The Way I See It

By Cheryl Anne Tuggle

mosaic tile

I have these odd times when what seem to be unrelated experiences will suddenly arrange themselves, like the tiles of a mosaic, into a pattern I can see. And with a flash of insight I am certain there is a Big Picture and all that puzzles my mind to weariness can somehow be fitted into it.

Such moments pass swiftly. At the speed of light, you might say. From where I tend to stand most days (myopically close), I have no such clarity. Ordinarily a moment that has brought me sorrow has a singular jagged edge, so sharp it pains my eyes to look at it. Joy, too, is a broken thing and not to be trusted. However bright it may appear, however much it glints like a ruby in the light, it is still a shard of glass and liable to leave a wound.

But, the mosaic.

I believe it is possible, by simply stepping back a few feet, to see all the fragments of shared experience being worked into the scene by the Artist’s patient hand. My eyesight is not good, though, and I soon grow tired of working to see from such a distance. A glimpse of the emerging pattern is about all I ever get before I’m standing with my nose to the wall again, peering intently at slivers.

I believe, Lord. Help Thou my unbelief.

 

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Love: 10 Uses You May Not Know

Love you! Love you, too!

These words are heard everywhere. Between friends at the shopping mall or school parking lot as they take leave of one another, spoken into cell phones (loud enough for all to hear) or typed in the comment section of a million facebook posts. When this “Love you!” trend first started, I was disgusted and vowed not to partake of the casual, insincere tossing about of the word “love”. It seemed to trivialize the meaning.

However, I have lately changed my mind. Maybe the addition of the word “love” to our everyday vocabulary isn’t a bad thing.  Maybe we need all the love tossed about in this world we can get. Because love is a thing. A real thing. It’s powerful and mighty and is one of the last defenses we have against despair. Why not pass it around to as many people as we can?

It was many years ago when my husband and I were in the midst of parenting our young children. Back then, it seemed that as a society, we tried to shelter children from too much adult information or ideas which would confuse them during the tender stages of becoming people. I held to thisbutterfly_flower_02_hd_pictures belief and still think that parents should be the filter through which young children learn important life lessons. That being said, communication is tricky, even with one’s own children. During this fledgling stage of our family, we were friends with several couples who were in the same boat. We always shared the happy news of expected babies and celebrated recent births with our children. Things got a little complicated when an unmarried friend got pregnant, the kids were curious how this worked since she wasn’t married like the other parents in our lives. It was too early for “the birds and the bees” or any other weighty  discussions, so I told them that she and her boyfriend loved each other…therefore, a baby. My youngest son apparently latched onto this theory, because he applied it later when trying to understand another new situation. We had a friend who miscarried when she was 6 months along in her pregnancy. My son knew she had been pregnant and when we told him the grievous news, he immediately questioned, “why would the baby die?”. As my mind worked to choose the right words, I saw the look of sad realization dawn in his eyes. He thought he had the answer. “The mommy and daddy stopped loving each other?”

 

 In his mind, it was love between the parents that created that new baby and without the love, the baby couldn’t live.

 

It was actually sound logic. After all, I told him that babies were brought into the world as a result of the parents’ love. So it would only follow that without the love…the baby couldn’t survive. I assured him that the parents did indeed still love one another and that there were reasons couples sometimes lost beloved children, but I’ve thought about his theory often throughout the years. How many other things have trouble surviving without love? Families? Relationships? Peace? Compassion? It is evident all around us. Love is so powerful, that the lack of it is making a mess of our world. What makes love so powerful? Simply put:

Love is God. And God is All Powerful

Anything is possible with Love. So I say, let’s hear more voices proclaiming love! Love everywhere, love in all things. Let’s rack our brains to come up with new uses for love…

as a lifeboat,

as a shield,

as a cocoon,

as a butterfly net,

as a remedy,

as a beacon,

as an answer.

Let’s hold one another up with love and send it shooting through throngs of strangers!

Let’s remind our children that they were created by love and that love from God will never, ever stop.

God is Love.

Love is real.

Part Two: Interlude from “A Road to Laurel”

by Donna Mills

The followiDonnang is part two of an interlude in the book, “A Road to Laurel,” which tells the story of a black man’s trial for alleged rape of a white woman.  Although the story is about my father’s defense of the man, I included interludes that spoke of my own experience with race and prejudice. This one includes my experience in the Orthodox Church, with Fr. Moses as my priest.  His oversight of my striving to shed any of my own prejudices was mostly silent and non-judgmental, which gave me the room in which to grow and a perfect model to follow.

