• Advent,  Orthodoxy,  the home arts

    O Tannenbaum…

    all together

    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
    wie treu sind deine Blätter!
    Du grünst nicht nur
    zur Sommerzeit,

    candle

    Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
    wie treu sind deine Blätter!

    tree

    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
    Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!


    ellianna

    Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
    Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!


    david and lorelei

    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
    Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

    isaiah

    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
    Dein Kleid will mich
    was lehren:

    elly 2

    Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
    Gibt Trost und Kraft
    zu jeder Zeit.

    first christmaselly 3star

    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!

    Das soll dein Kleid
    mich lehren.

    ***

    Traditions are strange things, especially in families. For years and years and years and years and years through two generations, the tree and all the trimmings always went up the day of Thanksgiving. The women would be making the kitchen smell all sorts of wonderful, while the children and men-folk dragged out the Christmas boxes and tested the lights, and as the turkey roasted and the Macy’s Day parade jabbered on the TV, the house would be made over. Until suddenly, the last few years, it just hasn’t happened for some reason or another. Traditions change.

    This year, of all years, has been our slowest, quietest Advent and Nativity yet. Caleb’s lovely wreath and Mary on her donkey came out on Nov. 15th, the beginning of the Nativity Fast. We read Katherine’s Jesse Tree readings a few a week. Nothing else made appearance until the first weekend in December, when the tree slipped into white lights, and thus it stayed, plain and lovely. Mid-week, the festive table cloth was brought out. St. Nicholas came Dec. 6th, leaving his gold coins and oranges in the children’s shoes, lined up by the door where he’d be sure to find them.  And it wasn’t until Sunday night, the night of Peace, in the midst of sickness, that the tree was finally robed in our family ornaments and other finery. And it was then that the old traditions creeped in, for I couldn’t help but sing the song my mother used to sing to me in German as we decorated the tree…”O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches!”

     

  • Faith,  Orthodoxy

    On finding home…

    ICXC Icon

    I slipped out of the bright sun of a blazingly spring-like March day into a darkened nave, the breeze slipping around my skirt and making the lighted candles waver. My children were following close behind but the door had closed on their chatter. The beautiful mingled scent of beeswax and incense rose to meet me as I lifted my eyes to meet the quiet, searching eyes peering at me from the icons around the entrance. It was a moment among thousands and yet, and yet- it was a singular, holy, consecrated moment that I will never forget. I felt the warmth build from the top of my head down to my toes, the butterflies in my stomach settling, the restless wandering feeling abating.

    I am home.

    In that one quiet moment before the door opened again and my children, tumble-down, gurgling through the nave like a brook, my eyes filled with sudden tears. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    “It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
    “But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
    “Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
    “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
    ― C.S. LewisThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    It was as if the name I had always known was being spoken to me and I could see, could hear, could know that Heaven was close. It had been so very long for this wanderer. I had lost hope that I would ever find it, ever hear it again. So many doors I had walked through, only to find myself waiting in the hallway again, a little more shattered, a little more scarred, a little more hopeless. You see, I had been raised in the church, brought to the faith at a young age. I had moved many, many times. I watched whole communities shatter. I myself had felt the whip-sharp tongues of people who had their life all together and all figured out and had no room for sinners, for the broken. I was an orphan in the faith, with no home.

    It’s hard to explain the loss I felt. I am grateful to know that I am not alone in this. I have met so many fellow wandering believers who have also felt abandoned by their churches, shut out, lost, believing but not able to gather in fellowship with others because they were so besmirched by their humanity as to not measure up to their local community, always on the wrong side of the door, often forgotten by the very people who should have been the first line of defense, the first hand to hold when one someone is slipping under the waves. There are so many, so much wiser than me, that are talking about the hows and whys and wherefores of this. It is not my place to delve into the theologies and thought processes. All I know is that it left me wandering and orphaned, desperately searching the Scriptures, wondering where the church of Acts had disappeared to, hopeless that it could ever be found.

    And so it was that I found myself in that nave.

    My children swirled in around me, the Bigs and the Littles, my husband gently shutting the door behind us. I saw it in his eyes too, everything like starbursts. He could feel it too.

