Monday, March 30, 2009

St. Melangell

One of the many treasures Orthodoxy has brought to my life has been the doorway to the lives of the saints.  Before discovering the ancient faith, I had only a vague notion

 of those men and women whose lives shone forth the light of Christ.  

Nowadays I am introduced to a new saint on a regular basis.  Sometimes through church or Ancient Faith Radio or a book I’m reading.  Occasionally I find someone new while surfing the net perusing the latest works of my favorite artists.  With each new discovery I find such interesting tidbits and places to include on that “Must See!”  list.  

While browsing Patricia Banker’s latest pieces (pictured above), the beautiful illustration and story of Saint Melangell (pronounced Mel - eng - eth) captivated me.    She is a 7th century saint from Wales that renounced her royal heritage to live in the forest and devote her days to prayer and solitude.  

As the traditional story is told, she fled from her father when pressed to marry and settled in Pennant, at the head of the Tanant Valley in Northern Wales.  There she lived for 15 years in solitude until she was discovered by the Welsh Prince, Brochfael Ysgithrog while he was hunting in the area.   As his hounds pursued their prey, the frightened hare ran to St. Melangell and hid in the folds of her garment.  The hounds were quiet and refused to snag the hare, much to the amazement of the prince.  

Prince Brochfael was so moved by her beauty, purity and love for God that he asked her to marry him.  When she refused, he gifted her with a large parcel of land to be used as a monastery and sanctuary for people and animals.  This area became known as Pennant Melangell and the beautiful saint became Abbess of a religious order there.  Pilgrims still visit this sacred area even to this day.  

According to the St. Melangell’s Church website, there has been a christian church in this area of the Berwyn Mountains for over 1200 years.  St. Melangell’s Church (pictured below), a simple Norman structure, has been beautified over the years with the most recent rebuilding being completed in 1990.   With the blend of Celtic and Romanesque motifs, 15th century carvings, bronze statuary and a natural outdoor landscape with ancient Yew trees, I could breathe in this piece of heaven for several days. 

St. Melangell remains the patron saint of hares and other small animals as well as the natural environment.  In Wales, St. Melangell's feast day is celebrated on May 27th; the ancient feast day is marked as January 31st.

Other related links of interest:  Saints Preserved

and Saints Mary & Martha Orthodox Monastery

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Green Bank, Paper Airplanes and Litmus Paper

A Tribute to an Incredible Boy

Last Tuesday, on St. Patrick’s Day, I spent a beautiful day with our son.  He had advanced to the Regional Math Field Day, held at NRAO in Green Bank, WV this year and what a privilege it was for me to be part of this special event!

We began our day around 5:00 am, in order to have breakfast and make the 3 hr. drive north.  The sights were spectacular on Route 92, with dense fog lifting slowly to allow brilliant shafts of morning light to accentuate the tidy farmhouses along the highway.  The air was crisp and while Ben snoozed in the seat beside me, I savored my coffee and the rolling landscape that offered a new discovery around every bend.

Ben is such a neat kid, often quiet, but thoughtful and usually trying to figure out how things work.  He has been this way since he was a toddler and one of our favorite stories is of him at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.  We were on a tour of the historic sights and while my husband & I were listening to the guide in the courtyard of the Governor’s Palace, Ben was apart from our group a little bit, standing over a grated drain inlet  with his hands resting on bent knees.  As he peered  intently down that dark shaft, we walked over and said, “What are you doing?”    Without looking up, he continued to study and then our almost 3 yr. old said, “Water down there..”  “Where does it go?”

I love his inquisitiveness and his ability to understand systems and mechanics.  Math and science seem to come easy to him and I am thankful for his gifts.  When he was selected for the County Math Field Day, he barely said a word about it.   And when he placed 3rd at that level, he didn’t want me talking about it.  He considers praise annoying ...and embarrassing if it’s done in front of others.  I admire this quality in him, although it’s been a learning curve for me, as I like to give praise and pats on the back. In talking with other moms, I’m finding this trait common in boys.

