No, love, you may not wield that Church candle like a lightsaber…or grab a fistful of blessed bread with your sweaty little hand…or pinch your sister in the Communion line…or crawl under my skirt…or use your outside voice…
I know this must be shocking to hear (ha ha), but my kids aren’t exactly known for their quiet, timid ways. We got us some spit fires, Troy and I – all four of them love hard, fight hard, play hard, laugh loud, and sing even louder. They’re hands – on learners, stimulated by sights, sounds and smells. This has made the Orthodox Church services we attend as a family, yes, a very beautiful sensory experience but sometimes crazy hard as well, especially when they were tiny and wont to wander, shriek and touch, touch, touch.
I’ve spent many a Divine Liturgy over the last decade or so redirecting behaviors not appropriate for Sunday mornings. And I’ve been reduced to tears of exhaustion and frustration by the enormity of the work (Because it is work, raising children in the Church – difficult, demanding, humbling, too often under appreciated, good and holy work) involved in fostering both a love and respect for the ancient and unearthly sacraments and Traditions of the Church. And yet I’ve also been profoundly blessed, usually when I least expect it, by a taste of Heaven itself upon hearing my children’s voices alongside those in the choir, or watching them tenderly kiss the cross, serve behind the altar, receive the Eucharist.
Showing up with my kids every Sunday, even on the Sundays we arrive grumpy and flustered, wordlessly cements in them (at least I pray it does) an understanding of our family’s priorities – if we’re consistent at home with our prayers and love for God and neighbor, that is. “But some of those services are so loooong,” my kids have most definitely complained, and yet I’ve noticed, ever so subtly, how their attention span in Church has lengthened over the years, as has their capacity for stillness. They’ve been stretched and challenged as I’ve been stretched and challenged, and being stretched and challenged is imperative for growth.
Writer, mother and Orthodox convert, Kelly Ramke Lardin, author of Conciliar Press’s newest children’s book, Josiah and Julia Go to Church, certainly understands the ups and downs of attending Divine Liturgy with young children. With this board book aimed at toddlers, pre-schoolers and even early grade schoolers, Larkin has provided a helpful resource for her fellow Orthodox Christian parents introducing their sons and daughters to Church etiquette. In it, siblings Josiah and Julia cross themselves, venerate icons, light candles, read prayer books, etc. all the while being praised for their correct behavior, and gently reminded of how to behave correctly when they make mistakes. It is sweetly illustrated by Sheena Hisiro and positive in its approach to educating little ones about the dos and don’ts of participating in an Orthodox service.
What I personally appreciate about this book is how it reminds adults to keep the childish behaviors of their children in perspective. This “a little too noisy, too figety, too messy, too sleepy” season will pass. I promise. Soon enough you’ll make it all the way to the Lord’s Prayer before it suddenly dawns on you, “Hey! We didn’t have to leave the service once this morning!” Yes, indeed, our days of uninterrupted worship are just around the corner. For now, however, we offer back to Christ as a sacrifice of thanksgiving the effort required to train up in the way they should go the imperfect yet most beloved children in our care.
Click HERE to purchase Josiah and Julia Go to Church for either yourself, your parish or as a gift!
We’d been excited all afternoon, well for weeks really. A milestone was upon us, one of those significant events that invoke wonder at how far one has come down a path the twists and turns of which they couldn’t have even fathomed at the beginning. Last night, I observed my father, brother, husband working together to give birth to a dream of my dad’s – my dad whose faith I felt a renewed awe for remembering back on how his decision to convert to Orthodox Christianity carried with it the weight of risk and all kinds of uncertainties about his future.
Who’d have thought that that leap of faith would turn into a whole new vocation for our family? Who’d have imagined that a passion for broadcasting could spark a crazy idea (“Internet Radio,” he told us. “Huh?” we replied) that would blossom and multiply when offered back to Christ, like the widow’s mite or a simple lunch of bread and fish?