 

Interlude III – cont’d

 

In the book “Black Boy,” written in 1943 by a native Mississippian, Richard Wright, about his life as an African American raised in the South, he bemoans the fact that the white culture experiences such different day to day life from the black. He wrote that the white culture has no idea how the black man has to adjust his nature to fit in. From his perspective, while he had “All my life…done nothing but feel and cultivate my feelings,” the white youth had “all their lives done nothing but strive for petty goals, the trivial material prizes of American life. We shared a common tongue, but my language was a different language from theirs.” It was true that he had suffered in certain ways, while it appeared that they no suffering at all. In fact, it may have been true that the shallowness he saw in their souls, which he described as “…like the syllables of popular songs,” was an accurate comparison of their experience compared to his – a life filled with hunger and disappointments, a life of fear and unwarranted reproach. As a young adult, Wright joined the Communist Party and felt that it had the answers for living in peace in this nation. Even there, however, he found himself to be misunderstood and finally, an outcast. After finding himself utterly alone, watching a Communist march he had been thrown out of, he wrote:
“My thoughts seemed to be coming from somewhere within me, as by a power of their own: It’s going to take a long and bloody time, a lot of stumbling and a lot of falling, before they find the right road. They will have to grope about blindly in the sunshine, butting their heads against every mistake, bruising their bodies against every illusion, making a million futile errors and suffering for them, bleeding for them, until they learn how to live.”
Wright spoke of a spiritual blindness, and hoped that his words would “…create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”
Fr. Moses, whose great-grandfather was a slave, taught our congregation that the fathers of our Church spoke of suffering as the way to follow Christ, to win the freedom, peace and joy our souls hope for. He also told us that the old gospel tunes that the slaves sang held a deep spirituality that came from their suffering. He displays in his African American Heritage Museum in Ash Grove, Missouri an iron neck clamp that had been passed down in his family, as well as slave dogtags for remembrance of the cruelty that took place.
Yet, the Socialistic or Communist approach, which seemed to promise suffering for none and appeared to champion the minorities, in the end yields only empty surfeiting and enslavement to its system. I puzzled, as my Dad must have, to determine how to find the “True North,” until I found the saving Grace of faith.
Attempting to convey the substance of this lesson to my children, I read to them from “Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry,” by Mildred Taylor. They cuddled beside me to hear a nightly chapter of the tale of a black family in Jackson, Mississippi whose children walked to a school just down the way from my elementary school, both named “Jefferson Davis Elementary,” but one was for black children and one for white, who were privileged to ride the bus. My three children found it hard to understand why, and wondered at the family’s plight. The words of wisdom from the family’s mother gave perspective:
“Baby, we have no choice of what color we’re born
or who our parents are, or whether we’re rich or poor.
What we do have is some choice over
what we make of our lives once we’re here.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

by Donna MillsDonna

The following is part one of an interlude in the book, “A Road to Laurel,” which tells the story of a black man’s trial for alleged rape of a white woman.  Although the story is about my father’s defense of the man, I included interludes that spoke of my own experience with race and prejudice. This one includes my experience in the Orthodox Church, with Fr. Moses as my priest.  His oversight of my striving to shed any of my own prejudices was mostly silent and non-judgmental, which gave me the room in which to grow and a perfect model to follow.

 

 

Interlude III

I surprised the family in my young adulthood by making a 180 degree turn and committing my life to spiritual discipline. It looked as though the seeds of influence planted by my grandmother had somehow survived and taken root, saving me from the road to perdition I had earlier started on. I converted to Orthodox Christianity and joined myself to a church whose African-American Priest, Fr. Moses, I greatly admired. I prided myself on the lessons learned from my Mom and Dad, and I believed myself to be non-prejudiced. Ironically, the small congregation was mostly white, as was Fr. Moses’ wife. The differences in our color of skin made no difference to me, but I ran into troubles with one of the few black ladies in the church.

Shelia had a propensity for getting under my skin, as she seemed to have a chip on her shoulder, and would engage me in conversations with what I considered a cynical and opinionated view.  I wondered if her attending an all-white women’s college in Mississippi precluded her cynicism, or it had been inbred through a family who desperately wanted to infuse self-esteem into their intelligent girl, who would otherwise have been vulnerable to the lack of opportunities she would find for herself in the society of the South. Whatever the case, I must have symbolized to her the privileged Southern white girl, and it may have been hard for her to see me as anything different.

