Of course I love this one ...
by Anne Porter
When the snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they’re cut down
And brought into our houses
When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows
We hear and sing
The customary carols
They brings us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common
But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet’s message
Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies
Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices
They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.
Well, it's white out there alright - all white and Christmas-ey! I got every single thing on my to-do list taken care of and now I'm just sitting back and relaxing, doing puzzles with my family by the fireplace.
HAAAA! HAAAA! HAAAA! Ain't I hysterical?!
O.K., O.K., so today will be FILLED with the washing and packing of clothes, with the wrapping of gifts, etc., etc., etc.
Yes, yes, I admit it - we don't really have a fireplace either.
I'll tell you what, though, I am very pleased that I do have in my possession not one, but two brand new children's books written by two lovely and gifted colleagues of mine, Sylvia Leontaritis and Jane G. Meyer. We devour Orthodox books written specifically for kids around here. What a treat it was to receive both of these within the same week!Adventures of an Orthodox Mom blog, tells the story of a boy separated from his family after a war evacuation in, A Pocketful of Seeds, published by Panagia Press. This lost and lonely young man meets up with a kind and holy monk named Papouli who invites the boy to accompany him on a divine mission. The two of them travel to far away lands, overcoming with the help of God many obstacles along the way as they plant and sow miraculous seeds (a metaphor for monasteries) producing fruit bearing trees in often barren and resistant soil. It is a tale of courage, hope, love and perseverance, the exact kind of story I long most to share with my children. "This is amazing, mom"! My daughter, Priscilla, told me repeatedly while curled up on the arm chair with her face all buried in its pages. I can't thank you enough, Sylvia, for putting so much of your time, talents and effort into creating for families such an inspiring and thought-provoking resource for relaying the importance of, as the summary on the back cover of your book so aptly explains it, "faith, forgiveness and following one's heart." Click HERE to order your own copy!
The second book we were thrilled to find in our mailbox, was Jane G.Meyer's, The Woman and the Wheat, published by SVS press. I had the privilege of having Jane as an editor when I was contributing articles to, "The Handmaiden," and grew to appreciate and admire both her skills as a writer and her peaceful, creative spirit! Jane has really and truly outdone herself with this project, incorporating a beautiful and poetic rhythm within this story of a woman prayerfully and so lovingly planting wheat she will eventually offer back to God as the communion bread consecrated during Divine Liturgy in order to fill parishioners with Christ. I read it with my son, Elijah, and not only did it bring me to tears but also prompted a spontaneous and edifying conversation about the Eucharist. Adults and kids, alike, will be moved by the quiet humility and dedication of this woman whose soul delights and finds its meaning in performing every task she undertakes, no matter how small or seemingly mundane, for the glory of God. I guarantee you will want to read it again and again! Do yourself or someone else a big favor by clicking HERE and ordering this book ASAP! The Woman and the Wheat is destined to become a classic within Orthodox Children's Literature.
Well, here I go, oh mercy, off to pursue some productivity this afternoon! I'll be back tomorrow with a poem, it being Poetry Wednesday and all. Until then, stay warm, stay flexible, stay focused on, yes, the "reason for the season." I will sure try my darndest to do likewise.
Priscilla took her role as narrator very seriously.
Three pre-teen wise men
The whole adorable cast
My niece, Janie: one tired little lamb!
Oh man, it was better than I'd ever expected. Those kids acted their little hearts out! A huge thank you to Miss Diane, our Sunday School teacher, who put so much time and effort into making this pageant special and memorable for not only the children, but for all of us who laughed and cheered and sang along. I love our parish. Today was joyful!
Most of the time, I'm much too busy trying my darndest to hold this fort down to dwell on the miracle that is my family. Every once in awhile, however, I'll look up from the work at hand and gaze in awe at the one, two, three, oh my gosh!, four thinking, breathing, independent persons stuffing this house just as full as can be with life. "Look what we made!" I'll then exclaim, in shock, to my husband, because it used to be, like fifteen minutes ago, just he and I staring forward into the great expanse known as, "the future," wondering what in the world it held in store for us. These days we rarely think ahead, so enthralling and exhaustingly consuming is the present.
