Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Unexpected Joys of an Endless Winter

by Diahann Hiser, New Skete Candidate

 "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1

Having been greeted upon my arrival to New Skete in October by unusually spectacular Fall foliage, I was blissfully unaware of what was soon to brutally descend upon the Upstate New York region - the Endless Winter.  Although I was born in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, I had lived in the South (South Carolina) long enough that any memory of serious cold and snow was but a blur.  Intellectually, I understood what cold weather was, but my body had no memory of it, that is certain.  I had an unsettling suspicion that Winter in Cambridge might get the best of me, but the hustle and bustle of the busy autumn season distracted me from that thought.   

December came quickly, and the beauty of a white Christmas, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, created instant nostalgia.  The holiday lights on both monasteries were charming and inviting, and the snow was light and fluffy and delightful.  It wasn't even very cold at all - in fact, I questioned why I had been so terrified of Winter.  Winter was fabulous!  I was silly to have dreaded it.

After Christmas, while we were cleaning up from a lovely dinner, the news was broken to me by a couple of the nuns and I was stunned.  I normally am clumsy, and nearly dropped the platter I was drying.  "Oh, everything is OK now, but just wait until Theophany.  Then things get iffy."  Smiling unaware, I asked for clarification.  "We might not be able to make it up the monks' hill for services.  It can get really icy at that time."  I nervously wondered aloud why that would be so, my fingers in a death grip on the platter.  "We get into that time of year when we can have weeks of temperatures in the negative 20s," one of the sisters casually noted.  What?!  I asked why this had not been disclosed on the application for candidates, and began to wonder if God was playing some sort of joke on me.  God has been known to have a very funny sense of humor.

Then I remembered the haunting feeling that plagued me in the Fall.  And boy did it come, the cold weather.  The dreary grey days.  The heavy, wet, oppressive snow.  Brother Isaac jokingly offered one morning to go down to Havana, Cuba, and open a "New Skete - South"  campus.  I wanted to be first in line to go with him!  Had I known at the time that the winter would continue on like that for three more months, I might have even gone to Siberia, where it had to be warmer.  Had to be.

Was it all that bad?  Yes, and no.  Actually, I learned and did some pretty amazing things during the Endless Winter of 2014-2015.  I learned what frost heaves are, and that they can assist in the formation of beautiful ice crystal sculptures.  I learned that when the snow has accumulated past one's knee, it is advisable to wear snow shoes outside to prevent pulling a hamstring.  I learned that there are things called Yaktrax that attach to the bottom of shoes and keep one from falling down when walking on ice.  I learned that sometimes (oftentimes) it is necessary  to shovel your roof.  I learned about snow tires.

I learned how to cut your own Christmas tree, and that it helps to bring a saw, but that others might miraculously assist you, out of pity, in cutting it down with a chainsaw.  If said tree is quite too large when you get it back to the monastery, I learned that you can rig it up to a special hook on the wall with string so that it doesn't fall over.  Others had learned this before I did, and the hardware is in place.

I learned to play cards - specifically the game Canasta, and another wonderful game called Bananagrams.  The company of sisters and brothers is what makes the games fun, and something to always look forward to during the week.

I learned to make pie crust and Hungarian coffee cake.  The latter resulted in epic failures, but also proved the love and compassion of the brothers and sisters, who choked it down and told me it was "good."

I discovered the joy of a 3 AM walk in the snow under the moonlight, when everything is still and surreal.  I experienced the serenity of winter hikes up local mountain trails with the monks  and their dogs, enjoying new scenery and getting to know my brothers.

When making a snowman for the amusement of a German Shepherd, I learned that a snowman in the eyes of a dog is just three big toy balls that, of course, are the property of the dog and great for eating.

I enjoyed experiencing surprise February tulip blooms.  Grown indoors, of course.

There were activities outside of the monastery such as the Battenkill Chorale's production of Haydn's Creation, with Brother Marc in the chorus, and serving at interfaith community luncheons and feeding the poor.  These have left lasting impressions, too.  Looking back, it has been a pretty great Winter.

As I wrote this on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, there was still snow on the ground in the morning, but there were patches where it had melted and the grass was peeping through.  I was feeling hopeful.  Then we went to Divine Liturgy at 5 PM, and during the middle of the service, I saw something moving around outside the windows.  Snow.  More snow.  A lot of snow.  But one other thing I learned in my 6 months here at New Skete.  God is merciful.  And he has a plan.  I am sure that his plan includes some Spring-like weather in the future.  But like all of God's plans, I find myself impatient and wanting it on my time.  But Summer will be here before we know it, and guess what?  I have put some snowballs in the freezer in the bakery.  As fun as the indoor February tulips were, just wait until Jessie the dog sees... a snowman in July!

