Monday, October 25, 2010

Eastern Christian New Media Awards: 2010 Awards nominations open

Not asking for nominations. I think it's good to know that the time is coming to make your favorite Orthodox web sources for recognition! Please take time to visit the sites of previous winners and explore the depths of their knowledge.

Eastern Christian New Media Awards: 2010 Awards nominations open: "Nominations are now open! To nominate an entrant simply click on one of the below links. Multiple nominations are welcomed and encouraged. ..."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Working on finding a new rhythm

Glory to God in all things!  Cliche?  Maybe.  True?  Definitely!

I had a most excellent day with my brother; we're building a doll house for my oldest.  She'll be two this March, so it's not a very complicated doll house -- basically four large rooms which we will paint in bright primary colors on Tuesday evening when my brother comes again.  All of this in preparation for Christmas, which I know seems early, but Christmas at our house will also come a little early, at least as far as this particular present is concerned.  Why do you care about this?  Good question.

I had a wonderful conversation with one of the brothers at the local monastery.  I'm still trying to force a "rigorous" catechesis onto my life, you see, and I was hoping to get a kick in the spiritual pants.  (For more on this weekend and our family's "need" for spiritual highs, please read Felicity's wonderful post Spiritual Ups and Downs.)  I certainly got a good nudge in the right direction, but it wasn't what I was hoping for.  Maybe I can unpack this slightly better.

Living with E., I watched him struggle through a very strenuous catechesis.  His prayer rule was a good hour a day (half an hour for morning prayers and half an hour for evening prayers), plus a certain number of Jesus Prayers, prostrations, and spiritual reading.  I was really looking forward to this.  Ascesis is not a dirty word in my book.  I once tried fasting Muslim style during Ramadan.  After the first hallucination I gave up.  This is me, though.  I want to be given stringent instructions and upbraided for my inability to follow them.  Weird, right?

Fr. Stavros took a different approach.  Given that we have two small children (two under two), a new house, not a lot of money, a busy work week, et al. just taking any time to pray is better than trying to struggle to maintain morning and evening prayers.  Sometimes, he said, you find the time to pray when you can; and that discipline is more important than keeping some unrealistic rule that doesn't fit into your daily life.  I hate when monks tell me things like this.  He's the third, and it pisses me off (sorry if that bothers you).  The truth of the matter is that I want to be Jesus.  I really want to have the final say on my spiritual development, and I believe that God will honor my well intentioned revision of His plan for my life.  Surely when I reach the spiritual heights discussed in the Desert Fathers and other compendiums (which I will be able to accomplish following three easy steps in three months for no more than 3 hours a day), He'll hand me the heavenly crown early and I can just breeze through life.

Arrogant much?  And so I'm getting back to normal.  God is still loving, and I'm learning to live within His time table without any suggestions for change.  I am incredibly sinful.  I have noticed what a jerk I am.  I've been keenly aware of bitterness and resentment.  I feel I'm constantly complaining (just ask Felicity).  In short, I have enough to worry about just living where I am now without trying to force my square peg into someone else's round hole.

A new rhythm is needed.  So we're trying to pray together (like really say prayers) once a day (usually at night), say prayers at meal times, and remember to pray when the time is available to me (usually with my little brown prayer beads).  I'm still discontent most of the time and feel a little directionless; but God is faithful, and I need to learn how to trust Him.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Working through all the baggage

For reasons of anonymity, I'll simply refer to our current parish as "church" and try not to give too many hints without sounding like I'm not trying to give too many hints.  Our church is somewhat controversial in the Orthodox world.  Some people might call is "pretty liberal," though in Orthodoxy I'm not sure what that means.  I know it means that the fact that occasionally a young girl takes the censer to the priest through one of the deacon's doors while he serves at the altar gives people the heebie jeebies.  I'm also pretty taken aback, but it happens so rarely and she does nothing else (except hold a candle next to the lectern while the priest reads the Gospel), that I'm not sure you can even call her an alter server.  She's just there.  That's neither here nor there.

When people hear about where we go, their eye brows raise and their tone of voice goes up and they say things like, "What's it like up there?" or "Oh?  What do you think about that?" or (my favorite) "Oh, I know about them."  What they know or don't know about our parish is moot.  I don't really care what people's opinions are. So long as the men and women in my community continue to hold fast to the Creed and remain in obedience to +Met. JONAH, I'm going to stand pretty much in the middle.

I met a woman this weekend who lives in Boston and goes to an Antiochian church in Cambridge.  I responded with, "Oh, we have friends who go to the Bulgarian church in Allston!"  Her response was, "Oh...hahah...the fake Bulgarian church."  I'm slightly taken aback and jokingly talk about how there really is only one Bulgarian and mostly converts.  All she can do is discredit, mock, and joke about their "beginnings" being "suspect" and how they are a "very specific expression of Orthodoxy."  When I still continued to be on the defense for HROC, she just stopped talking to me.  My response: what the heck?!  If you're at a place people consider to be "controversial" with Orthodoxy, why do you go around throwing stones at other places that are also, apparently, considered "controversial"?

