1. The End of the Lenten Journey

(Please note: I entered two pieces this weekend, please read the former first, if you haven't already.)

When I woke up the next morning I could see in the distance that my journey was almost at an end. Honestly, I have to say that I was glad. It wasn’t that I didn’t still love the Lenten shore but I was hungry and the buildings and noise were annoying me so much anyway that I figured that it may not matter if I wasn’t on the shore anymore. The gems taught me about my weaknesses and how I needed to change; I was very grateful for that.

Two weeks have gone by already and I don’t remember if it was before or after that morning when I encountered the demons. I don’t want to give them much publicity so I won’t go into detail about how they tried to erase everything I had learned. Some people blame the demons for just about everything bad. I don’t think it matters where the problem comes from; it should be treated with the same cure. I figure that it’s worse to think that nothing is your fault because the devil made you do it, than to think that you have a lot of growing up to do. So I usually take the blame. This way, the demons learn that bringing me down will only make me a little better in the long run. They don’t bother me too much, but at the end of this Lenten journey their pranks were a little obvious.

I consoled myself by turning my mind to the journey Jesus took into the desert after His baptism. That must have been the very first Lent. It was Jesus’ own Lent that we want to emulate on the Lenten shore. I thought a lot about how He was hungry at the end too and how the devil bugged Him at the end too. 1) If you’re hungry turn this stone into bread. --Man shall not live by bread alone. 2) If you’re the son of God, why don’t you jump off this roof and let the angels catch you. –Don’t put God to the test. 3) If you will worship me, I’ll give you all the lands you see. – You shall worship God alone. Remembering how the demons tested Jesus Christ made me feel stronger.

I walked slowly and deliberately off the long Lenten shore and into Holy Week with the precious gems in my heart. On Monday, my friend John died. John had spent the past twelve years fighting internal cancerous ‘beasties’. He tried so hard to live and he tried so hard to die well that some mornings he woke up not quite sure what kind of a day it would be, a living day or a dying day. When God wouldn’t take him on his dying days, John wondered why not. After all those years of living days and dying days, God finally took John on the most perfect day of the year. Most of John’s friend went to church that night, so they could light candles for him and think about him a lot in the presence of the Lord. This way John would have all the help he could get to make his holy journey. We didn’t just think about John on the day he died, we were in church every day for a week, and sometimes twice a day lighting those candles for John and thinking about him in the presence of the Lord. If God wondered what to do with John, He didn’t have to wonder for long. All our love was pushing John to the bright side. I’ll have to remember that when it’s my time to go.

This year as I looked up at Christ on the cross I could tell that He wasn’t very happy about what He had to go through. But for the first time, instead of looking at Him suffering and feeling sorry for Him las if I were watching a movie or a play, I saw Him as being baptized up there with us. Since Saint Paul said we are baptized into His death, then His death is our baptism. It hurt less to be baptized than to be hated and killed. There we were being crucified, baptized, and singing like angels about it as if it was all one thing.

Since it has been almost two months since the western sister has even thought about Lent and Easter, it is time to finally close the door on this chapter about Lent and Easter, except to remind everyone that it is Easter every Sunday because Jesus Christ is still risen.

2. About More Lenten Gems

With my heart still warm from the knowledge that the three Climacus gems imbued in me I continued to stroll down the Lenten shore. We pilgrims would cast knowing smiles to each other when we met on the path but we would never speak. I don’t know why not.

Naturally I preferred to look out to sea, but I should tell you that the shadows and noise from the buildings to the west were hard to ignore. The inhabitants of those buildings never came to the shore but on several occasions their magnetic energy nearly pulled me in and away from my path.

I longed for a time when I could qualify for a first class Lenten journey on a remote and lovely new shore but I knew that if I couldn’t be completely satisfied with my third class accommodations then I would never deserve better. So, I had to try hard to pretend that the city wasn’t there by looking down or out to sea as much as possible. If I were a horse I would have asked my master for blinders.

One evening before setting up camp to rest I spotted two new gems and rushed over to them.

