The Journals of Loneliness (1) Procrustes’ Bed

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Not once, but it was almost a thought set that I learned to leave with or tortured by in my long struggle to define the today assembly or disassembly of whatever amounts to that allusive word humanity. By simply admitting that there is a struggle in that direction I am setting myself to a never ending road of searching for one, the one, answer that will finally reconcile what I see and experience to what my definition of reality establishes as a rule.  I never ventured in recording my restlessness of thought in; let’s call it, journals of a restless and discontent mind.  I shout to myself the question: “Quo Vadis?”. But that question makes no sense since I admitted that the road I set myself on is endless. How would you assign finality to something that you will never reach? For some human fellows, I am one of them, this venture, the venture of hair splitting will have a personal and deep impact upon the inner self by birthing attitudes that are supposed to fit in and harmonize with the society within our own time of existence. There is a risk that the fruit of our thought struggles will be bitter as we fall into the trap of cynicism or apathy. At the same time we face a huge opportunity that will give us the state of awe and wonder, of hope and joy. I chose the second option therefore the second kind of fruit, as you already guessed.

You see, many of our kind fantasize about a “planet with no borders”, about a “human race” with no distinction bestowed on each individual by our Creator, the heavenly Father. This somehow perceived “romantic, revolutionary thinking” is a decay process, I believe, of human thinking. It is a collapsing of whatever once made us great, made us each a universe within ourselves so uniquely conceived! This uniqueness made love between creature and Creator possible and intimate.

On a larger scale, the nations and kingdoms are unique by God’s design, unique and somehow human like through character traits and purpose. God addresses them specifically by name, God blesses them and God curses them. This planet would be an earth bound hell if it weren’t for nations and borders. Many of us trying to escape persecution of all kinds would have no place to hide, no refuge. What would WWII Europe be without  neutral Switzerland, without independent and well-protected England, without a powerful USA and so on? Maybe the whole world “without borders” would become a global Hitler-made “paradise” or a Stalinist “idyllic”, borderless, to-dream-about state? Or maybe a combination of the two?  How about little us? Well, let us think it over a little bit!  I did not catch WWII but I know a thing or two about the Lenin/Stalin/Ceausescu/Mao/Etc paradigms. I intentionally wrote “paradigms” with bold letters since we use a pre-set number of thinking patterns. We are either born in them or gradually grow in these patterns. Ceausescu had been drumming the slogan “creation of a new man” because, in his mind, it was the cornerstone of communism’s triumph.  This “new man” envisioned by this ruthless dictator was just a brick, one of the 25 million bricks of Romania conveniently “created” by Bucharest propaganda, meant to be no more than some nodding zombies, a quiet tax payer and “enthusiastic” communist elite worshiper. I was right there; I know it to be true! Trying to “create” a “new man” was in fact usurping God and empowering the agents of darkness.  Creating a “new man” meant destruction of the old man.  Every free thinker or everyone who tried to think for himself was a “counter-revolutionary power” and had to be annihilated.  The jails of communist countries were full not with criminals but with priests, pastors, well-to-do individuals, philosophers, historians, poets, novelists, musicians and pre-revolution politicians. At the same time, the West was refreshed by the incoming asylum seekers who did their best to make the world aware of the horrors of the systems where being unique was a crime, where the freedom to think was an unaffordable luxury and an unpardonable sin, where dreaming big had been forgotten.

What am I saying? Praise God for nations with borders, unique in culture and history, unique in the divine purpose of their existence.  Praise God for each of my fellow humans, for their input in shaping the unique me. No, we are not bricks, mere bricks in somebody else’s towers. Yes, we are rocks; uniquely shaped rocks placed in temples of beauty and harmony by the marvelous skill of the Great Builder, our Lord Jesus Christ.

With this “Journals of Loneliness” series I will focus on the terror of spiritual destruction of human beings and their communities that once made this world of ours an oasis of all opportunities and all possibilities.

I hope you will be with me as I so often feel like the poet of the Russian prairies, Sergei Yesenin:

“Whom shall I call on? Who will share with me/The wretched happiness of staying alive?”

Dare to be yourself!

 

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If we conform to the market place or editors’ demands before we conform to who we are and meant to be, all our struggles with creative writing will be nothing more than a petty rewriting of old and stale talking points.

