The Kingdom

King Michael I of Romania died on December 5th. I found out a week later when the secretariat of the Romanian Embassy sent our diaspora a message which announced this, along with the news of opening a condolences book for signing. I wanted to, but haven’t made it to the embassy. I haven’t followed the events in Romania since I have no Facebook account, no Instagram, no Tweeter, no tv and whenever I listened to the radio, the news focused more on our current doll prime-minister. There was nothing posted on LinkedIn – well, for a rather good reason: “king” is not among the positions popular these days; “former king” even less so.

A friend from back home sent me an emotional email saying how many tears shed, how many people at the palace gates (in Bucharest?), how sad the king’s death, how disheartening the politics of the present government, how this and how that. I wrote back with a note about how much better it would have been for the very people crying at the gates if they had taken the stance to put the king back on the throne while still alive. Too cynical? Oh well.

On a related note, a commoner died on December 9th. I was preparing for our annual concert of carols that day when I heard the ding of a message: Grandma has died. She was not my grandma, though we all called her that. The mother of our good friend, my daughter’s godfather, she had her own three grandchildren whom she raised with homemade meals and hourly care. She was an excellent cook and a dear conversationalist. Her little laugh was warm and sweet. Whoever went to their house and sat at their table was pampered by Grandma. Bunica. In Romanian, the good one, a pretty literal translation.

I swallowed my unshed tears and focused on the concert that evening. I sang for her, miraculously managing not to let emotion creep in. I found out afterwards that she had said her last confession on the day our king died and had taken her last communion the following day on St Nicholas – peace was the saint’s last gift to her, apparently.

One week later, we travel to Montreal for her funeral. A bit of rainbow traveled ahead of us, ahead of the Sun itself, like the Star of Christmas. How did that rainbow came about in the dry crisp December sky is not a matter of explanation.

It all continued into a luminous day, despite the long funeral service, the burial, the commemoration meal. A day filled with divine presence that whispered prepare, prepare, do not delay, it is all part of the daily exercise and yes, it’s hard, but so much more precious with every right step you manage and all the stumbling which you raise from. There were good people at that table for Bunica. She would have loved the company. I am quite sure she somehow did.

We left before sunset and traveled west this time. Into the night and towards the Sun, which had decided to shoot a column of light straight up into the clouds.

Apologies, I probably should have left it to your imagination. The pictures don’t do It justice, the Light we saw throughout this day. It was a presence, not an atmospheric phenomenon. It was a connection of horizontal and vertical, of all dimensions we know and those we know not. It was the light of heavy crosses carried on royal shoulders and simple backs alike, both elegant and strangely gracious in their demeanor. It was quite the literal description of heaven on earth, that which we so often imagine so differently. There were no words spoken in the car and little unseen tears of fright, longing, isolation, terrible loneliness.

That was only yesterday. I cried a lot before communion today, as I read through all the setup prayers, many of which I should, oh yes, have read last night – oh no, I am not well prepared, nor disciplined, nor good. My only gift to God today was my subdued will. Among the last, I went to the altar and when I opened my mouth to receive Christ’s body and blood, true peace came over me, but it was not this which re-established the connection. It was the hope, which took form again – a hope so long lost, it had looked like a ghost at times. A hope of conquering vicissitudes, of victorious (chosen?) battles, of flying flags and starry rainbows, built on the architecture of inexplicably luminous columns. I felt light. And for that little bit of kingdom, there are no words to express gratitude. Just imagine it.

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Absurd and Paradox in Christianity

Sunday. The day of the light. The first and the eighth day of the week – a great mystery, how can the same day be double? How can God be three persons? Sunday: the making and the re-making of the world.

Sunday is prayer time. Prayer is conversation with God. We are poorer and drier when we do not pray. The energy stops flowing, no matter how much we’d jog along the streets. Sunday is the time to grow vertical and expand infinitely.

On Sundays, I shall post quotes which I endeavour to keep translating from a diary written by a Romanian Jew intellectual who was incarcerated in communist prisons and became not only an Orthodox Christian, but also a monk. I promise you Fr. Nicolae Steinhardt is one of a kind. His writings on God and Christianity are wonderfully to the point, many times too complex in their Romanian spirit to be able to achieve an accurate translation. I shall try my best. Here is one tiny sample.

“28 August 1964

Nobody becomes a Christian, even if they receive the baptism, like I did, late in life. I think it is no different in phenomenal conversions. The calling is always from before – no matter how deeply, subtly, cleverly masked. Pascal: Tu ne me chercherais point[1] The logic is always turned upside down: you’re looking for what you’ve found, you find what has been prepared for you, what you’ve already been given.

I am drawing two conclusions:

First, the true rudiments of the Christian doctrine: the absurd and the paradox. Second, God works in detail and with skill, when it rewards as well as when it punishes. Those – not always stupid – who believe that they can trick God, that they can deceive Him are bitterly wrong. No way. He gives a gift or a beating with accurate sophistication – which shows that God is not only good, right, almighty etc, He is also incredibly smart.”

[1] Blaise Pascal, Le Mystère de Jésus: “Tu ne me chercherais pas si tu ne m’avais trouvé. (Pensées, 553 [éd. Brunschvicg])