Uncategorized

Homeschooling – just keep practicing.

Reposting…because I need it.

A Chime of Hearts

This is the time of year that I reflect on our home school journey… I evaluate, I ponder, and I make decisions.  I think it is better to do this now… at the end of the school year… rather than wait until fall when I will be hopelessly idealistic….right now I am a realist.  The end of a school year makes realists of most homeschool families.  This year we welcomed a new little fella into our lives, and man did I have a time trying to manage all of the schoolwork, housework, and activities with the joys and concerns of an infant. However, we did manage…we made it, and it was a great year! We are very blessed.

Homeschooling is a never-ending learning experience on so many levels.  It really is a lifestyle.  That is why home school articles are so peculiar.  Among articles detailing curriculum, schedules, and methods an…

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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.

Orthodoxy

Pondering…

for my friend

We came. We saw. We conquered.  This is most definitely the vibrato of an Orthodox convert, a recently converted I might add.  I don’t feel so confident anymore.  It’s been seven years since we took the road East.  The war for truth is over, and now it is the occupation of being Orthodox that wages a different kind of war, a cold war so to speak.  The hostility lies between who we are, and being Orthodox.  This is the hard battle of an American convert, a battle between cultures, memory, community, and heritage.

Before becoming Orthodox I took for granted how much my heritage and culture were built upon my faith.  When I became Orthodox I was naive enough, presumptuous enough, to believe that truth is a state of the mind, something I merely believe, and that if I change what I think I would be Orthodox.  In reality, truth is much more…being Orthodox is much more…it is what we live…what we say…who we love….what we love.  Truth is not a thing.  It is alive, and it is woven into the fabric of our lives.

This is something we converts sometimes struggle with, we believe if we change what we think, we can easily change what we do.  However, when we begin to change what we do, we have to decide if what we are doing is true to us.  Like, giving our children Greek or Russian names, when we are neither Greek nor Russian.  It may be something we think is true, but calling a child by a name that separates he/she from their culture, community, and ancestral heritage is no small thing.  At least not for me.

I once spoke with my confessor about the struggle a friend was having.  She believed Orthodoxy…but she could not live it…not in her family…not in her community.  This inability to reconcile what she believes with who she is drove her from the Church.  She chose, as a homemaker, to go home…to an American home. Orthodoxy has left her feeling conflicted. She regrets dividing her children from she and her husband, and she blames herself for fracturing her family.  She regrets leaving behind her own traditions, traditions that held her family together for generations.  She tried very hard to adopt the traditions of her new community, but in the end all she said to me was, “I am not Greek, and neither are my children.”  This puzzled my confessor and he responded with a kind word, “Many times Americans feel their culture is void and empty, therefore they enjoy adopting the cultures of the Orthodox.”  I understood what he meant.  However, I did not identify with it.  I am American, and I have a deep and beautiful heritage.

And so I linger in twilight. Unlike my friend, I have decided to stay…to try and forge a path for my children.  “Like a pioneer,” my husband says.

American converts have a large task in front of them….a whole life conversion.  We give up memory as an integral part of our being.  Our pasts are filtered through a truth cloth, dissected and examined. We do not live our memory the same as our cradle Orthodox brothers and sisters.  This is very hard for me…so much of the Evangelical and Catholic way is interwoven with American culture.  I am certain there is no such thing as an American Orthodox.  Not yet.

I wonder if I am required to give up my culture to be Orthodox? To be Christian?  Some will have explanations, others will admonish that this is the sacrifice we must make for truth.  Yet, in times of division and fracture I wonder about that.  I wonder about truth and what it is and how to live it.  I think about how truth brought division and fracture into a family.  I think about my children, and memory, and traditions, and the things that make us diverse…what makes us a people…a community…a culture.

How shall we then live?

faith · Uncategorized

How to be free of a good reputation…

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I remember the first time I experienced the fear of my own goodness.  Her name was Lynn, and she was an eccentric woman.  She was heavy-set, very tall, and her brunette hair was wild and wiry.  She talked loud, had an appetite like a truck driver, and she could weave a great story.  Her stories were about her, her life- her crazy life before she was saved. She went to our a Pentecostal Church, where words from God were as common as they were bizarre.  But we didn’t know it.  It was considered a good Sunday when the Spirit got to movin’ and the preacher had to skip the sermon in favor of the praise and worship.  It was in this atmosphere that we might see and hear something other worldly.  And we did.  We saw things, and we heard things.  It was spectacular for sure.

Lynn was one of those ladies in our church that had a prophetic gift. She heard things, and she spoke them.  But it was her real life stories I remember.  I cannot retell one prophetic thing she ever said in church, but I do remember a million details from her stories.  They are little treasures that I find here and there as I go about piecing together my own story.

On one occasion Lynn told me a horrific tale about her days of living with the mob.  She was in her twenties and her man of the hour was a bad dude…a mobster that had many enemies.  You can imagine me, a 12 year old school girl, from a small town, raised on a farm, barely had TV,  and the awe with which I might listen to a story like this. And I did.  Lynn fascinated me.  She was kind and real and happy and awesome…and I loved her.  Outside of my mother, she was my first spiritual mentor.  When she told me that another mobster crashed into their bedroom late on night and shot her lover, while she laid right there in his warm blood, I was not surprised. I was fascinated.  Her story of redemption was so real to me.  Here was a lady that was truly saved from something.  Jesus had transformed her.  I envied her eccentricities, her side-ways looking at things, her ability to identify with pain and shame, her way with the unlovelies.