Looking down upon them I suddenly realized that the noise wasn’t only coming from the buildings but from within. So I plopped myself down to receive their healing salve. Hopefully the gems would make the noise stop for me.

There were two gems. Unlike before, I sensed that I was to pick up one at a time. The first gem I picked up introduced itself as a Basil gem, for indeed it was a lovely luminous green. The Basil gem warned me not to walk alone too much. The gem explained that it is impossible to love and to be humble like Jesus Christ when there was no ugly one near to love or to challenge me. “The solitary pilgrim,” it explained, “only serves his own interests and is too easily defrauded.” I know that many people want to avoid the pain of arrows by trying to hide in isolation; too bad that such an easy true refuge does not exist. Basil reminded me that Jesus spent most of His time in the world interacting with people in small groups and large crowds. Then it asked me to place it back on the sand. Without hesitation I complied wanting to think more about Basil’s message.

The next gem I picked up was another Climacus gem. It told me that it was related to the earlier gems and was sent ahead to tell me more about how to manage incoming heart-targeted arrows. This gem was a twin, like an egg with a double yolk. It first asked me why humans, when they are making wine select only the ripest, sweetest grapes, but when it comes to picking characteristics in others we insist on choosing only the most sour and unripe qualities. Then the other twin answered its own question when it said: Humans seem to be naturally suicidal. Isn’t it bad enough that the heart has been hurt? Why do we continually remember a wrong thereby inflicting more damage than the initial wound? The twins then sang for me the most melodious lullaby I had ever heard. They resonated perfectly with each other, their harmony sounding like a large choir of angels.

Sufficiently shamed by their message but comforted by their chanting I set the twin Climacus gems down on the sand and fell into a deep sleep beside them.

3. A Pool of Gems

The royal blue gem disturbed me, the one of Saint John Chrysostom which said that when the heart has received hurt, it affects the body accordingly. A good heart uses the pain as a kind of ingredient to send vigor to the rest of the body, which I suppose includes the mind; a weak heart sends poisons to the mind and throughout the bloodstream.

Cancer and disease probably ensue from that bad blood. Anyway, that’s what my dying father told me. He said that resentment was a black poison that runs through your bloodstream until it kills you. I wonder if he too found that blue gem on the Lenten shore when it was too late.

As I strolled along the long wide shore contemplating my weak heart I must admit I was beginning to despair when a little pool of gems caught my eye in the distance.

The gems glistened near each other. They called me to pick them up all together. When I did the warm sand sifted through my fingers. Then they chanted in perfect harmony, “For a weak heart we are exercise, for a sick heart, we are medicine.”

When the chanting ceased the gems delivered their messages to me one by one. The first gem, a pink Climacus gem, told me to seek healing right after the blow. It said a fresh wound is easier to heal than an old neglected and festering one.

The second, an emerald green Climacus gem, chimed in to remind me that if the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, as He is said to be and indeed He is, and if anger is disturbance of the heart, then there is no greater obstacle to the presence of Spirit in me than anger.

The third, an amethyst Climacus gem, told me a story. It said that there were three men who received the same arrow to their hearts at the same time. The first felt it keenly, but did not speak; the second was delighted by the thought of the reward the injury would bring him and he felt compassion for the wrongdoer; the third wept fervently at the thought of the harm his offending neighbor was suffering. At work, the gems explained, were fear, the sense of reward due, and love.

I was in awe but I wanted to cry when I heard these gems speak. Somehow I felt worse to know how I had failed my mind and my heart for so many years. They shined so brightly and I was so dull. But they inspired in me a desire to own them. They grew warmer in my hand at that thought but asked me to lay them back on the shore for other pilgrims to find. Then they promised me more like them on my journey. I kissed each of them good-bye when I set them down but the first gem called me a fool because only the shine of them would be left behind. It told me that by the warmth I had felt in my hand their messages already began to work on my heart.

I don’t want to die.