    A man came forward to greet us, attired in a long black robe. He introduced himself and welcomed us in. As we shook hands, my husband and I looked over our children’s heads at one another, smiling, knowing a kindred spirit when we meet one. He described himself by an archaic name- Subdeacon. It sounded strange on the tongue.

    The service began a few minutes later. Two more men, dressed in long black robes and beautifully embroidered stoles that hung around their necks and buttoned down the front, approached the altar. They faced away from us. To the right was a young man dressed in a long robe embroidered over with crosses from head to foot, an altar server. After an unfamiliar prayer, the Subdeacon began to plain chant Psalm 104, a creation song of praise. The sanctuary was quiet, hushed. The glow of the candles echoed off the icons covering the walls. As the Subdeacon was singing, the priest was swinging a censer of incense and praying quietly. There were no bells on the censer, as they had been hushed for the season of Lent. I was struck by the incredible beauty of this sacred space; even in it’s Lenten sparseness, everything within the sanctuary testified to a beauty beyond knowing.

    I don’t remember much after that, to be honest. Somewhere within the Psalm being chanted, tears began to run down my face. I remember looking over at my husband with no little amount of awe in my face and thinking. It’s really here. The church is really here. I’m really actually, finally home. This is mine to keep for as long as I draw breath. The sheer amount of relief that I had tried and I had tested and upon sounding the depths had come to solid rock left me gasping for joy.

    When the service ended, the two priests came over to greet my family. It was an unusual situation, Subdeacon had explained. The arch-priest that normally came to serve the parish had brought a new priest with him to teach him the beautiful intricacies of the service within their church. The younger priest was able to sit with us a while and answer our questions. Again, kindred spirit reached out to kindred spirit. He understood so many of our struggles and explained in brief what it was we were seeing and hearing. I will never forget one thing he said as he explained how he had come to be a priest. He said that the day his church and his family entered into what he now called home, he had a complete and utter peace that he had shepherded his flock into safe harbor. It so matched my own feeling earlier that evening that tears began to gather at the corner of my eyes.

    Safe harbor. Home. Home.

    I had entered an Eastern Orthodox church that evening. Life would never be the same.

  • Ebenezer,  Orthodoxy

    Forging a new path…

    tangles I’ve been feeling a bit introspective the last few days. The honeymoon feeling has worn off and the still left-unpacked boxes are starting to make me feel a bit squirrel-y and a teensy frazzled. It was enough to move in. The kitchen, especially, needs more organization. While it was one of the first things to be unpacked, the cabinet space is strange and tall and narrow, and every time you open a cabinet there is a very real fear that something will come crashing down on your head.

    If I was totally honest, my life feels a bit like that kitchen.

    The move was an answer to a desperate prayer, a laying out of fleece, a begging for direction. Our life had begun to feel like suspension bridge spinning in a hurricane. The tension was so fraught that the tiniest thing could have sent our little cars of life flying hard into the ether. Spun up, strung tight. Trapped. Beleaguered. Stuck. These are the words that ring true to me as I consider how things felt before the new job and move became a reality.

    We had struggled for ten years to form a community around us. James loved the people he worked with and what he did in his job, but the pay and benefits were locking us into continual poverty, with no chance of pay increases or advancement. It was dead end. Our housing situation felt similarly dead-ended. We were barely making ends meet in a house that, while large, couldn’t provide for our needs properly and was falling apart around our ears with a landlord that wasn’t listening. But where else were we to go? We had looked and looked for a place that would work for us within the area and would return back to our current rental with dejected mein, realizing that this was it. Our locked-in finances barely covered the basics like groceries and gas; there was no way we were ever going to be able to save enough to buy a house again.  The reality of it all was very difficult to deal with.  Dejection courted us in the shadows. The marriage began to show the cracks and strain of all we were trying to hold together.

    It snapped.

    Someone caught us.

    We were caught up into safe refuge and harbor by steadied arms who pulled us in. Even thinking of it now, I try not to sob outright. Someone cared about us so much that he fought for us when we could not fight for ourselves, prayed over us and for us, and helped us back to our feet in ways both spiritual and practical.

