books · Christianity · faith · philosophy · reality


I am honored to share a guest post written my brother, Jarrett. It is meaningful for me in this time, and I hope it will speak to you. May we find refuge in the Shadow of His wings. Mandy

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion 

And the act

Falls the Shadow

T.S. Eliot 

The world is a different place from the last time I put a late night thought down.  That’s how the world goes though isn’t it?  Shadows, so many are cast around us…eastern cultures see Shadow much different than we westerners do.  To the traditional Japanese, Shadow is very important. 

 “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” — Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

Eliot explored the eastern culture and philosophy extensively, he knew very well what Shadow means to the east.

Interpreting T.S. Eliot is beyond my pay grade, but somehow it seems that every critical analysis I have come across casts this “Shadow” of Eliot’s in the negative.  The oppressive force that exists between us and “reality” or “action”.  Calling to mind Plato’s shadow in the cave.  How do we crawl out of this cave enlightened and perceive these Shadows and their makers?  Aristotle questioned this and birthed the scientific method…where has that lead us?!?

The realities we perceive, the actions we take never really seem to change all that much on the whole.  In our attempts to analyze and understand we sanitize everything yet we have no answers.

“But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light—his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”—Junichiro Tanizaki, In praise of shadows

Never satisfied we of the west push ourselves willingly over the cliff into “a clean, well lit” (Hemingway) madness.  Not realizing as Ursula K le Guin did that “to light a candle is to cast a shadow.”  

Not so long after completing his famous  poem “The Hollow Men” Eliot converts to Christianity, yet I still don’t believe that Eliot’s Shadow represents a malevolent force.  We have forgotten that the Shadow also exists in our western, Christian culture as well, Eliot also knew this.  There are many scriptures in the Old and New Testament describing Shadow in relation to God and creation.  

One of my favorites reads:

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”— Psalms 36:7

We can find refuge in God’s Shadow.  Christ is the light of the world, but he wraps us in his wings as he casts out the darkness before us.  Shadow is not complete darkness.  Shadow is the buffer zone between the reality of our complete unworthiness (“light”) and the abyss /separation (“dark”) we have with each other and our creator.

Where are we left today, what are we to do in what seems  this spiritual “Wasteland”?  My only answer can be that we must become refugees in the Shadow of God’s wings.

books · faith

A Year With No Books

A few years back I made an odd new year’s commitment; a year with no books.  It was an experiment actually.  My logic ran like this- if you are so obsessed with ancient Christianity why not give up your books?  Why not live one year without reading, like a first century Christian housewife?  I have always had a love/hate relationship with academic style spirituality.  The notion that one can become a theologian by learning and discerning without some sort of asceticism has always bothered me, but then again I am sometimes a scholastic wannabe, imagining myself gaining spiritual knowledge through the things I read, progressing somewhere between a novice and a priest.  At other times I denounce the Gutenberg Press as the catalyst for the modern spiritual demise.

Years of research and deep reflection on the nature of learning has left me with some pretty outrageous opinions regarding compulsory education.  I am not even sure that it is beneficial that we make children learn to read. I understand the pragmatic necessity of a literate populace, commonality being a strong motivation.  However, there are many benefits to being illiterate- at least in theory.  This theory was strengthened when I got to know a boy named Peter, born with Down Syndrome, and a saint indeed.  His spiritual integrity had nothing to do with acquiring more and more spiritual knowledge, but rather his mystical and other-worldly love of the Church, the saints, and Christ.

If you believe that I am carried away by some romantic notion of Christianity, let me assure you that my understanding of Christianity and its mission is much more nuanced than that.  I regard Christian education to be one of the highest callings, especially the education of children.  And yet, I am more and more convinced that Christian education is a contradiction of terms.  Something about John 1 makes me wonder- the Word as Man, the God-Man, the Logos. And then there is Acts-  the upper room, speaking in tongues, the Revelation and the resulting mass conversions and birth of the Church. Those gathered experienced Pentacost, and they spoke the language of God.  These theophanies did not come as man crouched over a book -revelation came as they waited upon the Lord, as a mighty rushing wind, setting their heads on fire!  Sometimes I wish my head would spontaneously combust and burn away my ideas, my knowledge, my gods.

I do believe we can read without making words our god. However, I do not believe reading is essential for Christian theosis.  We can become like God without reading, and sometimes I think we would have it better if we didn’t read so much.  And hear I sit writing something for you to read- I’m bad, I know.

Sometimes I feel like my spiritual state corresponds with my purchasing power.  When I am down, backslid, and otherwise apathetic I buy a book and read about lofty things.  It gives me the satisfaction that I am progressing.  The more things I can buy the better Christian I become…nonsense.  Christ gave us the disciplines of Christian piety, and they have nothing to do with consumerism.

