Papouli once said…

“… these are things that belong to the grace of God. There is nothing of my own. God gave me many gifts, but I did not respond; I proved myself unworthy. But I have not abandoned my efforts, not even for a moment. Perhaps God will give me His help so that I can give myself to His love.

That’s why I do not pray for God to make me well. I pray for him to make me good.

It doesn’t concern me how long I will live or whether I will live. That is something I have left to God’s love. It often happens that you don’t want to remember death. It’s because you desire life. That, from one point of view, is a proof of the immortality of the soul. But whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

+St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, Wounded by Love
(I think it’s from the section “On Illness,” but I can’t remember)

O Cross of Christ, intercede on our behalf!

Rejoice, life-giving Cross of the Lord,
Thou never-conquered battle trophy of piety,
Support and staff of the faithful,
The wall surrounding the Church
And the door that leadeth unto Paradise;
Through Thee hath corruption been made to vanish and be no more,
Death’s mighty power hath been vanquished and swallowed up,
And we have been raised from earth to celestial things.
O truceless foe of demons, and our weapon invincible
Thou art the glory of martyrs and true adornment of all the Saints,
Calm port of salvation,
That which granteth the great mercy of God unto the world!

from the Vespers Aposticha of September 14, HTM translation

There was once a time when I thought that praying to the Cross was extremely weird. And on some level, I suppose I think it still is.

However, I also do not think it is possible to understand the power of the Cross, the meaning of the Cross, and even the Cross itself without praying to it.

The early Christian martyrs (and the early Christians generally) had a much different relationship with the Cross than we do now (at least in my estimation). The Cross was the gate to Paradise — first because the Cross mediated the death of the God-man Christ and thus made possible the Resurrection, and second because it is by imitating the Cross and embracing the sufferings of martyrdom that they themselves gained Paradise. The Cross has active power and grace. The Cross is the key and the ladder to Paradise.

If it doesn’t make sense to pray to the Cross, I encourage you to try, and to stick with it for a while. The hymn above is a good place to start; the two that follow it in the service are also addressed to the Cross. It is what I prayed when I thought the entire expedition and effort was stupid, and it totally transformed how I see the Cross.

Blessed feast day, friends! Through the intercessions of the Cross, may God grant us the strength to do our homework, go to our medical checkups, clean the kitchen, stand up to tyrants, defeat idols, and be kind to all people, Amen.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (review)

Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a novella by Thornton Wilder that opens with the bridge of San Luis Rey collapsing and sending five people to their deaths. The single witness to this event, Brother Juniper, decides at that moment to track down information on the lives of all of these people in order to prove scientifically the theological point that certain kinds of lives lead to certain kinds of deaths. He looks at the lives of Doña María (the Marquesa de Montmeyor) and Pepita, Esteban, and Uncle Pio and Jaime.

And I, who claim to know so much more, isn’t it possible that even I have missed the spring within the spring?

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Wilder weaves the tales of these characters together, tying them to each other through commonalities of place and acquaintance. The characters in the novella dance around each other, in and out of each others’ lives, sometimes directly and sometimes only barely, as through the friend of a friend.

She was one of those persons who have allowed their lives to be gnawed away because they have fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization. She hurled herself against the obstinacy of her time win her desire to attach a little dignity to women.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Overall: the writing in this book is absolutely phenomenal. It is lyrical, simple, terse, and elegant all at the same time. Wilder writes with clarity and with cutting truth, providing a painfully beautiful atmosphere in which he examines the impossible balance of predestination, divine intention, divine abandonment, and divine indifference.

All I can hope is that I do not end up like Brother Juniper.

Look at these incredible woodblock prints at the Cleveland Museum of Art inspired by The Bridge of San Luis Rey

This post is part of my 50 Classics in 5 Years series.

Bright Friday: the life-giving spring

Christ is risen!

What a wonderful Pascha this has been!

Lent was rough and Holy Week was (for me) horrible, but all that is washed away in the grace of the Resurrection.

With Bright Week comes abundant energy as well as abundant work, as the end of my first semester in grad school is drawing nigh and all of my papers and projects are due in the next two weeks. But this too is a joy; with God’s grace life goes on.

Now that the common Saviour of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfilment of the threat of the law. That condemnation has come to an end; and now that, by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away, we are loosed from our mortal bodies in God’s good time for each, so that we may obtain thereby a better resurrection. Like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish in our dissolution, but like them shall rise again, death having been brought to nought by the grace of the Saviour. That is why blessed Paul, through whom we all have surety of the resurrection, says: “This corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality; but when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?'”

