Follow the Crosses

Hilary and I were blessed to spend the weekend at the monastery.  The first weekend of spring held temps in the 20’s and 30’s, but there was the promise of new life in the intense sunshine and the few bits of color found along the way.

There’s a trail through the forest at the monastery marked by crosses painted on the trees.  It matters a bit more in the summer, when everything is lush, but it was still a fun scavenger hunt for Hilary to find the next cross around the bend.  She kept running ahead calling, “Follow the crosses.  Just follow the crosses!”  I spent the entire weekend thinking about crosses.

 

On this, the third Sunday of Lent, the entire Church remembers the Cross.  We’re halfway through the Fast, and our wise mother Church knows that we are perhaps starting to show signs of getting weary.  So, we bring out the Cross and fall on our faces before it in Church.  It is a reminder of what we’re striving for.  Where we’re going.  It’s a source of refreshment.  A push and a motivation to make it through the next few weeks.

But the crosses don’t end with Lent.  The crosses are everywhere.  We each have our own personal set of crosses, and we carry them around daily.  Sometimes we set them down when they’re too much, and then God sends someone to pick them up and help us carry them.  Sometimes we avoid our crosses and hide from them, but they’re always there in the shadows…waiting.  Sometimes we don’t see the beauty in the crosses, the shining majesty of the lessons learned on the hardest path.

We can’t get to Christ without our crosses.  He didn’t hang on His, so we wouldn’t have to.  He hung on His cross, so we wouldn’t have to fear ours.  Carrying our cross is not easy.  It’s hard and ugly and painful.  But it’s also a refreshment.  A little bit of color on a cold, spring day.  The promise of life to come.

If we let ourselves see it, there’s a softness; a stillness; a peace in carrying our crosses.  For the Christian life, as complex as it is, is simply about following the crosses.  Just follow the crosses.  You will find God there.

 

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Extraordinary

 

It’s another busy Lenten week.  Extra services; extra opportunities to visit monasteries and attend retreats; extra church responsibilities; extras and more extras.  As I look at my calendar and the state of my heart, I’m thinking today about the extras, and what the extras say about the ordinary.  Extra can mean special, exciting, and thrilling.  Like a surprise celebration or a double serving of dessert.  It can also mean a burden, a wearying, or a challenge.  Like extra loads of laundry or yet another unexpected errand in an already full day.

Ordinary seldom seems to be as double-sided in common usage, though.  Described not for what it “is” but for it “is not”.  Ordinary is not special, exciting, or thrilling.  It almost always appears as a burden, a wearying, and a challenge.  Ordinary is the moments between the punctuation of extras.  The path…not the destination.

But what a shame that is.  To cling to the extras, when half the time we just see them as more work anyway.  And all the while there is ordinary: the pillar, the comfort, and the stability.  Underappreciated.  Unrecognized.

Hilary and I were blessed to venerate the miraculous Kursk-Root Icon this week.  I didn’t know we would have the opportunity to do so until just hours before.  Making room in my ordinary to-do list for this extra thing wasn’t easy.  As I stood in the church in the candlelight, as the sun set on an ordinary day that turned out to be extraordinary, I thought about my own icons at home.  I was humbled in the presence of an icon that has touched lives for over 700 years.  It has brought out the best and the worst of men.  It has shown God to the masses.  But my faith teaches me that each and every icon is an image of Christ.  From the flower bedecked wonderworking images that bring us to our knees to the paper images tucked in the pages of my prayerbook, they are all the same God.  The love, the faith, the reverence showed by the people to the Kursk-Root Icon was a beauty that touched me deeply in my soul.  I am so very grateful for the blessing to have been part of that.  But back home, as I arranged the paper copies of the icon we were given in our icon corner, I looked at the icons already on the walls in a different light.  How haphazardly I venerate them some days.  How swiftly I walk by and do not even notice them some days.  How quickly I forget their presence as I live my ordinary life.  All icons are an image of Christ, and whenever I venerate them with purity of heart, they are all miraculous.  Each and every one.  I am blessed in my ordinary day to venerate any icon.  I shouldn’t need an extra day and an extra opportunity to feel the wonder. 

I bake the prosphora for my parish’s midweek services. That usually means that I only bake a couple times a month. With the extra Lenten services, now prosphora baking is a weekly need. Each Saturday, I get up, start the coffee pot and start the dough. The bread that will become the body of Christ is to be prepared with peace and prayer. A quiet activity. A holy work. So, I clear my schedule and mind each Saturday, the busiest day of the week, to do this thing properly.  Because I do it so often, I sometimes am tempted to do it in haste, as just another kitchen duty.  I must stop and remind myself firmly that this is not another thing to be done.  It is a gift.  A blessing to have the opportunity to give to God, and a blessing to receive the gift back from Him of prayer and peace.  How often the rest of the work I do in the same kitchen is far from a holy work filled with prayer. Children and husbands have a relentless, demanding need to eat, and at the low moments, it does feel oppressive. The constant cook, clean up, cook, clean up.  How frequently I serve them meals not made with peace and prayer, but with bitterness and drudgery. How different it would be if I cleared the busy cloudiness in my heart to cook and bake for my family the same way I do for the church.  With prayer.  A holy work. An ordinary Saturday dinner prepared in an extraordinary state of peace.

 

 

Sometimes it seems like Lent is all about the extras, but this year, I want it to be about the ordinary.  I pray that God will change my view of the daily duties, interactions, and experiences.  Extras aren’t bad.  Frequently they are a gift from God.  The extra special times that make us feel joy are a welcome gift.  The extra special times that bring sorrow and struggle are not always so welcome, but they are just as much of a gift.  The extras are beautiful, but they wouldn’t shine as bright without their contrast to the ordinary.  A simple day.  A holy work.  The wonder.  The miracle.  Extraordinary.