Monday, May 3, 2010

This Backyard

Dearest faithful few,

As of tonight, I've made a new blog to house all of my blogdom. I figure that if I call a blog "Momhood", I should at least write about oh, I don't know, MOM-related stuff, which is what this blog has been less and less of the more I write. So, in motherly fashion, I'm putting my little baby blog to bed, and getting up "This Backyard"--but never fear, Gwenivere fans, I will still be posting pictures and anecdotes a-plenty on there, so follow me if you dare will! ;)

See you over there!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Battling the Drip

Photo courtesy spazticwon

I have been making the conscious effort to observe Lent this year in order to focus my heart and mind on the cross of Christ, mostly through meditating throughout the day on a scripture, sermon, concept, hymn, or whatever would spur my thoughts upward. I've noticed different themes have popped up the past few weeks which have taught me, or perhaps allowed me to be teachable, about the nature of Christ and our calling as Christians. The past couple days the theme has been "dying to self", and the thought came to me that, for the most part, it is not dying in a big, heroic way with trumpet calls, battle cries and the clashing of ten thousand shields. That would be easier. No, I think it is the slow death, one drop of blood at a time, taking place in the meekness of silence, the loosening of pride and forfeiting of self-entitlement (even when we believe the entitlement is justified, rational and--heck--even a low estimate of what we really deserve).

And then I thought about Jesus fasting forty days in the wilderness and being tempted by the devil. Perhaps Christ faced those small, seemingly inconsequential battles of will like a slow, constant drip, only for them to come to a head at the end of His fast as the devil's three temptations. However they came about,  Jesus had to "die to self", so to speak,  in each of them, and as He was God incarnate, it must have been an unfathomably large death. And it would seem to follow that though this wasn't the death that paid for our sins, it was His dying to self, His constant decision to do His Father's will over His own, that made His death on the cross potent for our salvation.

Thanks be to God for an eternity to wrap our minds around these things.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Day at the Huntington Gardens

And the pictures we took...


My sister, Carolyn, in the Chinese Garden


and the picture she took.


And speaking of pictures, our faithful friend and photographer, Sarah R., hard at work play.



Who is reaching for who?




I love my job. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Unorthadox, Orthadox, Sunday - Part 2

In my last post, I expounded on my experience at an Orthodox church service, going into detail about the impactful way it met my senses, which is something I can truly appreciate about Orthodoxy. At the church I grew up in, years ago I specifically remember filling out a questionnaire for the prospect of renovating our sanctuary that had fallen into disuse (we "upgraded" to worshiping in the newly-built gym), and one of the questions asked how important a visually pleasing environment was to me. In my twenty year-old piety I marked (C) Not Very Important. Am I kidding me? I'm an artist! Like, the visual kind! How can this be anything but very important to me? I credit, if you will, years of vaguely gnostic undertones in my church upbringing which exalts lofty spiritual feelings and attitudes while undermining the notion that worshiping God with our entire being doesn't really include striving to refine those things that send our sensory perceptions soaring, unless you count be-glittered banners hanging in front and a killer drum rhythm. That isn't to say the folks I worshiped with weren't very near and dear to me-- I will always consider them my beloved family, and my pastor was an excellent expositor of the Word. But my point here is, I've since discovered that worshiping God with our pupils, eardrums, nostrils, taste buds and nerve endings only add to my focus on, love for and experience of grace from my Savior. Obviously, the Orthodox church knew about this all along, but in the midst of church divisions, upheaval and crucibles, millions of Christians don't even know that we're "allowed" to worship through experiencing sensual beauty.

With that said, Mrs. Guffaruff, my inner Reformer, wouldn't let me slide through Saint Andrew's worship service without a weather-eye on their theology. Before I continue, let me say that between Aaron and myself, we have several dear friends who are Orthodox, and the questions I bring up are in no way a slight on their devoutness or earnestness in seeking to worship our Lord through the best of their understanding. My questions are also not intended to diminish the rich history, basic theology and traditions of the Orthodox church. In fact, I largely try to avoid railing on other denominations (though I will still frown on glitter and rock music in the sanctuary), however frustrating some of their practices may be, in light of Jesus' exhortation to love one another, so that our unity will point the world to Christ. I believe that no Christian denomination is perfect. Though our worship of a perfect God is imperfect, He still uses us to carry out His will, and we must continually humble and sober ourselves on that mystery.

