Today the church remembers St. Ephraim, a very good man, a solid contributor to the early church. At a time when many seem to be in fear that Syrians are coming to our shore, I think a reading about Saint Ephraim is timely. He wrote some of the earliest church hymns. He very likely contributed some of the verbiage in our Nicene creed.
I also smile; I remember my Arabic instructors at the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam, truly gentle women who knew the bible better than I did, and inspired me to know it better in self defense. While they didn’t expect me to cover, i.e. to wear a scarf over my hair, or to wear an abaya, they could point out to me verses in the bible where women are instructed to cover, and they could show me biblical pictures in which the women were cloaked and their hair covered.
They also pointed out the many places in the Bible where praying was done by prostrating oneself face down before God, as Ephraim instructs in the prayer at the bottom of the reading.
I never felt pressured. They were like my Mormon sisters, my Baptist sisters; they only wanted me to have what they had found, the best way to worship.
EPHREM OF EDESSA
DEACON AND HYMN-WRITER (10 JUNE 373)
Ephrem (or Ephren or Ephraim or Ephrain) of Edessa was a teacher, poet, orator, and defender of the Faith. (To English-speakers, the most familiar form of his name will be “Ephraim.” It is the name of the younger son of Joseph, son of Jacob (see Genesis 41:52), and is thus the name of one of the largest of the twelve tribes of Israel.) Edessa (now Urfa), a city in modern Turkey about 100 kilometers from Antioch (now Antakya), was a an early center for the spread of Christian teaching in the East. It is said that in 325 he accompanied his bishop, James of Nisibis, to the Council of Nicea. Certainly his writings are an eloquent defense of the Nicene faith in the Deity of Jesus Christ. He countered the Gnostics’ practice of spreading their message through popular songs by composing Christian songs and hymns of his own, with great effect. He is known to the Syrian church as “the harp of the Holy Spirit.”
Ephrem retired to a cave outside Edessa, where he lived in great simplicity and devoted himself to writing. He frequently went into the city to preach. During a famine in 372-3 he worked distributing food to the hungry, and organizing a sort of ambulance service for the sick. He worked long hours at this, and became exhausted and sick, and so died.
Of his writings there remain 72 hymns, commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, and numerous sermons.
Several hymns are available at:
Among Orthodox he is best known for a fasting prayer:
THE PRAYER OF ST EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of laziness, meddling, self-importance and idle talk. (prostration)
Instead, grace me, Your servant, with the spirit of modesty, humility, patience, and love. (prostration)
Indeed, my Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults, and not condemn my brothers and sisters, for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen. (prostration)
(Twelve deep bows, saying each time: O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.)
[Translation by Fr James Silver, Drew University; posted on the Orthodox list]
by James Kiefer
I’ve added a new category; I’ve written so many posts in this vein, and it looks like I will continue so to do. Might as well add it as a staple: Stranger in a Strange Land.
Probably the first mention of that phrase in literature is in Genesis; Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the desert where he meets a nice girl and marries her. He refers to himself as an alien, a stranger in a strange land. Both Jewish culture and Islamic culture put a high value on taking care of the stranger. Our bible is full of references to taking care of the alien.
Here is one of my favorite stories about what my friend Donald Rumsfeld calls those “unknown unknowns. It’s what you don’t know you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
I was at a party, and in a conversation with two women who are widows. We were talking about some of the difficulties, and what has caught them by surprise.
I said I didn’t know how they got through it, that I had a feeling if AdventureMan goes before I go, I’m going to be really really angry, tearing my hair out and shrieking angry, shredding my clothes angry, not wanting to be around other people angry, so so so so angry because if I let myself feel sad I don’t know if I can ever pull myself out of that abyss.
The newest widow just looked at me like I had said something culturally inappropriate, which, it turns out, I had. There was one of those brief silences, you know, it may only be seconds but it feels like it goes on forever because you don’t know what you said.
“If you were from around here,” she said, “You’d know what to do. You go into Southern Belle mode. We’ve all seen it all our lives, so we know how to do it. You pick out your clothes. You smile and shake hands. You put your guests first. You stand and smile until the last guest has gone.”
I was stunned. “You hold yourself together through all that?” I asked.
“Well,” she said with a smile, “You have a plan. You know where you can go with a friend or cousin after the funeral, a place where you are safe and where you can get knee-walking drunk and do your wailing where you need to and no one will ever know.”