This week, we're all about Christmas Pageants - specifically the one taking place at our home parish, St. Elizabeth's, starring my very excited children as the Angel Gabriel, a wise man, a shepherd, yet another angel, and the narrator (Elijah will be playing dual roles). The kids have been practicing like crazy after Liturgy the past few Sundays, but have been extremely tight-lipped about the details. "C'mon, tell us your one line, Mary!" we teasingly beg our preschooler but no way, no how will she budge. "It's a surprise," she explains curtly. And then we laugh and marvel at the fact that our four-year-old, our baby, has an existence separate from her mom and dad, that she's gone off and joined her siblings in the cultivating of her own ideas and opinions.
So soon, I will observe all of my sons and daughters, not clinging to my leg or snuggled up in my arms, but reenacting on a makeshift stage the birth of Christ. I know for sure it will hit me then, with the force of a speeding bulldozer - the significance of my own flesh and blood portraying that moment when God, Himself, took on our collective flesh and blood, changing everything. Speaking of miracles worth lifting our heads up from out of the sand to stare at open-mouthed and reflect upon! I pray these final days before the Feast of the Nativity include many such salvifically enlightening moments for all of us.
Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,
relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.
Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.
Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.
Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—
these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.
Check back HERE throughout the day to read my fellow bloggers' poetry picks or to share a favorite poem of your own!
Someone was super excited the other night to stay up and watch the "Frosty the Snowman" special. That same someone saw approximately six minutes of said show before conking out on the arm chair and then being carried up to bed. I, too, have been a little more tired than usual. You see, I'm on a mission - a mission to once again declutterize before we Feast here with my family on the 25th (hurray!), before the kids get their presents, before we travel to Tennessee on the 26th to be with my in-laws - before I pack (shudder) for that awesomely fun Smoky Mountain adventure and car ride. Have I told you I have a phobia of packing? That I tend to wander from room to room in a breathless fog wondering what I'm forgetting, how many outfits will be necessary, how many snacks we'll need, etc., etc.,etc.? OH, GOOD GRACIOUS! See? My heart rate is rising already. No lie - I'll pay you twenty bucks (sorry, that's the most I can come up with on this short of notice) to do it for me.
Posting will be light this week while I sort and donate and bleach the heck out my kitchen sink. I will also be trying to get caught up a little on my e-mail correspondence. There are a couple of great new Orthodox children's books I want to blog about - I'll try to get that information up by Friday! And, of course, their is POETRY WEDNESDAY! What a treat that has become. I'll have my poem pick ready to publish bright and early Wednesday morning. I can't wait to read what ya'll have come up with. Thanks again to those who have participated! I have thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoyed your offerings.
And now, in lieu of an actual Christmas card (I just get couldn't get to 'em this year), here is a digital picture postcard of our less-littered dining room at Christmas time:
Peace to you!!
I can tell by the way her
eyes bore into my own, she is seeking my approval. My daughter believes
earnestly that her suspicion of the kids in her school who worship other gods,
or no god, or our God but in a different way than we do, is what I desire of
her because she dwells in that grayless, adolescent realm of black and white. “He's nice
and all,” she says to me about a classmate, “but I don't think he's a Christian,” she adds as a caveat.
I know exactly what she means by that: I like him (isn't that generous of me?) in spite of this flaw. I should be pleased, I suppose, that she is taking her beliefs so seriously, but internally I find myself squirming a little at her well-intentioned presumption that it's, "us" vs. "them” – that until that wayward individual converts to our specific worldview he or she must primarily be seen as a potential conquest if any viable relationship is to be formed.
This is dangerous and tricky territory - the narrow divide between humility and the compromising of our convictions. It can be challenging to live out one’s faith within this great melting pot of atheists, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, conservatives, liberals, homosexuals, pro-lifers, pro-choicers (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). What exactly does it mean, I want to know, to, in the Good Samaritan sense of the phrase, love my not always like-minded neighbors?