I am 29 years old. The Orthodox church has roughly 2000 years on me. And I would simply concede to the wisdom of age if I didn't belong to the true church, which goes back to Adam and Eve, technically speaking; of those who worship God in spirit and truth. As St. Paul encouraged Timothy: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity," and as Luke commended the Bereans: "Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true," so I am encouraged to do the same.

There. I think I padded the eggshells to walk on easily enough, so let's have it, already.

During the "Kontakion for the Annunciation" (I'm really glad I kept the liturgy handout), they sang, "To thee, the Champion Leader, do I offer thanks of victory, O Theotokos, thou who has delivered me from terror; but as thou hast that power invincible, O Theotokos, thou alone can set me free: from all forms of danger free me and deliver me, that I may cry unto thee: 'Hail, O Bride without Bridegroom."

Question #1
 It was my understanding that praying to the saints (or "intersession of the saints") was a person asking a saint to pray for them, as if the saint were to usher the prayer to God. So how can one thank the Theotokos for victory, deliverance and setting one free?

Question #2
What is the Theotokos freeing them from, exactly? The main theme of freedom put forth in Scripture is freedom from the wrath of God via the atonement made through Christ's death and resurrection. I am not adept in Orthodox hermeneutics, so what is the hymn referring to?

Question #3
Why is the Theotokos so prominent? I believe Mary is worthy of much more esteem and honor than the vast majority of protestants give her, but how did she become such a central figure?

Now on to Orthodoxy Class.

Aaron, Gwen and I walked into a little room packed with about fifteen people who were taking Orthodoxy Class in order to prepare them to enter into Orthodoxy. One of the subdeacons, Polycarp, a kindly older gent with a mass of wavy grey hair and a short, full beard, led the class. The topic for that day was how to properly prepare oneself to receive Holy Communion. It was a page and a half of guidelines consisting of how often, and when, one must fast; making sure that all fast days are observed, abstaining on Sundays from things that raise passions, like sex (because you shouldn't have intercourse while the bread/body and wine/blood, Christ, is in you), arguing, and wild entertainment. Saturday evenings should be calm and peaceful. You should also fast from food and water after midnight prior to Communion (unless you have medical issues, whereby you should consult the priest or Father). One must also keep up on going to confession (at least once a month), or else you should abstain from partaking for that week, but you really shouldn't skip more than a month, because if you miss four months in a row then you're out of Communion.

Now, I just have to take a time out and say that I love my husband. I adore his inquisitive spirit, thirst for knowledge and love for the Bible. In fact, they are so much a part of who he is that he will ask questions in a room full of strangers and a church authority no matter how much it may rock ones boat.

"Wait, are you serious?" Aaron blurted out with a chuckle of disbelief (I also love his tact). That was in response to the rule that a woman should avoid receiving Holy Communion if she is on her period. "Yes," said Polycarp, simply. A few others in the room affirmed the response with a little nod.

Question #4

Next, Aaron asked about the fasting before Communion. "It plain-as-day says in 1 Corinthians that if anyone is hungry they should eat at home first before coming to eat the Lord's Supper. So why do you fast if it says you should eat first?"

Crickets. Crickets. Crickets.

"Well," Polycarp replied, a little befuddled and slightly embarrassed, "I had never put those two things together."

One of the ladies in the class piped up. "It's more theological than that. You're reading it too literally."

Question #5
Isn't Paul's directive to eat before coming the the Table of the Lord a very practical one? Why would Paul have said this if people weren't being selfish with the bread and wine?

Polycarp seemed to have been working this through his mind and finally said, "We do it in reverse order--we fast, then we eat. It's what we've always done. But you'll have to ask Father Josiah about that. He'll be here on Saturday to teach." he added. Another student spoke up, "Yeah, and when you find out the answer, let me know!" Everyone chuckled when he said this, and seemed content to let Father Josiah handle the question at some point, but it either didn't occur to anyone to ask this question before, or if it did, they kept it to themselves.

The topic then turned to withholding catechumens from Holy Communion until they have been christmated, the process normally taking a year.

"A year? Are you kidding me?" exclaimed my subtle husband.

The same lady spoke up again, "I've been waiting to be christmated for a year and a half. I was 9 months into the process during Pascha last year, and I thought I was ready, but I hadn't hit the year mark yet, so I have to wait until this coming one." I couldn't tell if she seemed upset about this or proud of her fortitude. She made a reference to "the narrow path" and gestured a path upward with her hands, but I'm not sure where I didn't want to know where she was going with this. I'm sure I was probably just projecting things, but she seemed to have a hungry look in her eyes. I'd be hungry, too, if I couldn't take Communion for as long as she.