I guess the thing I'm dealing with is that the Orthodox church is still full of sinners, and that I'm just as bad as the rest of them.  I guess you leave denominationalism into jurisdictionalism and everyone's opinions bumping into all the others.  So I'm sifting through the baggage, and trying to keep my eyes on my own plate.  I'm frustrated by the judgemental attitude, but that's been there since the beginning of the Church.  Even Paul had to deal with it, and he was an apostle.  I'm just trying to be a sheep.  God forgive me, I need a softened heart.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spiritual Ups and Downs

One thing that I've always liked about journaling (whether on paper or on screen) is that I can sort out my emotions in print and come to a better understanding of myself.  I'm not sure if it makes for good reading, but some things are more important than being witty or entertaining.
I've realized over the past month or so that my spiritual life has taken a turn towards the dry and dusty, and that this has begun to effect other aspects of my life as well.  Peter and I have been especially on edge with each other, I've felt particularly inept at parenting our toddler, and we've all been struck with a nondescript, stubborn cold.  I say that I've realized it over the past month because while the realization was sudden, looking back I can see that I've been drying out for quite some time.
At first, I'm inclined to say that this started when Z was born and we moved from our wonderful little parish down south.  But, as I think about it, it's been years since I experienced a really good spiritual high.  Growing up in a charismatic, non-denominational, low threshold, very cool church, having regular spiritual highs at retreats and conferences was a normal part of my life and I came to depend on them as a way to survive normal life.  Running from one roller coaster to the next, if you will.
Now, I feel like I've spent the last few years wandering around outside the amusement park, not quite sure what to do with myself, but occasionally finding a sledding hill or swing set, if you will.  Ok, so the metaphor isn't that great, but I'm having trouble getting my head around all this as it is, much less putting it into coherent sentences.
When we found ourselves in the Orthodox church, I felt a bit of that spiritual high at first, but now I think that might have been just a reaction to how different it all was.  In any case, that feeling has worn off now, and I'm feeling all dried out again.  And yet, I know that I'm being watered.  Every week, I'm confronted by something in the the liturgy that encourages, challenges, and pushes me further in my walk, closer to Christ than I was the week before.  Is it possible that I am so used to being deluged in the Spirit that I don't recognize a good soaking rain for what it is?  Am I resentful and bitter because my spiritual journey isn't meeting my expectations of excitement and thrill?  Am I really that petty?  Apparently so -- Lord have mercy.
This weekend the monastery held a spiritual retreat.  We had planned on both going, switching off on kid duty throughout the day.  Instead, with me and both kids not feeling well, I stayed home.  Peter went briefly in the morning and again in the afternoon.  There was some miscommunication between us about when he was going, and I exploded with anger, jealously and resentment towards him.  While there were many reasons for all of my ugly emotions, one of them was that he got to go off on a spiritual retreat (if only for a few hours), while I was stuck at home.  Somewhere in my stuffed up head, I figured that the only way I would get that spiritual high that I'd been longing for was by going on retreat, and that chance was denied me.  (We have since made up and forgiven each other on this point.)
Now, looking back on my outburst, I am realizing that, like so many other things in my life currently, my assumed source of spiritual renewal has to change.  In the same way that I can no longer assume that I will get 8 hours of sleep every night, or that I will be able to do so much as take a shower without someone crying for me by the time I'm done, I can no longer depend on a weekend away or a special conference to re-energize my walk with God.  I must finally do the hard work of climbing the mountain, instead of looking for a way to catapult myself to the top only to fall back to earth again.
I am confident that living the Orthodox life will help me do this.  How, exactly, this works will, I think, be the subject of many future posts.  For now, I'm going to say evening prayers with my husband, and attempt to get a good night's sleep and do better tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Being a dad in church

One of the things I told people when I was starting this blog was that it would hopefully be a good tool for current Orthodox priests and people who are wondering what in the world is going on in the minds of their catechism/converts.  Here's one of those posts.  Touchy subject for some, not so much for others: kids in church.

To give you some background, in all of my Protestant upbringing I never experienced the opposition to children in church during the service that I did in our last Protestant church.  People actually told us afterwards, that having the baby in church was distracting and keeping them from worship.  A hard case to make, but also hard to argue in a church where a "good" worship service includes this nebulous "presence of the Spirit" they all talk about.  This isn't a gripe session.  Just context.

One of the things I've appreciated about the Orthodox churches we've visited is the stress they put on children (at every age) being present in the service.  "This is where they catch the Spirit" a priest once told me.  In general, the attitude is really good towards both of our girls.  Everyone loves the baby (she's adorable and sleepy).  Everyone loves the other one (she's a spitfire and says "amen" and "mama" and "cross" and "bell" and "Jesus" at every minute of quiet in the service).  It's just hard being the Dad in this scenario.

Whether or not we're actually being disruptive, I feel like we are.  It's hard to find the balance where the little girl is able to be quiet (or just a little noisy) and not keeping people from paying attention to the service.  No one has ever said anything to us at either of our parishes.  It's still hard--in that moment--to be okay with my little girl's noises (whichever girl) and understand that it's not up to me (or them) to ensure that someone else has a "good time" in church.

So if you see a dad (or mom) with a little girl (or boy) who may be making a little too much noise, don't shoot them glares across the church.  Don't just ignore them, either.  Be a helper.  Let them know how much you appreciate their presence in the service and the joy their noises bring.  Remember the children in the temple when Our Lord had entered in on the donkey.  They were shouting, praising, singing.  The priests and religious people were all grumpy and "religious" about it and told Him to tell the kids to keep it down.  Jesus' response was very pointed and very clear: No.  I'm trying.  I know that you're trying to pray and worship, too.  Please remember that those moms and dads (especially the catechumens and converts) are painfully aware of the noise their children are making and wishing they could make things easier for you.  Be loving and patient, pay attention to the service, and offer your assistance to those young families who are trying to enter the Church, and feel like they may have a long row to hoe with their little ones in tow.