O Give Thanks to the Lord

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“… we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean

                                                     health,

                                                prosperity,

                                            strength,

                                        rest,

                                    joy,

                                light,

                            spiritual knowledge,

                        riches,

                    progress in all things,

                a peaceful life,

            the enjoyment of honors,

        authority,

   abundance and

all the other supposed blessings of this life.

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We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger. On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be; and by these so-called hardships I mean such things as

illness,

discomfort,

       tribulation,

               weakness,  

          unsought distress,  

                             darkness,

                                 ignorance,

                                           poverty,

                               general misfortune,

                                            the fear of loss,

                                                           dishonor,

                                                                  affliction,

                                                                       indigence,

and so on. Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.”  (St Peter of Damaskos, THE PHILOKALIA ,   Kindle Loc. 28948-67)

In the quote above, St. Peter of Damascus (whose Namesday it is today, February 9) gives us a long list of blessings which lead us to God.  These are blessings in this world and in this life – blessings even monastics, who are not supposed to live for this world alone, recognize and appreciate.  Even hardships (of which he also makes a long list, and monastics and non-monastics alike can agree they are things we want to avoid) become a blessing because they can increase certain virtues in us as we deal with them in faith, hope and love.

All of the above  was simply an introduction to the good news I can share about my own health.  First, let me thank all of your for your continued prayers as indeed the last 4 years have been difficult with 4 major surgeries plus chemotherapy for cancer.  This week I had both an oncology appointment and a 3-month post operative appointment with my neurosurgeon.    The good news in oncology is no news – labs continue to show no change (I continue to be anemic but that seems expected due to the surgeries and the on-going chemo).  I will have my next CT scan in about a month as they keep vigilant watch for any new tumors.  There have been none since the lung resection surgery in May of 2015.

The neurosurgeon is totally happy with the spinal fusion which seems to be holding in place.  I can walk without a cane and have none of the crippling back pain that led me to accept surgery.  I will have to live with a number of physical limits, but I no longer need the back brace (pictured above, in case you can’t recognize what it is).  That back brace first hugged me on November 8  and embraced me like a python 23.5/7 ever since.   My cane (pictured here) – I was able to lay aside immediately after surgery.   It now stands in a corner awaiting a new walking partner.  The good news is for the time being I need neither of those devices, though I have a handful of other tools and devices which help me pick up things, reach things, get my socks and shoes on and the like.   My back will never be what it was years ago, and will never be “normal” (though it is now a “new normal”) but I am able to continue to function, for which I am grateful daily.

I have learned to rejoice in the blessings of life and to see blessings in the hardships as well.   I have learned to admire those who cope with and even overcome disabilities.  I am ever thankful for those who have invented the medical devices that made my surgeries possible as well as those who improved them through engineering.  I am grateful for all of those who have learned to use technology in the medical sciences – doctors, nurses and technicians.

I give thanks to God that God has entrusted such wisdom in the sciences to help us all.  God has made it possible for us humans to remove all obstacles to our being healed by God.  Medical science removes the physical obstacles to our healing, and repentance removes the spiritual obstacles to our becoming whole and human.  Medicine and confession are thus both gifts from God which make healing possible.  Both require human help and intervention.

I have accepted that in this life there are trials and illness.  A few have asked me as to why instead of healing us, God doesn’t just prevent disease and injuries in the first place.  I can only speak about reality – in this world, we have sickness, sorrow and suffering.  Perhaps in some other world it doesn’t exist, but in our world it does, and it can serve a purpose, even be beneficial to us, though it doesn’t always seem so.    I can ask why is grass green instead of being orange or purple?  Maybe in some other world it is, but in this world, the only reality I know, it is green and must be so of necessity.  Photosynthesis requires it, we and animals depend on it for food and oxygen.  I also am reminded of a quote from St. John Cassian:

“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me (cf. Luke 22:42). Always entreat Him in this way – that His will be done. For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.”  ( THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 1326-29)

In the Beginning: God Created His Temple

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“Time! Jews in Jesus’s day and Jews in our own day have a very special sense of time. Time is moving forward in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a middle, and an end—unlike some other visions of time, in which everything is cyclical, going around and around and constantly returning to the same point. The Jewish view of time is part of the Jewish view of God and creation: God has a purpose for his good creation, a purpose to be worked out in time. Indeed, the Jewish people think of themselves as living within the long story of how that purpose is to be worked out.