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Section 21
(SVS Press, trans. by “a religious of C.S.M.V.”)

(I bet you didn’t think there would be such a marvelous quote about Pascha from On the Incarnation, did you?)

The main thing I have been learning on repeat this semester (particularly in my Dogmatics class, but also in Liturgics as well) is that everything, absolutely everything, that God does is for our salvation; that is, everything is directed at the restoration of us fools to His grace and participation in His incorruption. This is such a profound statement, and even writing it I know I cannot communicate the full force of what it means (and I honestly probably don’t even know the full force of what it means, because for that I would probably have to be a saint).

It is a wonder, a holy mysterious wonder, and I am so blessed to be able to study theology as I do.

Thank you all for your prayers. It is my hope and prayer that Christ and His Spirit (the Spirit and His Word), always ever present together with us, grant us the thirst that can never be quenched, except by the never-ending and life-giving spring of the grace of our God.

the close of February

St. John Cassian (the Roman): feast day 29 February, transferred to today, 28 February

February has been, of course, such a short month! Being in grad school means time flies by, moments skip on the surface of life, and Lent is somehow just around the corner again.

I have been knitting a lot; I am coming close to finishing a shawl I have been working on for a really long time (it is the Find Your Fade pattern by Andrea Mowry; I love her patterns and eventually want to make them all). I am really excited to finish the shawl because for once I am actually excited to wear something that I’ve made (that isn’t a hat!)

I have been reading a lot this year so far. I think that having a bunch of required reading (about a specific subject like theology) has ironically made reading non-theology books/novels seem so much more appealing! According to Goodreads, I’ve finished 13 books since the beginning of January, but they have all been very short and I truly do not believe in reading success as being counted by number of books read. It is still a bit of a marvel to me, though!

I’m really excited for Lent! The number of services on my calendar added with the classes listed feels a bit overwhelming, but with God’s grace everything is doable, and the services themselves usually help us do them. I’m trying to figure out if I should pick a book to read during Lent, or just let my theology reading suffice, and let the ascesis be in doing it with as much attentiveness as possible. As usual, the solution is to ask the priest (a most wonderful and generally safe method of conducting the spiritual life).

Good strength, everyone, for Lent and for all other aspects of life going on right now! It is sometimes helpful for me to remember that we do not in fact live in particularly remarkable times, we are not special in our afflictions, and that no matter what God is with us (we have a whole hymn about it in Great Compline). I hope that might ease any burden you might feel, knowing that we are never alone in anything, and that the angels and saints always surround us with their prayers.

Keeping the thought of God always present before you, this form of words for your devotions is ever to be put first: “O God, make haste to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.”

St. John Cassian, Selected Writings
(St. Paisius Monastery, 2000)

International Orthodox Christian Charities is doing relief work in Ukraine, I’m putting a link to donate if you can or are inclined to; I know things like this are going around the internet and you’ve probably seen a lot of requests for help, but these things do help relieve people’s very real suffering and it is something very tangible even if it is something small

-Odds & Ends-
A youtube channel I have been loving recently (her videos are so peaceful and beautiful and Christ-oriented)
If anyone is interested in resources for any kind of Byzantine studies, here is a link for a bunch of open access databases; I think my favorites are the Athos Digital Heritage one and the Manuscripts of St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, Library of Congress one (I would recommend exploring these if you have some time on your hands, these database websites can require a lot of clicking through)
Paraklesis to St. Paisios the Athonite, because we all need a lot of prayers for peace right now

Gaudy Night

Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night is not a novel one reads for entertainment. It is, perhaps, what one would call a slow burn; yet even this description does not fully encompass the semi-philosophical musings of a popular mystery writer contemplating the gains and losses of pursuing an academic life, all set in the warm embrace of what is ostensibly a Golden Age detective story.

Harriet Vane is not, in my opinion, a particularly interesting (or particularly empowering) character. I am not sure why in this novel, or in any of the novels featuring Lord Peter Whimsy and Harriet Vane, Miss Vane is such a weak character. On the one hand, Sayers portrays her as this brilliant and successful (if modest) mystery writer who can track clues (or drop clues, as the case may be) with the best of them, yet every time Harriet comes across a real-life mystery, she becomes completely inept and invariably needs Lord Peter to swoop in and rescue her. (This of course also becomes problematic because their relationship is inherently predicated on inequality, although I am not sure if Lord Peter picks up on this; Harriet is certainly aware, which just makes it worse.)

