On Becoming a Reed Pipe of the Holy Spirit

(Written earlier this year, this essay is dedicated to the newly baptized handmaid of God, Nina Tauck.)

It’s New Year’s Day morning and human hope abounds. People everywhere are making resolutions or are reflecting on resolutions already made at the stroke of midnight. Some of these will be private—unexpressed intentions to be a better friend, start jogging a couple of days a week, or get a garden in by May. Others, perhaps made with more confidence for success, are being shared as public self-improvement announcements. Photos of freshly minted bullet journals are being shared all over social media today.

For someone who is entering this new year without a single resolution, I am strangely hopeful and lighthearted, something that has to do with a study I’ve been making of the life of St. Nina and with my visit to a monastery last Sunday. A visit that started with confession.

There are times when under the Christ-graced stole of a confessor all the specialness of your failings and weaknesses is lost and they look like what they are: plain, ordinary sin. On Sunday morning I had one of those moments, and far from the frightening experience it sounds, it was wonderful, amazing. I felt dazed when it was over, wobbled a little as I found my way back into the main church, where in my absence the deacon had been censing the congregation. I got myself together just in time to see him give a last flick of his wrist, a final swing of the censor before returning to the altar. He left us cloaked in a swirl of sweet-smelling clouds that soon headed for the dome and heaven. I inhaled deeply, eyes wet with thankful tears. Always in confession I state my intention to be less cavalier with time, more liberal with compassion and tenderness, ultra-conservative with criticisms, among other things. And always I have known God believes me. That day, for the briefest, flashing moment, as I bent my neck for absolution, I had believed myself.

Standing outside after the service, blinking in the stark daylight, I was still somewhat dazed, but also invigorated. Suddenly it seemed that hope was everywhere. It was just down the hill in the monastery cemetery, where bodies sown in the same earth from which they were made lay waiting for the Lord’s return. It was inside the chapel, where monks had just finished singing a moleben to a wonderworking icon. It was behind me in the dining hall, where children sat at tables devouring donuts, eager to be outside on this unusually mild winter’s day, to run and play where saints have walked. It was in the gentle range of mountains that keeps the monastery cradled in an eternal, motherly embrace. That morning the hills lay in dark silhouette, a wide scalloped ribbon on the hem of an overcast sky. Poised, it seemed to me, to move on command.

It has occurred to me to wonder, as the days pass and my elation fades like the scent of paradise from a growing baby’s skin, how St. Nina kept her hold on otherworldly hope, how it became the unfading, mountain-moving kind. The answer, it turns out, can be found in the details of her life, distilled in a few key illuminating words in her troparion:

“O handmaid of the Word of God, who in preaching equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew, and emulated the other Apostles, enlightener of Iberia and reed pipe of the Holy Spirit, holy Nina, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.”

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Handmaid of the Word of God. Preacher. Emulator of the Apostles. Enlightener of Iberia. These small apt titles carry in them some of the large, impressive things we know about St. Nina. But it’s the last title in the list, the one that calls St. Nina, poetically, a reed pipe of the Holy Spirit, that I found significant to my question. This description casts light on the other four, explaining how it is that someone who seems to have her share of self-doubt, referring to herself as a “worthless and ignorant woman”, topples a pagan temple, causing its idols to blast apart on command, and converts the hearts of an entire nation to Christ.

Organs are reed pipe instruments. In organ pipes, air under pressure (wind) is directed towards a brass reed, which vibrates at a specific pitch. But at the time of St. Nina there were no organs. In her day a reed pipe would have been simple, a single, hollow tube with a hand-carved reed. I have not heard the song such a reed pipe makes, but I can imagine it would have a haunting, holy sound, sweet and piercing. The kind of sound to wound the heart of a king and send him in search of the healing love of Christ.

