Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mourn With Those Who Mourn

Just a quick thanks today. Yesterday, it saved my life. Even in the final exhausted hours, when I gave up and cried myself to sleep, I posted my little sorrow and so many many voices sent little notes, my daughter gave me a hug, my husband sat beside me as I wept, he made me mix CD's, and this morning, I heard the voice of God in the shower. He speaks Scripture to me.

I am thankful for those who rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

If you want to know what God said to me in the shower, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed and to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.
Is. 61:1.

Sometimes, I am brokenhearted and made a captive to my own sin, my despair at ever-mounting little things, to a sense that I cannot get it all done, that I'm a failure because another day passed with my children saying I caused their anger. I probably did. Because I didn't call that person who is suffering from cancer or some sickness. Because I didn't call the person whose mother is in the hospital. Because I forgot again to send a thank you card, a birthday card, a shower gift. Because the essay I wrote just wasn't polished or cogent enough. Because I missed another church service. Because I need the sacrament of confession.

Yesterday just was too much, and God sent people to mourn with me. I thank God for them because I said things to God that hurt Him, but not as many as I've said before. I kept a heart that was more pointed at repentance, which means that when the eyes sting the next morning, the conscience doesn't as well. For a disposition of repentance makes tears worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Act of Obedience

Today I can think of at least five things I am not thankful for. So, as act of will, I am going to name five for which I am thankful.

My friend, Jewell, who helps us troubleshoot the mysterious leaks and problems in our house. He has fixed our roof, replaced windows and doors, and myriad other helps.

Suzi and Phil, who sold us another Camry, which reliably takes the thousands of miles we put on cars.

That travel for my job happens around my dad's birthday each year, meaning I get to be with him.

That my son does come back and sweetly apologize for mistakes and failures. There is a beautiful age between eight and around twelve when our kids are fun to talk with, can play games, are discovering the world and responsive to others. Oh, don't get me wrong, they can throw tantrums, conjure up some tall tales and pull some bone-headed stunts, but they have a penitent streak.

For good books, that open up wonder in the world. I'm thoroughly enjoying Bernardo and the Virgin by Silvio Sirias. What makes any story good is how it lets me see that difficulty and tough stuff grows our muscles.

For the gift of a good meal, and letting go to enjoy it. House blessing with Wilson's last night was yummy. They minister in ways they do not realize.

For the gift of pain, which sets limits on our stubborn wills. When I learned today there is a good reason for the profound pain I feel when I speed the walk into a run, I was relieved that I learned to trust and life in the pain, without masking it.

Thanksgiving is not ibuprofen though. It does not mask today's pinches and sprains, the oil leak, the screaming son, the leaky roof, the broken tooth, sickness, another friend's parent being much much sicker, the students whose trauma we teachers adopt in secondary fashions each day. It does not mask the lack of time to clean my house, the sorrow over my sins of selfishness or self-pity. It is nutrition from the soul, like Scripture, prayer, worship.
Glory to God in all things.

"When the devil looks at a man who sincerely desires not to sin, he is not so unintelligent as to suggest to him (as he would to a hardened sinner) that he go and commit fornication or go and steal. He knows we do not want that and he does not set out to tell us something we do not want to hear; but he finds out that little bit of self-will or self-righteousness and through that, with the appearance of well doing, he will do us harm."

St. Dorotheos of Gaza (Discourses and Sayings; Cistercian Publications pg. 123)
From the Holy Fathers Post
‎"When the devil looks at a man who sincerely desires not to sin, he is not so unintelligent as to suggest to him (as he would to a hardened sinner) that he go and commit fornication or go and steal. He knows we do not want that and he does not set out to tell us something we do not want to hear; but he finds out that little bit of self-will or self-righteousness and through that, with the appearance of well doing, he will do us harm."

St. Dorotheos of Gaza (Discourses and Sayings; Cistercian Publications pg. 123)

Friday, February 22, 2013

More Than We Can Handle, Can Ask, Can Imagine

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling 
and to present you before his glorious presence
 without fault and with great joy—
 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority,
 through Jesus Christ our Lord,
 before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

It's been a week and there have been trials. I need to be so joyful, so tipsy on my Savior that I'm ready to be thankful when 
1) a sibling still in her twenties has cancer
2) a student's parent yells at me when I have called to help her earn a passing grade
3) my tooth breaks
4) a dear child of God's will not eat because someone injured his spirit and body
5) a friend, a faithful wife, who wants only to be God's servant, is betrayed, broke and still one of the most amazing parents I know.
6) a child of God suffers the spiritual pain to her arms, and then fights back 
7) a second student this year from the NE PA area, another teenager, has another case of possible thyroid cancer
8) Everyone seems so needy- my children. My husband. My students. Their parents. The grading. The coursework.
9) Another friend, another priest's wife, another family member struck with cancer.
10) more cancer, more surgery, and so many people I wake up at all hours in nightsweats dreaming of dying and just find myself praying and praying and praying.