My year without books was an experiment to see if I could live without the written word.  Could I pray, could I listen, could I be silent? Could I fast and deny myself intellectual gratification?  Could I give of my time by being truly present?  Could I give up my consumerism by simulating a situation in which many who are less fortunate than I experience as normal? Could I listen in Church? Could I live like an ancient Christian housewife?  No books, no words, just prayer and work and presence?

It was a strange year, but I did it.

After the year was up I did not return to my old reading self.  For one, I gave up reading theological books almost completely.  I read the stories of the saints, and I love a good tale.  My year without books reminded me of the women I met in southern Mexico who lived on dirt floors and shared a community outdoor bathroom.  They owned Bibles and that was all, and yet I wept at their piety. It humbled me.  I learned how little I pray in that year, and how hard it is to come out of my mind and into the moment.  I also began to understand my own heart.  I also sought God differently, like I did as a young woman, as one crying out, or rather pouring out my heart.  A new year always reminds me of the year I gave up books. It was good. I missed my books, but it was good.

I attached the account of St Romanos below, one of my favorites and a witness to the Gospel as the Word.

St Romanos the Melodist of Constantinople (556)

He was born in Emessa in Syria, probably of Jewish parents. He served as a deacon in Beirut, then in Constantinople at the time of Patriarch Euphemius (490-496). He was illiterate, had no musical training, and was a poor singer; thus he was despised by many of the more cultivated clergy. One night, after Romanos had prayed to the Mother of God, she appeared to him in a dream, held out a piece of paper and told him to swallow it. On the following day, the Nativity of Christ, Romanos went to the ambon and, with an angelic voice, sang ‘Today the Virgin…’, which is still sung as the Kontakion of the Feast. All present were amazed at the completely unexpected beauty of the hymn and of Romanos’ singing. St Romanos went on to compose more than a thousand Kontakia (which were once long hymns, not the short verses used in church today). He is almost certainly the author of the sublime Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God, which has served as the model for all other Akathists. He reposed in peace, while still a deacon of the Great Church in Constantinople. Many of his hymns were inspired by the hymns of St Ephraim of Syria.

books · faith · homeschooling · Uncategorized

Orthodox Education


An excerpt from the description of Sakharov‘s  I Love, Therefore I Am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony.

Because Fr Sophrony traversed the major religious and intellectual movements of our time, his spiritual make-up is enriched by various currents of thought. Notwithstanding this diversity, never does his theology transcend the boundaries set out by the Orthodox tradition. The patristic heritage has for him indubitable authority. He absorbed the legacy of the Fathers in its living depth. This came not by way of an academic research, but through his ascetic strivings on Mount Athos. His wide spiritual and intellectual background elevates the Orthodox tradition to an authentic level where it opens up to universal dimensions.

This came not by way of academic research…
What came?
The patristic heritage.
What is the patristic heritage?
It is The Way.
It is Christ as ultimate reality.
But through his ascetic strivings…
To follow The Way we must abandon ideas and pray.

Orthodox education is at it’s best when prayer is at the center.  If we as educators labor, let us labor to pray.  Let us strive to unite the mind in the heart.  Let this be the heritage we seek.  And trust that Christ is ultimate reality, and all good things come from Him.

books · Lent

Faust & Frankenstein

“Es irrt der Mensch, so lang ‘er strebt”
“Man must err, as long as he strives.”


IMG_7944 (2)

When I told Father Gregory that I was reading Frankenstein he scolded me and said, “NOT during Lent.”  I reassured him that Frankenstein is the stuff Lent is made of…that it is a profound critique of one of man’s supreme passions…the pursuit of knowledge.

I finished Frankenstein and proceeded with Goethe’s Faust…another dark tale of intellectual and spiritual greed.

Faust- Man’s greatest attempts at playing God makes him no more than a sorcerer.

Frankenstein- And what he conjures is monstrous.

What does all this have to do with Lent, and the struggle?

Lent is rest…it is a noetic oasis…it is the time when man strips his intellect of grandeur and becomes as the dust…it is a way out of the madness we have created,  to undo 0ur conjuring.

Lent is the struggle to cease the struggle…a paradox that weakens us as it gives strength. 




books · food · kids · learning · seasons · winter

Long Cold Winter

“Ho, Mouse!” says Hare.
“Long time no see!”
So they pop white corn. 
And they brew black tea.
            -Bear Snores On
books · family · homemaking · seasons

Homemaking Inspiration

I was able to steal away for a couple of hours on Monday after I dropped my older girls off at drama practice.  I went to my favorite book store and bought the second Madame Chic book with my birthday money.  It is a really soft and yummy read.  I love homemaking books…and cafe lattes.

