Archive for spirituality

Re-write: A Mouse For All Seasons

Posted in Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by blackincense
Due to recent events, and multiple projects, I haven’t been able to write in awhile.  But Christmas is almost here, and so I was asked to write an article for my parish newsletter.  Below is a new version of an old post I made, in light of the Star of Christmas.  I hope you enjoy it.
Frankincense and Myrrh: 
Fit for a Mouse, Fit for a King
By Columbina, owner of Black Powder Incense (www.blackincense.com)
 
The original news story appeared in the Kansas City Star back in September.  Apparently, some scientists with too much time on their hands have discovered that mice love frankincense.  In their study, mice showed significant decreased anxiety and a general tendency toward uplifted spirits.  I am certainly not an expert on the emotional range or psychological states of mice, but I can tell you that none of this is news to anyone, except scientists.  Frankincense has always been a precious gift to humanity from God.  Its anti-septic qualities as well as its effect on human emotions and human pain, has been well documented throughout history.
 
It has often been speculated that the Magi brought frankincense and myrrh to Christ in order to purify the area.  He was, after all, born in a stable and one can only imagine the germ population that surrounded both Child and Mother.  Naturally, this would not have affected Him, and by extension, His Mother, but of course, the Magi could not have known that at the time. 
 
The frankincense that was offered to our Lord, was most likely, but cannot be proven to be the “black frankincense” that comes only from Ethiopia, also known as the “cradle of humanity”.
 
Our modern noses have been trained by Glade™, Re-nuzit ™ and Elizabeth Taylor ™.  Clove studded oranges and cinnamon rolls smell fantastic but such “Christmas” scents are simply the result of successful marketing campaigns.  They do not represent the “smell of Christmas” any more than Martha Stewart does. 
 
This Nativity let us enter in to the world of the Magi, and the mystery of a true Christmas scent.  When we burn frankincense and myrrh on Nativity Night, we can experience the fragrance of the purified Stable and Manger where our Lord was born.  Let our hearts, where He is to be born every year, be purified as well.
 
I have donated some packets of Ethiopian frankincense and myrrh to our parish bookstore, The Forerunner.  All monies from these sales will benefit Forerunner Books.  Please support your parish bookstore and in doing so, enter in to the Stable of Bethlehem, where even a mouse can answer a Heavenly call to Hope. 
The Christmas Mice by Wendell Minor

The Christmas Mice by Wendell Minor

More Biblical Perfume Nonsense

Posted in Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , , , on October 26, 2008 by blackincense

“Lillian” (not her real name)  has written to inform me that I am “so wrong and decieved” about my last blog on Biblical scent.  She wants me to know that “God is calling His people out of Babylon and is calling them to create Biblical perfumes as of old…”

Really?  “As of old…”   hmmmm….I am not often stirred to irritation but this sort of thing really irks me.  The wording of this letter is pretentious at best, condescending at middle, and blasphemous at worst.  I can’t really understand how God would think that making Biblical oils in these last days, would accomplish much.  Not when there are little things like REPENTENCE, feeding the hungry, REPENTENCE, serving the poor, REPENTENCE, giving out glasses of water, visiting the sick that are so pressing! I think I forgot to mention repentence.

“Lillian” goes on to direct me to this website where we are assured by an unnamed merchant (who is making a hefty profit on the Biblical oils he/she/they are selling on the site) that God is indeed angry at the world and is demanding (rather like a four year old who hasn’t gotten his imperial way) that his followers begin dowsing themselves with “Biblical scents and fragrances” and spend their time (and lots of money of course) recreating them.  This is nothing short of nonsense and blasphemy.  I quote now from that website which will not be named here, but if you want the link, write to me and ask:

….”This page will be updated as the Holy Spirit leads.  First of all, we would like to say this journey to discover all that the Lord wants to reveal to His people about the Holy Incense has been intense. Some of the ingredients used are very difficult to obtain and it has only been by God’s grace, mercy, and timing we have located them. …”

Oh puhleeze!  “Difficult to obtain..”??? What ??? You have to be kidding…Most people have coriander in their kitchen spice rack, and while saffron is pretty expensive, you can get just about anything you want from any herbalist shop.  Obviously, though, I am a sinner, and this person has somehow been “privileged” by God to obtain these things.