"A Father or priest is responsible for a person's soul, and we want to make sure they are ready and don't eat to their own judgment. And it's the way we've always done it." Polycarp explained. If I remember correctly, he explained that waiting a year held the same for adult baptism, which I think falls under the christmation umbrella for Christian converts. At that point, Aaron acknowledged the fact that such measures had to be taken in the early church to weed out enemies who were trying to infiltrate as posers, as well as to keep out those who merely wanted to join for the social benefit, such as during Constantine's reign, but then pointed out that the Bible says to believe and be baptized, just as promptly as the eunuch was by Philip. In other words, as soon as is convenient.

Question #6
Are such measures really necessary nowadays, especially in America and all other countries free of extreme religious oppression?

We treaded down a few more rabbit trails, where many explanations included "because it's tradition," and, "Ask Father Josiah," as well as several agreements on topics, by and by.

But we walked away wondering what the validity of tradition was if its reason for implementation in the first place has never been revisited? And what does passing the buck to Father Josiah signify if nobody has thought to open their Bible to look into these matters themselves?

All in all, it was a very interesting Sunday with new insight and new questions about the Orthodox church. Aaron and I are going to vespers this week with his catechumen friend and his family in hopes of better grasping their reasons for entering into Orthodoxy. But for now I think I'll withhold forming an opinion until my questions have been answered by those who have a greater understanding of this ancient and mysterious middle eastern religion--and the Orthodox church, too.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

An Unorthadox, Orthodox, Sunday - Part 1

Alright, my only excuse for having not blogged in a month is that we've moved. Again. I know. That, and I've been working on a new blog that better houses all my random thoughts, so stay tuned for that!

Anyway, today Aaron, Gwen and I visited Saint Andrew, an Orthodox church in Riverside. We had been talking about visiting a local church since our move, and yesterday Aaron suggested that we visit an Orthodox one. At first I didn't want to. It had been a long week for me and I wanted to take communion which has been a major source of sustainment and refreshment for me since attending Christ Church, and not being a member of an Orthodox church would exclude me from that. I also miss my friends easily, so that was two strikes against the idea of going anywhere else. To top it off, while I consider Orthodox Christians my brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm not comfortable with some of their practices, like praying to the saints who have passed on.

And while that would be three strikes out, it was because of the last reason that I decided to go. After all, I reasoned, it really wouldn't be fair for me to form a critical opinion about a branch of Christianity whom I still regard as, well, a branch of Christianity, without seeing who they are and what they do. To experience first-hand and not word-of-mouth. And I was curious about their service, having heard so many wonderful things about it.

I admit that I had a few preconceived notions about the service. Namely, that it would be dark, as in very dimly lit, and that I wouldn't be able to understand a lot of the liturgy. I almost felt like we were going on a field trip rather than to a worship service, except without the camera and fanny pack.

Upon arrival, I felt a little out of place in my jeans, despite the apparent cuteness of my blouse and shoes. That, and I didn't have a head covering like many of the women. Aaron's friend who will soon be chrismated into Orthodoxy told us that it was a convert church and that converts tend to be more gung-ho about legalism; head coverings being one of the manifestations of that. I figured I had a nice conservative hair-do (because you know how wild my hair usually looks) so I supposed that would have to suffice.

As we made our way to the entrance of the church, we met Father Josiah's mother, Lee I think her name was. What a sweet lady! She was very glad to welcome us, though we probably had the word "gringo" or whatever the Orthodox equivalent would be, written across our foreheads. Well, mostly just me, since Aaron's been to Orthodox services before. We entered into probably what could be best described as a house for the senses. I earnestly wanted to be open-minded and acknowledge and understand, if not appreciate, every aspect of the service, but my senses were like a deer caught in the headlights, mainly I think because it was an environment that I had never experienced before, and the introvert in me--we'll call her Mrs. Wimble--takes charge, allowing me to process only one sense at a time. So here is the approximate order of which they filed neatly into my brain:

Smell. The clean, earthy smell of incense. Which reminded me of home, because it's the same kind that Aaron burns in our house.

Sight. Sight was a big sense and had to eek into my brain sideways, but at first I think I noticed the family atmosphere. Which reminded me of my church. Lots of babies and children, along with all generations of family. That, and most people stood, for a great portion of the liturgy, other than when the preaching took place. I assumed they stood out of reverence, and also because there probably wouldn't be enough room if everyone sat. Or maybe there weren't enough chairs. Who knows? Well, they probably know, just not me--the Gringo.