Driving home last week, from Michigan, I was preparing for the discussion of Kisses from Katie tonight. (Shout out to the McCulloh's for providing our parish with the book at Nativity, and the hospitality tonight to discuss it.) I was preparing by listening to Kisses from Katie, which seemed, at first, a bit too perky for my melancholic soul. That is until she caught my attention saying: 

“Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle.”
People repeat this frequently; I heard it when I was growing up and I hear it now.  It is meant to be a source of encouragement, and it would be if I believed it were true. But I don’t. I believe that God totally, absolutely, intentionally gives us more than we can handle.  Because this is when we surrender to Him and He takes over, proving Himself by doing the impossible in our lives.   
 …I have learned to accept it, even ask for it, this “more than I can handle.”  Because in these times, God shows Himself victorious.  He reminds me that all of this life requires more of Him and less of me.  God does give us more than we can handle.  Not maliciously, but intentionally, in love, that His glory may be displayed, that we may have no doubt of who is in control, that people may see His grace and faithfulness shining through our lives.And as I surrender these situations to Him, watch Him take over and do the impossible, I am filled with joy and peace – so much more than I can handle
Kisses from Katie, excerpts from p.135-137
He does give me more than I can handle. He did this week. On that drive home Monday, I looked up and, what do you know?  The planes landing and taking off from Indianapolis International Airport strafed a perfect cross in the sky. There I was listening to her quoting 2nd Corinthians 4: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body." 
I'm not facing death. Exhaustion. Yes. But I've had worse. I slept five hour nights during Seminary. I thought someone put speed in the water in Carbondale. So, these days, it's not too bad. I called my husband. 
He said, "I remember what (Dc.) Ted said when we in seminary, "This is meant to be impossible." 
The thing is, my husband and I have always flown by the seat of our pants. Twas' better to get married at 19 then betray God's call to remain chaste. Twas' better just give and give, than stockpile our 401K's. Twas' better to live with three pairs of shoes than more.  We've eschewed whatever we could, jettisoned, and frankly, have been a bit careless with savings and retirement because people gotta eat. Back then, we remained more more faithful than now. Nowadays, I need a reminder that three pairs is just fine. I still own too many pairs of boots. And, that the extra coat is what I stole from the poor, to paraphrase St. Basil.

Dang. Tonight, when we left McCulloh's, I knew I was in the right place and if I never travel again, true dat, so long as folks here are being fed, clothed and their spirits are not wasting away.

I am thankful for my closest relatives in the family of God, who make quilts, counsel woman against abortions, drive vets to their medical appointments, plant pretty flowers, mow the church lawn, start CSA's, feed the priest's family so they can pass along their veggies to the neighbors, gift to their priest and may we give so generously to the families around us, go to med appointments with the mother who just heard a horrible diagnosis for her kids, for starting a 501c3 to refuge God's creatures and uses those poor starving, blinded, neglected creatures to help heal broken children, who want to foster, mentor, volunteer for kids here in Montgomery County, where only TWO FAMILIES are fostering. (AAAARRRRRGGGHHH, there is reason God made me barren one way. He had to to 2x4-to-the-face-me about those kids who need a safe home.) So, there I am. Volunteer for Achaius and who knows what the future holds? Guess there was a reason I grew up around foster kids, and have friends wholly committed to serving God this way!

He sure as heaven gives us more than we can ask. When Tig Nitaro said, "God, she can't take more," I wanted to shake a fist at heaven and say, "Yeah!" Then I was reminded that I have been walking 15 miles a day on a stressed pelvis, because I cannot shake The Way of the Pilgrim. I get the sense that my life has been charmed. 

When my friend wrote that Kisses From Katie wrecked her life. Yup, me too. Thanks to all my Church Family. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I would write you all a love-in-Christ note, but it seems after tonight, we got work to do. But hey, Love in Christ.

