Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Dangers of Reading

Sometimes I wish I didn't read so much.
The more I read the more I find myself obligated to behave differently.

Maybe I should find another addiction hobby.

If I spent more time knitting maybe I could slide along in my life without growing on the inside. I could sit in my comfortable world, doing the things I want, being a mostly decent person with maybe a few minor faults, not worrying about Ideas and their consequences. 

If I gave up my books I could be grouchy with my family and not have Shakespeare's reproof running through my head like a song,

Fie! Fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow and dart not scornful glances from those eyes.... 
...a woman mov'd is like a fountain troubled: muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty, and none so thirsty will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.  


If I gave up my books I could be insulted and mistreated by others and wallow in my self pity instead of having St. John Chrysostom's fiery tongue driving home the messages of the Sermon on the Mount, reminding me that it's a beautiful blessing to have the opportunity to turn the other cheek.

If I gave up books I could educate my kids the easy way with prepackaged curriculum, checking boxes and following someone else's plan, instead of consuming my time with working out the details of how education must be different if
Children are born persons
Education is the Science of Relations
Maybe books should come with warning labels:

Warning: this book has the potential to change you. Read at your own risk. 

Caveat emptor. 

If I put my books away I could avoid heartbreaking descriptions of horror and cruelty like those found in White Fang and many other books. In fact I almost didn't finish White Fang.

But I decided to keep reading anyway.

And if I hadn't finished I would have missed the beauty of his rescue and the glorious redemption of love.

If I had put away Little House I would never have known that my education was not as good as that of Laura Ingalls.

If I had put away Bulfinch I could never have truly appreciated the genius of J.K. Rowling.

Without heroes like Hector and Beowulf I would delight less in heroes like Aragorn and Gandalf.

And if I put my books away I would not be aware of those things that call me to a higher, better way. I would never know that there is more to life than just what meets the eye. Instead I would be left behind in the darkness of Plato's cave, never aware of the brilliant light which truly can burn, but which also illuminates and transforms.

So I guess I'll have to take the discomfort that invites change. The first step out of darkness into light has already been taken, and for me there's no turning back. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sasha and the Dragon

Lots of kids + a mom who loves to read + homeschooling = A LOT of books. Library books, school books, fun books, old books, new books; they're everywhere. (My dream home would definitely have a library feel.)

Fortunately there are many wonderful books to choose from, even when you're very careful to choose the best. So many children's books are treasures and they're usually just as delightful to read aloud as they are to listen to. 

There is a hugely wide range of content and it's not difficult to find beautiful books about almost anything one can imagine. My favorite children's books though, are those which bring our Orthodox faith alive; those stories which portray the sacramental nature of everyday experience are among the most valuable of treasured books.

I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to a new such book: Sasha and the Dragon by Laura E. Wolfe. Since receiving this book in the mail my children have brought it to me to read over and over and over again.

The story is simple: a young boy in a new place, lonely and afraid, who finds courage enough to face his fear and ask the Archangel Michael for help.  Simple enough, yet the lesson is profound. How many of us find ourselves faced with dragons - demons of all kinds - and find ourselves paralyzed with fear? How often we forget to call on our heavenly protectors for help. Children and adults both can benefit from the reminder that we are not meant to go it alone. And not only are we not meant to be alone, but that help will come when we ask. God does not forsake us and His servants always help those who call upon them with faith.

The book is beautifully written, poetic even, and the illustrations are gorgeous. The powerful image of St. Michael coming to Sasha's aid is one that will stick in children's minds and make its way to their hearts, to hold on to that sure knowledge that they have a protector who will come to their defense, even when they must come face to face with dragons. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Careful What You Wish For

O Thou, Who at the ninth hour didst taste of death in the flesh, mortify the presumption of our flesh, O Christ God, and save us. 
                             from the prayers of the Ninth Hour

Sometimes I have a tendency to say my prayers without thinking much about the words. It's not really a problem per se because I completely and absolutely trust the holy saints who composed the beautiful prayers that we use. However, God always hears our prayers and sometimes the answer comes while I'm busy looking the other way, because I just wasn't paying attention to what I was asking for.

If you look closely at the short prayer above you'll see what I mean. It's very easy to say those words and even easy to agree with the sentiment. But look more closely, take a minute to define some words, and suddenly it's not such a simple or safe prayer anymore. In fact it's downright dangerous if we aren't ready to face some mortification!

The same could be said for many of the prayers we pray. I have often asked for patience; it took me a long time to realize that asking for patience in prayer meant that I was going to be getting more and more opportunity to practice being patient!

It's always a good thing to ask for good things. Our God pours blessing down upon us without stint. But often we don't see the blessings because we haven't paid close attention. We get distracted by the illusion of fulfilment in this life and we forget that we're just visiting. This world shouldn't feel like home because it isn't.

