Prudence True

The Art of Wisdom

through Ancient Words

January / February




10 January 2012

Dear Souls -

         Pride, vein of glory, vainglory, is a soul-threatening disease.

         Pride permeates our society and singes our soul. People love pride, and its prickliness goes unnoticed dressed in the flamboyant disguise of self-esteem. When I'm not nice, I ponder how Orthodoxy is a misfit in American society. The root of this country is hearty self-esteem. Humility is un-American; it's the naughty child kept forever in time out.

         Why listen to my thoughts when you have this timeless wisdom below from Saint John Climacus, The Ladder of  Divine Ascent?

           (Step 22) On the many forms of vainglory:

         "The sun shines on all alike, and vainglory beams on all activities. For instance, I am vainglorious when I fast, and when I relax the fast in order to be unnoticed I am again vainglorious over my prudence. When well-dressed I am quite overcome by vainglory, and when I put on poor clothes I am vainglorious again. When I talk I am defeated, and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly-pear, a spike stands upright."

         And this:

         "A vainglorious person is a believing idolater; he apparently honours God, but he wants to please not God but men."


         "Every lover of self-display is vainglorious. The fast of the vainglorious person is without reward and his prayer is futile, because he does both for the praise of men."

          For all of us:

          "A vainglorious ascetic is cheated both ways: he exhausts his body, and he gets no reward."



Go in Peace


15 January 2012

Dear Souls -

          This is a simple story, though it's not really a story. It's an experience, and this experience lingers in my mind. I write here in a fraction of the time I should spend on my writing: these moments writing are stolen from time I don't have. I'm not a writer at all, I'm not a photographer, and I'm not a happy church-goer. I'm just me. An ordinary Orthodox Christian soul, who happens to like the beach. A lot. I'd rather be at the beach on Sunday mornings than Liturgy. That's mostly the Truth. Some Sunday mornings I like church, and some Sunday mornings it's as painful as a walk through the PICU. But in the ICU I help dying souls, and in church I don't.

          Forgive me, I've wandered off topic. Remember, I'm not a writer at all. And if you hang with me, I'll give you solid evidence to back up this claim...

           Let me get back to the story, which hasn't any backstory. (At night my dreams are all metaphors, and when I sort them out in the morning they congeal into words with double meanings; it's a tangled mess.) The other day as I was on my way somewhere, I stopped at an intersection where a homeless man sat in the center divide holding a sign. The exact words on the sign are irrelevant, but the message was not. He was hungry and homeless.  And I was driving a new car. The contrast struck me in the heart, more than most of Sunday morning strikes me on Sunday morning.

            The light changed from red to green, and I grabbed a nutrition bar from my bag next to me. Rolling slowly forward in the car, I extended my arm out the window, dangling the bar from my left hand. The man in the center divide extended his left hand toward mine. Our hands touched, our lives intersected, and he grabbed the nutrition bar from my hand. There was a brief connection, as our hands touched.

             I never expected the touch; it caught me off guard. And I was reminded of another story. The story of Jesus in a crowd asking, "Who touched me?" And then He said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me."


            And I thought: "Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet."

            Healed by her faith.

Go in Peace



Inside Quiet


19 January 2012

Dear Souls -

         All I know is what I know. And the inside of quiet is a mystery, except for my own. I'm reading The Road to Emmaus by Jim Forest, and I'm pondering his chapter on prayer . . . ceaseless prayer. When I peer inside quiet, I don't see a cluttered closet stuffed with tools of varying sizes and shapes: the inside of quiet is a silent well organized space. Inside quiet are long shelves of silence filled with Peace.

          I do not live in a monastery, and I'm not a priest. My way is not The Way of a Pilgrim, it's the way of an ordinary soul hiking a trail of everyday life lessons. Inside quiet is a space packed full of God. When the door to quiet is opened I see Peace in an obvious way. It's difficult seeing inside quiet with too much focus on rules or stiff practices (the focus switches from quiet to Rules). Prayer isn't a rule, it's a tool for finding God in the quiet of your heart.

          Inside quiet you find the silence of God resonating through the eyes of your soul.



