Writing in Faith, not about Faith

I think I just found THE words for an idea I’ve been striving to express for decades. The idea sprouted before I was Orthodox, but here it is in my present context.

Good Orthodox fiction is written IN Orthodoxy, not ABOUT Orthodoxy.

Fiction written ABOUT Orthodoxy (or Christianity in general) will crumple under the weight. Fiction does not do the work of nonfiction; it does a wholly different work, though it can bear similar fruit.

Fiction written IN Orthodoxy is fiction. Fiction may be full of light or full of darkness. The light’s the thing.

Narrative can only act for apologetics, in my view, the way a tune can remind you of a lyric. Faith-informed fiction is the melody only. If it’s rendered accurately, you will know the words.

It’s the difference between an oil painting of a flower and the shredded description of the flower pasted to the canvas in a floral shape. Let the explanation be the explanation. Let the portrait be the portrait.

Vase of Flowers. Creator: Jan Davidsz de Heem. Date: 1670. Institution: Mauritshuis. Provider: Digitale Collectie. Providing Country: Netherlands. PD for Public Domain Mark

#BlogtownTuesday: An interview with Even Thine Altars

It’s delightful to know that I met today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest IN #Blogtown! When I returned to this form of social writing, I spent hours searching the blogosphere for potential kindred spirits. In one of these searches, I discovered Catherine at Even Thine Altars. I appreciate her writing and her thoughtfulness. I hope you’ll enjoy her answers to my 5 questions.

How did your blog get its name?

My blog got its name from a line in my favorite psalm, Psalm 83 (Septuagint numbering). “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord of hosts…. Even Thine altars, my King and my God.” The line of “even Thine altars” refers to the home-ness of the altar of God, which to me is symbolic of the home we have in the Eucharist as members of the body of Christ on the altar of Christ. It is such a delightful and profoundly moving image for me, and every time I think about it there is new richness in it.

Choosing this line from Psalm 83 is also in reference to my love of the typikon, since Psalm 83 is the first psalm read at the 9th Hour, usually right before Vespers. The placement of this psalm is at the beginning of the last service of the day, and for me it signifies both rest and renewal, since work is done and the new liturgical day will start shortly.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

I think the defining characteristic of my blog is Orthodoxy, which permeates everything I write about. I love my faith and it is very present for me in my daily life, especially since I have been at Hellenic College Holy Cross. In the past, I tried to limit the influence that the psalms, quotes from the saints, or Orthodox-related posts had on my blogging, but this is impossible, so I have let it go. I really hope it isn’t overbearing or seems like I’m trying to be an example for other people, because that absolutely is not the intent. I simply hope to document my struggles and thoughts, and I hope they are at least interesting.

What is your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

My favorite thing about blogging is being able to express my thoughts in long-form writing, which no other form of social media allows. I also get to read other people’s well thought out and often moving or enlightening reflections on their own lives and struggles, which I find to be very beautiful.

My least favorite thing about blogging is having to take pictures, which I often forget to do until the last minute.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

Blogging is social to me because I get to put writing out into the world. This is very exciting for me, since otherwise the only place that sees my writing is my journal. It also has helped me get over my perfectionist ideals for my writing, since putting something out and connecting with people (especially in #Blogtown!) is so much more important than being “good.”

Sometimes the social aspects of blogging, especially Orthodox blogging but also blogging generally, are difficult for me because I am so young compared to most people in the community, and sometimes it feels as if I am on a childless single lonely little island trying to make the best of it. Despite this, it has been so amazing connecting with other people and seeing their interests and their stories, seeing what beautiful things they create or poems they write or thoughts they have about their most recent read.

Tell us 3 things we’d know about you if we’d grown up together.

1. I was homeschooled in a neo-classical Christian environment. This, of course, has had a big impact on my life. It allowed me to be more focused and creative in what I read and worked on, and it taught me discipline and focus which are great tools for me now.

