Kreacher’s Love

I just finished rereading the Harry Potter series for the third or fourth time. I love those books, and I learn something different from them each time. I’m nearing the end of the seventh book, and in this reading of that particular book, I’ve put more attention towards the House Elf, Kreacher, than I have in previous readings.

 Kreacher from harrypotter.wikia.com

When we meet him, Kreacher is a House Elf belonging to the Black family. The Blacks are an ancient wizarding family who are very strong believers in the importance of pureblood supremacy. Nearly every member of this family hates all wizards who do not share their “pure blood” or their love of that purity. They also hate Muggles. This is the world in which Kreacher has lived, and it is all that he knows. He is loyal to this family and their beliefs. He shares their beliefs and opinions.

By some twist of fate, the Black house becomes the base for the Order of the Phoenix, an organization that works against everything that the Black family believes. He is not kind to the members of the Order. He obeys Sirius Black (his “owner” and the only “good” Black) because he must according to the magic that governs his race/species. But he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to do this and it is offensive to his beliefs.

When Harry Potter, Sirius Black’s godson, inherits Kreacher after Sirius passes away, Kreacher makes it clear that he disdains his new master. And Harry doesn’t seem too pleased to own Kreacher either. He won’t free Kreacher because he and the other members of the Order fear that the House Elf would (out of a sense of loyalty to the Black family) tell the Death Eaters what he has learned from living in the Order’s headquarters. But Harry doesn’t like Kreacher, and he doesn’t want to deal with him.

However, in the seventh book, something changes. Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves in the Black home (12 Grimmauld Place) again for a short time. During this stay, Harry gives Kreacher a locket that had belonged to the Black family. suddenly, Kreacher’s demeanor towards Harry changes. He is kind to Harry and his friends. He is even kind to Hermione who he had always treated rudely previously. Hermione had once observed that Kreacher is kind to those who are kind to him, and that is proved to be true.

But when 12 Grimmauld Place ceases to be a safe place for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Kreacher does not abandon them or their cause. Instead of fleeing to the Death Eaters, he somehow makes his way to Hogwarts, and we next meet him he is leading the House Elves of Hogwarts into battle against Lord Voldemort.

I think that we can learn a lesson about love from Kreacher. Real love isn’t just there when it’s convenient the way that Miss Cissy (Narcissa Black-Malfoy) or Miss Bella (Bellatrix Black-Lestrange) are for Kreacher. Love doesn’t mock us or treat us cruelly like Sirius Black does to Kreacher.

No, love is faithful. Love is persistent. Love keeps coming after us even when we reject it-perhaps because we don’t recognize it as such. Much like Hermione’s treatment of Kreacher, love never stops seeking the ultimate good of the other. Hermione doesn’t necessarily understand Kreacher, but to be honest, he’s a complex little dude.

Eventually, Harry starts to treat Kreacher with kindness, and that kindness is rewarded. Kreacher repays kindness with kindness. And he and Harry start to build some semblance of a relationship. This relationship never fully develops into its full potential largely because of the war.

Regardless, Kreacher shows me an important lesson about love-namely, love (either romantic or platonic) may not always look like we expect, but real love will suffer long. Real love is patient. Real love seeks the highest good of the other. Real love isn’t just there when it is convenient or when it wants something. Real love isn’t just nice to the other when it wants something. No, real love suffers with you and seeks your highest good.

That isn’t necessarily perfectly played out in Kreacher, but his story-and especially the way that Hermione persists in kindness towards him regardless of how he treats her-gives us an unusual but beautiful reminder of what real love is.

Lord, You know all things.

On this, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, most Catholics are inclined to think of Matthew 16 in which Christ changes Simon’s name to Peter and declares him to be the rock upon which He will build His Church. This is important, but it’s not my favorite verse associated with Peter.
That is, rather, John 21 in which Simon Peter who thrice denied the Lord is now asked three times “Do you love Me?” Christ tells Peter to “Tend My lambs,” “Shepherd My lambs,” and “Tend My sheep.” This is commonly called the restoration of Peter.
Then the Lord tells Peter that “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go…Follow Me.” St. John tells us that Christ said this to indicate the death by which Peter would die, and Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down.