4. War and Peace

Gem #2

Very early in my stroll down the Lenten beach my eye caught sight of this royal blue gem. I can’t remember if it was the first or the second since the gems come out of my pocket in a different order. When I saw this gem I knew instantly that it was valuable like a diamond that spits shiny rainbow stars. It’s valuable because it’s something that everyone wants but only a few people have. You’ll see what I mean later.

Everyone hates war because we can’t stand the thought of the bloody mess that separates fleshy bonds of love, like sons from mothers. Meanwhile, almost every single person alive fires invisible arrows that cause invisible bloody wounds that don’t just separate flesh, but worse. The bloody mess that invisible arrows cause can dissolve love completely. I’d rather be separated in the flesh and close in love than to be separated from love and close in flesh. Who wouldn’t? The invisible world of the spirit needs more anti-war activists.

Most people shoot their arrows without even knowing it. Others shoot without a target at all because they just like to shoot. Some people work at being good archers. It doesn’t matter whether you got shot by an intentional arrow or an unintentional one, it hurts and you want an aspirin.

God knows that aspiring immortals will never be shielded from invisible bullets and arrows, not even if they flee to the desert to escape sharp-shooters, so there must be some good that can come from invisible war, and this is what it is.

Saint John Chrysostom placed this gem on my beach early on to help me see how far I have to go before I am ready for the land of immortality.

When the heart has received hurt, it affects the whole body accordingly. If its temperament be disordered, it mars all, if it be rightly ordered, it profits all. If any other part of the body should become corrupt, while the heart remains sound, it easily shakes off what is evil in them also.

In my words: no one can hurt an immortal heart. A stabbed immortal heart can even heal an aching body.

The most important thing aspiring immortals can do is to make sure that they have not deluded themselves into thinking that the land of milk and honey is just around the corner. That’s why piercing arrows and disappointments may actually be heaven-sent cardiograms.

5. The Easter-n Echo

Today the Eastern Sister celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ loudly. Lent is finished. Mother has painted the crucifixion Story with small fine strokes and golden light-filled hues, dipping her brush into the well of prophets and angels. The door to immortality has been opened to humanity.

I promised to pass around the gems that I collected on the Lenten shore. I won’t dump my pockets like they were sandy seashells. Instead, I’ll take one out at a time and polish it up before I pass it on, okay?

When you receive it feel free to lick it and rub it on your chest to see if it glows for you. Then, pass it on.

But you must first wash your hands. Gems are easily sullied by the grunge of the world and human body oils of unwashed hands. Here is a little linen cloth to place the gem on that you will receive. Keep the cloth for the next gem.

Your immortal soul is easily deceived by the cares of the world and the pride of life. Whatever separates you from love separates you from life. LOVE is the linen cloth.

Gem Number One:

The world says that you are known by the company you keep. How then did Judas, who hung out with Disciples, and hear every word that came out of the golden mouth of the golden man----Christ, become so treacherous? And also, how did the robber who was crucified beside Christ, who hung out with demons inside and out end up becoming the first to land on the heavenly moon?

A man is not known by the company (s)he keeps, but by the kind of spirit (s)he entertains in his or her heart.

6. To Borrow Lent

If I owned time I think I would keep it in a vault, like cigars with temperature controls and precise humidity levels so it would stay fresh, just like new.

Oh, I know that no one can own all of time, like no one can own every building in the world. We have to share. I know that a small piece of time would have to be good enough for me.

If I owned a piece of time that I could be with whenever I wanted, we would play together maybe sing, maybe build snowmen, maybe dance. I would never bruise it with yelling or fear. And I would be very careful; not to irritate it with the caustic fumes of burnt cake.

Oh well, this fantasy is too silly. I own no time at all. I can’t even capture a second in my jar. All I can ever hope for is to be able to borrow some from the Time-Maker who owns it all because He concocted it all with His big whirling planets in the enormous sky of lights. Maybe, He would lend me some time.

If I could borrow a piece of time, which is all I can ever hope for I would borrow Lent. I love the way I can step into Lent and everything becomes different like suddenly I’m on another planet where the air is cleaner and quieter and deeper.

Lent feels wide because it is so empty. It feels like the seashore in the winter. When I stroll down the long Lenten shore, wrapped in fur I find treasures in the sand, diamonds, sapphires and rubies, little bits of starlight. When I pick them up and put them in my pocket I am suddenly lighter and brighter! It’s glorious!

I wish I could borrow Lent at the Library and renew it before I had to give it back. I wish I could borrow Lent in bleak November or sultry July when my feet are stuck in mud. But I can’t. Nope. The Time-Maker says Lent is only available on the day Jesus enters the desert to pray for 40 days and it must end when He returns from death. Jesus won’t do that every day. Jesus’ journey forms the magical transforming landscape of Lent. He left those jewels on the Lenten beach for us to find. How they glisten and calm frigid air.

Oh no, I can’t even borrow Lent. It won’t budge for me to lift it into September or December, or in my pocket. Lent won’t move so I must wait patiently for Lent to borrow me.

7. To Borrow Lent - Explained

There was a time long long ago when Lent, the 40 day period before Easter, was a special season of dramatic change. On the Tuesday before Lent, in homes around the land, families all ate pancakes for supper. That was because they had to use up their eggs and milk for the upcoming fast from meat and dairy. After dinner, most people gathered in the square for some final worldly merriment (Mardi Gras) and then the villagers and the city dwellers went home sober in the sense of the approaching Lenten season. Like preparing for an international journey, the mental transition from normal life to Lenten life came in small steps towards the boat.

Twenty-first century men, women and children love to leave their normal existences for another. Children go to Sesame Street and fairyland; adults drink wine and whiskey, watch movies and read good books. Some adults prefer the other places so much that they become addicted to whatever will take them there. The line between here and there becomes very blurry and they like it that way.

Lent is a season wherein a person can place him or herself in a very different world too by fasting from certain foods and from other aspects of the normal life. Instead of adding to escape the world one does a lot of subtracting. Within the void that is created, contact can be made with the Holy Spirit of God. The time not spent eating and watching is spent listening to prayers, chants at church, listening for God to speak to the heart; reading the writings of very holy people in history and just resting in that peaceful void.

That void is the wide and empty beach described in To Borrow Lent. It is a very special place that a person can easily create for him or herself. And it is a place where spiritual jewels are found. After a person has experienced Lent the way it used to be, the way the Church intended it to be, (s)he will want to go back there. That person is sorry that the Lenten experience cannot happen at other times of the year. No matter how hard one tries to replicate Lent though, it can’t be replicated. This is why, when the Lenten season arrives, it presents a unique opportunity to experience an extraordinary world without the aid of intoxicants, literature or film. Lent offers a most interactive and fruitful escape from our world. Plenty has been written on the subject, find and read.

Eastern and Western Christians calculate the time of Easter differently. This year, 2008, Western Easter arrives on March 23rd and Eastern Easter arrives on April 27th. Even though Western Easter is fast approaching, the good news is that Lent has just begun for the East. For more information about how to observe Lent for maximum jewel finding, please email me at life@evangelinehopkins.com.

8. Two Easters One Christ

Today in normal time Western Christendom focuses on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ in passion plays and church services of many styles because it is Good Friday, while for the East houses of worship are dark and parking lots empty. This Sunday the difference will be a little more dramatic. Joyous children of the West, whose mothers are dawning Easter bonnets and whose baskets brim with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and sugary peeps will celebrate the end of the long sacrificial Lent while in the East the most devout will be grateful for a little olive oil and a sip of wine.

The rest of the world looks on shaking their heads and wondering what the scandal was that caused the marriage of the West and East to fail. Then they shrug their shoulders and go back to hot dogs and a ball game.

And yet no one seems to think twice that while it’s daytime in Dayton, they are sleeping in Slovakia and yet there is only one sun. Geography shows us how it is possible to be far apart and yet similar. The truth is that there is only one Son of God: Jesus Christ, and one day: Friday upon which He was nailed to the Cross, and one day on which He showed the world that it didn’t really kill Him. For West and East alike, that is every Friday and every Sunday.

