It’s Okay to Mourn

Every year, I have certain expectations of Easter. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I do expect it to be A Certain Way. Usually, my Easter lives up to my expectations-at least in the spiritual sense.

But this year, real life intervened. Not only was Easter imperfect, it didn’t live up to my expectations. People were late for things. People were sick. Things weren’t where they ought to have been. There were miscommunications.

And Easter wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Now, is Christ still risen from the dead? Yes! Absolutely, He is. Is Resurrection Matins still the Most Beautiful Thing in the Whole Entire World? Uh, duh. (I had a rough day; I didn’t become a different person.)

But I’m human, and in my humanity, I experienced disappointment. I had been looking forward to certain things, and I didn’t get to experience those things. I was sad.

But I felt bad about being sad because well…it’s still Easter and it’s still Resurrection Matins and even if it wasn’t perfect it still was the basic thing that I love.

(Also, I got to hold a cute baby for a few minutes of Liturgy; that was awesome. I love holding babies.)

Last night, I was sitting there beating myself up for being unhappy because things weren’t exactly as I’d wanted them to be. Resurrection Matins was lovely. Pascha is still the most beautiful feast of the year. Christ is still risen from the dead. Sure, I didn’t get to have the experience that I’d wanted, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

And that’s true. No matter how beautiful or ugly your Paschal celebration/experience is, that does not change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

But that does not mean that you’re not allowed to be unhappy or sad if your expectations aren’t met. That doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to set expectations for what I hope Pascha 2018 is. We are human beings who were created with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. God wants us to have hopes and dreams. But He does not want us to get so caught up in our hopes and expectations that we miss out on what is happening in front of us. It’s okay that I was sad about some of my experience yesterday. But I can’t allow that to keep me from experiencing and embracing the joy of the Resurrection.

That’s not just Easter. That’s life. My life may not look like what I might have hoped it would look like by the time I was almost 29. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) I’m allowed to be sad about that. But I should not allow my sadness to keep me from experiencing and embracing the place in which God has put me. I’m allowed to have plans and hopes for my future. But I should not allow them to keep me from seeking God’s will and living the life to which He has called me.

It’s the second day of the Paschal season, and I think that at this point, the Lord is showing me that sadness is not a bad thing, but I cannot allow it to consume me. I need to share my sorrow with Him and ask Him to show me what He wants to do with my life. I need to continue to be patient and open in my walk with Him.

Psalm 103

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my post about why you should visit an Eastern Church. As I’ve been preparing for Holy Week, I initially felt inspired to write a Holy Week-centric post. I intended to use the video below in that post, but the music and the psalm kept digging themselves deeper into my psyche, and….well, I just felt better equipped to write a blog post about Psalm 103. And maybe, it will inspire someone reading it to come experience some part of Holy Week in one of the Eastern traditions.

The above video is of the beginning of Entombment Vespers on the evening of Great and Holy Friday. It’s from St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church where the psalm is chanted in Ukrainian. I know the text of the psalm that they’re praying as we sing it at my parish in English. I love the idea of beginning Entombment Vespers with this psalm. As we celebrate Christ’s glorious passion, we begin with our eyes fixed on the greatness of God. We will later pray through the sufferings He endured for our sake. But we begin by looking at His Majesty.

I found myself reading through this psalm and thinking about it in the context of Great and Holy Friday. “Bless the Lord, o my soul,” the psalmist begins. “Oh Lord my God, how great you are!”

That is the God we hail as great. Beaten. Battered. Bruised. Crowned with thorns. Crucified between two thieves.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

You stretch out the heavens like a tent. Above the rains you build your dwelling. You make the clouds your chariot, you walk on the wings of the wind; you make your angels spirits and your ministers a flaming fire. You founded the earth on its base, to stand firm from age to age.

The One who stretched out the heavens, who founded the earth on its base, who hung the earth upon the waters…he is slapped on the face by those whom He created. He is spat upon. He is mocked. He is hung upon a tree. He bears all patiently. He gives His back to those who beat him and His cheeks to those who pluck His beard. (Isaiah 50) For our sake, He bore it all.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

That is the beauty of Great and Holy Friday to me. We in the East do not ignore Christ’s brutal sufferings, but we look at them in the light of their broader context. Christ suffered and died for us because of His love for us. He became the sacrificial victim so that He might also be the Victor over sin and death. Christ’s Passion and Death are not only acts of love but also acts of victory. Christ took crucifixion, a brutal way of death, and turned it into an act of glorious victory. He trampled Death and despoiled Hades.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

Thoughts as Lent Ends…

Today, when the sun sets, my Church Tradition will consider Lent to have ended. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Lazarus Saturday and move into Great and Holy Week. Although we will continue to fast next week, the Great Fast that we began forty days ago will be at a close.