To me, Peter is a great example of living for Christ. He is not perfect. He falls. He denies knowing Christ on the eve of the Passion. But when mercy is offered, he eagerly accepts it. Yes, he is frustrated by the repetition of the question “Do you love me?” He is human. He gets frustrated. He does things that aren’t the wisest. Honestly, sometimes, Peter is a loudmouth idiot. But he is also an amazing example of repentance, of humility, and of faith. He loves God. He believes in God. After Pentecost, he is filled with an incredible passion for the Lord and for preaching.

And that should be an example to us. St. Peter loved God ardently and wanted to share Christ with others. We should imitate that. St. Peter accepted love and mercy when they were offered to him. We should do likewise. St. Peter followed Christ regardless of the cost. We should do likewise.

St. Peter, pray for us!

I Belong to…

In a recent interview, Iggy Azalea said that she belongs to no one, a strong feminist statement. And it’s a statement that I really understand and even agree with, something about it started bothering me. It took me a while to figure out what bothers me. It’s not because I think that people should belong to one another-literally or figuratively. I don’t like the idea that a woman becomes a man’s property when they’re in a relationship or at any other time.

Rather, what bothered me was something that probably wasn’t anywhere near Iggy Azalea’s mind when she said that. See, I have no problem with saying at a purely human level that I belong to no one. I don’t belong to any human beings. Neither does Iggy Azalea. No human being should own another human being. However, in a spiritual sense, I do belong to someone. I belong to God.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

-I Corinthians 6:19-20

This basic concept presented by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians carries so much meaning. “You have been bought with a price,” Paul says. The price he references is Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The New Testament is filled with the idea that we as Christians belong to Christ.

This is an incredibly important part of my life and of my identity. At some point in the past year, I was challenged to rethink my identity. I had hit a point in my life where being a teacher was pretty much my sole definition of who and what I was. Now, being a teacher isn’t a bad thing. I really believe that I’m called to be a teacher. But I’m more than that. I’m a daughter of God. I’m the daughter of my earthly parents. I’m my brother’s sister. I’m a friend. I’m more than just my profession. And somehow, I had forgotten that. I had forgotten that first and foremost I belong to God. I had forgotten the most important part of my identity.

I mentioned in a previous post that about a year or so ago I started praying on a daily basis “Be real to me, Lord Jesus.” In that prayer, I started to find myself again.

Last summer, I started talking to a few friends about wanting to DO something to help support and encourage the ideals of strong, holy Christian women. I wanted (and still want) to work to promote the integration of faith and femininity. I want to show the world that there is nothing wrong with me being an almost twenty-seven-year-old woman who is single, who is Byzantine Catholic, who wears skinny jeans, who is actively pursuing her career, and who wears a chapel veil.

What does it mean to be a Catholic woman? It means living a life that is given wholly to the Gospel, given wholly to the Lord of the Universe.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

-Ephesians 4:1-6

I have been called to follow Christ, and I have chosen to accept that call. I have chosen to live my life not for myself but for the Lord. I have chosen to belong to the Lord. Admittedly, that is my choice. I have chosen to give my life over to a higher power and to trust Him. Every day, I choose to live not for myself but for God. It isn’t easy. I can’t do it on my own. But I ask the Lord to help me and strengthen me. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. But I have been called to follow the Lord, and I want to live a holy life, a Godly life.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

-Galatians 2:20

Iggy Azalea is right that she doesn’t belong to anyone. She doesn’t belong to her father or her mother or her fiancé or any other person. As I said previously, I belong to no human beings. But my life belongs to the Lord. I belong to the Lord.

To whom do you belong?

The Kitchen Table Garden

I’m not going to say that it’s Haley Stewart’s fault because it’s not. I know that Haley and her family grow veggies, and I think that they grow a few kinds of fruit as well. But that’s not my big takeaway from the Stewarts’ urban homesteading because mostly I know that they have chickens. I know this because chickens are cute. I can’t currently have chickens because I’m about to move into an apartment and that’s not a good place for chickens. However, chickens are awesome, and someday, I want to own some. All that Haley contributed to this was giving me a positive association for the phrase “urban homesteading.”

