“If only I had a better camera, and better lenses, a cuter camera bag, and my very own natural light studio (sigh), then…then I could swan dive into this dream of becoming a busy and prolific professional photographer.”
This pessimistic line of reasoning is the kind self-sabatoging that will keep me frozen in place if I’m not careful. Growth is born of resourcefulness and a refusal to focus on all that I’m lacking. I’ve worked hard to develop an eye for beautiful light, an understanding of all the various settings on my SLR camera, my own distinct taste for creative compositions. When money is most certainly an object, there is nothing else to be done (or bought) but learn to trust in my vision, and God-given hunger for providing others with stunning visual mementos of precious moments and stages they’ve experienced as a family. It’s time to think outside the box, pull on my brave-girl pants and get creative!
This afternoon, I still did not have the natural light studio I’ve been pining over so I did my best to block out my own naysaying and improvise:
Hmmm, what if I took advantage of the unseasonable warmth and late afternoon sunlight and played around with different unconventional backdrops at my disposal? My niece was over and she agreed to help me out by posing on a welcome mat in front of a card table I’d turned on its side. She did not find this arrangement strange in the least – yet another reason why kids are awesome. Then I pulled out my trusty Nikon and got to work.
Tonight I’m happy for having pushed myself to continue inching forward. It’s such a small thing, yet such a big fat important deal to me.
The plan was to move Giles, Elijah’s goldfish, into his younger brother’s room. Elijah is a teenager now with teenagerish things on his mind and agenda – things less aquatic in nature. Benjamin, however, was chomping at the bit to become a first-time pet caretaker. Elijah and I having both grown weary of me handing out reminders to “Clean the tank, clean the tank, clean the tank,” set a date for the transfer of ownership. That date was yesterday. I cleared my calendar to make it happen, as neatly as possible, while the kids were at school. There would be algae scrubbing involved and the dumping of yuck-infested water.
While kneeling in the bathtub washing fishy smelling gunk off the glass of the aquarium, I thought about my youngest boy, my middle child, looking forward to bonding with a fifteen cent goldfish originally purchased along with a goldfish training kit as a Christmas present one year ago. Giles would be yet another hand-me-down bestowed upon my third-born, so used to being outfitted in his older brother’s used shoes, jeans, t-shirts, and being duped into cooperating with his siblings’ ideas of fun. I thought about how hard it must be sometimes to be the lone firecracker in a house of sparklers, the only morning person in a family that cannot take operatic singing and stream of consciousness type soliliques before 8:00 am. No, Ben; Quiet, Ben; Not now, Ben; It’s too early.
An hour later I was at the pet store, picking out festive looking platys and one comical grey-spotted bottom feeder, none of which were on my original shopping list, and added them to my cart containing gravel, gravel cleaner and new plants, also not on that said shopping list. Back at the house, I worked furiously, joyfully, on preparing Ben’s bedroom for the addition of not one pet, but six, all swimming happily in their new and improved extreme makeover of a habitat. I couldn’t wait to surprise him.
It was just a little gesture, really – an “I see you, and appreciate you, and believe in you” motherly nod in Ben’s direction – but an important one for both of us. It’s good to make a habit of looking up from the schedule of what needs to get done and into the hearts and souls of my family members, each with their own surprisingly distinctive needs, gifts and personalities. It’s crucial to seize the day, made up of endless ripe opportunities to forge edifying connections. I don’t ever want to forget that. I cannot afford to forget that.
Today, before the others were up, Ben and I marveled all over again at the gracefulness and beauty of his new finned roommates. He’d been thrilled to find them waiting for him on the dresser when he came in to drop off his back pack, and had spent much of the afternoon and evening naming them (Goldie, Goldie Jr., Black Belly, Angel, Sparkle and Sucker), observing them, and reading directions on how to care for them. The fish make it peaceful in here, he told me. They certainly do, I agreed.
