“Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose
Of all the usual roadblocks to inspiration, such as perfectionism, insecurity, busyness, etc., what stunts my growth most as an artist is my desire to please …well, everyone. By avoiding being “too this,” or “not enough that,” in an effort not to disappoint, I mute exactly what it is that makes me unique – as we all are and absolutely should be.
The vulnerability aspect of revealing the tender innards of my soul via creativity is sometimes too intimidating for me to bear, and I hide away. What if I’m misunderstood, or understood and rejected? If I cannot make peace with that, I have no business proceeding to work on strengthening my distinct voice – a voice admittedly “too this” and “not enough that” for many people’s tastes.
I believe, down to my very core, in love, simplicity, eternity, transparency and mercy, mercy, mercy, despite my ongoing struggle with selfishness.
“If you are penitent, you love. And if you love you are of God. All things are atoned for, all things are saved by love…Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
May I find the courage necessary to shamelessly live out loud my far from mainstream convictions, come what may, in my acts, words, and deeds.
Art and tepidness is an impotent combination.
Elder: “If you would be simple-hearted like the Apostles, would not conceal your human shortcomings, would not pretend to be especially pious, if you would walk free from hypocrisy, then that is the path. While it is easy, not everyone can find it or understand it. This path is the shortest way to salvation and attracts the grace of God. Unpretentiousness, guilelessness, frankness of soul – this is what is pleasing to the Lord, Who is lowly of heart. Except ye become like children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 18:13).”
—Elder Leonid of Optina
“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”
- Wendell Berry
You know what’s nice? Opening your front door to a smiling family bearing a basket full of produce they’ve grown themselves. Recently we invested in a co-op of sorts and the benefits have proven to be more than just nutrition based.
You know what feels nice? Investing in real, live, flesh and blood people.
As Christians we are here to affirm the supreme value in direct sharing, of immediate encounter — not machine to machine, but person to person, face to face.
- Bishop Kallistos Ware “The Mysery of the Human Person.”
Once upon a time, before Facebook and box stores, people in a community had little choice but to interact closely. And it was then, as it is now, a messy affair: navigating relationships with individuals who may not think like you, believe like you. It’s hard work sometimes, finding common ground to meet on.
Now a days, however, we can accumulate and cull friends on the internet, based on our specific opinions and preferences. We can build walls around our two-dimensional, on-line colonies of “like”-minded acquaintances, keeping them free from intrusions on our shared values and presumptions – hurling over those walls heated accusations (in 140 characters or less) when those values or presumptions are questioned.
“…Individualistic material progress and the desire to gain prestige by coming out on top have taken over from the sense of fellowship, compassion and community. Now people live more or less on their own in a small house, jealously guarding their goods and planning to acquire more, with a notice on the gate that says, ‘Beware of the Dog.”
―Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
I’m finding it far more satisfying lately to take my chances connecting with people I’ve been specifically planted next to on this earth, despite the risk of being disagreed with, misunderstood, of putting my foot in my mouth, or of being exposed as the imperfect mother, friend, Christian that I am. Genuine kindness really and truly can close all kinds of gaps that distance us. Who am I to assume anything, to call anyone out on anything, being so steeped in my own sins? What softens the soul more than mercy and love?
“Fire and water do not mix, neither can you mix judgment of others with the desire to repent. If a man commits a sin before you at the very moment of his death, pass no judgment, because the judgment of God is hidden from men. It has happened that men have sinned greatly in the open but have done greater deeds in secret, so that those who would disparage them have been fooled, with smoke instead of sunlight in their eyes.”
—St. John Climacus
Of all the various undertakings I’ve pursued, none have been more challenging, and fulfilling, than keeping my eyes prayerfully peeled for loveliness and goodness in the persons closest in proximity to me, including my children. I find a great deal of significance and peace in staying focused less on things and more on watering the relationships I have formed in my own small town.