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This all started with a mint plant at the grocery store. They had a mint plant that cost $4. I like mint. I like mojitos. Buying fresh mint usually runs me about $4 a pop, so I grabbed the plant. I took it home and started working with it. My dining room window is enormous and faces east, so I put the plant on the dining room table. It liked that. I liked the mint. IMG_2341

The next week, I went back to the store and they had various potted herbs on sale for $2. I wanted to buy rosemary, parsley, and basil, but I could only find healthy rosemary. I bought two plants. I took them and put them in the dining room window sill. One of them likes that window sill; the other prefers sitting in the backyard. Weirdo.

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I went to Trader Joe’s seeking basil and parsley plants. They didn’t have any that day, but they had little herb gardens with oregano, thyme, and rosemary. I bought one, and I put it in the dining room window sill. It likes its life there.

I still wanted basil and parsley plants, so I went to a local farm market that I knew carried plants. The goal was one basil plant and one parsley plant. My roommate told me when I came home that the funniest part of this story that I actually believed at any point in my life that I could only buy two plants.

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I now own two pots that each contain four basil plants, two parsley plants, a chard plant, a kale plant, and a tomato plant. The parsley went in the kitchen window, which they love. Everything else went on the kitchen table. I’m not sure that the kale and the chard love it there. It might be too sunny for them there, so they might move to the front porch soon. We’ll see. But the basil loves it there. Loves it. The tomato plant is also happy there, and it might get a friend soon. We’ll see.

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Now, my roommate and I are trying to grow garlic, onions, and celery from scraps. The garlic is thriving, the celery is growing slowly, and the onions…well, we may have to try that experiment again. IMG_2348

Why am I growing all of these plants? There are a few reasons. One of them is that I grew up in a family of gardeners. My mom, her siblings, my grandparents…they garden. I’ve grown up around their produce, and it just feels normal and natural to me. It’s also less expensive than going out and buying new tomatoes or new basil or new whatever every week. It’s also about being a responsible steward of the earth and about knowing where my food comes from. (The grocery store is not always a good enough answer for me.) IMG_2350 IMG_2352 IMG_2354 IMG_2355 IMG_2356 IMG_2357 IMG_2358

I’m also doing this to build a habit in myself. This is something that I want to continue beyond this summer. I’d like to continue to add plants (lettuce and cilantro are coming to mind) to this as time goes on. I’d like to add more vegetables-peas, carrots, beans, cucumbers. If I ever own a house, I might want to throw in some berries or maybe a fruit tree. I want to create a habit or tradition for myself. I want to create something that I can continue if I ever have children.

What I Look for in a Cup of Tea

Obviously, I like tea a little bit. Over the course of my life, I’ve consumed a few cups of it, and I know a little bit about the subject. I drink tea at various times of the day and for various reasons, so I thought I’d throw a little of my tea drinking knowledge into the vast void in the hopes that it might help or interest others.

Flavor

The most important thing for me in choosing a cup of tea is the flavor of what I’m about to consume. I prefer to be able to smell what I’m about to drink rather than just buy something online and hope that it will meet my expectations. This is why I really like visiting my local tea shop. I can smell the teas before I buy them and talk to the people who work there about the flavors. They also occasionally have samples out to taste, and I really like that. I’ve bought some teas that I otherwise wouldn’t have because I was able to taste them.

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I will buy from Adagio Teas at times. However, I am willing to buy from them because of their detailed product descriptions. And even then, I feel a little nervous about what I’m going to get. It’s a bit of a leap of faith because I may not be getting something that I’m actually going to love.

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So what do I like? I like strong flavors and I tend to enjoy fruity flavors-especially peach. I have a variety of different peach flavored teas-black teas, white teas, iced teas…I like peach teas. Tazo Tea makes a peach green tea that I really like. I like Swirl Tea’s cold brew peach green tea. I have a tea called Cinderella Tea (a gift that a friend bought from Margaret’s Fine Teas in Pittsburgh) which is a black tea that has dried apple, pineapple, orange, elderberries and mango along with blackberry leaves and other floral/plant leaves. I find these flavors to be more complex and intriguing.

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I also like flavors such as mint, jasmine, and cinnamon. I tend to find these kinds of teas to be comforting flavors. They’re good standbys when I need something calming and comforting. I have a mint green tea from my local tea store that I just love. (Apparently, it’s very popular with their customers.) I tend to drink that tea when I’m studying or stressed. I’ll drink that old standby of green tea with jasmine when it’s offered, but I won’t go buy it on my own. I have a few black and green teas that have cinnamon in them, and I always like those. To me, these are safe, comfortable flavors.