Elma Schemenauer

YesterCanada – Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure

Review by Slavomir Almajan

 

yestercanada-front-cover   It deserves five-star rating indeed! It is also a must-read book for readers of any age, any gender, any culture…

Elma Schemenauer invaded my searching heart with a new level of curiosity, way beyond  “let’s see what else is new” realm. She captured my full attention with Consider the Sunflowers, a captivating novel, deeply entrenched in Canada’s prairie culture with all the harmonies and  disharmonies of life in a real world.

YesterCanada comes, at least for me, as a surprise that shattered all my reservations regarding short fictionalized history stories. Sometimes this kind of stories come as a cover up for poorly researched facts. YesterCanada is a real deal!  It is not a mere attempt to fill the pages with nicely crafted words, although there is a lot of that in this book, but rather a heart’s response to so many old stories and legends of this land.

It is a master’s touch throughout every story and legend that brings to life the characters and the things that you never thought could breathe again. But they did and they did it with the author’s life.

Tom Sukanan is one of the most beautiful and complex characters in the book and the circumstances surrounding his life and shaping his destiny were, to say the least, not less complex. The restlessness he carried within drove him toward unleashing the best of him to the service of others. “It wasn’t that he didn’t care about other people. When new homesteaders arrived in the area, Tom offered to lend them a hand in building their houses. He also turned his inventive and mechanical abilities to projects that benefitted the whole community. It was Tom Sukanan who built the area’s first grain-threshing machine. It was also Tom who constructed a homemade sewing machine so that the women of the district wouldn’t need to do all their mending by hand.”  The homesickness that hit him later on morphed into one of the most intense dramas that could hit the human soul. The creator became almost one with his creation. They both became an unsung song, victims of aging without legacy, of dying with unfulfilled dreams.

The British Columbia Ship That Wouldn’t Die is a symbol, a Thing that survived its creator, carrying his restlessness that built it across the oceans…

Lillian Alling was more than a mere mortal woman. She was a heroine, a pursuer of her dream. Nothing could stand against it. Somehow a part of New York City and every place that her feeble feet touched became better and more alive.  The obstacles sometimes would be simple acts of kindness or even apparent hostile actions driven by pure intentions.  Wow!  I dare you to read this story without falling in love with its main character!

By the author’s touch even the dead come to life, not necessarily through living but through animating the bored world by a mysterious and almost unbelievable story. Yes, I said to myself, love survives the mortal being and frees enough territory to accommodate an absolutely beautiful story.

Elma Schemenauer grew to know intimately the world around her and made it more beautiful through her outstanding way of being restless for the sake of carrying the light of Christ through what He made her to be.

Thank you, Elma, for your beautiful work!

YesterCanada is a 248-page paperback including 30 illustrations and a bibliography, $19.95. Ask for it in a store or library. Or order online from Amazon, Chapters Indigo, or Borealis Press. E-book coming later.

 

 

 

 

 

Sandy Shore

Slavo in albastruI feel like I carry a burden and a sigh from I don’t know where, strong enough, painful enough and lavishly clear.   The wings of beauty will show up, I think, with their irresistible joy in the flow of peace and beauty of this moment.  My heart melts in some unspoken words, in a silent prayer. Maybe what drives me to Him in this moment is the pain I never felt before from someone’s darkness of loneliness and despair. I have been there and so often my own darkness devoured my rest. I cried it out just to hear it coming back to me, multiplied by the echoes of my own emptiness.

This morning is different – so much different!  The raw sand of this Mexican beach, its wetness and coolness after the scorching heat of yesterday seem to connect me again with the distant shore of peace and tranquility that my soul has been searching for.  Just within the last couple of days I developed a somehow more than a “how are you” friendship with Scott and Samantha, Keith and Melissa, the French Fabian and Kate, Heidi and Anna, mother and daughter …  We even know each other by name.

smallThis morning, on this sandy shore of Mexico as the ocean caresses my feet in the quiet hour of the morning and the waves send towards me this craved-for mist of coolness, my loneliness has morphed into blessed moments of serenity and a quiet conversation with my Creator.  It is this display of beauty that talks to me from Him, the cool ocean spray that touches me from Him, it is the mighty rush of waves  that reassures me from Him…  Every drop, every vapor particle  is  here for me, for my restless soul to finally hang the hat of futility on His outstretched hand of love.  It is He all around, in the deepest of the sea, in the clearest of the sky or in the grayest of the clouds…

