A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

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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])

Healing

I come from a deeply affected country. Started off as a healthy happy easygoing child. Grew up surrounded by love and doubt, in the same measure. My mother was the living image of the Theotokos, not only her name was Maria. The kind of person who would go to bed crying and wake up with a smile on her face. My father was a talented man who had been deeply wounded at four years old when his mother abandoned him and by the constant belief that he was not good enough at anything he did. He made me feel I was never good enough, tough legacy to pass on to a dear strong child. She made me feel like I could conquer the world just by having faith. Little wonder they fought often, my mom and dad. They could not reconcile the pain inside. Like everybody around, they did not fully get why they had to lie and pretend life is good when there wasn’t any food, any freedom, any understanding. They were not stupid, of course. Just that the rules didn’t make sense. Because there is nothing to understand in the mindful destruction of the spirit.

There was massive schizophrenia in my country, still is. The Party said one thing and you had to follow its lines everywhere. By conservation instinct, people had chosen to tell themselves and their children differently inside their homes. To keep sane, apparently. Little did they know that “sanity” was also crooked. Truth was twisted, lie was queen. Doubt was in every corner, just like danger. You’d always have to pretend, or have your shield up – that wasn’t much different from all history of defense against attackers coming from all directions, literally. No big deal – just that it makes a people tired.

And tired they grew, by the days, by the years. Battles, struggles, tiredness got embedded in bones, can’t shake them off. Personal success was not celebrated outside the Party’s victory. The Church was suffering along. There were few people who’d heard about God. I remember I’d always wanted to see a Bible – it would have been a bonus to actually read it. After communism fell, I got one from an evangelic Christian in England. She genuinely thought she was bringing “the good news”. She didn’t get the people had stood by mere grace of God, that they had been Christian to the core, before apostles walked on Saxon fields. God has amazing ways, indeed.

It is hard to write about this. I have been battling the shadows in my life for too long. My optimism still erupts through the cracks now and then, and people wonder at my beautifully carved mask. Many don’t know it is a mask. Sometimes, I even think it is not a mask. I forget. I don’t know any more. The pain is eating me inside, literally. It made its bed and I do not know how to kick it out. I do not trust. I’m married to a beautiful man from the same country, tough luck. No matter how much I try to heal, he won’t. So firm is his mask, it has become his face. He does not understand where the problem is. “There is no problem.” When the problem is evident, he detaches himself from it, he leaves the room. How does one heal when the Party tells you there’s no need, you are already in heaven? How does one heal when you change countries to find the same lie blossoming all around, and your dear one, the one you’ve trusted, tells you this is it, you must comply and be joyful, what more do you want? How do you live with fear, with doubt, with failure and WHERE in God’s name can you find comfort?

How can I make the tears stop?

They talk about balance in books and self-help shows and blogs. Balance yourself. Better yet: balance yourself while being kicked.

BUT. I. DON’T. WANT. TO. BE. KICKED. ANY. MORE.

Then stop kicking. Empty your mind of your thoughts and let God in. Not as easy to do as it sounds. Then focus. You can’t. OK. Look here: YOU CAN. Discipline.

Repeat after me: I CAN. Walk on fire. Not because you want to, but because you have to.

I. DON’T. WANT. TO. WALK. ON. FIRE.

Walk with Me a little more, He says. One day the pain will cease.

That is His promise. There is no doubt in this. Whatever the damned party told you.

Change the pattern. Break it. Take pleasure in distorting it. Love your laugh! Get your paints out and draw long lines and curves and flowers and bees and streets and houses and smiling people with big, huge mouths. Paint the rain and the snow and cry a little more. BREAK. PATTERN. Yes, it’s schizophrenic. Yes, the pattern is there. Yes, the breakthrough is there too. Yes, you’re mad but you’re not mad. Yes, you won’t see God in flesh. Yes, He’s there. Yes, here’s a smile and a kiss and a long loving unconditional hug from your little one. Yes, it’s possible. Yes, your heart beats and belly doesn’t hurt as much today. Yes, you can’t breathe. Yes, you can!

Yes, you are free.

FREE. FREE. FREEEEEEEEEEE……….

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For you

I love you.

Don’t jump so, I know you don’t believe me. You’ve been beaten and terrorized and told you’re no good, why would you believe anybody telling or treating you differently?

Whatever you did, it was not enough, it was never enough. And you persisted to carry on, to live, to hope, to get… where? Here. Now. Not much, not perfect. Does it matter? Whatever.

You want to die. I get it. Been there, done that. I still do it occasionally. They say you can only die once – well, that may be true physically, but man, the spirit dies and dies and dies. Sometime it feels it will never end. That’s called hell. Wanna go on like that? You know very well it is quite possible. You need to find a way to stop it.

