Ideas for Lent That I’ll Bet You Haven’t Seen Before


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This post comes from one of my absolute most favorite blogs, Glory to God for All Things. In this post, Father Stephen discusses Lent and what it is meant to be, and he gives a list of some things to consider for how we celebrate Lent. We might already be two weeks into it, but we can still improve how we spend this time!

I am linking it here on my blog because I wholeheartedly agree with his premise that traditional practice flourishes our humanity:

Does any of this matter? Why should Christians in the modern world concern themselves with a traditional practice?

What is at stake in the modern world is our humanity. The notion that we are self-authenticating individuals is simply false. We obviously do not bring ourselves in existence – it is a gift. And the larger part of what constitutes our lives is simply a given – a gift. It is not always a gift that someone is happy with – they would like themselves to be other than they are. But the myth of the modern world is that we, in fact, do create ourselves and our lives – our identities are imagined to be of our own making. We are only who we choose to be. It is a myth that is extremely well-suited for undergirding a culture built on consumption. Identity can be had at a price. The wealthy have a far greater range of identities available to them – the poor are largely stuck with being who they really are.

But the only truly authentic human life is the one we receive as a gift from God. The spirituality of choice and consumption under the guise of freedom is an emptiness. The identity we create is an ephemera, a product of imagination and the market. The habits of the marketplace serve to enslave us – Lent is a call to freedom.

On a side note:
I know I haven’t been writing much of my own posts lately, and this blog is still sorely lacking in discussion of bodily functions. During Lent, I am focusing a little bit more on reading rather than writing. Plus, I’m sure a lot of other people have more important things to say than I do, and I am simply passing their work on!


An Excellent Post on Poetry and Literature


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I really wanted to write my own ditty on poetry and literature–and perhaps later I will–but for now enjoy this other person’s excellent reflection on the subject.

“Is it safe to expose children to such dark images? I think so, or as safe as any real poetry can be; poetry is no tame lion. At that age, I had no categories in my mind for real darkness, and so the darkness couldn’t get in to do me damage. But the image stayed; which meant that when the reality showed up years later, I was not defenseless.”

A Candid Reflection on Ash Wednesday’s Aftermath


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A lot about this very candid blog post rang true for me. Despite my real appreciation for this Roman holy day’s spiritual meaning, all of that good fruit is lost when we run around posting selfies of our “good Catholic” selves. And I still can’t decide how I feel about #ashtag–especially the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ (FOCUS) chart on what kind of ashes you got and their promotion of the ashed selfies–in relation to all of this: just good humor or another means to proclaim to the world how holy we are with our ashes or a distraction from the real meaning of those ashes?

This candid article was a solid reminder to me that Lent–whether we started it with Clean Monday or Ash Wednesday–isn’t meant to begin with a prideful display of piety but with the remembrance that we are sinners desperately in need of God’s mercy.

Lent is not about how good we are, but about our need for forgiveness. It is not about us taking away Jesus’s pain on the Cross or being His savior by our good deeds, but about our need for Him to be *our* savior, regardless of what we do.

An Excerpt from the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete


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“O Jesus, how is it that I could not follow the path of the just Abel, that I could not present to you pure offerings, holy deeds and an unblemished sacrifice, by the purity of my life?

…Despite my faults, O Savior, I truly know that you are the Lover of us all.
You chastise those whom you love, and generous is your mercy; you behold
my tears, and you hasten to meet me, your prodigal.”

Paintings of Mary That I Would Like to See: Pregnant Barfing and More


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As a Byzantine Catholic, I believe in the concept of ancestral sin, a counterpart to Roman Catholicism’s original sin. Eastern Christian theology teaches that when Adam and Eve first sinned, they were consequently separated from God, who is Life itself, and brought suffering and death into the world. All of humanity experiences the effects–suffering and death–of that first sin, regardless of whether or not we ourselves have sinned. However, we do not share in the guilt of that first sin, as is the case in Western theology’s original sin. Thus, in Eastern theology, Mary, though sinless, would have suffered (and died before her assumption) as a human being.

