A blessed Pascha to all- Christ is Risen!
This Lenten season was very special for many reasons. First of all, I became a godfather/sponsor for the first time, to a local university student. This is a role that I am not only honored to fill, but one that I dreamed of filling, and my 10th Lent seemed like an appropriate time to do so. I thought a lot about the fact that it was my 10th Lent in the Orthodox Church; at this point, I have been Orthodox almost as long as I was in the Methodist church of my upbringing.
Thinking about that milestone encouraged me to try something I hadn’t done yet since converting: try to go without dairy products for most of the fast. I expected it to be excruciating. I really enjoy my morning coffee with cream, and one of my favorite snacks is Siggi’s skyr yogurt. However, once I got into the fast, I found the process not excruciating, but exhilirating. This fast- like the first I experienced while living in Kentucky- was an opportunity to look at prayer, fasting and almsgiving with a stronger sense of joy. It was not always easy, especially as I was travelling quite often for my job, but it taught me to see everything as a challenge. That challenge expanded to attending services, and trying to be at more of Holy Week. For some reason, I was able to see small things, like schedule conflicts and busy weeks, as challenges and windows of opportunity for prayer and growth. Seeing the frenzy in that way allowed me to be more at peace with Lent as a season of growth through struggle.
While I was more at ease with fasting, one of the areas in which I greatly struggled was writing. I felt like St. Mary of Egypt as she tried to enter the church; no matter what, I was not able to enter that space. Literally, in three months, I wrote half a blog post about Time and Despondency, and I struggled to think of how to write about a book series that I have been reading from the Norwegian author Karl Øve Knausgård. Reading did not come with difficulty, but writing about it was a battle.
In the last year, I was fortunate enough to connect to Orthodox author, podcaster, and educator Elissa Bjeletich, who has been kind enough to coach me through the early stages of writing, and served as a sort of blog mentor over the last several months. In a conversation we were having, I mentioned that, now that my daughter’s health has improved somewhat, I have not been writing as frequently. Elissa simply said “Sometimes writing is a coping mechanism. The good news is that it reminded you that you love to write. Now you have to find a way to build it into your routine. Like prayer. So much easier when everything is dark and unknown.”
At the same time, while I have not been able to complete a blog entry in several months, my conversation with Elissa also reminded me that my other work, although not always publicly posted, is writing, and that writing practice often comes from branching out into other spaces, or seeing the opportunity for writing in those spaces. Once she said that, I started to see how my professional projects- which include things such as K-12 curriculum, magazine articles, and public talks- are things that help my writing, albeit in a different way. Through creating lesson plans, I learn to communicate my objectives to an educator. Through magazine articles, I learn to reach a particular audience in a short format. Through public talks, I learn how to take written communication and put it into a new form of performance: the verbal arts. I’ve found inspiration from my former years as part of an OCA mission in Canada; my former bishop, now Archbishop Irenée, was bivocational for much of his pre-ordination life, working as an assistant in the emergency ward in a Montreal hospital. Vladyka believed that one could learn quite a lot about obedience and humility from nursing other people, thus providing me an important lesson on how seemingly unrelated things prove themselves relevant.
Elissa’s third- and I think best- bit of wisdom to me was that “it’s good to slow down and take things in, before you switch back to output!” We are given so many opportunities to express ourselves. We have journals, blogs, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, art, dance, YouTube, and many other ways to put our thoughts onto some form of tangible, sharable media. But how often do we soak it in, rather than just spill it out?
That’s the question I want to keep asking myself.