...mortify the presumption of our flesh, O Christ God, and save us. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Parenting is Really About

The longer I'm at this parenting thing the more I realize I just don't know what I'm doing. Often I find a big disconnect between reality and my ideals. I know I'm not the only parent with this problem; the multitude of parenting books available these days seems proof enough that many parents are looking for help. We see that we have a problem, whether it be a sleepless baby, a grumpy toddler, or perhaps disrespect, disobedience, lying, laziness, or any other number of problems that older kids can present us with, and we think it's our job to solve it. We search for the right method of dealing with Behavior X, hoping always to change our kids into better people. The books promise that we'll find the magical solution if we just follow steps x, y, and z. 

But somehow the magical solution doesn't really work so magically after all. Things might improve for awhile, but we still have the same child with the same struggles particular to him or her. We forget, or maybe don't even realize in the first place, that children aren't problems to be solved, nor is it really our job to "make them better". When we rush out looking to solve problems or fix our children we forget the most fundamental principle of all: children are born persons. And what else does it mean to be a person but to be made in the image of God? Our children are icons of Christ; they are already good by the very nature of who they are

This doesn't mean that the struggles and temptations that they face are not real, nor does it mean that they will always behave like perfect little angels. What it does mean is that rather than trying to fix them, and eradicate bad behavior, our job is to help them learn how to deal with the struggles they face in a way that honors God. In my new favorite book, Parenting Toward the Kingdom, the author says this 
Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors or getting children to listen to us. It is the process of shaping and guiding our children's souls in and toward God's love through the tasks that need to be accomplished and the struggles of daily life. 

 It's not about stopping their behavior or getting them to listen. That idea stopped me in my tracks and made me do a double take. And of course I realized that he's right. If I truly believe that my children are icons of Christ then that means that my job as a parent is different than what I thought. I'm not exactly sure what I thought before, probably mostly about me rather than them, but even though I knew in my head that they are persons, I was not understanding my own role as a mother in that light.

I'm hoping to write several more posts about this book; maybe I will, maybe I won't be able to. I hope that as I write my readers will join me I thinking about these things and even discussing in the comment box if you like. If you are a parent, grandparent, godparent, or if you work with kids in any way, go buy Parenting Toward the Kingdom. Read it. Read it again. Let this understanding take hold of your mind and heart and transform your relationships. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

WwW:: Don Quixote

It's been awhile since I've done a Wednesdays with Words post. I often forget or else remember when I don't have the chance to actually post. But today the stars have aligned so here are some words that have impacted me from Don Quixote:

"Recollect, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "that wherever virtue exists in an eminent degree it is persecuted. Few or none of the famous men that have lived escaped being calumniated by malice."

"Men famous for their genius, great poets, illustrious historians, are always, or most commonly, envied by those who take a particular delight and pleasure in criticizing the writings of others, without having produced any of their own."

"... I wish... fault finders were more lenient and less exacting, and did not pay so much attention to the spots on the bright sun of the work they grumble at... perhaps it may be that what they find fault with may be moles, that sometimes heighten the beauty of the face that bears them..."

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Praying in Church

Lots of church this week. My son wants to attend every service and he's pretty close to getting his wish. Mostly he serves in the altar and can attend to the worship with both body and mind. I am not able to participate in the way I prefer; I spend most of my time in the narthex trying to keep the littlest ones from disturbing others who have come to pray. I've heard people argue against bringing little children to church at all. They say that there's no point because you aren't even able to be in church and pray anyway when there's so much in and out activity: shushing, persuading, cajoling and generally just doing one's best to keep boisterous babies from disrupting the service.

Obviously, I disagree. We don't come to church to pray. A slightly less shocking way to say that is to say that we don't come to church purely for the purpose of praying. We come to be part of the Body of Christ.

Yesterday I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to the Holy Unction service. I was tired and I knew my kids were tired. My eldest convinced me by reminding me that if we went last night and this morning for liturgy we would have the opportunity to partake of two sacraments in less than 24 hours. How could I say no to that?

When we arrived last night we hadn't been there for even 5 minutes before I had to take the little ones out. We spent most of the service outside. But we made it back in for the anointing and that was what mattered.

It is a good thing to pray in church; we ought to pray in church. But sometimes we can't. Sometimes it is enough just to be there in body, because what we do with our bodies matters. It matters so much that our God, instead of proclaiming from on high that He would conquer death and set us free, came down to earth in the flesh. He took on a body and He used that body to raze hell and trample on the devil.

I'm sure I have many more services that will be spent outside rather than in. I'm sure that when I am finally able to stay in the nave I will have to struggle with inattentiveness and distracting thoughts. But I will continue to go anyway. And I will continue to strive to put my mind where my mouth is and to pray with my whole self instead of only part. But I must begin by going and by doing and by participating in whatever way I can, no matter how limited. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Smooth Hands Will Never Take the Gate

Uninspired and much too tired
To bleed for the Word today
Oh I want and I need
To walk the narrow way

Give blood to get spirit 
Only soldiers storm the gates.
Do I have the ears to hear it?
Or to keep a warrior's pace?

