Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two books recently read

This weekend marks a milestone in our career as adults: we got the internet. I mean, we got it, like we called the company and they came out and now we have to pay for it each month and we have our own password, which Matt set up so I have no idea what it is.

I think such a momentous occasion deserves a blog post.

This is what I'm reading and have recently read.

On the Divine Incarnation by St. Athanasius
I don't know how I snuck through an Orthodox catechism (albeit a hasty one) without being handed this little book. Oddly enough, I had read the introduction in another anthology; I had previously snorted at C.S. Lewis' essay on reading "old books," not because I disliked it, but because it goes so obviously unheeded by C.S. Lewis aficianados. If you read Plato you could have interesting thoughts too! He was clearly a brilliant man and a fine writer with a sensitive yet manful moral and aesthetic sense, and God knows how many times I've quivered in ecstasy thanks to the Chronicles of Narnia, but as the juxtaposition of Lewis' essay with St. Athanasius' treatise shows (and as "Jacksie" would leap to affirm,) he ain't Athanasius. In fact I had completely forgotten that he introduced the treatise until I started writing this post. That's how powerful, clear, and thrilling is St. Athanasius' defense of the necessity of the Incarnation of Christ. I was particularly struck by his formulation of "The Divine Dilemma:"

It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption... You might ... argue that, as through the Transgression [men] became subject to corruption, so through repentance they might return to incorruption again. But repentance would not guard the Divine consistency, for, if death did not hold dominion over men, God would still remain untrue. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; al that it does is to make them cease from sinning... [Christ's] part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. [On The Divine Incarnation, Chapter II, Section 7]

What error did it correct in my thinking? I think I was afflicted more with laziness than outright error on this doctrinal point. I suppose I had asked myself, rather cautiously, "Why did Jesus have to die? Why did not God show his usual mercy to us and forgive us?" Being basically convinced that it was somehow necessary, and important, that Christ was Incarnate of a Virgin, was crucified for us by Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, and on the third day rose again according to the Scriptures, because I affirm that this is what happened, I did not sit long with the uncertainty as to why all this was necessary. I did not seek to replace my vague Bible study answers ("We could never repay our debt to God, so Christ did, because He had more... something!") with more muscular Patristic proofs, probably because I was busy freaking out about Kierkegaard and/or drinking.

Well, now it's clear. We were in a qualitative, not quantitative quandary, in that we had descended into corruption. As God promised, "we must surely die." If He simply waved a divine wand and bestowed life to us again, restoring us to Paradise, He would have contradicted Himself. However, His great love for us would not allow us to languish in the darkness as blind worms for long; the Word became flesh, submitted to crucifixion as the Word in flesh, and overthrew Death as the Word in flesh. The problem consisted in our corruption, God's consistency, and His desire for communion with us; in his Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, Christ maintained God's consistency while restoring us to incorruption.

That was the most basic and crucial lesson which St. Athanasius taught me; however the rest of the treatise, exploring the details of the Incarnation and defending its absolute doctrinal necessity and truth to both Jews and Greek philosophers, was also fascinating, and I'm sure I'll be returning to it to shore up my understanding of this great mystery.

More Spirited Than Lions by Sarah Cowie

There are about seven different women to whom I want to make a gift of this book. The author, an Orthodox woman who was once a committed feminist, bookends her work with the story of marvelous Nuns of Shamordino who humbly and resolutely refused to "work for Satan" in a Soviet camp. She gives a fairly detailed history of the feminist movement and a brief "Feminist Catechism." She then systematically dissembles the major feminist arguments on a merely logical level before outlining the Orthodox ideal for the role of the woman in the familial, social and religious order, supported by the Fathers and Scripture.

I have always wrinkled my nose at the Sexual Revolution, felt physically nauseated by the idea of abortion, and made to feel anywhere from vaguely to explicitly uncomfortable while perusing Ms. in the nurse's waiting room in college. I had never attempted a systematic critique of feminism for myself, because it seemed too loose a phrase, and because most of my friends self-identify as feminists. More Spirited Than Lions helped me to clarify and solidify my understanding of and opposition to the feminist "movement." Without quoting large chunks of text (because I devoured this book too quickly to pick up a pen and mark my favourite passages,) here are two of the ideas that I have been mulling over since my reading of MSTL:

  • Feminism (specifically second and third wave) depends on a Marxist abstraction of individuals into an aggregate; thus one can claim that women are and always have been categorically and systematically oppressed by men. This doesn't exactly equate to saying "Each and every individual woman has been oppressed by individual men or a man," or "Each and every individual man oppresses individual women." If I remembered my Marx better, I'd be able to say what it exactly equates to, but it's something more vaguely Hegelian, like "The Master (Man) seeks to determinately negate The Bondsman (Woman)." The result is that any individual woman who timidly raises her hand and says "I don't feel like I am systematically and categorically oppressed by men," is assumed to be stupid, or brainwashed by The Man. "You think you aren't being oppressed, but that's what he wants you to think!" Presumption is an inherent attitude of Marxism/feminism.
  • Adam and Eve both sinned when presented with temptation, but each of them sinned in a different way. Eve ate the forbidden fruit because she wanted to be like God. Her sin, or disease, was Pride. Adam ate the fruit to go along with Eve, perhaps because he was not interested in thinking the problem through, or because he did not want to make things uncomfortable. His disease was Sloth. Therefore, God prescribed different cures for the two infirm sinners. The cure for Adam's Sloth was to pour his sweat and blood into the ground in order to survive. The cure for Eve's Pride was to bear children and to submit to her husband, as she had failed to submit to God. Every man and woman is afflicted with the same disease as his or her respective Parent, and each of us must submit to the same treatment if we hope to be cured. (How clearly I manifest symptoms of this specifically feminine disease! It runs in the family; my mother and all my sisters have it too. We certainly do not suffer from that boyish affliction of Sloth; but this itself is a point of Pride. Quickly false-martyr-Martha rises up to protest other people's laziness; but "only one thing is needful.")
Okay, that's enough for now; my husband wants me to make him some food.

In the future maybe I'll post about:
  • Middlemarch
  • Father Arseny
  • Being As Communion
  • Brideshead Revisited

Friday, August 5, 2011


I announced that I was going to make lasagna, and my father demanded eggplant simultaneous with my sister's request for zucchini. I had just planned to make a chunky garden sauce and use pasta. So I compromised.

I was pretty paranoid about noodles floating in the water from the zukes and eggplant. I hate a soggy lasagna. I like the salt and drain method for eggplants, but I think it works better for chunks, and I wanted coins. So I did salt and drain both the eggplant and zucchini coins, but I also nervously threw them in a 450 degree oven for 5 or 7 minutes to dry them out.

I also drained the ricotta cheese and discarded about 1/2 cup of water. I don't think it hurts.

Then I started worrying that the lasagne would actually be too dry. I used fresh tomatoes in my sauce, which cooked down impressively. I ended up with probably less than 3 cups of sauce, barely enough to dab each layer of noodles. But in the end, I think there was enough moisture left in the eggplants and zucchini to make up for the skimpy sauce. Served with crusty bread and herbed olive oil, it made everybody happy. So they told me.

I did not salt the sauce at all, because the zucchini and eggplant are quite salty. Since I did not make enough sauce, I will put the quantities that I actually used in parentheses, followed by the quantity I plan to use next time.

This fills one 9x13 pan and one 10x15 pan.


1-2 tablespoons olive oil
(1) 2 onions, chopped or diced
4-5 cloves garlic
2 big carrots in thin coins or diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped or diced
3-4 spicy or banana peppers, chopped or diced
(6) 10 ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped, juice saved
sugar, pepper, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley to taste
Optional: up to 1 cup red wine

4 small eggplants, in thin coins
2 big zucchini, in thin coins

1 lb lasagne noodles

16 oz ricotta cheese
2-3 cups mozzarella cheese
2 egg yolks

Begin by placing the sliced eggplants and zucchini in separate colanders, and sprinkling each with about 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Squish them around with your hands so that the salt is evenly spread out. You can also start the ricotta draining if you wish. Leave this stuff alone while you make the sauce.

