Music-On-Hold

At work and at home as I try to contact manufacturers and customer service folks, they have me press some buttons on the phone for English and some more buttons to try to route my call to the correct person. The computer answering the phone may probe me for more in-depth information about the nature of my call. Most of the time while I try to patiently wait, the companies and organizations play music or some infomercial as I hold the line. After a couple of minutes, I normally get irritated with the wait and began erratically pushing buttons, trying to circumvent the higher level of intelligence processing my call and connect with a human to converse with. Sometimes the silicone creature routing my call hangs up on me and I have to begin the process of pressing the correct buttons and begin my wait all over!

 
Why do people today need to be constantly distracted? After all isn’t that what music-on-hold is? This entertainment is taking my mind off the amount of time I am spending waiting. I remember some 25 years ago when my young son was sitting in the back seat of our Ford Tempo and he began to cry. I asked him what was wrong because he usually would nap while I drove and he said; “I don’t have anything in my hands”! He thought if he could entertain himself he would be able to stay awake! And now today everywhere we go we see things on sale to keep us entertained. I believe the latest distraction is a thing called a spinner and I am sure for folks with kids with very active minds the spinner helps keep them occupied and allows their parents some sanity.

 
Does your mind wander and seek out “music-on-hold”? We Orthodox can use the “Jesus Prayer” as a filler rather than filling that space with junk noise. And as we recite those salvific words, we draw closer to Christ we then remember our brothers and sisters and their struggles, lifting them up in prayer. Are our lives in need of constant entertaining or can we be still and move close to God? Saint Mathew recounted: And Jesus said to him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ [Mt. 22:37] “All thy mind” seems to be constant battle!

 
The Russian Bishop and Saint, Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote: The distracted person is like a house without doors or gates. No treasure whatsoever can be kept in such a house. It is open for thieves, robbers, and harlots. The distracted life, completely full of earthly cares, gains for a person heaviness just as gluttony and surfeiting do (cf. Luke 21: 34). Such a person is attached to the earth. He is occupied with only the temporary and vain. The service of God becomes for the distracted person an irrelevant subject. The very thought about this service is something for him wild, full of darkness, and unbearably heavy…. Divine Ascent: A Journal of Orthodox Faith, No. 7, Presentation of the Theotokos, November 2001, pp. 123-4

 
Our minds are an empty void waiting to be filled. Feed your mind with spiritual things! Don’t allow your life to breeze by, tolerating music-on-hold and the distractions of life that rot away your pursuit of holiness. And don’t allow your artificially intelligent phone to constantly distract you and fill that void either! Time is precious. Be about your Father’s business!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 7-23-17

Happily Tormented in the Pig Pen

Today we recount the story of the demon possessed men and the swine drowning in the sea. This account from the Gospel of Saint Matthew is also echoed in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well. Swine have a vivid memory in my life! My aunt and uncle raised hogs and their home was sandwiched between a pig-pen where table scraps were often cast, and the farrowing or birthing house where little piggies played and squealed. I remember the sight and the smell all too well!

 
Let’s dive if we shall into the pig-pen! Raising swine for food is against the Jewish law so the mostly Gentile townsfolk were not welcoming a Jew sent by God. I don’t want You here in my darkness, go away. I do not want to change, go away! We don’t want to abide by the law, go away! The hogs, unlike the possessed men chose to drown themselves in the ocean rather than live with this demon. What a waste of port chops but after all, maybe the swine should not have been there in the first place amongst the Jews.

 
Most of us Christians eat pork with a few exceptions including our Eritrean and Ethiopian friends next door. Old Testament restrictions against eating pork were rules specifically governing ritual cleanliness and were intended to be applied only to the Jews. St. Paul and the Jerusalem council decided this and in Acts 21, St. Paul states that circumcision was not necessary for the Gentiles nor was the restrictions against eating pork and shellfish. Bacon, bacon, bacon!

 
We all have some things in common with the possessed tribesmen. At times we tend to keep our sins in the comfort of darkness, bathing in the rich fertile mud enticed with manure, rather than exposing our temptations to the correction and healing of Christ. St. Theophan writes: “When a man is given over to the passions, he does not see them in himself and does not fight against them, because he lives in them and by them. But when the grace of God becomes active in him, he begins to discern the passionate and sinful in himself, acknowledge them, and to repent and decide to guard against them. A struggle begins. At first, the struggle begins with deeds, but when is released from shameful deeds, then the struggle begins with shameful thoughts and feelings. And here the struggle encounters many steps … The struggle continues. The passions increasingly are torn out of the heart. It even happens that they are entirely torn out … The sign that the passions are torn out of the heart is that the soul begins to feel repulsion and hatred for the passions.” (St. Theophan the Recluse, How the Spiritual Life Proceeds)

 

We come to church with judgment and anger and look for ways to be irritated! Do we really want God or do we want the demons? Do we really want Jesus coming into our home exposing our sins and telling us what to do? Go away! I’ll cozy up to Christ when it is convenient for me.
We all say the prayer: “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one!” Saint James writes in his first chapter: “Let no one when he is tempted be saying, “I am tempted of God”; for God is incapable of being tempted of evils, and He Himself tempteth no one. But each is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own desire. Then after he conceiveth the desire, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, after it is fully formed, bringeth forth death. Cease being led astray, my beloved brethren; every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, with Whom is no alternation or a shadow cast by turning. [Jas. 1:13-17]

 
If we chose to continue wallowing in the darkness of sin telling the Lord to Go Away, we must be happily tormented in the pig pen of sin!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 7/9/17

NOT-ME

I am sure that we all grew up with someone that usually was blamed when mom or dad recognized a bad behavior or a mess that appeared out of thin air. In early years, it usually is the youngest or most defenseless and then tends to change as we grow older. In my family, we usually blamed NOT-ME. NOT-ME never confessed to any of the malefactions and our authorities were never convinced of his guilt either. But on occasion we, the guilty ones, came clean and accepted the responsibility for our actions.

 
Blaming others for our conduct and transgressions is a very common occurrence, “If they hadn’t….” or “If only….” We certainly are shaped by our environment but we are given the ability to improve and the free-will to move towards the light. We read in Proverbs: “Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins.” (Prov.5:22) Without an effort to become more like Christ, we chose to die “Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mk 9:48)

 
Taking responsibility for our wrongs is part of growing towards the Light. A good many of our prayers are written in a way to help us reflect upon our worldliness and expose opportunities for improvement. Repentance means a true change of heart and life. Saint Ambrose wrote: “What is the outer darkness? Surely, there is not there a prison and stone cells to be endured? By no means. But whoever are outside the promises of the heavenly commandments are in the outer darkness, because God’s ordinances are light, and whoever is without Christ is in darkness, because Christ is the inner light.”

 
NOT-ME has been around since the beginning of time. He was there lurking in the Garden of Eden and he was even there with the disciples at the last supper: “And as they were eating, He said, “Verily I say to you, that one of you shall deliver Me up.” And being exceedingly grieved, they began to say to Him, each of them, “I am not the one, am I, Lord?”[Mt. 26:21-22] NOT-ME LORD, no, NOT-ME!

 

NOT-ME is a part of my programming and still taking the blame in my marriage, at work and even here in the Temple of the Lord! Perhaps I am a better habitat for the worms than a beacon of Theosis! But thanks be to God that He has not given up on me and hopefully I am not the man I used to be. I pray I can stay pliable in the hands of the Great Sculptor of life. And through the powerful prescription implemented by church tradition, release NOT-ME from his contract with the deceiver, and help me to be renewed in the Light of Christ.

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 7/2/2017