Experience

As I mentioned above, there are some teas that I find to be fun and others that I find to be safe and comfortable. When I choose a tea, there are two experiences that are very important for me to consider. The first one is my own personal situation at the moment. I don’t want to be exploring new or complex flavors of tea while I’m writing a paper or grading an assignment. For me, those moments are the perfect times for subtle flavor like a peach tea or a mint tea. They’re calming flavors, and they don’t require much of my attention.

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On the other hand, something like the Cinderella tea I mentioned previously is going to come out for a movie night or when I’m reading for pleasure. Then I have more mental energy for enjoying the flavors that I’m drinking.

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I really like the Mr. Darcy tea from Adagio teas. The second time that I made a cup I informed my housemate that it smelled like I thought that Mr. Darcy would smell. Then I made her smell it; she agreed. That’s not something that I’m likely to drink while I’m doing work because it will distract me. On the other hand, it could be very enjoyable while I’m reading or watching Pride and Prejudice. It definitely is enjoyable when I’m reading other books and watching movies. While on vacation with a few friends over Memorial Day weekend, we consumed numerous pots of the stuff. It has a good amount of caffeine and a great taste.

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I’m also (probably unsurprisingly) a fan of the Lizzy Bennet tea from Adagio. It has a quirky flavor to it, and I love it. It’s a warm, playful flavor created by a mix of black tea, spices, and blackberries. It’s not too sweet, but it is warm and pleasant. It’s a comfortable tea. This was also consumed over Memorial Day but not as much as Darcy.

Mood

I like my tea to match my mood. If I’m in a calm mood, I’m going to be looking for something light and soothing. This, for example, is a great time for mint tea. I also find peach tea soothing, but I suspect that’s a matter of personal taste. If I’m in a playful mood, I’m going to want something that meets me where I am. This is when I’m going to want Lizzy Bennet. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, is great for waking me up. It has high caffeine content, and the flavors don’t overwhelm me.

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Overall, I want a flavor that matches my mood. I want my tea drinking experience to complement my emotions and improve them. I don’t want drinking tea to feel like work. I want to enjoy it. So whether that’s mint or peach or black, I’ll take it. I might want it hot; I might want it iced. Regardless of the temperature outside or the temperature of my tea, once I’m done with my morning coffee, it’s pretty safe bet that you’re going to find me drinking tea.

Being Watched

I oftentimes don’t think that I have much value or purpose in my parish. Several of the older ladies seem to like me. But often, I feel like I’m a bit of a misfit. I’m a single woman in a church that doesn’t really seem to need or want me.

I was reminded today that it’s not that simple. I may not feel like I have much of a place or purpose, but that is not actually true.

It happened after Communion today. The priest gave a blessing “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I bowed my head and made the Sign of the Cross as is appropriate. Then, as I have ever since my time in Spain in 2008, I kissed my thumb. I’m not precisely sure when or why I picked that habit up from the Spanish parish I attended during the fall of 2008, but ever since then, I’ve done that simple thing-kissing my thumb at the end of the Sign of the Cross.

When I looked up, I saw a little girl on the other side of the aisle watching me. N is just seven; I’ve known her most of her life. She’s from a wonderful family, and I never ceased to be impressed and inspired by her parents’ faith. I realized that N was mimicking what I had just done. She copied the Sign of the Cross as I’d just made it, and then she kissed her thumb like I’d just done. I made eye contact with her, and we exchanged quick smiles. That was the end of our interaction-although we chatted briefly after Liturgy.

But that moment stuck in my head. As I previously said, I often feel purposeless at church. While driving home, I thought over that moment. N watched me during that moment, and she imitated what I did. That makes me at some level a role model for her. That is a role for me in the parish.

I don’t often think about this, but that is an important role for me in my parish. I can be a role model for the girls in the parish. I can be a role model for them in my behavior, in my speech, and even in my dress. I can try to show them that you can be a young, single woman who likes to wear stylish clothing and still be a modest, devout Catholic. And that is no small thing. It might seem to me like a small thing or something that I don’t really notice. But it is important.

As a young, single woman, I can be a role model. I can show girls that women other than their moms can be faithful Catholics. Being a good and faithful Catholic doesn’t have to contradict fashionable dress or “trendy” behavior.

