(46) thinking about orthodoxy – part 1

A year spent living with my dear sister and brother-in-law also includes a year spent living in rhythm with the Orthodox Church, of which they are part. I am loosely affiliated because I am also a Christian. But I am clearly not one with that rhythm.

I could live to a different rhythm, as I have all these years. Participation in faith-practice with them is not mandatory. At any point, I could go alone to any number of Protestant churches where I would be invited to take Communion, where, although I would still be an outsider, I might at least recognize a song or two, where a printed bulletin might clue me in on a different manifestation of the same old Protestant celebration of faith.

But for the time being, participation is practical. I know no one in this city. Why go out and try to start friendships from scratch when I can cling to the coattails of my sister’s already-existing friendships, at least for now? Why buy a refrigerator of my own food when we can share meals together, even if that means vegan Wednesdays and Fridays and the mildly terrifying spectre of Lent (a vegan fast beginning in a couple of weeks – ancient calendar differences mean Western and Eastern Lents begin at different times)? I would be quite lonely here and they, my family, have taken me in. It seems to honor them to at least listen and learn.

In the meantime, the wonderings and musings and questions seem endless. My brother-in-law is always willing to engage in a theological discussion and so we have discussed the life of the Virgin Mary, the authenticity of relics, how the canon of the Scriptures was developed and apocryphal books, venerating icons and praying to the saints, the doctrine of original sin, gender roles, fasting, and usually all over dinner or washing the dishes.

I am realizing that I have a lot to learn and realizing that I don’t know as much in depth as I thought about various theological positions held by the church I grew up in.

And so far it seems we Protestants and the Orthodox are more similar from a theological standpoint than I would have thought, although maybe this impression is due to my lack of knowledge and understanding of above-mentioned theological positions. The main differences seem to be in practice, not in belief. And where our beliefs are different, I think the Orthodox might have a more-than-reasonable argument.

I have a feeling this will be just the first of many reflections on what I’m learning through living in an Orthodox household this year.

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(44) live everything

“And the point is, to live everything…” (Rainer Maria Wilke)

 

Stay here with me, dear one. Stay here with me in this moment.

Hold still for a moment and allow those rogue tears to escape.

I am here to catch the tears as they fall.

Choose to be present. Feel the deep sadness.

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid of the anger at events beyond your control.

Feel the anger and let it go. When things are beyond your control, they are still within mine.

Don’t be afraid of the sadness that looks like an inky well without hope.

Feel the sadness and weep. Say goodbye with integrity, with tears.

Don’t be afraid of the loneliness, of sleeping on your side of the bed with emptiness beside you.

Be bold, be strong! My name is Emmanuel. I am with you.

Don’t be afraid that the little ones won’t remember you.

The moments you shared with them matter. Let the sweet memories become prayers.

Don’t be afraid to live everything.

 

You want to be strong, sensible and brave. But be brave with a heart wide open, beloved daughter. Don’t confuse emotion with weakness, Dearheart. Open your heart wide to receive and to overflow and to grieve. Grieve bravely. Live everything.

(42) believe the best

We were driving home from a weekend with my family. What could have become an interesting conversation was short-circuited by my emotionally charged and defensive response to his comments.

“Did I blast you with my opinions?” I ask with remorse.

“Yes, kind of,” he admits, then adds with a smile, “But I’m used to it now.”

“I wish I filtered better,” I say.

“I don’t think you need to filter your opinions,” he replies. “But it might help if you listened more closely to what I was saying. And I could probably try phrasing things differently too.”

 

I guess I’m still learning to listen. Part of effective listening is letting go of assumptions. It is asking the all-important clarifying questions (“So it sounds like what you’re saying is…”). It means realizing that even when I feel like we are approaching a topic from dramatically different angles, we still might end up close to the same place. It means that when we do reach that ending place, the words we say, the way we see that place might sound different coming out of our mouths. We might be describing the same coin from different sides.

In the quiet aftermath of our conversation Monday, I remembered how we used to talk often about believing the best about each other. I sense that this will be especially important again as we launch into the next chaotic weeks of transition and then the many months of separation ahead. Will I practice assuming my husband has our best interests at heart when he makes a judgment call, or release my initial interpretation of a hard-sounding word or tone, trusting that it is probably unintentional?  Wouldn’t it be helpful, especially when I feel a bit tightly wound and internally messy, if I practiced asking questions before defaulting to an angry defense?