Then Melissa and Scott, Samantha and Keith, and Kate and Fabian came to my mind. Their loud laughter and colorful language animated the over-hearers with curiosity.  I was happy I could call them by their first names.  When I saw Scott and Melissa the other day, that loud laughter and  colorful talking were not there anymore.  I used to see them as God’s treasure boxes buried in a deep illusion of happiness.  Hmm,  I wish could dig them out and bring them here to this serene Mexican ocean shore and soak them in this majestic display of love.  Will I see them laughing again? Will I ever see a smile of tranquility on their faces? As I last saw them, they rather looked  like jars of hidden and unspoken sorrow.

“Then sings my soul, my Savior Lord to Thee, How great Thou art, how great Thou art…” Right there, right then, a humble wave gently surrendered at my hot feet, and a soft, cool breeze enveloped me like a mantle of royal silk.  “Yours, I am totally yours, my Lord!”

These moments of serenity deeply engraved in my heart the truth that He is here and everywhere.  He is to be found as our hearts take the time that would otherwise be wasted on our egos to lay it down at His feet and quietly watch the display of His creation.

There must be more, I think, a lot more from Him this morning at the feast set before me in the prospect of all my future worries and day-to-day struggles.  I spotted two little black stones close to one another among a multitude of shaped or shapeless stones.  They, the two stones I picked, were beautiful.  Black and beautiful.  One of them was thin and perfectly round like a coin; the other one was almost perfectly spherical.  Hmm, my mind suddenly went into overdrive mode.  Oh, I know, the ocean, its waves, rocks colliding with each other, a storm, an earthquake here and there, a tsunami, a meteor and who knows what else, worked together to bring these two rocks to this shape, at this shore, for this moment.  Then I smiled amused by a new thought: do they, the rocks that is, talk to each other?  “You’re so thin! How did you do that?” The other one seems to answer:  “But you are too chubby! Will you lose some weight anytime soon?” This brought another smile on my face as I remembered yesterday’s dialog between Melissa and Samantha.  But, looking at the two rocks in the palm of my hand, my smile vanished.  Where did these rocks come from?  Then, like in a fast tracked movie I saw a rocky mountain crushing some ocean’s waves.  All of a sudden, in the background of mist, white foam and the powerful wave-crushing noise, something cataclysmic, another infinitely more powerful noise broke the common sense of nature, the earth shook, the sky darkened…  then I watched all this chaos dimming down and the sun shining above a totally new horizon.  A whole left side of the mountain was gone.  “Are you it?”, I said looking at the two beautifully-shaped rocks in my hand.  I knew then that I was holding in my hand a mountain or two from long ago.  I am holding in my hand thousands of years of history of a mountain tumbled through present and former oceans, from a far shore to another far shore to here and now. If these rocks could think of self, would they know their true self? Will I ever know who I am? Will you?

Maybe we will never know who we are until we see and know the empty space we caused behind us at the shore we left.  In the heart of the Father we once left a big and painful void.  Ever since we were born, the cry of the void within our heart has been deafening the universe.

Maybe I am like one of these stones, socially shaped, polished by doctrines and dogmas, reduced to a socially accepted roundness, not knowing more of myself than what that roundness contains as matter and color.  Maybe the stones around me and the sand, and the colors, and the saltiness will one day find their true selves, filling again the empty space.

We are loved by God and that should be the core of understanding who we really are. The love we cherish for our wives or husbands is originating in an unparalleled attraction towards a sole and most significant other.  Each of us is that unique someone for whom the heart of God is longing. We left that happy shore of Eden on the day we first sinned, leaving behind us a void as vast as God’s love.  We will, one day, fill that void through the glorious reunion with Him.

Then, I believe, only then the cry of emptiness that is deafening the universe now will become a symphony of beauty and completeness.

