Saturday, March 29, 2008

20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.

Happy midpoint, ladies! The following is from Megan:

Many of the maxims make us cringe because they contain concise little lessons that cut to the core of what we do not want to change about ourselves. This one, right in the middle, number twenty out of forty, reminds us not to engage in idle talk. Not to gossip, or even speak more than necessary. As women, we almost universally hate to hear this, and yet as Orthodox women we almost universally are working on it. It is not a surprising admonition; simply one that makes us put our heads down and sigh.

But a warning not to think about things more than necessary? Did that word think accidentally slip in there? Isn’t thinking like prayer or like love: the more the better?

I guess not.

Fr. Hopko could have easily prescribed that we worry no more than necessary, and certainly this maxim does allow for that interpretation. But the word think is purposely paired with talk, and we are certainly to take meaning from that. Just as we are not to engage in idle talk, whether it be gossip, lies, or simply unnecessary chatter, we are to refrain from idle thoughts. This would include the banishing of gossipy thoughts, where we indulge and flatter ourselves by thinking ill of others. It means an end to idle speculation, daydreaming, lustful thoughts, dwelling on worries and fears – the end to any thoughts other than what is necessary.

Wow. I don’t think I can do that. Thank goodness we have the Saints to help us out.

Friday, March 28, 2008

19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.

Hi, everyone! We are without an author today, so let me just share one thought:

I think this Maxim is very closely related to the one about silence. It is impossible to be "fully present" when you have four or five pots bubbling at once (literal or figurative.) I often have to remind myself to turn away from the computer when I'm having a conversation with someone, even a phone conversation; I might technically be listening, but I'm not really paying attention. And on the flip side of that, I will often ignore the phone if it rings while I'm doing something I need to concentrate on -- teaching a student, writing a note, or even making breakfast. I don't like electronic gadgets to run my life!

As women, it's very tempting to multi-task, because for the most part we can do it quite capably. But something will be lost in each task when we try to do them all at once; all that does is erode our ability to concentrate and water down our experiences. When you are fully present, you learn things you never expected to.

What are your thoughts about this?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

18. Listen when people talk to you.

Good morning! Here is Deborah:

When I told my husband this was the maxim I was to write about, he could only sit there and chuckle.

He no doubt had immediate recall of the 6 o'clock hour at our home, with me scurrying around to get dinner on the table, and he arrives, eager to unload news from the work front or just what's on his mind. At that point in the day, the way I do listening often gets downsized to detecting sound waves in the ear canal; and for him, talking then becomes merely an exercise in echo location. This maxim has encouraged me to devise strategies to remedy that situation, thankfully. I'm trying to greet him and give him a few minutes of fairly exclusive time immediately upon his arrival. If that doesn't happen, we're trying to take walks right before or right after dinner with the girls so that we get to converse at least a little bit. And then there's always after the girls are in bed to make more time to talk and listen to one another.

Why do I want to work on listening to my husband? Because I love him and want him to feel loved, respected, cherished as my friend and loving partner. So, can I listen to others in the "people" category with a similar desire for them? Everyone has a need to be heard, to express what's on their minds, in their hearts, from casual conversation to deep therapy. A couple things come to mind. One is the Psalmist in a humbled state: "Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King and my God..." The other is from Horton Hears a Who: "A person's a person, no matter how small," and the image of that big elephant ear dropping way down to hear what's up in that itty bitty city.

Listening is one of the most fundamental things I can do to embrace another person, to let them be who they are, and maybe at times to let them find out who they are becoming. As Bishop Kallistos Ware has put it, "Just as the three Divine Persons live in and for each other, so man -- being made in the Trinitarian image -- becomes a real person by seeing the world through others' eyes, by making others' joys and sorrows his own ... "

My wise godmother gave me a wonderful book to read during Lent -- Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love. The translator says, "Listening to people was one of [Mother Gavrilia's] special ministries. She often said that in our days, we scarcely know how to listen to the other, for we usually prefer to listen to ourselves, to our own talking, even after we ask a question!" She would sit and listen to others for hours, and when asked how she could do this without collapsing from fatigue, she would always say, "I do not exist." If she did not exist, she could become one with the other person and truly empathize with their situation, giving them hope and encouragement. Later in life Mother Gavrilia found a prior witness to this in a quote by St. Nilus: "He knows himself best, who believes himself as not existing."

Listening can require us to humble ourselves, focusing our undivided attention on the one speaking to us. We have to "lay aside all earthly cares" -- I might try visualizing a bulldozer removing all irrelevant thoughts to the far side of my brain – and provide true listening ears to the one who speaks to us. I guess this really is a good Lenten maxim, as listening can be seen as a way of almsgiving. Listening not only with our ears but also with our hearts can be an act of selfless devotion, sometimes even hard work in order to do it well.

Well, I can't wind this up without adding that we've been given a pretty wonderful example of good listening within the sacrament of confession. During this fasting season we're given the opportunity to unload those earthly cares and speak out about the sins that so easily beset us to our trusted spiritual father confessor who listens attentively, faithfully, facing the icon of Christ with us, offering up the prayer of forgiveness, and encouraging us to make real changes in our lives as we struggle against sin. Thanks be to God!

