Thursday, January 22, 2015

You Should Stop Reading My Blog

I am so utterly thankful and honored that there are people who read my blog.  There is so much content out there on the internet, and yet you choose to engage with me and entertain my thoughts.  But I cannot deny that you do have to set aside some of your time to read my posts, which may be hit or miss, while there is plenty of other content out there that is more beneficial to read.  So the least I could do for you, my beloved readers, is direct you toward other blogs that are much better than my own.

One of my favorite blogs is Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog "Glory to God for All Things."  He updates much more consistently than I do and has infinitely better thoughts to share.  So, hypothetically speaking, if you had to pick, you should stop reading my blog and read his.  It will be quite an upgrade.

Any one of his posts is a worthwhile read, but to start with, his most recent post is "Saved in Weakness."  This post is relevant as Lent is fast approaching, one in which he speaks about confession and repentance.  Another huge plus is that he uses some excerpts from one of the most amazing books of all time, The Way of the Pilgrim.

Here is the link to his blog and his post "Saved in Weakness":

I love you and I don't want you to leave me, but if you leave me for him, I will understand.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Boredom During Liturgy

I stood during Nativity liturgy, lamenting my inability to focus.  I already let most of the liturgy pass me by, in one ear and out the other.  How am I going to go the rest of the night like this?  I decide to try something.  I look at the page number we were on, and the last page number of the book.  Fifty pages of English text to go.  Hm, that's not as bad as I thought.  Then I think, okay, what is the hardest part of liturgy?  What part feels like it just drags on and on?  It's the Seven Short Litanies.  Okay, when it comes to the seven short litanies, I will count them on my hand.

The litanies come.  As each one is said, I count them off.  It flies by, and I'm startled by how short each prayer is.

I continue to try to pay attention to the flow of the liturgy, and how each prayer is different and has its purpose.  It struck me how each prayer is so powerful and succinct.  What I thought was nauseatingly long turned out to be a super short crash course in the theology of the church.

It seemed like the heavens opened that night.  After 22 years, God finally decides to answer my prayer for the first time.  Is it possible I could go to church without dreading the four hours ahead of me?  Is it possible to pay attention the whole time, yes, the whole time, rather than intermittently shifting in and out of consciousness at random points throughout the liturgy?

Before, there were only two things I would try to do to force myself to focus during the service.  One is what Abouna has always taught us about prayer.  When you're in church, you leave all your problems and worries at the door.  It's not a time to let your mind wander and worry about what you're going to do after church, or how badly you're going to fail for procrastinating so much, or why is that person staring at me, or does this boy like me, or how could that person talk to me like that do they know who I am?  It's not even a time for personal prayer, it's a time to participate in the communal prayer of the church, with His body, and around His Body.  This method is a matter of brute force.  Every time I'd catch myself not paying attention, I'd bring my mind back to the prayer and try to really believe what we were saying.  But that did not make it any easier to enjoy the prayer or prevent my mind from inevitably wandering again.

The other rule of thumb for focusing is to pay attention to the prayer and try to actually pray it.  During the litanies, if we are praying for the sick, think of the people I know who are sick, so that that "Kyri eleison" actually means something.  Doing that also helps, but nonetheless is not a sustainable focus-enhancing method.

So, what is the divine inspiration that seized me and caught me up into the third heaven, you ask?  What is this high spiritual insight that I've received, that will make every Sunday different, rather than the same monotonous words every time?  That will make you ecstatic to get out of bed, antsy for church to start, and sobbing when it ends?

A gym analogy will help me explain.

Just like going to the gym, you can't just walk in having no idea what to do and with just the vague notion of "this is what I'm supposed to do to get fit."  You can't expect to get a good workout in by wandering around bsing on a bunch of machines until you're bored and waiting for an hour to pass by so you can tell yourself you spent an hour at the gym and deserve some chocolate cake.  When I go to the gym I know exactly what exercises I'm going to do, in exactly what order, and exactly how many reps, sets, and how much rest in between.  I am able to pace my energy and focus, giving my all in each rep yet not losing sight of what is next.  I have a solid grasp on the flow of my workout, and am fully conscious of what I should be focusing on during each exercise, knowing good form, knowing proper breathing, etc.  I also am fully aware that this is a process that will incrementally make me stronger, as long as I give it my all day in and day out.  I could be doing exactly the same chest routine for months on end, but it is always different, because I am always trying to push more weight.  The same routine is constantly changing me.