At the beginning of the Great Fast, forty days always feels like a long time to me. I’ve talked previous about how I disliked Lent as a child because I viewed it as some sort of horrible deprivation. I didn’t fully understand it. Now, I still don’t fully understand it, but I find more value in it. I have come to realize more and more each year how God can use those forty days (however long or short they may be) to help me to grow closer to him.

This Lent, I have primarily felt the Lord inviting me to trust Him more fully. In that invitation, I have been working through some anger and frustration that I have carried inside of myself for a long time. Last week, I was driving home from work and raging at the Lord. I was about to go staff a youth group retreat, and I was badly hurting from a hard week. I was struggling with some serious questions, and I just could not understand what I saw around me. As I raged, I felt the Lord answer me with the same answer He gave Job. “Hush, child. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

Hush. You were not there when I spoke the world into being. You were not there when I laid the foundations of the world. You don’t yet see the full picture. Yes, you’ve seen hard things this week, but you don’t know yet how all of these things will play out. Hush. You can’t possibly understand yet.

Now, I understand how that “hush” could sound harsh, but I felt an enormous amount of love in that. Hush, and trust me. You may not understand on this side of Paradise, but all will be well. Trust me. Trust my plans.

I went on the retreat. I was tired and still struggling with the baggage of the past week. But I heard the Lord through the talks and sharings. I experienced His love through people around me. Now, I was given no immediate answers to the questions, but I chose to focus on trusting those questions over to the Master of the Universe. I chose (and am still choosing because it is a daily process) to let go of those questions and trust them over to the Lord who knows the plans He has for me.

On Monday, I went to confession, and I told the priest that I was struggling with anger at God. He looked at me and asked me if I’d told God that. I said, in my usual delightful way, “Well, yeah, of course!” Now, God and I need to work through my anger. As I said in the above paragraph, I need to let go not only of those questions but also of my anger. Like Job, I need to say “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 2, 5-6) I need to surrender my pride and trust in God’s plan that is both better than mine and beyond my comprehension.

It isn’t an easy process. It won’t be done by the time Lent ends. It won’t be done by Pascha (Easter) morning. It is the process of a life. But it is worth doing. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it require sacrifice? Yes. Will it require grace? Yes. Will it be worth it?

I sometimes expect Lent to be more dramatic than it is. I’m not sure what I expected of it forty days ago, but this wasn’t it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an interesting thing. If I want heaven, if I want holiness, then it follows that I must be willing to make sacrifices. I must be wiling to change. I must be willing to surrender my pride and trust in the plans of Him who is enough for us.

For in His Will is our peace.

-Dante Aligheri

Five Children’s Books that Shaped Me

(Screen cap from You’ve Got Mail, found on Tumblr)

I’m a teacher, and occasionally I like to share my favorite children’s books with my students. I was thinking about a few of my favorite picture books and what they mean to me, and I thought that I’d like to share these with my blog readers. Each of these books is a book that is very special to me and has become a part of who I am. (NB: I am planning a future post about chapter books. For the moment, I want to focus on picture books.)

  1. The Velveteen Rabbit: I liked this book as a child. As an adult, I love it. This story focuses on love and what it means to become Real. It is one of the most beautiful stories that I know of because it talks about the beauty that can come from hardships. It doesn’t sugarcoat life, and I appreciate that.
  2. Madeline: This book is filled with sentimental connections for me. One of my cats is actually named after this book. I love Madeline’s strong will and adventurous spirit. She is a little mischievous, but I think that’s a good thing. I find Madeline to be a good role model for little girls.
  3. A Chair for My Mother: As a child, I loved this book. I loved the character’s desire to get her mother a new chair. I loved the portrayal of love in this book. And I really, really wanted that chair; I thought it was soooo pretty when I was a kid.
  4. Stone Soup: This book focuses on finding and bringing out the good in others. I loved the story as a child because I thought it was fun. It’s also interesting to see how the characters change over the course of the story.
  5. The Mitten: I vividly remember reading this book over and over again as a child. Yes, it has a message about perhaps knowing your limits or something like that. However, mostly, I always find it be an amusing story.

These are just five of my favorite children’s books, and there are dozens more that I love. What children’s books do you love?