I went to Fr. Moses to confess my irritation and lack of ability to love for my sister in the church. He kindly suggested that we go out together and have some fun – just get to know each other.  Easy enough, I thought. However, Sheila was not delighted at the prospect to get to know me. Either she didn’t think I was really worth the time or money for a frivolous outing – she was a single mother with tight funds – or she was as timid about what the intimacy might bring to light as I was. Then there was the deciding of what we should actually do. Watching a movie together sounded non-threatening. She suggested Spike Lee’s new movie – “Do The Right Thing.” Thinking I would be caught up in a heated racial discussion, I hedged.  I offered to see “Dead Poet’s Society,” only because of my admiration of the comedian, Robin Williams. Her equally oppositional reaction to seeing a movie about a rich white boys’ private school took me by surprise. Both offended, we decided to put the outing on hold.  After some time she called back, possibly after talking to Fr.  Moses herself, and we agreed to go to a local Indian concert she had seen in the paper.

On the way, we chuckled as we realized that we didn’t know if we were going to a concert of Native American people or folks from India. The issue was cleared when we saw the women in their beautiful saris and the sitars carried under their arms, I felt somewhat awkward and out of place as those dressed properly for this event paused at our jeans. Sheila was used to being a minority, however, and returned my nervous glance with a stoic one of her own. We eventually found our way to the auditorium and took our seats. After a brief welcome and introduction of the musicians, the room darkened. The first performer, a young woman, walked on stage and seated herself on a pillow.  With sitar in lap, she began to play to a hushed audience – one string at a time. The reverberation of the music seemed to stun the crowd and as we heard deeply felt utterances from the people around us, we glanced sideways at each other to catch some understanding of what everyone seemed to be so in awe of.  Sheila shrugged at my questioning eyes, and we turned our attention back to the performance. Although we were used to listening to flowing music with a little action and melody, we attempted to open our senses to the mystical sounds of this strange instrument. Truly, there was beauty in the sounds, but when the crowd once again began to ooh and ahh in amazement at the twang of a single string, Sheila and I again looked at each other for a clue of what we should be amazed of. She was the first one to let a laugh slip, and I, too, failed when attempting to conceal mine.  We were instantly corrected by the frowns of those seated in front of us, who turned to see who could be so impudent.  We silently mouthed an agreement after a few more compulsive chuckles to leave after the performer had finished a set.

The laughter and conversation that followed brought Sheila and I closer together than we had ever been, though we never really acknowledged that this bond came about by our mutual lack of understanding of yet another culture in our midst.  At least we had learned an unspoken lesson together of what it is like not being able to relate to another race outside the mere black/white split.  We understood that being a part of our cultures alone had a great impact on our inability to communicate another culture’s “language,” no matter if our words were the same, or if we both bought our groceries at the same corner store.  There were generations behind each of us whose cultural nuances were unconsciously carried in the makeup of our thoughts as well as our genetics.  There were values and goals that had their own familial roots, traditions and foods which might seem strange to others.  How would we learn to be truly unprejudiced?

 

Beautiful Discord

by Michele Latham

children_kids_music I recently read about a certain culture which is known to produce an abundance of talented musicians. The children were observed playing instruments at a very young age. This is not to say that the parents enroll their three-year-olds in Suzuki violin lessons, but rather when the adults gather to play music together (which is frequently), the children are welcomed.

They are encouraged to hold and experiment with various instruments, joining in while the adults play. The experimentation may cause a little discord in the songs, but the adults didn’t seem to notice.

By the time the children are of an age to receive musical instruction, they are familiar with the instrument; the way it feels and the sound it makes. People are amazed at the seemingly large a number of natural musicians born in this region, when in truth, the environment and early exposure to music plays as important a role as heredity.

As a visitor to an Orthodox church many years ago, I was surprised and a little distracted by the number of small children and even babies in the service. They were walking around or sitting on the floor, some being held by their parents. The service was long and some children were escorted out of the nave a time or two, presumably for bathroom breaks or snacks.

For the most part, the children behaved as if they were in a place that was comfortable to them, as if they were home.

The adults didn’t seem to notice the undercurrent of movement and noise coming from the children, they were focused on the prayers and scriptures being read. When a restless baby had to be soothed, no one turned to stare. And when a toddler lunged toward a vase of flowers, no one gasped. The nearest adult just bent and swooped up the child to avoid a mess.

All of this was new to me as a Protestant. Upon further study, I noticed that the children were not just marking time like they do while waiting for mom to check out in the grocery store.

They were aware of what was happening. Maybe they didn’t listen carefully or understand the all wocenser 2rds being said, but when the jangling sound of the censor alerted them to the activity near the altar, they would turn their attention to the priest. They respectfully kissed the icons and were lifted up by their parents to light candles. When the congregation began to sing “Lord, have mercy”, some small voices joined in. And when it was time to receive communion, all ages expectantly lined up to approach the chalice.