Now, I should say that I honestly do not mind a good damsel-in-distress trope, but in this context the use of the trope is completely baffling to me. The first Harriet Vane novel has a solid reason for Lord Peter to come in and use his mental prowess to exonerate Harriet of the murder charges levied against her, but every novel after the first one repeats the trope with progressively more questionable purpose.

Thus we come to the main point of the novel: women in academia. At the time Sayers wrote Gaudy Night, women were not allowed to maintain a career in academia and get married and have a family; the idea being that the one would detract from the more central purpose of the other. It is into this social context which Harriet arrives when she visits Oxford.

The main mystery of the novel seems not to be the mystery of the poison-pen but the mystery of Harriet Vane. Does she prefer the pursuit of her career, and potentially the transition from mystery writer to academic, thus barring herself from married life? Or would she prefer the married life, choosing to spend her days with Lord Peter, who is completely besotted with her? Sayers examines this question from many angles, which causes this already long novel to drag on seemingly forever.

I’m really not sure what Sayers is trying to accomplish with this novel. It’s not a terribly good mystery; resolving the question of the poison-pen seems to be completely forgotten as so much ink is spent on Harriet’s internal conflict. (Honestly, it reminds me of the end of Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead – the plot the reader cares about is resolved, the novel is done, but oh yeah there’s that one thread about that fleet sent by Starways Congress that we forgot about, oops.) The story is confusing and meandering; there are too many characters, settings fall in and out of relevance, and the tone floats between lighter narrative and heavier philosophical.

Yet despite all of this, I actually really enjoy this novel. I’ve read it twice (I’m not sure I will read it again, at least for a while), and while the first time I read it for the romance, the second time I read it for the reflections on academia. I always thought that academia was one of the better careers to have while also having a family and being a mother, but there are always sacrifices one has to make, and in the end, I don’t know if anyone will ever have a truly good answer for the balance needed to both work and have a family. Sayers, knowingly or unknowingly, points out through the plot the classism inherent in being an academic and having a family versus being the help and having a family – both are societal impositions, but the academics are supposed to give up family and the help are expected to be able to manage without much or any aid from the people who “create” their jobs. It is certainly thought-provoking, and in the end, I think that is the most succinct way I can review this book.

(This is post 4/50 for my 50 Classics in 5 Years challenge. Time left: 2 years, 6 months.)

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics): Cather, Willa:  9780679728894: Books

Men travel faster now, but I do not know if they go to better things.

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Willa Cather’s remarkable novel Death Comes for the Archbishop is a book I never thought I would pick up. If I remember correctly, I started reading My Antonia several years ago and couldn’t really get into it, so I put Cather aside and went a different way. Then, a friend reached out and wanted to reinstate an on-again-off-again book club that has clung to life for a few years now, and the book chosen for this iteration was Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Although I picked up the novel with reluctance, I was very quickly drawn into the story of the intertwined lives of Father (Bishop) Jean Marie Latour and his assistant and faithful friend Father Joseph Vaillant. What struck me most at first were the place names — it was so odd to be reading a “classic” novel that mentions the Pueblos of Pecos and Isleta and Taos; the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque and, later on in the novel, Denver. These are places I have grown up around and in; I have seen road signs for some of these towns and I have driven through others; their names are familiar and their landscapes are comforting.

I have no idea what it would be like to read this novel and not know in my bones what the land feels like in New Mexico, but I imagine that even from just Cather’s words one can pick up a clear sense of the land, in its harshness and its beauty. She can depict a landscape better than Tolkien, down to the sound a sunset makes. Similarly, she can capture a human soul in a few clear strokes, whether she is showing the simple faithfulness of an illiterate Catholic or the complex cultivation of an educated Cardinal.

Where there is great love there are always miracles.

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

In many ways, this book reads like a hagiography. It is a work of fiction, even if it is based on the actual bishop who was first sent to the New Mexico territory to take care of a burgeoning and unguided flock. And yet — Cather truly captures something of holiness in the struggles and sacrifices made by Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant as “the rivers of their tears cultivated the barrenness of the desert” (as the general apolytikion for an ascetic so beautifully says).

In a year when Bertrand Russell published his essay “Why I Am Not a Christian” and existentialism reached a peak in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, how could a small novel by an American author contain a line that better fits the Akathist to the Mother of God than it does contemporaneous literature?