At the Observatory, the students tested from 10:15 am to about 3:15 pm with 5 parts to the field day:  Quantity Estimation, Group Activity, Written Test, Mental Estimations and Relays.  The folks at the NRAO were wonderful hosts; providing breakfast items and beverages and also a full lunch for everyone.  The day went smoothly and while Ben was testing, I enjoyed a tour of the Observatory and then sitting in my van, soaking up the sunshine and reading some favorite hymns and prayers of St. Patrick.

All in all, it was a great first experience for the both of us.  And, even though he didn’t earn an award at the end of the day, he said he enjoyed the challenges and would try to go again next year. 

Among Ben’s hobbies, he enjoys making paper airplanes.  He has a book that shows how to make a variety of plane types and more recently, he discovered a website that includes video on how to make even more styles.  When he told us at dinner one night that he could make a rocket out of paper, my husband smiled at him and said, “If you can make a rocket out of paper, you’ll probably work for NASA”.  “I’ll show you” was Ben’s only reply.

And so, after dinner, we watched him take a spherical object he had fashioned out of paper, which included many tucks and folds, outside to the patio.  With a lighter in hand, he placed the small flame near a hole in the paper and WHHHOOOOSHH, it took off across a distance of about 4 feet and did not consume the paper.  We all applauded and asked if he could do it again!  He beamed as he demonstrated his craft a second time.

Ben is also knowledgeable about the fish in his care.  I have finally learned to stop fussing and asking if he remembered to feed them because he has shown me time and again that he is on top of it.  As he was cleaning the tanks one day, I observed from a distance that he was measuring and calculating something, as the bathroom counter looked more like a science lab rather than a place to brush your teeth and comb your hair.   Peering over his shoulder, I saw that he had made his own paper strips to test the pH of the water in his tanks.  “Oh, Ben, made your own pH paper?!”  I asked in wonder.

“It’s called litmus paper, mom” was his matter of fact reply.  It was no big deal to him; he needed to know the pH of the water and so, found a solution.  Simple.
What is nonchalant to him is incredible to me.  I admire this child and am thankful to be him mom. 

"May God grant Ben many, many years, enable him to use his gifts to glorify God's name and grow him in Truth and obedience always."

*Photograph is from the NRAO website.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Awake O Sleeper

As I sit here smelling the sweet Nazareth incense from Holy Cross Monastery, my thoughts are on St. Benedict and his Rule. I’ve written about this mighty saint before, but as we are in Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, I find his counsel most appreciated.

Great Lent is a time of increased fasting, prayer and almsgiving, a lean season that balances on the hope of springtime, renewal, and celebration in our Risen Saviour. I do not just want to go through the motions of Lent, I wish to experience Christ, to know the Pascal mystery in a real and intimate way. And through my efforts I am reminded daily of my weaknesses. I eat too much. I ponder too much and waste time too much. I yearn for discipline and yet, on a whim, will snag a second...or fourth Oreo. And these are just the petty things.

A much larger weak spot is my fear of flying. I joke about myself that I pray more on airplanes than any other time in life, but in truth, it’s a real fear that I have to deal with from time to time and it’s BIG, UGLY and RELENTLESS.  

St. Benedict says to “keep death daily before your eyes” (4.47) which I find an easy course when embarking on a plane, but he also says “Look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (49.7) How may I have joy while also contemplating my mortality?

The Christian life is filled with such seemingly contradictory maxims: “ You must lose your life to find it” “Through death, death was destroyed” “By Christ, we are made strong through our weakness” and “Rejoice through suffering, being thankful for our trials”. My quest in reading St. Benedict’s Rule is learning how to live in contradiction, how to be a peaceful pilgrim in this noisy world.

As I face my fear of flying, I realize that I’m led to a place of great vulnerability.  A place I would altogether avoid if circumstances were different. I am awake, attentive to my mortality and roused from a comfortable slumber. I realize how much I desire the mighty wings of God and how illusory is my control in life.

“The promise of the Kingdom is not that we shall escape the hard things, but that we shall be given grace to face them, to enter into them, and to come through them. The promise is not that we shall not be afraid. It is that we need not fear fear.” - Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality

In hindsight, what a blessing to confront this weakness head-on for this is exactly where Christ meets us.  As I continually prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” my thoughts changed from an irrational torrent to a calm river of hope.  Through my vulnerability, living waters flowed . can I not embrace these occasions of spiritual growth?

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