This life is too short for wasting on self-centered pursuits and judgement. If I err, let it always be on the side of having loved too much, sacrificed too much, on having given the benefit of the doubt too many times.
I want to stuff my brief existence on this earth with grace and beauty.
“We see the water of a river flowing uninterruptedly and passing away, and all that floats on its surface, rubbish or beams of trees, all pass by. Christian! So does our life. . .I was an infant, and that time has gone. I was an adolescent, and that too has passed. I was a young man, and that too is far behind me. The strong and mature man that I was is no more. My hair turns white, I succumb to age, but that too passes; I approach the end and will go the way of all flesh. I was born in order to die. I die that I may live. Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom!”
—St. Tikhon of Voronezh
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This morning at breakfast, my youngest two kids were annoying each other.
“Stop,” said my husband.
“He/she started it!” they both claimed.
“Then one of you must step up and break the cycle by treating the other how you want to be treated.”
Seriously, is there anything harder?
Right now, that’s all I have time for: focusing on my own habitual cycles of self-centeredness in my roles as a wife, a mother, a daughter, friend, sister, neighbor. It takes every ounce of concentration I can muster to subdue my passion for comfort, convenience, recognition.
“When you hear someone complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life for your neighbor.”
There are countless battles to wage “out there,” in the name of justice and morality. But I feel so woefully unqualified to make judgement calls of any kind, God being so vast, mysterious, beyond my comprehension, and all. In fact all I know for sure, having chosen this particular, eternal, vocation of my own free will, is that as an Orthodox Christian I’m called first and foremost to serve, expecting nothing in return, that I might be emptied of pride and filled with mercy.
It’s a simple path, a quiet path, an all-consuming path
- a rewarding path despite its ruggedness.
“Remember!–It is Christianity to do good always–even to those who do evil to us. It is Christianity to love our neighbours as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them do to us. It is Christianity to be gentle, merciful and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to show that we love Him by humbly trying to do right in everything. If we do this, and remember the life and lessons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and try to act up to them, we may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes, and enable us to live and die in peace.”
― Charles Dickens
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
― Mother Teresa
Because that part of my brain containing basic navigating know how never properly developed, I am utterly dependent on my iPhone’s GPS app. If my gut instinct tells me to head in one direction, I know going the opposite way is probably advisable. If you ask me for a ride someplace, just assume up front there will be several u-turns involved. I’ve finally made peace with this ridiculous, sense-of-directionless, side of myself but sometimes the drawbacks of being always and forever lost can still be frustrating.
The other day, I was coming home from the beach and, as usual, turned right when I should have turned left, necessitating a quick glance down at my iPhone to find out how to get back on track. In the process, I TOTALLY cut off the car behind me.
Immediately, I could see from my rear view mirror, some frantic and angry gesturing was beginning to take place. The driver of the Buick on my tail was ticked, and I was at fault. When he changed lanes and stopped at a red light, I pulled up to next him and rolled down my window. The young man and his scowl-faced girlfriend in the passenger seat glared at me, then looked surprised as I expectantly locked eyes with them until they also rolled down their window.
“OH MY GOSH, I’M SO SORRY ABOUT THAT!” I yelled. And then to my surprise, their hardened expressions instantly softened. “DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!” they answered, now smiling at me, as if they hadn’t wanted to run me off the road only thirty seconds prior.
When the light turned green, we waved goodbye to one another then drove off into our own little worlds. Our brief encounter stuck with me, however – a spark of light, it brought significance to an otherwise mundane commute home. We’d both had a choice – that crossing of our paths could have gone down so much differently, burdening all three of us with irritation and resentment.
The power at my disposal, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to either hurt or heal is awesome, overwhelming, not to be toyed with. It takes so little to break a binding chain of negativity; it takes so much.
“She was not one for emptying her face of expression. ”
― J.D Salinger, Franny and Zooey
See this entire fun-filled, expression heavy photo shoot HERE.