For those who only commemorate Good Friday once a year and Easter once a year there is a big difference between Western and the Eastern Christendom. These precious folks may not be aware of Church-time. They think we aren’t celebrating together, but they are wrong because we are celebrating together. While the one sister is celebrating quietly the other sister is all showy adorned with baubles and bells. While the sun shines in Slovakia, sleeping Susie in Dayton dreams. They are living in the same moments of time, and so is Christendom.

Calendars, our two ways of calculating when we want to be loud, have not separated us as much as some think. The most wonderful part of it all happens when we cross the street to cry louder with our sister on her Good Friday and rejoice raising that glass of wine on Sunday giggling about the holy supernatural phenomenon that happens when the Son rises in the West first. Both good sisters know that it is not ever really normal time in Christendom anyway.

9. The Never Ending Easter

A giant sigh of relief bellows from the behind the western hills. It is the chorus of Christians who have completed the days of abstinence, some from meat others from television and beer. No matter how far or relatively short their steps out of the world were, out of the world they were and glad to be back. With them enter a certain paschal glow, and a bevy of mysterious Mona Lisa smiles.

While in the east, on the other side of the valley of the shadow of death, the full moon calls for Passover, the days when yamaka protected heads walk in groups of four and five to Temple to worship the powerful God who parted the Red Sea so grandparents could escape the tyranny of slavery. And on each side of their path stand the Orthodox Christ-lovers, heads bowed with respect and patience as the yamakas pass-by.

Deep in Lenten love, learning how to listen, how to be humble, how to pray; the people of the East visit the souls of saints through their writings. This is the season of transformation. The time will have passed too quickly when it’s over, when the Son has risen in the East.

Lent will finally end for everyone, Passover passes too, but Easter never ends. Jesus will always be alive, healing, making miracles of millions of fish, showing dominion over demons, and wishing people would walk on water. He is still the go-between, the facilitator and the biggest brother. He still loves to teach and to outwit the nitwits, and He still loves to demonstrate the difference between truth and ego. Some things never change. Easter never ends.

9.5 Morning in the Land of Immortality

Good morning aspiring immortal. I hope your day started well. Mine started at 4 am when out of a deep dreamy sleep I heard my very old dog chirping incessantly like a broken machine. That meant she wanted attention. But I figured it meant God wanted me to wake up and write to you.

Today, I will be brief. When we go to a land where there will be no end of time, it will be easier to live in the moment. That's because it will be harder to imagine eternity; no expectations. Without realizing it, just like a freshly turned-on computer resets itself, so do our brains. When our dreamy eyes open, our brain reminds us of who we are, how old we are, how healthy we are and if we are happy based on certain expectations of the future. Almost instantly we set ourselves up for failure.

Since none of us knows when this life will be taken away, like those poor earthquake victims in China or those whom the cyclone or the recent tornados hit, then we almost always reset to a wrong assumption because our calculation includes many things about the future that we don't know. This is especially true if our happiness is based on circumstances.

Whether we wake up on old earth or the new immortal earth, we deal with time best when we reset to here and now. Practice conquering the moment, tell God how much you love Him, forgive everyone who needs it, and take a deep breath of fresh air. There is nothing to fret about in this moment of pure life. Today's daily bread is a peaceful heart.

10. May You Rise Too

I have been blog-quiet for the past few Lenten weeks because it has been a time of drinking the nectar of the Saints and of the Church. I will return to share with you, my readers, the gems that I found on the long Lenten shore as described in an earlier blog. It has been quite an interesting journey. For today, Holy Friday in the East, I want simply to wish you peace and joy in this life as well as the grace and the ability to make it to the finish line. More than ever, I am aware of how much of a testing ground, a training camp this planet is for aspiring God-like humans. Our real immortal world will be so much the better for it.

Psychologists should learn from the theologians, and you may want to as well. Books like the Philokalia and John Climacas' Ladder of Divine Ascent penetrate the soul and the psyche to help us shed the mud that would cling to our feet, pile up and eventually suffocate us.

Thanking God for extinguishing death, and you for coming to visit me here.

Peace (it's almost over.)