Category Archives: spirituality

On Choosing Stillness

Remember our blog post on “Resting in God” from earlier this summer? Well, consider this post a little checkup. So, how is it going for you?

If you are like me, you probably still have a little work to do (maybe “work” isn’t the right word to use here?) in order to improve this area of your Christian life. There is, however, a simple “prescription” that can help us in this area! This “prescription, our healing solution, can be summed up in these two little words: Be still.


Ah, that sounds easy! We simply need to choose to silence our environment and still ourselves in order to better honor the King of All as He reigns in our lives. But oh, how hard these two words are to carry out! Noise, music, t.v., family members, neighbors, work, the internet: all vie for our attention. And once we successfully silence these, we are left with thoughts, ideas, worries, stresses, lists, and all of our own internal dialogue that must also be stilled so that we can focus. It is not easy, this “be still” business. It is not easy at all.

But it is worth the effort. And it is attainable. For example, Our Lord spoke to the prophet Elijah in the still, small sound of a gentle breeze. (see 3 Kingdoms 19:11-13) If Elijah had been paying attention to all that was going on around him he would have missed this interaction with God. Goodness knows he had plenty to distract him from stillness! After all, he was on the run to save his life from the threats of the evil Queen Jezebel; he had been miraculously fed by angels twice; then he fasted for 40 days and nights while traveling all the way to Mt. Horeb; and then a mighty wind-then earthquake-then fire passed right by him before that still sound came his way. So there was plenty of noise around him that he needed to quiet and there were also plenty of distractions within that he needed to still. If Elijah had been anything like me, he probably would have missed Him. But he chose to be still, and he heard the voice of God Himself.

What are we missing by failing to be still?

Read more about being still:

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Read about the difference between silence and stillness; and find an admonition to pursue both, here: https://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/on-silence-and-stillness

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“A common theme in the teaching of the church fathers is stillness. This is not a call to idleness but to a task that is very difficult: to quiet our minds.” So begins this helpful article: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2012/07/be-still-and-know-that-i-am-god.html

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“Stillness, the Orthodox theologian Fr John Breck writes, is important for a number reasons. We need stillness if we are ‘to attain spiritual knowledge.’ It also is essential as we ‘engage in spiritual warfare against the passions and against demonic powers.’ Finally, in stillness we are able to hear ‘the voice of God.’” Read more on why we should cultivate stillness in our lives, here: http://palamas.info/why-cultivate-inner-stillness/

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Help your busy mind to be still with these five practical ways to approach your prayertime: http://www.karenehman.com/2014/02/5-ways-to-sit-at-his-feet/

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“Fr. Thomas Keating in his book on meditation refers to this continuous motion of thoughts running around in our mind as ‘the monkey mind.’ Picture a cage with monkeys jumping around and screeching. They rush at you, then away from you and then at you again, always chattering and making a ruckus. That is often the state of our mind, an endless commotion. Our minds have almost unlimited creativity and freedom. But if we do not harness the great power of our mind it can cause a mess.”

“…Each time we stop our mind from offending, Christ is victorious in us. We saturate our thinking with Jesus. The more active our relationship is with Jesus Christ, the less our struggle is with futile thinking.” Read more here:

http://www.pravmir.com/how-do-i-sit-quietly-before-god/?utm_content=bufferdc4dd&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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Read this article to find a hands-on approach to being still. Let us together neither resent nor react, but rather, let us keep inner stillness as suggested here: http://silouanthompson.net/2011/10/do-not-resent-do-not-react-keep-inner-stillness/

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Find one mom’s lesson about stillness, focusing on St. Gregory of Palamas, here: https://craftycontemplative.com/2012/03/13/a-childs-lesson-on-st-gregory-palamas/

 

On the Lord’s Prayer: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

On the Lord’s Prayer: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

 

This petition in the Lord’s Prayer focuses on something very basic: bread. People all over the world eat bread of some form or another, usually daily, and in some cases, for every meal. Asking God to give us our daily bread comes naturally. After all, we look to Him to supply our needs, even our most basic ones like bread. This phrase serves the dual purpose of reminding us that every single thing we have comes from God, while also giving us the opportunity to acknowledge our dependence on Him. The petition serves a third purpose as well: it begs God to give us the one thing we need the most: His Body, in the Holy Eucharist; that through that Gift we may be saved.