Viva La Resistance in the Name of our Blessed, Merciful God and Savior>>>

PS. My sister's cancer is Stage Two. Take that cancer. May you be starved and squeezed and cautarized! 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Meditations: A Critical Essay on Meditations on Mary

El Greco
The Annunciation
When a book like Meditations on Mary by Kathleen Norris contains fifty three works of art, and over half of the text-bearing pages are the Marian passages of the New Testament, while less than a third is original text by the author, it is incumbent upon us to respond with meditation. The most proper response is to prop the book up and gaze at the paintings. Paul’s  epistle instructs believers that ‘whatever is true... whatever is pure... whatever is lovely,.. think on these things” (Philippians 4:8 NAS). When a canonical epistle requires us to meditate upon purity, beauty and truth, it is because they are conduits and channels to the mysteries, to God, mystery most unknowable. After all, the dogmas of Mary are mysteries, pointing believers towards some understanding of what is hardest to know.
Norris and her publishers set up the book to compel readers to meditation, but even though meditation is in the very title I tend to treat meditation like so many other luxuries and commodities. I shelf it, store it up for when I have time, then I plan to dig in, really. But to be confessional, I never slow down. I fail at stillness, silence, reflection and prayer, so it is no surprise that I used Meditations on Mary as a coffee table decoration after I first read it ten years ago. I picked it up after reading Norris’ The Cloister Walk and had a fantasy about cloistering myself. I bought it for her essays, and because, just as Mary should be transforming into one of my spiritual companions, I felt myself distancing from her. I read the essays. I perused the familiar King James passages, texts that should be included in any serious reflection or hermeneutic on Marian doctrines.
Ecce Ancilla Domini