    It was during this time of renewal and repair that we realized that, as much as we loved the area, we needed to cast our nets farther afield. Three cities were chosen, each for different reasons, and applications were filed. The prayerful waiting began. I don’t think we were particularly hoping for one outcome over the other- more than anything, I think we both had a very real fear that nothing would return. Nearly a month and a half passed, and we both began to struggle with doubt. A week to the day after we had a particularly rough day and given it all up for lost, things began to happen rapidly. First one interview, and then another, a phone call, inquiries made. Just like that, a job. Less than twenty four hours later, and at the head of a list that included three other families, a house.

    You will believe me when I say that everything fit together in ways we could not have even begun to conceive of. It practically seems made to order. The thing is? I think it was. We had to let go of everything before it could happen, surrender everything we are and wanted, to come to the end of ourselves and let it all go, release it. Here is the truth, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in the Message: “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing.” (Luke 6:38) The delight will overwhelm you at times like drinking from a fire-hose, and yet you couldn’t realize how very thirsty you were till someone turned the thing on.

    All that said, there’s still a lot of things to unpack. There were patterns and choices that let to the virtual prison we had made for ourselves. There was a reason things felt so spun-tight. We must, must, must forge a new path here, with the Lord’s help. What that is and what the looks like, what new choices and rhythms must be made- these are the things filling my thoughts these days. I snapped this picture yesterday, of the boys untangling math problems and my knitting ball that had become hopelessly entwined…it took me most of the day that day to straighten it all out, but this is the thing that I love- it was able to be untangled. The light bulb comes on in the math lesson and we stretch forward to the next idea. I treasure the photograph because it reminds me that life moves forward, even when it all looks messy.

  • Orthodoxy,  the mothering arts

    One Word 2013: Illumine

    lightsillumineIMG_3588It’s been a long time coming, this fresh new year. Light-filled. A day I had mourned as lost.  I wondered that I’d ever find the light again. I scrabbled hard with it here, chased after it, but even so, I could feel the hopelessness overtake me, my head slip under the water.

    A heart-friend and I sat long over tea and discussed all that had been and what was to be and the dreams that whisper quietly. We talked about the words I scribble out here. It’s a lesson, sometimes, to visit your own history, look backwards. I marvel at how much things changed for me over the course of the last few years- while my life itself feels a bit of a fog and memory fails, my journaling here kept witness. Sometimes it’s only when the sun returns that we can understand how truly dark the storm was that we passed through.

    And now the light. I’ve actually pulled out my ‘big girl’ camera, set the shutter, adjusted the lighting. I had to capture my heart, you see. This glow that suffuses, that we see at the corner of our eyes and marvel at in the sunrise, the emerald greens, sapphires, gold, cotton-tail white of a sunny day. It’s been there all along, but I’ve needed to breathe it afresh.

    I wear a new name- a candle lit in the hushed hours of Christmas Eve- and I am called newly illumined. And it is in this hush that I find my word, my desire, for 2013. Illumine. The transitive verb of illuminate. To enlighten. To set alight. To make clear. To bring to the forefront. To set alight. 

    I pray that no matter what comes to me this year, I would learn to glow. To set alight with the flame of faith and trust in the One who made me and calls me. May it be so.

  • Faith,  Orthodoxy

    Fill it up…

    This was the sky above the church…

    There are some days you reach out and you swear you could just touch Glory. It’s right there, palpable. The veil is so close.

    And so often, we peek at glory through the haze of pain. I think of Amber and her sweet boy, Titus. I think of all the things that make us cry out in wonder- the how long oh Lord wonder- my heart is so desolate within me wonder- the I’m just going to trust and hold on wonder at the God that is so much bigger than we can imagine, when we just feel so small.

    All you can do is cry Glory.

    The Trisagion prayers begin this way:

    Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee.

    O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

    Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us.

    Have mercy on us.

    This is what I’ve come to know. Fill me up with You.

    A new season is beginning. A new season that I wasn’t expecting- a new season that is already not going ‘according to plan’- a new season of letting go and trusting God’s will. And this is the thing. In the past, I’ve gotten mad. Bitter. I’ve tried to control the outcomes, plan for every eventuality, and not let the Holy Spirit have one inch to move around in. That’s no way to live.

    I’m crying out Glory. The only way to live is full open to the filling up of Him, who is everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and the Giver of life.

    He gives me life abundant. It is all I’ll ever need.