In an essay on the distinguishing traits of saints, theologian Father Dimitru Staniloae says they are people who have reached our full potential. What we can be, they are. The chief difference between them and us is the alacrity with which they give themselves completely to God. Saints are not just willing to be hollowed out, they are eager. Cheerfully, joyfully so. In the oldest record of the life of St. Nina, in the church history by Rufino, it is the novelty of such a joyful poverty that first catches the notice of the pagan Iberians. Word began quickly to spread of the virtue of this humble young captive woman (noblewoman, in the later Georgian version) whose life was one of bright, cheerful sobriety and constant, unceasing prayer, who “nourished herself with fasting as if with food”. Is it any wonder that when we express a longing to go deeper and further in the life in Christ, we are encouraged to read and study the lives of the saints? In their strength is revealed our weakness. And our hope.

The unexpected gift in my brush with otherworldliness that day at the monastery is that it brought me to look closer at the life St. Nina, and to see that in her, as in all the saints, the true nature of hope is revealed. In the saints the hope of Christ shines in all its radiant glory. And seeing St. Nina’s life of unceasing prayer, humility, obedience, compassion, poverty—her eager holy hollowness—stand in stark, gritty contrast to a mountaintop dream, my own hope feels a little truer, stronger and readier to endure.

God is wondrous in his saints.

Holy Saint Nina pray to God for us!

 

 

Lights on the Mountain

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Guest Post: Enjoy Every Moment

Today’s post is an essay on a timely theme, with Clean Monday around the corner.  Guest writer, Michelle Rinehart, mother of four young children and a sister of ours in Christ from St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Warren, Ohio, considers the deeper spiritual implication in a well-meant but perhaps overused phrase. To visually illustrate the theme, we’ve chosen the icon of the Nativity of Christ, in which we see both the sober joy of childbirth and motherhood and the foreshadowing of death (the manger tomb). 

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It is nearly impossible to be on the journey of motherhood and not be offered unsolicited advice, often in the form of platitudes. Every mom likely has her own “words of wisdom” that drive her particularly crazy, but for me, nothing elicits that nails-on-the-chalkboard sentiment more than:

“Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast.”

I worked part time as a receptionist in a mental health office when I was pregnant with my oldest two sons. During that time, one of the counselors gave me a book called The Language of Letting Go. For all of the advice contained in that book, the title has spoken to me more than anything over the years.

If true loss might be characterized by deep and profound pain, suffering and grief, I think of “letting go” as being more characteristic of accepting what I am leaving behind as life changes.

“Letting go” is not so much calling-hours worthy events as much as it is watching fall melt into winter or my oldest child waving to me from the window of a school bus for the first time.

As a mother, “letting go” means witnessing time and seasons passing in a form that is most concrete and intimate: through the lens of the precious flesh and blood of my children.

Somehow, at least for me, the wrinkles, grey hairs and other aches and pains that come with aging are not nearly as gripping as, say, hearing the “moo” of a cowbell in a grocery store dairy aisle and realizing that one of my children has just become too old to ring that now.

It is baby clothes that are now too small. It is a book that is now too short and simple to read before bed. It is a crib that someone doesn’t need anymore. It is my children’s lives going from lost teeth to lost innocence in what seems like the blink of an eye.

It is the mystery that in the victory of seeing a child grow up, there are more than 1000 moments of “letting go” that have gone along with it.

My husband recently told me about a practice in some monasteries where one of the monks is tasked with giving a daily reminder to the others: “Brother, we are going to die.”

The remembrance of death may seem morbid, but it has the paradoxical effect of inspiring living life fully and striving to do the things that matter. For the monastics (and really, not ONLY for them), this means a life of repentance and prayer.

I don’t live in a monastery. But, nevertheless, I have no shortage of women who pop into my life seemingly tasked with offering me a remembrance of death.

“Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast” often sounds to me like, “sister, we are going to die” as life races through its seasons toward its final destination.

“But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; / And yonder all before us lie / Deserts of vast eternity…” wrote 17th century poet Andrew Marvell in his poem, “To His Coy Mistress.”

In my mind, Marvell’s winged chariot of time is often followed by a companion refrain from 19th century poet Emily Dickinson:

“Because I could not stop for Death – / He kindly stopped for me –  / The Carriage held but just Ourselves –  / And Immortality.”