She didn’t even have to say “You must not be from around here” but I heard it, loud and clear. There are standards. No weeping and wailing, no public display of emotion, no lack of self-control, oh-my-goodness, I think I must be back in the Middle East. I am in my own country, and still, very much a stranger in a strange land.
Today the church prays for the district of Coimbatore, in Southern India, which I learned, when trying to find it, that it is also referred to as “the Manchester of India” for it’s industrialization and textiles.
The map is from Google Maps.
This morning, as I checked Weather Underground, I could see that the summer weather pattern is setting in. Today it isn’t so bad. As long as we have northerly winds, it isn’t so humid.
“Why would you want it?” by boss asked, as I rescued a box from the recycle station and asked if she minded if I take it home.
Old habits die hard. This was such a perfect box! It has no markings. It has no dents. It’s a strong box; you could mail books in it, or carefully wrapped things you want to arrive in one piece. You could mail things to Doha or Kuwait or . . . oh wait. I don’t do a lot of mailing any more.
Old habits are hard to break. I’ve been on the watch for good boxes most of my life – through college, through my early married years in Germany, through all the years of mailing Christmas presents, through all the years of scouring for good cardboard boxes in Tunis, Amman, Riyadh, Doha and Kuwait. Even though I rarely mail a box these days, I still have a hard time passing by a really good box. I am learning to resist . .
Still, I have a garage with too many “rescue boxes.”
Just a small post on a reading from Father Richard Rohr in today’s e-mail. It gives me great hope:
In the journey of prayer, as you sink into the mystery of God’s perfect love, you realize that you’re nothing in the presence of God’s goodness and greatness, and that God is working through you in spite of you.
LOL, it’s the “in spite of you” that gives me hope
Life isn’t fair. Ferry lines are just one of those things. First there are not necessarily first boarded or first unloaded, or first through the lengthy customs lines coming back into the United States. We have a saying “Every monkey gets his turn in the barrel.” This ferry ride was our turn. It wasn’t bad, it’s just after all the thrills of this vacation, this was an unwelcome hit of reality. We had a special vacation, but that doesn’t mean we are special, LOL.
The weather has changed. It is heavy overcast. We don’t see any whales, not a single sea otter. It is a great morning for catching up on our reading.
We arrive in Anacortes and the customs line crawls.
We need to stop at the Marina motel and pick up the skirt and shirt and scarf I left hanging in the closet which they have bagged and tagged “customer will pick up”. I had packed lightly, and it didn’t take me long to figure out where I left my clothes; we had been in a hurry to be on time for the ferry to Sidney. But this is a great stop, next door is Bob’s Chowder House and Salmon BBQ and we are starving.
Bob’s Salmon Chowder is out of this world. SO good.
Bob’s BBQ Salmon burger is also fabulous. AdventureMan ate every bite and said the salmon was perfect. It had a lemon sauce that was a surprise and a delight.
My halibut tacos were the special dish of the day. My bad; I like lettuce in my tacos, not cabbage. I only ate the halibut, but I had also had the chowder, so I was OK. Oh, yes, they also have great big home baked chocolate chip cookies, maybe that is also why I was filled up but I split it with AdventureMan.
AdventureMan spotted this sign, and took this photo. Whoda thunk that we would find a sign to Pensacola in the parking lot?
This is the rest of the vacation. Really the “vacation” part is over, and this is all business. Driving through Seattle on I-5, thank God it’s Sunday, no big trucks but heavy traffic. It’s always heavy, unless maybe it’s 0430. Checking in to our hotel where there are a huge bunch of people about to debark on a cruise. Dropping our bags and heading to the Car Rental place to return our car. Taking the shuttle to the airport, calling the hotel shuttle to come pick us up. Back at the hotel, packing our bags in a hurry so we will be able to watch Game of Thrones. Actually, to our surprise, a good night’s sleep. Up way too early to catch the shuttle to the airport, a surprisingly easy time through security, and the long flight to Atlanta and the shorter flight to Pensacola. The taxi home. Sigh. The unpacking. The laundry. Every day demands. . . .
But God is good. My first night back a good friend greeted me and said “are you depressed?” I was so taken by surprise that I said “Yes!” and she said she always is too, coming home after a great vacation. It just felt good, my guilt at feeling depressed was taken away.
Our grandson has a cold and has been with us the last two days, to our total delight. His mother and sister came by last night to visit and to celebrate another stoke of good fortune which has struck our family. God is good. Thanks be to God.
