Wednesday, March 31, 2010


The pinkish-purple, bell-shaped flowers of the spikenard plant grow in the Himalayas of China, India and Nepal. I’m guessing it was from India that the fragrant distilled oil of this plant came to be used by Mary of Bethany when she washed Jesus’ feet (St. John 12) Spikenard, or Nard oil is very thick and aromatic, producing an earthy/musty scent; one can imagine the effect on the senses when she opened the clay, or perhaps alabaster, container to anoint his dusty feet.

I found it interesting to note that spikenard was also one of the essential oils used to produce incense to burn in the Temple of Jerusalem. According to Jesus’ own words, it must have also been used along with myrrh to cleanse and prepare bodies for burial.

Even today, women (and perhaps men, too) use this essential oil to scent and moisturize their hair and scalp and to promote feelings of tranquility and warmth. It is especially recommended by some aromatherapists for use in emotion pain, such as loss and grieving.

Perhaps some even use it to call to mind Mary’s humility and devotion to Christ as she let down her hair in the fashion of a servant.

Thank you, O Father of Lights, for Your gifts that bathe our senses in memory and worship of Thee.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Precious Gifts

A warm sun kissed the auburn hair of the little boy as he struggled to reach the magnolia blossom up so high. He had devised a tool, made from scattered parts found in the old garage, to clip a fragrant white flower that bloomed beyond his reach.

The spring wind whipped her red hair about her face and you could occasionally see the faint freckles peeking out from behind her locks. Her little legs would falter a bit, as she climbed the grassy hillside in search of a treasure.

A heavenly aroma of earth and dew intermingled with the robust smell of colombian coffee in my mug. I breathed in this morning, watching and wondering what discoveries the children would make today...

Soon he appeared and proudly explained his new tool; offering a gift for this special day. And quickly, she too, came bounding through the yard, holding a few daffodils and smiling from ear to ear...

“Happy Birthday mommy!” their voices shouted...

Another Magpie Tale for you! Read more creative writings...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Beacons: Hope in the World

beacon: n. signal fire, lit at well-known locations for navigation, or signaling the approach of enemy troops.

I’ve found myself in multiple conversations lately regarding monasticism. Honestly, it’s been a recurring theme ever since I converted to Orthodoxy in 2006. It seems as though much of the Protestant world, and those who claim no religion at all, frequently misunderstand the nature of this high calling of God.

The misconceptions include but are not limited to the following:

-monks think they can earn their salvation by their “works”

-monks abandon their service to the world to pursue selfish aims

-monks are “wasting” their lives

-monks are “out of touch” with the problems of the world

These claims could not be further from the truth.

Monastics are our beacons in this dark world, they give hope to the world by shining the Light of Christ most brilliantly.

* Monastics understand the violent corrupting nature of sin better than most of us lay persons because they enter into spiritual warfare daily.

* Monastics understand the power of prayer and diligently, daily pray for the world as well as individuals.

* Monasteries become centers of hope and illumination for communities; this is why many towns and cities built up around monasteries from days of old.

* Monastics, by example of their lives, give testimony to Jesus Christ and His enduring love for mankind.

* Monastics do not believe they “earn” salvation by works, but believe in the mercy of God for their salvation.

* Monasteries, and the holy people living within them, with the grace of God, transform places into holy ground.

* The number of active monasteries is a good indicator of a nation’s spiritual health.

* Monastics provide spiritual help and guidance to those in need; contrary to popular Protestant belief, they are most accessible and hospitable to those seeking Jesus Christ.

* Monks know the value of being still, ...a much needed lesson for us busy Americans.

Our Orthodox Monasteries around the world are holy places, daily engaging of the worship of God, providing spiritual direction, prayer & contemplation, healing, caring for and venerating precious icons, teaching us to be obedient in our life in Christ... they are our beacons of Light in this world.

Pray for our monastics,

Thank God for those answering this high calling...

If you cannot visit a monastery, a good way to share the essence of monasticism is to see the beautiful production, From the Little Mountain, made by the monks at Holy Cross Monastery. Read my review of From the Little Mountain.

Incidentally, one of my favorite scenes from the Lord of the Rings is the lighting of the beacons. I cannot watch this apart from tears because it so well represents the hope, the sustaining hope of Jesus Christ, lit in this world by monastics.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

O Canada, is 9 years too late to say, "Thank You"?

September 11, 2001 - we all know the tragic events of that fateful day. But do you know the story of the warm-hearted Canadians that came to the rescue of thousands of Americans the same day?

Hopefully you saw Tom Brokaw’s 40+ minute documentary of how Gander, (pop. 10,000) Newfoundland and Labrador stepped up in an enormous way to become a safe haven for 38 jets containing some 7,000 passengers that were grounded when America completely shut-down its air space following the attacks. This inspiring feature was broadcast during the Vancouver Olympics last month.

In case you didn’t see it, this is one to look up; maybe they’ll have portions of it available on YouTube soon. This is a feature I would purchase if it was available. It was a moving tale that left me disappointed to only be learning of it now.

For a small airport that generally handles only 8 domestic flights a day, landing 38 jumbo jets and accommodating 7,000 people (which nearly doubled the population) was a massive undertaking. All of these passengers had to be processed through immigration and taken to temporary shelters, as Gander’s hotel beds are quite limited. The passengers were bussed to schools, churches, legion halls - and what is more, much more, the residents of this most easterly province of Canada, went above and beyond the call of hospitality. They brought cots, blankets, pillows, clothes, cooked hams, casseroles, home-baked goods, bottled water, cell-phones, toys for stores gave products away, pharmacists refilled prescriptions at no cost... people were driven to local churches to pray...all passengers were accommodated with incredible generosity.