 

IMG_3576 (1)

I then understood that these children were in the process of absorbing the Christian faith just like the children in my example above were absorbing music. They were surrounded by worship and were being encouraged to participate with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Having this knowledge, it was still hard to break old habits when it came to bringing my own kids to church with me. I had been raised in a church where the worship service was for adults only.

Once my family had become Orthodox, I had to fight the urge to remove my children from the room when they made noise.  One of my sons, before he could talk, would chant in nonsense syllables along with his dad, the reader. Rather than clamp my hand over his mouth, I reminded myself he was learning to pray and instead I gently whispered in his ear, asking him to use a quieter voice.

Today, our little parish has several families with young children and some Sundays it seems the adults are outnumbered! I would never describe the sounds I hear during services as discord. Rather, it is the beautiful sound of our children learning to love God.

Beware of Swimming in the Ocean

by Michele Latham

st patrice

I made gifts for my children for Nativity this year.  Altoid tins, paper icons, paint, embellishments and lots of glue. Voilà! A miniature shrine for each patron saint. Did I mention that my five kids are practically grown? Ages range from 19 to 25? No matter, the idea would have been the same if they were toddlers or adults. It’s always been my job to pray for them and encourage them to pray.

If you’re a parent in the middle of raising youngsters right now, it may be hard to imagine them grown up. But it happens. So fast! I remember thinking I had plenty of time to prepare my children (and myself) for the day they left home. My husband and I talked with them about finances, auto maintenance, and other practical matters to top off the years of parental guidance we had already administered.  And now I think about those sons and daughters daily and pray for God’s mercy and guidance as they live their grown up lives.

Sometimes, I picture the kids going about their daily activities and my imagination kicks in.  Random, disturbing thoughts occur to me. Did I warn them of the dangers? Did I tell the children to be cautious about certain things? Things like using credit cards too much, slamming the brakes on wet pavement, trusting the wrong person… swimming in the ocean?

And then I wonder if I reminded them to watch for beauty when they’re out on their own.  Did I advise them to embrace the good things they’ll find? Things like independence, health, new friendships and… swimming in the ocean?

These thoughts pass quickly though, and I don’t worry too much. I pray for my grown children and give my opinion if they ask. But mostly, I trust God. I may not have covered all the dos and don’ts of adult life with my kids, but I’m sure they know to love God and love others.

 

My confidence doesn’t come from the great job I did teaching them. Nor did I set a perfect example. But, our family did attend  Divine Liturgy throughout those formative years, the children received Holy Communion and listened to the words of our loving pastor.

 

Mary Shrine

It gives me joy to see the icon corners in their new homes and apartments and to know that they are praying. But all of this is not to say that the road for them will be smooth or that they won’t forget what they know from time to time. That is why I made the shrines. I want them to remember that they have help available when they pray these words to their saints:

“Pray unto God for me, O Holy (N.), well-pleasing to God: for I turn unto you, who are the speedy helper and intercessor for my soul.”

 

My Conversion Story

Sarah Wright over at theorthodoxmama.com runs an amazing blog! She writes  about faith, family and frugal  living. How wonderful it is to find fellow travelers on the spiritual path who encourage and uplift us!  She was gracious enough to include a post I wrote about my conversion story!

Vladimirskaya

http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/how-orthodoxy-found-me/

 

Birth Experience

by Michele Latham

my_lil_nieces_hand_564124

It seems like yesterday, but really it was 20 years ago.  I was sitting in my kitchen chatting with the midwife. My due date had come and gone a few days previously and we were tired of talking about when this baby would show up. The midwife brought up an interesting topic. I think it was her effort to distract me for a while. She had delivered over 700 babies and had some great stories. What she explained to me then was the idea that a child can actually remember his or her own birth experience for a time.  I laughed, but she insisted that an especially articulate youngster should be able to tell you about being born! Wanting to test her theory, I called my two year old son over. “Luke”, I said, “do you remember when you were born?”

 

Without pause, he shouted out, “Yes! Father Michael dunked me in the water!” He scampered off and I was left nodding my head. Of course! He was a year old when we were baptized into the Orthodox Church and he knew that was his birth experience.

 

 

I remember feeling a bit flustered the day of our baptism. My husband and I, along with several patient godparents, juggled squirming children, towels, baptismal robes, and candles.  The words of the prayers seemed a bit blurred by the practical tasks of getting the kids baptized. I was nervous. I was worried that something would go wrong. But underlying all of that earthly care was the understanding that what was happening to us was real. It was much more than a symbolic act or mere profession of faith. It was a sacred event, attended by saints and angels and we were being initiated into Christ’s Church. We were becoming new. It was the beginning of a life in Christ complete with happiness, sorrow, struggles, joys, forgiveness and God’s mercy.