A Thin Place


21 January 2012

Dear Souls -

           A thin place is not a Weight Watchers clinic. It's a place where the presence of God is palpable. And this is a term I just learned from Jim Forest's The Road to Emmaus (do not take this as a book recommendation, unless you like reading Fodor's travel guides for fun). The term thin place is a clever way of describing those spots where God touches your heart; I can get carried away with this term, if I don't watch myself. It's descriptive, and yet not wrapped in the heavy God-talk that boggles my brain.

           St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, are the two most well known thin places on earth, according to Mr. Forest. (I had never before heard of the third most well known thin place he mentions . . . Iona, Scotland?) Both of the first two thin places I cherish, although I've never visited either. God spoke to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, so this is an undisputed thin place.  And if you're a Christian, then the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the Resurrection of Christ, is also an undisputed thin place (If you're not a Christian, no worries, you cannot dispute the historic significance of the site . . . and also, my grandmother was baptized there . . . do you care?)

           Thin places exist, but recognition of these places may not register in your soul. Or, maybe you're someone who touches on thin spots here and there most days, with other stand out thin places which resonate through your soul. Hospitals are a thin place . . . a large complex of buildings perfused with human suffering. But a shopping mall may or may not be a thin place: a thin place can exist anywhere. Divine Liturgy is a thin place . . . it's Heaven on Earth, but you may not recognize it at the time. Or, during Liturgy the thin spots may leap out in front of you. Icons are known to be thin spots: they're windows into Heaven. Photographs can also be thin spots, if you ask me . . .

Christmas Vigil, St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai

                       This is a thin place of mine:
                           And the thinnest of all:
Mother of God


Being Watchful


5 February 2012

Dear Souls -

         Being watchful is like looking both ways before you cross the street. Maybe you can dash across the street on occasion without looking first, but I wouldn't suggest this as a regular practice. And if you cross the same quiet street everyday, maybe you notice cars before they come into view; you hear them from off in the distance.

          Watchfulness requires work. You must notice the less than obvious, and seeing the less than obvious takes practice. You can read 10,000 books and never learn anything at all about seeing the less than obvious. It's hidden. God can show you the less than obvious in a flash, or you can acquire this gift after lots of work on your heart. (Not the kind of work done during Cardiac surgery, but the kind that's done in a monastery. But if you don't live in a monastery, it's dangerous pretending you do.)

            All I know is what I know. I cannot explain the difference between the obvious and the not so obvious, because the difference is not concrete. It's a perceived difference that comes packaged in another form. And if you're watchful, you're on high alert at all times looking for this difference. Sometimes the not so obvious strikes you in the face, or sometimes it smacks you on the back. Maybe you heard it coming from the freeway exit three miles away . . . but you didn't pay attention. If you pay close attention, you see the less than obvious hidden there amongst the obvious. But don't expect everyone else to see it as well, because for some reason they don't.


"I Despise Legalism"


8 February 2012

Dear Souls -

         Some days I'm sure this is all a serious mistake. You reading here, me writing here . . . I'm not the churchiest person in town. If you're looking for someone to help you follow all the rules, then look elsewhere. I'm a struggler, and I struggle with rules. I should write about all things right and correct, but this is not the Faith I know. A living faith is not about Right and Correct. It's about Love. Period. Capital Period. Capital Capital Period. Add an Exclamation Mark...

Maybe listening here will clarify my perspective for you:  Don't Throw Rocks Through the Windows!

                              p.p.s.    Forgiveness

The Way of a Person


14 February 2012

Dear Souls -

          Encountering a palpable sense of God; this is the aim of my spiritual journey. My way is not The Way of a Pilgrim, but the way of my ancestors. My journey toward a palpable sense of God begins with the story of my family, and what I’ve experienced through a generation of elders whose roots I can trace to the heart of ancient Christianity. This path of mine is a path of osmosis: faith through an infusion of God into my bones.  


            With faith nothing is impossible, but for me describing my spiritual journey is close. I cannot separate the spiritual in my life from the rest of my life. It’s intertwined with everyday living since birth. There was never any question of the path of my faith. I shared my baptism, at four months of age, with two of my twenty-five first cousins, and most every other step of my faith I’ve also shared with this family of best friends. Together as children we formed an Orthodox Christian community immersed in American culture. At school we were ordinary American kids, but as a group our connection to ancient Christianity was something others did not understand. And this experience since childhood as a sub-community within the context of the broader Christian landscape is the foundation of my journey.

