Ego – Day 19

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 19: Baked Sweet Potato Wedges

Lenten Journey Day 19 – Ego

We are at the third week of Lent. It has been a good journey. We have had time to look inward, to contemplate, meditate and pray. We have restricted our diets as well as restricted idle conversation. We are feeling good. The changes we are making are starting to impact others, our families our surroundings, our work environment, our communities and therefore, our world.

Now we start understanding that real changes come from within. Perhaps it is the only thing we can alter in this world, because it is the only thing in which we have complete control. God places that control in our hands. He gives us this life and He allows us to live it the way we wish.

We conclude this week by looking at one more dimension in the story of the Prodigal Son, namely the ego dimension. You see, all of our difficulties in life stem from the ego. It is for this reason that all major religions, true religions, ask you to lose the ego as part of their spiritual discipline. For the Christian we are reminded of Jesus’ words, “He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it for eternal life.”

Take a look at great people who have impacted society and life and are recorded in history in a very positive manner. You’ll find something very similar among all of their biographies. They have been willing to sacrifice themselves. They have given of themselves. Now, do not mistake this for low self-esteem or low self-worth. People who impact life in a positive manner have a very positive image of themselves, but they are also willing to sacrifice because that positive self-image is not a false one, nor is it built on false pride.

False pride is very easy to acquire. Especially going through some of the Lenten rituals, as we are doing now, it is very easy to confidently boast, “Look at me, I am doing something that others can’t do.” In that statement we forget the reason for the Lenten season. In other words, the means become the focus of our actions rather than the end or goal of our efforts. The goal of Lent is to better our selves and therefore better our relationships and our world. In the same way, we can think of our dietary restrictions during Lent. There is a reason for us to abstain from animal products. It is not only for the sake of lowering our cholesterol or our weight, but it is to keep things on an even playing field, understanding what is essential in our lives.

Think of the great people who have impacted the world. Now focus on the great people in your own life. They may be a parent or a teacher, a mentor. You will find again that these have been the ones who have been willing to put themselves second to better the lives of others, be they their children, their husbands, their wives, their country, their society or their community. Whatever the case, in the sacrifice that they made ego was contained. Ego was put on hold so that others were allowed to prosper.

To raise children, to support a husband or a wife, to deal with aging parents, to offer love and affection to people around, requires sacrifice. Many times in church life we need volunteers to get jobs done. Sometimes we think, would it not be easier if we paid people to work in these positions? Certainly it would be easier, but the real power of getting things done in the church is by volunteers, because in volunteerism the ego has to be suppressed.

When you get down on your knees and wipe the floors of a church you are acknowledging that there is something greater than yourself there that needs to be served. When you volunteer to help in community organizations, in organization that have goals that are striving for peace or world justice, you are placing a greater-than-sign (>) between the purpose and yourself. In volunteering, the ego gets left behind. You are not as important as the we.

In the story of the Prodigal Son the younger brother is driven by ego. He wants his inheritance, not for some community project, not to better the lives of other people but to enjoy himself. Quickly we see that when the money runs out and so does the enjoyment. His friends back off. There is no intrinsic value to the things he acquired. He was driven by ego and he lost the value of life.

Think about all of the difficulties you have in your life, can you trace them back to ego? Think about the very basic seven sins that we identify, namely pride, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, laziness and covetousness,. Each one of these sins has a foundation made up of an ego that needs to be fed. When we get rid of ego, or at least trim it down, we start seeing that our motives become more pure, our actions are more productive. We begin to understand that we give because it is right to give, not because we are expecting something back in return. We care for people because it is right to care for them, not because we are obliged to do so. If we love people, we are doing so because it is right to love, not because we are living out someone else’s ideals. When the ego is abandoned, we find a new purity of purpose and of self. Our motives and intentions move toward the noble and perhaps even the sacred. We find the power to become the people we want to become and need to become. It is for this reason that our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us, “Blessed are the pure at heart for they shall see God.”

Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali in concluding today’s meditation:
Son of God, true God who descended from the bosom of the Father and took flesh of the Holy virgin Mary for our salvation, who was crucified and buried and rose from the dead and ascended to the Father. I have sinned against heaven and before you. Remember me like the robber when you come in your kingdom. Have mercy on your creatures and upon me a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith 4/24)

Lost & Found – Lent Day 18

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 18: Peach Cobbler

Lenten Journey Day 18 – Lost and Found 

As I mentioned earlier if nothing else reached us from the time of Christ save for the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it would be enough to teach us about the Love of God and the meaning of reconciliation. It is a story which demonstrates our responsibility to one another in terms of love, compassion and forgiveness. There are so many dimensions to this story that it really makes it a perfect tool to be used during the Lenten season.

Yesterday we meditated about the travel we take, from various points in our life to an end. Today, we will look at the detours that come our way in our travel through life. When we lose focus of the target, we wander and can be distracted to the point that we lose our way. We become lost. Tragically, sometimes our lost state is so severe that we neither return to the road nor the destination.

