Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Thankful of Joys

Pearl’s sunroom

Firstly, I’m thankful for Jody who encouraged me today to think about what I am thankful for. It’s a perspective I need on a day when my prayers are all tending toward the “Lord, help!” sort and my mind is going along the lines of forty tangents. Because tomorrow I’m getting up at 4:00 a.m. to make my way toward the airport and fly to Maryland for a spell.

I’m thankful for
*family who want to have me with them
*resources physical and financial to make the trip
*a husband who is willing to do without me for the ten days

Today I’ll be flitting about trying to decide whether to pack the blue or brown skirt, making a batch of pasta with pesto for B. to comfort himself with in my absence, doing the last load of laundry, trying to get the house a little less pigpenny, and carefully loading my backpack for the travel, with the perfect selection of books, notebooks, snacks — well, maybe it won’t be perfect — and anyway, I might want to just sit in silence and be thankful for my own little private spot, jammed in next to a fellow human who is suffering the squeeze right there.

In my psyche I have been feeling the tearing away from home and church, and the homesickness that I always fall prey to before leaving home. But when I remember that every event has God in it, offering the grace of Himself in whatever work is before us, there is Joy for the taking.

Pearl in her yard 2 years ago

Today is the first day in a long while that I’ve had the whole day to be home and do my work — and so far it’s been mostly a slow labor of the mind and heart.  Maybe that’s one reason I’ve been able to process some of the truths and encouraging words I’ve been hearing, and put it all together so that I see my way clear. And it is clearly joyful!

I’m going to stay at Pearl’s, and spend time with four of the grandchildren, and see Kate and cherry blossoms. I’m taking snowball bush cuttings, books, and embroidery floss, among other gifts. We’ll go for hilly walks when it’s not raining, and I understand that I am to bake cupcakes with Littlest Granddaughter Maggie. Maybe we’ll watch the movie “Babies” that I love.

Once I arrive, it won’t feel like work, but there will be grace and peace. And I won’t be homesick again until the time comes that I have to leave them and come home. Isn’t it wonderful to have people to love?


Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of
the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes
the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces
the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry
to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace,
the Lord is with you!”

The announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Christ, the Son of God, is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the church year in Orthodoxy, and is celebrated exactly nine months before the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, on March 25th. The words above are from a hymn that we sing on this feast.

Not long ago I read The Presence of Mary, a booklet by Fr. Alexander Schmemann in the St. Athanasius Study Series, published by Conciliar Press © 1988. In 26 pages the author discusses in depth the role of Christ’s mother in our salvation history, and sets it against “…the fundamental spiritual disease of our time [that] must be termed anthropological heresy.”

That last clause piqued my interest, too! I’ve been wanting to take the time to read the booklet again and write a real review about the truths that Fr. Schmemann helps to clarify, but that time is not now. However, the present moment and celebration does seem to be right for at least posting a quote from the book, as we contemplate her who is “blessed among women.”

It is clear that an abstract and impersonal study of man posits a self-evident conclusion: man as total dependence. An equally abstract exaltation of man posits its a priori premise: man as total freedom. But both are revealed in the unique personal experience of Mary, an experience given to the Church and made into her experience, as one and the same truth about man.

In Mary, the very notions of “dependence” and “freedom” cease to be opposed to one another as mutually exclusive. We are inclined to think that where there is dependence there can be no freedom, where there is freedom there can be no dependence. Mary, however, accepts, she obeys, she humbles herself before the living Truth itself, a Presence, a Beauty, a Life, a Call so overwhelmingly evident that it makes the notion of “dependence” an empty one — or rather identical and coextensive with that of freedom. For as long as freedom is nothing but the other side of dependence — a protest, a rebellion against dependence — as long as freedom itself depends on dependence for its meaning, it is also an empty notion. Each time freedom chooses and accepts, it ceases to be freedom. Here, however, in the unique experience of Mary, freedom becomes the very content of dependence, the one eternally fulfilling itself in the other as life, joy, knowledge, communion, and fulness.

Admittedly these are poor, inadequate, and clumsy human words about an experience, a vision, a reality which transcends all human words. But, having read them, look again at that woman who eternally stands at the very heart of the Church filling our hearts with a mysterious yet ineffable joy, making us repeat eternally that same salutation which she heard in the depth of her heart on the day of Annunciation: Rejoice!

(Icon by Mikhail Nesterov)

Birthday Reflection

St. Nikolai

Yes, it’s my birthday today! Another day to thank God for all His wonderful gifts.

This spring I’ve been enjoying The Prologue of Ohrid by St.Nikolai Velimirovic. I splurged on this two-volume set of readings for every day of the year when our church bookstore offered it at a discount. I was the one who had to write down information about the book for a list of sale items, and that was the first time I’d actually looked inside. Something about the name along with its size had made me disregard it, but in the Preface I learned that the name Ohrid is “solely to distinguish it from the ancient Slavonic Prologue which — regrettably, because of its language — has become inaccessible to the Slavic people of our time.”

