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Perspective, Choices, and What a Picture From 1904 Taught Me

 

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. – Frederick Buechner1

When I lived in Ottawa, I went through a time when I was unemployed, spent my carefully tended savings to survive and then ran out of money completely. For a few months I did not know how I was going to pay rent or buy food. Scary. Twice in my life I went through testing to see if I had cancer; each time, no cancer. Everyday now it seems that apocalyptic fearful things happen; the news tells us only of some. Anxiety has weighed me down deep in it’s ocean, submerging me under in its waves. It was there I learned you need to fight and deal with fear and anxiety while you are in the midst of it.

When overwhelmed, I pray small quick prayers: when I am afraid, I trust in Thee2; I repeat this prayer many times. I can breathe again. I do small prayers, cross myself, say the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me)3, these all help. I am learning to tune out a lot of news and worry. That you can choose to have a peaceful day or an anxious day. It’s all where and what you focus on and put your energy towards . . .With Christ one can develop a well of interior peace, an inward fortress. I am not there yet. But Mother Gavrilia4 shows that the way towards this peace is to accept everything in my life, to live in my ‘today’ with God and trust that God’s will is unfolding, even if my life and well being are in peril5.

I started learning this in Ottawa when I was unemployed; at the time, I had to move to a smaller, less expensive apartment. Most apartments are not listed more than two months in advance. My lease required me to give two months notice, which meant I had two months to find and move into a new apartment, in the middle of winter. At the same time two things were going on. First, my spiritual father6 was praying for me (as were many). Second, a miracle working icon came from Ukraine: the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God.7 At the time, a prayerful Orthodox Nun was living nearby and she told me “Ask the Mother of God for what you need, go up to her and ask many times.” So I did.

And so, I found an apartment that I could afford, relief! But, two weeks before I had to move, the owners of the apartment refused me, reneging the lease. I was in such a panic, even with the experience of the Holy Icon of the Mother of God. I told my spiritual father what happened and could not understand why he was not upset. (I was thinking along the lines of: I have been lied to! Cheated! I have no where to live! Two weeks and I am on the streets with all my stuff and my cat! What in the word is God doing?! I am scared, my life is spiraling out of control!). Why was my spiritual father so peaceful when he heard about my situation? It really struck me.

In the midst of this great panic, I saw that the apartment I really wanted resurfaced on Craigslist (someone refused that lease). I saw the place ASAP, a friend came with, we measured, realized my furniture would fit and I took it. This small apartment was painted a beautiful blue; blue is the liturgical colour for the Mother of God8. God provided while I was exhausted by worrying that He was not going to provide. A few months later a friend from church, V., came up to me and asked ‘was the apartment that reneged on you at the last minute at “this and this” address?’ I said “yes, why?” He answered: “It burnt down in the middle of the night, saw it on the news yesterday.” I did not realize how well I was being taken care of. My spiritual father, he already knew.

Being taken care of by God does not preclude suffering or even death. It does mean having a relationship with God that can create the interior fortress of peace that all of us desire but most do not believe is possible. This is where a picture that a dear friend gave us leads the way; it taught me so much! It is the picture you see above this essay, a picture that I see everyday in our library/chapel. It is of Tsar Nicholas, his family and Elizabeth, the Granddaughter of Queen Victoria and her husband9. This picture is from Pascha (Easter) night, 1904. It’s so beautiful. In year 1904, they were all celebrating Pascha in their most beautiful and stately clothes. They did not know the future, that soon a war (with Japan) would be going on, or that they would be martyred in less than 20 years.

We don’t know what our future is. But we can choose to have Pascha today. We can choose to live in the present, whatever that is. We can be with God in our today, no matter what today is or what it brings. We can learn not be crushed by tomorrow’s worry. We can do everything today with God. This is the way out from the anxiety that crushes us. Again and again, a pious older Catholic woman (she was one of my biggest mentors in Ottawa), told me: be with God today, look at how God saw you through that hard time, and that was a miracle of God, that ‘this and this’ happened. This mentor was at my wedding, 3 years later . . .

I have lived in New Jersey with my husband for almost 4 years now. If I focus on what I lost by leaving Ottawa or what I find yet incomplete in my new life, I can lose my inner peace and daily happiness. If I focus on how God’s will is unfolding for my life, I can have peace. Peace comes when I appreciate the day I have. That Cleo my cat is next to me as a type, that I have more provisions than my daily bread, that I can pray to God for help for myself and the world. I can choose what this day will be. I can have self-pity, discontentment and anxiety or I can practice thankfulness, prayer and seeking God’s will. I can be with God today. With time and God’s mercy, I can learn to be present to Christ’s Eternal Pascha, the hope given to all the world10.


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Elizabeth Roosje

Elizabeth Roosje

Elizabeth’s world includes many icons, books, paints, skeins of yarn, fabric for quilts, and boxes and shelves of journals. She is married to her best friend, a computer scientist, writer and Orthodox subdeacon. Elizabeth has an Honours BA in English Lit and a Masters of Library and Information Science. She worked as a librarian in various private libraries in Ottawa, Ontario Canada before moving to a New Jersey bedroom community of NYC. Elizabeth’s life revolves around these things: home (culinary, knitting, quilting pursuits), reading and writing, her godkids, 16 nieces and nephews and serving with her husband at their Church (Sunday School, Bookstore and Library). Orthodox for over 12 years, Elizabeth has blogged for over 10 years at https://eroosje.blogspot.com/ and is happy to be writing amidst others who love Christian dialogue.