It being December, my thoughts automatically are drawn to Christmas. Like every other aspect of the Christian faith, the Incarnation provides plenty of fodder for head scratching and reflection. What is one to do with a God-man born as a baby or with the unlikely VIPs chosen to first hear the news (via a legion of trumpeting angels, no less) of His birth? The entire premise of our salvation demands we surrender that obdurate predilection for having our T’s crossed and I’s dotted. God’s mercy purposefully defies formulism and tidy answers.
Why, for instance, was it necessary for Mary’s pregnancy to be shrouded in controversy? Why did her obedience require that she be misunderstood, slandered, whispered about for the rest of her days? It would have been hard to not point fingers or question her purity, considering the circumstances. I’m sure there’s a big old lesson there (about not being so quick to jump to conclusions) for all of us.
Thirteen years ago, my husband, Troy, and I became members of the Orthodox Christian Church. By doing so, we acknowledged Her validity as the original Christian Church established by the apostles and embraced her teachings and Traditions as Truth. Bishop Kallistos Ware, in his classic and comprehensive book, The Orthodox Church, describes succinctly our adopted credence this way:
Orthodoxy, believing that the Church on earth has remained and must remain visibly one, naturally also believes itself to be that one visible Church. This is a bold claim, and to many it will seem an arrogant one; but this is to misunderstand the spirit in which it is made. Orthodox believe that they are the true Church, not on account of any personal merit, but by the grace of God. They say with Saint Paul: "We are no better than pots of earthenware to contain this treasure; the sovereign power comes from God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7). But while claiming no credit for themselves, Orthodox are in all humility convinced that they have received a precious and unique gift from God; and if they pretended to men that they did not possess this gift, they would be guilty of an act of betrayal in the sight of heaven.
Yes, we are certain; we would have never made so many sacrifices on account of a hunch. Every fiber of my being believes the Orthodox Church contains within her the absolute Fullness of the Faith. This assuredness has filled my grateful spirit with a degree of contentment and determination I had never experienced previously. No, the question I’m asking presently isn’t, “What do I believe?” but rather, “How do my Orthodox beliefs effect my interactions with others?” Do they, in fact, promote within me meekness or vanity, generosity or the tendency to conjecture about the state of another’s soul?
It is awfully tempting to consider it our duty, as Orthodox Christians, to keep those fellow human beings with wholly different theologies, political views, morals and ideals at arm’s length until, God-willing, we can convince them to see the light. It can be so confusing, you know? Because on the one hand, befriending, without such an agenda, individuals opposed or apathetic to what I view as sacred and holy, can send mixed messages. Right? You know, like an, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” kind of vibe. But then again, when asked point blank, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered this way:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Period. That’s it. You will not go on to find in the book of Matthew any addendum to that statement outlining its loopholes or conditions. That being the case, as naïve and potentially risky as it may sound, I have to trust that offering an unconditional, non-judgemental, no questions asked type of love to any man, woman or child created by God is my first and foremost priority.
Saint Mary of Paris (Mother Maria Skobtsova) did just that when she made the very difficult choice to hide, and provide fake baptismal certificates for, persecuted Jews within her unconventional refugee-filled convent during WWII, knowing her life would be in grave danger for doing so. Eventually, she was indeed arrested by the Gestapo and in 1945 Mother Maria was cruelly executed in a gas chamber. I am in awe of her courage and altruistic boldness on behalf of those who, yes, held different beliefs but nonetheless were created in God’s image and were just as precious in His sight as the rest of us.
Maybe it wasn’t such a complicated decision after all. Perhaps she merely asked herself, “If I was in danger of being imprisoned, tortured, murdered, would I long for someone to help me?” and when that answer was, “yes,” moved forward with her plans to treat others as she, herself, would like to be treated.
What if I consistently proceeded likewise when interacting with my family, those in my community, those with whom I dialogue online?
“Would I like to be presumptuously summed-up and categorized based on circumstantial evidence and hearsay?” I might inquire of myself.
“Would I like to be viewed as a “project,” rather than respected as an honest to goodness friend?”