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           But already, in the opening of the Bible, there is another feature. When God made the world, he “rested” on the seventh day. This doesn’t just mean that God took a day off. It means that in the previous six days God was making a world—heaven and earth together—for his own use. Like someone building a home, God finished the job and then went in to take up residence, to enjoy what he had built. Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in. And the seventh-day “rest” was therefore a sign pointing forward into successive ages of time, a forward-looking signpost that said that one day, when God’s purposes for creation were accomplished, there would be a moment of ultimate completion, a moment when the word would finally be done, and God, with his people, would take his rest, would enjoy what he had accomplished. –N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus, p. 136

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And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-32)

Thanksgiving (2016)

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St. John of Kronstadt says, ‘Prayer is a state of continual gratitude.’ If I do not feel a sense of joy in God’s creation, if I forget to offer the world back to God with thankfulness, I have advanced very little upon the Way. I have not yet learnt to be truly human. For it is only through thanksgiving that I can become myself. Joyful thanksgiving, so far from being escapist or sentimental, is on the contrary entirely realistic – but with the realism of one who sees the world in God, as the divine creation.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p 55)

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From Icon to Idol

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26-28)

According to the Scriptures, God created humans in God’s own image and likeness.  In the Greek text, it says God made us as icons (Greek for image) of God.  We are living icons – we breathe, we move, we see, we sense, we hear, we think, we create, we reproduce, we have dominion over other creatures.

“… then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  (Genesis 2:7)

Though we are in God’s image and even are said by the Word of God to be “gods” (John 10:34 quoting Psalm 82:6), we are not idols.   Psalm 115:3-8 describes exactly what an idol is:

Our God is in the heavens;
he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.

Idols show no sign of life, but are lifeless works of human hands.  The ancient idol makers had no technology to add animation to their creations as today’s media animators could.

When one thinks about the description of an idol – mouths but cannot speak, ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see, feet but cannot walk and incapable of speaking – one realizes that in the New Testament, the result of sin and evil in the world is that humans have been reduced from icons of God to mere idols.  Sickness and disease have turned us into idols.  Those that make idols will become like them.  So many of the Church Fathers thought idolatry was the main human sin that brought the downfall of humanity.

We can take a quick glance at a few Gospel passages to see how humans, as a result of sin, have become exactly like idols:

“Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”  (Mark 8:18)

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.  (Matthew 13:13-17)

Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; it was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him.   (John 12:37-41)

“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever.”  (Romans 11:8-10)

And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  (Matthew 11:4-5)

All the healing miracles of Christ – sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, voice to the dumb, walking to the lame – undo the effects of the fall.  They turn us from being like idols into being in God’s image to restore us to being icons of God.

 The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”  (John 9:15)

In Genesis 2 God takes the clay of the earth to form the first human, but doesn’t form a lifeless idol.  Rather, God breathes into the clay and the human becomes a living soul.  In John 9, Christ again takes the clay of the earth, which an idol-maker could form into the lifeless idol, and grants sight to the blind, restoring the image and likeness of God to the created human.

 

 

Let Us Rejoice in the Lord

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth, And the heights of the mountains are His;  

Olympia National Park by Seth Bobosh
Olympic National Park by Seth Bobosh

For the sea is His, and He made it, And His hands formed the dry land.  

Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh
Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.

(Psalm 94:1-7, OSB)

Every Day Naturally I Praise the Lord

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I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.

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Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.

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I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.

