Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Light and Shade

I could have joined the 300,000 people for the St. Patrick's Day parade yesterday, but I decided I'd take advantage of the fact that more people downtown meant less people everywhere else. We started off the day with a trip to the art museum. They're in the middle of a massive construction project, which has really cramped my museum rat style. For the last four years, little to none of the art has been on display. It's finally coming back, with three years left to go on the project. I'm so pleased. Something about the wandering flow of an art museum speaks to my spirit's craving for peace. Drifting in simplicity from one room of discovery to the next. A gaze here. A prolonged soaking there. I think there's so much lack of art appreciation in the world, because most people know art only through photographs.

Nothing compares to standing in front of the real thing. Squinting at the brush strokes. The layers of paint piled up in three dimensions. Viewing the lines from one angle, and then seeing them with a completely different meaning from the other side of the room. The piercing eyes of a sculpture looking directly into your own. Imagining the subject. The artist. The moment. A concrete, tangible piece of God. All truth and beauty come from God, so even if the person claims not to believe in Him, their creation does. Man is capable of greatness only as a reflection of the Creator. The splendor of man is the splendor of God. Every time I look at a masterpiece, I thank God for sharing Himself with me through the genius of a temperamental painter. His touch is everywhere---if only you look for it.

Afterward, we went on a picnic. The sun was so bright. Spring finally came, even though I don't believe it's here to stay just yet. I'm sure old man winter has one or two more tricks up his sleeve. We went to one of our favorite parks. One we don't get to visit very often, since we moved to the other side of the metro area. Two creeks converge at this spot, and the beds of them are lined in a startling, blue-gray shale. We ate our Lenten feast of peanut butter in silence, our gazes lost in a small waterfall. As the children went off to play, I attempted to capture the gleaming sunbeams in the water. I accidentally caught my own shadow in the picture, and that was all I could think about for the rest of the trip.

I looked so different in my shadow. My headcovering especially jumped out at me. I saw myself clearly. I wasn't fighting the urge to critique my smile or weight like I normally would in a photograph. I couldn't see any of those things. All I saw was my life in silhouette. And it was beautiful.

My kids are growing up at warp speed. So different since the last time we visited this park. Lonna now too sophisticated to climb the hill with her brother. Jared actually brave enough to do it by himself. Hilary no longer afraid of the swings. I captured their youth in the shadows, and I held onto it, just for a moment.

I drove Lonna crazy snapping pictures of the ground as we walked, but that's O.K. Pretty much everything I do right now rubs her tween-ness the wrong way.

We all looked more defined in the shadows. Jared the protector. Peering from behind me. My two daughters. Two ends of a spectrum. The firstborn and the youngest.

And me. Not the woman I was last spring. I wonder what my shadow said then? Did it tell of my aching need to be obedient to something more than my own whims? Did it capture all my questions?

What is a woman? What does it mean to be feminine? More than bras and childbirth. There must be something more to how a woman talks, walks, feels, and speaks...

Did I even have a shape then? I remember feeling like a lost blob, shifting in and out of time and space, looking for center.

Have I found my definition yet? Who am I now? The edges look so crisp in my shadow, yet I still have so much left to face. I am far from obedient. I am far from humble.

I like the idea of the shadow, though. The unnecessary extras obscured. Like looking at the paintings. Viewing myself from a different angle. Better seen up close in person. The image of God. One brushstroke at a time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sunday of Orthodoxy

My son and I went to the Vespers service for the Sunday of Orthodoxy last night. I love this service. It's guaranteed that I'll cry.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday in Lent, even though it doesn't directly have anything to do with the Lenten season of preparing for the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ. It does have everything to do with Orthodoxy, though. It is the day we remember the end of the official controversy over those pesky, troublemaking icons. I say official, since I don't think that argument will ever actually end.

When I converted, I didn't have a difficult time accepting icons, but I didn't instantly fall in love, either. I didn't get the big deal. My art history minor told me that those poor Byzantines were just a little behind the times. The Renaissance thankfully came along to save us from the flat severeness of the icons, replacing them with more visually pleasing chubby cherubs and buxom virgins.

As my priest said in the sermon yesterday, though, if you understand icons, you understand pretty much everything we believe. We don't worship the wood and the paint. We look through the icon, passing on our love and respect to the person the picture represents. And everytime we do that, it becomes just a little bit easier to look past the flesh and externals of those around us to see the image of Christ in them. If we see Christ, then we can truly love. Icons are Orthodoxy. We touch, we kiss, we prostrate, we fast, we feast, we cross ourselves A LOT, we use our entire bodies to worship God. The icon is all of those in one. The closest earthly thing to capture the sweet portrait of a prayer.

So, to watch the procession of priests and children carrying icons brought a tear to my eye. I thought of all those who died defending the icons. I thought of my three year old, who shows the same level of excitement when she sees a picture of a beloved family member as when she sees a new icon...really just pictures of our extended family. I thought of the deep richness of the Faith, and I was overwhelmed by that depth and in awe of that richness.

My city has a Pan-Orthodox service for the Sunday of Orthodoxy. I don't even know how many Orthodox churches there are here. I'm OCA, Orthodox Church in America, and there's over a dozen of those in this region. I don't know where to begin counting the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Romanian and all the rest. Point is, there's a lot. The service was in several languages. You could read the ethnic diversity in the faces of the crowd, as we sat in the Serbian cathedral. So many different traditions. One unanimous declaration:

This is the Faith of the Apostles.
This is the Faith of the Fathers.
This is the Faith of the Orthodox.
This is the Faith which has established the Universe.

When I was Protestant, I read about the early martyrs for the Faith, and they seemed so distant. That was another place; another time. Very few seemed to die for the faith now. Missionaries in the jungle. The occasional freak incident. All separate from the bouncy, upbeat newness of my Sunday morning church service. A worship of indivuality rather than community. A worship of the modern rather than the ancient. Not much to defend or die for.

Last night, I felt differently I thought of the Orthodox under Communism. The millions who died very recently for the Faith I now share. Orthodoxy is a faith with a history, and Orthodoxy is a faith with a present. As I sang, I felt connected with all of them in the past 2000 years. The Russian peasants, the early martyrs, the Greek next to me and the Serb across the aisle. Above all, I am Christian. That is my religion. But I worship God in the Orthodox manner, and for that, I am truly thankful.

In all my joy, I was saddened by one thing. Among all those people, there was only one other woman with her head covered. Actually, there were several older ladies with hats, but that could have been a covering, a desire to dress up, or a more pressing desire to protect their hair from the pouring rain outside. I apply no religious significance to their head gear. No, it was just me in my snood and the lady in the babushka in the back. I don't fully understand why no one covers here. They just don't.

It's hard to feel out of place in the group where I'm supposed to fit in more than anywhere, but it always happens to me at these gatherings. Covering is extremely rare in my neck of the woods, and that makes me sad if I think about it too much. So, I decided not to think about it. I turned my eyes from my neighbors and gazed at the iconostasis. There were the icons. The cloud of witnesses. And there, ALL the ladies were covered.