Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Growing prayer

This past Sunday during coffee hour Felicity and I picked up a copy of The Monk Who Grew Prayer, by Claire Brandenburg.  I'd seen it advertised as part of the Orthodoxy in the Home webinar as one of their door prizes.  (We actually walked away with one, which was pretty thrilling!)  I was intrigued by the title and was hoping to win a copy so that I could read it.  As it turns out, it was in the parish library!  So we picked up a copy.

When I first heard the title, I had an idea about what the book would be.  I was expecting it to be about a monk working in a garden and how all of his work was really a life of prayer which culminated in a beautiful plant or crop that he would harvest or display in church or something along those lines.  I was partially right.  The story is about a monk, and he does have a garden.  However, instead of using the garden as a metaphor, the author takes the traditional Hours and uses the image of gardening to describe the growth and nurture of prayer as part of the monk's life.  Everything from working in the garden to fixing his best (and only) chair is an opportunity for him to cultivate prayer in his life.

I picked up this book to read to our toddler.  She likes it to a point.  (She has a very short attention span, as you might guess, and so we've only gotten through the book once.)  I've read it about five times.  This wouldn't be saying much if you simply looked at the tiny book that's more pictures than it is text.  However, the profundity of the sentiment has really been hitting me hard over the past few days.

We had the privilege of "e-tending" the aforementioned webinar over the weekend.  And aside from occasional problems of being completely unable to hear the speakers, the overall conference was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about being Orthodox and how to impart the Faith to our children. Something that was said more than once over the weekend has been a repeated theme in our lives both in regards to Orthodoxy and just life in general: everything takes practice, and you have to start where you are.

Right now "where we are" is a young family, overly concerned and distracted by financial worries, and parenting two young children.  Prayer time for us is rare, and often shorter than I'd like or feel is necessary; and yet, it's where we are.  AJ will "cross" herself (if you can call it that), and she loves to make big, excited bows and kiss icons.  She also prays: "Father, amen!" when we ask if she wants to pray at dinner or during our evening prayer times.  I realize that we are, like her, just now getting the ground ready for the seeds of prayer to be planted and to take root in our lives. I'm learning first hand what Jesus meant when he took a child and put him in the midst of his quarreling Apostles: "Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom."

Watching our little girl, I'm beginning to understand what He meant.  The prayers are growing in her life.  The love of God is evident when she kisses her sister, hugs us, or has her dollies kiss the icons at church or in our prayer corner.  The ground is fertile, and the soil is soft, waiting for the seeds to take root.  I want my heart to be like that.  I want the hard shell to be removed so that the seeds of prayer can grow.  Like the monk in the story, I want to "plow the sky" with my voice, lifted up in prayer.  I want to water and nurture my love for Christ through prayer as though my life depended on it.  May I, too, become like a little child so that I can learn to truly love my Lord and serve Him only.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Standing next to friends

With the onset of winter, getting our tiny little Chevy up the dirt road to the monastery for Sunday Liturgy.  We tried one Sunday a few weeks ago and got about three-quarters of the way up and had to turn back round.  The result, missing Liturgy three Sundays in a row!  Exhausting.  The need for finding an alternate parish home was growing on our small family.  We also wanted to find a place where we wouldn't be the youngest adults present by thirty years or more.

The search began rather unsuccessfully.  I [Peter] visited the Orthodoxy in America parish locator for parishes in our area.  I wasn't being overly particular.  Primarily, we wanted a place we could visit when the roads were bad and might have the opportunity for meeting some younger families with children the age of our girls (or thereabouts) so we wouldn't be quite so lonely.  Visiting one parish last week was a blow to confidence and emotional stability.  With no children to speak of and the average age closer to 70, we were not succeeding in our efforts.  The drive home was very discouraging, and Felicity and I spent a very stressful week, fearing that we'd be stuck visiting every parish in the area week after week.  Exhausting.

When Br. S. came over for our house blessing, we had an opportunity to sit and talk about our catechesis and life in general.  He recommended a parish not far from where I work and told us it was probably the "youngest" parish in the district.  Relatively new building, former mission church, broad range of ages.  It didn't disappoint.

Walking into that building was like coming home again.  The room was simple, the icons were few, but the atmosphere reminded me of Holy Cross and other younger parishes.  I don't know how else to explain the situation.  It was like standing in a room full of old friends.  The icon display of the saints of North America, the young children running about, the old ladies inviting us to come up and get "church bread".  Though we won't be making an hour long trip each week, it was refreshing to find a place to go when we can't get up the hill.  We left in much better spirits, and wondered why we had to go through all of that pain from last weekend.