Likewise with liturgy, I realized I had no idea what I was doing or saying.  Liturgy starts, my conscious brain shuts off and goes into autopilot, I mouth the responses on cue, take communion, and leave with the realization "I know I was there, but I have no idea what happened these last four hours."  I go to church with a vague notion of why I should be doing this, with no deep connection or conviction that this is exactly the prescription that I must follow to constantly become a better person.  The prayers are said in the same order every time, but I don't really know why they are in that order or how they differ from each other in any meaningful way.  But perhaps if I had the same sort of exact knowledge of the liturgy as I do of my workouts, the same words would be new for me each time.

What I did during Nativity liturgy is try to have a proper grasp on exactly what is going on in the liturgy.  I've attended thousands of liturgies during my life, have all the words memorized, but I hardly have the order memorized, and I hardly have the purpose memorized.  Of course it is going to drag on if at any point, I have no idea exactly how much has passed and how much is left to go.  Of course focusing is going to be a laborious task, if I have no idea how to pace myself.

I've never taken a course in liturgy or even read a book about it.  But just paying attention to the progression of the liturgy and seeing it's unique component parts as unique component parts, rather than a giant combination of words that come between the beginning and the end, made the liturgy so much more enjoyable and manageable.

Several years ago Fr. Athanasius gave us an outline of the liturgy.  I think if I learn the outline and get a good grasp on its order, I won't fall victim so easily to the petty concerns that clamor for my attention.  Maybe these same words will actually start to change me.

Here is a link to the pdf of the outline:

Please comment with anything you find helps you focus!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tips for New Year's Resolutions

I think it is rather naive when people set a million different resolutions for themselves for the new year, especially when they do not have a plan that will enable them to feasibly reach them.  But picking a few goals that are simple yet will provide a huge payout is certainly a worthy endeavor.  Here are two goals that I would consider to be among the most worthy and practical resolution's one could have.

Goodreads does a reading challenge every year that I just discovered: and the benefits of finishing a whole book--not just reading tons of short bits of writing--cannot be underestimated.

I've signed up for the challenge, to read 36 books this year, about three books a month.  I picked this goal because I'm normally reading three books at the same time: some literary fiction, something in health and fitness, and something philosophical/theological/spiritual.  I think it is a useful challenge to pose towards oneself, even if your goal is only to finish one book this year.  If you've never been much of a reader and if reading one book is your goal, you will probably exceed that challenge and discover that you had no idea how much you were capable of reading, let alone how much you could actually come to enjoy it.

Another resource that may be useful is Jamie Eason's Livefit Trainer:  This was the program that I followed which introduced me to lifting.  And now, several years later, I might be considered a seasoned lifter.  If anyone has a resolution to get more fit this year and to make fitness a permanent part of one's lifestyle, this is a great program to follow.

If you have any other ideas on worthy resolutions and useful resources, please share in the comments!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Frodo and the Theotokos

(This post was written last Advent)

We are in the midst of the beautiful Advent season, the 43 day period before we celebrate the nativity of our Lord, and a period during which all the church hymns bring our minds to wonder at the mystery of the incarnation and its glorious salvific work for humankind.  The second Hobbit movie also just came out.  Naturally since my brother and my sister Mary are obsessed with Tolkien, I went to see it, and it inspired me to finally read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books.

I recently finished the Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and since we are in Kiahk, Frodo reminded me of St. Mary.  This humble little being had to bear the burden of the One Ring, always struggling against yielding his heart to covet its power.  As owner of the Ring, he could have worn it and used its power, but he knew that he was not strong enough to use its power for good, and that simply lusting for such power meant that his heart was already bent toward evil.  He struggled constantly, not to let his heart submit to its evil.  Some days the burden was so heavy he had to be carried, some days it was light.

