyrs, patriarchs, hermits, virgins and all your saints in heaven and on earth. And unto you, oh indivisible Holy Trinity be glory and worship for ever and ever. Amen. (24/24)

Photo – 2009 Fr. Vazken Movsesian

Lenten Journey Day 26 – Courage

Lenten Recipe 
Recipe 26: Cold Noodles in Spicy Sesame Sauce

Lenten Journey Day 26 – Courage 

During Lent we have become aware of the curtain drawn across the altar of life. That curtain is the obstacle that prevents us from seeing the wonders and the beauty of God – the obstacles that prevent us from maximizing our potential. That curtain has been lowered because of our fears, and the only way for us to bring it up, the only way for us to open that curtain is to combat our fears with courage.

Because God resides within us we know that the potential for courage is within us. Courage comes from within where God has placed it.

At the Last Supper, Jesus asked his disciples to look within. In the Gospel of John, we read Jesus’ final discourse (Chapter 16 and on). Jesus asks his disciples to act with love and with humility even in the face of the unthinkable, at the most horrid of endings. At the Last Supper he discloses to his disciples that he will suffer an unthinkable death. He will be humiliated before humanity. The same creature that received its life from Christ, will now kill the Christ. The same life that was formed from those hands, will now take those very hands and drive nails through them! And yet, Jesus says, have courage. In no uncertain terms he demands it of each of us who sit across from Him at the table. His words, “Courage! The victory is mine. I have overcome the world,” are words that should resound, should reverberate in the deepest pockets of our souls.

Our curtains need to be opened. The obstacles need to be removed. It’s all in our hands. We can do it if we have the courage. So let’s find that courage. It’s easy. Here is a small Lenten exercise for today. Imagine yourself sitting across from our Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. As he spoke to his disciples 2,000 years ago, today he speaks to us, in the same language, knowing that ahead of Him lies the cross, and acknowledges the certainty of the resurrection. Now listen to his words carefully. “Courage! The victory is mine. I have overcome the world!”

It does not matter what difficulties we have ahead of us. It does not matter what kinds of obstacles there are. There may be crosses that are huge and torturous. There may be crosses that we find difficult to raise. There may be crosses that are merely stumbling blocks. It does not matter. With courage, we can carry those crosses. And we can find the resurrections. As we find, they are sitting on the other side of our curtains.
Open the curtains! Remove the obstacles! Put fear aside. Have courage – a courage that comes from within and without. Understand yourself as a creation of God, standing with Him during his trials and tribulations on the cross because, as you know, He is standing with you at your trials and your tribulations, guaranteeing you a resurrection.

Let us pray now the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
You who bring back the wanderers, turn me from my evil ways into good ones and imprint upon my soul the recollection of the dreadful day of death, the fear of hell, and the love of your kingdom that I may repent or my sins and do righteousness. Have mercy upon all your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith, 17/24)

Lenten Journey Day 25 – Fear

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 25: Curry Butternut Squash

Lenten Journey Day 25 – Fear
By this 25th day of the Lenten Journey we realize many things have changed in our lives. It may seem as if our surroundings have changed when actually we are now perceiving things differently. We have a broader understanding of our prayer life. We communicate with God and with our self. We understand our fasting as a means of discipline, and of course, our giving – reaching out to others with compassion – as an articulation of faith. On this 25th day of Lent, we understand that beyond these 40 days, there is a the journey of life. What we gain from Lent, we will carry for the rest of our life.

These past few days we have studied the story of the Dishonest Steward and contemplated on the theme of stewardship, that is, being entrusted by another to look over assets. We are entrusted by God to look over His greatest gift to us: the life that we live. We are managers of that life.