To make sauce:
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil at medium-high heat until soft. Season with herbs and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, add carrots and peppers, and cook until soft. If desired, slosh in some red wine, let it cook off, repeat. Add tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Add sugar to taste. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for about half an hour.
During that time, check the zucchini and eggplant. You can wring the water out with a large dish towel, or you can spread them out on pans and put them in a very hot oven (450) for 5-7 minutes.
Cook the lasagna until al dente, and rinse in cold water.
Mix egg yolks, ricotta, and 1 cup of the mozzarella. You might season with pepper or nutmeg.
When the sauce doesn't have any water sitting on top of it, layer the lasagna like so-- sauce, zucchini, eggplant, cheese, noodles. Probably only two of these sequences will fit in your pan. End with sauce on top of the noodles, and spread the rest of the mozzarella cheese on top. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes or until the cheese is good and bubbly. Remove from oven and let set 5-10 minutes. Eat some bread. Eat the lasagna.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Chicago wears spring very well, and it's lovely to be on the eastern side of a time-zone. We are visiting our friends in Chicago before we head to Maine for the summer.

A beautiful perk of timing: We shouted "Axios!" as Bishop Matthias was consecrated as Bishop of Chicago and All the Midwest on Bright Saturday. Metropolitan Jonah and the entire Synod of Bishops celebrated hierarchical liturgies on Saturday and Thomas Sunday. The consecration occurred at Christ the Savior, which was our parish while we lived in Chicago. The church building originally belonged to some Scottish branch of the Anglican Church. Inside, the ceiling is high and angular, covered in dark, dark wood, scallops and spikes. Huge panels of icons brighten almost every wall, and Christ, effusing light, triumphantly crowns the tall ikonostasis. Somehow he seems to float in continuous theophany over everything that occurs below. It is hard to take your eyes off of him. He is always raising himself.

On Saturday, Christ the Savior was stuffed with clergy and laity, and topped off with many bishops. Crowns glittered constantly. Two choirs filled the air above the crowd.

On Thomas Sunday, the liturgy was held at Holy Trinity Cathedral, which was designed by St. John Kochurov and architect Louis Sullivan. I don't know enough about architecture to describe it well so here is a wikipedia article. If it is possible for a building to feel grandiose and intimate at the same time, this church does. The ikonostasis appears impenetrable. I could not imagine anyone coming in or going out of it until I saw it occur.

This liturgy was not as crowded as Saturday's. We were right next to the Metropolitan as his attendants took care to vest him for the liturgy. His homily was simple and thoughtful. Afterwards, there was a Ukrainian feast, but we got pizza instead.

Also sparkling this weekend: The heir to Britain's throne was wed. I only watched 60 seconds of highlights from the wedding, but the royal couple were on my mind during all of the hierarchical hullabaloo of the weekend. My family feels some warmth of pride in our (ignominious) Scottish name, just enough to raise our eyebrows interestedly at things Brittanic, and to twist our lips bitterly in memory of a long-legged king. That's probably making too much of it. Anyway, I do give a fig about the Crown.

But I give more figs about the crown that was set on an old monk's head this weekend. Britain evokes in me faint stirrings of blood-pride, and the John Adams HBO miniseries might have squeezed a few tears out of me. I do have ties to nations of this world, and sometimes I am awed by earthly power, and dazzled by human splendor. But all of this fades. The rulers of this world govern the fate of my body, but the man who was crowned this weekend is the despot to whom God will listen. Whatever he looses or binds on earth will be loosed or bound in heaven also, and this is the kingdom to which I belong.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Why seek ye the living among the dead?" "Yeah, why would you do that?"