Read more about this petition here: 

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“The prayer for our ‘daily bread’ is normally understood to signify generally all of our bodily needs and whatever we require to sustain our lives in this world. In the spiritual tradition however, this petition, because it literally says our ‘essential’ or ‘super-essential’ bread, is often understood in the spiritual sense to mean the nourishment of our souls by the Word of God, Jesus Christ who is the ‘Bread of Life;’ the ‘Bread of God which has come down from heaven and given life to the world’ (John 6:33-36); the bread which ‘a man may eat of it and not die,’ but ‘live forever.’ (John 6:50-51) Thus the prayer for ‘daily bread’ becomes the petition for daily spiritual nourishment through abiding communion with Christ so that one might live perpetually with God.” ~ Read more at https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/prayer-fasting-and-alms-giving/the-lords-prayer

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“After the Korean War ended, South Korea was left with a large number of children who had been orphaned by the war. We’ve seen the same thing in the Vietnam conflict, in Bosnia, and in other places. In the case of Korea, relief agencies came in to deal with all the problems that arose in connection with having so many orphan children. One of the people involved in this relief effort told me about a problem they encountered with the children who were in the orphanages. Even though the children had three meals a day provided for them, they were restless and anxious at night and had difficulty sleeping. As they talked to the children, they soon discovered that the children had great anxiety about whether they would have food the next day. To help resolve this problem, the relief workers in one particular orphanage decided that each night when the children were put to bed, the nurses there would place a single piece of bread in each child’s hand. The bread wasn’t intended to be eaten; it was simply intended to be held by the children as they went to sleep. It was a ‘security blanket’ for them, reminding them that there would be provision for their daily needs. Sure enough, the bread calmed the children’s anxieties and helped them sleep. Likewise, we take comfort in knowing that our physical needs are met, that we have food, or ‘bread,’ for our needs.” ~ from http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-does-give-us-day-our-daily-bread-mean/

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“The word daily really means ‘substantive,’ that which is essential for survival, which is why we needed it as daily food…The bread signifies here not only bread as such, and not even food in general, but absolutely everything necessary for life, everything which makes possible our existence.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” pp. 55-56

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“The Eucharist, faith in participation in the new food, in the new and Heavenly bread, fulfill the Christian Revelation about food. And only in the light of this revelation, of the joy of this thanksgiving, can one adequately understand the full depth of this fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer; ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Give us, today, the food which is essential for us.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 60

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“ We receive bread, we receive life, but In order that the purpose of this life may be revealed. And the purpose of this life lies in God, in knowledge of him, in love for him, in communion with him, in the joy of his eternity, and in that life which the Gospel calls,’life in abundance.’ (John 10:10)” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 61

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Idea: This short lesson relates “Give us this day our daily bread” to the manna that God provided for His people in the wilderness. It includes a recipe for a yummy treat! http://www.sermons4kids.com/our_daily_bread.htm

On Materialism

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;” (Mt. 6:19)

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of “stuff” is what many people embrace as their goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or the children in our care (such as our Sunday Church School students) need?

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, “I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

As Orthodox Christians, we do not want to forget God forever. (Nor do we want our children or Sunday Church School students to forget Him.) Neither do we want (them) to miss out on experiencing God’s presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be careful to set an example of simplicity and contentment in our own lives; and also encourage our students to place their hope in God, rather than in their things.

Beyond setting an example for them with our own lives, there are many ideas available to help us further teach our students to guard against materialism. Here are a few:

Ask your students what is their most prized possession. Have them write down what it is or draw a picture of it. Then, talk with your students about what is truly important in life. An idea of how one teacher did this is found at: http://www.5thgradecommoncore.com/blog/my-most-prized-possession-lesson. After the discussion, ask the students to look again at their original “most prized possession.” Is it still their most prized? Or is there something else that is more valuable? Ask them to tell the class, and explain why they ended up with what they did.