It really warms my heart to know this about my northern neighbors...and it makes me wonder why I never read a single headline about it in 2001.

Some of the passengers formed friendships that continue to this day ...and, when it was discovered that the residents of Gander would not accept money from the thankful multitude, a college scholarship fund was created. Would you believe $15,000 was pledged by Americans on the flight returning to the US after their heart-warming stay in Gander? That scholarship, for students in Gander, has now grown to over $900,000 and several of the stranded passengers from that horrific day in September ’01 have returned to visit their hosts and friends.

God bless you, Canada. Thank you for the generous care and grace you showed to our people...

...and, depending on how the healthcare vote goes tonight in the US, I’m wondering, would you welcome another family? ;-)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ballymorris Pottery

A very funny coincidence happened yesterday while at my mom’s house. For the past several years we have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day together by sharing a meal, sipping tea, watching QVC’s delightful St. Paddy’s Day show, and perusing her large photo album commemorating her trip to Ireland with Dad in 2001.

Sitting on the couch together, I held the album in my lap while mom leaned in close to look at a favorite photo... she & dad had traveled off the beaten path in County Clare, following little wooden signs to a small pottery barn, nestled among the rolling green hills. Her photo was of the owner & potter, Hannah Arnup, in her workshop, surrounded by rows of shelves containing her clay pieces ready to be fired. Hannah held in her stained hand one of the vases she had been working on, looking pleased with it. It was a quintessential shot, relaying that warm essence of a person who clearly loves what she does: working with her hands in the clay.

We spent 6 hours together, and it was at this exact moment, while looking at the photo of Hannah from Ballymorris Pottery, that a voice on t.v. soon caught my attention ~ it was Hannah! I looked down at the photo - then back to the screen where her name appeared at the bottom of the frame. She was debuting on QVC with her earthy Celtic Cross and Claddagh pottery to hang on the wall.

Her skilled hands craft beautiful pieces; some with a bit of whimsy! She had also made a cuckoo whistle that mom adored...

Hats off to you, Ms. Hannah Arnup; I think your work is lovely and a warm addition to any home. I hope Ballymorris Pottery did well with QVC and we hope to see you again next year!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Blessed St. Patrick's Day to you

“I was like a stone lying in the deepest mire; and then, he who is mighty came, and, in his mercy, raised me up. He most truly raised me on high and set me on top of the rampart”

St. Patrick

I’ve written about St. Patrick previously and Philip Freeman’s biography of this illuminator of Ireland. Today I wish for you God’s protection, wherever you may journey. This prayer for protection, known to the Celts as a lorica (Latin for breastplate) is spiritual armor, asking God to protect the body and soul just as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 6. There are many loricas we might pray, but perhaps it is fitting to pray the famous lorica of St. Patrick today, also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet 'Well done' in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Icon of St. Patrick was found here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Writer's Block

Empty mind

Naked limb

Creative light

A little dim...

Blank page

Looking on

Wooden hand

Muse gone...

Dark clouds

Release rain

Jumbled words

Scattered train...

Clearing skies

Colors bright,

Gripping pen

Love’s delight...

Blood flowing

Flesh reborn

Thoughts turning

Quiet morn...

Wood broken

Shattered dry

Flow returns

By and by.

© 2010 ALT

This is another Magpie Tale; a creative writing challenge.

(got a chuckle reading the comments @ Magpie Tales on this one...

glad I wasn't the only one whose mind was blank ...initially ;-) )

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Peacocks in the Catacombs

Byzantine mosiac

I don’t know how many of you dear readers may follow the blog of Michael Spencer, aka, Internet Monk; I’ve been reading his writings for a few years now. His posts often kept me updated with the happenings in the evangelical world and frequently spurred my investigative nature. Above all, Michael’s love of God shone through everything he wrote. And so, I was saddened recently to learn that he is losing his battle with cancer.

Making my way down the comment list on his blog before leaving a few foolish words of my own, a poignant remark leapt out at me: may your death be beautiful

Indeed. Those who love God, who have finished the race well, should look toward the heavenlies with

joyful anticipation! I have known several people who have had beautiful deaths, giving testimony to the presence of angels, the light of heaven, even Christ Himself, when opening the door to eternity.

The peacock, a potent symbol in christianity, comes to mind when I think of a beautiful death ... as it was this bird in particular that graced the walls of ancient catacombs where saints were laid to rest. The peacock, in all its splendid array, adorns the doorway to paradise.

I have found many answers in my quest about the significance of the peacock, one of my favorite stories comes from a Greek tradition that believes the peacock’s flesh did not decay, thus becoming a powerful symbol of eternal life. Consider this from St. Augustine in his City of God:

“For who but God the Creator of all things has given to the flesh of the peacock its antiseptic property? This property, when I first heard of it, seemed to me incredible; but it happened at Carthage that a bird of this kind was cooked and served up to me, and, taking a suitable slice of flesh from its breast, I ordered it to be kept, and when it had been kept as many days as make any other flesh stinking, it was produced and set before me, and emitted no offensive smell. And after it had been laid by for thirty days and more, it was still in the same state; and a year after, the same still, except that it was a little more shrivelled, and drier.”

Another symbolic interpretation highlights the “eye” patterns in the peacock’s tail feathers. These may represent the vault of heaven opened, ushering forth the sun, moon, and stars ...the cosmos in all its wonder.

Even through pain and grief, there is always hope in Christ our Lord and the peace of heaven. What a blessed reminder to see this unique bird clothed in the colorful garments of the Creator much more, then, does our Creator care for us?

May God bless those who weep, those who are battling illness and comfort them with the peace & glory of heaven.

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