Monday, January 30, 2023

Misguided by Today’s Norms? A Lesson from Psalm 72 (73)

Living by the Gospel is difficult. Today, we face major spiritual challenges due to the misguided norms of our time. We seem to have lost a clear view of what is good according to Scriptural teaching. We no longer seem to keep our vision of death and what is to come for those who fail to recognize the consequences of our daily choices. We often ignore what we know to be righteous and, instead, opt to follow norms of our time. Psalm 72 (73) speaks to this issue.

Asaph begins his Psalm confessing that he was almost misled by those who ignore God’s commands or modify them to fit their desires for success or material well being. He then shows how he changed his view through God’s grace and was made aware of the greater consequences in store for those who rely on social norms to gain success or well being through their own efforts. Recognizing the source of Truth he turns to embrace God and His goodness.

This is the challenge we all still face in these times. We are influenced by the misguided norms of our current times. We are all sinners and easily misled like the Psalmist. The Church provides us with a sacramental life where we can seek forgiveness from our loving and all merciful God.

It’s important to recognize our weakness and spiritual fragility. We are often blind to the ways of our choices and actions. The norms of this world can keep us in darkness. It’s easy to forget the whole picture, forgetting our purpose and the end we are destined.

Reflect on the lesson from Psalm 72 (73)

Here is psalm 72 with comments:

Asaph begins by proclaiming the goodness of God. He expresses the difficulty he finds in explaining evil in the world and how he almost became misled.

1 A psalm for Asaph. †

How good God is to Israel,

To the upright in heart.

2 But as for me, my feet were almost shaken;

My steps had nearly slipped.

He then explains what misled him. Not following the commandments, not being aware of life after death, false approval of others, arrogance, evil thought, disdain for God, unaware of God’s omnipresence, meaningless of wealth.

3 For I was jealous of the lawless

When I beheld the peace of sinners.

4 For there is no upward gaze at their death

Nor steadfastness in their chastening.

5 They are not in difficulties as other men,

And they shall not be chastened with other men.

6 For this reason arrogance mastered them;

They clothed themselves with their wrongdoing and ungodliness;

7 Their wrongdoing shall go forth as from fatness;

They passed through to their heart's intent.

8 They thought and spoke in evil;

They spoke in wrongdoing to the height.

9 They set their mouth against heaven,

And their tongue passed through the earth.

10 For this reason my people shall return here;

Days of fullness shall be found in them.

11 They said, “How does God know?

Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

12 Behold, these are sinners, and they prosper;

They possess wealth in this age.

He explains how he began doubting the path of righteousness and recognized his sinfulness.

13 And I said, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart righteous, And washed my hands with the innocent.”

14 For all day long I was scourged,

And my reproof persisted through the night. 

15 If I should speak, I would describe it thus: Behold, I am breaking covenant with the generation of your children.

Seeing the difficulty in his situation he catches himself seeking God’s help to understand.

16 And I sought to understand this;

It was difficult in my sight,

17 Until I came into God's holy place

And understood their end.

He discovers the consequences of errors of ignoring the tenets of a righteous life, recognizing how he was almost deluded into faithlessness. He becomes repentive.

18 Surely, for their deceits You appointed deceits for them;

You cast them down in their exaltation.

19 Oh, how they came into desolation suddenly!

They ceased to be; they perished in their lawlessness.

20 Like a dream to one who is awakened,

So, O Lord, You shall despise their image in Your city.

21 For my heart was kindled,

And my reins were changed,

22 And I was despised, and did not know;

I became like a beast before You.

Turning to God he seeks His guidance and embrace.

23 And I am continually with You;

You hold fast my right hand;

24 With Your counsel You guide me,

And with glory You take hold of me.

He is now able to embrace God and declaim his desire to stay close to Him.

25 For what is there in heaven for me but You,

And what do I desire on earth besides You?

26 My heart and my flesh fail,

O God of my heart; and God is my portion forever.