Remember that in the story of the Dishonest Steward, we find a person who is commended for his shrewdness. Shrewdness is one man’s talent, while others may shy away from such expressions because of fear. That fear, in turn, prevents us from maximizing our potential. The fear of the unknown is high on the list of fears, along with the fear of the self, the fear of being put down. There are so many dimensions to fear, and whatever they may be, we realize that fear prevents us from maximizing our potential.  Fear is the hurdle to overcome. The obstacles to win the race of life are many. Overcoming fear is our first step.  Think about it in your life – all the dreams that you have, all of them are attainable, so what prevents you from reaching those goals if not fear?

In our churches we cover the altar during the Lenten season. That curtain symbolizes sin, the separation between us and God due to sin. Because of our imperfection, we sin. And yet, perhaps that curtain can best be described as fear, as the fear that really prevents us from seeing the beauty that is all around us. Seeing the potential we have within us.
Beyond the parable of the Dishonest Steward, Jesus uses other parables to explain stewardship to us. Among them he speaks of stewards who are fearful; that is, people who are entrusted with life but fear to explore it. One such parable reminds us of three men who are entrusted with different amounts of money. To the first, $10,000 dollars is given; to the second, $5,000; and to the third, $1,000. When an accounting is required – “What did you do with the money that I gave you? – the first one says, “I took the $10,000 and I invested it. And I took some risks with it, but here it is. I have produced an additional $10,000.” The second man did the same thing. He took the $5,000 and he multiplied it and gave back $10,000 – “Here’s $5,000, and here’s $5,000 more that I invested and am giving back to you!” But the third of these stewards was fearful. To him was given $1,000. And he was scared. He was scared of humiliation. He was fearful that he might be condemned if anything happened to that money. Rather than understanding that money as a tool, he took it and kept it in his pocket, as if it had intrinsic worth in itself. When asked for an accounting of his stewardship, he reached into his pocket and gave back the $1,000. Nothing was lost! Not a penny! But he was condemned. He was condemned because what was given to him was kept and not utilized. He was scared to use it. He had that fear that each and every one of us possess: the fear of succeeding.

The reasons for those fears are many. They go back to our childhood and to our relationships with people who have demanded of us. Some of them are because of physical inabilities, handicaps or illnesses. They are all the same, and each of them accordingly prevent us from realizing our dreams, from reaching the goals that we set for ourselves and more importantly, from reaching the goals that God wants us to set for ourselves.

Each of the stewards in this story are given different amounts to remind us that life deals out different hands to different people. Some may have more, and others may have less, but in each case we have a responsibility to take what is given to you and maximize it. I invite you today to really think about that stewardship that God has entrusted us with – the life that you have – to end the fears that prevent you from really maximizing yourself and the potential that God has placed inside of your heart. There are so many beautiful things all around you, and I invite you to look beyond the material gains. This is not an exercise in prosperity but an exercise in fulfilling the dreams of your heart and of reaching the potential that you have.

During this Lenten Journey we realize that the curtains in front of us need to be drawn, and that we do want to see the beauty in life. Because we want it, we know that God has placed that desire in our hearts. Let us seek the beauty that God has set up all around us and know that with his help those potentials can be realized and actualized.

We now pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali
Protector of your Creatures, by the sign of your holy cross, keep my soul and body from the allurement of sin, from the temptation of the devil and unjust people, and from all perils of soul and body. Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith, 14/24)

Lenten Journey Day 24 – Rock, Paper, Scissors

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 24: “Berry Good Chili”



Lenten Journey Day 24 – Rock, Paper, Scissors
One of the early games we learn as children is the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Standing across from our opponent we produce one of these symbols as a hand gesture. A flattened hand is the symbol of paper, a clenched fist is a rock, and two fingers extending forward are scissors. Each item in this trinity has its own strength as well as its own weakness. Each has power over another and is overcome by another. Scissor cuts paper but is crushed by the rock. Paper covers the rock but is shredded by the scissor. Rock breaks the scissor but is made invisible by the paper.

Each item in its own right has seeming power and at the same time is betrayed by its own intrinsic weakness.