Ancient Faith Radio has evolved since Dec. 1st, 2004 from a humble PC on the back porch playing borrowed CDs of Orthodox Hymns into a two stream – one “talk”, one “music” – full on station featuring 60 different podcasts, specials, interviews, and now, as of Monday evening, a Live call-in program called Ancient Faith Today that will air two Sundays a month at 7:00 pm central. Admittedly, I take it for granted most of the time how much love, sweat and tears have gone into this ministry that has consumed the lives of my parents, and now brother. I couldn’t help but get emotional, however, witnessing their small team energetically producing a groundbreaking undertaking for Orthodox Radio involving a host in California, guests and callers from all over, and engineered in Indiana while my nieces and own children played quietly in the same room. It was a heart warming scene.
All that to say, I am thankful – thankful for the example of my mother and father who nervously prayed ”Thy Will Be Done” and meant it; thankful for the perfect and mysterious will of God; and thankful for you who have supported Ancient Faith Radio - financially, by word of mouth and through your own prayers. It means the world to us, truly. May the beauty and Truth of Orthodox Christianity be spread and spread and spread from here to there to everywhere by our collective peace of soul, sacrificial love of others and the sharing of our varied gifts and talents.
You go outside. You see the Holy Spirit
burning in your trees
and walk on, glowing with the same glow.
Still you tremble out and in.
And the birds of all your yellow teacups sing,
and you know this hymn.
Somehow, knowing what you know
still you tremble out and in
Oh I know it, I know it, here is God beside.
I meant it. I meant I’m sure of that.
But the sky is tall and heavy,
when I could be brave,
- Innocence Mission
“Let’s pinky swear to never get this ap for our phones,” the e-mail read, linking to the new symptom checker from Web MD. I laughed out loud because the friend who sent it has empathized for years with my various phobias of rare infections and morose diseases. We’ve talked one another down from many a hypochrondric ledge over the last decade and a half. “Don’t you dare google it!” Is our shared mantra when bruises, freckles, headaches, stomach aches evolve in our overactive imaginations into a lethal strain of swine flu… or abdominal cancer… or polio. “Well every time I check my symptoms on-line,” my brother joked recently, “it says I have leprosy, so I don‘t bother.”
Oh, anxiety, what a nuisance you are – always raining on parades and such. And I’m pondering again this Bright week, in light of the Resurrection, how foolish it is to thoughtlessly swallow your poisonous barbs rather than spit them out, Christ is Risen!, swat them away, Christ is Risen!, suffocate them, strangle them, shut them up with prayer, Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! O Death where is your victory? Where is your sting?
There is a book my kids adore – one quite wise in its simplicity – called, Seven Lonely Places, Seven Warm Places: the vices and virtues for children. Just last night, I heard my husband reading it to our youngest daughter. Courage, he said, takes up where others leave off crying and goes into the dark place to turn on the light. Damn timidity with its lukewarm take on faith, love, joy. Do I LIVE like God is sovereign? Do I throw caution to the wind and grab hold of the day before me (unknowns and all), embrace the person before me (faults and all), like one saved from enslavement to selfishness and trepidation? What good am I to anyone in the dark, if I too am leery of the dark despite the flame in my soul – the flame I can at every moment either fan or snuff out? It’s my decision.
This hope I’ll fight for till I’m scarred and bloodied isn’t soft and warm like a blanket but rather stubborn, fierce, relentless. And this hope will demand more from me than I think I have, will purge from me pettiness, pride and yes, fear. This hope will rage on in the midst of loss and disappointment, heartache and regret, humiliation and monotony because Love is, and ever shall be. Because Love’s irrational, eternal, invincible. Because Love is the Risen Christ is Love is All.
May this Pascha bring us courage, and a fiery, inextinguishable peace that passes all understanding.