Then I saw the tall, very thin creamy lit candles clustered around the icons at the entrance of the church with people kissing the icons and bowing to them. I kinda felt weird seeing them do that. I felt less weird when I toured cathedrals in France and saw Catholics pray to icons, probably because I wore a camera and a fanny pack. Here it was different, I think because I was trying to be a participant in the worship service, and I felt kind of like I did when ladies at the church I attended growing up would do an interpretive dance as a part of the service-- I just couldn't quite look at them, out of feeling a mixture of distraction and embarrassment. What can I say? People just don't kiss icons, or do interpretive dance, at my church.

There were great golden chandeliers hanging overhead. Lots of gold and warm hues in large paintings and icons on every wall. And dimly lit, though not as dim as I imagined it would be, thanks to two circular windows on either side of a large icon of Mother Mary (Theotokos, Mother of God, as the Orthodox refer to her as) up on the front wall of the church.

Sound. We entered to the sound of what's called "Divine Liturgy", that is, the reading of Scripture, saints' writings, and other elements that I'm probably not aware of, via chanting and a cappella choral singing, which was actually quite beautiful in its pentatonic tones. There were the Troparions (hymns) to Christ, to saints, and to the Theotokos. I couldn't make out some of what was being sung, probably because I was on sensory overload, though I could understand when they praised the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, upon which many of the worshipers would cross themselves and sweep their hand low to the ground at some points. I don't have anything against crossing oneself, and I probably would have joined in if I knew when to do it. That, and if I knew if their hands were going from left to right or right to left, because the Roman Catholics and Lutherans care about those details, I assume the Orthodox church does, too.

Touch. Upon the beginning of the sermon, everyone sat down, like on the floor. The cold, hard granite floor. Now I'm sure Orthodox members have a way more interesting experience of this sense what with being able to take communion, touch icons, and whatnot, but I did touch the floor, so that's something. Anyway, A short sermon was preached about living a life of spiritual health, and to look to the icons and what they represent, that is, a window to heaven, where light emanates from the faces of the saints (which is why shadows are never depicted on icons, interestingly).

At that point my Orthodox worship service experience rather abruptly ended when one of the gals standing next to us (coincidentally, one of Aaron's old friends from Master's College) informed us there was an Orthodox class for Catechumens, and we were free to go to that.

And here I think I'll end my entry for the night. Part two will no doubt bring out the reformed in me--we'll call her Mrs. Guffaruff. Though we had to leave early for the sake of Gwen, our little trooper who could troop no more, I did noticed one of the ladies in the class had a plate full of cookies for refreshments after the service. Those I could almost taste. Almost.

Friday, January 15, 2010


At first I thought I had gotten something on my glasses that made my vision blurry. But no, it's just my monitor doing it's I'm-blurry-getting-more-blurry-oh-wait-I'm-good-now-nope-blurry-again thing.

I was going to post some gratuitous pics of Gwen being mesmerized by her daddy playing the mandolin, but who wants to deal with Photoshop when one has monitor drama? Sure, I can do the color correcting tolerably, but will it really be post-worthy?

Even as I type it's going a little haywire, which made me think (and you know bad stuff happens when I do that): isn't that just like life?

I've had 1 Corinthians 13:12 on my mind a lot lately. It goes: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." The short of it is, when we go to heaven, we will see and understand and know perfectly; but for now, our understanding is finite. We make mistakes. And though it could be said that hindsight is 20/20, even that isn't completely trustworthy, because we look back in this life through the scope of our own viewpoint and understanding.

So where am I going with this? I guess the blurry monitor brought to mind our struggle here on earth. We can't see perfectly, and at times it gets so bad we can't make heads from tails, but we're still called to press forward, to do what we ought to do, to work with Photoshop, so to speak, even when it's a blurry mess, because even so, I can see just enough to do my color-correcting, sizing and cropping. The focus, I have to trust, is sharp, and even if it isn't, I did my part to the best of my knowledge, and how it's received by the viewing public (i.e. 6 of you) is out of my control.

Ok, so it's a scenic tour analogy, but whatever, it's my blog. If you're still tracking, maybe there's something wrong with your monitor, too. Oh well, here's some super cute images of my super cute baby!


Monday, December 28, 2009

For the Beauty of the...Mountains

 I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, one of the many fine valleys southern California has to offer. But there's always been parts about it that I've felt to be lacking, for better or for worse, but lacking nonetheless. Then I moved here--the mountains--still in southern California, strangely enough, and am finding those lacking parts, those missing pieces, which have been making our sojourn here increasingly more fulfilling.