This week we have been examining our lives in terms of stewardship, that is, what is our responsibility and purpose in life, have been entrusted with the gifts of God, the greatest of which is our life! Being managers of life means we have to coordinate the working of our breath, smile, heartbeat, feelings and actions. We each have, like the rock, paper, and scissors, our own weaknesses and our own strengths. 

In a society that places so much emphasis on outward appearances, unfortunately, it is easy for us to overlook some of our greatest strengths. The Lenten Journey has given us opportunities for introspection and to identify our strengths. By viewing our self as a steward of God’s goodness, we quickly realize how special we are as a unique creation of God. That is, we may be thin and fragile like the paper, but we have unique qualities which can show its strength and tenacity over the hard rocks of life. Individually, we have unique qualities, but in the grand playing field of life, we bring our talents together for the betterment of the team, the whole.

Today we look at the talents that God bestows upon us. How do we use those talents to overcome the difficulties in life? Are we a piece of paper? Can we cover the rocks in our lives? Perhaps we are scissors and we can cut the paper that hide and blanket our progress. And if we are rocks, we must use that mass to crush the scissors that tear us apart. We have these strengths within us. It is just a matter of spreading those unique qualities on field and realizing with so many different people and different talents, we are playing on an even playing field.

God gives us the unique strengths. To drive that power, he gives us freedom, love, and compassion. We are called to explore all the dimensions of life so that we can maximize our potential. As we live life we begin to notice our weakness and that gives way to fear. It is only natural. Now we understand that to overcome those fears, we need not to look without, but to look within. Our strength is within us. Sure, we may be scared. But consider on the even playing field, that it may be something as simple as a piece of paper that is covering us, shadowing us, preventing us from seeing all of the beauty around us. Quickly, we realize that we have within us the scissor to cut apart that paper. We may be scared of those scissors that are tearing us apart, that are leaving us in bits and pieces between family relationships, our work and our love. But we realize that we have the rock within us to crush apart that hatred that divides us from the things that we love. And of course, we may be fearful of some of the rocks that can unexpectedly crush some of our enjoyment. But right away let’s remember that much like the paper there are parts of us that can become the shadow, the umbrella over those rocks, over those difficulties to prevent those rocks from ever surfacing or even getting close to us. We do have that strength within us. Lent gives us this opportunity to inventory those strengths as well as our fears, and realize that we can overcome the bad with the good.

A simple childhood game, “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and the week of the Steward reminds us of our strengths and weaknesses and how we manage them. Life has its ups and downs, with moments of difficulties and moments of happiness and glory. But in all things, we are one with God when we take advantage of the gifts that He has given us. Celebrate the talents that make us who we are.

Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Oh Christ, who are the living fire, inflame my soul with the fire of your love which you did set forth upon this Earth that it may burn the stains of my soul, sanctify my conscience, purge the sins of my body and kindle in my heart the light of your knowledge. Have mercy upon all your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith)

Lenten Journey Day 23 – Schmoozing

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 23: Roasted Red Pepper and Fresh Chickpea Pasta

Lenten Journey Day 23: Schmoozing
Of all the topics we have discussed during the Lenten season, did you ever think we would talk about “schmoozing?”

The word schmoozing implies disingenuous feelings, a type of insincerity. Interestingly enough, Jesus turned the schmoozer into the hero of his story. Of course, I’m talking about the insincere, unjust and dishonest steward, the story from which we have been learning for the past two days but today we do so from yet another angle.

Remember, the steward is one who has been trusted by his boss, to manage the business affairs – the boss’ wealth and assets. As the story goes, it turns out that this steward is a crooked man. He is a man who has stolen and found to be dishonest. As he is being fired by his employers he is ordered to give “an accounting of your stewardship!”