“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28)

Slavomir Almajan

 

Consider the Sunflowers – Elma Schemenauer

A Melody in Minor Keys
Yes, Consider the Sunflowers is like a melody in minor keys. It is a melody that rises above the quietness of the prairie about the souls and simple lives of the ordinary people in and ordinary landscape with destinies that are all but ordinary. The story of Consider the Sunflower had grown thin and tall lake a white birch.
I like to see and talk about a written story like about a living entity with all the attributes that life comes with. What’s happening to it after the author leaves it with the reader must look like a life cycle in the context of a forest that is about to grow after the reader sets it aside and continue minding his daily business or go to the desk and grow his own trees and so on. A story, every good story in itself must leave behind it a legacy of thought and emotion that will ultimately bare fruits. According to these criteria, Consider the Sunflowers by Elma Schemenauer passes the test and I solemnly declare it alive!
I read it enthusiastically, I read it quickly. This is not to say that I viewed it as pure entertainment but rather like a mind and heart capturing story. Of course, as a writer and poet I would probably structure it differently but, again, that’s the beauty of a well written novel: it multiplies in the mind and heart of the reader. I would envision my story rather like a rich leafy and shadowy linden tree with flowers coming to blossom in June, with multitudes of birds singing and bees collecting the nectar and the sadness of leafs coming down in the fall. But that would be my story, a story of a guy familiar not with the prairie but rather with a mountainous landscape with springs and creeks, with green meadows and the charm of nightingales.
Most of the reviews that I read on Consider the Sunflowers gravitate around love, marriage and the challenges of life. And, yes, there is plenty of meat to satisfy the interest of many who prefer this kind of ingredients of a story. I like them too but with so many novels written around these themes many of the stories become more like variations of the same. What sets this story apart? Let’s see!
The plot has a straight line shape that grows in colour and intensity. The author proves that the plot is not all that there is but rather it gives debt and nuances to the characters and to the larger context of the community. Not necessarily what characters say in the dialogs is what defines them but rather how they respond to the basic challenges of life. Sometimes through the process of reading I felt like being immersed a beautiful breeze of sound, a melody in minor tunes. The drama is more like something we all go through in our everyday life but Elma’s characters’ response is unique. A rather acrimonious co-existence of Roland and Frank within the same community evolves in a rare fruit of mutual acceptance. Frank and Victor outgrow their mutual disregard for each other, Frank, the half gipsy and, half Christian young man is ultimately accepted in a community with strong prejudices and strict moral dogmas.
Tina is a center pillar of the whole structure. She is a victim of loneliness in a place that was, according to her dreams, meant to be a paradise. She is a living example of what destructive power loneliness can unleash on a human soul. There, in the realm of loneliness, the time seems to be painfully slow and the mind excruciatingly hasty in building an almost alternate reality so much so that even the absolutes are being questioned and moral boundaries blur up to become a heavy fog of uncertainty.
The author leaves plenty open doors or just slightly cracked throughout the story. I can foresee a whole series of follow up novels like: “Consider the Laughter” with Dorrie and Roland devouring life with an astronomical hunger, “Consider Coming Home” with Frank’s surrender to the Almighty and his ultimate new birth, “Consider the Colours” with Tina surrendering to the beauty of the prairie and her artistic inclinations past on Klara or Morgan, etc.
There is also a door just slightly ajar towards the beauty of concurring fears and prejudices, towards growing trough the spirit of wisdom and revelation, towards finally seeing the big picture that God kept displaying before our eyes for ages. Maybe there is also a door towards a novel addressing a conflict between the old and the young…
Elma Schemenauer proves to be a resourceful story teller and Consider the Sunflower is just one piece of a puzzle that she is called to put together.

When Sleep Eludes You (3)

Style or substance- is it either or?

“Oh well…”, I say to myself, sometimes as an excuse, sometimes as a symptom of apathy or something similar.  Or giving up? No, rather a mild attack of cynicism, I think. Then something comes my way and everything changes. This is when, deep in the night, I start missing that old “oh well” of mine.  Ok, let’s start!  It was Sunday night; it was a night already prone to drive sleep away as Monday morning followed – usually a time when the previous week’s expectations prove to be wrong, a time when all the unexpected phone calls are meant to shatter your day and the mild blues grow to anxiety or whatever you call it.   But this was unexpectedly more than all of the above and many other Monday morning annoyances I failed to list.

