Garden in the East

My latest on Mrs Metaphor, for those of you who are wondering what I’m working on these days. 🙂

Mrs. Metaphor

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I’ve been working on the new book this past few months. It’s going well. I think that’s what I’m supposed to say, by default, whenever someone asks, and so that is what I say. If they press further, I might mention the potholes, the detours or the time wasted at the truck stops because the road to finishing this book has been, at times, no damn fun. Writing books is not always fun.

Even so, I’m almost there. Garden in the East– The Spiritual Life of the Body is on its way, soon, to my editor and will present itself in full form in the middle of next year. It’s exciting to see the image of this new thing emerge from the block of marble that is the blank page. I hope it is beautiful. I hope it is good.

In any case, I was re-reading a chapter today, fine…

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On Moving and Standing Still

IMG_4582This morning I am pleased to be sitting in a quiet, sunny living room in Middle Tennessee. The vacation house is intimately familiar as I lived in this log home for five years when my children were very young. We turned it into a vacation home a few years ago, when we moved back to Chicago. I cannot remember it ever being this quiet. In those years, they would wake me up in the mornings, early. We were transplants from Chicago, homeschoolers, maybe more than a little bit isolated. We did not intend it that way.

When we bought this house in middle Tennessee we thought we were meant to form an artist community here. We thought that “if we built it they would come” but though we gave it our best shot, it never really worked out the way we’d hoped.

From our five years in this house, however, we did learn a great deal, we loved some wild moments, we bonded together as a family. I believe that in some ways the time we spent here was the glue that made us so close. We were pressed in toward one another, arms wrapped securely, hands clasped together. It really was beautiful as I look back on it now.

Back then, though, I might not have seen it in just that way. My children were 1, 3, 5 and 8 when we moved here. My husband, for the most part, still worked in Chicago so his commute was epic, to say the least. I was alone much of the time. Trips into “town” whether it was Franklin or Nashville, meant I had to pile all of us into a car and drive at least 30 minutes. Going somewhere would eat up most of my day. We put a whole lotta miles on our car in those years.

When the chance came to move back to Chicago a number of years later, we had formed friendships, deep friendships in fact. It was a hard choice to move. My church home was here, my godmother and the priests who had introduced me to Orthodoxy were here. I was still not chrismated. I was still very much in the throes of conversion. Still, we took the chance because it was the right choice, my husband and I knew it immediately.

Moving is hard, but I’ve gotten quite good at it, having done it so many times through the last 48 years of my life. I’ve done it so much I begin to feel itchy when I see moving boxes, even when they are not mine. I see things piled in my closets at home and in the back of my mind I’m always thinking about clearing out “just in case.”

Moving is hard but standing still is hard too.

Putting down roots and staying put takes some effort after all this moving. Being connected and familiar can be terrifying. Being a part of something bigger, someplace bigger, with more people and better access to grocery stores after years of isolation can be like explorers wandering out from the jungle finally, exhilarating but overwhelming and yes, necessary at the proper time.

I’m not moving from Chicago, at least I do not intend to at this writing. I’m not changing my church home or my commitment to the long and dusty road of Orthodoxy. Thanks be to God. I am, however, moving this blog to join the wider circle of like-minded and yet eclectic folks at  Ancient Faith Blogs, and that’s pretty exciting.

So, this is just to let you know that in the near(ish) future, we’ll be moving. In the background, we’ll be packing the boxes with all the stuff you see here and then unpacking over at AFB. What’s great is that I won’t even have to call and ask you to help me load boxes on the truck or anything. We got professionals for all that. It’s like I’m a grown-up or something. Imagine that!

Once we move you ought to be able to reach me pretty easily at NearlyOrthodox.com so, that’s great, right? Let’s hope it’s all seamless, keep those professional movers, erm, web designers, in prayer over the coming weeks, my friends. I have a lot of stuff in those closets. Data can be messy.

