Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Remembrances of Wilma


Below is a very brief speech I gave at my Grandmother's recent funeral service during the time when family and friends went up to the podium to offer any remembrances they had of Wilma:

I want to share with you a few things about Wilma that left a huge impression upon my life. (And for those of you who don't know, I am Wilma and Cyril's second oldest grandson.) 
The first thing about Wilma that I remember is that she radiated generosity, thoughtfulness, loyalty, and love--so much so, in fact, that as I reflected upon the last few days since hearing about Wilma falling asleep in the Lord, it dawned on me just how difficult all people are to love. In general, I think all people are difficult to love. I am difficult to love. All of us here, and also those in this wide world around us, are difficult to love. And Wilma was no perfect exception to that rule. Nonetheless, because of Wilma's generosity, thoughtfulness, loyalty, and love--virtues which all of us here know were characteristic of her--she was that rare someone who I found difficult to not love. In 35 years of knowing the real and raw person of Wilma, her virtues vastly outshined what makes ordinary people difficult to love.  
In all these years I have had many memories with Wilma, from conversations in person and many phone calls, to lots of hand-written cards mailed to my doorstep. (Those of you who ever received a card from her know that she would always personally address the recipient, and never forget to include a passage or two or three from the Scriptures to meditate upon, even as she had done while writing the card.) Again, as I was reflecting this week, I realized that it is really common to think of people you spend a lot of time with as "good" people. As memories are shared and piled up together over time with particular people you enjoy, it's common to think of them as good people. But you know you have found a rare gem when you can look back and identify someone as wise. And from my perspective, Wilma is one of them. It was as though proverbial Wisdom flowed through her veins. The wisdom of God's word was so obviously dear to her that in every single encounter with her that I can remember, I can't honestly describe them as being merely with a good person. Wilma was far more than good. She had what James describes as the "wisdom from above." And that seems, at least to me, to be an increasingly rare description of how people are remembered in these days. 
This brings me to another aspect in which Wilma left a significant impression: God's handwriting was written large through her life. The apostle Paul mentions that Christians ought to be living epistles read by all men. I have known a lot of Christians throughout my life, and, sadly, I am not very comfortable describing the majority of them as living epistles. At best, most of whom I know are living chapters or verses. Not Wilma though. She was living epistles (plural). She made room for God to speak into every area of her life. And she listened. She seriously considered it, wrestling with it and submitting to it.  
Equally beautiful was her willingness to make room for others as well. Through her life, countless numbers of people were invited to taste and see how good the Lord is. Through her thoughtfulness, generosity, loyalty, and love, people came to know God. By imbibing and indwelling the wise life--and not merely the good life--countless people who encountered her encountered true life in Christ. God's handwriting was indeed written large through her life.  
Finally, I just want to share with you all that, in my eyes, Wilma was a Saint. By God's grace, she was a saint. Little did I know, as a small child, that I sat on the lap of a Saint. Books were read to me by a Saint. Hand-written letters and birthday cards were written to me by a Saint. Grocery shopping, car riding, movie watching, church gathering, meal preparing, and perhaps most memorable of all--holiday feasting--were all shared with a Saint. And as I like to think about all the Saints who I know for certain are with the Lord in glory, I can confidently share with us all that because of her beautiful and faithful life lived in Christ, Wilma is feasting at a better table now. Thanks be to God.








Monday, September 3, 2018

Living Epistle (A poem for Wilma Sedlak)





As I write these things my Grandmother, Wilma, is dying. She has reached the point of no return. There is no hope in her being miraculously preserved to live a handful of more years in her mortal body. She has already lived past ninety years. Now she is hospitalized, and unresponsive, yet still alive as of right now. She will die.

I love Wilma. She radiated God's generosity, thoughtfulness, and loyal love. As the only Grandmother I ever knew (my birth mother's side being entirely unknown to me), proverbial Wisdom echoed in every room she resided, in every phone call, in every note and hand-written card. God's handwriting was written large through her life. A "Living Epistle" read by all, is an apt description of all memories I have of her.