 

baby baptism

 

I love attending baptismal services now because it reminds me of all these things.  The church family gathers expectantly around the font. If a baby cries, my friends and I glance at each other and smile, remembering our own children. And if an adult candidate gasps a bit in reaction to the water temperature, we nod in sympathy. The newly illumined may not comprehend every word of the service, but that doesn’t mean the miracle of baptism isn’t taking place. And for the rest of us, our joy comes in being able to witness and participate in this holy sacrament. We listen carefully to the words of the priest and are comforted to know these are the same prayers have been prayed for each of us.

 

 

Of Taper-Bearers and Altar Boys

by Michele Latham

Altar boyI’m one of the lucky converts. When I first walked through the door of an Orthodox Church, I knew it was right. When I started reading books on Orthodox
doctrine, I knew it was right. I didn’t need detailed explanation or convincing. Venerating Mary? Of course.  Infant Baptism?  You bet!   Confession? Finally!  The true Body and Blood of Christ? Yes, please!

Through the Grace of God, I was ready to embrace orthodoxy. The apologetics would come later. And so they have. I continue learning about the teachings of the church and I’m not surprised when something I read causes me to nod in agreement. “Yes, I knew that was right. Now I know why!” This was the case recently when I learned that the meaning of the word “liturgy” is actually “the work of the people”. I’ve known since the beginning that attending a Divine Liturgy was more than just wholesome entertainment and an inspiring sermon. I’ve known that Christ’s resurrection is celebrated by heaven and earth each time a Divine Liturgy is held. And I know that it’s hard to be a spectator at such a service. Even visitors are swept into the real-ness of the worship.

This is because we, as Orthodox Christians, come to church to participate. We actively worship God through singing the responses, the psalms, the creed and the Lord’s Prayer. We make the sign of the cross, we bow, we venerate. We confess our sins, forgive one another, pray and light candles for our loved ones. And the work isn’t designated for a select few. Everyone is called upon to engage in the worship, even the children. Allowing them to serve as taper-bearers and altar boys teaches that they are indeed full-fledged Christians who are needed by the church to serve and participate.

So, yes, I guess it is work. It’s our job to partake with our brothers and sisters and all the saints in worshipping God. Then the reward comes when we receive the body and blood of Christ. We are clean and armed to go back into the world.

As we greet one another after the service, it’s as if we’ve survived summer camp together, or completed an intense group project. We have been toiling together and it has been good. We are bound by the work and worship. And it is good.

The Importance of Being Quiet

Shhhh

By Michele Latham

Do you remember All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten? I read this book in the late eighties when it was first published and thoroughly enjoyed it! Robert Fulghum took the simple rules we learned as kids and applied them to life as adults. Things like “Play Fair” and “Clean up your own mess” became moral, political and environmental precepts when viewed through a grown-up lens.

I can see the wisdom in Fulghum’s premise. The book is humorous, but rings so true. Adults tend to complicate things. Some of the simple lessons I taught my kids when they were growing up are still relevant today and worthy of applying to my own life.

 

One such rule that I worked hard to instill in the children was “take time to be quiet.” When compiling their daily to-do lists, I always included quiet time. There was more behind this idea than just wanting a little mid-afternoon break for myself, although that was a happy side effect!  I wanted them to be cut off from the craziness of the world. Just for a bit.  And by craziness I mean noise. We had limited technology back then, but there was a computer in the house, CD players, toys and lots of voices! (Do all kids talk really loudly and all at the same time?)

 

Quiet time involved going outside when weather permitted. Each child found a private spot in which to be alone in the quiet. Sometimes they took journals or sketch pads and climbed into the branches of a tree or sat in a shady spot next to the shed.  I wanted them to have a chance to hear their own thoughts and form their own ideas and to pray. As you know, it can be really hard to pray in a high-tech world.

 

After 30 minutes, the timer sounded and I called them in. They always returned looking happy and energized. I never asked what they thought about or what they wrote in their journals. I knew it was time well-spent.

 

So now the challenge is to include “quiet time” on my own to-do list. I usually start with some writing, which is good. Then my unplugged brain can move on to other things such as appreciating a walk outside or composing a quick note to someone I haven’t been in touch with for a while. Sometimes, more practical thoughts appear in the form of cleaning lists or ideas for things I’d like to do or make. It’s all refreshing because it’s coming from my own brain, not an electronic screen.

 

Then, it never fails, my mind and heart turn toward the prayer corner, which is where I should have started. My thoughts have slowed and uncluttered which seems to clear the path to prayer. This is a quiet place where time is well spent.

 

Correction: a quiet place where time is best spent.