Throughout my homemaking journey so far I have discovered a few inspirational resources that I return to over and over again.  I love my home…but I have not always loved it like I should. In those times of drudgery I turn to my library.  Today I thought I might share a few favorites with you.

The Spirit of Loveliness   Emilie Barnes.  Anything by Emilie Barnes is good when it comes to homemaking.  However, this book is my favorite.

Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman  Anne Ortland.  A classic, but written in a more formal style.

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy  Sarah Ban Breathnach.  This book is wonderful for reviving the seasons and learning to love the everyday little things.  However, I do not ascribe to much of her religious philosophy in this book.  I read it for seasonal inspiration.

My Lady of Cleves  Margaret Campbell Barnes.  I love the womanliness of Anne in this book.  She is the fourth wife of Henry VIII.  If you enjoy Tudor drama…you will love this book.  This historical fiction is well written and always seems to draw me in.  The myth of beauty is debunked in the portrayal of the woman Henry VIII called a Flanders Mare.  Anne’s beauty is what I consider true beauty, and too bad for King Henry that he did not appreciate it. She would have been a wonderful wife and queen.

 The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Woman’s Work”    Kathleen Norris.  This is a very introspective and spiritual look at a woman’s vocation.

books · homeschooling · kids · learning · play · winter

January Preschool

Make coffee filter snowflakes.
Learn the snowflake song by Jean Warren.
Cotton-Ball counting.
Have a tea party and serve Blueberry muffins and Ceylon tea.
Make bird feeder pine cones.
Learn the Seven Continents song.
Make a paper patch quilt and practice shape recognition.
Learn the meanings of the words: greedy and generosity.

Cut and glue vegetables from magazines onto a cut out soup pot.  
Practice the names of vegetables.  
Help make a pot of soup with mommy.  
Play which onion is bigger.  
Practice setting the table properly.
Field Trip Ideas: Ice Skating, Quilt Shop, Kitchen Store

books · faith · family · kids · learning · Nativity · Orthodoxy · parenting · seasons · winter

A Few Nativity Pictures

A collection of Christmas books.

Wrapped up to be a sweet surprise for the evenings of December as we prepare for Jesus to be born.

Our Jesse tree.  We have since abandoned the hanging of the ornaments.  Brother Bear seems to have decided that all paper products should be torn to shreds.  We are reading, praying, and lighting a candle.  However, I often find myself praying this prayer, “Lord please accept this very imperfect prayer.”  Evening prayers are interesting with a toddler and baby.  The interruptions and noise make me feel like we are just scraping by sometimes.  But, we keep practicing.  Glory to God for all things.

books · faith · family · Nativity · saints · winter

A Journey to Nativity

I mentioned in my last post that I was working on a Journey to Nativity calendar.  Well, I finished it! Can you believe it is only 6 weeks until Christmas?  Approximately.

Every year I try to get ahead of the busyness of the season by making a loose plan for the holidays.  The Nativity fast begins on the 15th of this month, and it would be nice to be a bit more organized and intentional this year.  When I say loose, I mean that my plan is just a spine.  I am sure that I will add to it, and not get to some of the activities on my calendar.

I divided my days into four categories:


I do not have activities planned for each category for every day. That would be impossible.  I tried to schedule things with peace and good will in mind.  I love Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We have so many cultural and spiritual traditions that make this season the highlight of the year. I love to ready my home, cook, and enjoy all the music and treats.  The calendar I made does not include spiritual readings.  However, I am using a little book entitled Daily Meditations and Prayers for the Christmas, Advent Fast and Epiphany.  

If you would like to see my calendar just click on the link:

Below I have included just a few things we are planing to include on our Journey to Nativity.
I plan on doing this with the books I have on hand.  I am going to wrap them up, put them under the tree, and let the littles open them once a week for a new Christmas story treat!
I wrote this little story for my kids last year.  I read it aloud while they made leaf rubbed vellum lanterns.  Feel free to print and share.  This is also a great time to clean out the coat closet and replenish coats, hats. gloves, and scarves.  Donate gently used items to a shelter.

On this day the kids and I are going to go to church and then drop off all of our baby items as a donation to a local pregnancy outreach center.  The troparion of the feast can be sung at meals and prayer times. 
Today is the preview of the good will of God,

Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice,
0 Divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.
Shoes left by the front door filled with chocolate coins and a small gift.  We love reading the stories of Saint Nicholas.  Click the image for the link.
  Click on the image for the link.  
After Saint Barbara was martyred by her own father he was struck by lightening.  It is tradition to celebrate this day with fire…maybe some fireworks/sparklers.  Serve some spiced cider and read the story of this great saint. Don’t forget s’mores!