Here’s to more and more and more peace within this home, within this world!Read More
When asked now why I converted to Orthodox Christianity, I’m not the best at giving a clear answer. Fifteen years ago, I had a fairly detailed response I handed out to those interested. It involved theology, Tradition, church history, a lot of comparing and contrasting between my old faith and new one. Over time, however, as Orthodoxy began to take root in my heart and soul, I lost myself in the all-consuming journey of salvation as a mysterious process. Defending my decision ceased to matter to me much anymore, quite frankly. I had way bigger fish to fry, like chipping away at my pride, selfishness and impulsivity every minute of every day – like falling down and getting up again, every minute of every day. Somewhere along the line, Eastern Orthodox Christianity ceased being something I had done and evolved into everything I was/am.
I am Orthodox because Orthodoxy is bigger, vaster, deeper, wider, more beautiful than anything else I’ve ever experienced in this world. I am Orthodox because Orthodoxy is mystical, beyond reason, uncontainable. I am Orthodox because I believe whole-heartedly it contains the fullness of the faith, the fullness of Truth. Orthodoxy is hard, demanding, liberating, enlightening, mind-blowing, timeless, unearthly, indefinable. As an Orthodox Christian, I’m concerned primarily with dying to my self-centered desires and urges, and serving, loving, never judging my neighbor. Orthodoxy is so, so…so humbling. Orthodoxy contains every tool I need to run this race with perseverance until I die.
Do you see how that’s kind of a wordy and unwieldy elucidation to lay on an inquirer? How does one enthusiastically recommend travelling a path fraught with endless opportunities to become purified via suffering and self-denial? How does one explain the unexplainable: that through that suffering and self-denying comes irrational peace and fulfillment?
Well recently, I came across a letter written to a new convert by the late Mother Thekla of the Monastary of Assumption in Yorkshire that communicates succinctly what I so struggle to express about the Orthodox Faith to those curious about my reasons for embracing it. I found the letter to be profoundly accurate, and convicting to me as an Orthodox Christian who is often guilty of slipping precariously close into lukewarmness. I will refer to this letter from now on when approached by anyone seriously considering grafting themselves into the solidity and antiquity of the Orthodox Christian Church.
When asked, “Should I too convert?” I’ll point to this:
I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.
Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.
So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?
Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?
Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?
Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?
Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?
Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?
Have you read the Gospels?
Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper – the meaning of Holy Communion?
Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.
Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship – private or public.
We know because we believe and we believe because we know.
Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?
If we are meant, always, to be “happy”, why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.
Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.
And never confuse love with sentimentality.
And never confuse worship with affectation.
Be humble – love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love – And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!
I hope that some of this makes sense,
With my best wishes,
Mother Thekla (sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)
My dear friends, forgive me my lack of clarity and far from perfect example of Orthodox Christianity lived out in the everyday. I am weak and forgetful, for sure, but nonetheless Christ and His Church is where I’m at, who I am, what I live for, love for, die for, create for, strive for and depend on. Orthodox Christianity cannot be mastered or dissected, only experienced. Far be it from me to try and convince anyone of anything; I am not the Holy Spirit. All that to say, I have not much else to say but, “Lord have mercy on us all!”, and if you want to find out more than “Come and See!”Read More
In the harmony of sounds I hear Thy call.
In the lofty beauty of music, in the magnificence of artistic works Thou art allowing us to foresee Paradise.
Whatever is truly beautiful soars toward Thee and teaches the soul to sing to Thee a victorious song: Alleluia!
- From the Akathist of Thanksgiving
I watched them for a while pretending to be the choir. They knew more hymns than I thought they did, hymns that sounded even more timelessly beautiful than usual in their sweet little girly girl voices.
Sometimes…lots of times… trying to raise my children in the Faith feels like swimming upstream. I’ve got an awful lot going against me as a parent: being very much a minority around here as an Orthodox Christian; a growing societal indignation for belief in Christ, His Cross, and His Resurrection; a materialistic, entertainment driven culture; my own ongoing struggle with self-discipline; my own affinity for pleasing others and being liked. There are temptations from every side to compromise, compromise, compromise. How can my message of “Above all else, love God and neighbor” be heard above all the noise so intent on distracting my children, on distracting me?
And then there were Mary and Jane so at home in our small parish, comforting me unintentionally with their mutual instinct to participate in the ancient worship they’ve been immersed in since they were infants, emulating the same expression of Faith pulsating through my own veins just from showing up and showing up and showing up even when it’s hard to. I pray for them. I pray for me. I won’t give up, give in, give way to the doubts and naysaying, so help me Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Have mercy on my family. Amen.Read More