What follows is a growing list of reasons I love living here up on a mountain-top, in the sticks (literally and literary-ly). Sure, there's downsides, but there's downsides to living anywhere, so may as well dwell on the good stuff and chalk the rest up to whatever-doesn't-kill-you-only-makes-you-stronger. I'll be adding to this list from time to time as I realize new little jewels, but for now it's...

...The view.
I love how I can turn my head 90 degrees from my computer and behold a world of mountains. Mountains covered in snow in the morning and mountains that looked as if it had never snowed by mid-afternoon, as if they kept the whole affair a secret. I love how I can look out of the nursery window as I'm feeding Gwen and watch what could be deleted scenes from Bambi or Snow White, complete with foraging rabbits, squirrels, crested blue jays and quail, all frolicking together. It's just not normal, but in a good way.

...Finding that I'm becoming re-sensitized to nature.
As a kid, our family would go on walks several times a week. Walks around the neighborhood, to the local park, trails within Eaton Canyon. And a couple times a year we'd go camping at the beach or the mountains. It was where we went to get away from the hustle of life, and those became the places that restored peace to my increasingly more involved, busy and complex life. As school became all-consuming, it was all I could do from letting the cracks in the ground swallow me up, and I think it was at that point a part of my soul aways kept its nose to the grindstone, not looking up for anything. A part, I say--I didn't totally lose it--but I suspicion that part got a burnt fuse or something equivalent, and it's been long overdue for repair. As I took Pippin out for a walk last week, I finally felt as though the good doctor, Nature, finally started tinkering around in there.

...That I'm getting stronger.
Sure, having a 95th percentile, all-American 6-month-old is like having your own portable gym, but we hadn't lived here more than a week before I incinerated the remainder of my baby weight and could fit into my normal jeans. I credit hauling firewood up the stairs and--no, that's it. Just hauling firewood up the stairs. I can also tell by the fact that I wake up sore, and go to bed sore, so I gotta be shredding muscle somewhere...

...That we have a real, wood-burning fireplace.
Well, lots of non-mountain homes have those, but it's more than just a fireplace, it's a hearth; the heart of the house. Since our propane gas is so expensive to use, we decided to let our fireplace do the work of heating our home. Yes, it's a chore, scooping out the ashes every morning, gathering kindling, hauling calorie-burning logs, actually getting the fire started (and blowing blowing blowing on those fledgling flames for a fighting chance in this thin air), tending to the fire from morning to evening and sweeping up the bits of twig and dirt that inevitably congregate on the floor. But all that somehow adds to its presence and importance; as if those merry flames, pops, sparks, warmth and aroma make it a part of the family. And it's perfect for having an excuse to make s'mores.

...The sound.
And the lack of noise. There's nothing like the sound of wind combing through the needles of far-off pine trees.

...The untamed, unpredictable weather.
You can put money on the type of weather you'll get 99% of the time in 95% of southern California, but up here, all you can put money on is that it'll surprise you. It's kind of refreshing as it's one less thing I think I have certain knowledge about. And with winter weather upon us, no snow tires, and chains that may or may not fit, we're basically at the mercy of its whims, instead of at the mercy of our schedules. I know, you think schedules are a good thing, but they're overrated.

...The stars.
And the milky Way. Both to behold in abundance.

...The cold.
There's something nice about experiencing distinct seasons, even the cold ones, if only because they're different, a change of pace. Winter reminds forces me to slow down (especially when walking downhill),  and to appreciate my warm house.  Though it can be a drag in some ways, it's nice to take part in the world's yearly tradition of closing up shop, so to speak.

...Making us better stewards of our time and resources.
So, you'd think it would be really expensive to rent a beautiful chalet in the mountains, but just the opposite is true! We shell out nearly half of what we were paying about an hour down the road, we've found firewood (heating) at virtually no cost aside from a chainsaw, and electricity is a pittance compared to the insanity that were our central-air summer bills. Since the grocery store we shop at is 50 miles away, we've become better meal planners and list writers, which have saved us tons.

...A neighborly atmosphere.
I find that smaller communities, especially smaller communities in the snow, are much friendlier, which probably hearkens back to olden times when people in close quarters would die if they didn't get along or lend a hand. Everyone we've met has been super nice-- "Oh, come have lunch with us girls and share in some gossip!", and "Come hang out in the yarn shop if you just need to get out of the house", and "Do you need help shoveling your driveway?" and "Would you like my liquor collection?" (my favorite).

Anyway, the list will surely go on, and so will the drinks, for quite a while.