Getting lost is not intentional. No one begins a journey with the hope of getting lost. The truth is, in the journey of life we come across many difficulties, many obstacles, that prevent us from reaching the fullness that we want in life. Those obstacles stand in front of us like roadblocks as we travel toward our dreams. When the road is blocked, we immediately look for ways to circumvent, to go around the obstacles and in so doing, we swerve off course. We get lost. We discussed this earlier as being one of the foundations of being in a “sinful nature.” That is, we missed the mark. We’re shooting for that perfection, but we miss it. We’re off the bull’s-eye.

Think about your life. Think about the difficulties, the challenges that you have experienced. You started off your journey with good intentions. Whether it was a career path or career move, a business, education, financial, health goals, or a relationship – a husband, wife, children, parents, friends – whatever the case may be, your motives and purpose were good, perhaps even noble.

Take for instance your financial goals. You started out with good intention: those funds were to pay for something. An education? A better way of living. A trip? Retirement? But along the way you started to compromise. You lost sight of where you were going. While deep down, in the back of your mind, you knew where the destination was, but the day-to-day activities of your life betray you to compromise. You got caught up in the mundane chores and responsibilities that took you father and father away from your goals. You looked at the map and you realized; you were lost!

Being lost hurts. Part of the hurt is attributed to frustration, while a bigger part is because of the guilt. You know that you started with every intention of finishing in a proper manner. You know that the road was a good one, but things got messed up along with way.

Fortunately, we have a way to turn back. We do not have to continue along that same path. And that is the strength of the Lenten Journey. By self-evaluation and introspection we identify our problems and through prayer and meditation we find the means to re-orient and to redirect our self along the path, ultimately to find direction in our life.

In the Gospel narrative, as a prelude to Jesus’ telling of the Prodigal Son parable, there is a discussion about being lost and found (Luke 15). We read that the tax collectors and sinners were gathered around Jesus to hear Him. Now this is interesting and important to note here because Jesus, being the holy man that he was, was in violation of protocol. It was not proper for Him to be sitting with tax collectors who were not only disliked for obvious reasons but were hated because they were looked upon as traitors, collecting money for the enemy state. And of course, he was with the sinners, who were the outcasts because they did not live up to the standards society had imposed upon them. The so-called people of faith looked down their noses at the sinners.

“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable: Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he does find it, he rejoices, puts it on his shoulders and comes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me! I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent.” 

Just as he did in the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus makes it very clear that He is interested in the people who have lost their way. And please note, that includes every one of us.

There is a beautiful expression that says, “Stop and smell the roses.” I love that expression because it reminds us that yes, we are lost. How often do we have the time or take the time to really stop and smell the roses? To really look at the sunset in awe? To look into our children’s eyes and see the hope of tomorrow? To really dream with them and believe in tomorrow? To know that peace is possible. To dream of a better tomorrow? Those dreams, those smiles, are usually forgotten by us because we are in the fast gear, never having enough time to slow down and look, hear, smell, taste and feel life.

Lent is this perfect time to look at your path, where you are going, where you are headed. Are you lost? Do you need a road map? Do you need to get back to the path? Is it time to make a turn or perhaps a complete a U-turn? These are questions that you and you alone need to answer. You have your map open. You have your navigator on and you are on this Lenten Journey.

We conclude with the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali. Today let us go to the beginning of that prayer, to the first hour to remind us where everything begins:
I confess with faith and adore you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, uncreated and immortal essence, creator of angels, of humans and all that exists. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. Amen (I Confess with Faith, 1/24)

Image by Goran Horvat from Pixabay

The Turn Around – Lent Day 17

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 17: Asian Noodles with Edamame

Lenten Journey Day 17 – Turning Around

A wide variety of emotions and feelings accompany us on our Lenten Journey. Because we are each unique creations, we each approach our spirituality in different ways. Some may feel tranquility. Some may feel inner peace. Others may feel anxiety – fear of the unknown, of what may be ahead. And others yet, may not be able to process the physical changes that are taking place by virtue of the dietary restrictions. No matter where you may be in your spiritual quest, it is important to remember that we have taken this journey with purpose, with a goal in mind: to purify, to minimize, to find meaning and purpose not only for the duration of Lent but for our entire life. We must understand that these 40 days are training us for the other 325 days that are ahead of us.

Consider now that we began at one point and are headed toward another point. Ironically, sometimes that end point may very well be the beginning point; that is, the end of the journey may be right where we started. 

I do not mean to confuse things, but think of experiences in your own life. When you have been confronted with a problem or difficulties, you may ponder and look for answers, when all along those answers exist within you. We have had those answers right from the beginning, much like the fabled Dorothy, who stands at the end of her journey in Oz, realizing that the answers were right at her feet all along. She receives the grand revelation that there is no place like home, not from outside herself, but by fact that she arrived at that revelation point. Sure enough, we found the same revelation this week in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The son returned home because that was where the answers were.