I celebrated this Pascha at St. Stephen's in Crawfordsville, my hometown, with all of my siblings, my husband, and many people dear to me from my childhood. First time all around, since I have always celebrated Pascha at St. Juliana's in Santa Fe, away from my family, and I have never been married to my husband before.

Somehow this Lent was harder than ever. Part of this might be due to my spiritual laziness in College. This year, nothing distracted me as much as school always did, so it was necessary to confront my noetic flab. At school, it's easy to forget the fast and just get drunk after class with your friends ("Totally vegan!"), or haughtily distance yourself from everyone else when you actually do happen to keep the physical fast. Here at home, living with my family, who are God-fearing but not fast-keeping, the retreat from human warmth was more painful. I could not ignore them, and my grumpiness and holier-than-thou attitude hurt others more.

Being married also made it quite different. Partnership is beautiful, but it is a fearful thing to bind your salvation to someone else's. I don't always want to pray, and neither does he. It's rare that we want to do it at the same time, and difficult to broach the subject without feeling like a nag. It's hard enough to clearly see my relation to God. Adding a third body makes the equation exponentially more complex.


"... the more there are there who say 'ours',
so much the more of good is owned by each.
...the more souls, hearts set on high, there be,
more are there to love well and more are loved:
and mirror-like, they give back mutually."

Two-body problem is graceful, three body problem is real.

So, Lent was hard. My stomach kept the fast but my heart did not. I did not repent "enough". When I glimpsed (but never grasped) repentance, it hurt too much, and I conveniently let my mind wander from the gruesome sight. I sold Christ many times over, and I did not even go out and weep bitterly.

But... but... you know how the story ends, and then begins, and then goes on forever. Wake up!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lent-ILL soup

I'm waiting for my mom to come home with peppers and cilantro so that I can make chutney for this incredible soup (with the first sprigs of mint from underneath the kitchen window!). 2 med onions, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced sautee until soft as you like, 5-10 minutes and then add: 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 3 Tbsp fresh) 1/2 tsp cayenne (I used paprika) 2 tsp turmeric a dash of ground coriander reduce heat and fry for a few minutes. then add: 3 cans of veggie stock (6 cups) 1 bag of green lentils, soaked overnight simmer 20-30 minutes until tender. separately, fry over medium heat: 1/2 tsp ground cardamom 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 1/4 tsp ground cloves 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg cracked black peppa to taste! add above stuff to soup, stir and add: 1 can of coconut milk simmer 15 minutes or so until everything is as smushy and friendly as you like. I've only had a couple bites of it so far, and let me tell you, it should not be this good. Soon enough I'll make the Vegetarian Epicure's Green Chile-Mint Chutney, which is pretty explosive. Wish I had thought ahead to make naan. Brown rice is a-cookin', and the microwave is parturient with acorn squash.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

problem: cake is too tasty.

Wow, I was not trying to make a decadent cake. I probably shouldn't have tried to make a cake at all, seeing as how it's Lent and all, but it's chocolate time of the month, and I really, really wanted a treat. So I broke down and looked up some vegan cake recipes. I chose one from which seemed simple, and didn't have any weird fake ingredients, not even tofu. Also, I'm bad with cakes, so I figured it would be crappy and I could just scarf some choccy and move on. Alas, my husband pronounced it "superb." In fact, this cake ended up looking like the pile of glistening chocolate that the Trunchbull shoves down Bruce Bogtrotter's throat. Oops. Maybe it was the rum.

Vegan Mexican Chocolate Cake with Really Good Chocolate Rum Glaze

1.5 C flour
1 C sugar
.25 C cocoa
1.5 C cinnamon
1 tsp baking SODA
.75 tsp cayenne (I used chili powder)

1 tsp vanilla (I forgot this because the next two ingredients start with V as well)
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 C cold water
optional: a healthy slug of RUM

Dump the dry stuff together and whisk well. Dump the wet stuff together and whisk well. Dump them all together and whisk well. Dump in a greased 9" pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes (I did 32.)