“Does being harshly criticized and condemned for having differing opinions inspire me to keep my own mind open or to shut and lock it tightly?”
I think the answers are pretty obvious, don’t you?
Not long from now, we’ll drop everything to gather at the manger.
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, we Orthodox Christians will sing, so triumphantly, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him! The wise men journey with the star! Since for our sake the Eternal God is born as a little child (Kontakion).
I like to imagine those lowly shepherds and the wild with wonder expression on their faces upon receiving the message that the long awaited Messiah had finally come, upon worshipping Him only hours after his arrival. Their delight and uncontainable elation must have been exceedingly contagious. See, that’s the thing about arguments and explanations – they never quite have the same impact as a deep and abiding sense of joy when it comes to evangelism.
Now seems like a perfect time for sharing the hope and brightness, found within Christ and His Church, this Feast of the Nativity is igniting within us! Glory to God in the Highest! we exclaim clearly and reverently when preparing a meal for a harried new mother, when responding to anger with restrained considerateness, when forgiving those who have wronged us or sincerely apologizing when our actions have hurt or embarrassed someone else. ‘Tis the season for advancing peace upon this earth and good will toward all men! Rejoice! For God is with us.
I never had a sister, so I delight in watching my girls interact with one another. As a child, I suffered from night terrors that were incredibly vivid (I can remember them in detail to this day) and difficult to wake from. My mom would shake me by the shoulders, even plunge my trembling body into a tub full of water, in an effort to shock me, force me into consciousness, quiet my screams. I hated, absolutely dreaded, falling asleep. Some of my friends with multiple siblings envied my sizable unshared bedroom. I could never understand that. I would have loved to have heard another human being slumbering next to me, filling the silence of those endless evenings with the peaceful monotony of their measured inhalations and exhalations. Everyone knows there is safety in numbers. It was no good, no good at all, being alone.
Mary regularly climbs down from out of her top bunk into Priscilla's bunk below. Most nights, I find them snuggled up together - a tangle of limbs and blankets and sheets. It is a beautiful sight, just the sweetest scene imaginable. It makes my heart swell to know in the darkness, where what seems innocuous during the day becomes inexplicably eery, they have each other to hold and comfort until those first rays of sunlight peek cheerfully through their windows, carrying with them the renewed hope and optimism of a brand new morning. This is what popped into my mind when I discovered the following poem. I suggest you read it twice. I enjoyed it even more the second and third time! Click HERE to read the poetry picks of my fellow bloggers or to share a favorite poem of your own!
winter solstice when you startle awake in the dark morning heart pounding breathing fast sitting bolt upright staring into dark whirlpool black hole feeling its suction get out of bed knock at the door of your nearest friend ask to lie down ask to be held listen while whispered words turn the hole into deep night sky stars close together winter moon rising over white fields nearby wren rustling dry leaves distant owl echoing two people walking up the road laughing let your soul laugh let your heart sigh out that long held breath so hollow in your stomach so swollen in your throat already light is returning pairs of wings lift softly off your eyelids one by one each feathered edge clearer between you and the pearl veil of day you have nothing to do but live -- Unknown
If your eyes were in my head, here's what you'd see for much of the morning. After I've read aloud to Elijah, your field of vision would contain Mary's slender face talking a mile a minute about literally anything under the sun while I hold her on my hip. She's getting too old to carry around, I fully understand that, but she's the baby ... and they grow up so fast ... yada, yada, yada.
Anywho, it's just the photo today; I'm busy, busy, busy working extra hard on getting a podcast written (remember when I used to record those regularly?). And also I wanted to remind you to get your poems chosen for "Poetry Wednesday!" We had a great turnout last time! Thanks to all who contributed! I'm already looking forward to sitting down with a cup of coffee and reading your picks. How it works, is you post the poem on your blog and then link to your site HERE (scroll down to the bottom of Kris's post to see the previous week's submissions). Come and join our growing community! It's like a breath of fresh air, like a power surge for your mind, like a ... well, that's all I can think of. Have a great afternoon!