In fact, we find that God has given us all of the gifts that we need in our lives. The gifts are implanted in our home, in our heart, but we have drifted from our path. We have strayed away from God. But if we look carefully, we are finding that in this spiritual journey the answers are not somewhere outside of us but are seated within us. Why not? If God has created us and God has given us a soul, why would the “owners manual” – the answer book – be outside of us? The answers are right there, within each of us where they have always been.

God speaks to us. From the depths of our heart we hear His voice. His words are the answers that are always with us, no matter where we go. When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” it is the profound expression of love. There is one direction. There is only one path. It is the path of love.

St. Nerses Shnorhali reminds us that the name of love is Jesus. We discovered it to be the “primer,” and we now understand Jesus’ words to mean that Love is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We have all known that all along. This is nothing new. It is just that we have alienated that section of our soul, mind and spirit from what is important and therefore forgotten that there is only one way and one truth. It happens to be Love. We have searched elsewhere, instead of looking within.

St. Nectarius reminds us, “Do not seek the kingdom outside of yourself, but the kingdom is within.” Jesus established his Church, his Kingdom here on earth, and that Church has its primary foundation in the human heart. That is where the owner’s manual belongs.
This week we looked at the three characters in the story of the Prodigal son, namely the young son, the older son and the father. Today let us be reminded that this Lenten Journey is not only a trip from point A to B, but it can also be a journey from A to A. There is a freshness to our lives, as if the old has been recreated. So it is no longer an old life, but a new life filled with a new understanding, a different approach to dealing with our relationship and our surroundings.

What we are beginning to see develop is the concept of repentance, that is, turning around, coming back: Point A to point A via point B. The most powerful tool a Christian has is repentance. When we realize we have made a mistake we have the ability to improve our self. We can turn back. That return to home worked for the Prodigal Son. There are different paths for each of our lives, but they all lead to the end of the Journey. For some, this journey will be from point A to B. For others it will be from point A to B and perhaps a C and D along the way until they get to E. And yet, for others still, it will be a full circle returning back home from and to point A. A loop or a little detour is nothing to be afraid of. Chock it up to the experience of life. In the mistakes and pains of life we learn. Fortunately, God has given plenty of room to make U-turns.

Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Fountain of immortality, let the tears of repentance flow from my heart like those of the adulteress that they may wash away the sins of my soul before I depart from this world. Have mercy upon all your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith, 18/24)

The Brother’s True Gift is Yours: Lent Day 16

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 16: Cherry Walnut Chews

Lenten Journey Day 16 – The Older Brother

For the past two days we looked at two different characters from the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Today we will continue looking at the parable and this time focus on the actions of the older brother.

Of the three characters in the prodigal son, perhaps it is the older brother with whom we can best identify. Perhaps it is because, well, basically he is a good guy. He is a friendly guy. He is the one who did the right things and stayed faithful. He stayed home and did not squander the money that his father had given him. He was loyal. He was obedient. But mostly we see in him the man, who like all of us, recognizes the unfairness of life. There was an injustice that was being played out because when the younger brother came home, there was celebration. It was almost as if he was being rewarded for his breach of discipline.

The older brother also asked some questions that could have arisen out of simple jealousy. Why not me? Why is it that good things happen to bad people? Why are the actions of the bad person being rewarded while my goodness goes unnoticed? I have been loyal. I have been the model son any father would be proud of. Now this son of yours comes home, after squandering and abusing what you have given him. How can he being worth the fatted calf? A celebration? The ring of authority on his hand? Simply: Why not me? Perhaps it is this expression that rings the bell of familiarity in all of us.

There are many examples of unfairness in our lives. Often, we see people who seemingly do not deserve to be rewarded, yet they are honored with privileges and rewards. Why not me? is only a natural question to follow this inequity. Not only is it natural, but it is also logical if we believe good should be rewarded, well, I’ve done it right. I’m a good guy. Sure, I have faults but basically, I’m a good person. Why isn’t my goodness being rewarded?

The father in the story gives a very simple answer. His is an answer that comes from the vantage point of parenthood. “Son,” says the father to his oldest, “I have always had you. Whatever I have is already yours. But this, my son, was lost and now he’s found; was dead and now he’s alive.” In so saying, the father is asking his son to see the bigger pictures. It’s not just about this moment, but there is a bigger “project” so to speak. Ultimately, God’s aim is to have us all His children reconciled with all of His creation. It’s about a state of love and harmony so that everyone may share that Kingdom.

Now let’s push this little further and challenge ourselves, because, after all, there is true injustice in the world. But as this Lenten Journey unfolds, we’re understanding that the real problem is with our perception of the goal, of the prize. We’re looking at those excesses and material goods as the prize and lose sight of the true treasure that is already a part of our life. Proof? Take a deep breath. Can you feel it entering your lungs? That’s a gift from God on which you cannot place a price tag. Do you love someone? Someone you can look to – a child, a parent, a husband, a wife, a boyfriend, a girlfriend? That is a gift. Do you have the ability to smile? Do you have the ability to look out at the flowers, at the trees, at the mountains, at the sea and stand in awe for a second and realize that there is something far greater than material goods we consume ourselves with. That is a gift. And that is the gift that has been given to you by God. He says, don’t abuse it. Don’t be like the prodigal. Don’t squander what I have given you. And now, don’t look for more. Because anything more are the excesses that you have to fight off anyway. Don’t look for those extras because you’ve already been given the gift of life. What greater gift is there? You have the gift of love in your heart, along with the ability to take that love and share it with others.

Today’s challenge in the Lenten Journey is to dismiss any jealousies that may be consuming us and preventing us from taking another step forward. As the father in the parable challenged the older son, we receive a challenge from the Parable itself, to take a walk in the shoes of the father. We’ll note that in his unconditional love for both his sons there is no room for jealousy. The Love of God trumps everything, no matter how strong those feelings of jealousy or envy may be.

Remember, God has placed love in our heart. It’s up to us to use it, not abuse it. It’s up to use to share it with the ones we love, with our family, our community and with this world.

We conclude with the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali,
All Merciful Lord, have mercy on all your faithful. On those who are mine and on those who are strangers. On those whom I know and on those whom I know not, on the living and on the dead. Forgive all my enemies and those who hate me the trespasses they have committed against me. Turn them from the malice they bear toward me that they may be worthy of your mercy. Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me, a great sinner. (I confess with Faith, 23/24)

The Prodigal’s Father: Lent Day 15

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 15: Suonomo (Cucumber Salad)

Lenten Journey Day 15 : The Prodigal’s Father
Yesterday we were introduced to the story of the Prodigal Son. In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus offers this parable which touches so many different dimensions of our lives.

Yesterday we reflected on the sin of the Prodigal son; that is, the “prodigalness” of the young man. His sin was that he abused the gifts that were given him. We share in that sin by abusing, which includes not using, the talents given to us by God.
Today we look at the character of the father. The first thing we learn about him is that he gives completely, without restriction or condition. His younger son says, “Give me my inheritance so I can go out and establish and begin my life.” The father, being a wise man, certainly understands that the son may lose or squander the money, but does not argue with his child. There are times in our lives when we need to let go. Even though we may know better than our children, their life is theirs. Yes, making mistakes can be painful, but it is in those mistakes that children learn. This father understand this rule and lets go of his son. As difficult as it is, he allows his son – the one that he loves – to leave. He allows his son to establish his own life.
The second time we see the father is when the son returns. Remember the son is remorseful, or at the very least he understands that he can have a better life by returning to his father’s house. No matter what the son’s intentions may be, the father seeing the son return goes out to meet him on the road and does not even allow his son to ask forgiveness. He does not play a game of pride. He does not foolishly say, “Let me wait and see what he has to say.” He is there to accept his son. He does not say, “I told you so. I knew you would be back.”  Instead he recognizes his loved one – the son that he cared for, gave birth to and nurtured – had now returned! How excited he must have been. Of course he came running up to his son and embraced him.
Now there are two dimensions to this. Let’s follow each of them. First, the father in the parable is an expression of our Heavenly Father. God in heaven waits for us to come home and when we do turn back, He does not wait for us to beg to return to His Kingdom. His patience lasts for us to make that first turn-around. It’s then that He approaches us, embracing and grabbing us, He takes us in, giving us Life! That’s what this father did and that’s what our Heavenly Father does.
God accepts us as true children of his Kingdom. His acceptance of us is a given. The requirement is for us to say, “Yes, I have sinned. I have gone the wrong way. I have squandered what God has given me. I want to find the peace. I want to find that love that God has created me in.” God waits for us to say, “I’m ready.” The rest takes place – it actually falls into place.
Second, the father’s actions tell us what is required of us in our relationships, not necessarily with children, but with one another. There are people who have hurt us. The degrees of hurt are not consequential. Perhaps we have cried over a misspoken word, or we have been devastated by betrayal. The hurt has left a chasm in our relationships with others. We have all created divisions between ourselves and God by virtue of our actions or inaction,  yet God has given us a way back. We too must do the same and leave doors open for those people to return back to us. In other words, an end to grudges is in order. Don’t get caught up in foolish pride. Leave doors open without expecting someone to walk through. Don’t wait for those who have hurt you to return, just know that deep down there are many desires that may not be understood. If the door is open, they may return and when they do you will embrace them.
Know that the heart is speaking to you. Do not think with your mind. Be ready to take in. Be ready to embrace, to hug, to suffocate them with the love that is in your heart. This is the example that Jesus gives us through the character of the father. It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? On the one hand it is showing us what our Heavenly Father does, and the example for us to do likewise those in our lives.On the other hand we have prayed, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” God forgives us. We, therefore, have to be forgiving of others.

Finally, the third time we see the father in this story is when he talks to the older brother. He comforts him and he reminds him that we are all equal. In the sight of God it does not matter if you come back today, or if you come back in a hundred years. It does not matter if you came back yesterday. What is important is for each us to turn back to God. And that is the caring Father that we have in heaven, who does not prejudice his decisions by who we are, where we are, or what we’ve done. What matters is the “right now”. Are we willing to be at one, in harmony with Him, with the love and the universe that he has given us.Tomorrow we will continue with the theme of the Prodigal Son as we take a look at his older brother.

We now pray there prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali, from the “I Confess with Faith”:
I confess with faith and adore you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, uncreated and immortal essence, creator of angels, of humans and all that exists. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (1/24)

Image by Edgar Gonzalez from Pixabay

Prodigal Son – Lent Day 14

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 14: Hot and Sour Cabbage

Lenten Journey Day 14 – The Prodigal Son

Every Sunday during the Lenten Season has a unique name. Today is known as the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Accordingly, the lesson of the day comes from the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 15, where Jesus teaches using a parable, commonly known as the story of the Prodigal Son.
Perhaps if nothing else reached us from the time of Jesus except for this one parable, it would be enough to explain our relationship with God. It is a story of reconciliation, and expresses the unconditional love that God has for us and therefore, requires of us.
The story of the Prodigal Son unfolds like this: A man has two sons. The younger son asks for and receives his inheritance. He takes his share of his father’s estate and squanders it on reckless living. While he has funds, he is popular with many friends. But when his money ran out, so did his friends. No money, no parties, no extravagant lifestyle, no friends, he goes out to look for work. But it is of no use. He can’t make enough to survive.
One night, when he is really down, he sees some pigs feeding and he actually considers eating the pigs’ food because he is so hungry. It is at that point that he comes to his senses. He remembers his father’s home and remembers that that his father’s servants live better than he. That night, he makes a decision to go back home –to his father – to beg for forgiveness. He even strategizes that he will ask to be taken-in as one of his father’s  servants.  
Now, while the son is returning home his father sees him on this road. His father comes running toward him, grabs him, hugs him and kisses him. He doesn’t even give his son a chance to talk nor to explain his deeds while away from home. The father then orders his servants to come around and bring him the best clothes and put the ring of authority on his hand. Then he orders a celebration! The fatted calf is slaughtered for this party.
The story of the Prodigal Son doesn’t end here. Remember he had an older brother. Now this older brother was working in the field and heard the sound of merriment and dancing. He didn’t understand and protested to his father. He said, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” He just could not understand the unfairness of life. He (the older brother) had done everything right and the younger brother had wasted his inheritance. “Where is the justice?” he demanded. Why is the bad guy getting rewarded while the good guy continues to labor and struggle?
The father, with compassion and understanding, explains to the older brother, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
So ends the story of the Prodigal Son, but here begins a tremendous opportunity to reflect on the many dimensions of this short parable.
In the next few days of the Lenten Journey we will look at the father and older son characters separately. For today’s discussion we will focus on the younger son. Let’s begin with the young man’s desire to want a better life and to enjoy it. That is not a foreign or unusual feeling. In fact, we all have entertained thoughts of better life. Why not? Why shouldn’t we have the better things in life? For in fact, in this boy’s case, he had the means, his father had the resources, so why not take advantage of the situation and go for it all? What then is the “sin” of the younger son? He is driven by his passions and the energy that comes with youth, and perhaps a little bit of impatience. He seizes the opportunity and takes what he can! Where’s the sin?
Taking what is given to you is not a sin. That is your gift. It belongs to you. The sin is squandering the gift! The sin is taking your gift and abusing it.
One of the challenges that comes to us on this 14th Day of the Lenten Journey is to list and inventory the gifts that have been given to you. Are you using that gift? Or are you abusing it? Are you respecting that gift or are you squandering it?
God has given each of us talents. He has given us life itself. Indeed the breath we breathe is a gift, as is the smile on our face, our ability to hug and our passion to reach out. Unfortunately, much like the Prodigal Son, we squander what is given us in a reckless and sometimes abusive manner. We consume our lives with the minutia and we therefore abandon quality. God has given us a smile that would light up a room and we cover it up, we are ashamed to show that smile. He has given us the ability to talk and instead we keep our mouths closed, or if we do open it we fill it with idle conversation and gossip. He has  given us the ability to hold, lift up and to help others instead we tie our hands down and refuse to help those in need. He has given us feet to walk in the paths of righteousness and instead we take our bodies to dismal hangouts.
We are each a prodigal son. We have taken the gifts of God and instead of using and enjoying them, we have squandered, abused and wasted the goodness in a prodigal life. We have missed the mark and by missing it, we fall short of realizing and maximizing our potential.
As we are inventorying our talents and gifts from God, let us also ask ourselves how we are using those gifts. Are we squandering the precious elements of life? Or are we using those talents for the betterment of all?
Tomorrow, we will continue with the parable of the Prodigal Son by observing the character of the father. For now let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali
Heavenly Father, true God, who sent Your beloved Son to seek the wandering sheep. I have sinned against heaven and before you. Receive me like Prodigal Son and clothe me with the garment of innocence, of which I was deprived by with sin. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. Amen (3/24)

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Balancing our Dreams, Faith and Works: Lent Day 13

Day 13: Balancing our Dreams, Faith and Works

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 13: Stir -Fried Asparagus 

 The Apostle James writes that faith without works is useless. Many times, we are challenged to really put our faith into action. At those moments we realize that only by virtue of our actions does our faith have meaning. That is, our faith has value and structure because of our actions. Conversely, works without faith leads to a confusing mixture of ideas, motives and goals.
This balancing act between faith and works is usually defined in logical terms. When we think and act according to the principles set forth in our brain, we are acting by reason, based on the wisdom that we have acquired through life. While this is very important in practical terms, the Christian needs to excel in the area of dreaming – to dream of the impossible dreams.
When you think and act according to your heart, then and there, you understand that your movements and actions are based on the passions you have inside of you. This is the faith that can move mountains. Think with your heart and not with your brain when it comes to doing the impossible.
At his Crucifixion, Jesus did the impossible. He forgave of people who had betrayed and handed Him over to death. He forgave the people who were nailing Him to the tree. He forgave the generations of people that had ignored the pleas for peace, disregarded the expressions of love and were paying back love with hatred. Jesus did the impossible. He forgave with His Heart. Likewise, when we think of all the actions that are demanded of us as Christians, rise to the higher occasion. Push yourself, particularly during this Lenten Season, to look for those opportunities to find the truth that is beyond reason.  Pay back everyone with love. To offer kindness to those who are kind to you, is only human. To pay back evil and hatred with kindness and love is surely divine. In this state, we come to find that our actions are built on a solid and strong foundation namely, on Jesus Christ, that is Love incarnate. When faith is based on love, we have the ability to open our heart to impossible possibilities. They are all around us.
God is calling you during this Lenten Season to do the impossible and build your actions on Christ. Pay back hatred with kindness and evil with love. If you think about it, whatever your goals may be you can reach those goals – you can make impossible goals possible – when you put love as the center piece of your heart, your life and all of the actions that you take.
Let us now offer a prayer from St. Nerses Shnorhali:(Dedicated to the Holy Spirit)
Spirit of God, true God, who descended into the Jordan and into the upper chamber and who enlightened me by baptism in the Holy font, I have sinned before Heaven and before You. Cleanse me with Your Divine Fire as You purified the Holy Apostle with fiery tongues. Have mercy upon me and a great sinner. Amen.
Image by Gidon Pico from Pixabay

Hitting off the Mark: Lent Day 12

Day 12: Sin/Missing the Mark

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 12: Portobello Seitan Hash

You have made it to the 12th day of Lent. Today is an opportunity to look back and say, Yes, I have done it and to look forward and say, Yes, it is possible to complete! Today is also a day not to get caught up in the foolish pride of accomplishment, and instead understanding that there is a purpose for the Journey. Lent is for the betterment of the self. By improving the self, we will be better able and equipped to affect others, society, our community and ultimately our world.