Thanks for your continued reading and commenting and good vibes-

ADC

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In praise of Coffee Hour

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Last night I had the great opportunity to visit an Orthodox church in the suburbs, Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview. I was there to hear one of my favorite living theologians speak, the awesome Met. Kallistos Ware. If you’ve never had the chance to hear him speak, do it. I confess that when I saw him I just wanted to run up to him and hug him. Don’t worry, I didn’t do it. Probably it’s because I came with a pal who is more sensible than myself. Thanks, Anna.

🙂

After Vespers and the talk by Met. Kallistos we all shuffled downstairs for what was a pretty fabulous spread. It was generous and delicious, especially in light of the current Apostle’s fast we are rockin these days.

Obviously, I was focused on the food. I love food. I love it a whole lot.

In a quiet moment as I sat with my plate of lovely goodies, my friend Anna mentioned that it felt like weekly coffee hour on a bigger scale to which I said, “I love Coffee Hour.” And I do, because for one thing, as we’ve already established, I love food. I love it a whole lot.

But that isn’t the only reason I love Coffee Hour. For me, a convert who knew nobody at all in a new parish at the start of my Orthodox path, toting along smallish crazy kids, it was an opportunity. It was a terrifying opportunity, but an opportunity nonetheless.

It’s not possible to really meet and get to know people just at Liturgy. There is always something happening and most of us converts are just trying to keep up. Some of us are also trying to parent kids who have zero interest in keeping up with Liturgy. They just want to go home or go outside or eat cookies. Coffee Hour affords us a chance to connect and also eat cookies.

So here’s the thing. Cookies are great but connecting is hard and weird and scary. Coming into Orthodoxy is difficult enough without having to figure in the whole “meet new people” part but meeting people and having conversations and participating in the life of the body of Christ is vital.

I mean that. It is vital.

Without that bit, we’re all just going through the motions. We have to do the hard work of relationships or we simply will not last against the pull of all the other stuff we could be doing when Liturgy is happening.

I suffer from some social anxiety. You can believe me when I say that meeting people felt like torture as I visited churches while on the road to becoming Orthodox. I was sure that if only I could have a sponsor assigned to me I could get further faster. I wished I could convert online or by mail. But, that’s not how it happens. I had to meet people. I had to reach my hand out in hello.

Coffee hour is how I got there.

It began with one visit where finally, against my nature, I sat at a table in the middle of the room that already had a couple of occupants who all seemed to know one another. If you’ve read, “Nearly Orthodox” you might recall that I still am doing self-therapy getting over a certain High School lunch table rejection fiasco. Needless to say, it took some courage to ask to sit down there.

What was necessary for me at that moment was to have people willing to say “yes” when I asked for a seat. Thankfully, they did say yes and they did engage me beyond that. There were other moments of “yes” that were important too and this is where I tell you, oh my people, what I want you to do, because it’s important.

If you exploring Orthodoxy and are visiting a parish:
Go to coffee hour. Make time. Find a table and sit there even if it’s awkward because it is awkward. Even the most confirmed extrovert will see how awkward it can be.

Do it anyway.

If you are a parishioner:
Invite someone to connect after Liturgy. Offer the invitation to a newcomer even if the priest does the inviting from the front as ours does at Christ the Savior. Offer it even if you think someone else offered already.

And if they come, say hello and offer a seat or a yes to their inquiring. Remember that it’s often intimidating to ask for a seat at a table. Open up the circle of conversation, the one you’re most inclined to close off to strangers because you haven’t seen your friends this week yet.

Remember, we were all strangers once. And as William Butler Yeats wrote, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”

Make it so.

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Lessons in publishing…

Nearly Orthodox has been published a year this summer…this is on my mind today 🙂

Mrs. Metaphor

NearlyOrthodoxI’ll start with a caveat- I’m not saying that I have this figured out. I’m just saying that the struggle is real.

When my book was published I spent far too many clicks of the refresh button checking out the sales ranking. I felt like the rats in those experiments we read about in High School, the ones who had their pleasure centers stimulated every time they pressed a certain button. The rats would forgo food and water in order to press that button hour after hour, day after day. Sometimes they would die from it. I pressed the button. Sometimes the reward was there, sometimes it was a punch in the gut. That’s hard to take on an empty emotional stomach, I’ll tell you.