Encourage your students to focus any comparisons they may make on those less fortunate than them. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “comparison is the thief of joy,” we must be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we do compare, then  we should compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. We can work to this end by teaching our students that not everyone has as much as they do. For example, we can show them the pictures on this page http://borgenproject.org/children-and-their-most-prized-possessions/. The page features pictures of children from different parts of the world, photographed with their most prized possessions. Talk together as a class about the photos and how it feels to have so much more than these real kids do. Brainstorm ways your class can help provide for children in your neighborhood or around the world who do not have enough.

Use the plethora of advertisements (perhaps bringing in one copy of the Sunday paper would suffice to this end) which appeal to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your students. Discuss how the companies who pay for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your students about the products being advertised. Do the students really think the items as amazing as they are advertised to be? What makes them think so/not? (Idea from  http://www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html#.VEf6AseJOuZ.)

Consider challenging your students to join you in the Minimalism Game (seehttp://www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

‘Tis the season… to face materialism head on and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our students. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21)

The Real To-Do List

Teachers always have a to-do list. There is always research to do, a lesson to plan, a classroom management idea to investigate, a craft to try, a classroom display to create, etc. Adding all of that on top of the everyday to-do lists of life such as groceries, laundry, work, etc. can make teachers incredibly busy people. In the midst of this busyness, it is easy to neglect the important things: the spiritual things that really ought to be at the top of each of our to-do lists. The lazy neglect of these truly important things is harmful to our souls and the souls of our Sunday Church School students. Let us be diligent and press on towards the goal of our spiritual “to-do” list, as well!

“What is beautiful and well-made belongs to the world and cannot comfort those who want to live a spiritual life.  There is no wall that will not eventually be torn down.  One soul is worth more than the entire world.  What must we do for the soul?  We must begin spiritual work.  We must have only the right kind of concern.  Christ will ask us what spiritual work we have accomplished, how we helped the world in spiritual matters.  He will not ask what buildings we made.  He will not even mention them.  We will be held accountable for our spiritual progress.  I want you to grasp what I am trying to say.  I am not saying that one must not construct buildings, and not construct them well, but one must take care of the spiritual life first and then mind the rest, and do all that with spiritual discernment.” –  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Athos

This week’s daily posts will consist of quotes from the Spiritual Fathers on our good and divine work. This work includes prayer, study, worship, trust in God, humility, and much more. May these quotes encourage us to keep our priorities right; to work to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost; and to allow God to work in and through our lives. Work done at the true top of our “To-Do List” will trickle down through the rest of the list, sanctifying and blessing all of our work; as well as all those around us. “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov (Readhttp://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/09/17/what-st-seraphim-meant/ for practical suggestions of how to do so.)
“The one thing I need now, more than meeting my deadlines, more than getting more organized, more than more money, more than losing ten pounds, more than vindication, more than being right or known, becomes mercifully clear: Christ Jesus.” ~ fromhttp://blogs.ancientfaith.com/closetohome/2014/09/24/one-firm-unquestionable-thing/, by Molly Sabourin

The Real To-Do List

Teachers always have a to-do list. There is always research to do, a lesson to plan, a classroom management idea to investigate, a craft to try, a classroom display to create, etc. Adding all of that on top of the everyday to-do lists of life such as groceries, laundry, work, etc. can make teachers incredibly busy people. In the midst of this busyness, it is easy to neglect the important things: the spiritual things that really ought to be at the top of each of our to-do lists. The lazy neglect of these truly important things is harmful to our souls and the souls of our Sunday Church School students. Let us be diligent and press on towards the goal of our spiritual “to-do” list, as well!

“What is beautiful and well-made belongs to the world and cannot comfort those who want to live a spiritual life.  There is no wall that will not eventually be torn down.  One soul is worth more than the entire world.  What must we do for the soul?  We must begin spiritual work.  We must have only the right kind of concern.  Christ will ask us what spiritual work we have accomplished, how we helped the world in spiritual matters.  He will not ask what buildings we made.  He will not even mention them.  We will be held accountable for our spiritual progress.  I want you to grasp what I am trying to say.  I am not saying that one must not construct buildings, and not construct them well, but one must take care of the spiritual life first and then mind the rest, and do all that with spiritual discernment.” –  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Athos

 

Following are quotes from the Spiritual Fathers on our good and divine work. This work includes prayer, study, worship, trust in God, humility, and much more. May these quotes encourage us to keep our priorities right; to work to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost; and to allow God to work in and through our lives. Work done at the true top of our “To-Do List” will trickle down through the rest of the list, sanctifying and blessing all of our work; as well as all those around us.