I glanced at the El Greco’s, Da Vincis, Carravagios, Titians, Rosettis, all beautifully rendered on a heavy glossy paper. My initial treatment of the book was more like my first pass a the religious paintings we appreciated during my undergraduate fine arts course. I breezed past Pietas and Passions in the Art Institute of Chicago, huffing at our our stout professor whenever she made us slow down to attend to details: the dimensions of Christ from Mary’s sacred heart, the color of her cloak, the pathos in her face, or the spirits, extra hands, the poetic anomilies of Rennaissance and Medieval painters. I failed then and even now to appreciate them. If I gazed, truly noticed not just skillful brush strokes, the preparation of the canvas, the tinctures of the inks and human renderings of the forms, if I looked at the mysteries folded into the forms, the spirits and extra hands that haunt or bolster, I would find dogma within these.
The first time I whistle-stopped through the religious art galleries, I remember thinking, as we were taught to think, at least these religious paintings are three-dimensional. At least these paintings have emotion, and pathos. I failed then, as now, to meditate, and it took learning the dogma of two-dimensional icons, of whom Mary is the first and most prevalent, to learn there is an act of prayer in this gazing. It is as if these pictures, like the Scriptures, and even Norris’ select essays, cloy and slow us down. They keep us from gulping the information and hurrying on. If nothing else, we keep a book like this around because someone cared enough to choose such fine paper, reproduce such greats of art, and render a fine tome.
But, treating the book as coffee table decor cheapens the relationship between ourselves and beauty. Beauty, it turns out, is a gateway to belief. Norris writes in “Dogma,” “At its best, the sights and sounds of worship, its stories, poems, hymns, and liturgical actions, are beautiful in the sense of ‘good, fitting, becoming’” (44).  What is dogma, but that which is “good, fitting, becoming,” she reminds us. Its Greek root mean this, and dogma, now defined as Jaroslav Pelikan, Yale historian and theologian writer, does “ as the official public teaching of the community of faith” (Pelikan) may be distilled to its root usage: “acceptance, or consensus, what people could agree on” (Norris 43). How did the people come to consensus when almost everyone was illiterate, from commonfolk to the uppercrust? By imagery. By the family crest, the sign, the icon, the painting. They named a family, identified a business, revealed a truth, and taught a story. When there are no words, there is still beauty, and in it truth, and in that meditation, and in that prayer, and in prayer, belief. Or maybe that is not the linear order. But then, when it comes to the mystery of belief, linear order often fails us. Norris speaks to that as well:
If I get caught up in fretting over one of the mysteries of the faith that is expressed as a dogma, it’s usually a sign that something else is wrong, something I need sit to with for a while and pray over so that I can see the problem clearly. When dogma is in its proper place, as beauty, it appeals to my poetic sensibility, rather than to my more linear intelligence. (44)
I have confused mysteries with dogmatism much of my life, probably out of what evangelical writer Scot McKnight calls “reaction formation” (5). Instead of being proper for prayer and instruction, Scripture served as the exegetical authority to build arguments and doctrines for every void in culture and faith. No wonder I fretted rather than prayed. This problem is exacerbated around the Marian mysteries and that is why she repelled and attracted me from the first days I worshipped with the Orthodox Christians.  We evangelicals sharpened our wit with anti-Marian hermeneutics. Now I was being asked to meditate her ever-virginity and purity, to call her all-Holy, ask her to pray to God for me, and to believe she ascended to heaven visibly. Ponder and treasure this woman, for that is what meditation does. Norris calls Mary “mother of lectio” (41), as in lectio divina, the practice of meditating and praying Scripture. This is the opposite of expounding doctrines. I longed for this stripping away, which is how I ended up pledging myself to this confession. For its 2000 years of dust and smoke, very little in Orthodox Christianity is dogma. What is not canonized Scripture is in the Creed, and it’s all supposed to be practiced, in consensus in the Liturgy and traditions of the Church.
Because my name is Maria, Latin for Mary, everyone asks if I assumed the Mother of God as my patron saint. I’ve said “Nope” as many times as flight attendant says “Bu-bye” hoping it will deter follow-up inquiries. I didn’t select her because of those doctrines, and associations that Protestants make to the Immaculate Conception, sinlessness, and that she did not die. Becoming Orthodox Christian was hard enough for me. I did not care to entangle myself in more defenses of dogmatisms that the Eastern Church does not call doctrine.
The purpose of my patron saint was to be a partner and pointer, when I was too weak to go faith alone. I chose a different patron with the name Mary. In spite of this, my monastic father confessor keeps telling me to ask Mary about this or that. Maybe it’s because most of the sins I confess are about how easily angered I am with my kids. But I suspect he wants me to slow down. He wants me to meditate. He wants me to meditate on Mary, and to contemplate her qualities as a mother. She’s as close to mystery as it gets.
Softener of Evil Hearts
For this reason, I needed to pick up Meditations on Mary and gaze longingly on the varied, lovely renditions of her. Pedro Antonio Fresquis’ Our Lady of Guadelupe shows glory emanating like daggers from behind her. It conjures the image of the icon we found a few years ago at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, PA, a women’s monastery. Mary has seven daggers splayed out of her folded hands, holding them like a card shark holds his deck, close to his heart. We call that icon “Softener of Evil Hearts” because of the swords piercing her. This two-dimensional icon, one I would have dismissed for poor artistry in college, is a teaching on the Mary who stood at the foot of the Cross. She was one of the sources of Luke’s gospel. It’s believed that Luke painted the oldest icon we have of Mary. Icons, like those El Greco The Annunciation (33) with the dove descending as the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, or the Rosetti Ecce Ancilla Domini (29) with the timorous virgin shown with her scarlett weaving-- tradition holds she wove the veil for the Temple-- are images of dogma, expressed in beauty. The Eastern Tradition maintains two-dimensional versions, wherein the subject looks past the viewer, as its own dogma, one where saints gaze out as if looking through windows from heaven. We can see them. We are reminded they had physicality, but there is a pane there between us and them. We are called to meditate before them on whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is true.
That Luke’s icon of Mary was first is important to me, because it helps unwind some of this confusing imagery, beauty and mystery.Inasmuch as Norris describes herself as a “garden variety” Christian-- Presbyterian who has been an oblate in Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery-- I too am an American-salad bowl in faith formation. She writes that “Once Marian imagery has truly been absorbed by a church or a culture, things are never simple. Who is this Mary?... I used to feel the dissonance whenever I heard Mary described as both Virgin and Mother; she seemed to set an impossible standard for any woman” (22). That is the Mary I contend with. I have some pretty unpious thoughts if I get real with myself. “Miss perfect virgin” now wants me to be “perfect mother” because she was. I sometimes want to ask my father confessor why I need to pray, to meditate, to contemplate the Virgin Mother. She always seems far aloft in those citadels of heaven. Will I ever close the distances?
What I need most besides forcing some long gazes on these Pietas, is to let Norris’ own epiphanies about the Christological Mary sink in: “What Mary does is to show me how I indeed can be both virgin and mother. Virgin to the extent that I remain “one-in-myself,” able to come to things with newness of heart; mother to the extent that I forget myself in the nurture and service of others, embracing the ripeness of maturity that this requires” (22). The reason I need to read this and to gaze upon the plethora of paintings in this book is that remaining “one-in-myself” means living in the moment. In the moment there is always a person needing nurturing and service. I need to read the literal words, be in awe of Norris’ reflection in words, called to reflect in words the same way, and snagged and slowed down enough by these complex paintings, old and requiring a discipline gaze to meditate, to steer away from checklists and be present. To see beauty in them, then beauty in the faces of “my people” as Langston Hughes writes. To gaze upon what beauty occurs in the strange and sometimes gruesome realities around me. For beauty and suffering have not yet be separated, as Mary herself knew.


“Holy Bible NIV Philippians 4:8." Bible Suite. Bible Suite, n.d. Web. 15 Feb 2013.
McKnight, Scot. The Real Mary: Why Evangelicals Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus.
Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2007. 5. Print.
Norris, Kathleen. Meditations on Mary. New York: Penguin Press, 1999
Pelikan, Jaroslav. "The Will to Believe and the Need for Creed." On Being With Krista
Tippett. On Being: PRI, n.d. Web. 10 Feb 2013.

What does "calmed and quieted my soul" look like?

