Putting Joy Into Practice: Why you need this book!

Putting Joy Into Practice

Putting Joy into PracticeHave you read Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church, by Phoebe Farag Mikhail?

This is an amazing book.

It reads like a conversation, the kind you might have on a tough day, sitting in a squeaky kitchen chair and cuddling the cup of hot coffee that’s going to keep you alive until bedtime. Christmas is coming, the world is sparkling around you, and you are exhausted by your attempts to be as happy as you expected to be. That’s why you need this book.

Reading it, I decided that most of us (including me) have no idea what joy really IS, let alone how to BE joyful. The book has many strengths, but one of the best is the way it uses clear, practical language to convey deep theological wisdom. You’ll read a sentence and think it’s simple, and then the floor will drop out of it and you’ll realize it has enough depth to keep you reflecting on it for the rest of your life.

Phoebe Farag MikhailPhoebe does a wonderful job of including the voices and experiences of the church fathers – AND those of human beings she has seen or known in modern life. She includes stories of both defeat and victory on the path to joyful living. The book is honest and hopeful. It holds you to a high standard, but gives you the tools and inspiration to meet that high standard.

I also appreciated the many ways in which the book was not “obvious.” You might think, even after a glimpse at the table of contents, that some of the 7 practices are things you’ve already heard or already tried, but as you work through the chapters, you discover their enormity. These practices are things a normal person can do in normal life. They are simple, but not easy. But even thinking about them, beginning to plan how you might attempt one or two, will stretch your mind and heart.


This book is available from Paraclete Press, Amazon, and the Ancient Faith Store. Go get it! Make it part of your devotional time in the new year, or get it for a friend who’s sitting in her squeaky kitchen chair, praying to God for a lifeline on the journey through this difficult world.


Thank you, Phoebe Farag Mikhail for putting this book on my path!

Close to God in Nature

Lights on the Mountain: A Novel by Cheryl Anne TuggleThis week, I ran a giveaway on my Facebook page, featuring a novel called Lights on the Mountain (Paraclete Press 2019). My friend Cheryl Anne Tuggle wrote it, and it’s beautiful. To enter the giveaway, I asked people to comment with a time they’d felt close to God in nature. It’s a theme in the novel, beginning with an experience the main character has in the first chapter that changes his life. (Find out what and why! Get a copy here.)

The comments were beautiful! I don’t want them to scroll away into the land of yesterday’s news feed. So I’m gathering them up and sharing them here.

“Comment with a Time You Felt Close to God in Nature”

Sarah Frye Gingrich: It was one our last nights in Chile as missionaries, and we were camping on a local island with youth for a retreat. As night fell the bay began to glow where the lapping waves hit the shore. Bioluminescent plankton. We donned our suits and ran into the water, wherever we moved there was green light. I lay back and kicked through the light, staring up at bright stars against the endless black. I felt that God is both beyond and nearer than my breath.

Rebecca Stasia Braswell: Rain. Stick with me, a moment. I grew up in the San Joaquin valley in California, which produces about 80% of the country’s produce and goods on approx 12 inches of rain a year. I love, love, love rain. It still has that childlike marvel attached to it, even as an adult who sees a lot more rain. When thunder rolls and crashes, I’m reminded of a powerful, sovereign God that sends good to the just, and thankfully for me, to the unjust alike.

Nancy Athanasia Parcels: I was 15 years old and experiencing some pretty serious health issues, my family and I were in Greece. I was hiking in Crete on a mountain and came across this amazing view of the ocean. I sat down with the sun on my skin, wind in my hair and smelling the ocean. I was praying to God to heal me. I then sat there with my eyes closed just listening to nature. I felt a hand on my shoulder I turned and no one was there. I closed my eyes again and I am pretty sure I heard God tell me that everything was going to be alright. A few months later I was back in the States and with a clean bill of health.

I felt so close to God at that moment. I felt uplifted, loved and beyond grateful for this life.

Christine Rogers: The Northern Lights!

Elina Pelikan: My youth living by the sea.. sweatshirt and jeans and a journal on a cliff alone with the enormity of the ocean… sometimes I would bring my guitar and belt the church songs into the wind and waves…. sometimes I would just sit and scribble nonsense and breathe in the salty air and seaspray.