I’d heard and read many of St. Nikolai’s Prayers by the Lake, which are heartfelt and inspiring poems, so it is not surprising that his devotionals of three or four pages are also beneficial. They include stories of two or more saints commemorated that day, a Reflection, a Contemplation, a Homily of a few paragraphs, and often a Hymn of Praise. I’m happy to know that the whole thing is also available online, so I won’t need to carry my book across the continent later this month.

Today’s Reflection is a good one for Lent:

Even in His pain on the Cross, the Lord Jesus did not condemn sinners but offered up pardon for their sins to His Father, saying, They know not what they do (Luke 23:34)! Let us not judge anyone so that we will not be judged. For no one is certain that, before his death, he will not commit the same sin by which he condemns his brother. St. Anastasius of Sinai teaches: “Even if you see someone sinning, do not judge him, for you do not know what the end of his life will be like. The thief who was crucified with Christ was a murderer, while Judas was an apostle of Jesus, but the thief entered into the Kingdom, and the apostle went to perdition. Even if you see someone sinning, bear in mind that you do not know his good works. For many have sinned openly and repented in secret; we see their sins, but we do not know their repentance. Therefore, brethren, let us not judge anyone so that we will not be judged.”

St. Anastasius by Rembrandt

What Happened at the Symphony

I was moved to tears by the experience of attending the symphony yesterday. As I have little musical training beyond being challenged by the Tonette in third grade, I’m not the one to give a knowledgeable critic’s review. Other than one music appreciation course in college, most of my music listening has been with three-quarters of my brain elsewhere.

Our son’s Japanese violin teacher assured us that even if we dozed during concerts we all would benefit by hearing the music played well, so I have comforted myself with the image of beautiful sounds soaking irresistibly into the consciousness. After my marriage, our house was often full of live music, what with five children and a husband playing guitars, flute, violin and piano. But I was normally in another room stirring the soup or folding laundry.

And concerts were typically not in the budget, though I have to admit that many of the children’s recitals filled me with joy at the expertise of the students, especially toward the end of the lineup when those most advanced at their instruments showed us their stuff. The boys were also able to play in beginning or amateur orchestras. It makes me very happy these days even to hear over the radio one of those pieces from the Suzuki violin repertoire, or a Nocturne that a daughter played. I can’t seem to enjoy classical music the first time I hear a piece, but after it has become familiar I love it dearly.

That’s why I cared so much about going to the symphony last weekend, to hear Brahms; in college when I owned only a few LP’s, a thrift-store album of Brahms symphonies was one of them. We’ve never acquired an updated recording, but I was eager to hear a live rendition of his music.

I also wanted to sit there in the concert hall and listen to whatever was on the program, familiar or not, for the greater chance for participation that it affords. Even when the compositions being performed are not to my liking, the visual component helps to keep me on the edge of my seat. Because I’m not much of an auditory learner, if the sensory input is limited to hearing, as in a recording, it’s really hard for me to assess or even pay close attention to the music, and the fact that I’ve never learned to play an instrument is another hole in my readiness.

But with the orchestra arrayed before me I’m greatly helped to appreciate the amazing work that’s being done. It’s all to the glory of God at the very outset, Who formed each individual in the womb with incredible gifts of intelligence and physical coordination. From there every artist has a unique story about how he struggled to bring his fingers and/or lips into submission to the requirements of the instrument and to the demands of  the musical score.

Speaking of fingers, the conductor had the longest fingers I’ve ever seen. His whole body was long and thin and so flexibly energetic, he threatened to bounce into the floodlights or melt into the sound waves. The timpanist looked like my high school chemistry teacher — well, who knows, perhaps he is a high school teacher. One balding cellist with a bushy ponytail stood out because he jerked his head so emphatically with his bowing, and the flutist who played a solo part exquisitely — thank God for her!

The two Brahms pieces were the 4th Symphony, and the Violin Concerto Opus 77. Though she is famous in the classical music world, Mr. Glad and I hadn’t heard of the violin soloist Elina Vähälä, so we read a little about her online beforehand and even listened to a clip of her playing. Of course, the live performance was thrilling. Certainly I’ve never heard anything more sublime than the sounds from that “Antonio Stradivari violin, built in 1678 and generously loaned by the Finnish Cultural Foundation,” which she played lovingly. She’s a beautiful woman and we were privileged to be there with her in her radiance.

After her performance, Ms. Vähälä came up into the balcony not far from where we sat, to join the audience in enjoyment of the 4th Symphony. I so admire all those regular members of the orchestra and the way they submit their art and skill to the group, and to the composer. They gather in ranks and in humble monochrome to work their magic, making the music emerge and shine in all its brightness, lifting our spirits. Even Brahms and his talent, the story of his life and how God worked in it to bless the world, are in the background.

It all makes me think of lying dreamily in a meadow in springtime. Your mind is filled with contentment and excitement all at once, for the multitude of pleasant sounds and feelings all mixed up and coming in. Gradually and intermittently, you notice individual players, like a particular bird’s song or the scent of the grasses. The sky is blue overhead; clouds with interesting shapes pass by. And yes, you might even sleep. But in the end, you are a richer person for having been there. And you don’t even know how it happened.