The Lord’s time to release the Holy Incense and other biblical incenses is very important.   God has been waiting for the Church to mature. The Holy Incense represents the fragrance, fire and power of the Lord and is sacred…..

“How To Make The Holy Incense

Although we can not give you the specific recipe or formula the Lord has given us to make the Holy Incense, the Lord has promoted us to encourage each believer to seek the Lord in prayer for guidance and direction.

We do offer all the ingredients you will need to make the Holy Incense.  Please keep in mind that the correct interpretation of the scripture is very important when making the Holy Incense.”

(Excuse me while I go to the loo to puke.)

Well, I am a Christian, and this is, basically, CRAP. Shame on these people for taking advantage of the gullible.As if all the above were not enough, the author of this website, the merchant who is selling all this stuff or exorbitant (and really out of range) prices, goes on to tell us that:

…”Anointing oils can be used as a symbolic representation of our faith in Jesus Christ to answer our prayers through divine intervention; consecration, sanctification, applied as a healing salve or ointment that has true medicinal attributes, used as a perfume for hygiene purposes, funeral or embalming practices, or preparing weapons for warfare. Anointing oil and ointments have multiple applications as you will see in the scripture references below.”

This is nothing else other than one thing:  witchcraft disguised as Christianity and it angers me that anybody who calls themselves  Christian would even suggest such a thing.

The annointing oils and incense used in the Orthodox Church bear no resemblance whatsoever to practices such as these, and moreover, the practices of the Church with regard to incense, our use of annointing oil, chrism, or anything “smelly good” we use in the Church would NEVER be thrown around in this sort of manner.  We do not throw holy water on things because it acheives something we “want” or because it’s effect is in any way”magical”.  The line here is not “fine —-it’s as wide as the Jordan River.

In Orthodox Christianity, which is the only completely historical Christian Church dating to the time of the Apostles, annointing oil is a tool of the Sacraments of Chrismation and Holy Unction.  These are to be administered by priests, and the oil itself is blended by Bishops themselves or by monastics. (As far as I am aware.)  No perfumer such as myself has the clerical authority to create such a blend, according to the Canons of the Church, and throw it around on people, places and things for some sort of magical purpose, especially if it is couched in Protestant language of the 21st century.

It is true that we can be given or buy other types of oils from Orthodox sources (monasteries, parishes, etc.) in order to annoint ourselves for prayerful purposes that always speak of repentance, but for no other reason!  I have a bottle of oil from the vigil lamp that hangs over the relics of St. John the Wonderworker, which was given to me (with a blessing!) by Fr. Nikolai at the Cathedral there.

Secondly, Holy Incense, is prayerfully made, and is used by everyone, and anyone and while our method of making incense is not generally publicized to the non-Orthodox, it is not exactly a “secret” in the Orthodox world.  Any Orthodox layperson will be taught to make it if he/she asks and receives a blessing from their priest to learn it.  Christian incense, is an art that has been perfected by monastics out of necessity, not from the canon law.  It has always been the job of monks/nuns simply because most laypeople do not have the time or the energy to make it.  (Physically, it can be demanding and “humbling” work.)   So monks and nuns have become traditionally associated with the art, because they did the job no one else wanted to do.  Not because it was the province or privilege of “a few” who have been “led by the Holy Spirit”….Certainly it is holy and the work they do is “led by the Holy Spirit”, but we do not say that laypeople who make  it are not, or imply that somehow we are the only ones holy enough to understand it.

Dear “Lillian” –

I am very sorry you have been led to believe these things about Biblical scents and fragrances.  These ideas are promoted by someone who has an agenda:  namely to sell more Bibilical scents and fragrances.  Such people are many in the world.  I hope you will prayerfully re-consider your position and that you will visit an Orthodox Church in your area, to ask a priest about the proper Christian attitudes and beliefs about these things.

I will pray for you.

God bless you and keep you in Christ,

Suzanne

On the Bitterness of Having What You Don’t Want.

Posted in Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Clergy and Information with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by blackincense

A long time ago, I had a conversation with a friend that I have never, ever forgotten.  Her name is delightfully, “Penny”.  Penny is rich, gloriously rich with money of her own, a fabulous home, a Mustang convertible, and a fleet of other cars.  She might as well have them all named for the days of the week. ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Wednesday’…I love going to visit her because her house is like a museum: every thing in it has a history, a story behind it, and I love to hear her talk.  She talks a great deal, Penny does, about nothing, and yet about EVERYTHING that was ever important to humankind.  She is brilliant, and yet she doesn’t realize that she is so.  She’s intelligent, but she thinks she’s a “dumb blonde”.  She’s worldy, but she has this ‘otherworldy’ air about her, that speaks to the very heart of a person.  She is so fabulously rich, yet she makes chocolate chip cookies every afternoon, for her evening dessert.  She does it, she says, because she wishes to be “young again”, and to remember always the innocence of her youth.

And yet Penny is one of the most humble, simple hearted, most dedicated Christians I know.  She is not Orthodox, but is firmly “Church of Ireland” and whenever she talks,  the Gospel shines through.

On that long ago Sunday, we were sitting in her “garden”, an actual “botanical” garden if you know what I mean, complete with bronze statues, strategically placed benches, and sculptured hedges.  Even the bushes are trimmed into pieces of fine art.  Who knew that Michaelangelo’s “David” would end up re-done in a rhododendron?  Penny’s garden gives new meaning to the phrase “going green”.

Penny lives in Ireland.  Not just anywhere in Ireland, but in a real castle that is dated to the 13 th century.  She opens her home to visitors, because “times are difficult” and “all this is just window dressing, don’t you know?”

So there we were, in our formal dresses (because Penny enjoys “dressing for tea”) and having our tea and biscuits in the garden, a veritable paradise, and Penny was saying quite conversationally, as if people everywhere had such lofty and deep thoughts:

“…well, you know, then I thought myself:  If I had a nice husband, then I would really be happy...but then  I got a nice husband, but as time went on he wasn’t as nice to me as I got older,  and then I thought to myself, ‘well, okay, if i had perfect children, then i would really be happy.  But I wasn’t, even though I did have wonderful children.  They really are a comfort you know, when you think you haven’t done anything worthwhile, you can look at them, and say “well, it wasn’t all so bad!”

And so then I thought, ‘Well, if i just had a nice house, you know then i would really be happy...”

But that didn’t work out so well, because then I had to clean the thing, you know…so then i thought, ‘Well, if i only had a good maid, and a staff of servants, then i would really be happy...”

So then, I decided to hire all these people and now I never get a moment’s peace, and now I think, “Well, if I could just get rid of all this stuff, then I would really be happy!”

Wisdom!  Let us attend!

How well, I understand, now, after all this time, what she was trying to tell me.  But it only really just hit me today.  And so I post it here, so that I don’t forget it.

Penny gave her life to others.  She eventually sold all her possessions and gave it all to the poor, as our Lord commanded.  She is “judged” by many to be an “eccentric”.  But to me, she was the Irish version of a fool-for-Christ.  She lived well; she gave even more.  She enjoyed life; she made sure others less fortunate were able to enjoy it too.  When the economy went into “over drive” in Ireland and everyone was busy making money, she opened her “home” to orphans and to abused women.  She created an entire “shelter” for those same abused women on her estate, who later spit on her grave.  All for the love of Christ.