As St. Paul said, “Let no man despise your youth; but be you an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12). That’s my purpose. And that should be the purpose of all young, single Christian women in their churches.

 

A Place at the Table

In my post about blog envy, I mentioned the fact that there seem to be many flourishing Catholic mommy blogs out there, but there doesn’t seem to be room for Catholic single ladies to write blogs. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that the majority of Catholic blogs written by women are written by married women with children. These women are largely stay-at-home moms who homeschool. That’s an admirable life choice, and I respect them for that.

But it’s also a world into which I don’t fit. I read the posts that they write, and I feel disconnected. These are what I call “mommy blogs.” They tend to focus on the issues specifically related to marriage and family life and less so on the issues that face all Catholic women regardless of marital status. They’re not blogs for all Catholic women, and that is entirely fine-unless they bill themselves as blogs for all Catholic women. I recognize that these women need a community of support and encouragement. It is good that they have one another. I think it’s awesome that the internet enables them to interact with and support one another regardless of geography. I wouldn’t expect them to try to reach out to single women specifically; that wouldn’t make sense given the nature of their blogs. I don’t expect them to want to connect with me via their blogs. I’m not their intended audience.

However, at times, certain topics on their blogs serve as a reminder to me that in many places within the Church, single women are still treated like second-class adults or less than full-fledged adults. It can make me feel like the issues that I face are less important than the issues that they face and therefore I am less valuable to them and to the Church. I don’t think that it’s something that married women do intentionally. I don’t think that they sit around at playgroups or on the nights-out together that I hope they have and plot to look down on single women. But there are many times when I feel left out or looked down upon. Their blog posts, even those that aren’t explicitly about motherhood, oftentimes aren’t geared toward my current place in life. And at times the way that they write or the topics about which they write can make me feel as though a life such as mine (single, working, grad student) is not as important for the Kingdom of God as their lives are.

I am well aware that my life is in a different place than theirs. I’m not married nor do I have children. I don’t know when or if I’ll ever get married. Right now, I’m choosing to focus on my professional and academic worlds. In September, I’m going to start 15-16 months of working full-time and going to school full-time. It’s going to kick my butt, and I’m going to have to make sacrifices in some areas of my life for the benefit of other areas. My career needs to be my priority right now. Marriage and whatnot can come later. (There is an exception to this, and I’ll explain it at another point.) I believe that God has called me to this particular career, and I need to spend this season of my life focusing on that area.

And as odd as that might sound, I think that’s what I have to offer the mommy bloggers. I offer a different perspective on life. I believe in the same things that they do, but I work in the secular world. I daily meet people who don’t operate from my worldview, and I work with and alongside them. I don’t have the privilege of being surrounded in my professional life by Christians who love and support me, who agree with my goals and plans.

The mommy bloggers can talk about serving God in the context of their families, and I can talk about serving God in the context of my job. We all have the same goal-to build the Kingdom of God; we’re just going about it in different ways. My way isn’t less important than theirs, and theirs isn’t less important than mine. While the mommy bloggers can talk about building the Kingdom of God in their family lives, I can talk about building the Kingdom by working outside the home and engaging primarily with non-Christians.

And this brings me to my dream and the title of my post. I want a place at the table of female Catholic bloggers. I want to write and exist in a blogosphere where Catholic women both married and unmarried, those who work at home and those who work outside the home can sit down together and discuss our common ground. I think that we have much to offer one another. I think that I can learn from these women, and I’d like to hope that they could learn from me. I’d like to ask them questions about being married, and I don’t know what they could ask me. They could ask me about knitting or tea or books. They could ask me about grad school. They could ask me what it’s like to work with kiddos from all over the world. (By the way, it’s super awesome.) The point is this: I’d like to see a place at the table of female Catholic bloggers for single women.

I don’t want the mommy bloggers to change the topic or tone of their blogs; I believe that there is real value to their writing. But I want to create a conversation between their blogs and blogs like mine. I want to have the opportunity to talk with them about the different ways of Kingdom-building. I would really love it if every now and then those mommy bloggers who really do want to write for all Catholic women tried to find out how to best relate to their single readers. (Hint: Writing a post about what kind of man I should marry doesn’t help me. A post about seeking the Lord in all circumstances would however be awesome.) I want to see a community created and friendships built. I want to be treated as an equal, as a friend, and as a sister.