The nursery tale could not vie with Her in simplicity, the wisest theologians could not match Her in profundity.

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

You should read this book.

(This is 3/50 for my 50 Classics in 5 Years Challenge.)

late beginnings

Monastery memories: summer 2017, Greece
Church of San Felipe (built 1706; 264 years before the monastery pictured above started being built),
Old Town Albuquerque, mid-November 2021

Months since last post: 6
Books finished: 18
Poems written: two halves
Knitting projects finished: who knows
Crochet projects finished: um…… none?

The last six months have been, as the prophet says, “a time to keep silence.” I ended up not starting graduate school, thought I wasn’t going to go to graduate school, felt really stuck and lost, prayed a lot, started teaching Sunday school (which I love so much), and now today was my first day as a graduate student! (I’m in the program I originally applied to, for theology).

In order to commemorate and celebrate this day, this big grand impactful promise of a day, which honestly felt almost disappointingly normal, I got a Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte. Let me just say, cinnamon dolce complements iconoclasm beautifully. (The study of iconoclasm, not the practice of iconoclasm. I don’t want to be anathematized, that would be really not good for my salvation.)

Starting school again has brought me out of my time of silence and filled me with a wonderful sense of energy and peace. It is a blessing to have a direction. Thank God for everything!

I have some book reviews stashed around on my computer, some thoughts on the “idiosyncratic school of reading,” a whole rant on the nonexistence of the Fates (Moirai) in Homer, and hopefully a bunch of new thoughts on old thoughts inspired by school. Basically, I will do my best to post more, and with pictures! (I take a lot of pictures with the thought, “That could go on my blog!” And most of them aren’t here. C’est la vie, I suppose.)

For a final thought, there is probably some kind of spiritual meditation to be had that the actual lived out version of the “straight and narrow way” is often more wiggly than any of us might like, especially when pandemics hit. (And God knows I fall off that bandwagon far, far too often.) But God is always good, and to quote something I said to a friend in early December when we were talking about maybe not being able to go to church on Christmas, “Christ is born anyway, because He’s like that.”

I hope you all had a wonderful Nativity and a blessed start to the new year! I have nothing but good wishes and prayers for you all.

-Odds & Ends-
An album I’ve been really loving (isn’t it so inspiring that he made an album with songs about all these specific astronomical events?)
A poem called “Thirst” by Mary Oliver that I have been rereading since October
An account of the life of St. John Maximovitch, with his mailing address (in case you need to write to him; he responds very quickly)
The good translation of On the Incarnation (sorry SVS)
St. Isaac the Syrian’s Homily on the Nativity (I know it’s mid-January but this is really short and also absolutely beautiful; I also insist that there is never a time that we shouldn’t remember and celebrate the Incarnation, so there)

moving onwards and upwards

St. Birgitta stitch, part 1: in which I still have sanity
St. Birgitta stitch, parts 2 & 3: in which I’ve totally lost it
Visiting family in Albuquerque and taking the Sandia Tramway for the first time

What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.

C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

This past year or so since I graduated with my BA in Classics has been very strange. Certainly covid contributed to its strangeness, but there were other things that compounded the strangeness.

I had been planning to go straight from my undergraduate to a masters degree in theology. All the classes would be online, and the community experience would of course be extraordinarily lacking. However, it was a conversation I had with someone about the future viability of my research interests that made me come screeching to a halt in this plan, causing me to withdraw my application a week before classes were to start.

Then I got a job working at a pharmacy, which was really nice, because I had some money for the first time since I graduated high school. I was working through treatment (I think a more accurate term might be management) for my mental health and starting to feel stable, more confident in myself, and a lot less anxious than I had in a very long time. But throughout this time, I kept questioning the decision I had made to not go to graduate school.

Of course I didn’t regret choosing to avoid online classes, but I missed the environment where I had felt so comfortable and where I had found my closest friends. At the same time, I didn’t want to go back just because I missed chapel and my friends. I didn’t have a viable research interest (the history and development of the typikon, while interesting to me, is not exactly the stuff of tenure).

Then the papers came.

The paper ideas started coming in droves. I would pick up the Iliad and suddenly feel that I needed to write a paper about vocation versus identity through action or inaction in the Iliad using Achilles as a case study (and maybe throwing in Euripides because let’s face it the guy was a genius). This paper started as a very specific idea frantically scribbled down before bed and turned into a complex, multilayered set of thoughts that I’m still figuring out. I also wanted to write a paper about the whole process of Patroklos’ death, which is quite possibly my favorite scene in the Iliad (followed or preceded by Hector and Andromache, I’m not sure).

