Last fall I had the privilege of joining the editorial staff of The Handmaiden, a quarterly journal for Orthodox Christian women published by Conciliar Media Ministries. This week for my Close to Home Podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. I will be reading the following article which I wrote for the latest issue (Vol. 12, No.1) focusing on the topic of True Belief. If you are unfamiliar with with this outstanding resource providing interviews, articles, reflections, poetry, etc., all geared toward the strengthening of our faith and the building up of our Orthodox community, I encourage you to visit the Conciliar website and give yourself or someone you the love the gift of a subscription.
An Impracticality Reconsidered
by Molly Sabourin
After graduating from college, many of my friends held on to their favorite textbooks, kept their research papers in a binder, and filed away their notes to mull over later. I admired this about them even while actively trying to sell every gently used memento I could gather from my own scholastic experience to underclassman for a little bit of pocket money. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for being pushed and pulled, challenged and humbled, enlightened and indoctrinated throughout my four years of higher education; I was just so darn ready to spread my wings, still damp and fragile, and fly away into the sunset without any extra baggage, without a mind all strained and muddled, without kinking up my neck by looking back.
I’m a “deal with it and move on” kind of girl. A “let’s get this show on the road” type of student, mother, shopper, cook, etc. This explains why I get a good start on a recipe (one I didn’t take the time to read all the way through, of course) before realizing that I am out of baking soda, vanilla, or garlic powder. This is why I usually leave the grocery store having purchased all but three of the items on my list (“double-check?” What a drag!). This is why I make overly ambitious plans, like organizing the entire kitchen in 20 minutes flat, only to end up with a counter full of spices, cereal boxes, and canned goods impossible to put away again before my time runs out. And this is why after immersing myself for a solid year in Orthodox Christian literature, theology, and Tradition, in preparation for my imminent conversion, I took a ten-year study break to just live out the Faith by applying it to my every day circumstances, to grow accustomed to the rhythm of the Church.
Staying ever true to my character, I compiled throughout that time all kinds of uplifting books from various parishes, conferences, and catalogues, only to precariously stack the bulk of them on my nightstand, like a makeshift leaning tower of good intentions. Dog eared pages in the first or second chapters of each, reveal my impatience, my unproductive habit of getting easily sidetracked by new resolutions, by an “easy read” novel, or by sleep. I am genuinely appreciative of the Church’s teachings, but …how should I put this? My interest in creeds, counsels, and Orthodox catechism has been trumped by a desire for something more practical at this stage of my life - like instructions on meal planning, home organization, and discipline.
For example, you will rarely find me at coffee hour in the throes of a good-natured debate with seminarians, because jumping up every three minutes to head off an impeding toddler disaster is not exactly conducive for participation in intensive dialogue. So I stick with the “mom” table, where my fellow female parishioners pop in and out of light hearted conversation like fishing bobbers coming up for air when their line is free, before the weighty demands of their hungry children can pull them quickly out of sight again. This is the “hunker down and take care of the business at hand” routine to which I became accustomed - and which God had no qualms about shaking up a little.
This past July, my husband, Troy, and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. All that day I counted down the minutes until I could break out a dress impossible to nurse in, and dust off my high-heeled shoes for an evening of good food (i.e. something with visible vegetables) and romance. We were giddy as we dropped the kids off at my parents for this was indeed a rare occasion – a chance to share, communicate, and confide in one another without interruption. It became quickly obvious, however, that we could not jump into such earnest discussion willy-nilly, without unwinding, warming up or switching gears. We both needed a bit of time to let our zooming thoughts settle, to slow down our breathing, to remember how to relate to one another outside the context of parenthood.
“Do you want to listen to something?” asked Troy pulling out the iPod he depends on for maintaining sanity throughout the daily, hour-long, commute he makes to the city.
“Sure,” I said, we had at least an hour to kill ourselves, a built-in pocket of rest before painting the town red, “what do you got?”
We decided on a podcast from Ancient Faith Radio, Clark Carlton’s three part series on Hell and Hades. Admittedly, I was fuzzy on the Orthodox Church’s view of the afterlife. It was one of those topics I had meant to look into but, unfortunately, had let all curiosity about fall to the wayside due to other, more pressing, concerns. “This should be interesting,” I thought to myself, closing my eyes to the tacky highway billboards promoting gambling, fireworks and strip clubs. And for the next 45 minutes I was riveted, I tell you, I was floored by the “abstract” Truths, Dr. Carlton expertly and methodically spelled out for his listeners. I became permanently altered by the “unnecessary” information drawing tears of thanksgiving from my overworked and underfed mind.
Let’s face it, the main reason I joined the Church (Her rock solid stance on what constitutes the “fullness of the Faith”) is the same reason why I got …let’s see, how shall I put this? Lazy. It felt so great not to have to carve out my own, shaky, position on the essential tenets of Christianity, to surrender to this Christ-sanctioned authority, that I stopped honing in on the foundational details altogether. I, eventually, would take for granted what the martyrs had given their lives for: dogmas that protected our “Ark of Salvation” from heresy, dilution, and erosion. It is feasible, I suppose, that too much head knowledge (acquired for purposes of pride) could be one’s downfall but that was hardly a possibility in my case. It is pretty safe to say that of all the ways I could potentially shoot myself in the foot, developing an unhealthy obsession with the history and minutiae of Church doctrine is not one of them. I am on the opposite end of that spectrum, filling my brain with, albeit seemingly innocuous, still secular information. It is hard for me to choose “Church books” over “mothering” ones. It is a stretch to seek out the answers to the spiritual questions hovering subtly amidst the everyday cares and concerns that eat up my time and energy. And yet a “God-send” of a car ride would reveal how acquiring an Orthodox understanding of death, for instance, (as a curtain behind which lies an extension of our relationship with Christ Jesus - one capable of continued growth and communion with the saints, those still on earth, and the Holy Trinity) could transform how I prayed for those who have already passed on, could instill hope, courage, and determination not previously known to me.
True belief is an organic whole in which faith, acts of selflessness, and understanding are woven throughout, like strands of yarn knitted and purled to form a sweater. To remove but one is, essentially, to unravel all of it. The more I know about what exactly it is I believe, the more likely I’ll become to put those convictions into action. It is a catch-22 worth getting caught in for any of us longing to sprout some wings and soar away into the joy of eternity without earthly baggage, without a heart all convoluted, without a soul too weighed down by irrelevant stimuli to take flight. There is no “one-size-fits-all” prescription for best rounding out our experience as followers of Jesus Christ. But I trust that opportunities for strengthening our individual weaknesses are made plentifully available to those who ask for them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I myself have an architectural wonder near the bed to whittle down. It is growing late and there’s much I’ve yet to discover. I pray I’ll change my tomorrow through the knowledge garnered today; I pray today I’ll love enough to learn tomorrow.