Saturday, March 15, 2008

Train up a child ....

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:4)

I was reminded of this proverb recently when our son, David, told the story of something that three year old Lauren said when she spilled her juice. It spilled, and she cursed, repeating, of course, exactly what she had heard from time to time at home.

I recall a time in Minnesota when my daughter was very young. My grandmother was also with us … someone cut me off or did something else and I angrily let go a few epithets. Suddenly my grandmother is chuckling in the back seat, for Tracey said exactly the same thing.

These things do happen. We can all remember similar stories, and they do bring a smile to the face. But they also remind us that what we say and what we do are picked up by our children. Much of what they learn comes from imitating what they see in others, especially their parents.

That is a sobering thought, and one worth pondering. The Holy Spirit would have us live what the Proverb says, taking it seriously.

I’ve heard parents and others sometimes literally curse and other times demean or belittle those who are to be respected. Our children pick up those things. They learn that respect and decency are not all that important. Or they learn through our casual speech that words don’t matter. They learn that there is a double standard that it is OK to say and act one way in one situation, while ignoring all such things in another.

You can tell a child that it is important to be on time, but erase that teaching by always being late. You can teach a child not to smoke or drink to excess, but negate what you’ve said by what you do and live.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

As Orthodox, we live in the fullness of faith. Words, faith, life are all of a fabric. As I’ve said in other places, prayer is spoken and lived. We pray for forgiveness, and we forgive! We pray for daily bread, and rejoice in that bread at table and in the Divine Liturgy. We pray that we would be delivered from the Evil One and we shun his ways in our lives! We understand the danger of temptation and pray unceasingly, watching tongues and actions, always seeking to live the Lord’s will.

But as “ancient Christians,” we also realize that “church” isn’t just a Sunday morning thing, that prayer isn’t just for the priest, and that calling for decent behavior is not just limited to children.

Do we train up our children by words and deeds?

Do they see us hungering and thirsting for the Holy Communion, joining them in receiving Them?

Do they see us teaching them how to confess and encouraging them to regularly confess to the priest?

Do they see us “seeking first the kingdom” by our regular worship, our punctual attendance?

Or do they learn from us that all of these things and more are topics for “religious discussion,” but learning that they aren’t so important by our tardiness, our casual attitude toward them, and our unwillingness to make confession? Those actions teach much.

Indeed, as we ponder what Wisdom teaches, we pray, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned! Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me the sinner!”

Thanks be to God that He give new hearts and renews right spirits. Right now, attitudes and behaviors can change, as we consider just what we are really teaching those who follow us! Right now, we can by the power of the Spirit, clean up the language, repent of the sins, taking up the cross to follow Jesus! Right now we can live and pray the faith, passing it on to the generations that follow! Let us consider what others see and hear from us, and pray that from this point they would see Jesus and their salvation in people who take their faith and their future seriously.

Glory to God for all things!


Monday, March 3, 2008

Some thoughts on prayer and living the faith

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to put into words some of the differences between Orthodoxy and the protestant roots from which we came. And it began with some wrestling with “prayer.”

All too often, prayer is just an afterthought, even for Orthodox. It is there for “emergency use.” And very often, when it is emphasized, it is pretty unclear as to just what it may be.

This happens because, all too often, people act as though there is no direction, no rule or definition for prayer. Our Lord’s command to pray, His invitation, was not made in a void, without context. The Apostles, Saints, Martyrs, all hand down to us the definition and direction for prayer! It does not have to be redefined. Prayer is to be spoken, done, lived!

For the Orthodox, for those in The Church, however, prayer is integral to life in the Body of Christ, to union with the blessed and Holy Trinity. Indeed, through prayer we seek to be joined in communion with the Blessed Trinity. It is not something on the periphery, something that can be taken or left, or something that is left up to one’s imagination. Prayer is of the fabric of living faith, and to pray without ceasing is not merely an ideal or some heady suggestion.

For those in The Church, then, the faith is a lived experience that includes prayer. It isn’t merely the topic of theological discussion or the fodder for pages and pages of writing. It is living reality.

So it is that our Lord, answering the Apostles, teaches us to pray, not only by instruction, but by His own constant prayer. How often we read of His taking time to pray early in the morning, around the time of meals, in the evening. The text of His prayer was more often than not the living word of the Psalms. Prayer was a thread that ran throughout the days and weeks.

Our Lord doesn’t leave us searching for words. We have the prayers handed down from the Apostles, from the saints, in the Hours, in Orthros and Vespers, in the Divine Liturgy. Prayers filled with the words blessed by the Spirit to form and shape thoughts, but also lives. We pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We pray, "Lead us not into temptation," which can also be translated "Be with us in the time of hard testing." Each petition deals with life, and calls for living in the ways of the Lord.

We have received “the Jesus Prayer,” a simple prayer that is to be prayed day in and day out, always placing our lives and actions in the hands of Jesus. To pray “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner” directs us to ways of mercy and His grace. We pray that He would indeed live in us, and that our lives by His grace in every moment would be lived in the faith that He gives and nurtures.

I think all of this is to say that “prayer” isn’t merely a “religious thing” for “religious moments” (the generic statement in every crisis by even pagans is ‘you are in our prayers’). It is not an option, nor is it formed merely to try to get the Father in heaven to “come around” to whatever we want at the moment. Rather, in prayer, we are shaped and formed as the mercy of Christ grants us the power of the Holy Spirit: our prayer is indeed “Thy will be done.”

A friend suggest this thought from Fr. Pavel Florensky (1883-1937) from his The Pillar and Ground of Truth:

"One hears that, in foreign lands, people are now learning to swim, lying on the floor, with the aid of equipment. In the same way, one can become a Catholic or Protestant without experiencing life at all--by reading books in one's study. But to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once in the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way."

To pray without ceasing is to be joined to Christ. It is to live every moment in His grace, His will, consciously.