We went from a beautiful Holy Week and Pascha straight into tech week for the kids’ school play and now I hardly know which end is up, quite frankly. You know people are always asking me, “Molly, as a mother of four and part time photographer/blogger/stage manager, how do you manage to do it all, to have it all?!” And I look at them sympathetically for not everyone can attain my level of womanly success. It takes a special kind of individual to:
… maintain a once a month half-hearted twenty-five minute speed walk workout routine
… pile three weeks worth of clean unfolded laundry into one average-sized hamper
…so efficiently remove food stains with a soaped -up washcloth from a school uniform t-shirt so it can be worn again not once, not twice, but three times.
…frequently help her procrastinating children rig up book reports and science projects the night before they’re due
…fit in a shower upwards of twice a week
…keep the trunk of her minivan stuffed with goodness know what
…cover the vast majority of her picky eaters’ nutritional needs with dinosaur shaped vitamins from Costco
…stay consistent with an all carb/dairy/meat/red wine/chocolate diet
…create homemade field trip permission slips out of notebook paper when the originals get lost
…expertly employ the “Wait till your father gets home!” discipline technique when too exhausted to parent all by her lonesome
O.K. so the truth of the matter is that over these last fourteen years as a mother I’ve had my ideals and obsession with perfectionism squashed, smothered, yanked, burned, strangled out of me. My expectations these days are freeingly realistic, at least when it comes to the ridiculously abundant logistics of managing a busy family. I can’t afford to be hard on myself anymore for forgetting details, my kids’ accumulating tardy slips, or making quesadillas for dinner…again, otherwise I won’t have the stamina to pursue wholeheartedly what matters most.
Ultimately, what brings me satisfaction is having connected in a positive, healing way with other human beings, my beloved family members most certainly included. Going out for coffee with friends has become a priority in my life, as has hugging and kissing my husband. Laughing with my sons and daughters is essential to my happiness, and reading with them, snuggling them, hearing them, forgiving and being forgiven by them.
I pray fervently and continuously to stay interruptible, allowing my best-laid plans to fall by the wayside when I am needed by a neighbor. “Success” to me is measured by generous hospitality, kind words spoken, beauty created, a helping hand freely given, gossip and judgement being squelched.
This afternoon I’ll be lucky if I get half of those laundered but now wrinkled clothes spilling onto my bedroom floor actually folded and put away; alas the available hours in my day for chores/meal planning/ errand running are limited. Fortunately, what remains limitless are my opportunities for living out the hope of the Resurrection via eye contact, a warm smile, a listening ear, or self-denial. May I always, always, always be as merciful to others as Christ is always, always, always to me.
“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
― Albert Camus
After much patience-testing lenteness, Holy Week is finally upon us. We spent Saturday cleaning our parish in preparation. I think I needed that physical challenge of dusting pews, cleaning glass, wiping down tables to help get my head and my heart in the game so to speak. Out with the yuck and in with the bright. Work and purity, freshness, newness go hand-in-hand.
My friend, Julie, in a wonderful article she wrote for Chicago Now, entitled Greek Easter in a Box, had this perfect thing to say about Orthodox Holy Week:
Don’t get me wrong–it’s a gorgeous, awe-inspiring experience. It’s just quite a lot for a newcomer or the unsuspecting. You need to be in the right frame of mind. You have to step off your mental hamster-wheel of to-do lists and worries and plans. And you need to step into a place where the passage of time doesn’t have a lot of meaning, and just listen, just absorb, quietly, for several hours. (Hopefully, you won’t be plotting out the rest of your Easter feast.)
So that’s what I’ll be doing the next few days, just trying to listen and absorb, to release my earthly cares and soak it all in. To everyone else doing the same, transcendence, peace and joy – so much JOY to you!
A growing giddiness for the incomparable elation of the Resurrection is already starting to burn in my hungry soul! The Paschal hymns are in my mouth! And look at that, the sun is shining! Oh Life, what a gift!