What was it? Believe it or not, it was a hymn – a hymn that outlasted more than four generations, validated by the test of time as an artistic masterpiece, rewarded by the humility and joy of countless newborn Christians. This hymn was canonized by the universality of its message and tune beyond any boundaries and cherished by fond memories during crucial moments in the lives of so many.  Most of all, I believe, it has the eternal commendation of The Most High…  “Just as I am, I come to Thee…”, “So wie ich bin, so muse s sein”,  “Asa cum sunt la Tine vin… “,  “Takov kak est, bez del, bez slov”…  and so on…   Different languages, same tune, same harmony, same heavenly presence…  In the summer of 1992 we joined the worship of a reputable local body without even speaking or understanding much English.  It was that heavenly tune that brought our hearts together with our fellow Canadians’ hearts.  Oh, what a joy!…  And so it was, at other times, with “Amazing Grace”, “A mighty fortress is our God”, “What can wash away my sins…”, “It is well with my soul”…  That’s how we got across to each other as members of the same body when the language barrier could not be overcome.  It was the melody of the heart; it was the anointing of The Spirit, it was the breeze of heaven in the scorching heat of this always hostile environment for whosoever boldly acknowledges Christ’s lordship.  I apologize, my dear reader, I did not mean to digress and I beg you, stay with me for a while longer…  “Where are you, {“oh well”}”?  That was my loud inner shout that Sunday night.  Here it is:  if today’s Sunday morning happened 23 years ago, that summer of 1992, we would have missed the awesome touch of heaven that we felt back then.

Please understand me, this is what I am not trying to say:

  1. I am not saying that only old hymns should be sung and that there is no divine anointing in contemporary worship music. I am actually fond of many new Christian songs and I joyfully sing along whenever the tunes and the rhythm and the anointing pull me in.
  2. I am not saying that you must, despite your will, sing our old hymns, although it would be a good show of respect towards our Christian heritage if you did it once in a while.
  3. I am not questioning anyone’s motives in the things that generated mine and many other people’s frustrations.
  4. I am not aligning myself with anyone’s “religious correctness” in regards to what I am trying to say in this article.
  5. I am not holding back anything that I believe is true and should be said.

I struggled after this sleepless Sunday night with the thought that some kind of churchy, pharisaic judgment spirit crept into my soul leading me to believe that I am a misfit, a cynical sour fellow…  Then I checked the world out there and, to my comfort, many voices of different ages, even millennials (!!!), share, in one way or another, my feelings about this business of taking these old hymns[1] from our treasure box and singing them in a “new” way.   Dear brother, couldn’t you just come up with a new song?   It would have been commendable, pleasing to God and pleasing to all the people who cherish the memories of what this hymn means to them. It is our treasure box, brother, do not touch it unless you want to dust it off and display it to the joy of all of us, including the millennials whom you’re trying so hard to reach. One of the millenials[2] speaking out his mind gives us an inside look about the issue I am speaking about: “I am one of those rascally millennials, by the way. One of those enigmatic, paradoxical, media-dependent, coffee-drinking young people swept together under this millennial umbrella.” ( See footnote 2 for the whole article).   Here is what else he says:

“I love the theology, but I hate the expectations of pseudo piety. Love the gospel, hate the patriotic moralism. Love the Bible, hate the way it’s used. Love Jesus, but hate what we’ve done with him. Love worship, but hate Jesusy entertainment.” (Bold, italics and underlining are mine). Oh, how I love this friend, as he calls himself, Jonathan Aigner[3]! Here is how he defines worship[4]:” Worship is not an evangelistic tool. We don’t worship together to attract unbelievers. We worship together because God is worthy. We worship together because this gracious God has called us into his story and grafted us together as covenant people. We worship together because we desperately need to tell and retell and hear and rehear that story. We worship together to be refocused, reshaped, renewed by God’s gifts. We need liturgy. We need Word and sacrament.” (Bold letter outlines are part of the original text. Italics are mine)

I would like to return to my dilemma. Here is what I believe comes out of the “extreme makeover” of the old Christian hymns according to the taste and the will of our CCM[5] worship leaders: they believe that an old hymn will become more attractive to the young generation.  Wrong!  As the above-mentioned brother stated, there is no proof of that this will be more than “Jesusy entertainment”.  There is better entertainment outside the church, if you will, and sustained by professionals. They know all the ins and outs of the marketplace and master the manipulations of mind and emotions in a considerably more efficient way.  I suggest you stay away from this.  Whatever is out there cannot outsmart or outperform the work inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This is the way you should go.