I love to soak in His presence in a beautiful church, but sitting with Him in a forest or by the water brings another experience that is rich and nourishing.

Christina Bournelis Blankenstein: Anytime that I’m at the Oregon coast- especially if I wake up early enough in the morning and I’m at scout camp. So, surrounded by trees,looking out at the ocean. I feel as if I have entered a small piece of the heavenly kingdom!

Sian Williams: I live close enough to the sea to be able to hear the crash of waves at high tide on a quiet still night if I go outside. Always moves me to tears and to prayer.

Sarah Brangwynne: Gardening and Spring. I am always amazed at the beauty of trees and plants coming to life after a period of dormancy and looking pretty dead all winter.

Rachel Stevens: My grandparents own 20 acres in VA. On that 20 acres they have a pond. As a teenager I sit on a concrete bench next to the pond with a journal in hand. I also loved riding their horse around alone too. So peaceful and easy to pray 🙂

Abby Kreckel: As a teenager, I would sneak into my empty but unlocked childhood parish and sit on the floor in the dark, singing hymns and hearing them echo around the dark space.

Katherine Bolger Hyde: At the first Orthodox Writers Week at the Beach, I walked on the beach each morning and was filled with a holy joy. This is only one of many times I have felt close to God in nature. “The world is shot through with the grandeur of God” (G. M. Hopkins).

Kristina Michelle: Nature has been a huge part of my life. I was fortunate that my parents made sure we were out and about in the forest every week. One summer I drove an hour each way on the prairie every day for work. That consistent, great amount of time watching the prairie and listening to Christian music (I’d never even heard of Orthodoxy at that point!) created a deep peace throughout the entire summer.

Vassi M Haros: I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was just a kid… staring at the clouds as they floated by. It was so peaceful to not be aware or influenced by the people or things around me. It was just me and God.

Sandra Glisic: The time that I felt most close to God in nature was one spring day where I picked up a book and sat on the grass by the lake on monastery grounds to read. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to my book because the picture in front of me was truly a book on its own. The birds were chirping, the water peacefully moving, the trees rustled from the wind, flowers were slowly growing and the wind brought freshness into everything including me. I realized at that moment what it means for life to renew and resurrect and I realized at that moment how wonderful God truly is and how amazing are all the things He created. And most of all, how amazing was it that He blesses us all with that and me in that moment.

Anastasia Dimassis-Benbow: Not one specific time… But every time I’m going through something, and I realize I haven’t touched God’s “home plate“ in a while, I sit by the water. I close my eyes and feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and the sound of the shore. I can literally feel God wrap his arms around me, and I leave with a renewed sense of strength, love, and pure hope. ❤️

 

Photo by Greg Nunes on Unsplash

Memories of God

When you convert to a new faith, you leave everything behind. You are not a refugee, with $200 and two pieces of luggage. You weren’t forced to leave a country you love. You chose to leave a country you could no longer love. You are gone.

No doubt, everyone’s conversion is different. Life has taught me, in hundreds of big and little ways, that people are like snowflakes – there really are not EVER any two exactly alike. So I won’t speak for your conversion, or their conversion, or any other conversion but mine.

Conversion never ends. At first, it’s a decision. There’s a long road to the decision, and a long road away from it. You can’t see ahead on this road. You can only see the two footprint-sized parts of the road you are standing on right now, this minute.

My piece of road right now is about memories. Hymn fragments, remembered feelings. I thought I had left everything behind, and at first, this was true. But life flowed on around and through me, and now I discover the pieces of my faith that belonged to me then and are still with me now.

Is this possible? If it is, it has nothing to do with dogma or canon. It’s the fact that God does not wait for us to check the right box and join the right group before He decides to get in touch.

Was He always there? I remember asking my priest, after my conversion, “Who am I talking to when I pray now? Is it still the same God I was talking to before?” I wasn’t sure then, but now, I am.

Sometimes, time is like water. You wash something in this water, and it comes clear. At first, I didn’t want to love anything from my pre-Orthodox spiritual life. I was too concerned with building this new faith life, and I didn’t want to contaminate it.