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All Your works shall praise You, O LORD,
And Your saints shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.

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The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

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(select verses from Psalm 145)

The Goodness Which God Sees

‘And God saw that it was good.’ [Genesis 1]

It is not to the eyes of God that things made by Him afford pleasure, nor is His approbation of beautiful objects such as it is with us; but, beauty is that which is brought to perfection according to the principle of art and which contributes to the usefulness of its end. He, therefore, who proposed to Himself a clear aim for His works, having recourse to His own artistic principles, approved them individually as fulfilling His aim.” (St Basil, The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, p 53)

 

According to St. Basil, the goodness or beauty of anything is determined by its original purpose in God’s creation or plan.  The more perfectly something fulfills God’s original intention for it determines whether God sees it as good/beautiful.    God, not being a creature like  us, does not have physical eyes, so God does not “see” things as we do.  God “sees” things in terms of their fulfilling the aim He originally  had for the object.   This is why God sees even our spiritual struggles as good and beautiful – as even if we struggle, we are moving toward being human as God intended us to be.

St. Basil says God is an artist following the artistic principle that values creating things which serve a purpose.  Beauty is thus related to purpose, to truth.  It is not purely subjective, but can be measured.  Everything which God created is purposeful, even if we do not know the purpose.

In this thinking, we can come to understand how scientists in revealing the purpose of anything in the universe are helping us to interpret and see the true beauty of God’s creation!

And, as the purpose of each created thing is understood, as each mystery is fathomed, we also are learning about the Creator.  God is being made known through His creation.  One thing which continues to amaze is the depth and mystery of God as Creator.

Behold the Beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4)

I saw the sun rising above the horizon, framed between the earth and the thick cloud bank.  I was reminded that the sun is not affected by events on earth, no matter how wide spread they are.  It steadily shines, even when we can’t see it.

And the delicacy and intricacies of the different flowers cause me to marvel at the diversity in nature, and beauty which like quantum activity requires there to be an observer.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder even though the observer doesn’t create the beauty.

I stop to admire the glories of God in the small things of this earth.  It is worth stopping to note God is discovered in the details.

And my favorite insect, the bees are back to engage in life-giving behavior.  In this, they do God’s will and reveal God to us.

Flowers and bees, together they form a symbiotic relationship that speaks to us humans of our relationships both with creation and with God.  We need both for life.

 

Welcoming Spring

The vernal equinox reminds us that the seasons are in constant motion, time for a change.

The clouds of spring water the earth which blossoms with new life.

Like the seasons, the flowers break into our world and then pass away, as do all things.

Even fading beauty uplifts the heart and delights the eye, giving hope that always there will be something that arises even from the dead of winter.

The scents, sounds and sights of spring may draw our minds to Paradise, yet there, since fruit was in season and in abundance, it must have been more like an eternal summer or fall.

 

Here, we can praise God for beauty springs eternal, as does hope.

 

A Perception of the Creator

For from the greatness and beauty of created things
comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. 

(Wisdom of Solomon 13:5)

Some prognosticators have been predicting a beautiful autumn in our area.  Weather conditions were apparently just right this past spring and summer for an awesome display of autumn colors.

I took my camera out for a couple of walks in my neck of the woods and indeed the autumn display was an amazing array of colors.  Didn’t need to go very far at all to witness the beauty in creation.

I like to imagine God as artist enjoying adding all the color to the landscape.

In 1 Chronicles 16:33-36 we read these words:

Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Say also:
“Save us, O God of our salvation,
and gather and rescue us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
and glory in your praise.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.”

Isaiah the Prophet writes in 55:11-12:

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

The only sad part is that the peak color lasts such a very short time.  The winds and rains soon wash out and wash away the colors leaving us with a winter landscape.

You can find all my photos of this year’s  awesome autumn at Fr. Ted’s Photo Albums.

You can find links to other photoblogs I’ve posted at Fr. Ted’s Photoblogs.