“Then Christ will say to us, ‘Come you also! Come you drunkards! Come you weaklings! Come you depraved!’ And he will say to us, ‘Vile creatures, you in the image of the beast and you who bear his mark. All the same, you come too!’ And the wise and prudent will say, ‘Lord, why are you welcoming them? And he will say, ‘O wise and prudent, I am welcoming them because not one of them has ever judged himself worthy. And he will stretch out his arms to us, and we shall fall at his feet, and burst into sobs, and then we shall understand everything, everything! Lord, your kingdom come!”
- Dostoevsky, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!
- Luke 26: 45-46
Holy Week is like transition labor – the final agonizing, life producing push you didn’t think you had in you. Don’t get me wrong, the services are beautiful and reverent but they are long and many, and extra good at highlighting one’s deep seated preference for time spent “my way.” When feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of Church, Church and more Church – more praying, more kneeling, more Scripture reading – I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating blood, racked with the turmoil of foreknowledge, asking his apostles to at the very least stay awake with Him.
I’ve been spiritually drowsy while moving, painting, organizing, pining for a new espresso colored leather armchair, the last several days. Interruptions to my agendas have not exactly been welcome. This is me pausing to change gears, to get my head in the game so to speak. Breath in, breath out, think about where you are. Nothing else matters more than this. I can at least stay awake, the very least I can do is show up and stay awake, praying Holy Week will pierce through the callousness and soften my soul.
Rise! Let us go!Read More
A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.
- Madeleine L’Engle
Every once in a while, I’ll read a novel that just absolutely floors me – a story that pierces through the confusion of what it means anymore to be an authentic human being. Phenomenally written narratives that slap me awake are hardly a dime a dozen. I’m still treasuring and pondering the most recent of these literary gems I was fortunate enough to stumble onto. It’s called Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and man is it good. I’ve been fixating the last few days on a specific character from the novel who really grew on me by the end. Her name is Roxanna, and I wish I could meet her.
Roxanna is not attractive in the Hollywood dictated sense of the term – not thin, plucked, highlighted – not one to stand out in a crowd by any means. Roxanna is a survivor; she’s industrious and scrappy. Roxanna is rough around the edges with a core of solid gold. To two motherless children and their father, she becomes a rock, selflessly providing structure and nourishment where before there was drifting and sickness. Without fanfare or any expectation of gratitude for her efforts, Roxanna stitches together a sense of wholeness for the broken family in front of her out of order, tenacity and homemade cinnamon rolls.
At one point in the book, the children’s eyes become opened to a beauty in Roxanna they hadn’t noticed at the start. This passage makes me all fired up about the power a woman holds in her heart and hands to become a healing presence – to find utmost contentment in being a healing presence – once she drop kicks the ridiculous expectations placed upon her by a society obsessed with a plasticized, formulaic and unoriginal definition of femininity, that is:
“Children,” Roxanna replied, turning to us. Though her eyes glittered she was not crying; in fact she pulled a smile from somewhere. Her hair was roped back in a french braid from which it was very winningly coming loose, and she held before her a picnic basket with a clasped lid. For heartening sights nothing beats a well-packed picnic basket. One so full it creaks. One carried by a lady you would walk on tacks for. Does all this make her sound beautiful to you? Because she was – oh, yes. Though she hadn’t seemed so to me a week before, when she turned and faced us I was confused at her beauty and could only scratch and look down at my shoetops, as the dumbfounded have done through the centuries. Swede was wordless too, though later in an epic fervor she would render into verse Roxanna’s moment of transfiguration. I like the phrase, which hasn’t been thrown around that much since the High Renaissance, but truly I suppose that moment had been gaining on us, secretly, like a new piece of music played while you sleep. One day you hear it – a strange song, yet one you know by heart.
Am I really going to rob myself, and loved ones, of my potential for sucking the marrow out of this day, out of every day I’ve got, because my jeans feel tight, or the skin around my eyes is wrinkling, or my van is old, or I’m overly concerned about others’ opinions of me, or because it’s easier to procrastinate and day-dream about a facade of an existence void of hardships and inconvenience than becoming refined by plain old sacrifice and hard work?
Oh mercy me… I hope not.