Friday, December 23, 2011

Troparia of the Pre-feast

"Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all. Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, for the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave. Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the fruit divine; if we eat of it we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning."

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Muppets

Last year for Christmas, Olivia got me the DVD set of The Muppets Season 3. As a kid, we only got three television stations, so whenever the Muppets were on, it was a treat (my favorite shows were the Muppets, Doctor Who, Portland Trail Blazers basketball, Sesame Street and the Price is Right).

It was really surreal watching the show again, as I hadn't seen it in probably 25 years. My childhood memories of the Muppets were that they were funny and cute. As an adult, I noticed how witty the writing was, as well as the undercurrent of dark humor. The outcome of many of the short sketches on the show is usually humorous but also involve some sort of minor disaster. At least I now have a better idea of where my sense of humor (some would say lack thereof) comes from.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A little late to the party, but still funny

a) Spinal Tap reference
b) spoofing quasi-religious Obama photo
c) I guess that's it

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In need

In recent years, when the Thanksgiving holiday has arrived, I've been struck by the contrast between the themes that I associate with the civil holiday -- joy, family, contentment -- and the materialistic orgy that follows the next day on "Black Friday." It's seemed like such an obvious contradiction.

This year, I had the realization that perhaps the contradiction isn't as strong as I supposed. In fact, perhaps there is a strong relationship between what Thanksgiving (at least the holiday) is and Black Friday. In a culture that associates psychological instability with a willingness to deprive oneself of anything one might want, ever (unless it hurts someone else, that is), it would only follow that Thanksgiving wouldn't be about being content with the present as much as being a reason to overindulge and consume in the present (which in reality, has the likely purpose to distract oneself from the present). With rabid, unchecked consumption and overindulgence being such hallmarks of our culture, it's easy for this worldview to permeate. Believe me, I didn't just eat food on Thanksgiving day, I ate as much of it as I possibly could, to the point of being uncomfortable.

What then, is truly being thankful? The portion copied in the post below of the Akathist of Thanksgiving -- purported to be written by the Russian Priest Grigory Petroff shortly before his death in a Soviet Gulag during World War II -- certainly has a "thankful" ring to it. Each year our parish has a service of this Akathist on the evening before Thanksgiving and each year I am struck at the beauty and profundity of the words. This year, what stuck out to me is the obvious humility and repentance in the words of the Akathist. Clearly, the writer of these words was very much aware of and felt in need of or dependent upon God.

To be in need in our culture, is often an occasion for protest; it's a wrong that needs correction. I certainly don't wish to demonize those who fight against injustice, but for many Saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church, being in need (materially, spiritually or otherwise) was seen as a blessing. In fact, there are many accounts of Saints actually seeking out hardship if life seemed too easy. Hardship was seen as being helpful for our salvation and naturally flowed into worship of God and not coincidentally, thanksgiving. I don't pretend to be an expert on what it means to be thankful, but it seems to me that at least on some level, having a humble outlook on life, both in regards to myself as well as others, creates the space from which thanksgiving naturally flows.

When it comes down to it, we all have difficulty in life to varying degrees. We are all, whether we would want to admit it or not, in need. In our humility we perceive our own limitations and need for and dependence upon God, better able to be content in our present circumstances, giving thanks for injustices and inefficiencies, which, with God's help, leads not to a materialistic correction, but to a thankful and ever deepening awareness and abiding in the love of God.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Akathist of Thanksgiving

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life's journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn's awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eno vs. Eno

After Lucie was born last year, we were given a CD of ocean sounds/ambient-ish music by my parents to help Lucie sleep. Parts of it reminded me of what I imagined Brian Eno's ambient music would sound like.

Since whenever Lucie was sleeping, I wanted to keep it quiet in the house and I was usually tired and/or sleep deprived, mellow and relaxing music was in demand. Eno's music seemed like something we could both "enjoy" or at least appreciate on some level. I bought Discreet Music on vinyl and was fascinated as much by Eno's description of the process by which he recorded it and the events that had led to its creation as much as the music itself, which is to say, I found it subtlety captivating. Over the next few months, I acquired all of his "ambient" albums and enjoyed them all. I think Lucie likes them, too.

Eno released new albums this past winter as well as earlier this summer and to help promote his record last year, he posted this spoof of an interview with a musical journalist (played by Eno himself). The interview consists of several astute observations by the journalist, "Dick Flash," a surprisingly wry sense of humor from Eno and a semi-philosophical discussion of Eno's music and the role of music in general, as seen in a more "humanist" perspective.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Abba Macarius said this about himself: 'When I was young and was living in a cell in Egypt, they took me to make me a cleric in the village. Because I did not wish to receive this dignity, I fled to another place. Then a layman joined me; he sold my manual work for me and served me. Now it happened that virgin in the village, under the weight of temptation, committed sin. When she became pregnant, they asked her who was to blame. She said, "the anchorite." Then they came to seize me, led me to the village and hung pots black with soot and various other things round my neck and led me through the village in all directions, beating me and saying, "This monk defiled our virgin, catch him, catch him," and they beat me almost to death. Then one of the old men came and said, "What are you doing, how long will you go on beating this strange monk?" The man who served me was walking behind me, full of shame, for they covered him with insults too, saying, "Look at this anchorite, for whom you stood surety; what has he done?" The girl's parents said, "Do not let him go till he has given a pledge that he will keep her." I spoke to my servant and he vouched for me. Going to my cell, I gave him all the baskets I had, saying, "Sell them, and give my wife something to eat." Then I said to myself, "Macarius, you have found yourself a wife, you must work a little more in order to keep her." So I worked night and day and sent my work to her. But when the time came for the wretch to give birth, she remained in labor for many days without bringing forth, and they said to her, "What is the matter?" She said, "I know what it is, it is because I slandered anchorite, and accused him unjustly; it is not he who is to blame, but such and such a young man." Then the man who served me came to me with full of joy saying, "The virgin could not give birth until she had said 'The anchorite had nothing to do with it, but I have lied about him.' The whole village want to come here solemnly and do penance before you." But when I heard this, for people would disturb me, I got up and fled here to Scetis. That is the originial reason why I came here.'