…And, please, do not bring that shallow argument around style and substance. “Listen to the words!”, they will say, but the words are buried in the fluff of noisy instruments, sophisticated lighting, rhythm that is out of step with the message.  You know, it is like saying, “Drink the water, brother, it is the same water!”  Wrong again!  I would rather drink the water from a clean crystal-clear glass than from a gasoline tank or toilet bowl.  Since when have “style and substance” become “either or”? I might come back with more thoughts on “style or substance” but right now I will continue to pour out my two-penny wrath (please, call it thoughts!) on what I originally intended. There are damages in modernizing – that’s too mild; maybe “disfiguring” will be more appropriate – the old masterpieces and these damages come in more than one way:

  1. You are depriving the young generation of knowing and owning our rich Christian heritage. There is only one way to make it right: show them the original versions and let them judge and chose. That way they will, at least, know that we have a past and we have a history… They will probably experience the nostalgia of the times when a divinely inspired hymn of the 16th century is still beautiful today and there is nothing from stopping it from being sung today.  Not even the style!
  2. You damage your call. Because all these hymns are in the public domain, yes, you are safe from being accused of plagiarism, but you can surely fall into the music vandalism category. That would be the assessment of whosoever loves and cherishes true music. That trend of yours would resemble a graffiti “work” over the original painting of Mona Lisa. It is ironic that Il Divo or Nana Mouskoury or many other secular singers and groups show more respect and consideration for our musical heritage that our CCM worship leaders. They also sing our hymns and enjoy considerable success in the world we try to reach. You go figure!
  3. You damage the true meaning of worship. Worship is not meant to reach people for Christ, but rather to reach the heart of Christ.

There is more, a lot more that should be said along these lines.  As for me, I found rest in the serene atmosphere of old hymns after times when my soul was mercilessly hammered by whatever the world calls music and my mind was fogged by cheap alcohol and the blues.  I want God more than anything else, and what I sing or listen to must be in total harmony with His heart. I know, my dear CCM worship leader, that you have meant well.  I believe that out of your shattered alabaster box can flow the sweetest music, and through its tunes the glory of Christ will cover the earth.

[1][1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_As_I_Am_(hymn)

[2][2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2015/05/13/dear-church-an-open-letter-from-one-of-those-millennials-you-cant-figure-out/?ref_widget=related&ref_blog=ponderanew&ref_post=modernized-hymns-are-you-singing-hymns-or-just-contemporary-songs-with-old-words

[3][3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/about-jonathan-aigner/

[4][4] http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/54085

[5] [5] Christian Contemporary Music

UPROOTED by Slavomir Almajan

DSC_0096I am nowhere to be found, nowhere. A painful realization that there is no eye to look at me with the “natural” objective of seeing me descended to prolong my sleeplessness. If I were to plow through the minds of those whom my eyes and my mind perceive I would probably find no trace of me anywhere.  “Oh, what a blessing!” some would say,  “you just narrowed the search of self to one, only one plausible place where you can find yourself. The heart of God that is…” That would be an answer, a very easy one, but one with no resemblance to anyone’s reality – not even God’s. I remember a dream, rather a nightmare: in that dream I saw myself somewhere in a place. That’s all I can say: a place. I was horrified. I did not know who I was or what my name was. I remember running to every person I saw, desperately asking for help, help to find myself…

Now, under these current circumstances, this dream  started making some sense. Being an immigrant, I thought I knew the feeling of being uprooted. How wrong I was! I used to be a part of a culture that was, as I thought back then, a part of me and I was a part of it. But, you see, I left an empty place out there.  This void, together with my longing for completeness, not only did not wipe away my inner identity, but rather they accentuated that which defines me as a being with reasoning capacities.  Becoming socially compatible was a rather natural process of assimilating into a new culture.  My present situation, however, is a process I never experienced before, almost beyond my power of comprehension. Layers of emotions, conflicting thoughts and who knows what else surrounded and soaked me with a heavy garment of uncertainty.

The tension between what the Body is meant to be and the reality of how its members function is an abnormality, in my opinion.