 2. I adore proper grammar. I would always be the person not-so-silently correcting a person’s grammar. Now this love of the proper placement and use of words has allowed me to study dead languages with a fairly decent degree of ease.

3. I lived in a monastery. After I graduated high school in December 2015, I moved to St. Paisius Monastery in Safford, AZ, for a short time while I was trying to discern a monastic vocation. I didn’t stay very long, and about a year later I started college at HCHC. God only knows what I’m doing with my life now!

Thank you, Catherine!

You can connect with Catherine at Even Thine Altars. See you in #Blogtown!

#BlogtownTuesday: Interview with Summer Kinard

Today’s #BlogtownTuesday visitor is one of the first members of #Blogtown. She’s one of the group who did #bloginstead with me, and her posts in those 3 blissful days were so good to read. I’m talking about Summer Kinard – blogger, yes, and also author, speaker, and what you might call a cultural bridge for people who are differently abled.

How did your blog get iTs name?

My current blog is just my name, SummerKinard.com. I’ve had other blogs over the years, but this is the best way for me to keep my ideas together online.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

I try to always write with a recognition of the presence of the Incarnate God. My writing, whether personal reflections or about silly stuff with my kids, or resources for living the faith with disabilities, always comes from my heart and the knowledge that God is with us.

What’s your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

Blogging gives me an opportunity to share what I have learned in a creative nonfiction format without the burden of monetizing it. I love the opportunity to share insights that I can discuss with people with whom they resonate. I can also tell when an idea is salient by watching how it spreads. That’s a big part of connecting with my readers. The part I don’t like is the pressure to blog often. My kids have high stakes special needs, and I have to put them first. I give myself permission to take a few days or weeks longer than I initially planned to post on the blog when the delay allows me to address my family’s urgent needs.

You are a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

I read the Blogtown posts in my WordPress reader at least a couple of times a week. I enjoy listening to other people tell their beauties and their truths. Sometimes I can only tap “like,” but I try as often as I am able to be online to engage with their thoughts or just let them know they’ve encouraged me. I don’t forego other social media in order to blog, but blogging is my favorite type of online platform. I love stories and always have. I even love the stories of recipes on cooking blogs! To me, the most salient part of socializing is bearing witness to goodness and truth and beauty in the world, which includes exploring the process of discovery. I want to know how you noticed a particular rock in the forest or why sea salt and coffee changed your chocolate cake and your life. I love to see how the love of God grows in every crevice of life! Stories are where it’s at.

Tell us 3 thinGs we would know about you if we’d grown up with you.

It’s almost impossible for me to get lost. I used to be an eloper (though I didn’t realize it), and I would spend hours walking into the woods with my dog and finding my way home as a challenge. My mind absorbs details rapidly, giving me an instant map of places I go. I can pay unbroken attention to one activity for hours on end. I used to build houses for doodle bugs out of sand and sticks so I could train them to navigate the hallways. I love to laugh, and I love wordplay. My family had a custom called “shooting the breeze” where we would entertain each other with wordplay and stories. That laughter was a big part of my training in joy.

Thank you, Summer!

You can connect with Summer at SummerKinard.com. See you in #Blogtown!

#MakersMonday: Interview with The Cross Stitcher

When I was in second grade, I was given a cross-stitch project as a birthday present. It was a little prayer with Noah’s-Ark-themed ornamentation around the edges like a frame. I still have it. It’s still not finished. It is therefore with great respect and delight that I introduce you to Natalie at The Cross Stitcher, who not only begins to embroider, but finishes!

Tell us about your work. What do you create?

I’m a fiber artist! I create faith-inspired, contemporary embroidery art and weavings for the home. That’s a fancy way of saying, I stitch and weave crosses, which is exactly how the name, The Cross Stitcher, came to be. However, now everyone thinks I cross-stitch instead of embroider, (*face palm*). That’s what I get for trying to be punny! I also create Pascha basket covers, enamel pins, stickers and offer DIY step-by-step embroidery kits in my shop so that YOU can learn the beautiful art of embroidery as well!