It seems the same could be said of the Theotokos St. Mary.  She was given the greatest honor of all human beings, the highest power any human being could ever attain, to be the Mother of God.  We see the struggles of Christ with Satan, during His temptation, and in His final hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, but we do not know of St. Mary's struggles.  Yet surely Satan must have tempted her heart to be filled with pride, realizing her purity, realizing that she is and will always be the only human being ever bestowed with such an honor and responsibility.  Pregnancy is hard enough, yet imagine on top of that having to deal with the fact that you are going to bear the Son of God.  Forget about pregnancy, what about after Christ was crucified and resurrected, knowing that your Son rose from the dead and has conquered all things.  I doubt the devil left her alone; he probably desired the downfall of St. Mary most after the downfall of Christ.  She must have experienced the worst spiritual struggle of any human being.  But we know, she passed the test.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving in 2014

So I realized I've been doing Thanksgiving wrong all these years. Instead of trying to reflect on everything I could possibly be thankful for in life, I think a more effective approach would be to narrow the focus and reflect on what I am thankful for in the past year.

So, this past year, that answer is pretty damn straightforward and easy.  Almost exactly a year ago was the day I broke my hip.  It was actually probably the best experience of my life and I'm still learning from it.  I really thank God for that fateful day and all the blessings it continues to bring me.

Recovery was a very slow and humbling process.  I went from super fitness girl whose body enabled her to do anything, to basically the paralytic whose body enabled her to do nothing.  I was on crutches for four months, and during that time the muscles in my leg atrophied so much that at one point my right leg was half the size of my left leg.  The first few weeks out of the hospital were really difficult, and that is when I was most mad at God for taking away everything I worked so hard for.  But I used the down time to further my fitness goals, reading even more fitness articles, making plans for what I would do when I'm better, and taking advantage of the knowledge of my physical therapists by learning as much as I possibly could from them.

Now, I still can't believe that only a year later, when I am still technically recovering, I've achieved fitness feats I hadn't even dreamed of achieving.  I feel like Abraham when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, at first so bewildered and confused at His will, but putting my faith in Him, I ended up bountifully rewarded.  I really believe I would not be capable of what I am now if I did not have the motivation provided by my injury propelling me forward.

The gym was fun before, it was my sanctuary, it was my escape from the world.  But now it is something so much better.  I really feel like every workout is a gift from God that could easily be taken away in a moment.  It is no longer my escape from the world, since He permanently branded reality onto my body, but rather a time to remember that none of this strength comes from me but is a gift He gives me to enjoy.  And remembering that it is His strength and not mine is probably why I am so much stronger now than I was before.

This is the case with everything I could possibly take for granted.  I might get frustrated with school, but He didn't have to give me this opportunity to expand my intellect and He could take it away any moment.  I might get fed up with friends or family, but He didn't have to give me these people who help me and teach me and provide me with so much love.  He didn't have to give me this life to experience all the pain and pleasures and hardships and hopes.  In truth, this is not my life, it is His.  It is all a gift, and it is all His, bountifully lent to us and meant to be appreciated as sacred.

I still have some pain and setbacks because of my injury.  But I endure them with pleasure and gratitude.  How could I not welcome a glorious reminder that my life belongs to Him?

Other reflections on my injury:

Other times trying to be thankful this year:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Singles Negativity

I think this issue sincerely needs to be addressed, especially among young single Coptic women.

Can we just stop pitying ourselves?  Can we stop being so insecure thinking that we are never going to find good men?  Can we stop thinking there is no such thing as a real man anymore who will make a good father and husband?  Can we stop thinking that making yourself attractive means being forced to be fake?  Can we stop thinking that God is not guiding our lives and does not want good gifts for His children?  And can we stop thinking that the problem is completely outside of us?

A friend getting engaged or married should not make you insecure and loath yourself.  You should just be genuinely happy for them.  Marriage is a tough path meant for salvation, and you think salvation is an easy thing?  There is a reason St. Paul said it is worked out with fear and trembling.  They have a long road of beating the flaws out of each other and struggling to raise kids in a confused and tumultuous and ungodly world.  The grass is not always greener on the other side.  The moment you have a "woe-is-me-why-does-no-one-like-me" thought, use that as a trigger to say a prayer for them and snap back to reality.