This body of believers was a huge part of who I was and who my wife was.  We went together through the 22 years of life-journey, carrying a great regard for the God-given privilege, the grace to belong.  Our journey was a lot more than belonging.  We were living members of a living Body. “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly.  As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”(NLT Eph 4:16)  I refuse to take this statement of Paul the Apostle as being a mere metaphor. I can’t shy away from asking myself a multitude of questions in my attempt to reconcile the truth of the living Word with the situation we found ourselves in. Then an even more disturbing reality revealed itself to me. There are more than us, my wife and I, in the same or similar predicament. Empty seats once spoke to us of brothers and sisters we loved and saw no more.   These seats lay empty as witnesses of something that should have concerned us over time, but we chose not to lose a scintilla of sleep over that. They stood as symbols of identical or similar questions, emotions and who-knows-what-else that clothed them with heavy garments of uncertainty or peace-robbing questions. Why, Lord? Why? Can a living member of my own body depart from me without me even noticing? Wouldn’t I feel the pain of it being cut off, or even the sadness of the empty space left behind? Is my body already disjointed or taken over by leprosy? Is there a crutch for every missing member so that I would not even care for his loss?  How would the answers to such questions apply to the body, the local body of believers?

I somewhat found comfort in knowing that I am still a member of the universal Body of Christ, in the hope that Agape love will fully manifest itself in the revived state of the church. There is a love growing cold (oh, how I feel it!) but there is also a sense of searching for completeness that I see, growing more intense day by day. We will come to realize one day that one cannot find himself without true fellowship- fellowship driven not by agenda or human strategies but by the awesome restlessness the love of Christ plants in us.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

“By this everyone will know…”  By reading this, I understand that love for one another determines the power of our witness for Christ. No more identity crisis, no more heavy cloak of loneliness.  I know that, as we become aware of the destructing power of being alone, we will finally open ourselves to what God wants to speak to us in that regard. This is only the beginning of my testimony, a testimony of pain and hope, a testimony of identity still to be found.   As we know that “the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few”, could today be the day we find the treasure of power in loving one another?

Will continue…

PERHAPS MY OBSESSION WITH THINGS by Delia Almajan

Michal and I have been in our townhouse for over a year now, and our décor is still a work in progress.  After numerous trips to Home Sense, a hundred purchases and a hundred minus one returns, I am still looking.  For what?  For that perfect, flawless “thing” that will accentuate the square corners of my dining room table or the reflective surface of my mirrored dresser.  That structure that will fill my empty nook underneath the small living room window. That artwork that will dress the airy grey walls in hues of warmth and summer-eternal summer.  It is no secret in my circle that I am obsessed with all things sparkling.  My eyes light up when light shatters into rainbow as it pierces through a crystal chandelier.  I love the way diamonds explode with flames of color as the sun bursts through brilliant facets.  My cheeks and my hands tremble at the caress of soft and furry blankets.  And the pulse of all these likes is color- explosions of vibrant, deep tones of reds, blues and gold.

Perhaps my obsession with all things colored and shiny can be traced to the elements of summer.  This season of non-stop sunshine has always been my favorite.  In summer, the whole of creation is flooded and fed by consuming, fiery sunlight.  Seagulls and dolphins, ocean and sky roar their acoustics beneath the gallop of the sun.  Everything is full of life, everything glows…   I enjoy beyond words the thousand shades of green bursting toward the translucent skies.  My fingers delight in the soft texture of flower petals as they brazenly chase the knight of the firmaments.  My palate is continually stimulated  by soft, ripened fruit that will restore the nutrients winter stole.  All I want to do is be outside-cradled by warmth and infused by light until my every cell is nourished and restored by its healing rays.

My obsession with summer can in turn be traced to my desire for God.  God is light-at all times, in all seasons, everywhere.  Because of Him, the birds outside my window fill my ears with their continual chirp of joy.  He is the author of the resident splendor of roses, and dahlias, and linden.  It was His idea-and only His- to fill the oceans with creatures ornate with iridescent sheen.  It was His creative genius that endowed the tiger both his fur stripes and his predatory moan.  It was in His heart to fill the skies with wings and the air with aromas – to fill our ears and our lungs with transparent joy.