The carriage of death will come to pick me up when time’s winged chariot brings me to its last stop.

But before I reach that last stop of letting go of this life, I am offered practice at letting go in a thousand little ways, especially as I raise my children. I am letting go of something at each mile marker as I strive to fulfill the task of teaching them how to be without me.

“It goes so fast” might be a trite platitude, but perhaps it is a palatable way of reflecting on the profound mystery of mortality and life’s transiency. When I remember that, I can let go of my frustration over hearing it so often.

Sister, we are going to die.

So don’t forget to say your prayers and hug your children.

Sister, don’t forget to stop for death…

Or, if that’s too much, maybe I will just say, “Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast.”

 

How to Mourn a Nun

(This essay was posted earlier this week on my author website http://www.cherylannetuggle.com, some thoughts I had on the recent loss of a dear nun, and the influence monastics have on our lives as Orthodox Christians living in the world. I’m sharing it here at the suggestion of a reader.)

A nun was buried yesterday, a woman beloved in her community, and one who was dear to our family’s heart. Today I woke up pondering how to consider her death, this human person who lived out her golden years striving to imitate the angels, and I wonder, is there a proper way to mourn a nun? That is, I wonder if nuns (and monks) should be mourned more purposefully than other people are, in a way specific to the monastic life they’ve led. In my twenty-something years of being Orthodox, I’ve learned a great deal about monasticism and nuns, but I don’t believe I’ve ever studied, or been instructed, on how to mourn one. A Google search of Orthodox Christian monastics and mourning was no help and only reminded me of something I already knew: that nuns themselves are in mourning always—not the loss of their former lives, but for their sins.

In all my mostly Pentecostal childhood, I was only around nuns once. That the experience stuck with me is proof, I believe, that there are no accidental tourists on the road to salvation. Our Savior God really does want all to come to the knowledge of the Truth. However far we may wander, or how much we may believe we’re finding our own path, He is always in some way positioning us to better see the way ahead, pointing our toes in the direction of the light.

My first peek at nuns came when I was still small, five or six, and a family friend who was married to a Catholic (a kind, quiet man who sometimes let me tag along with him to mass), took me to visit a convent. It was a busy day in a place devoted to some charitable work, and the impression I took away was a childish one. Because no one stopped to talk to me, I determined that nuns were not much interested in little girls. Nuns were quiet, they wore a neat, spotless, well-below-the-knee dress that was a lot like a nurse’s uniform, but dark instead of white—and with even odder-looking hat—and they stuck to their tasks. I would keep this impression for three decades, because following that visit to the convent my family moved across the country to another state. I didn’t know any Catholics in Oklahoma to take me visiting nuns, so when I did have a chance to observe them again, it would be with adult eyes (my child’s gaze had become that of a woman and a mother) and the nuns would be Orthodox Christians.

When I talk to other converts about their journeys into the Orthodox Church, I get the feeling mine was both similar and different. I had all the usual presuppositions of the faith in which I was brought up, but I seem to have been unusually willing to get loose of them. Though it would shock her to know it, I blame my mother for this. A school librarian, she kept our family bookshelves stocked with books by writers from all sorts of traditions, who therefore helped keep the door of my mind slightly ajar. It was my mother, too, who let me go on outings with people who didn’t watch me closely, who exposed me to the beauty of old liturgical churches and let me rub shoulders with nuns. That beauty, and those nuns, were like marks God left on the trunks of trees as I struggled in a dark wood to find my way home.

But the nuns I saw now, the ones who showed up at the Orthodox church I was attending, were far from the crisp image I had from the day at the convent. Frankly these nuns looked a bit rugged. Their black cotton robes were sun-faded, wilted and creased from driving on a hot day in a car with no air conditioning. As if we were redoing a photo from my childhood, my small daughter turned and watched as they took their place in the back of the church, observing them with dark eyes wide as they arranged themselves to pray.