God's not the only one with a sense of humor.

A Few Thoughts on Pascha

by Brother David

And the Word became flesh.

The One, who is the express image of the Father and came to be in the image and likeness of God our creator, this same one, who is the author of the law, became sin for our sake so that, in his fulfillment of the law, we might be made righteous in God. (2 Cor 5:21)

Today Golgotha has become Eden. In this risen Christ, the cross of crucifixion, the cross of judgement, has become the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the cross of death has become the tree of life. The heart of Jesus, stilled in death, has become the living human heart beating in the heart of the Trinity, and the new tomb in which no one had been laid has become the virginal womb of the new Adam. And so, he who was raised from death by God as man raises us from the death of sin to life in himself as God and walks with us towards divinity as our brother while being, himself, the destination of our journey as our God.

The Christ, who never ceases being human, this Jesus, who never ceases being God, stands before us with his two natures undiminished, unconfused, undistorted, undivided, yet intimately bound in his single personhood, completely integrated. This mystery of personhood is as close to us as our own identity and is, at the same time, utterly beyond comprehension and inexhaustible.

He is never more divine than in his crucifixion and never more human than in his resurrection.

The apprehension of the risen Christ is the apprehension of the human as the human was created to be. The apprehension of the risen Christ is the apprehension of God as God has chosen to reveal God’s self to us. The risen Christ is both the fulfillment of God’s creative call to us to be in God’s image and likeness, even as the risen Christ is the one who calls us out of the nothingness of sin and death to be in his own image and likeness. In him we are neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, gay nor straight, conservative nor liberal, believer nor unbeliever, but rather we are all one in Christ. (Gal 3:28)

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created. In heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born of the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And we, who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present us holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which we heard, and which has been preached to every creature under heaven. (Col 1:15-23)

We tend to worry over whether we are worthy of God – over whether God can or will love us in our sinfulness. Let us not be dejected in our sin or concern ourselves with being worthy of God’s love. Let us not fear rejection from God on account of our failings. We, all of humanity who have ever been, who are now, and who will ever be, are the reason for the birth, the teaching, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ that we might be raised to new life. It is in our sin that the love of God is most made manifest.

We are the sheep who continually wanders off in search of greener pastures, deluded that the next thing will bring happiness. The shepherd continuously seeks us out and, at our slightest call, rushes to us to rescue us from the wolves of error and sin and death. We are the prodigal who continually rushes off in our hungering for comfort and lusting after riches in a land far from God. The father stands continuously scanning the horizon for us and, at the slightest turn of our head towards home, rushes to us to embraces us and bring us back to safety. We are the criminal who continually descends to a life of violence, pride, and vanity and who hangs on the cross of judgement, who has only to look towards the one who hangs with us and ask for remembrance, and we are continuously granted paradise.

It doesn’t matter that the world condemns us or even that we condemn ourselves. Christ says, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Christ says, “This child of mine was dead and is come back to life.” Christ says, “Come and rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” We are continuously forgiven, continuously raised, continuously drawn back into life by the inexorable love of the one who was raised from death and who raises us to life, because this Jesus – this Christ – is a jealous lover who refuses to allow the advances of death and sin to lay claim to us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Christ. (Rom 8:38-39) This is the source of our faith and steadfastness in the good news.

The Word became flesh and flesh became bread given to us unto the remission of sin as the sign of this love, this promise. This bread is the burning coal which touches our lips so that our guilt is removed and our sin is forgiven. (Is 6:7) And we consume the one who consumes death – our death and our sin – with the result that not even the very cells of our body are closer to us than he is.

And so, let us stand naked before our God, having put off from us the covering of fear and shame. Let us stand naked before the one who stands naked before us: naked in his birth, naked in the Jordan baptized by John, naked in the degradation of his crucifixion, and naked in his resurrection clothed only in the innocence of the new Eden and girded in the power of God. And in our nakedness, let us allow ourselves to be drawn away from the embrace of the false gods who would destroy us, into the embrace of a loving God: an embrace nailed to a cross, an embrace raised from the dead, an embrace given to us in bread, an embrace that we give to each other as we are raised in him unto life eternal.

Christ is risen.