Finally I got to the point where I found the thesis idea that I want to write about an pursue for my graduate work. I’m not going to name it specifically here, because unfortunately academic paranoia is usually justified, but it is very generally about Orthodoxy and mental health. I am so excited to write it, and to be honest, even if it doesn’t go anywhere it will be worth doing.

I suppose this is a really long-winded way of saying God willing I will be actually starting grad school in the fall. I’m still not quite sure exactly how I’ll manage all the details, but as my spiritual father once pointed out to me, God has not let me down yet. I am thankful for my “gap year,” and I am thankful that all my saints have found me a way to go. (I have a posse – St. Catherine of course, St. Xenia of Petersburg, St. Phanourios, St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, and most recently St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain.) Without them I’d very much still be lost.

-Odds & Ends-
Video explaining the St. Birgitta stitch pictured above (also Morgan Donner is wonderful)
Video Recording of the Akathist to St. Porphyrios (in Greek)
Onesimus, the blog of Dr. Bill Black, an OCMC missionary serving in Nairobi who I had the great honor of meeting when he spoke at a retreat hosted by the missions committee at my college (please pray for him and his work, and if you are interested and/or able to, please go here to support him financially)
I just finished this book about St. Paisios (I know I’m a little late to the bandwagon on it, but it really did come into my life at the right time). A couple of my dearest friends have such a good relationship with him, and I am so glad that I started having my own relationship with him as well.
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger has completely disillusioned me of the notion I’ve had since high school that Salinger is terrible. He is not.

february blues and a catch up

I feel it is fairly appropriate to have a screen capture of Over the Garden Wall at the beginning of this post, since I have been feeling just as lost as Wirt and Greg are throughout the show. I identify with Wirt; I want to be more like Greg.

Many things have happened since I last wrote a post. I got a job as a pharmacy technician. I’m learning more about medications than I really ever wanted to know, and I honestly don’t find it terribly fulfilling work. However, I am helping people, so that is good.

I haven’t read very much (as evidenced by a lack of book reviews posted here). I keep intending to read, but for some reason I have some kind of mental block that keeps me from cracking open those beloved spines and allowing myself to be inspired. Earlier, in the fall, I lacked the mental and spiritual energy for it. Now I simply put it off, perhaps because I am afraid of opening myself to spiritual connections (even to fictional characters) or because I am afraid of thinking.

I did pick up a copy of Mary Oliver’s Devotions in the airport on the way to my best friend’s wedding in January, and the poem “For Tom Shaw S.S.J.E.” made me break down in tears on the flight. It was on page 8. I have re-read it many times since that first time, and every time I am struck by Mary Oliver’s ability to touch the heart of the matter with a few simple words. Her writing is helping me see the beauty in the world again.

This might should have come earlier given its importance, but I finished my degree and graduated. As one might expect, it was terribly anticlimactic. It was also heart rending in a way I think many others did not experience, since this was the second graduation ceremony I did not have (homeschooling and graduating early and moving to a monastery do not typically allow for such things). I think the loss of another major marker traditionally associated with growing up, as well as the lack of finality to all the work I put in, has really impacted me, although I do try not to dwell on it. I have to trust that this is God’s intention for me and for the world, and to be honest, not getting graduations is (in the modern parlance) a “first world problem.”

It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory and still to love it.

Oscar Wilde

I wrote this quote from Oscar Wilde at the beginning of the journal I started in October. I have been trying to live by it, trying first to see the glory in the taint and second to love both. Making things, like the Dalai Llama and two and a half pairs of socks, has been helping. Remembering that I have people who love me has been helping. Trying to add to the beauty of the world, even though I fail so miserably most of the time, has been helping.

The only other things going on in my life right now are trying to figure out which foods I am allergic/sensitive to, which means a lot of non-egg and non-dairy foods, lots of music, and stealing momentary snuggles with my (11 year old) kitten.

I hope you all are doing well, and that God will give us all the grace and strength to make it through the pandemic. (And through February. God knows Februaries are already hard enough here in this northern hemisphere. I will make it through with tea and cupcakes, and I will gladly share should anyone need them.)

-Odds & Ends-
My favorite chanting
An album I can’t stop listening to
Vegan cupcakes cookbook (which will be perfect for Lent, just sayin’)
Yarn I can’t get enough of (that I think is perfect for socks)