Would you please start believe? I’m not talking about perfect belief, there’s no such thing. We hear about this everyday. There is no perfection, although the ads and shows insist there is and people still buy into it. What the fuck. It’s a maddening merry-go-round, right? The darling social media of our New Age is full of gurus who tell us there’s no perfection, and they advise on how to do this and how to do that. They have their role, you know. They keep you going. You read their little article, and it makes you feel good for a moment or two. It gives you hope. You might even tell yourself: I’ll start do that to feel better. You do it for a day or two, and then you relapse, it’s even worse than before. Sure you are addicted, haven’t you figured that one out? My, and you thought you were clever. You’re addicted to the “lack-of-belief” syndrome. It’s very common, you know – it is precisely because of that, that we have so many “apparently-no-reason-for” depressed people, especially young ones. Too bad there are no rehab places for ordinary people.

There used to be a place, it was called church. It’s not what it used to be nowadays, though to tell you the truth, it’s never been perfect. It was a bit better in the beginning, aren’t all beginnings like that? Hopeful, loving, caring… But then life happened. So the church became too earthly powerful at some point and that spoiled its game, naturally. It started itself to believe it can literally offer heaven on earth, though the papers said differently. In other cases, it was so beaten up and twisted to suit the political system, it nearly succumbed. Very often now, it does not believe in its mission anymore and it doesn’t fight. Blurry, blurry, lots of grays, lots of interpretations, loads of guilt. Well, guess what, this church, this “heaven” was run by people. The vertical ones were slashed. Some of them hid themselves in the woods, the pressure is too much to bear, they can barely take care of themselves, never mind others. The church is a wreck, good morning! It’s hard to find a priest who listens to God these days.

So who am I to tell you differently, again? I am not a priest, I am not even a man. I’m not me here (hint: it’s Him.) I’m not much good myself. I wake up many mornings and am not grateful to be offered another day, not even to myself. I should. Hey, I didn’t kill myself yesterday, you know? I gave myself another chance. For what? To live another day like yesterday? Shit. Why do I believe something is gonna change today that didn’t yesterday? Why do I believe that someone will tell me how good enough I am? Maybe ’cause I haven’t yet totally stopped believing it’s possible.

So here, I’m telling you this, courtesy not of an Internet guru, but of the very Holy Spirit: I love you. You’re worth it. You have gifts that no one else has. That being unique stuff is really true. There is no one like you and you are a gem. You would not have been born otherwise. You are not a mistake. You are here because somebody bigger than anything anyone can possibly imagine created you after His image and His likeness. You can be like God – just not on your own. Drop that bit, it keeps you from seeing the big picture. That little pride thing in your mind is the hardest to leave aside. You know, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone lately saying you believe with your heart (actually, I did: it’s one of the slashed vertical monks, he’s had his share of earthly shit).  We live in a rational world, Descartes is still the biggest guru – which is why, rational and organized as I am, I dislike him profoundly. He declared “Dubito ergo cogito. Cogito ergo sum.” – and a huge bunch of stupid guys actually fell for it. They still do! (You’d think they actually think when they keep repeating it. Well, duh… No.) The first part is certainly true: I doubt therefore I think – yes, the mind balances right and wrong, makes decisions. But the second part is such a TRICK! I exist because I think?? So where does that leave all the mentally handicapped? The suicidal guys like you and me? The imperfect, the bullied, the homeless? In the sewer, of course. That is what we cannot reconcile! If I don’t think this way, I must be broken. If my mind cannot make sense, I’m unworthy, not good enough to figure it out.

I can’t escape this hell. I belong in the sewer.

No, you don’t. You do NOT belong in the sewer.

You belong in heaven.

You’re real. You’re a fighter – Yes, you don’t want to fight anymore, you’re tired. I get it. But hear this: you’re one of the best soldiers. You did not choose that gift – who in their right mind would choose to constantly pick up the sword on an invisible battle field? This gift was given to you. It’s an out-of-this-world honour, don’t you dare throw it away. You’re one of the vertical ones. You’re worthy precisely because you cannot sweep the truth under the carpet.  The light can only brighten up the room when on the table, not under the bed. Believe in your light, you know it’s still there. It was there this morning when you woke up. Take it from under the bed and put it on the table, that’s all you must do. What? You can’t find it? Naturally you can’t, stupid! It’s invisible, it’s not from this world. It is not the literal light, come on, even your lousy mind can get that. It’s the light of your life. It’s the love of your life. It’s right there, in the middle of your heart. Now pick it up gently and look straight into it. Can you see how beautiful you are? As beautiful as God. And you’re not alone. He has your back.

I love you.