The story continues, as Jesus tells it, like this:
So he thought to himself, “I’m not strong enough to dig. And I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” “800 gallons of olive oil,” he replied. The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it 400.” Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?” “A thousand bushels of wheat.” He replied, “Take your bill and make it 800.”
What is this steward up to? He is taking what does not belong to him and he is using it for his profit. Interesting. You would think that his boss would be more upset. But Jesus turns the situation around. “The master,” Jesus says, “commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly…” And the justification? Jesus continues “…for the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the people of light. I tell you use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so when it is gone you will be welcomed in eternal dwellings.”

This can be very confusing on the surface. In fact, something as disingenuous as schmoozing becomes a norm for this person and he is commended for his behavior. He is applauded for his shrewdness. But the justification statement is very important. When Jesus says, “the children of this world are more shrewd in their dealings than the children of light” he is telling us that while we are here in this world we need to use the tools that are given to us. We must find the language of this world to better understand one another and function together – to communicate, so that we can implement and do the work that is necessary. Of course, confusion can arise because it sounds foreign based on our prejudices. That is, we are conditioned to believe that religious individuals do not opt for disingenuous means. That is, this does not sound “religious.” But that is the beauty of what Jesus is teaching us and the beauty of our Church Fathers’ direction at this point in Lent.

During this second half of the Lenten Journey we are coming down off the mountain top, as we are looking ahead at life on earth. We have to understand that this is a real life. Sadly, many times the religious community wrongly places its emphasis on a life to come forgetting that our life here is one of beauty, one that needs to be cared for and one with which we need to interact. Today we know that there are many problems in the world. There are wars, famines, injustice and an absence of peace on every corner of the globe. On a very personal level, we know of disease and illness. Relationships have gone awry. Families are being destroyed by our materialistic desires. Drugs are coming into the lives of our children and wreaking havoc. All these things Jesus tells us are real. Don’t think that you can avoid them. However, he gives us the tools to deal with our real problems. Those tools are not the holy ones we expect, rather they are rooted in the ways of the world. It figures. To deal with the issues of this world, you need the tools of this world.

Overcome the problems that you have using the tools and the talents that God has given you. As you do so, you begin to see the big picture and your place within it. You have the tools to do anything, even bring about peace. That anger and hatred that escalate into war and genocide, poverty, sickness, disease, pollution and then manifest themselves into cancers and the cancer of hunger, can all be solved by using “worldly wealth” – money – to bring about God’s justice here in this world. The schmoozing is up to us.

For today I ask you to read the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 16. Read the story of the dishonest steward and then think of it this way: The boss is God. You and I are the stewards. Then fill in the blanks with issues in your life. How can you use the talents that you have – to schmooze – solutions in your life? This Lenten season is the first call. In other words, we have been called by our employer to give an accounting of our stewardship. What have we done? 

Thank God we have this opportunity of Lent to set ourselves right. God has given us those tools. Look around and find the places where you can use that talent, where you can schmooze… and using the language of this world, better our situation and work to make dreams into reality.

Remember, this life is beautiful. This life, right now, is worth living. This life is what God has given you. Do not look out beyond yourself and your life. Do not look at something or some life to come. It is this life that is God’s gift. Enjoy it. Schmooz. Make a difference in the lives you touch.  He has given you everything you need to make it and make this the beautiful life that He intends it to be.

Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
I confess with faith and adore You, O light indivisible, simultaneous Holy Trinity and one Godhead, creator of light and dispeller of darkness. Dispel from my soul the darkness of sin and ignorance and at this hour, enlighten my mind that I may pray to you according to your will and receive from you the fulfillment of my supplications. Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith 2/24)

Photo: (c)2009 Fr. Vazken Movsesian

Lenten Journey Day 22 – Stewardship Training

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 22: Susty’s Super Tofu Salad

Lenten Journey Day 22: Stewardship Training

This is the week of the steward. Yesterday we read the story of the Dishonest Steward in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus uses the metaphor to point to our responsibility in life. We are called to be managers of the life and the talents that God has given us. He asks us to use those talents with our brothers and sisters here in this world.