Dear and glorious Penny…you are a true sister and guardian.  No one else wanted to tell me the truth about myself, all those years ago, but you found a way to explain it.  Although I did not understand until today, I give thanks to you for what you said so faithfully.  I give thanks that I had the privilege of knowing you.

Memory Eternal.

Lismore "house".  Penny's home...my home whenever I want to "run" there.

Penny's home...my own "home" whenever I had the courage to run there. Truly, it was fortress fortified from "within".

On Being a First Century Christian: An Object Lesson From Serbia

Posted in Orthodox Clergy and Information, religion with tags , , , , on October 1, 2008 by blackincense

I know it says something holy, something wondrous.  I sit at my window and I stare at the pages.  They are written in a language I cannot read and I cannot understand.  I am in awe of it and I am tempted to have the entire thing encased in crystal as a gift to posterity.

This past weekend, my Serbian friend Alex gave me a small booklet, worn and well used that he said is an Akathist to the Mother of God that has never been translated into English or any other language.  In my hands I hold this holy, holy, holy thing that I cannot read, cannot understand.  And I want to so badly that I cannot explain my feelings.  I finally know what it is to be a 1st century Christian.  Never mind all that I have learned, and all that I have struggled to understand.

Although I live in the modern age, and although I have had every advantage, I cannot fathom the depth of this little booklet because I cannot read it.  I cannot simply have it translated. It is in Serbian and it is a language of suffering, of holy martyrdom, of great and indescribable love.    It is a mystery to me, and I am humbled by the lack of my own education, my own failings, and my own short comings.

I hold in my hands this wonderous thing, this holy thing, this glorious thing that I am not worthy to hold, much less to read.  And yet, it has been given to me as a great Gift.  An act of selflessness that knows no boundaries, and I am asked to trust that my possession of it is enough.  I hold in my hands the Truth that is Jesus Christ who is the Saviour who came to save sinners like me.  Although I cannot read it, I can feel the holiness that radiates from it, and I know that I am unworthy to touch it.  But He does not strike me dead because he is “merciful and the only lover of mankind.”

Alex gave me a Cyrillic alphabet graph and he says I can learn to read it.  But I am truly unworthy and I am truly not a learned person. I can only pray that God will give me enough grace to say “Lord, have mercy!”

How it looks as I look up from my proper position

How it looks as I look up from my proper position

Night Blooming Jasmine: A lesson in spirituality….

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , on September 4, 2008 by blackincense
I am working on the latest batch.  Blend, bottle and cure.  Blend, bottle and cure.  The repetition of the work begins to numb my senses and I was starting to wonder if it’s even worth it.  My nose was busy categorizing each formula, making sure it was exactly right.  One flower caught my nose and it seemed to overpower the others.  This doesn’t happen very often, so I went back and I checked the formula.  I hadn’t missed anything and yet this one flower seemed stronger than the others which, according to the precise formulation should not be.  Night blooming jasmine.
I tried again and this time, it seemed to fade back in, slowly.  I went for the coffee beans to clear my senses.  Leaving the bench, I went and picked up my book and tried to read.  But my nose kept nagging at me.  I could still smell it.  Went back to the coffee beans.
I knew which flower it was and that was not what bothered me.  What bothered me was that it should not over power the other ingredients.  I was starting to worry that maybe I was losing my nose as a perfumer.  I went back to the bench, and started to work again on a different blend, but I could still smell it.
Night blooming jasmine is not the world’s prettiest bush.  It releases its fragrance only at night.  In secret.
Then I realized, so it is the same with a suffering soul.  It’s beauty is not outward.  The suffering soul is at its most beautiful, when it releases its suffering to God alone.  In secret.
As for my nose, it’s recovered its senses.  Blend, bottle and cure.  Blend, bottle and cure.
Night blooming jasmine -- God's secret flower.

Night blooming jasmine -- God's flower