  • Joy

    We *are* thinking in similar lines these days, aren’t we? So excited for you and this new opportunity.

    • Joy, *yes* so much yes!!! I thought of you in your writing and our shared perspectives a lot when I began this venture! Thanks so much for your support!!!

  • Ron McCreary

    Don’t quite agree with you about divine providence. But your conclusion sounds very much like the advice given in Ecclesiastes: “[God] has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.” (Ecc 3:11-13 NRS)

    • Hi Ron, Thanks for your comment. I can see how Ecc. 3 would fit with this, to see ‘be with God today’ being part of being present to today and appreciate it. Thanks for that tie-in, it’s very nice…. I really find that quite lovely, thank you!

      About what you don’t quite agree with… which is fine of course, the great thing about CP is that we can have loving disagreements and discussions! Thank God for such a place!

      To clarify what you meant….
      Do you mean you don’t agree that God takes care of us? Or are you refering more about the concept of the world as it happens (to us) is part of God’s will for our lives?

      God’s providence is often hard to understand and I realize there are various views about it. I liked what my friend Heather wrote to me on my blog (where I post these essays): “Be a victor not a victim: joyfully trusting that the circumstances in my life are directed by a good God.” … I find personally that if I see all of what is happening to me today to be from God or being used by God, I can have great peace.
      I also like, very much, this prayer:
      “PRAYER OF THE OPTINA ELDERS
      O Lord, grant unto me that with Thy peace
      I may greet all that this day is to bring.
      Grant unto me grace to surrender myself
      completely to Thy holy will.
      In every hour of this day instruct and guide
      me in all things. Whatever tidings I may
      receive during this day, do Thou teach
      me to accept tranquilly in the firm belief
      that Thy holy will governs all.
      Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in
      all I do and say. When unforeseen things
      occur, let me not forget that all is sent by
      Thee.
      Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably
      toward everyone, that I may bring
      confusion and sorrow to no one. Bestow
      on me, O Lord, strength to endure the
      fatigue of the day and to bear my part
      in its events.
      Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to
      believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive and
      to love. Amen.
      http://stpaisiusmonastery.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Optina-Prayer.pdf

      Thanks again for your comment, I really appreciate that you read my article! God bless you!

      • Ron McCreary

        I meant that I don’t hold a view of providence that says that God is always fixing things for us and working background to see that things go well for us. I’d hate to say something like that to the Syrian child whose picture has been around the internet lately.
        But, as you say, disagreement is permitted here (and, I think, in God’s kingdom).

        • Ron,

          Yes: this picture: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/08/19/a-picture-of-a-syrian-boy-goes-viral-but-the-war-goes-on/

          Heartbreaking.

          The question of evil. My husband and I talk about this, things working out does not always happen immediately…. Do you know the picture Corrie TenBoom would talk about? the embroidery that on the back looks very messy. We need to be careful not to be Job’s friends, being too sure of the movements of Providence moves in history; we can know that it does, but not how, except, possibly in retrospect.

          All I know is that Christ is with that child, bloodied, shocked form bombs and horror. I believe Christ is wherever suffering is and that He knows the deep searing pain of it.

          Even my own story, as I wrote here, it was an incredibly difficult time; my health was being effected, while my suffering was not more than 1 or 2 years, while it was going on, it was very difficult. It took some time for me to even be able to talk about it in retrospect.

          But I believe that God can be doing miracles even in war torn countries; the problem of Evil with a good God is a long standing conundrum. I think of Elie Wiesel’s book, The Trial of God, where the pogrom happens right at the beginning of a Jewish wedding, the Bride, taken…. the whole book is about that question…

          I don’t know that I would say that God is not always ‘fixing’ things, and I don’t think God actually makes everything better… so if I implied that, I am sorry. My next article will actually talk about the fact that a Christian can go through suffering, as did Christ on the Cross…

          but I still believe that God is working in the many broken cracks and shards that this world is composed of; as my Husband likes to say, ‘God writes straight with crooked lines’….

          to trust that all of today, no matter what today has in it, can be of God / allowed by God / used by God for our good, is a path towards peace, this I believe; how to articulate and best explain *how* this happens is beyond my scope….

          My husband adds, this is not intended as a ‘theodicy’ to alienate others by implying that I understand ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their suffering; if anything, it is to be at peace that God is still ‘everywhere present, filling all things’ even when the suffering is great; it is because I suffered that I began to learn to be with God today.

          • Ron, forgot to add: thank you for your explanation. I think what you are saying is very understandable and that I have, when reading books like the one on Mother Gavrilla, have been aware of those questions. I have, however, found a path towards being with God, remembering God (in the EOrthodox sense, similar to Brother L’s _practicing the Presence of God_) and towards having inner peace by these things. Again, thank you. I find your thoughts and interactions here very valuable and I appreciate the time you took! God bless you! It *is* wonderful to be able to discuss and even to be able to disagree, in all charity.

  • Nancy McCarroll

    God be with you in your today. The story about that apartment being burned down is such proof that our Father knows all things in all times. You wrote a beautiful affirmation of His knowing.

    • Thanks Nancy! Yes! Thank God that He *does* know and that He cares! I find it really helpful to remember the many times that God has shown His clear mercy to us!