He realizes the consequences of the errors of others who seem to do well but ignore God”s commands.

27 For behold, those who keep themselves far away from You shall perish;

You destroy away from You all who act unfaithfully.

He ends his psalm proclaiming all God’s praises and commits to put his hope only in Him.


Thursday, January 12, 2023

Desire a long life?

Scripture says at eighty we will face
“only toil and trouble.
(Psalm 9-:10)” I recently crossed over into my eightieth year and suddenly experienced many physical difficulties: forgetfulness of names and places, high blood sugar and blood pressure, excess weight, neuropathy in my feet, skin cancer, cataracts and
  a decline in my pancreas to produce essential digestive enzymes, osteoarthritis in my knee, and other so called “autoimmune” diseases. Why?

Saint Porphyrios says, 

“Thank God for granting me many illnesses, ‘My Christ, Your love knows no limits!’ How I am alive is a miracle. 

This is difficult, but I am learning. There is more.

As we age, we begin to experience the limits of our physical existence and are continually humbled by each discovery. Why does God allow us to decay like this? According to Saint Porphyrios we are allowed these illnesses for our benefit. We must however “endure them without complaint and glorify God, asking for His mercy.” Why? He is preparing us for what is yet to come, eternal life in His Kingdom.

I have tried to be a good student and learn these lessons of life. Fortunately, through His grace I have been able to overcome most ailments thrown at me. I have learned that health is a joint effort. It requires effort on my part as well as the grace of God. In the church language we call this Synergia. I learned I have to take personal responsibility for my physical well being. I can’t just leave it up to the medical establishment or the drug companies fix us or comfort us. An annual physical exam and a few pills is not sufficient.

Here is what I have learned so far:

  1. Do not accept the diagnosis of aging. The body is renewable in many ways. Lifestyle maters.
  2. Do not rely only on the standard treatments offered by medical doctors who are trained to treat symptoms rather than causes. Alternatives exist. 
  3. Do not accept the need to continually take any kind of drug. They all have side effects and often are geared to treat only symptoms. Again, there are alternatives.
  4. Seek medical advice from a medical doctor that is trained in integrative or functional medicine. Find one who understands the healing power of diet, exercise, and natural supplements and alternative treatments (such as acupuncture) and will provide support for lifestyle changes.
  5. Begin to take charge of your heath by the time you are fifty. Much of what you face at 80 will have begin in your fifties or earlier. Learning to be preemptive is a far easier strategy.

With one exception I have been able to overcome the challenges the Lord has put in front of me without reliance on pharmaceuticals. In addition to practicing a sound Orthodox way of life, I studied and sought for the causes of each ailment. I found an integrative medical doctor trained in functional medicine, learned about alternative medical treatments, healthy diets, and need for key supplements as we age.

My main advice if you are over 80 is to seek the cause of what ails you. Don’t accept the the explanation of “autoimmune” disease or simply aging, Seek alternative to treatment with drugs. Search the internet. Talk with other integrative health providers. Listen to elders who have overcome your condition. Be willing to make lifestyle changes.

Sleep: Get seven to eight hours regularly

Stress: Eliminate sources of stress in your life

Diet: Learn to eat what is good for your body instead of what you like. Let go of old likes and desires. Buy organic, buy whole foods instead of processed ones, eliminate those with high sugar content and refined carbohydrates.

Exercise: Strength building as well as aerobatic exercise such as walking.

Spiritual: Nurture your soul and to always strive to do His will: worship, pray daily, fast, participate regularly in the sacraments, read Scripture and the writings of the Church fathers, seek spiritual companionship, help others.  Life is short and at 80 we become aware of the limits of our physical existence. We need to be ever mindful of our purpose. That is to become united with God in love. 

Final word from Saint Porphyrios: 

I do not pray to the Lord to make me well. I pray for Him to make me good.

Psalm 90:10

The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.