Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Brigid's Feast today!

Well, it's a lovely snowy morning here in Appalachia, a perfect day to be in the kitchen cookin' up a favorite meal for my family. We're honoring St. Brigid today, Mary of the Gael, whose generosity and hospitality I seek to emulate.

The boxty pancakes were such a hit last year, we'll be making this again along with a few extra items. Our menu includes:
Spring Herb Quiche
Beacan Bruith
Boxty Pancakes and
Curach Irish Oatmeal Yogurt Parfaits (which my 8 yr. old daughter gleefully volunteered to make)
Irish Black Tea

"On St. Brigid's Eve every farmer's wife in Ireland made a cake called bairin-breac, the neighbours are invited, the madder of ale and the pipe go round, and the evening concludes with mirth and festivity." - Colonel Vallencey, Essay on the Antiquity of the Irish Language, 1781

You may enjoy this video by a charming Irish lady, demonstrating how to make a St. Brigid's Cross.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

God Bless the Little Ones

For all the shock and heartache brought about by the diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma and the subsequent regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, my 2 year niece has not lost her brilliant smile or her ability to touch someone’s heart.

She has a PIC line in order to receive the weekly doses of chemo which must be flushed with water on a daily basis for hygienic purposes. Upon a recent visit with Grandma, she stopped playing when her mommy indicated it was time to flush the line. This little blonde bundle of joy looked up, smiling, at her Grandma and said, “Well, it’s time to give Jesus a drink”

“What do you mean?” asked Grandma

In her matter-of-fact-way, she replied, “my PIC goes to my heart.. an’ Jesus lives in there..”

"Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

St. Matthew 19:13,14

*painting was found here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Anomalies: Looking toward Great Lent

Back in the day, as I was going through my college anatomy & physiology courses, one element in particular kept coming to the forefront in these and related classes: identifying “normal” structures. As a dental hygiene student, we had many classes associated with head & neck anatomy, the oral cavity and of course, tooth composition. In fact, we received so much instruction on “normal” tooth composition and function that even as I slept at night, my dreams were filled with visions of teeth!

It wasn’t obvious until our clinical work just how valuable this repetitive training was. By learning -thoroughly- what is “normal” ,when an anomaly does occur, it’s identified immediately.

Maybe fasting is not so unlike this training... maybe fasting provides a clear vision as to what is “normal” according to God, thereby equipping us to immediately recognize the stain of sin on our souls.

As we Orthodox Christians prepare for the Great Fast, the 40 days prior to Pascha (Easter), my thoughts have been inward, thinking about my own challenge during this time of spiritual renewal, increased prayers and almsgiving. It’s no secret that fasting is a challenging aspect of my spiritual life. Even though, at times, I have experienced the spiritual fruit of this practice, each occasion first challenges my attitude followed by my stubborn will. I frequently fail. It’s a climb worth making, but oh how I complain about that first step!

The Church proscribes a strict fast from certain foods (meat, dairy, fish, wine & oil) during Great Lent; personally, I add to these foods “indulgences” in my daily life. Since I am an info-junkie (reading online news, articles, blogs, reviews, music, etc. also facebooking), I’ve realized that my justification ie, being informed on various topics, is really just a selfish excuse. And so, my online time is being reduced this Lenten season, in favor of more time in prayer and reading Holy Scripture.

By eliminating some fluff in my daily life, I pray that my vision will change, that Christ will renew my spirit and prepare my heart for Pascha. That I will recognize sin & temptation as it creeps up in my thoughts and stop justifying my selfishness.

Lord have mercy and grant me self-control!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Across a Dark and Wild Sea: a book review

Published by Roaring Brook Press, Hardcover, 32 pages.

This children’s book, written and illustrated by Don Brown was added to our home library in 2009 and is proving to be a favorite choice at bedtime. This is my favorite kind of children’s book: educational for the adult- with a full page of author’s notes- as well as the child with watercolor illustrations on each page to aid the story. The artwork is aptly suited to this tale in the midst of the Dark Ages, lending a sense of the precarious life by the sea in 6th century Ireland.

The story is about one of Ireland’s revered saints, Columcille (Kolum kil), which means “Dove of the Churches”; he is also known by the Latin form of his name, Columba. It is Columcille that founded the famous monastery on Iona and kindled the love of Christ among the native Picts.

Across A Dark and Wild Sea taught me something new about Columcille; his love of books and diligent work as a scribe. My kids & I both enjoyed the detailed information regarding how manuscripts were made in the 6th century. It gave us pause to consider a world without easy access to books and information and the sense of achievement one must have had after spending months -or even years- copying a cherished manuscript. I appreciated the author differentiating bits of legend from history and think it’s a great addition to a home or church library; particularly well suited for children aged 7 to 12 years.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Memory of Eden: thoughts on pornography & sacredness of marriage

...”we are born with a distant memory of Eden..” , this thought, from a recent book, has remained with me as it points to a reality hard to define.

What in us longs for beauty, for purity? What in us battles against defilement of sin? If we are created in the image of our Maker, does this memory provide a path toward virtue?

Years ago, as we sat around the lunch table at work, my colleague remarked that she had gifted her husband with a subscription to Penthouse. “Really?” was all I could muster in my incredulity. How is it that this was a fitting gift from a wife to husband? A steady flow of erotic images to fill her husband’s mind? Our break was soon over and I was left to ponder the reason of the wife, simply that her husband liked the magazine and she wanted to purchase it for him.

This was years ago and I’ve lost contact with most of the gals I used to work with..and still I wonder, does she know, does any woman know what is sacrificed when pornography enters the sacrament of marriage?

And currently, we can scarcely get through a month without reading headlines about another famous man down, fallen to the demons of lust. It isn’t just the wives who suffer under such conditions, the men suffer too, for they have freely rejected a treasure from God.