 

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov (Read http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/09/17/what-st-seraphim-meant/ for practical suggestions of how to do so.)

“Boredom is the grandson of depression and laziness is the daughter.  To send her away, labor actively—do not be lazy in prayer, then boredom will pass and zeal will come.  And if you add to this patience and humility, then you will escape much evil.

“If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself.  The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced.  You do not want to, but force yourself.  ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force, (Matt 11:12).’”  – Elder Ambrose of Optina

“(The Pure soul — or truly rich man) is ever laboring at some good work and divine work; even though he be necessarily sometime or other deprived of them (possessions) is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance.” ~ Clement of Alexandria

“It is, therefore, immediately obvious that we must toil with diligence and not think that our goal of piety offers an escape from work or a pretext for idleness, but occasion for struggle, for ever greater endeavor, and for patience in tribulation, so that we may be able to say: ‘In labor and painfulness, in much watching, in hunger and thirst.’ Not only is such exertion beneficial for bringing the body into subjection, but also for showing charity to our neighbor in order that through us God may grant sufficiency to the weak among our brethren, according to the example given by the Apostle in the Acts when he says: ‘I have shown you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak,’ and again: ‘that you may have something to give to him that suffereth need.’ Thus we may be accounted worthy to hear the words: ‘Come ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.’

“Thus, in the midst of our work can we fulfill the duty of prayer, giving thanks to him who has granted strength to our hands for performing our tasks and cleverness to our minds for acquiring knowledge, and for having provided the materials, for that which is in the instruments we use and that which forms the matters of the art in which we may be engaged, praying that the work of our hands may be directed toward its goal, the good pleasure of God.

“Thus we acquire a recollected spirit — when in every action we beg God the success of our labors and satisfy our debt of gratitude to Him who gave us the power to do the work, and when, as has been said, we keep before our minds the aim of pleasing Him.” ~ St. Basil the Great
“But since the mind is something that is in constant motion and incapable of total inactivity, it is necessary that it should be concerned with and eager to practice the commandments of God. So the whole life of men is filled with care and concern and cannot be wholly at leisure, even if many have striven to achieve it. though it is beyond their ability and power. but in the beginning man was created with such a nature, for in paradise Adam was enjoined to till the ground and care for it [Gen. 2:15] and there is in us a natural bent for work, the movement toward the good. Those who yield themselves to idleness and apathy, even though they may be spiritual and holy, hurl themselves into unnatural subjection to passions.” ~ Simeon the New Theologian

“‘There can be no rest for those on earth who desire to be saved,’ says St. Ephrem the Syrian. The struggle is unceasing be it either external or internal. The adversary acts visibly at times through men and other things and at other times, invisibly through thoughts. At times, the adversary appears openly and behaves brutally and cruelly like an enemy and, at other times, under the guise of a flattering friend, he seduces by shrewdness. That which occurs in battle between two opposing armies also occurs to every man individually in battle with the passions of this world. Truly, ‘There can be no rest for those on earth who desire to be saved.’ When salvation comes, rest also comes.” – Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue from Ohrid, April 11

“It is very profitable to occupy oneself with reading the word of God in solitude, and to read the whole Bible intelligently.  For one such occupation alone, apart from good deeds, the Lord will not leave a person without His mercy, but will fill him with the gift of understanding.” – Saint Seraphim of Sarov
“Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  Why did he say ‘strive?’   Because it is not possible for us to become holy and to be saints in an hour!  We must therefore progress from modest beginnings toward holiness and purity.  Even were we to spend a thousand years in this life we should never perfectly attain it.  Rather we must always struggle for it every day, as if mere beginners.” – St. Symeon the New Theologian, (949-1022)