When someone you love very much, on whom many lives are dependent, a woman who is a George Bailey spreading good in veins of all she serves around her, when she is sick with something deadly, how am I supposed to respond? I am a melancholic girl. I find comfort in words such as my sister-in-the-Lord Presvytera Elena gave this week: Satan wants to sift us like wheat. (Luke 22:31)

with tears, anguished groans, aches and moans from my soul

with repeatedly seeking the Psalms, singing the Psalter

Abbot Sergius at St. Tikhon's once rankled me when he said we should be careful what music we select. I was rebuked in love when I relistened to Waterdeep's "He Will Come" which says the music in her head has the lyrics she was taught. This week, I quilt together the snatches of Scripture my parents had us memorize. I live and die by these and hank God now that these are my lyrics because if this is how I anguish, how I squeeze out the pus and poison of fear and sorrow, then thank God for these words.

Beauty for Ashes, Oil of Joy for Mourning, A garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness
(Isaiah 61:3)

Oh, Israel, trust in the Lord, 
from this time forth, and forever more.
Psalm 131

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; Isaiah 42:3

Once, my friend Frank said he was reading Isaiah while working the counter at the local movie theater. A woman walked in and it occurred to him to ask her if she felt like a bruised reed. And, yes. She did. Thank you. Stories poured out. I think he felt it was healing just to ask and let her confess that need for healing. That is how God of Mercy and Grace meets out justice. He heals. 

And this, on which I'm writing an essay about meditating. I think I prefer the sober translation of the KJV. Right now I have little heart for jigs.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Phil. 4:8)

So, for my girls, posted by my girl!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I should be writing papers,

Photo by The Cleveland Kid
Or praying the Akathist for Healing from Cancer.

Instead, I am going to throw myself on faith and write these prayers of thanksgiving. But, I swear, they are damp. They are soaked in salt and water.

For sparrows, Dearest God, I am thankful. 
For Julia Sparrow, I am thankful. And, for learning today that in medieval times, February 14 was a midpoint, a day that birds began to sing for their spring return.

Tonight there are ashes on the foreheads of my friends who are Western Christians, to remind them
from ashes and dust we came, and from the ashes and dust of Christ's death, when we are crucified with Him, we are resurrected too.
I remember how strange it was to sit in an ESL certification class four years ago with a room full of women and men, heads smeared with ash streak. I've never been marked with ashes, but at our vigils, priests annoint our foreheads with holy oil in the same cross shape. The beginning of Eastern Great Lent is weeks off for us this year. On Wednesday of the first week, we gather for the blessing of the holy oil and annointing. It is a reminder that our bodies are fragile, made whole again, only by healing and the action of God. Grace. In the west, they sing "grace means unmerited favor." In the east, grace is the energy of God.

I hope in Grace. My hope is in God.

On this night, I am reminded we are fragile, made of things that get sick, mutate and break. I am reminded that sparrows rise up again. His eye is on them as they fly back and make nests. They sing while they do this, trusting in the humble rhythm of new life and hope. Birth and Resurrection. I am reminded that winter, so frozen in death's grip, lasts only for a season. Then God sends along spring.
For the genius of my sister Naomi, and her husband Andy who gave Julia the middle name Sparrow, I am thankful. What mysteries at how these meanings can unfold to us in crises. How I hope this means something to them as well.

Tonight, Great Lent begins for you in Western Christendom and Lent is called Joyful Sorrow. It is a sojourn in a desert of repentance, pointing towards the glorious resurrection by which we have life. Sorrow holds its grip only so long. And, God mixes rainbows with rain storms. He gave us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness.

Oh, our cloaks tonight feel like cement, like so many ashes compacted together to be bricks. But I cling to those sparrows flying up from the South, singing. 

Oh, Death where is thy sting? O Grave where is thy victory? 

I cling to a hope I cannot see, whose proof someone might dispute. If the worst happened, I am fragile. I too am breakable. Last Sunday, my husband homilized that faith calls for the courage of the Canaanite woman, the one who wanted her daughter to be healed. Christ implied that she was a dog, seeking crumbs from the master's table. She did not shrink away from him after that. Oh No! She had the courage to approach that table, his body and his face and ask for life.

Life is something my family gives me, even now. I am thankful that Naomi and Andy named their eldest in a special way-- Eddie, for my grandfather, who died on the Eve of Thanksgiving. Remember, Eucharist means thanksgiving. I am reminded whenever I picture I see of my grandfather, in his boisterous days and his tired old ones, that he was ever joyful, ever fixed on Christ His Savior and ever thankful. He prayed for every one of us by name, every day. His booming voice waking me up. He was one of God's sparrows singing like a king. Every name he sang, every name of every child and grandchild. My grandmother next to him, saying, "Amen" at the end of his praying.