This parcel of the Milky Way which is our home-and the galaxies beyond- are an unveiling of Him.  We marvel before the wonders we taste and see and smell – and they are all a reflection of His limitless command.  He spoke that which was within Him-and it came: extravagant, overflowing, overwhelming majesty.  “The heavens declare the glory of God..”  -glory that every being made in the likeness of Adam can behold with unveiled faces.  He is beautiful, and our desire for all things lovely authenticates our origin in Him.

I am enjoying the last morsel of summer with the window open, the birds continually serenading me with their song.  Soon, the rains will start and the glow of summer will be a faint memory on my fading tan and my birdless tree.  My hunt for the perfect “thing” to dress up my living room will continue.  It’s okay, I have come to realize, to like all things sparkly and shiny, soft and velvety.  These small treasures remind me of Him – His awesome wonder, His brilliance, His joy.  I see the auburn maple and the lilac in my neighbor’s yard, I hear the chatter of the birds and I long for Him.  Summer will soon pass away and my heart is at rest-in all seasons, at all times, everywhere, He remains.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

By DELIA ALMAJAN

SHARP EDGES OF DIFERENCES by Slavomir Almajan

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This blue! It is so glassy, so unforgiving. It almost seems that all this heat and brightness are up to something, like desperately catching up with things previously under-performed. Really, it seems lately that some of these things never happened before, it never seemed like today that you badly want all this to go or to end. Too many fires to enjoy the summer, too many storms to enjoy the winter, too much noise to enjoy the day, too much insecurity to enjoy the night, too much of everything to enjoy anything. And, yes, this glassy and unforgiving blue of the sky, that was supposed to mean clearness, is just cruelly reminding me that perhaps somewhere, under it, a blaze is taking away somebody’s dreams and peace.

“-Hi, buddy, you look like you lost something big time. What’s up?”

It’s Dave. He catches you whenever you want to be really alone. It’s seems that I’ve known him for ages even though he’s been my friend for just over one year. We just happened to discover that both of us share similar needs. We just want to be known not only by name but for who we really are.

“-Oh, Dave! Would you, please, tell me what’s that blue of the sky saying to you?”

I knew as I spoke that I just opened a flow of new reasons for “concern” regarding my unorthodox way of looking at life. “You take it as it is!” he likes to say whenever I share some of my new “revelations”.

“-I am afraid, fella, that you exposed that upper end of yours to too much heat. This blue just doesn’t whisper to me. As a matter of fact there is no known history of skies speaking to anybody. Not that you’re hearing things or something, but I guess there’s a whole lot of solid reality that I can spend my time on…”

There is something in that “solid reality”, according to Dave, that clashes with my “unorthodox way of thinking”.  In fact there are dozens of orthodox-thinking Daves around me but this particular one is about the only one who bothers sharing his thoughts with me and is patient enough to listen to mine. As I said, my heated mind is quite openly in conflict with the “given reality” that surrounds us.

“- Your idealism”, he would say, “does not feed anyone; not even yourself. As a matter of fact, you can carry your glassy blue picture of the sky within yourself but try not to stain anyone’s soft skies, for your peace’s sake…”

Dave and I spent hours of talk around issues of nobody’s interest. His brisk intellectual processing of reality and my hair-splitting way of interaction with the same reality would be a perfect ground for misfits that would make two people to avoid each other’s presence. Yet it is totally the other way around with the two of us.  Most of the times we succeed in avoiding the “touchy subjects” in our conversations even though both of us were burning with desire to bring the other one in our own interest sphere. The greatest difference between Dave and I is that for me it is rather duty than desire.  Dave needs to get over his stubbornness and accept his need of salvation. This being said, I don’t mean that he is one of those wicked, untamed, burly individuals… Not at all! Dave is rather a clean cut person, polite and shy, despite his appearance as an outspoken and ruthless humorous guy… His “shock-and-awe” style of jumping in others’ conversation and my “turn-the-table” reaction to that was the starting point of our friendship. This Dave of mine, whether real or fictional, is still a friend I am looking for. As for the rough edges of our differences I am not sure… The above is a scenario of a possibility that I will be open to. “Shock and awe” and “turn the table” attitudes in less hypothetical conversations will probably be a great hinder in that desired by me, meeting of minds… But, as I said sometimes ago, if we were able to come to think together then a friendly handshake will be as normal as… What’s normal anyways?

SLAVOMIR ALMAJAN