HOw did you learn to do this kind of work?

Art has always been a very important part of my life. In my free time in college, you could often find me drawing or painting. There was a class in high school called “textile arts”. The name alone just sounded so intriguing. The class was full, and I wasn’t able to get in. Since then, I’d always wanted to try my hand at something with fibers. They just seemed so fun! I was drawn to the idea that you could actually touch your medium and constantly work with it in your hands. After a quick trip to Michael’s to buy some supplies, I started searching for videos of how to embroider. Everything I learned about embroidery and weaving, I learned from the internet! It didn’t take long for me to realize, “wait a minute…this is JUST like drawing or painting!” There’s still the basic concept of blending colors and filling in lines. Once I made that connection, I was off to the races.

Weaving came a little bit later. I had received a lap loom for Christmas 2016. However, I wanted to focus primarily on embroidery and starting my shop. When I get into something, I get INTO IT, so I actually asked my parents to keep it at their home until I was ready to use it, because I knew it would be too big of a temptation at my own place! Two years, 1 cat, 1 marriage, and a move to another state later, the loom made the long-awaited journey from Tennessee to Pennsylvania. I’ve been weaving for a little over a year now!

What do you find satisfying about being a “maker”?

Oh man, EVERYTHING. One of the reasons I started this business was because I couldn’t stop making things. Which is cool, until you have 40+ pieces of your own work in your small apartment…then it’s creepy. But, I just have this innate desire to create. It’s how I express my thoughts and emotions and relate to the environment around me. One day, I realized how truly thankful I am for this drive and ability to create. That’s when the idea of The Cross Stitcher, came to me. I wanted to do something that was an offering back to God, of the talents He’s given me, and to do so in a way that is glorifying to Him. That’s why almost every piece depicts the cross and why I designed the business to also function as a ministry, with 10% of all profits going directly to the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).

I incorporate so much color and boldness into every design, because I want to create pieces that resonate with both Christians and non-Christians alike. We are designed to appreciate beauty, and for some, I feel like this is a good common-ground starting place for understanding our faith.    

What’s your favorite memory associated with practicing your craft?

I love knowing who these pieces are going to. A woman recently commissioned an embroidery for her mother and she told me that when she opened it, she cried. It’s moments like that, that I can’t really fathom. It was a Latin cross with butterflies around it, and it touched her in a uniquely special way. Or when a Matushka with small children says that she’s been saving to purchase a piece for herself. It’s hard to wrap my head around someone wanting to do that with my work. Or to give it as a Christmas present. It’s moments like that, that are extremely humbling and help me to remember that my hands are merely the vessel, the means to do the work, all the beauty and inspiration behind the piece comes from God.

SHARE A PHOTO OF A FAVORITE PIECE, AND TELL US THE STORY THAT GOES WITH IT.

This was a piece I made during the Christmas break of 2017. I didn’t have much time to stitch the previous semester due to a heavy course load, and I was so excited to finally create again. These are the times when I feel like I am most creative. I started with my familiar outline of the Byzantine cross, but instead of stitching flowers on the outside like I normally do, I broke out the watercolors. There was no plan of what flowers to put where, or how the cross itself should look. I just started creating. This type of process is what gives me life as a creator and keeps me constantly excited about my work, Glory to God!

#MakersMonday: An Interview with Daniel

Today’s guest on #MakersMonday practices the fascinating and ancient art of wood carving. Daniel designs and creates in his shop, Candelar, in the north of England, and we connected during an artisan’s event sponsored by the Ancient Faith Store. As always, I’m asking 5 questions. Here’s how Daniel responded.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK.WHAT DO YOU CREATE?

I am Daniel Mihailescu, an Orthodox Romanian artisan living in the UK, where, by God’s mercy and providence, I own a small workshop specialised in the design and manufacture of liturgical objects.

HOW DID YOU LEARN TO DO THIS KIND OF WORK?