Today we will look at the problem of sin. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts or themes in the Christian faith is sin. Our understanding, or misunderstanding, of sin stems from models that have been set up for us and have conditioned us since childhood. We associate sin with the bad or evil in our life because evil is punished, or at the very least, it produces unfavorable consequences. Even more, in religion, particularly in the traditional Judeo-Christian system of thought, the punishment for evil is augmented by concepts of condemnation and damnation. These models creep into our adult life and skew our perception of life. They distort our view of what life is what life can be.
The truth is, all of our actions – not just evil, but everything we do – has consequences.  Actions are made up of emotional thoughts and they are acted out by physical means. Newton’s laws of motion tell us that to every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. This applies to the physical world as well as the spiritual world.
So let’s begin by saying that all evil is sin, but not all sin is evil.
Sin means missing the mark. Imagine a large target and in this target is the center circle. That large black circle is called the bull’s eye. Now imagine a bow and arrow in your hands. You pull back on the bow and let the arrow go. The arrow travels through space, through time and eventually it hits its destination. You have aimed for the bull’s eye, you have aimed for perfection, but somehow it didn’t make it. You missed the mark. You may hit quite a ways off of the mark, you might have hit close by. In fact, you may not have hit the target at all! No matter what the case –close or far from the bull’s eye – you  missed the mark! That’s sin. Close or far from the targeted area, it’s a sin. Sin is sin. You aimed for perfection but came short of it. You missed the mark.
Each of us strives for perfection. We all want to hit that mark, we want the best for ourselves, for our families, for our children; but we journey through space and time, much like the arrow and are influenced by many factors including the wind, freak occurrences, lack of focus or unnoticed obstacles, and we do not hit the mark.
When we hit elsewhere, what is our reaction? We go back and try again. We pull the arrow out, put it on the bow one more time and shoot again. In our lives we have opportunities to recreate ourselves and strive for the perfection no matter how many times we miss the goal. When we fail it doesn’t mean anything more than that we are human.
Let’s imagine that same bow and arrow with God being the Archer. Can you imagine what we would see? Every time that God pulls and lets go of the arrow, the arrow hits the bulls eye. It hits the center each and every time. That’s perfection. Now imagine you or I coming and standing in the same spot that God stood. We try, but miss the target. Does that mean we are evil? No. It simply means we are bad shots. It means we hit the wrong place and so we go back and we try again.
With this basic understanding of sin we can understand ourselves, and humanity, not as evil, wicked or worthy of damnation. Rather, we are striving for perfection and fall short. We are in sin.
Life gives us an opportunity try again. Certainly this Lenten Journey is an opportunity to give us a chance to look at the marks that we have missed. We must first pull out the arrows and try again, to fix relationships that have gone sour, to fix perceptions and prejudices, to try again at failed attempts of business, to improve our outlook and attitude, to try again at love. By understanding the nature of sin in this manner, we understand that the improvement we make on our self will have ramifications on the world we live in and the people we touch.
Next week we will take a closer look at what we call the “7 deadly sins” but as a prelude to that I wish to offer you a small little excerpt from a Cherokee diary. Interestingly enough, you will find an lesson that is appropriate for today.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed arrogance, self pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, deception, false pride, superiority and ego. The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, righteousness, compassion and faith.”  
The grandson thought about it for a moment and replied, “But Grandfather, which one wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Searcher of secrets I have sinned against you willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly, grant me, a great sinner forgiveness for since I was born of the holy font until this day I have sinned before you, by my senses and all the members of my body. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. Amen  (I Confess with Faith 8/24)

Praying Sideways to God: The Greater than God Experience. Lent Day 11

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 11: Roasted Potato Fans!

Lenten Journey Day 11 – More Important than God
The eleventh day of Lent is a special one in the journey. Eleven is the first and only prime number of equal proportions. It reminds us of the delicate balance between body, soul and mind. It reminds us of the uniqueness of the primes as well as the uniqueness of our lives. Finding that balance in our lives, of course, is one of the reasons we are taking this journey.

Today’s message comes to us from the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 5. Here Jesus is addressing a large crowd in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon Jesus outlines a way of life and living. His message is very clear. He speaks of our relationships with one another. In so doing, he mentions that there is something more important than God.
Matthew 5:21, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said of men of old, you shall not kill and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment, but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment and whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council and whoever says you fool shall be liable to the Hell of fire.”
Christianity is really a very difficult religion to practice; in fact it has been argued that Christianity has never really been practiced because of statements such as what we read. Jesus tells us that it is not enough to say that murder is bad, but when you have evil in your heart, when you harbor that anger towards your brother, you are committing those acts of evil, those acts of murder. He is saying, “If you have anger and act upon that anger and insult your brother, or if you are angry and talk down to your sister you are already committing murder,”
If we’d like to wipe out hatred and anger from our life, then we have to pay attention to this message. It is so necessary to understanding the revolution Jesus brought. And now, if we read further, we find something even more important. In fact, it’s what Jesus says is even more important than God! As hard as that might be to believe, the Holy Scriptures points to Jesus’ words, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you leave your gift, leave your offering, and go! First be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.”
Reconciling with our brothers! Jesus is telling us it is more important than the worship of God, that is, the celebration of God. Leave your gifts at the altar. Leave God! Go reconcile with your brother and then come back to the altar! He demands that we love one another. To be able to love others is the expression that God demands of us. In that love we begin to understand the unique relationship between us and our heavenly Father.
The Christian message is about people. It’s about harmony and that peaceful existence comes about when we become part of the solution. It’s not about looking up to heaven, but reaching out to one another here on Earth. If there is going to be harmony in our lives, if there is going to be peace in this world, it’s not because I am offering a prayer upwards, but because I am offering a prayer sideways. I am reaching out to my brothers and my sisters and I am going to be the vehicle of love. I’m going to be the one who reaches out and becomes that means of reconciliation. True peace, true harmony, true existence is about us loving with one another.
“You cannot say,” say’s the evangelist John, “that you love God who you do not see when first you do not love the brother who you do see.” It is so critical in the life of the Christian that we understand this very clearly and plainly. God is Love. So let’s repeat that, “You cannot say that you love God who you do not see when first you do not love the brother that you do see.”
Our first obligation is to love one another. By this Jesus tells us we become Christian. By loving, people will know that we are truly His children.
On this eleventh day of Lent as we find harmony and balance, as body soul and mind come together, keep in mind where God wants us to be. The relationships that need to be nurtured, that need to be mended in our lives, this is a perfect time take action on them. The Lenten period is some time to go out and reach out sideways, not only vertically with God, but horizontally with God inside each of us. Reach out to the people around you to say that yes I have faltered, I have sinned. We all make mistakes, but I’m willing to rise above that imperfection and become a child of God.  
By loving one another, put away old habits and problems. Begin each day as a new creation and find that new creation in the loved ones all around me.
Let us conclude with the prayer of St. Nerses 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. Amen (I Confess with Faith 6/24)