Okay, this was supposed to be frosting. I didn't have powdered sugar, so I used regular stuff and soon realized that it would behoove me to call it a glaze.

Melt 2 tbsp vegetable spread and 3 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder over low heat. Add .25 cup of hot water, 2 cups of sugar, and as much rum as you want. Cook it until it's as un-boozy as you wish. At the end, add a fat splash of vanilla (to make up for the vanilla that you omitted from the cake).

Poke lots of holes in the top of the cake and pour in your glaze slowly as the cake absorbs it. Maybe let it sit a bit, come back and pour in some more. Let it cool a bit before you eat it so that the glaze gets a little crusty on top.

Unfortunately, this would be incredible over ice cream.

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light

I've been trying to read Little Women to my eleven year old sister, Madeline. She likes the March sisters tolerably well, but unfortunately it's pretty hard for the four well-behaved little ladies to compete with the harum-scarum toil-and-trouble of Harry Potter and the Etcetera. Madeline recently finished all seven Harry Potter books in two and a half months. I think that's okay. (I raced through them too, although I had to WAIT for 7 years to finish them.) Looking back, I find them pretty sensational and fluffy, but she says she likes them because "they aren't JUST about wizards. They're about Muggles too." They've got a foot in the real world, which makes them believable.

I've been thinking about this quality of "realness" in children's books, especially fantasy and science fiction. The most captivating stories are always about "real people," "kids just like me," to whom something unexpected and exciting happens. I'm thinking of the Pevensies of Narnia, L'Engle's Murry family, Omri of The Indian in the Cupboard, and Harry Potter as well. These kids were just going about their humdrum business, when out of the blue, they wandered into a magical world, they were visited by a mysterious neighbour, they found a magical key, or they received a strange letter. Now the world is different, absolutely and forever. Now they lead two lives. Now their bodies might be oppressed by the mundane or the miserable, but in their hearts and imaginations they are warriors, royal and free. They might wonder at times if their adventures were just a dream, but most stories like this conclude with a thrill of delight-- it's all true.

As a child closes each of these books with a sigh, he or she has to wonder, "Is it really true? Could this happen to me as well if I wish for it fervently enough?" At least I did. I investigated all dark closets, and always tried slamming cupboard doors on little army guys, screwing my eyes shut and searching for an incantation. When I got to Harry Potter, I was old enough to know that this was certainly NOT going to happen to me, but Madeline has been carrying around a stuffed owl and a wand-sized stick for months. I haven't asked her how seriously she takes the Harry Potter stories, but I suspect that there is a little bit of hope in her heart.

To me, The Chronicles of Narnia are still the best stories of this kind. And this is why:

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back
into our own world so often."
"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are-- as you used to call it in the Shadowlands-- dead. The term is over:
the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for
us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all
lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real
story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only
been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One
of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in
which ever chapter is better than the one before.

The simplicity and direct correspondence of the allegory in The Chronicles has been criticized (even by Lewis' close friend Tolkien,) and I've heard people (usually "big kids") scoff at them because of this. But of course the symbolism is obvious. These are stories for children, who need practice with abstraction. If the obvious parallels to the Christian story bother you, that's probably because you take offense at the Christian story. But if you want desperately for Narnia to be real, then with joyful sorrow will you close The Last Battle. The symbolism is obvious, and the story is true. Narnia spills into the world that we know, and now "it can
happen to you." It was open to you all along.

These things occurred to me at the beginning of Liturgy today, and after that everything seemed hopeful and luminous. Now we see through a glass darkly, but...

The term, the dream and Lent will be over.
The holidays will begin. Spring and Pascha will come.
We will be reunited with everyone whom we love and pray for.
Angels and saints are holy warriors, and they protect us.
Blind men really did, and will, see.
The paralytic really did, and will, take up his mat and walk.
Everything beautiful is true.
All that we hope for will come to pass, and in fact has come to pass already.
And we shall see Him as He is.
It's all true.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Maybe that's why we always wear our hats."