What I’ve Learned from Beatrice

I’ve liked Emma Thompson for a long time. It goes back to high school and first being introduced to Much Ado About Nothing and Sense and Sensibility. I’ve been irrationally angry about the demise of her marriage to Ken Branagh for far longer than they were married. (And I was like five when they divorced.) I’ve only recently started to let that go and forgive Professor Lockhart for leaving Professor Trelawney to be with Bellatrix Lestrange. The point being…I like Emma Thompson. She tends to portray (with the exception of Trelawney) women who inspire me. Think about it…Elinor Dashwood, Beatrice…Mrs. Potts. (I’ve always wanted to be a housekeeper who was turned into a teapot. I do like tea, as you may have heard. Becoming a teapot is merely the next step.)

In the spirit of my love of Emma Thompson and in light of March Ado About Nothing, I want to share with you the most important things that I’ve learned from my favorite of Thompson’s film roles…Beatrice. Beatrice is a strong-willed woman who doesn’t fear much of anything. She isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or her loved ones. I’ve been compared to Beatrice before, and I am genuinely unsure as to whether I’m a natural Beatrice or if I’ve tried (consciously or unconsciously) to become a Beatrice because I like her so much. So…what have I learned from Beatrice?

  1. Be yourself. Beatrice is not interested in conforming to societal norms to make other people happy. Perhaps she could have married younger if she had adapted herself to social norms, but that is not in her nature. She is independent, and she is not willing to change herself to make a man happy. She doesn’t mince words or try to hide behind pretense. She does not allow Don Pedro’s power to intimidate, and even when she is romantically interested in Benedick she doesn’t sit and swoon over him. She keeps being herself, and he appreciates that.
  2. Intelligence is attractive. Beatrice is smart and witty. She is a woman who speaks her mind. Not everyone loves it, but those who understand her appreciate her and value her. People may tease her about her personality, but ultimately, she has several people in her life who value her for who and what she is. For example, Don Pedro is clearly impressed by her wit and her ability to keep up with other intelligent people like Benedick. Their mutual friends seek to pair them up partially as a joke or entertainment but also because they see the ways in which their wits are well suited.
  3. Treat your friends well. Beatrice is a wonderful friend. She treats her friends with respect and puts their own interests ahead of their own. Look no further than her relationship with Hero. Hero is both Beatrice’s cousin and best friend, and Beatrice treats Hero better than she treats herself. When Hero is hurt, Beatrice is willing to do whatever she can to help her. She even goes so far as to endanger her fledgling romance with Benedick to defend Hero’s honor. This works out well for her, but that is due in part to Benedick’s respect for Beatrice as well as his understanding of her relationship with Hero.
  4. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Life is not forever serious, and Beatrice knows that well. We need to laugh and enjoy life. Beatrice does that. As Leonato says, “she hath often dreamed of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing.” (Act II, Scene 1) She does not take life more seriously than it requires. She is serious when the situation calls for it, but she prefers to laugh. “I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.” (Act I, Scene 1) Similarly, Don Pedro speculates that she must have been born in a merry hour because of her disposition.
  5. Be realistic about the world around you. Beatrice knows who she is and her limits within her world. She knows that she would not do well married to the Prince because he is “too costly” for daily wear. He will make a good husband for someone, but she knows that they would not be well suited. She is not meant to be the wife of a prince. She is also aware that a woman is not allowed to defend the honor of another woman, and so she seeks out help from someone who is allowed to take that action. She knows her own limits, and she works within them to the best of her ability. 

Overall, I love Beatrice. I admire her strength and sense of humor as well as her awareness of how far she can push the boundaries of her world. I like being compared to her, and I think she makes a good role model for strong women.

“There was a star danced, and under that was I born. ”

-Act II, Scene 1

If They Had Only TALKED to Each Other…

There’s a point in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing where I get frustrated with the characters and think/say, “This never would have happened if they had only TALKED to each other.” Now, most of the action of the play wouldn’t have happened either, but that’s kind of my point. The entire premise of the play is built on people acting without talking to each other. Shakespeare is trying to make a point to us, the readers and viewers, about communication. What is that point? So much of life’s chaos could be avoided if people only talked to one another.

Crazy idea, right? Who would ever do that?

Clearly the characters in our play didn’t. There are several moments in the play where a character ought to have sought out another character and discussed something with the other and didn’t. Plot and action occur because of this lack of communication, so it’s not the worst thing ever. Plot and action are what we want in our entertainments. But these are not things we want in our real lives. If I found myself in Beatrice’s and Benedick’s shoes, I might not be so happy that my friends were manipulating me (into realizing that I am in love with a person to whom I am extremely well suited).

