Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taste and See

Christ is Risen! And life is bursting forth all around us as spring has finally arrived. I've spent some wonderful times with my family in the natural world recently, grateful for all of the beauty that is unfolding. To me, there is nothing better than spending some time in the woods, away from the busyness and cares of this world, to experience renewal and joy.

Watching my children interact with the natural world is also a reminder to me of how we often make life so complicated, when it is the simple things that can bring us the most joy. Often times, our walks are rather short length-wise, but span a couple of hours time. Children have no qualms over taking great amounts of time to explore every nook and cranny of a small area, discovering the hidden jewels many adults would overlook. They seem to intrinsically know that, in the natural world, we can experience God's goodness, and truly "taste and see that the Lord is good."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Cosmic Event

After the long journey of Lent, we are quickly approaching Pascha! What a celebration we all have to look forward to! Yet it is during this time of year that I often feel the most grief and shed the most tears for the suffering of animals in this world.

I know that amidst all of the joyous cries of, "Christ is Risen!" there will be feasting upon the bodies of animals who have suffered and died to fill our stomachs. Yes, I know that as Christians we are not compelled to abstain from the eating of the flesh of animals or of other foods that come from animals. Yet, all the same, my heart cries out for mercy and justice for the animals (the animals God entrusted in our care) in our celebration of Christ's Resurrection.

While God does allow for us to eat animals, I find it impossible to believe that He would condone the type of treatment these animals currently endure in order to make their way to our dinner tables. And it is not just the animals who suffer. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, those working in the meatpacking industry have the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Furthermore, a great number of these workers are illiterate migrant workers who are underpaid and unable to fight for better working conditions or pay due to their illiteracy. (Addressing the issue of the workers in factory farms and slaughterhouses is a huge issue in and of itself, but here's a good place to start your reading on it.)

I find it incredibly sad that people such as myself who consciously choose to abstain from the eating or wearing of animals and animal by-products are often labeled (in a derogatory way) as "radical" or "strict" vegetarians. If making an effort to choose compassion and mercy in response to suffering in this world is frowned upon as being eccentric, then that only strengthens my longing for the Kingdom, where "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any pain; for the former things are passed away." - Revelation 21:4.

At the same time, it is not surprising that we treat God's creatures and the rest of God's creation in the way we do. We live in a fallen world... a world in which our sinful natures lead us to gluttony and mistreatment of the world. Patriarch Ignatius IV of the Antiochian Orthodox Church once said, "If nature is not transfigured, she becomes disfigured." If we truly lived a sacramental life, today's factory farms and automated slaughterhouse lines would not even exist. As I said before, it is impossible for me to believe that God would bless the way animals are treated in these systems.

On a positive note, I have noticed a trend in Orthodox Christianity in which there is an increased focus and effort to take environmental concerns, often called "creation care," into consideration. This is wonderful. However, where is the mention of animals? Are they not a part of God's creation, too?

So, for me, at Pascha my deep sense of rejoicing comes not only because of what Christ has done for people, but also for what Christ has done for His whole creation.

"The salvation of human beings which is offered by and in Christ, is for us a cosmic event. Through human beings, all creation will be saved. Christ not only saves us from ourselves, he offers the redemption of the whole of creation."
- Metropolitan John of Pergamon

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quality Children's Books

I'm often disturbed by the quality of some of the children's books I find in the library stacks and bookstores. Quite frankly, I'm surprised that some books have not only been published, but have turned into a full series. ("Walter the Farting Dog" is one that immediately comes to mind. Do we need to dumb down our children with these debased types of stories? Has our culture really dropped to this level of cultural emptiness? How truly sad and scary....) I believe it is vitally important for us to guard our children from stories and images that can be damaging to them. Bishop Theophan the Recluse wrote, "It is well known how powerfully corrupt images act upon the soul, no matter in what form they might touch it." Children's books are no exception.

So when I encounter books with beautiful writing and engaging stories that draw the reader and listener in and have some spiritual or edifying value to them, I am excited! I love books that can teach my children something about history or their faith by way of beautiful artwork and storylines that are not full of dry, lifeless facts.

Here are a few examples of a few such I have read with my children recently. One of the things I particularly like about them is that, in each of these books, animals are not used and abused as commodities, but are honored and cherished in different ways. I would love to hear some suggestions of similar books that have been well-accepted into your families as well.

"The Blackbird's Nest: St. Kevin of Ireland," by Jenny Schroedel
"Brother Bartholomew and the Apple Grove," by Jan Cheripko
"The Genius of Leonardo," by Guido Visconti

Change

It often happens that I think of something I want to write about here, but then I don't have much time to articulate my thoughts. So, I've decided that I'm going to change the way I had been relating to this blog. I'm going to allow myself the grace to make it simpler. A line or two written will be more cathartic and beneficial than thoughts swirling around my head with nothing written at all. I don't know where this new direction in perspective will take me. So, we'll just have to see!