In the past twelve months, I've lived in four different houses, three different states, held five different jobs, three different phones, graduated from college and married someone I had been dating for seven months. I wouldn't take back any of these changes (well, one of the jobs sucked, and I was happy with my first phone,) but you'll understand if I don't feel quite as purposeful and concerted as I'd like to be.

I'm happy that we've settled here, in Indiana, for now. This spring promises to be the greenest I've seen in five years. In all of the uncertainty surrounding our most recent move, we decided that it was imperative to be in the same place for Pascha and the majority of Lent. The small congregation at St. Stephen's is very dear, and working through Lent with such an intimate group looks like it will be satisfying (albeit difficult). Being with my (beloved) Protestant family for Lent looks to be difficult (albeit satisfying.)

But we won't be here for long. As soon as it's warm enough to live in Matt's grandfather's uninsulated old Maine farmhouse (with water pipes on the outside!), we'll schlep ourselves and our books up there, for an undetermined interval. After that, who knows? France? Korea? Bumf***, Maine?

All of this moving around makes sense for people our age, and we're not bound by anything but loan payments. But it does begin to wear on even two adventurous young Geminis.* Sometimes I grow a little resentful, and envious of my friends who have something to do with themselves, and a reason to be where they are. I've been trying to remember lately that our homes are not on any coordinate planes. Geographical places are important, but only because they are such absorbent repositories for the spiritual cocoons that weave themselves around us.

St. Maximos says that money should flow like water through the hands of Christians. Of course this is about charity, but I think it is also about how equality with God is not something to be grasped. We are to clutch nothing. If through Christ, not even death separates us from truly being with fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, how many miles can separate us from each other? Guardian angels and intercessors can make haste to me no matter where I am.

I would love to put roots into the ground, but I think that this time of "flux" is teaching me to be like the Israelites. Don't unpack too many books! Better not collect too many knick-knacks! Rather than grasping and hoarding, we should empty ourselves, and always pack lightly. We should sow seeds into spiritual soil, by loving the people in whose midst we find ourselves. We can continue to water these seeds wherever we go.

*My husband told me to never mention astrology to him again. I think it offers some insightful metaphors. See previous post for more incriminating evidence that I'm a hippie.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the meaning of 'a head full of dreads'

What is transpiring on the top of my head? The want of a comb led to a whimsical root, the whimsical root led to a notion, the notion percolated for months as the root threatened to spread, and then a month of painful nightly rituals unfolded, in which a comb played an essential role, after all.

And now these children of cultivation and neglect continue to people ma tete. I'm fond, then weary of them. They solicit compliments, but not jobs. Santa Fe never blinked at them, but Crawfordsville stares. What am I to do with them? Recently I've been revisiting in my memories the exhilarating freedom of a neatly cropped head, but in my dreams I run my fingers through normal hair and mourn the decapitation of 35 funny friends.

Hippies on the internet differ: Some say that dreadlocks can act as antennae to the world. Some people enjoy this, and some cut them off because they feel painfully aware of ... something. Others claim that they may muddle your thoughts.

Would I root out the pernicious thoughts from inside my skull if I clear-cut what's on top of it? Would it bring order and vigour to my wispy attempts at thinking, writing or praying? This kind of radical purification rarely turns out to be prudent. The dreadlocks are probably not the cause of my musty mind. (I tell myself I'm still adjusting to "post-grad" life.)

To tell the truth, I feel kind of stuck. I'm inclined to distrust the occasional urges for drastic change, perhaps to the point that I will refuse to change even when it's quite advisable. On the other hand, I'm always becoming more hyper-aware of this inclination. Whether I cut or cultivate, I'm reacting to what I perceive as a flaw in myself. This gets tangly and recursive, and fast. I'll never act in freedom!