Those nuns would come to change my life, change all our lives. The girls of our parish would grow up knowing of women so gritty and strong of heart as to spend the bulk of their daily lives in prayer. Which is, as all who have tried it agree, the hardest work there is. And all the while those women prayed, they did lesser work too, we found out. Work like carpentry and gardening and chicken-keeping and honey-harvesting, writing and translating, social work and nursing. In short, through those nuns we were introduced in a very personal, hands-on way to an aspect of the early church that isn’t always easy to grasp. Because most of us have grown up hearing about St. John the Baptist in his hair shirts, surviving in the desert on prayer and wild locusts, or St. Anna the Prophetess, praying continually day and night in the temple, the gospel passages can have the effect of story, distancing us from the reality of what they are: descriptions of monasticism.

Of course, it’s not the purpose of monasticism to teach lay people what humility looks like, but the real men and women who are living the monastic life do show it to us, simply by being in the process of becoming what they have set out to be: holy, women and men perfected in Christ. And when an elderly nun like the one I mentioned at the beginning, who has not only chosen to live the monastic life, but has chosen it again and again, over and over, year after year, day after day, until at last she is given no more days to make the choice and she departs this world, she does it with the same monastic humility. Having no earthly possessions, she leaves nothing. Only, without intending to, she has left us an inheritance: a measure of hope in a hope-parched land.

A friend who attended the burial of our dear nun-friend called me afterward to say that she had been able to “give mother a last kiss”. There was unexpected joy in my friend’s voice as she said this, I could hear it plainly as she spoke.

So, how should a nun be mourned? I still don’t know. There are people who will, but I haven’t yet asked them. I suspect the answer will have something to do with the above-mentioned humility. It may turn out that a nun’s own mourning has been enough. Perhaps all I will have to do is receive the joy.

Forming the Soul

by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

When my children were young I received from a friend a copy of an essay written by a nun titled “Forming the Soul”. The essay explained the importance of good quality fiction in the spiritual education of a child. I’ve lost it, unfortunately. Or, I can’t find it temporarily. I do, however, remember the nut of the essay:

As parents we find it important to feed children good food to ensure their bones and brains are forming well and growing strong. We should find it just as important, if not more so, to feed their minds in a way that considers their taste buds and interests their pallets, and yet ensures they are forming strong, healthy souls. We laugh to think of children choosing their own diet. It’s not hard to imagine the empty calories that would be eagerly consumed at every meal. The analogy is clear, I won’t press the point further because this post is about the forming of an adult soul: mine.

In an email discussion the other day, I mentioned to a writer friend that fiction had played (and continues to play) an important role in my spiritual journey. That friend asked if I would share a few titles. Below is the list of books that emerged from our conversation.

When I considered fiction that in some way changed or helped to form my soul, certain books leapt to mind. These are the titles I decided to include, with no other criteria. There aren’t any political or dystopian novels—no Ralph Ellison or Elizabeth Atwood. You might also notice the lack of titles usually found on lists of spiritual novels: no beautifully written sermons by Wendell Berry or Marilynn Robinson or C.S. Lewis, no Walker Percy or Flanner O’Connor or Toni Morrison prodding the darkness to expose the light. This is not because I don’t admire or respect the work of these authors, but when I thought about them I had to admit that they simply had not pierced the tough skin of my soul, however much they challenged my mind and pricked my conscience. So this, again, is a personal list, a sampling not of books that should have, but of books that did. Most are classics. A few are more recent (growth, hopefully, continues). All are novels that have what I call “the gospel spark”, stories (mostly told in traditional style) with characters who through their fictional struggles and triumphs illustrated for me the Resurrection—the joy unspeakable and full of glory that comes only, incomprehensibly, from accepting to shoulder my cross and follow Christ.

I’d love to hear from you. What titles would be on your list? Which stories or authors have helped form your soul?

The Dollmaker by Harriet Simpson Arnow

Nickel Mountain by John Gardner

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

Tales from a Greek Isle and The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamandis

Wonderful Fool by Shusako Endo

Bleak House and Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

The Sojourner by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Middlemarch and Silas Marner by George Eliot

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Promise by Chaim Potok

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Crime and Punishment and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham

Laurus by Eugene Vodalazkin

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.

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.

 

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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

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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.”

 

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.