Memories of God


When you convert to a new faith, you leave everything behind. You are not a refugee, with $200 and two pieces of luggage. You weren’t forced to leave a country you love. You chose to leave a country you could no longer love. You are gone.

No doubt, everyone’s conversion is different. Life has taught me, in hundreds of big a little ways, that people are like snowflakes – there really are not EVER any two exactly alike. So I won’t speak for your conversion, or their conversion, or any other conversion but mine.

Conversion never ends. At first, it’s a decision. There’s a long road to the decision, and a long road away from it. You can’t see ahead on this road. You can only see the two footprint-sized parts of the road you are standing on right now, this minute.
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“But nothing I can post!”

A friend wrote on Facebook recently, “There is so much going on in my life, but nothing I can post about!”

Too true. Every moment, something is happening. Someone is speaking, thinking, fighting, playing, singing, crying, praying. All the someones in each someone’s life. My life is a crowd of people, and my mind is a crowd of ideas, and my figurative desk is a crowd of projects and plans. But how many of these things get “posted”?

Social media has made our world SO much more public than it once was. In common with no other generation in human history, it is now possible for us to know exactly when someone on the other side of the planet painted a bookcase or took a shower. We’ve seen the home movies of people we don’t know and will never meet. We’ve commented on conversations it would be physically impossible for us to hear.

Privacy used to happen by default. It wasn’t possible to “tell the world” unless you chanced to be famous and powerful. But it is possible now, and that means that every event becomes a choice – do I share this? Because sharing isn’t something you do with a friend over teacups. It’s something you lose control of instantly, something you can’t ever take back.

We all know how many internet users have no “filters”. People worldwide say things online every second (every millisecond, every nanosecond) that many could never manage to say out loud in front of even a house plant.

There are still people who DO think twice about spreading the intimacy of daily existence all over the social front page. That’s a good thing. But in the face of the implacable deluge going on around us, the choice not to share can feel stressful, burdensome.

Sharing can be a release, but when sharing is, perforce, an international event, it’s often inappropriate, or plain embarrassing. It may violate a confidence, spread a rumor, destroy a career…so much power hanging on such a tiny compulsive action. Tap, tap, tap, click. POW. Busted.

It’s like being the only sober person at a dinner party. The more intoxicated your fellow guests become, the more exhausting it is to remain sober.

But it’s worth the effort. What’s more, it’s worth the effort to remember that the absence of sharing does not connote any real absence. A lack of Facebook posts, a blog that hasn’t been updated, a Twitter silence…all these can and do mask real-life human activity. All of them. No matter how much we know, there will always be more that we don’t know. Always.


The Garden Poem

This poem has been murmuring in my mind all week. Just a stanza, actually, and looking it up, I discovered the rest of the poem. Which struck me as quite Lenten, or Paschal. Here it is.

God’s Garden

The Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there an angel warden
In a garment of light enfurled.

So near to the peace of Heaven,
That the hawk might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.

And I dream that these garden-closes
With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
And their lilies and bowers of roses,
Were laid by the hand of God.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,–
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

For He broke it for us in a garden
Under the olive-trees
Where the angel of strength was the warden
And the soul of the world found ease.

–Dorothy Frances Gurney
I found it here, in a tantalizing collection of poetry, all just waiting to be clicked on and read.

Sin and Suffering

In my small study of Orthodoxy, I have seen many wise words on the salvific nature of suffering, on the fruits of suffering and the great spiritual good that may come of it, if rightly understood.

But I have not heard much about the pitfalls of suffering, and I have come to believe that these are many.

These are only my thoughts, and I am certain that some Holy Fathers I have not yet studied have said these things more wisely and completely.

I think that Satan uses our sufferings against us. I think he waits till we are hurt and then sticks our sins to our pain the way infection attacks an open wound. Certainly our first response to the hurt may be healthy, just as the immune system springs into action when we are physically injured. But over time, the injury makes us vulnerable. We have fewer personal resources to fight against evil because we are so taken up by the pain we are feeling. We feel justified in letting other aspects of our life slide, especially our spiritual struggles, because we are suffering. We think someone somewhere should cut us some slack because we have been hurt. We feel like it is not our fault that we are sinning because the sins seem connected to the pain and seem to be the result of the pain, which after all was not of our making. We didn’t ask to be hurt, so why should we have to suffer additionally to fight off the results of this imposed injury? It becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between a healthy response to injury and a resentful, lasting anger that harms us more than it can ever harm the object of it.

In addition, we become the object of another kind of attack. We begin to see the suffering as our identity. We feel (and our society often encourages this delusion) that we are the sum total of what we have suffered, that without our pain, we have no meaning as human beings, that we are only lovable if we can be pitied in some way, that it is only because we have been broken and harmed that we are in any way special or worthy of care and attention.

What is so insidious about this attack is that there are grains of truth mixed into it, so it is easy to find something true and understandable about our feelings and use this facet to justify the illusion and sickness that hide behind the plausible façade.  It is human to long for comfort when you have been hurt. It is human to feel anger toward people who harm you. It is human to wish for even a momentary rest from your burdens. And when we say that it is not fair that we have to struggle when we are already suffering, we are right. It is not fair. But Satan does not play fair.