We try to limit what we attempt, when we travel. If we try to do too much, we sometimes fail, or we get so busy trying to accomplish that we don’t really get to enjoy what we are doing. Or worse, we get cross with each other, crabby! On our vacation! So we make choices, AdventureMan wanted the Victoria Butterfly Gardens; I wanted GOOD Chinese food.
Our son knows us. When we decided to settle in Pensacola, to be near him and the coming grandchild/ grandchildren, he sat us down and told us things we needed to know about Pensacola. The first thing he told us was that there was no really GOOD Chinese food. Honestly, for me . . . well, I don’t want to say I thought twice, but no good Chinese food? Chinese food is my comfort food!
We asked the concierge at the Grand Pacific for a recommendation for GOOD Chinese food, and she, with great delight, directed us to the Fan Tan Cafe in China Town, just a short walk down Government Street. It was an easy walk, past the grand historic Empress Hotel (we didn’t stay there because the views, in my opinion, are not as good), and down one of the most fun shopping streets in the world to China Town.
We know we are getting close
The entrance to China Town on Fisgard Street
Fan Tan Cafe – it’s small, and crowded. You are bottom to bottom with the chair behind you and you are almost sitting next to the next table. It’s fun. You get to see what everyone else is eating. We were hungry, we were early and that was a good thing because we got a table. There are maybe 16 – 18 tables at the Fan Tan Cafe, and some of those are for two people. They do take reservations.
This was the absolute best. AdventureMan chose the Spicy Shrimp appetizer, and it was delicious, top to bottom. Even the bedding vegetables were delicious. This was the highlight of the meal.
We didn’t intend to order deep-fried pork. It was good, very General Tso kind of taste.
The scallops and shrimp in black bean sauce was too delicate for us. We decided everything about it was beautiful, and the problem is probably more our palate, which likes more intensity.
All in all, it was a very tasty meal. If we were to go back, which we will the next time we are in Victoria, I would try the Cantonese Chow Mein, or one of the noodle dishes for which they are famous. We saw them all around us, glistening and gorgeous, and they looked divine. Cannot wait to go back
I still miss the Taiwan Tourismo, in Jordan, where we had authentic, amazingly tasty Chinese food and never even knew how extraordinary it was. I miss the China Queen, later the Great Wall of China, in Mahboula, Kuwait, a little hole in the wall where the Chinese workers ate and I could point and say “I want that, please!” Real Chinese is different from North American Restaurant Chinese.
I will admit it, I was a little depressed leaving Ucluelet. If you are a frequent reader, you will know I am a believer, and sometimes my heart is just so full of gratitude to our enormously generous and open handed God that I can’t even think of the words to adequately give thanks. I take comfort in knowing he knows my heart. Ucluelet and Tofino were everything we hoped they would be. I could imagine myself living there happily. And leaving . . . it was painful.
We had a nice drive to Victoria, stopping in Chemanus for lunch at a small cafe which surprised us and knocked our socks off. It looked like something from the forties. Owls were everywhere. Most of the menu was breakfast offerings, nice, but breakfast. We ordered the spinach salad and the Scallop and Crab Cakes – have you ever heard of Scallop and Crab Cakes? We hadn’t either.
We split both the salad and the Scallop and Crab Cakes. They were both taste treats!
The Scallop and Crab Cakes were made the way my good friend who is Chinese makes Crab cakes – good, tasty ingredients and no distracting filler. These cakes were meaty, full of whole small scallops, crab meat, some green onion, pimento and some minimal binder. They were truly extraordinary. They were accompanied by an apple slaw, tart and tasty. It was a great combination.
We made a stop at the Butterfly Gardens near Buchart Gardens so AdventureMan could take some photos of rare butterflies, or at least butterflies we don’t get to see in Florida. They had some awesome specimens.
Then on, on, into Victoria. Highway 17 empties right into downtown Victoria, and ends almost right at the Grand Pacific Hotel, where we are staying. While we were checking in, the concierge told us it would be another 10 minutes, but that we had been upgraded. I hoped it was an OK room; I had chosen our room on the basis of a view of Victoria Harbor. With trepidation, we headed for our room.
This is the Grand Pacific from Victoria Harbor
Our office/sitting room
Our view of Victoria Harbor (and Empress Hotel)
Night time view. Sigh. Isn’t it lovely?
Sunset peeking through the overhanging clouds.
Not quite sunset, but approaching sunset from our cabin in Ucluelet. Sunset in May is around nine at night.