It would seem like a woman like this would be too much for a twelve year old.  But I had known her since I was very young.  She was my grandmother’s best friend.  She was a part of our family. I am so very thankful my mother didn’t shelter me from Lynn and her stories.  I am so very thankful for the opportunity to know a woman like her at a young age.

On another occasion Lynn told me that she worried for the good people in the Church.  She worried that good people would never know God’s love, His infinite mercy, His healing power.  At twelve I am sure that I did not understand the full implications of her words.  All I know is that as a young woman I was keenly aware that I was one of the good people she was referring to, and it scared me for some reason.

I am grown up now, and I have stories to tell of my own- mistakes I have made, people I have hurt, moral failures, religious failures, parenting failures.  But somehow these failures never seem to live up to the life Lynn lived, and I wonder if what she said is true.  Do good people ever really get saved?  Do good people ever know the real Christ?

I am not convinced that we do.

Is there hope for all us who believe we are morally gifted? I sure hope there is.  I am still trying to find my way.  One thing I do know is that we do not have to sin to know God’s mercy, but we do have to work hard at being real.  We do have to work at embracing the Lynns of the world.  Those whose reputations bring reproach, admitting that we are not separate from those we are tempted to judge.  Lynn never really escaped her past.  And what was great about Lynn is that she didn’t care to..she lived real.  Her life was not a before and after photo shoot…she made sure of that by telling her stories in her eccentric way.  A way that helped this good girl be afraid of her good reputation. A way that made me question what good is, and made me admit that I am not really good.  There is none good but God.

In her own way Lynn was like Saint Mary of Egypt.

In her own way Lynn preached the Gospel.

 

 

faith · friendship · homeschooling · kids · motherhood · parenting

Sidetracked by Loneliness

Homeschooling can be a lonely business.  At times we home school mothers experience isolation so acutely that we feel derailed, lost, sidetracked.  This is a weird phenomenon given the fact that we are with our children all day each and every day- well, most days.

Many factors contribute to loneliness, and each mother has a different set of circumstances and a different list of needs.  What we do share is the need for true connection and friendship.  If we perceive that this need is not being met, our days can take on a sort of depressive gloom that trips us up -the heart occupied with a nagging sadness is heavy, and this contributes to an overall sense of loneliness.

I cannot say that I have found the answer to this problem.  Maybe its not a problem that must be solved, but a reality that must be understood. It’s strange how we can have wonderful friends, and still feel lonely- disconnected.  We may have a Church family, a great mother, a spiritual father, an attentive and sweet husband- and yet, there is this disconnect.  This makes me wonder about the monastic nature of homeschooling- how spending my days away from the madding crowd is a much bigger spiritual struggle than I give credit.  Whether I understand why or how, the fact remains that I deal with loneliness.

We are very afraid of loneliness…we are especially afraid when our children experience loneliness.  It’s hard-the hardest thing I do as a homeschool mother of five, and some days I give into the schemes, the plans, the frenzy of a mind panicked.

I will it not to be so.

I am not very good at manufacturing happiness.  I’ve tried-boy, have I tried.  I’ve tried so hard that there was no space left on the calendar, no wiggle room, no chance for loneliness to sidetrack our happiness.  In the end this happiness was about as one dimensional as the wall calendar it was written on. It took mom and children to the brink…and we dangled there for awhile until finally- I came undone.

Because facing fear is about coming undone…it’s about unclinching the fist and opening up to the possibility that even if everything I fear comes upon me I am still held, I am still loved, I remain, we remain.

Deep and abiding fulfillment takes courage.

The courage to live it.

And homeschooling will stretch this courage very thin. I imagine that many of life’s circumstances stretch our courage thin.  We all fear being alone.

We praise thee, the Mediatress for the salvation of our race, O Virgin Theotokos; for in the flesh taken from thee, thy Son and our God hath deigned to endure the Passion through the Cross, and hath redeemed us from corruption, since He is the Friend of man.
~ Hymns of the Resurrection

jesus

Mediatress teach us your self giving love.  Make us worthy to receive your gifts and to know your abiding friendship. O Friend of man, make us worthy of your friendship and worthy of the friendship you give us in those precious souls here and now.  Help us endure the loneliness that comes from our own sin, and help us to know your mercy.  For Thou art good and lovest mankind.

friendship · poetry

The Friendzy

Maybe I should sit down.
Maybe I’m tired.
Blow smoke or tip a glass,
Or not. Because I don’t smoke.
Sounds good to me.
Until it’s here…the moment…when I realize
there’s no way.
To make sense would be to hide away,
But the crowd has left the room.
The crowd does all the talking.
To stand alone but not away is not possible.
You are with us now.
But I still want to smoke. Blow smoke
rings in the air.
I still want to hide but not from you.
The gang is gathering up at Charlie’s.
Since when are we friends with him?
With them?
No place to lay my head.
My head hurts.  I wake up
and my head hurts.
Maybe I am tired.
But Charlie never sleeps.
We never sleep.
Too caught up in the friendzy.
I wish I smoked.

~Mandy

 

books · faith · homeschooling · Uncategorized

Orthodox Education

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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.