By trade I am a naval design engineer, and so I was blessed to have the design skills needed for the production of crosses, icons, vigil lamps, and other such wood-carved products.

WHAT DO YOU FIND SATISFYING ABOUT BEING A “MAKER”?

Having the freedom to work from home or in my workshop, in my own time, surrounded by beautiful people, all artisans in wood carving, pottery, music or painting, makes me happy, peaceful, and I love being a ‘maker’.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY ASSOCIATED WITH PRACTICING YOUR CRAFT?

My favourite memory is about Father Paul from Australia. On many occasions we add a thank-you item in the order shipment, and I remember thinking that Father Paul would definitely like one of our blessing crosses. As it happened, a few days after shipping the parcel to Australia, Father Paul emailed us saying that he would like to order a blessing cross!

SHARE A PHOTO OF A FAVORITE PIECE, AND TELL US THE STORY THAT GOES WITH IT.

“Have faith and wholeheartedly trust God Who will never abandon those who Love Him”—these words belong to Saint Cuthbert, “the wonderworker of the English land”, who was born in Northumbria around 634.

Saint Cuthbert possessed a rare spirit of endless love of God, of people and of every single creature of God. He had kindness, great compassion and zeal in preaching the Gospel; for his humility and loving heart, the Lord bestowed on Cuthbert the gifts of prayer, miracles, prophecy, and clairvoyance.

Father Justin from the “Orthodox Church of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bede” in Durham suggested a beautiful oak blessing cross to honour Saint Cuthbert and we are grateful to God for the result.

Thank you, Daniel!

You can connect with Daniel and see his beautiful work at Candelar.co.uk.

#BlogtownTuesday: Interview with Metanoia Bum

It’s #BlogtownTuesday – time to meet another member of our community. Today we’re visiting Nic at Thoughts of a Metanoia Bum. As I do each week, I’m asking 5 questions. Here’s how he answers!

How did your blog gets its name?

In college, one of my favorite books was Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, which was largely about Kerouac and his friend, poet Gary Snyder, wandering in the mountains and exploring Buddhism, amongst other things. I loved the book for a long time, but when I became Orthodox, I joked that the Orthodox version would be a “metanoia bum”- metanoia being the Greek word for “change of heart.” I’ve used the phrase ever since as a social media username, and it seemed appropriate when I started this blog in 2017. 

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

I would say that a characteristic feature of my blog is that it contains a strong sense of observational wonder about the world around me. Things often happen out of nowhere, and I write about them to highlight the glory and joy of how we are truly connected as children of God.  I’d also say that a willingness to be open about struggle, emotions and conflicts – largely with myself! – is also a standard part of the experience. The blogs are for the world around me, but also, in some cases, essays to myself. 

What’s your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

I love two things: (1) being able to help people through sharing my own experiences; and (2) the challenge of trying to say something really meaningful within a short format; it has challenged me to think about how I communicate ideas to the world. The thing I dislike is when I have an idea, and it gets stuck. Not being able to get it onto paper, and then often realizing that it may not be ready for the world, is hard. But it’s also helpful.

You’re a member of Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

I have built a really strong community because of blogging, not only virtual, but also in-person. Things I have written become centers of conversation in my own home community, and virtual connections have become in-person physical friendships that are real and tangible. It’s fun to see who likes things, who comments, who shares, and how those shares reach other people outside of my own world. My most-read piece, “Guys, You Don’t Have to Be a Priest,” made it outside of the Orthodox world, and was read by Catholic, Anglican, and many other denominations. That impact allows me to feel connected to the bigger world. 

Tell us 3 things we’d know about you if we’d grown up with you.

My notebooks are full of cars, imaginary cities, and maps. That is still the case.

I started college with the idea of being a physician or a physical therapist. 

I was a tech theatre and classics geek in high school, and once got a 1st place award nationwide for one of my projects!

Thank you, Nic!

You can connect with Nic at Thoughts of a Metanoia Bum. See you in #Blogtown!

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