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Conditioned Forgiveness – Lent Day 10

Day 10: Forgiveness

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 10: Red Cabbage Slaw

Lenten Journey Day 10 – Forgiveness

Jesus instructs us to pray the “Our Father” prayer. We say, “Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy name…” Along with the request to give us this day our daily bread, there is another request that is uniquely qualified. That is, the fulfillment of the request is dependent on our actions.

We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is a conditional request. Very plainly, we are saying that forgiveness from God is dependent on our willingness to forgive. Additionally, we ask for forgiveness by the same standard by which we forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against up.”
In the “Our Father,” (sometimes referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer”), Jesus has us focus on many different concepts… “Thy kingdom come thy will be done.” Or, regarding temptation, “Deliver us from evil.” Now consider this, that all of the ideas that he introduces in the prayer – heaven, God’s Will, His Holy name, deliverance from evil, temptation, and so on – and consider the complexities involved in these concepts, there is only one area of the prayer that he amplifies. After teaching the prayer (Matthew 6) Jesus continues his instruction about forgiveness. He says, “For if you forgive men of their trespasses your heavenly Father also will forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” It is conditional. It is the one request we make of God on which there is a condition – put upon us by God (by virtue of Jesus’ instruction) and confirmed by us (by virtue of us reciting the prayer). What we are saying is that I expect to be forgiven by the same standard by which I forgive others.  This is a rather difficult one to understand and requires a more mature approach to our faith. In fact, we’ve been taught that God gives, God gives abundantly. We’ve been taught that God forgives. We’ve forgotten, however, that His forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving all those around us as well as forgiving ourselves.
Sometimes the word “debt” is used in place of the word “trespasses” and it offers a better metaphor for understanding the dynamics of forgiveness.  “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…”  Let’s move from the spiritual to the secular. For the sake of this example let us think of it in terms of banking. Who can forgive a debt? Only the one who holds the note. Since the bank holds the note, only the bank can forgive the debt. How?
There are two ways of wiping the slate clean. Either, you have to pay off the debt (we call that a “mortgage” or a “ransom”) or the bank decides on different terms – renegotiating, adjusting, or completely forgiving.  That’s what God has done with us. God says, I hold the note on life. You are indebted to me for this beautiful thing that you have and enjoy. You have the smile of your children, the air that you breathe, the mountains around you and the spray of the seas. You owe Me! But I know it seems overwhelming and you feel you can’t pay Me back. So, I will work out a payment schedule so that you can pay off your debt. Here’s the deal: Love people.  Forgive people. That’s it. Love each other and We’ll call it even.
That’s it.
How will God forgive us our sins? By the same standard we use on other people. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We’re driving the bargain. If we forgive, God forgives.  If we do not forgive others neither will He forgive us. Thus, we begin to understand that if we really want peace and if we want harmony, if we want to find the happiness in life, it is dependent on us and does not come about from some outside force. Many times, we think of peace coming from above. We pray for peace, failing to understand that real peace begins with each and every one us resolving to living in harmony.
God has already given us all of the ingredients for peace.  The recipe for that harmony is in the breath that we take. It is a blessing from God. And all of God’s blessings are the ingredients for peace. That includes the love that we see in the eyes of our children, the majesty of the mountains, the delicate nature of a flower or the crashing waves at the ocean. They all signal the presence of something Great, Awesome and Creative. That tells us that everything has been given to us. The entire universe is there to be enjoyed and to exist with in harmony. Therefore, the only direction where we must look for love and for peace is within. We need to reconcile with brothers and sisters, share the love that God has given. And this road to harmony and reconciliation begins by forgiving.
During Lent I’ve asked you to inventory different aspects of your life. Today I ask you to look to those who have hurt you. Who are they? Remember to look within and include yourself if necessary. Once identified, begin to forgive. Forgive yourself. Forgive others their trespasses, now you have the certainty, which comes from Christ himself, the one who cannot lie, that once you do forgive, God has forgiven you.
Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Beholder of all I have sinned against you in thought word and deed erase the record of my offenses and write my name in the book of life. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith 7/24)
Cover: The Peace Spiral – Created July 7, 2007. Gregory Beylerian
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