I am thankful for you, Naomi and Andy. I am thankful I get to be in this family. I am reminded that in your faces, in your joys and sorrows, in your service, in your children, I see the face of God. 
I have been humming, "There is a Redeemer, Jesus, God's own Son, Precious Lamb of God, Messiah, Holy One." I couldn't figure out why, until I remember the refrain: "Thank you, O My Father, For giving us Your Son, and leaving your Spirit until Your work on earth is done." 

I'm supposed to be writing tonight a critical paper on Kathleen Norris' Meditations on Mary, which is largely segments of Scripture, many paintings of Mary's life, and a couple of essays. I was going to begin that this book was truly about meditating by looking on the paintings of Mary until we see in her the icon of her Son, her Savior and ours. When I look up the faces of my family, I know there too is the icon of the Savior written. Glory to God in all Things! (PS. That phrase originates from St. John Chrysostom, who said this as he was dying in exile. Fr. Gregory Petrov wrote an Akathist of Thanksgiving, using those words, from his prison, shortly before his death in 1940. The akathist is a song of praise from a place of the worst sufferings.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Be Still and Know that I am God

Being thankful gets harder on days when the computer has static issues. Getting zonked by my headset mic, having five new students to welcome, second semester, a few weeks in, major projects, papers, calls, all adds up.

Sometimes, I have so much to be thankful for, as Ann reminds us, in spite of an oil seal leak, a cracked radiator, power fluxes in my dry dusty house, paint chipping off the floor on the second floor and that dark stuff multiplying where the cheap vinyl flooring is starting to curl away from the floor trim in the bathroom. Sometimes, I let the creeping fear, not the simple gratitude, that reminds to "Be Still and Know that I am God."

Peacefulness is found in these few sensations that I love.
resolving the stress of another person
cooking simple comfort foods for my loved ones
the weight of a handmade quilt for rest
waking up talking to God about those who I love, who need healing, comfort, peace, mercy
my son reaching over in Liturgy to give back the calming touch that I gave as mother to him for years
my daughter, hanging out with us at the end of a night
the smell of fresh air in the open window
spray of sunshine that inspires letting go of what I do not want or need
new growth after trimming back a plant
seed-catalogues, for their diversity, beauty and promise of new life
the ability to pray Scriptures because I know them well enough to quote and mouth
That God speaks to men as friends
That He sees my heart and hears my sighs
That God speaks through the homilies of my husband, a voice familiar, to remind me, if I'm bold enough to declare "God I can't take it anymore" I should be brave enough to pray, "I need You. I need your healing. I cannot go on without your Body and Blood."
Doing a good job. 
Email inboxes below 100, with most issues resolved.
Respites with my husband
Good music, with my family.
Little children in our church, wailing out the hymns, like I used to do, oblivious to anything but the joy of singing loud to God.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

You Are Really Loved

At Christmas my husband filled a little photoalbum with three cd's, one of them for Joel Henderson, with whom my husband played in Indy. That was 'back in the day.' Tickets to Joel for Thursday, Feb 8 in Indy. Joel H has been pretty busy touring with Over the Rhine, one of our favorite old band.

My husband sent me a giftcard. He saved another for dinner. He checked into an affordable Indy hotel, laid red tissue paper in the room decorated in chocolates, caramels, cremes and roses.

He 'splurged' on a bottle of Zin, my favorite, and went to Aldi for a basketful of strawberries, greens, fresh salsa, carrots, and those little sweet peppers. He ushered me into this on Thursday, and for the past 30 or more hours, we've set aside a number of cares to age our marriage like all fine vintages should be aged.

Thank you, my dearest love.
1. For years and years of music you wrote, you found, you played.
2. For these sneaks that keep us from descending into a marriage of cohabiting and keep the love for real.
3. For real love.
4. For being Mr. Romantic, which is Mr. February, which is way better than Mr. November.
5. For penny-pinching but not on romance.

I've had a princess life with this man. I know there are wives out there who'd love to have a man as faithful, careful, spiritual, soulful, beardful, manful, selfless, kindness.

6. For water. Seriously. I think I drank two gallons today. It tasted like wine.
7. For good work days, when I get to make a kid feel successful, when I get to deliver good news, when I affirm who others are, when gradebooks are joyful rather than depressing, when my inbox is less than 100 and most of those are just 'around' to check up on later.
8. For the skill to converse with non-English speakers.
9. For not having to combat logosmoi, the anger bats, worries and temptations of life for a day or so.
10. For Romans 12, a good chapter on living life Godly.
11. For unexpected reminders, like the lyrics of Victoria Williams' song up there.
12. For trumpet players who do muted trumpet until I feel we should all march on down Bourbon Street.
13. For the little colors and flavors of life.
14. For the chance to make folks laugh. I love to make them sigh with contentment, chuckle with joy, and worry a bit less.
15. For a few people who keep us from worrying and hating ourselves, the friends who 'talk you down,' create zones of safety, who don't judge but believe the best about you.

