Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sentimental



On October 25th, I cupped Benji’s big boy chin in my hand. “Five years ago today,” I cooed, “mommy woke up and had to call the doctor …”

“I know,” interrupted Ben “because it was time for me to come out of your tummy and then you cried and everybody ate donuts. You’ve told me that story a million times.”

Not everyone is as sentimental as I am. I’ve always been a sucker for raindrops on roses, deliriously happy endings, and memories that grow sweeter with time. I’m a feel good junkie, forever wringing droplets of schmaltziness out of dried-out, ordinary moments - forever equating goodness with tingling warmth. Just last week I was reading about the Romanovs, holding my breath, hoping against all hope that maybe this time the outcome would be different, maybe in this version their lives would be spared. But historical fact won out in the end and I had to dab my eyes with the tissue I was using for a bookmark. Ditto for the biography of Grand Duchess Elizabeth – the unavoidable finale, while certainly humbling and inspiring, pierced my gut like a blade slicing mawkishness from cold hard reality.

As a teenager I attended youth group at the Bible Church a few towns over. One winter, we bussed it to some cabins in the woods for a weekend of sanctimonious ecstasy. We sang, until our throats were raw, soft as cotton love songs to the Holy Spirit. We confessed to one another (while drunk on Dr. Pepper) secret sins, wicked grudges, and a variety of sordid temptations. We sobbed, embraced, made passionate late night promises to be faithful, zealous, and holy. We journaled, sitting cross-legged on graffiti stained picnic tables, our romanticized aspirations - I was totally “on fire” for Jesus. Being naturally predisposed, however, to use my feelings as a gauge for genuineness, worthwhileness, and authenticity, that experience ingrained in me a permanent correlation between emotion and God’s presence in my life. I was an addict on the hunt for a high in the form of worship - repetitive, melodious, and poignant. But depression set in when the flames died down- God was absent, or angry, or worse yet just apathetic. Sobering up, after binging on such spiritual intoxication, was disheartening and disconcerting to say the least.

Throughout college I would continue to walk the impossibly narrow line between guilt and fanaticism, using my Bible like a road map to guide me. It seemed a scant pairing, even then: just my own fickle self and the Word of God. That is, I suppose, if you didn’t count the hundreds of contradictory opinions, on what the Lord really meant in those verses, being fed to me by pastors, professors, commentaries, small group leaders, and peers. But ultimately, it was my own responsibility to conjure up a belief I felt comfortable with, a task as daunting as crossing the ocean on an inner tube - a task that would eventually leave me cynical, defensive, and irritated. It seemed harder than it should be: finding a connection with the living Christ, one that wasn’t so dependent on my personal and very limited resources. It seemed that I was destined to either buck a nebulous system or to lose my relevance as a Christian through the sterility of lukewarmness.

Thanks be to God, I chose the former, swallowing ravenously the subtantiveness of the sacraments - the historical, touchable, tasteable, smellable, hearable, and recitable Truths of the Christian Faith as was lived out and died for by the apostles, Church Fathers, and saints. Thanks be to God for the stability, the community both earthly and heavenly, the continuity and authority of the Orthodox Church. As I grew in knowledge and practice, as I aligned myself less with the current culture and more with the Church calendar, as I rooted myself in the fertile soil of a Theology unaffected by the sins, biases, and imperfections of its champions, I was able to disentangle myself from the immobilizing habit of depending on feelings to translate my religious experiences. I could finally stop grinding my wheels, and move forward.

Don’t get me wrong, I relish in the joy of Pascha. I shed tears till my face is blotchy on Holy Friday. I’ve had sensations of clarity, remorse, and thankfulness as bright and searing as the blaze of a burning bush. But you see, aha!, these were gifts free and clear – unexpected, uninduced, and unrequired for my growth in the life of Christ Jesus. These were, and will continue to be, the proverbial icing on a cake that is already satisfying on its own, that was formed out of tried and true ingredients blending together, organically, under the direction of an age old recipe. The tools of the Church are building my faith: Eucharist, confession, prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, almsgiving, and participation in the Divine Services. Resources, neither limited nor reliant on ever-fluctuating hormones, moods, and temperaments, anchor my soul. I ‘m being saved on a ship that is strong, swift, and sturdy and I am grateful beyond explanation. I recall the lonely drifting, the wondering if God was pleased with me, and the anxiety that came with numbness, without melancholy. But ask me about the day of Ben’s birth, when I labored in agony for thirteen hours, when near crazy with exhaustion I pushed and screamed and groaned until he emerged like the sun out of darkness, and well… see, even now I’m getting weepy.

I’m just sappy like that I suppose.

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7 comments:

Kelleylynn said...

Molly,

Your words express all that is (and was) in my heart.

From the sound of it, I came from a very similiar background. I have found home, finding an eternal home with Christ. Orthodoxy is so new to me (even 12 years later) but yet so familiar.
It asks of you BUT gives back so much!