Pain can become a habit, and pain is inherently self-centered. When you are in pain, it is extremely difficult to focus on anything but the pain itself. It is difficult to believe that it will ever end or that anything else matters as much as the intensity of the present suffering.

So where does this all leave us?  It can leave us disabled. It can leave us caught between exhaustion from carrying the burden of our hurt and reluctance to let it go because we do not know whom we would be without it.

Do You Need Ordination?

A friend’s teenage daughter recently asked us how she could respond to peers at school who told her the Orthodox Church is sexist because it doesn’t ordain women. Inevitably, we began to discuss why it doesn’t.

My ignorance of the church’s theological stance on this subject is quite vast. I offered her the very basic answer I use myself: Jesus picked the first 12 “priests,” the apostles, and all of them were men. We’re the apostolic church, so we do the same thing: we pick men. Q.E.D.

But that doesn’t answer the larger question: Why did Jesus pick only men?
There are obvious answers to this, such as the culture in which His apostles would have to operate. Men had a much better chance of being received and heard in leadership roles at that time. As human beings, let alone as leaders, women in Jesus’ time could hardly be said to exist.

But how concerned was Jesus with the prevailing culture? How many scandalous and impossible things did He do Himself? He hobnobbed with unacceptable people on a regular basis, and He announced His resurrection first to women, the invisible and powerless. The Holy Fathers teach that He chose to announce His resurrection to women first because He wanted to change their status in the world. Add to this the fact that the one human being ever chosen to be blood-related to Him was a woman, and you would have a hard time arguing that Jesus was a chauvinist.

It is important to recall that in the Orthodox Church, all believers are ordained into the Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) at baptism. In that sense, both genders are ordained equally in the eyes of God and of the church. There are no “laypeople” in Orthodoxy.

Traditional arguments in favor of ordaining only men often center on qualities that men are perceived to have, credentials for the position that are somehow linked to gender. Only men, it is argued, are able to do this job. This suggests that men do the job because the church needs men to do the job.

Something about this argument feels backward to me. Gender could not be more than one facet of the dynamic and beatific cycle that is ordination. Ordination is a sacrament. So is taking the Eucharist. Would anyone argue that the Eucharist needs us to take it? By definition, isn’t it the recipient of a sacrament that stands in need?

No one can know the mind of God, but as I pondered, I began to wonder if men are ordained because men need to be ordained. Women have spiritual needs as well, but it is possible that they may be different from the spiritual needs of men, at least in some respects. Perhaps God fills the needs of women in other ways. Perhaps there is some need specific to men that is filled by the ordination of a male priesthood.

There’s no way to know. But I wonder. Odds are, God is not considering most issues from the same angle that we are.

In the meantime, I suggested to our friend’s daughter that she ask her Protestant friends how many of their churches have large icons of a woman displayed prominently at the front of the sanctuary. Mary, the mother of God, the beloved intercessor for all men and women, is remarkably absent from the Protestant world. Is the ordination of women really the final proof that sexism has been vanquished?

Response to Tree Change Dolls

One of the most fascinating things about Tree Change Dolls is the response to them.  On the day I discovered them, the Facebook page had 23,000+ likes. I checked again at intervals, during the day, and every time, there were about 10,000 more likes. Today, three days later, there are 84,580.

The comments were my favorite part – the dolls look happy, the dolls look like my children’s friends, and (the best) “The dolls look like you gave them back their childhood.”

The rapid, overwhelmingly positive (even emotional!) response to these dolls, world-wide, says a LOT.

A lot about toys – who’s selling them, and to whom? How could a Bratz doll possibly be a good idea? Who is the person who thought it was? Why did so many people believe this person and buy the dolls?

A lot about women – women are buying the Bratz dolls, women are hating the Bratz dolls, women are LONGING for Tree Change dolls for their daughters and even for themselves. Women are still, after centuries, struggling against the disintegrating apathy of that losing fight to be equally human, equally valued in their natural state.

A lot about problems – what Sonia is doing seems simple and obvious, now that she’s thought of it and showed us how she did it. It’s not high-tech, or expensive, and although her artistic skills are a gift, the project itself can be done by someone who isn’t as talented. Why didn’t it occur to us before? How can the weight of a cultural trend become so heavy? If we are so relieved to see it shattered, why must we allow it in the first place? Why didn’t we all think of this, on the very first day the very first Bratz doll came out?

But perhaps the most thought-provoking response came to me from someone I know, who said, when he heard about the dolls, that it’s not that easy when it’s a person – not a doll – that you are trying to rescue. We all want the darkness washed away, don’t we? You’d think so, until you actually tried to help someone who needed the help.

I don’t argue that. Not at all. Never forget that if solving the problem were simple, the problem would already be solved.

I think that explains the powerful response to Sonia, rescuing one little doll at a time.

We wish it could happen for us that way. We wish we could heal our loved ones so simply, so gently, and so completely. We wish that we ourselves could be so well healed.

So we click on Sonia’s video and watch her do it again – watch her wash the make-up off the tiny face, paint the eyes, and the smile, and the freckles, watch her mom knit the tiny sweater and sew the tiny skirt, and we see the recreated doll sitting in the grass in Sonia’s garden. Sitting there for all of us who wish we could make it to that place ourselves. Clothed and in our right mind. In the garden.