   A few things to think about as the Nativity Fast approaches and we prepare for Christ’s birth:

  • A lenten menu.
  • When will you confess?
  • Gifts for priests and their families.
  • Making room in the budget for charitable giving.
  • Readings, inspirational books, and prayers!
Well, I hope this little post is as helpful to you as it is me.  Happy planning!  
O Come, O Come Emmanuel

baby · books · cleaning · faith · family · food · · kids · learning · marriage · motherhood · organizing · Orthodoxy · parenting

Christ in Our Midst

Tonight I headed out to the art shed to look for a set of Logic books that I need for a class I am thinking about teaching in the spring.  When I opened the door to this small space I was aghast at it’s condition.  My two oldest daughters use this space the most, and it was amazing to me that such little care is taken with all the very expensive art supplies in their room.  This space is intended to be an artist’s retreat…a renovated plant shed fully furnished with oils, canvases, watercolors, chalks, charcoal, drawing pencils, instruction books, etc.  I left the little wreck of a room quite angry.  Before prayers I had a chat with the girls about caring for our home and respecting the things in it as objects of great value.  Because things do have value…and not just monetary value. They have value in themselves.

In a world that has gone spiritually mad it is often difficult to understand the material world…to value it in such a way that elevates it as holy.  And yes, I believe paint and pencils and books are holy things, along with everything else in the created world.  One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, sums it up quite nicely in her wonderful book Walking on Water

 “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.” (And if you love the subjects of art and faith this is a must read…a must purchase.)

When I first read that book in my early twenties it was like a butterfly effect in my life…a small change that created an earthquake later down the road.  And since, I have been utterly undone by the knowledge of the Incarnation and its implications.  A simple shift, yet so profound…no longer must the material world be subject to the murderous accusation of being evil, or worse, mundane. No longer must men decide if some thing is good…if some thing is evil.  Everything God created is good!

Christ became man, taking on flesh, showing that man can become by grace what Christ is by nature…we become the body of Christ.  Christ showed us that the material world is good, and real, and valuable.  It’s all very deep, and I do not intend to get in over my head in theology.  But, at the same time I know that this knowledge, however limited and shallow, has changed my life. This knowledge can change one’s entire inner posture and experience.  Because of Christ man has the power to redeem his world….to live the incarnation.  Every good work is essentially an incarnational work.  And what we would deem as bad works, or sin, have no material value because evil cannot create anything.

But, I am a common housewife…busy with so-called mundane tasks…tasks that go unnoticed and undervalued by a world that is high on ideological promises and rhetoric.  A world that believes ideas change the world, not home cooked meals and prayers before bed.  How can this common housewife be anything more than the one saddled with all the unpleasant necessaries…the stuff that has to be done so we can get on with the real business of the world?  Is my work really valuable…the work of my hands?  Is it incarnational…dirty diapers, really?  

And yet, here I am tonight thinking about art supplies and how they are holy and how if my children will value them it will grow in them a heart after God.  And how lately I have been in a modern mood…not really valuing things…and barely tolerating people.  A momentary lapse of heart…that’s what it really is.

After I came in from the art shed I opened the altar cabinet doors, and I decided to take care of something valuable…something I have been neglecting…the liturgical supplies.  Incense has permeated the wood along with the earthy smell of beeswax.  It is a wonderful smell, and it did my heart good to touch the things in the cabinet, holy things.  I looked across my living room and an interesting thought crossed my mind…everything in this room is holy. This is the antidote for my modern mood…for my lack of enthusiasm.  Every thing and every person in this home has value…in and of itself.  And I am the keeper…the keeper at home…the keeper of home.

My work is holy.  And every thing I encounter in my day; the laundry, the crying, the dishes, the food, the neighbor, the phone call…every demand, every interruption, every failure, every trill of laughter is…

Christ in our midst.

Most days these kinds of thoughts do not pass through my mind. Most days I just get up and put my work boots on…one at a time.  But sometimes it is good to remember, especially when life begins to stretch me thin and and I feel like my work is drudgery.  Sometimes we keepers at home can get in a bad way.

Tomorrow I am going to help the girls make things right in the art shed.  I plan on cooking a nice dinner and finishing up the laundry.  I hope to steal away for a bit and finish my Journey to Nativity calendar.  There’s always school that needs doin’, and babies that need rockin’, and dishes that need washin’.  And I am going to read this post again in the morning…and remind myself that all of this…this big life that wears me out…it’s holy…it’s valuable…it’s incarnational.

It’s Christ in our midst.