That’s a big theological introduction to what I mean to point out, which is that I feel like it’s very easy to forget that Mary dealt with normal human plights, especially looking at all the famous portraits of Mary out in the world. I think there are a lot of brilliant works on Mary’s happy, serene, angelic, or piously suffering human moments, but what about the frustrating, frightening, gross, and exasperating moments? Come on. She was a mom. And let’s not forget that Jesus was human as well. He might not have sinned, but he definitely spit up, pooped, cried, and teethed. If I ever find the time (or the skills) to paint someday, I’d dedicate my works solely to the following moments:

  • Elizabeth holding back Mary’s hair while she pregnant pukes her guts out.
  • Joseph holding back Mary’s hair while she pregnant pukes her guts out.
  • Mary laying down exhausted in a dirty house.
  • Mary wincing in pain as she nurses Jesus for one of the first times.
  • Mary screaming in agony as she nurses a teething baby Jesus.
  • Mary cleaning a poop explosion off of her wall.
  • Mary wiping the spit up out of Joseph’s beard.
  • Mary and Joseph laughing watching baby Jesus eat his first solid foods.
    (Not really suffering, but I’d like to see it nonetheless).
  • Mary chasing naked toddler Jesus with his clothes. (My friend Charlene actually already did a great stick-figure drawing of this here).
  • Mary giving young, crying Jesus a big mom hug

I’m sure there are plenty more possible works for my avant garde series. The point is I think it’s easy to get lost in a misconstruction of the image of the Theotokos praised in hymns and to believe on some level that she who is “more honorable than the cherubim” was something other than human. But she wasn’t an angel or a goddess. She was a very human wife and mother who experienced many of the same joys and frustrations that all of us wives and mothers experience. Knowing that helps me to have a better relationship with her, especially when I’m screaming in agony because my daughter has decided she is a piranha and my nipples are her prey.

Mary praying

“Is that poop on my thumb? Yes. That’s definitely poop. On my thumb.”

Sucking at Lent with Father Schmemann


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Today is Clean Monday, aka the beginning of Great Lent for the Eastern Christian churches. Suck it, Rome. Not only do we have an extra adjective before our season of repentance, we’re doing this two days longer than you are. And yes, I believe bragging about it is TOTALLY compatible with everything God said about fasting: “Make sure you look gloomy and let everyone else know how much better your fast is than theirs” Gospel of Pride 1:1.

Thankfully, God has never given me any reason to be prideful about fasting because I suck at it. I am generally a very hungry person who does not like change. Hands up if you’re with me. Don’t think I don’t see you reaching for that Snickers bar. You should give me a bite.

Last year I was enduring the first trimester of pregnancy during Great Inconvenience, I mean, um, Lent, so fasting from anything was unusually difficult. I started by giving up Facebook, and that led to some very unholy frustration and the realization that I needed to change fasts. I tried chocolate, which was also a problem. I finally ended up deciding to give up–wait for it–wait for it–automatic doors. Yes, I decided I would be a true ascetic and force myself to push open my own door. And do you know what? It was a good fast, as evidenced by how much I looked forward to the Monday after Easter so that I could walk through those blessed automatic doors on my way to class.

While I’d like to blame most of this on being pregnant, I tend to think I would have ended up giving up those automatic doors regardless.

I wouldn’t say I’m awesome at almsgiving or prayer either. Even though I know the point of Great Lent is to not be awesome at those things, it is nevertheless difficult anticipating taking on a task which you know will be particularly difficult. Thus, the anticipation of every Lenten season brings about much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part.

ImageThat was until this year’s Great Lent, when I read Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann in the months prior. Father Schmemann was an Orthodox Christian priest and a brilliant student of theology. In this book, he explains our Eastern Lenten traditions, liturgies and prayers in depth without getting too heady, and he also discusses what we must do in our personal lives to make this season fruitful. What I enjoy most is that Father Schmemann writes about the fruitfulness and the true spiritual fullness of Lent, whereas Lent is so popularly seen as a season of removing and doing without. While we are fasting, there are incredible spiritual gifts to help us truly live all the themes of this season such as the Pre-sanctified Liturgies, the Canon of St. Andrew, and All Souls Saturdays. Even though I knew all of these things existed prior to reading Father Schmemann’s book, he illuminated their meaning and their importance for me while teaching me many facts about our Lenten traditions that I had never learned, such as Pre-sanctified Liturgies being meant to give us the spiritual strength of the Eucharist on Wednesday and Friday because we (are supposed to) fast with particular intensity on those days.

A couple of notes:

1) I know some of you are saying to yourselves “But he’s Orthodox, not Catholic, so why are you reading him?” Byzantine Catholics are essentially an Orthodox church that came into union with Catholicism. We maintain our Orthodox spirituality and theology almost entirely.

2) For Western Christians who decide to pick up this book, be forewarned that Father Schmemann is very honest and occasionally harsh in explaining his disagreement with certain Western concepts, such as Eucharistic adoration. As a Byzantine, I find his disagreement enlightening, but I prefer to honor the validity of those Western beliefs because of our unity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I practice them but that I see them as valid concepts for a Catholic to adopt.