I am living a blessed life. I think I used to call it a 'charmed' life. Glory most of all to God. For in the dark reaches of the night, He awakens me to prayer and lets me fall asleep again.

You are really loved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Living Sacrifice Thanksgiving

 For by the grace given me 
I say to every one of you:
 Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,
 but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, 
in accordance with the faith
 God has distributed to each of you. 

If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 
Thank you to the saints for prophesying. It might be the hardest of all to discern, but the words of Elder Porphyrious and Sts. Anthony, Ephraim, Isaac the Syrian are all reminders of holy living in times far from mine but so alike to my situation, that I am startled.

If it is serving, then serve;
Our church is full of these, but I would like to thank God for a few of the men who are building St. Maria House, changing light bulbs, checking and replacing furnaces, and clean dishes and carry trash. You know who you are.
The young folks who bring food, jump in and help in Church school, do dishes, grow gardens and share flowers, food and ideas with others. I am thankful that for a few Sundays, I've felt free to sit down. It's not that folks make me feel I have to do dishes, but that I often feel timorous and introverted. Hiding behind tasks relieves me. But I've been refreshed so much recently.

If it is teaching, then teach;

  • The patient teacher I know who makes really hard science tests and guides young men when they do stupid things. You don't get upset or even, you just help them clean it up.  You are of a temperment that remains a sturdy example of guiding youngsters to achieve more, not only in education but life. 
  • Rafe Esquith, and for writing about the elegant ideas executed in a way that is you.
  • Becky, a mentor who remains an example to me to this day. Wit is so key, as is action, and not over-working students
  • Camp directors who are real, funny and pithy, and for those who teach as much by living authentically, laughing and embracing who God made them, Thank you.
  • For new teachers. This is hard stuff. It takes patience to get good at. You keep trooping on. Thanks. 

If it is to encourage, then give encouragement;
The people on call, friends, sisters, parents, church members who let me prattle and whine and listen with kindness. 

Mercy and encouragement are very easily confused with me. I would name in both categories. 

If it is giving, then give generously;
Some people are giving of themselves, with teaching my son and other children, alongside their own
Some are leading discussions to show us all the best ways to give, including KIVA and 
Some have their own non-profits, collect goods for local missions, drive folks using their own gas and time, collect baby goods, use their crafty skills for vestment making, cooking beautifying the church, provide socks or mittens or caps, clothing 
Others give the gift of time. So many ways... It breaks my heart with joy!

If it is to lead, do it diligently; 
Bishop Michael and Met. Tikhon

If it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

  • Anyone in social services
  • Those who live closest to me and keep living here
  • Anyone in church leadership, Uncle Phil, 
  • Mothers. Especially home-schooling mothers
  • Any Presvytera, Khouria, Matushka I know and I know so many of them.

There are other gifts,
of hospitality
of modest living
of gardening
of nursing
of serving Vets, prisoners, and single parents
of Writing
of parenting (teaching ME by example), and so many others

One Body, Many Parts. Thanks.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 

We have different gifts,according to the grace given to each of us. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

But It's Too Cold To Be Mother's Day

When I was pitching my syllabus of readings and writings for my spring mentorship for my mentors, Abby Mendelson, I said I wanted to write the Mary, the Mother of God. So you want to write about motherhood? He asked. 

"Heck, no!" I wanted to yell. I have no expertise on mothering. I got myself into this whole mothering because my mom did a dang good job. I thought if she could handle eight of us-- God called one back before she or he could see this side of the birth canal-- then I could tackle a couple.  

I'm done with any romantic notions about parenting. And, I went in with very few. I helped with my fair share of diapers - Mom used clothe diapers, the ones with the pins and those rubber covers that left red elastic burns around fat thighs and required us to dunk the poo off into perfectly swabbed toilet bowls.-- I cooked my share of meals, starting with granola making at age six.-- She homeschooled us all, so I did my share of singing phonetic sound songs, reading aloud to siblings, and sharing close quarters with everyone. -- We lived in a little RV for nine months while my parents and grandparents built our first non-mobile house with their own hands.-- We moved into it half-finished when I was thirteen,
just in time for me to pen screeds and weepy journals about the sins of 
the mother upon the teenage daughter.
It's a godsend I cannot find the journal where I wrote my mother's manifesto. I was sixteen. I'm pretty sure its full of... horse puckey. Seriously. I didn't appreciate or know the half about being a good mother back then. 