The servants will be greatest;
But no sweat flows from my pores.
My hands are smooth and the gate is
Taken violently by force. 

~ Peter John Gillquist from his album Real

These are the words I've had running through my head this week. I happened to put on an old album, one I haven't listened to in years, and when this song came I realized that these were words meant for me.

How often I have sat back and complained when things are not going my way. How often I have felt sorry for myself that I keep having to face temptation and struggle. How many times I have relaxed my vigilance because I just don't feel like making an effort.

My hands are smooth because I haven't been trying. But only those who do violence to their passions will take the gate. How can I expect to win a battle I won't even fight? I must arm myself with love and learn to keep watch over my thoughts. I must run from those things that take my thoughts away from Christ. I must give blood. And that's not pretty and it's not easy and it's certainly not fun. But now is the time to run the race. Now is the time to work and build up my treasure in heaven so that my heart might be there also. This is not the time for rest or retreat; this is the time to fight.

Thank God that Lent is upon us! What better time to wake and begin the watch? I know that when we begin to fast the temptations will pile on fast and thick, but thank God! How else could we become seasoned warriors if we haven't had any practice in battle?

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight.
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find awake.
But he whom He shall find neglectful is verily unworthy.
Behold therfore, my soul! 
Beware, lest thou fallest into deep slumber
And the door of the Kingdom be closed against thee
And thou be delivered unto death. 
But be thou wakeful crying,
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the intercessions of the Theotokos have mercy on us. 

A blessed fast to all of my readers! May God give you strength and grace to run the race and fight the good fight! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rejoice in each day

I rejoice in each day's blessing as it comes, and never wish for more than does come. You, who are wishing the present to be better than it is, and fearing that the future may be worse, are meanwhile losing all enjoyment of the hour that now is. You think this wise. To me it seems as foolish as it is ungrateful!

Margaret Gatty
Parables from Nature

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Letting Go of Perfection

Mistakes are an inevitable part of life. We live in a fallen world and none of us can be perfect. We strive with all our might to live up to the Ideal we have set before us, but again and again we fail: we make poor choices, we hurt those dear to us, we act based on misunderstandings and miscommunication, and we mess up over and over. 

We can, of course, be sorry for our mistakes. All of us know regret and remorse. We try to clean up the spills and the broken fragments that remain as evidence of our carelessness or our folly. But try as we might to mend the tear, the fact is that the fabric will never be as good as new again. We can glue the broken pieces back together, but the jar will always show evidence of the crack.  

We may strive for perfection but we cannot attain it in this life. And you know what? That's ok. 

We must learn to strive for the ideal, while always remembering that we cannot reach it - yet. We must not attempt to have everything be perfect now because that's an invitation for more trouble. Intrusive thoughts will enter in and make a home in our hearts and they will tear everything apart even more. 

These are the thoughts that say,

*I am a failure

*My child is not who he should be

*My spouse is not behaving as a loving spouse behaves

*If so and so continues to act like this she will "ruin" her life

*Everyone will think badly of me or my family

*If I don't fix this problem I will "ruin" my child's life

*So and so doesn't treat people right 

*So and so is lying to me and it's my job to uncover the truth

*So and so doesn't fast

*So and so did something wrong and it's my job to spread the word

*I have failed my loved ones and myself

The list could go on and on with endless variations, but ultimately all these thoughts boil down to the reality that I think things "should" be a certain way and they simply are not. Sometimes these thoughts come internally and sometimes those around us suggest them to us. And we feel helpless and hopeless and panicked because we can't fix things. We want Perfect and we think we can have it now. We think we should have it now. 

The reality is that none of us can live up to the Ideal. The reality is that we must live with the consequences of sin; both our own sins and the sins of others. The fall of Adam was universal and we will never be free of the consequences until Christ comes again.

But that doesn't mean we must live in a state of despair and hopelessness. Those thoughts that intrude on our hearts don't have to be welcomed. Those comparisons and reminders of failure and all thoughts that cause us to wring our hands and react with anxiety and worry are nothing but useless trash that ought to be put out at the curb and not allowed to decompose in our hearts. 

We must accept our weaknesses and bear our shame and keep our eyes on Christ who is the only One who can fix this mess and make all things new. And what do we see when we behold Him? We see Him suspended on the cross, taking on all the shame and brokenness, all the mistakes and imperfections of the world upon Himself. 

We can't fix a thing. He does the fixing and the perfecting. He makes all things new and only asks that we take what we have in our hands and do our best to live in communion with Him that we may become whole once more. We can't compare and we can't judge and we can't expect perfection by worldly standards. 

Our God is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is always moving to effect our salvation and the mark of His hand can be seen everywhere if we will just take the time to look. We must give up our notions of what constitutes perfection our own ideas of every "Should" in life. The only thing for us to do is to focus on Him. As St. Seraphim said, we must simply seek to acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around us will be saved.