I spoke with her last week on the phone. I'm so very glad I answered the phone that day. She lives very far away from me, but very soon she will be nearer than most Christians realize, being with Eternal Life, Who is much nearer than most realize. 

I am at peace with her impending death. Death actually isn't her end. It is for many of us, but certainly not hers. She will continue to live beyond the moment her frail, mortal body "gives up" its life. She will continue to live beyond mortal death because, in Christ, there is no mortality, no eternal death. There is only eternal life, because Christ is God, and only in God is life-eternal, and only through Jesus Christ our God has eternal death been defeated and eternal life secured. Outside of Christ, there is just this mortal life, and just this mortal death. I'm not the judge of those outside of Christ. I'm not even the judge of those inside of Christ. I'm merely expressing, with absolute certainty, that Wilma's life has testified, and continues witnessing to participation in Eternal Life, here and now, and not in eternal death. 

"In dying, you shall die" was the warning given to human life. In Jesus, the resurrected Christ, there is no more warning--only blessing--saying, "In dying, you shall be raised with Me to life."

So then, what else could I say, given my convictions about the life and death of my grandmother? 

Well, I actually have a poem I wrote recently, inspired by a Byzantine hymn that is sung regularly in the Eastern Church, that I'd like to share, too. Consider it a meditation on what I have noted above, and a pattern of thoughts woven through many of my convictions, hopes, and dreams, all keeping my thoughts in balance in the midst of life's real turmoils:



In dying you will die
Do good
You will die

Don't ask why
Do good
Don't ask why

Don't question who
Do good
Don't question who

There are no but's
Do good
There are no but's

Don't pretend to know better
Do good
Don't pretend to know better

Don't deflect
Don't ignore
Just do good

How, you ask? 

Imagine God
Becoming human
So that you can become divine

Participating
Sharing
Communing 

In the Divine Life
For ever
And ever

Who fashioned you 
Out of nothingness
With the work of His hands

Who honored you 
With the Divine Image 
The likeness of Unutterable Glory.

Whose loyal love cleanses you
Whose homeland of your heart’s desire 
Is bestowed on you







Saturday, August 18, 2018

Loving to Know






What does it take?
...
To reach the point of no return
To say, I can't anymore
I don't even want to anymore
I need You
I want You
For ever more than now
Don't fix things for me—Fix me
Fix all of me or none of me
In Your mercy exact justice
I trust Your judgment—I don't trust mine
I deserve it
What ever that is 

I'm more than a fool
Lost without You
Leading others astray from the Holy
Feet running swiftly toward the void
None of my paths are peace
I only know how to survive
And not very well
When You serve me justice I will need more 

That stream which I poisoned
How can it be purified?
I don't trust my passions
I don't trust in flesh anymore
I used You as my crutch 
I polluted wells
For fun or out of spite
You were elevator music to me
I never had to learn Your rhythm
You were just there in the background
For my listening pleasure
Or to annoy me
As evil as that sounds
It's true 

Now I don't want to live without You
Have mercy on me
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies
Heal my soul
For I have sinned against You
Give me life or give me death
I know what I deserve
Whatever You choose
Do so for the sake of Your name alone
My name isn't worthy
Uproot and plant anew
Kill and make alive

As You wish
Thy will be done
Not mine
I just want what You want
Happy is he that findeth
Happy is he that getteth
Happy is he that retaineth
Happy is he
...
What must I do now? 