Now that Nearly Orthodox has been on the shelves for almost a year I don’t refresh as often but I do still refresh, hoping for…

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Once more on Mother’s Day

Mrs. Metaphor

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I am thankful, finally, as I approach Mother’s Day this year. Generally I’m known for being a little, let us say, cranky, about the holiday that Hallmark made. I have historically set expectations high or set too low or have ruminated too long on the past or the future of this Mother’s Day thing.

This year I’m approaching the struggle from another direction, trying to stay rooted in the present and in gratitude. I think it’s possible I might be maturing but don’t hold me to that.

I’ve been spending some time on a little social media platform called Prose lately. It’s kind of a sweet way to get writing prompts when I need ’em and to see what other people are coming up with out there. I’d say it’s like Twitter for writers. You should check it out. I’m MrsMetaphor over there (and everywhere, really.)

In honor of Mother’s…

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For those who have fallen- Lenten Regrets

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“Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.”
-St John Chrysostom

It is always here, in the dark of Good Friday just before Pascha, that I find all the regret I have stored up over the years. It’s a pressing lie, heavy and persistent. It sounds right to me in the dark. It sounds reasonable and clear, repeating over and over,
“I should have…”
-given more
-prayed more
-attended more
-listened more
-fasted more

I’m always falling short. This is the reality of it.

And yet as I sit here struggling to put together some thoughts and make some weird sense of it all, I find I am at a loss and maybe that’s the right thing. I type and backspace and type again only to delete the whole mess later. Perhaps it’s right that there are no good words here in the dark. Perhaps there is only the loss, the sense of the deep dark pressing in until at last we let it go in lighting those candles at midnight on Pascha.

I’m willing to be there and do that, putting aside regret as St John Chrysostom might advise so that I can enter in once again to the darkened church, to the spreading of the candle light from one faithful to another, to the heat that builds into the joyous moment when we’ll finally say, “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!”

That’s my favorite part of the night, I confess. It’s my favorite thing to watch my priest break into a near run as he shouts this phrase in English, in Russian, in Greek. We respond then with all of our breath. It’s been a long Lenten road. We’ve done what we can and then some. We’ve waited and we’ve fasted and we’ve prayed and we’ve attended and here we are then, out of the darkness and shouting for joy in the light.

It’s overwhelming on all sides, in the waiting, in the fasting, in the prayer, in attending and in the shouting and the light. Thanks be to God, we’re more than the sum of our parts here. Thanks be to God, He is risen. Indeed He is risen.

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Charity.

If you’re online, into social media and Orthodox you might already have heard about the sudden loss of Fr Matthew Baker from Norwich, CT. I did not know Fr Matthew but a number of my online acquaintances did know and love him. I am struck by the terrible loss his passing brings in the lives of his friends and his beautiful family. I cannot even imagine the space he leaves and how his wife and six children (who are still young) will cope.

It brings to my mind an aspect of Lent that I often overlook, that of charity. I’m willing to whine about the fasting and grouse about the prayer but I do them anyway. Charity escapes me far too often. It’s convenient to be forgetful about this particular bit of the Lenten practice. What’s striking about this aspect though is how it focuses outward rather than inward. I’m down with the sacrificial and cleansing parts of Lent, the parts that have to do with getting “me” all squared away, but this charity part is another thing altogether.

The root of the word charity is interesting. It comes from the Latin, “carus” meaning “dear” and not surprisingly serves as the root for another word, “care.” While all the aspects of Lent are for the benefit of soul and spirit, this aspect, this “care” means that I am required to look beyond my own boundaries. If you, like me, are looking for a way to show some carus this Lenten season, here’s one way you can do that.

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Watching the outpouring of donations and support for Fr Matthew’s family is incredible. It gives me a lot of hope for the crazy bunch of humans on this planet. What a tremendous show of care. I hope that you’ll take a moment to consider adding your care as well. If not, at least sit up and take notice of those around you who are in need of care. There’s no shortage of need in this world, that’s for sure.

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