I will probably still suck at fasting, prayer, and almsgiving this year (which is how it’s supposed to be anyway, right?), but I think I will be more able to recognize the fruit of these and of other Lenten practices after reading Father Schmemann’s book. I would highly highly highly recommend Great Lent for any Eastern Christian out there who, like me, generally sucks at or just doesn’t look forward to Lent. I’d also recommend it for anyone interested in learning a little more about the Eastern Christian churches.

Abundant Life and Abundant Suffering


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Edgar_Degas_-_In_a_Café_-_Google_Art_Project_2Twice today, I have read blog articles from Catholic women being honest about their intense suffering (here and here). (I don’t know if they want to be linked to this or not. Ultimately, I mean to say I liked these posts very much, so I hope they take it as a compliment!) Both articles came with disclaimers–one implicit, one explicit–about the possibility of scandalizing people by sharing their honest feelings.

As someone who’s been through a little bit of hell and back in my own life, I would like to tell those bloggers something: your honesty scandalizes no one.

What truly scandalizes is someone not sharing her honesty in her suffering.
What truly scandalizes is the woman who only writes about how happy her life is.
What truly scandalizes is the woman who thinks she’s being vulnerable by sharing only her least-painful sufferings.
What truly scandalizes is the woman whose advice to someone in pain is to simply hope in God, think positive, and offer it up for the poor souls in Purgatory, and everything will be okay.

For the reader who is honest with himself or herself about their feelings and who is going through genuine darkness, such writings only make them feel alone and as though they are failing as a Christian. For the person who is still quite immature in their faith, such writings give a very false and sinister idea of what a good Christian should be, and they will go on to perpetuate an evangelization of prosperity, not of Christ.

Intense suffering and the process of healing that suffering are necessary aspects of our human experience and of the road to becoming a saint (aka reaching our fullest human potential). Even though that suffering may seem ugly, I believe in a God who, by his own day-to-day suffering and his ultimate suffering on a cross, has redeemed our own pains and made them something beautiful. He has even redeemed the sinful parts of our suffering, such as envy, and can use that to give us something good, such as humility in seeing our sinfulness.

Suffering and healing also unite us with other human beings and with God in a way that is almost impossible to put into words. And no, I’m not talking about your Lenten fast. I’m talking about the suffering we don’t choose or regret having chosen: losing a loved one, being cheated on by your spouse, feeling at the end of your rope in your vocation, infertility, seeing your parents divorce, experiencing abuse, battling a mental illness or addiction, battling physical disease, or any number of other issues.

I have experienced that unity first-hand. When my brother committed suicide six years ago, I remember being able to finally understand why my best friend still grieved over her parents’ divorce several years after it happened. It only took weeks after my brother’s death for me to see how pain could exist that would take a very long time to heal completely, if ever. I also remember growing much closer to the friends I had outside of my Catholic bubble; in many ways, they were more sympathetic and empathetic to my suffering than some of the people in my church crowd, thanks to that Prosperity Gospel mentality. I remember being able to hear my friend’s testimony of coming out as gay to his father, and rather than feeling separated by our differing views on the homosexual lifestyle, I wanted to cry for his pain and his strength in the whole ordeal because my own suffering had softened my previously stoic heart.

It’s sad that I could not feel these things prior to my brother’s death, and it’s a testimony to how truly immature I was, but I’m grateful that I did not remain that way.

My brother’s suicide also brought me closer to God, despite feeling for a long time afterward that God was just being an absentee father and cynical puppeteer to my life. It might have taken some time, but I learned that true love means expecting nothing in return, even from God. Thankfully, God didn’t leave me in that dark night forever, but it was long enough for me to mature in my ability to love.

As Christians, we are called to love above all else. The kind of love God asks of us is not possible without suffering. In the words of Kahlil Gibran:

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,

Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

The Christian life is called to be an abundant one, and that means weeping all of our tears just as much as it means laughing all of our laughter. So dear friends, you can write about how what you’re feeling isn’t right or fair, but don’t you dare apologize or even offer a disclaimer for being honest about your sufferings. There is no scandal in it. Only truth.

And the truth–not the version of truth that we wish we had, but the real truth–is what sets us free.

For Even As Love Crowns You

Love. There is nothing more essential to our being. I kept trying to write a post on love and Rainer Maria Rilke’s warning to the young poet kept ringing through my ears as I realized I failed with every sentence and that men before me had done much, much better. So instead of my own words, here is one of my favorite treatises on love–filled with poetic observations of the reality of love’s paradoxical joy and suffering–from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. 

When love beckons to you, follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast. 

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,

Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;

For love is sufficient unto love. 

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. 

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

crownsByzantine marriage crowns from my wedding.