By using the metaphor of stewardship, Jesus makes it very clear that we are accountable for our life. One day, like the manager or steward, we will be asked to produce a record, an accountability of our stewardship. What did we do with what God has given us? Did God give us talents? Did He give us an ability? Did He give us a smile? Did He give us a heartbeat and a breath? What did we do with that gift? What did we do with our lives?

Imagine giving a gift to a friend or a loved one. Wouldn’t you like to know that your friend enjoyed that gift? At some point wouldn’t you ask your loved one, “What did you do with that gift that I gave you? Did you enjoy it?” And certainly, how hurt you would be if that person had taken your gift and stored it in a closet or worse yet, just thrown it in the trash and never once paid attention to it. Likewise, God wants to know that the gift He has given us, that most valuable commodity – the breath that we breath, the heart that beats, the smile that comes from our hearts – is being used, and is being used wisely. Ultimately, is it being used to spread love of God to others. That is the demand put upon us as stewards of God’s gifts. We are stewards of our lives. We are responsible for the talents that are given to us, to share them, use them, and to give an account of How? Where? And What did we do with all that God has given us?

Among the seven deadly sins is a sin called “sloth” perhaps the one most misunderstood because it points to inactivity whereas the other sins require us to be active, to engage in the sin. This one sin is defined by just being lazy, by not doing something. Now think of that for a minute. Why would that be a sin? How can not doing something be a sin?

God has given you a gift. You do not have a right to store it in a closet. You do not have a right to take God’s gift and trash it. It is holy. It is sacred. That is what your life is. Every blessing, every moment that you have in your life is a sacred gift from God.

During this Lenten season we are taking an inventory of the different blessings we have in life. We see that we can bring life down to its bare minimum with what is essential to live and with what is essential to survive. In so doing we understand that the little, that very essential element in life, is really that blessing that God has given us. Interestingly enough, as we go through this Lenten journey, our perspective changes.

Remember a few weeks ago when we read that Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that is spoken by God,” we thought of it in terms of the bar essentials, the bare minimum. But today that has changed because we have changed since we last read that passage. The challenge today, on this 22nd day of Lent, is to really look at those same words “…By every word that comes out of the mouth of God…” as being the blessing, as being the fullness of God speaking to our hearts, to our ears that are listening from within and now acting. We are saying if God is speaking to us, if God is directing our ways, can we go wrong? Can we possibly be steered in the wrong direction? Can we possibly think that our actions as stewards, as managers of that God-given life can be anything but a productive one? It will be a life filled with beauty, with ambiance, with love, with all of the dynamics necessary in this life. The life we live today is an abundant one. “I came so that you would have life,” said the Lord, “and have it abundantly.” A life with Christ is a life in love. It is a life of abundance having everything that you need.

We are managers of the most precious gift given to us by God. It is not something that sits in our wallet, not something that sits in our bank account, but something that resides in the center of our being, in our heart. It is life and it is defined by the smile, the warmth and the love that comes out of us.

You are the steward. There’s no tag on your shirt that says, “Manager,” because God has placed upon you the greatest tag of all. He’s named you as His child. Take advantage today. Is there anything that speaks to your heart more than the dreams that you have – the accessibility to a life that is rich and full? It is yours. It is yours because God has placed you in charge of that life. You do not have a right to place it in a closet. You do not have a right to trash it. All you have a right to do is enjoy it. Let it flower. Let it be fruitful. Let it bring glory to God.

We will continue on this theme of stewardship as we continue on this week. For today, let us conclude with the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Jesus, wisdom of the Father, grant me wisdom that I may always think, speak and do that which is good in your site. Save me from evil thoughts, words, and deeds. Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith 11/24)

Lenten Journey Day 21 – Stewardship

Lenten Recipe 

Recipe 21: Lenten Cookies

 Lenten Journey Day 21 – Stewardship

We are over half way through the Lenten season. We climbed up the hill and we are now at the summit, coming down. We look down from the summit and see two paths, one behind us and even more importantly, the path in front of us. It is this path that connects to a larger road which is the journey of life. All that we are discovering during this Lenten period is part of the self-improvement process which fortifies our position in life by granting us the tools to better meet the challenges of life, be they physical, emotional or spiritual. God gives us the tools to handle the complexities of life and to render the journey a simple one.