If Beatrice and Benedick had talked to one another after the staged overhearings in Act II, Scene iii, they might have found out that their friends were lying to them. Now, those lies were well-intended (and they further the plot) but the fact remains that they were lies. In many ways, this lack of communication actually led to a better outcome for the involved parties. (Actually, people, feel free to trick me like that if you find a person to whom I’m extremely well suited but I struggle to treat with kindness and respect.)

But other communication failures in the play are more dangerous. The biggest example of this is Don John’s manipulation of his brother and Claudio. Instead of talking to Hero about these actions that they’ve seen that do not line up with any of their previous knowledge or experiences of her, the pair just off and publicly denounce her. They refuse to trust her previous reputation. They refuse to talk to her.

And in doing so, they hurt Hero and those she loves. Claudio and Don Pedro damage (at least temporarily) Hero’s relationship with her father. They develop an unexpected foe in their former friend, Benedick. On the other hand, this rupture is caused by Benedick choosing to ally himself with Beatrice and Hero. Benedick is suspicious of what he hears from his friends at the failed wedding and chooses to communicate with a person he believes to be trustworthy in order to find the truth.

This is where communication comes into play. Leonato makes the (incomprehensible to me) choice to immediately believe the accusations hurled upon his daughter by Claudio and Don Pedro. (Sexism mayhap?) Before jumping to conclusions, Benedick and Friar Francis both stop and start asking questions.They talk to Hero, they figure out what is happening, and they formulate a plan to hopefully resolve the situation.

Then Beatrice and Benedick talk privately. This conversation is not an easy one for Benedick because the woman he likes wants someone to challenge his closest friends to a duel. But the two of them communicate. They talk about what Beatrice wants from Benedick AND why she wants him. “It is a man’s office but not yours,” she explains. (Act IV, Scene 1) Propriety does not allow women to fight duels, and Benedick is not closely related to Hero, which means that he does not need to defend her honor. Someone from her family ought to do the defending. Nevertheless, Beatrice explains her position, and Benedick comes to understand her to the point where he accepts her challenge.

Benedick is obviously partially motivated on this path by his feelings for Beatrice, but as the action continues we come to understand that he is also genuinely frustrated by his friends. As Act IV continues, they seem almost unaware of the impact of their actions on Hero’s family. They view their confrontation with Leonato and Antonio as something of a joke. Even after Benedick not only confronts them but threatens them, they still do not see the danger of their situation. It is only when they are confronted with Borachio’s confession that they realize what they have done, what they have misunderstood.

In the end, we have two weddings. But I have to suspect that one marriage will be happier than the other. Beatrice and Benedick seem to communicate well while Hero and Claudio seem to struggle in that regard. While we can hope that time and maturity will help them to grow in that area, it is not one of their strengths at the end of the play.

Literary Choices

I recently finished reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. If you’re not familiar with IF, it is a vast tome. The book is nearly 1,000 pages long-not including the footnotes. And the footnotes are crucial to the story; you cannot avoid them if you want to understand the book. It’s an endeavor. In all honesty, the only reason that I decided to tackle it during the month of February was that I had been given the gift of empty (not free but empty) time, and I needed something to occupy that time. So, I read Infinite Jest.

It was an adventure. I spent every spare minute I could find reading the book. At some point in my venture through the book, a friend asked me what I thought, and I said that while I was enjoying it, I had no intention of ever reading it again. She reminded me of one of life’s great truths-being an adult means that you don’t have to finish a book just because you started it.

But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to finish the book. I was hypnotized by the writing, and I desperately wanted to find out how the story ends. However, I don’t think that I’ll be revisiting the book. DFW and I had our adventure. We had a nice long fling together. As flings go, it was solid. I grew from the experience. I’ll always remember it fondly. But it’s not a fling that I feel any need to revisit. The book is on the shelf. I can look at it. I can remember. But I don’t have to go back there.

That’s the thing about reading books as an adult. You get to choose what you read and what you don’t read. And you don’t have to reread books if you don’t want to. You can have an enjoyable fling with a book and leave it behind when your fling ends. If you love it and revisiting it is good for you, go for it. Revisit it often. I used to read a few pages of Marisa Dos Santos’s Love Walked In almost every night because I was having trouble falling asleep and the book helped me calm down and sleep. (Also, I loved reading about Teo Sandoval right before bed.) I have friends who reread The Lord of the Rings every year.

Your time is your own, and you get to choose how you use that resource. Yes, some things in life are mandatory, but others aren’t. As an adult, you get to choose what you read and when you read it-within reason of course. It’s absolutely true that you don’t have to finish a book. You don’t have to have a set timeline for reading a book. And you can read a book as many times as you want. If you want to read it once, that’s your choice. Likewise, it’s your choice if you want to read it twenty times. It’s all up to you.