Don't think your complaining about loneliness and feeling like there is no one out there for you doesn't affect anyone.  It oozes out and makes all your fellow sisters second guess their contentedness.  Not only that, but the more we have a negative view of men, the more blind we will become to seeing the good men.

Regardless of how stupid the men are around us, let us be thankful that they exist.  God didn't make a mistake putting them here.  And the single most important and effective thing we can do is pray for them.  It is freaking hard being a real man in this society when all it wants to do is stunt your growth.  God wants their salvation, wants what is best for them, and wants to guide their hearts obviously more than anyone, so who am I to wag my finger and look up at the sky with skepticism at His work?

Let's be THANKFUL for this time in our lives where we can focus on our own individual flourishing.   Christ told us to take the planks out of our own eyes first.  May God never send any man my way until I am spiritually mature and prepared to raise children in His fear.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Secular Morality

In my Intro to Philosophy class freshman year, my philosophy professor gave us a thought experiment (he did not make up this thought experiment; it is a standard thought experiment in philosophy of ethics):

Two siblings, brother and sister, go on vacation together to France.  They are having a good time and decide, why don't we have sex?  The sister is on birth control, and the brother wears a condom just in case.  They decide they will only do it this one time, and they won't tell anyone, it will just be their secret.  Afterward, they enjoy it and feel it even brought them closer, but they decide not to do it again.  Is what they did wrong?

Evidently the thought experiment is getting at, what is wrong with incest?  If it is consensual and has no risk of pregnancy and child deformity, do we really have any reason to claim it is morally wrong?  The implication that the moral nihilist would make is that our conception of right and wrong are simply ingrained evolutionary emotional attitudes toward some actions.  Actions in and of themselves are not right/wrong, and therefore, though we might react with repudiation at this thought experiment, we have no grounds for claiming that incest in all cases is wrong.  Clearly in this case, it is not wrong.

I propose that this conclusion is only possible in a secular society.  Our commonplace conception of right and wrong are incompatible with secularism.  Secularism replaces our commonplace conceptions with only two things that may be universally agreed to be wrong.  These are the only "secular sins":
1) An act that is not consensual
2) An act which is bad for your health

Think about the only things that are indisputably wrong.  Rape is universally accepted as wrong simply because it is not consensual, but a book like 50 Shades of Grey that portrays sado-masochistic sex is popularized and widely accepted.  Smoking or other addictive drugs are considered wrong because we have garnered enough evidence to suppose they are bad for your health, but substances like steroids or marijuana are fine despite the psychological addiction; alcohol is fine despite the fact that many people can't relax and socialize without it.  Sex without contraception is wrong because you might give or get an STI, but otherwise premarital sex is seen almost as essential to life.  One might even be able to make an argument that abortion is not wrong because the couple or the woman did not really "consent" to have a baby.

We as Christians are going down the dubious path of redefining our moral considerations in terms of these secular sins.  Think about any time you had to defend your reason for thinking something is wrong.  Did you appeal to one or both of these principles?  But that is not what Christianity is about.

(I would add that there might be a third "secular sin," a sort of "sin of omission": not making money.  There are plenty of people and industries that make money in dishonorable ways, but if they are productive members of the economy, then they are doing a good to society, who are we to question them.   But if you are not economically successful, you are being a burden to society, and you are looked down upon.  But that is more debatable and is perhaps a result of capitalism and not necessarily secularism.)

The case where these two principles are in conflict is euthenasia (assisted suicide), and that is why it is still a disputed issue.  On the one hand, it is consensual.  On the other hand, someone is dying, albeit to end pain and suffering, so it is clearly "bad" for someone's health.  What further objective reasons can one give for considering assisted suicide wrong in a secular society?  To say it is wrong would mean to appeal to a whole different level of inherent sanctity or value of human life for which secularism itself is not sufficient ground.

I am not saying secularism is wrong.  I would say that Christianity necessitates secularism.  We as Christians believe it is unreasonable to expect non-Christians to live according to Christian standards, otherwise, what would be the point in baptism or communion?  If we had that expectation, we would be denying the necessity of Christ.  We also believe that faith should be freely chosen.  But I am saying that secularism as we know it in America only allows for nothing more than these two moral claims to be universally made.