You mention the Romanov's and Grand Duchess Elizabeth. It is by her intercessions that I am Orthodox. After reading her autobiography...I had to have what she had, had to do this -- for if she could -- I certainly needed to taste and see. Much, Much more to this story -- someday I shall write it down. I'm afraid that my words cannot express the way yours do -- You have a God-given gift. Glory to God for all things!

Our Hannah Elizabeth is named after her and our church has a relic of St. Elizabeth mounted on a beautiful icon written by one of our own parishioners. It is truly a blessing!

To make you feel sentimental, my dear, dear husband knows that I am intrigued by the Romanov's, so one Valentine's Day, he presents me with the collective Love Letters of Alexis and Nicholas. Just to hold the book...I can't breathe but yet I feel their love and my husbands for me.

Molly Sabourin said...

My parish, here in Indiana, is St. Elizabeth's. It was so affirming when we moved to the area because I, too, have always been fascinated by her for the very same reasons you mentioned. I never got the sense that she was born with a sort of supernatural propensity for sainthood. Her martydom, rather, was the end result of a gradual transformation that took place as her circumstances demanded that she either move forward in her faith or give in to despair. We, too, have to make such a decision every day...who knows where it will lead us in the long run. Oh, St. Elizabeth pray to God for us!

p.s. Your husband gets major points for his romantic gift idea!

Anonymous said...

Molly,

I have to say I really enjoyed this post. My personality is totally the opposite of you. However, I have found that since studying Orthodoxy and becoming a catechumen that I am a sap myself. All I do is cry or hear myself saying "Awww!" I have to say that I have noticed over the past few years that usually my best friends usually tend to be the romantic, "touchy feely" type and we always seem to balance one another out beautifully. I yearn to be more that way. I can't wait to learn more and more every day about this wonderful journey called Orthodoxy. It is exciting to know that it never gets old even after many years. Sadly Protestantism gets old quickly. All this to say, could you please recommend some good books for a new Orthodox Mom. Women saints? An easy read please for a mom of 2 VERY busy boys.

Blessings,
Michele
catechumen in Alabama

Molly Sabourin said...

Hi Michele,

I understand what you mean about different personalities complementing each other. My husband is the complete opposite of me in the emotions department and that works quite well for us. Let's see...good books for a busy mom. I tend to lean toward biographies or lives of the saints. My two favorite stories being Father Arseny and St. Elizabeth. Federica Matthews Green's book, "Facing East" was very helpful to me when I was a catechumen. I also enjoyed "The Orthodox Church," by Bishop Kallistos Ware (we went through that one in my catechumen classes). There are compilations of convert stories like "Our Hearts True Home" by Ginny Nieuwsma at Conciliar Press, and my husband says that MAtthew Gallatin's book, "Searching for God in a Land of Shallow Wells," is good too, especially if you are coming from a Protestant background. Do you get "The Handmaiden?" It is a beautiful journal written especially for women in the Orthodox faith and published by conciliar press. It comes out quarterly and is theme oriented. I devour mine when it comes (and not just because I write for it, I promise!). Anyway, I hope that helps! Take care!

Love,

Molly

Michele Mulder said...

Molly,

Thank you, I will check out all of these. I asked for a subscription for "The Handmaiden" for Christmas from my husband. I have borrowed all that my friend has so far. I have read 2 of Frederica's books and I ABSOLUTELY loved the book Father Arseny. My 11 year old son begged me every morning to tell him some of the stories I had read the night before. He would say before bed, "Mom, don't forget anything you read tonight because I want you to tell me all about it in the morning." My husband loved it as well. Is there a specific book on St. Elizabeth? By the way, I have become friends with Frederica and some ladies in her parish. In the beginning of my journey I was bold enough to email everybody and anybody to ask questions. Even an author like Frederica. She put me in touch with some other ladies and I have made some cool friends because of her. I was starving and needed help. It is funny to look back on those days. They were probably thinking, "Oh no, here is ANOTHER email from that Michele in Alabama."

Thank you for your suggestions,
Michele
catechumen in Alabama

Molly Sabourin said...

Good for you Michele for being persistent! I find that even though it is a stretch for me to be outgoing and initiate conversation, especially regarding something as important as my faith, the results of such boldness can be so very encouraging. The St.Elizabeth book I'd recommend is called: "Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russian, New Martyr of the Communist Yoke" written by Lubov Millar and published by Nikodemus Orthodox Publication Society, Richfield Springs, New York.

I was quite touched by your son's interest in the life of Father Arseny. What an extraordinary experience to share with him!

Michele said...

Hey Molly,

I cannot find the Grand Duchess book anywhere! I have searched the internet and I am stumped. I am also interested in what OrthodoXCircle is.

Thanks,
Michele
catechumen in Alabama