I'm sorry to all for whom I have been a poor listener. Pray for me, a sinner!

"Listen when people talk to you." Let us be attentive, indeed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.

From Emiliana:

Writing about not bringing unnecessary attention to oneself seems like a paradox; and even more of a paradox because I was trying to think how I could be witty and insightful. But God's mercy against my egoism is prevailing here and I only have several brief thoughts.

I wonder about the word "unnecessary" in the maxim. What is necessary attention, then? Can I die to my own ego enough to let Christ shine in all I do? That's the kind of attention that I want to gather up, not because I want anything for myself but because I want the love of Jesus, the will of Our Father and the light of the Holy Spirit to mark my trail in life. In my own weakness and pride I fall so short.

Dear Sisters, let us pray for one another, that we can prepare a path for God. That's all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.

Hi, everyone! I know you've been hearing my thoughts off and on for weeks now, but today is really "my" day, so thank you for listening to me ramble yet again!

I think it's so interesting, the way God controls even the smallest details of our lives. When I was fiddling around with a random number generator online, trying to make it work for the numbers 1-40, the first one that came up was 16. I immediately thought, "Well, that's my number, I guess!" Then I thought, "No, that's silly. I'll do mine later." But I couldn't forget it, and even after I'd assigned a bunch of numbers, no one else had gotten 16. Then I wrote up a calendar and saw that number 16 fell on March 25 -- not only the feast of the Annunciation, the cathedral in Baltimore where I was married, but also the birthday of my god-daughter Ophelia, who turns four today. I had to laugh when I saw that. Okay! I get it, already!

This is one of my favorites on the whole list, because I love the poetic repetition of those four words; all similar, but all with slightly different connotations. To me, they are all aspects of humility, the chief virtue that frees us from the chief sin of pride. If you are simple, hidden, quiet and small, you don't have any room for grand ambitions or complicated schemes. I confess to enjoying both of those things much more than is healthy!

In Fr. Tom's commentary on his Maxims, he quotes the church Fathers: "If you want to be known by God, don’t be known by people." That's a pretty solemn thought. We all have dreams of being famous and celebrated in some way, but the reality is that those things come with a price. It's no coincidence that celebrities have problems with relationships, families, money and addictions. Being "known by people" is not good for the soul.

In closing, I want to quote a passage from C.S. Lewis, a writer who may not have been Orthodox, but was certainly orthodox, and now is most certainly Orthodox! (Credit Fr. Gregory with that wonderful distinction.)

"Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility; he will not be thinking about himself at all."

A blessed feast to you all!

Monday, March 24, 2008

15. Be cheerful.

Hi! Just a placeholder post until I hear from Heidi, who's going to give us her thoughts on this . . .

I have to let you know that she was the only one who requested a particular Maxim: when I sent out the initial e-mail, she responded right away to say she was interested, and at the very end, added, "Dibs on 'Be cheerful!'" I was glad to give it to her, considering that she is one of the most wonderfully cheerful people I know, and not just in an outward sense -- she is really full of the joy and peace of Christ, all the time!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

14. Be grateful.

Good afternoon! Here's a wonderful meditation from Janet:

I was taught at an early age, as you probably were, to say “thank you” when receiving candy, a gift, or a compliment. Being grateful is an important virtue. I believe that it’s an important element of remaining happy throughout life, and a vital aspect of having a strong relationship with God. Here are some reasons I have come to this conclusion.

In the Psalms we repeatedly see the simple yet profound truth that “It is good to give thanks to God.” (1) The Holy Scriptures remind us to “give thanks for all things to God in the name of Christ Jesus (2,) in everything give thanks (3,) and thank God without ceasing (4.) In the lives of Christ and the Saints we see countless examples of their gratitude to God for His blessings and for every circumstance. We sing thankful praise to God in the Divine Liturgy. In fact, “Eucharist” means giving thanks, and the Eucharist is a topic in itself.

How often do I thank God? Do I thank Him for all things, even when I don’t feel like it, even when things don’t go the way I want, or when someone disappoints me? Especially in these situations, I should be thankful: thankful that God has a better plan than the one I wanted, thankful that the disappointment is for my good, and thankful for the person who disappointed me. I see a direct correlation in my life between a grateful heart and a strong relationship with God. In contrast, when I complain or become discontent, I am not being grateful for the many ways God has provided for me with a loving family, a strong church home, and material needs. In other words, a thankful mindset is incompatible with sinful thoughts. I like to think that gratitude crowds out sinful tendencies. As a practical way of being thankful, my goal is to thank God throughout the day for His mercy, protection, and goodness, as well as for specific answers to prayer whenever they come to mind.

“Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever.” (5) This psalm which we often sing during Liturgy brings great joy to my mother and me when I sing this psalm to her. She, who taught me to be thankful as a child, can worship God with me as we praise Him for His great mercy!

1- Psalm 92:1
2- Ephesians 5:20
3- I Thessalonians 5:18
4- 2 Thessalonians 2:13
5- Psalm 118, Psalm 136

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.