As we come down off of the mountain, we enter a world that is very real. It is a world filled with difficulties and challenges, but at the same time, it has many victories. It has many moments for us to rejoice and many more to enjoy. Life is very real! How appropriate, that today, at this half-way mark in Lent, the Armenian Church prescribes the Parable of the Dishonest Steward as its Lenten lesson. This is a lesson that connects us to the reality of life.

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is given to us by our Lord Jesus. We read that there was a dishonest steward, that is, a manager. He was charged to take care of his boss’ assets and money. This man was wise and calculating. He took actions that benefitted himself and at the same time his boss. Jesus refers to him as a shrewd, and even “dishonest” manager. Jesus brings it down to this, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

This manager is the second character in a trilogy, like the prodigal son from last week and the unrighteous judge that we will look at next week. This character is far from the model you would expect in a religious story, and yet, Jesus uses him, he has the audacity to use him to teach us a lesson in life. It is a lesson in stewardship – managing the assets that we have in life.

Please read the story in its entirety. It is found in the first 12 verses of the 16th chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. There are many dimensions to it. Today we will focus on the concept of managing our tangible assets.

We live in a world that is filled with real challenges. Reality is not based on or built on fairy tales or myths. Unlike playtime, life is demanding. It asks for our resources, the most precious of which is our time and effort – blood, sweat and tears. The question then becomes, how do we deal with, approach and overcome those challenges?

Jesus tells us that the challenges of life are real. They are to be met and overcome. The resources to do so are in place and need to be used. In his words, we are called to use “worldly wealth” to network and deal with the people of this world. In other words, in this world we must use the tools that this world offers, that is the “legal tender” of this world. Don’t shun those tools by ascribing some definitions based on your moral compass. Don’t pretend that you exist in some other world that is apart from the one we inhabit. This world is very real. We need to use the means of this world to survive this world. What are those means? Our talents. The talents given to us by God.

We began this Lenten Journey by taking an inventory of the things that are essential and necessary for our lives. Today, on this 21st day of Lent, the exercise is to inventory the gifts of God in our lives. What talents do we possess? How can we use them? How can we improve our own lives, as well as the lives of our families, friends and community by the use of those talents? God has given us the resources that we need to deal with life. He has given us the ability, the strength and the courage to move forward. He has given us breath! He has also endowed us with talents. Do you sing or play music? Are you able to craft something? Do you have reasoning and logical skills? Can you invest? Can you make money? Can you heal? Can you console? Can you walk in harmony with others? These are gifts from God.

Jesus says, “He who has been faithful in a little, will be trusted with much.” Take your talent and create! Invest it and make more, whatever your talent may be. Today is the day to examine those gifts you have. You are coming into a world that has so many problems and difficulties. It needs the presence of God today. Not yesterday and not tomorrow. Today. And as an ambassador of God, that is, an ambassador of Love, you now have a responsibility to use your talents wisely to bring the presence of God into your own life as well as the lives of the people around you – your family, friends and ultimately, the world. Furthermore, you do not have a right to ignore your gifts and talents. You are the manager of your life. You must use what has been given you.

In the next few days we will be looking at the models of stewardship. We will look at our talents and understand how we are stewards of our life. How can we take those things that God has given us, and multiply them to really enjoy our life as we fill it with meaning and purpose? How can we touch the lives of others with those talents?

Let us conclude with the prayer of St. Nersess Shnorhali:
Uncreated Essence, I have sinned against You in mind, soul and body; do not remember my former sins for the sake of Your Holy name. Have mercy upon Your Creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith 6/24)