            For me it’s unnatural sharing the story of my spiritual journey. Infused into my bones is a fear of boasting about my faith, and this fear is palpable. As a sub-community of Christians we are quiet about our spiritual journey and consider faith a private and personal topic: publicly splattering your heart in black and white is not done. The story of Orthodox Christians born and raised in America for the past two hundred years is not written, but then no one wonders why it’s not. The absence of these stories, the silence of this voice of Christianity is not missed within the broader Christian landscape. With so many louder voices, the quiet voices are not heard. And the quiet voices remain quiet, except among themselves.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says this silence of Orthodox Christians is a result of centuries of persecution throughout the world. In America we have not experienced persecution as Orthodox Christians, but we remain quiet amidst a sea of louder Christian faiths. Our voice is a minority, our views are different, and we see Christianity through a lens unlike the lens of others. Within our sub-community we view God through a similar lens. Beyond, in the broader Christian community, our Christian view is an orange in the apple orchard.

We pass this tradition of quiet from one generation to the next as a tool for guarding the heart. Confrontation with other Christians about their beliefs does not guard the heart and maintain interior peace. Discussion with others about the Traditions of the Church is almost impossible without confrontation. And any explanation of the Orthodox Faith requires a mini-immersion into the ancient Church: a tutorial provided in the ten seconds interval between eyes glazing over and the expression of confidence in your lost and misguided soul. For most of us raised in 20th century America as Orthodox Christians this conversation has not changed since the age of seven, and as we’ve gotten wiser, we’ve perfected our retreat, a quiet avoiding of confrontation.

Love God, Love others. This message is clear, and my daily life must reflect this truth as I journey toward a palpable sense of God.


On Confessing...


21 February 2012

Dear Souls -

         The Orthodox Church is full of mystery. And for me, Confession is a mystery. As a child I worried about Confession, and as an adult I have lingering trepidation over Confession. I don’t at all resemble the anonymous Russian pilgrim, who, as he continues his way, seeks out a wise confessor seven versts away. Before he meets with this respected confessor, the pilgrim scours his heart and prepares a detailed list of his sins. I never prepare a list for Confession, but I always wish I did. I remember not long ago seeing a young girl in church with her list for Confession; I admired her diligence, wishing I too had an impressive list. Instead, I confessed I didn’t like confession and watched as the priest concealed a hesitant smile.

I remember one Sunday when I was eight years old on our long trip to church I asked my mom about sin. Her explanation made little sense: I should ask God for Forgiveness for something I’ve done wrong. Yes, I thought, what I needed was a good strong sin. I confess this is when I got the idea of creating a sin. The rest of the hour I spent conjuring up weighty sins. And when it was time for Confession, I proudly confessed that I was mean and awful to my younger brother. As the priest spoke quietly to me about kindness and love for my brother, I thought about my brother, who was also my best friend. Relieved, I returned to my seat, leaned over, and whispered in my brother’s ear about my sin. He was impressed.

Today before Confession, I can’t stop myself from politely interviewing close friends for ideas. And although it’s delicate, I listen hoping I discover some strong sin material I  missed. My friends are wise, and they know what I’m after. Not long ago a nun who translates for an elder at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, told me a soul’s spiritual maturity is transparent in their Confession. The Russian pilgrim arriving at his Confession with a list of sins is scolded, not praised, by the wise priest for his useless list. He is told by the priest that his list of transgressions reveals only what his soul lacks, and he is given another list: “The Confession of an Interior Man, Leading to Humility”. The wise priest’s list leads the pilgrim on his way, examining his love for God and neighbor, his faith, and his sense of pride. And like the pilgrim I can recycle this wise priest’s succinct list month after month, year after year. At last I, too, have my impressive list for Confession.

1.      I do not love God.

2.      I do not love neighbor.

3.      I do not have faith in spiritual realities.

4.      I am full of pride and self-love.


A Piece of Peace...


24 February 2012

Dear Souls -








            I've got nothing to say . . .