I still don't. I don't want to be compared to the Mother of God. If I read Luke correctly, Mary had a few moments of motherly frustration, justified or not. However, I would like to come out with my mom's record at the end of this. I only have two, so I haven't had seven kids worth of the pangs of motherhood- bearing down, being cut and sewn up for these lives, waking to nurse and change, losing sleep with infants all night, toddlers in the morning and weepy hormonal adolescent girls who don't wake up until 10:30 at night. It turns out, being a morning person during a child's adolescence is a sure way to be an absentee parent, at least the biology of my family, and my husband's.

I want to take stock of the pay-it-forwards I have accumulated being my mother's daughter.

Good moms do many things. They should be paid the big bucks! If my mother had a salary for all she did. She'd be rich. Here's to you, Mom!

I'm going to give a quick honorable mention for being "base" in many games of tags with my friends and siblings. For countless disasters you cleaned up and fixed that I don't know about, because you did it quietly. For playing feeding machine to me and the siblings. For the millions of meals and sandwiches. For loads of laundry, cloth diapers that you carefully ph balanced to reduce red bottoms. For teaching me to speak without euphemism, with correct grammar, for taking us to the library faithfully every other week. For letting the neighbor kids bomb our dinners by yelling through the windows. For keeping our home sacred.
For teaching me how to sew, take apart the stove and fridge for regular, thorough cleanings. For expecting the highest of us in chores, academics, spiritual life, honesty, matters of entertainment, habits of thought and cleanliness, but always balancing that with thrift. 
Here are a few things that you did you may have forgotten but I have always treasured. And, by the way, these are just what I can think of right now. This list could on and on...
Coloring that picture in my coloring book during my nap. I looked at how you outlined the elements and stayed in the lines and I had never appreciated that care made quality. 
I value that memory more now, because I realize you could have done a half-a-dozen chores. Instead you took a moment to rest. A moment to  be, to play. It is so hard for me to remember to do that. I saw a lovely colored page then, and a vision of calmness now.

Leaving your baby doll on my bed after I got over chicken pox. She was beautifully dressed in her trouseau. Oh, that you trusted her to me. You made me feel so important and grown up.

For mastering that garden in Grandma's yard, turning tomatoes into sauce, paste, juice using pillow cases. And for canning peaches with your sisters. For applesauce with one red hot in the bottom of the jar and for bread and butter pickles that are ghosts of the best pickles I ever ate. You taught me many ways to make food. Most of all you provided an example that I too can find the energy and time to provide real food to my family. You, with dad, taught me that good things are cultivated, and to sew what you need.
For sewing so many of my clothes, even though I think I made some pretty disparaging remarks about how my clothes, my homemade peanut butter and bread were not as cool or good as my friends. In our toughest moments, I have leaned on your courage, your thrift, and the absolute lack of resentment you demonstrated while you made Dad's hard earned wages go twice as far. 

For watching Total Recall and countless assisine Jean Claude Vandamn movies with Aaron, Christine, Andy, John, Mark, Lisa, Brandi, Todd, and any of my friends. I'm sorry. But, you cared enough not to just be up, but to know what I was injesting. When that crap harmed my spirit and spun my dreams into nightmare, I remembered your presence and knew you didn't want me to suffer like that. Also, you just liked being around me.

You gave me late night talks when you must have wanted only to sleep, especially since my problems were mostly the angst in my head.

There was teaching me that make up looks best in the smallest doses.
Giving me your curling iron and your alarm clock.
Giving me that handkerchief dress, which I wore out.

Teaching me that nail polish and hair dye are silly. So are Barbies, but you let me 'have' your vintage ones for that time when I couldn't let go of the itch.
For the wooden 'heels' that made the clacking down the halls at church. I felt so grown up. So beautiful.

Lady in Red, I want to be like you when I grow up.
For not putting yourself first. You didn't spend money on beauty products and fancy clothes, and maybe sometimes, I think it would have been a good thing for you to do that.

For driving three plus hours the morning Liam was born, rubbing my leg, being present, not talking much, and then going to be with your friend because her husband was having his cancer cut out. You handled that with grace and self-sacrifice. I want to cry with such gratitude when I think of all the crosses you bore quietly, and you still do.
You bore my spiteful rejections. You took so much suffering on yourself and covered over a multitude of sins. I know it didn't always pass quietly, as you might have liked, but you took on more than most people could ever bear. 

For wanting to be a close friend of mine when I grew up.
For growing beautiful as you grow older. For taking a few tips from me, which makes me think I'm measuring up, but I'm still learning more from you than ever.

Love you, Mom. 

"A wife of noble character, who shall find? ... Her children will rise up and call her blessed." I think "rise up" means grow up.