Filling the Void







Wisdom hurts 
Like a broken nose
It cannot be touched lightly
Its damage is done
It can’t be unspoken
Rewinding the clock doesn’t heal its bruising
Even without batteries it keeps ticking
Only more can be spoken 
Even its silence is speech 
Beware of its soft words 
Many bones are broken by them
Its quietude is as cloaked daggers
That which has been done in silence is worthy of the Father
To possess this Word is to hear its silence
For it acts through what is spoken
And is known through its silence
Its mysteries were loudly proclaimed
Yet are accomplished in the silence of God







Sunday, July 29, 2018

Matthew 11:29






Expose the dishonest
Listen to the self-deceived
Confront the rebel
Support the surrendered
Bring low the pride of the haughty
Offer forgiveness for the guilt-crushed
Abolish the schemes of nations
Provide hope for the despairing 
Humble the exalted
Exalt the humble
Ransom the prisoners
Comfort the discouraged
Impoverish those rich by corruption
Enrich the poor in spirit
Turn back those who wander
Destroy and make alive
Die for the sake of others
Practice resurrection like Jesus







Monday, July 9, 2018

St Maximos the Confessor & God wisely dividing the ages





The following excerpt is from a very recent translation of St Maximos the Confessor’s (ca. 580-662) Responses to Thalassios, the Libyan abbot of a monastic community, probably in Carthage, whose letter to Maximos contained a lengthy series of questions, requesting written interpretations (p. 8).

What is presented below is (at least in my own estimation) one of the most profound responses to the eschatological question, “If God in the coming ages will show his riches (Ephesians 2:7), how is it that the ends of the ages have come upon us (I Corinthians 10:11)?”

Here is the written response by St Maximos:
He who brought all visible and invisible creation into being solely through the momentum of His will, had in His good counsel determined—before all ages and even before the very genesis of created beings—an ineffably good plan for his creations. And this plan was for Him to be mingled, without change, with human nature through a true union according to hypostasis, uniting human nature, without alteration, to Himself, so that He would become man—in a manner known to Him—and at the same time make man God through union with Himself, and thus He wisely divided the ages, determining that some would be for the activity of His becoming man, and others for the activity of making man God.  
Thus, inasmuch as the actual “ends of the ages” predetermined for Him to become man “have come upon us”—since the divine purpose of the Incarnation has been fulfilled through the events themselves—the divine Apostle, having carefully examined this, and seeing that the end of the ages intended for God to become man had come about through the very Incarnation of the Word of God, says: “The ends of the ages have come upon us”—not simply “the ages” as we ordinarily understand them, but clearly those which, intended for the actualization of the mystery of embodiment, have reached their proper limit, according to the purpose of God. 
Since, then, the “end of the ages”, predetermined according to God’s purpose to become man, “has come upon us”—inasmuch as God has in truth actualized and brought to completion His own perfect Incarnation—we must henceforth await those other ages that are to come for the actualization of the mystical and ineffable divinization of human beings, in which "God will show the overflowing riches of His goodness to us,” completely and actively effecting divinization in those who are worthy. For if He Himself reached the limit of his mystical activity of becoming man,—becoming like us in every way but without sin, and having descended into the lowermost parts of the earth to where the tyranny of sin had driven man—then there will certainly also be a limit of God’s mystical activity for the divinization of man in every way (with the obvious sole exception of any identification of man with God’s essence), making man like Himself and raising him beyond all the heavens, to where the natural grandeur of grace dwells and calls fallen man through the infinity of goodness. And this is what the great Apostle mystically teaches when he says: “in the ages to come, the overflowing riches of God’s goodness will be shown to us.”1


1. St Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios 
(The Fathers of the Church, Volume 136), Translated by Fr Maximos Constas; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018; pp. 150-151











Friday, July 6, 2018

John 3:20



Light investing the saint
crowns the virtues with dispassion
fulfills the desires beyond expectation
chases away all distracting passions
banishes the powers of darkness
opens up the depths of oracles 
makes the saint himself scripture
giving boldness before God
receiving the robe that Human Life lost
interceding on behalf of others
consuming the stains of sin
radiating the presence of the age to come
shimmering the brilliance of its pledge of immortality
Light invests the saint