In our culture, although pornography is a multi-billion dollar business, with over 2 billion being made on the internet alone*, for the most part, it remains a taboo topic among Christians. It is truly the silent lion ...devouring millions who would show to the world a delightful face while the soul is decaying to the core. According to “Healing for the Soul” website:

“secular and religious sources reveal that porn is now as American as Apple Pie, and has found a place in every corner of our society, including the church.”

Indeed, Christian believers are not immune from the destruction ...57% of pastors say that addiction to pornography is the most sexually damaging issue to their congregations.**

C.S. Lewis wrote about a fictional society where, if multitudes gathered to watch a “strip-tease” of food.. or the slow uncovering of a juicy mutton chop, what might we conclude about that society? One critic noted that he would conclude the society was starving to death. He implied that such things as the strip-tease resulted not from sexual corruption, but from sexual starvation- a complete absence of sexual purity. (Mere Christianity pp 96-97) As I read the statistics on pornography in the U.S., I cannot help but agree. We are a sexually starved people through either willful neglect, apathy or ignorance toward that beauty of Eden. For who could know of that pure memory and not cherish it, safeguard it entirely?

I’ve heard women say, [about pornography] “it’s a aid to sex in my marriage” But this is a lie from satan, the great deceiver. What pornography actually does is create a gulf between husband & wife spiritually, if not physically as well. It brings to the marriage bed falseness, shame, guilt, lies and sorrow. It invites the corruption of hell and our culture opens the door willingly.

God created the sacrament of marriage to bring a man and woman together in unison, in one flesh, to draw us closer to Him. Let me say that again...the union of man & woman in holy matrimony pleases and is instituted by God (Matthew 19:6). Indeed, there is nothing sinful, vile or shameful about sex within marriage - just the opposite is true. Proverbs 5 tells us of the pitfalls of looking for intimacy outside the bonds of marriage and conversely, the joy and exhilaration - in beautiful imagery of flowing waters- to be found with your spouse.

The purity with which God has gifted us in this way is complete and in no need of adornment. Do we need to look further for proof of this than His Word, in particular, the Song of Songs? Where else in Holy Scripture do we have such richness given to us of the love and intimacy between a husband & wife?

“For your love is better than wine, and the smell of your ointments is better than all spices....”

“I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. Come, my beloved, let us go out into the country, let us spend the night in the villages, let us rise early and go to the vineyards;

Let us see whether the vine has budded and its blossoms have opened, and whether the pomegranates have bloomed. There I will give you my love. The mandrakes have given forth fragrance; and over our doors are all choice fruits, both new and old, which I have saved up for you, my beloved.” verses from Song of Songs ( Song of Solomon, NASB)

Such a rich gift from our Heavenly Father, to man & wife... who could know of this gift and receive it not?

*top image, celtic art was found here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Well, today is the 2nd day for our kids to be out of school because of the snow and frigid temps ~ that equals 12 days of vacation including the Christmas/New Year break! A great deal of time was spent this morning watching the juncos, black-capped chickadees, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, wrens, finches, nuthatches, tufted titmice ...and one squirrel feasting on seeds.

The wren & chickadee seem to be the only ones to go for our stringed popcorn...

Time well spent =-)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Praying in the new year with St. Panteleimon

Happy New Year to all my pals in the blogosphere =-)

December proved to be a month of emotional highs and lows, with a healthy dose of deadlines thrown in for good measure. My time was divided between work and family and one family member in particular has occupied our hearts and minds over these past 5 weeks.

My 2 year old niece was diagnosed with a malignant tumor at the beginning of the month and subsequently, undergone many tests and two chemotherapy treatments. It’s a hard time for the family and yet, as my sister will attest, it’s also been a season of unexpected gifts of compassion.

Never before has my sister and her family been in a position to receive such generosity and love from others... it is nothing short of amazing to be at the local grocery or post office when someone approaches to say, “How is your niece?” ...or “Isn’t it your sister’s little one who is on our church prayer list? How is she doing?”

Between the internet and instant messages to church prayer lists/chains, news of my sweet niece traveled faster than beauty shop gossip. I know she has prayer warriors out there lifting her name to our merciful God from Florida to Chicago to California and probably beyond.

One of those prayer warriors is Holy Great-Martyr St. Panteleimon, a physician and healer during his time on earth in the early 4th century. A group of friends & I made our way to Holy Cross Monastery recently and went to a moleben (mo LEH ben) to St. Panteleimon, asking for his intercessory prayers for my niece among others who are ill and suffering.

A moleben, a Russian term, is a service of thanksgiving and supplication in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Theotokos or a particular saint or martyr. In Orthodoxy, we believe that those who die believing and following Christ are not dead, but alive in Christ, worshipping Him in heaven and interceding for us on earth. Just as we would ask a friend to pray for us when we’re ill, so, too, we ask the saints in heaven to please pray for us!

The service was so beautiful... I wish I had photos to share, but it was not the time or place to be making pictures. It was a time for reverence and quiet and prayer. We lit the long beeswax taper candles and placed them in front of St. Panteleimon’s icon and then stood for the remaining minutes of the service.

Fr. Seraphim led the moleben while a monk and novice added harmonious refrains of “Lord have mercy” as well as St. Panteleimon’s Kontakion and readings from the Holy Gospel. While the names of our loved ones were called out through the service, I noticed the beauty of the candlelight upon the brass casings and how the sunlight, even on a cold wintry day, came into the church like a warm embrace of our Heavenly Father. There is no place on earth I would rather have been at that hour. We concluded the service by venerating a relic of St. Panteleimon and being anointed with holy oil by Fr. Seraphim.

It is that peace, that hope and love in Christ Jesus that I wish for you during our new year.

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