But now, time has washed my heart, and I can see patches of gold in those old shadows. My longing for them now is not unlike my need for them then. They can still belong to me. They can still comfort me.

Wherever I find it, light is light.

 

-Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

A Great Light

Hand reaching out of darkness into light

When Hurricane Katrina came ashore on August 29, 2005, my husband was stationed at the Seabee base in Gulfport, MS. The flat, sandy coastline offered no resistance. The little towns along its length disappeared into the surging flood. Trees, cell towers, and whole buildings went down in the wild wind. At nightfall, there was nothing to be seen but hot, wailing darkness.

But the Seabees (an affectionate and honorable term for the Navy’s Construction Battalions) are uniquely qualified to shine in moments of disaster. They are trained to arrive in a place that has absolutely nothing but the ground under their feet and construct an airstrip, a tank farm, a base, a town – whatever is needed for the people who will follow in their footsteps. In a remarkably short time, the Seabee base had power, water, and communication with the outside world, and had begun to send teams out into the surrounding towns to look for survivors and offer desperately needed assistance.

And then?

At nightfall, there was nothing to be seen but darkness….and the blazing light of the Seabee base, the only light in that devastated landscape. People walked miles, hours, through unimaginable destruction, to reach that light. They arrived at the gates, and the Seabees let them in. The officers and troops created towns in the base warehouses, stretching their military protocol and ingenuity to care for the people who came to them, the people who could see their light and responded as human beings in darkness have always responded and always will.

The storm refugees brought nothing but the clothes they stood up with and stories of horror and grief – loved ones torn out of their arms in the flood, houses washed away, hair-raising escapes out of buildings that were filling with water as they climbed out of windows or struggled to free a debris-clogged door. The world as they had known it was taken from them completely in just a few hours. With nothing left, they gazed into the darkness, and when they saw a light, they started walking. It was as simple as that.

I have come to believe that this is the role of the Church on earth. If we are the body of Christ, we are the bearers of that great light that shines on the people who sit in darkness. When nothing else remains, when the storm and the darkness have swallowed every joy and comfort, we are the people who use the tools we have been given to bring the light. We are those who build a shelter, offer nourishment, and honor grief with our hearts and with our sacraments. We are the last and the first, the only beacon remaining and the outpost of the new creation.

 

-Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

Paradox

Diamond wedding ring surrounded by more diamonds

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

That statement is backwards, isn’t it? Don’t we treasure things that are near to our hearts? It’s harder to believe a treasure could be something we have to journey towards.  We keep our treasures close, don’t we? It’s paradoxical to imagine moving our hearts toward something and deciding to treasure it.

Yet, how many times does Jesus ask us to do something paradoxical? How many Bible verses can you remember that are like this one – sounding “backwards” at first until you grasp the loving truth they contain? Jesus Himself is a paradox. He conquered death by dying. He led by serving. He spoke to illiterate people in a tiny conquered nation thousands of years ago, and His words are heard today in every corner of the earth.

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God Writing

Writing makes me think about God. Imagine writing a chapter. What’s in it – characters, plot twists, setting, subtext? Planning goes into that. Word choice. Looking at the other chapters. Thinking how you’re moving the action, developing the characters. But then, look at one day of your real life. One. What’s in it? SO many characters playing roles you know little to nothing about, and every one of them has an entire lifetime full of meanings and memories you know nothing about, and you and these other characters are interacting with each other, with yourselves, with your multi-faceted setting, with time, space, memory, love. And the collective intelligence and imagination of the human race to date has not come up with a way to predict what will happen in the next chapter.

Immensity.

-Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Question by the River

I have lived in several worlds in my life, and I don’t suffer homesickness in the ordinary way. But sometimes, in the middle of a song, in a cloud of flower scent, at a moment of child-like peace, a wave of grief will rise over me because I can no longer go back to any good thing I remember. When I reach the river that flows by the throne, that might be my question – why couldn’t I bring together all the fragments of pure beauty I have seen and felt? I hope that’s what awaits me on the other side of the river. All those lost moments, the bouquet that was too much for human hands to grasp.

-Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash