Faith on Friday: Icons

I recently had a conversation with someone who has been Orthodox for many years. In our conversation, he confessed that he still struggles with the veneration of icons. He is not the first convert to this ancient faith who has had a hard time getting used to some of the traditions of the Church. The place of the Mother of God in our worship. The sacrament of confession. The other-worldly sound of Byzantine chanting. The incense. Bowing and making prostrations. Kissing the priest’s hand. And yes the icons.


Here’s a wonderful video about the icons at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt.


Saint John the Evangelist

And an article I wrote about five years ago (published in First Things): “Icons Will Save the World.


And finally, a post I did not too long ago about weeping icons. (A weeping icon plays a significant part in the novel I am finishing right now.)


Icons are the Gospel of Christ, written in color. They are windows to Heaven. They are more than decorations. More than art. They are considered essential to our worship in the

Saint Basil the Great and Mary of Egypt

Orthodox Church.


I am thankful to have studied iconography and practiced this liturgical art for many years, although I am not doing so at the present time. (Here’s an essay from when I was painting icons and experienced writer’s block: “Blocked.”) Sometimes icons help me find my way back to God when I stray. Yes. They are that powerful. Thank God for this physical reminder of His Incarnation. I need them to help me find my way through the darkness.

Writing on Wednesdays: Down in the Delta


Although I grew up in Mississippi (37 years in Jackson) and have lived in Memphis for 25 years, I had never been to Clarksdale, Mississippi—home of the Blues—ever, until this past weekend. It took an invitation to read from Circling Faith and share a few words about publishing essays at a writing workshop to get me down there. And boy am I glad I went!


Susan in front of the ERNZ shack, her home for the weekend

My friend from Little Rock, Daphne Davenport, was one of 16 workshop participants. She rode down with me from Memphis, which was an adventure in itself. (Who puts a four-way-stop in the middle of a *@#ing highway?) And our accommodations were interesting—we stayed in “ERNZ,”one of the shacks across the tracks from the Shackup Inn (where the workshop was held)… in Shacksdale, just off Highway 49/61. Sitting on our back porch, we watched the sun come up over the cotton fields and set behind the Hobson Plantation Restaurant and Bar at night.


Sandi Butler Hughes, owner of a couple of the shacks in Shacksdale, had approached me about organizing a writing workshop in Clarksdale. I told her I was too busy trying to finish my book, but I knew someone who would do a great job. Kathy Rhodes, from Franklin, Tennessee, took the project on and created a terrific writing event.


In addition to the manuscript critique sessions, led by Kathy, Neil White drove over from Oxford to give his (now famous) three-hour craft workshop: “The Art vs. The Craft of Creative Nonfiction–& Creating Vivid Scenes.” Neil is owner of Nautilus Publishing in Oxford, and also the author of the memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.


Neil shows the writer how to lay down the first drafts (the “art”) without the editor’s voice, without the censor. Use your imagination. Be creative. Play. Be in the “zone.” Then you come back and apply the “craft”—with critique, analysis, and revision. Even those of us who had heard Neil’s talk before gleaned something new from it. I’m sure everyone has their own “take-away” notes, so I’ll only share a couple of new highlights:


“Creative nonfiction has an apparent subject—and a deeper subject. Unlike a news story, it’s not tied to timeliness . . . . The deeper subject remains vital.”—Philip Gerard


“Use a series of hurdles and problems which the protag must overcome. Plot is more than a series of events . . . . There must be a sense of urgency.”


On the work ethic and mindset of the writer:


 “Your book must be the most important thing in your life while you’re writing it. Except maybe your family.”


Neil White speaking on “The Art vs. Craft of Creative Nonfiction”

Maybe that last one is obvious, but sometimes writers (like me) have to remind ourselves that writing is our WORK. And we have to remind our friends and family. It’s not just a hobby, just something “extra” we are doing on the side.


Kathy gave a reading from her powerful essay, which was published in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Volume 3. And then she gave a wonderful talk on “What an Editor or Agent Looks For.” A few highlights, beginning with 3 important elements that an editor or agent will look for in your creative nonfiction essay or book:


1. STORY: Do you have one? Is it original? Does it jump off the page?

2. CRAFT: The actual writing of the story—how well it is done.

3. VOICE: The most important factor—the expression of YOU on the page, your passions, fears, beliefs, and attitudes.


She gave us 5 ways to accomplish those three important elements:


1. Pull up your soul. Write from your gut.

2. Blood, sweat and tears—be vulnerable on the page.

3. It’s not all about you

4. Put energy in it. Doe it move the reader?

5. Apply the techniques—scenes, exposition, concrete details, transitions


My contribution to the workshop was a brief reading from my essay, “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow,” which appears in the anthology, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, (available in hardback and on Kindle) followed by a brief talk on “How to Get Your Creative Nonfiction Essays Published.” (I’ve had 10 CNF essays published, which you can see here: Publications.) Here’s the list I spoke from:


1. Find MARKETS that match your writing.

2. Think LOCAL.

3. Look for publications that do THEMED issues.


5. KEEP TRACK of your submissions.


7. Strive for VARIETY.


9. Handling REJECTIONS.

10. Be a professional—set aside time for MARKETING.


One year ago today, I did a post about the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop, which I organized and directed last September. It’s not really a recap of the event, but the post itself is a short example of a creative nonfiction essay: “Where’s the Fire?” Several workshoppers from CNF at the Crossroads were there (as well as Neil White, speaker) so I hope you will enjoy the memory, Ren Hinote, Susan Marquez, Dan Stringfellow and NancyKay Wessman.

You might be wondering, where are the stories about dancing at Ground Zero, howling at the moon behind the ERNZ Shack at midnight, drinking Bourbon and 7 all weekend, visiting Lambfish Art Company on Sunday morning? Wait for it… what happens at the Crossroads….


Thanks so much to all the workshoppers who shared their manuscripts to be critiqued. Especially the “first timers.” It’s a scary thing to expose your “babies” to scrutiny, and I hope that each of you gained insights from the critique process. Some of the writing was exceptional. All of it was powerful—stories of loss, of memories, of place. Some of you made us laugh. Others made us cry. That’s what stories are supposed to do.


And thanks to Kathy for organizing, to Sandi for inviting us, and to Neil for enlightening us!


You can read Kathy’s post about the workshop here on her blog, “A Magical Time.”


Susan Cushman, Neil White, Kathy Rhodes, co-directors, 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference

And *drum roll* MARK YOUR CALENDARS for the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference: May 2-5, 2013. Neil, Kathy and I will be directing the conference again this year (read about the 2010 Conference here) and we’re excited about the faculty (stay tuned) and schedule. If you think you might come, please make your reservation at the Inn at Ole Miss (on campus) NOW. Call 888-486-7666. If you miss getting a room there, you will have to stay off campus, and parking on campus during the conference isn’t easy.They have a block of rooms under “Creative Nonfiction Conference,” and will provide more rooms as these fill. If you’re sharing a room, the suites in the new part of the hotel have 2 queen beds, a living room/kitchen area, and 1 1/2 baths. Stay tuned for more information once we get the web site up. In the meanwhile, keep on writing!

Mental Health Monday: Permission to NOT Be Happy?

I just read an article in the October, 2012 issue of Reader’s Digest, “Forget Happiness,” an excerpt from This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decreptitude & More. For Young and Old Alike, by Augusten Burroughs.

Like Robert Goolrick’s brutal honesty in his memoir, The End of the World as We Know It,  Burroughs offers candid reflections that are somehow—albeit darkly—comforting:

“I am not a happy person. There are things that do make me experience joy. But joy is a fleeting emotion, like a very long sneeze. A lot of the time what I feel is interested. Or I feel melancholy. And I also frequently feel tenderness, annoyance, confusion, fear, hopelessness. It doesn’t all add up to anything I would call happiness. But what I’m thinking is, is that so terrible?”

I’ve ordered the book, and I can’t wait to read his advice on such topics as “How to Be Fat” and “How to Feel Sorry For Yourself.” What’s happening here is something I think many of us need. He is giving us permission to NOT be happy. And to feel okay about not being happy at times. Or most of the time. If this is sounding too dark for you, read on:

“Being an unhappy person does not mean you must be sad or dark. You can be interested instead of happy. You can be fascinated instead of happy. The barrier to this, of course, is that in our super-positive society, we have an unspoken zero-tolerance policy for negativity…. Who among us is having a “Great!” day every day?”

Are you ever annoyed by the people who put sentimental pictures with “Have A Great Day” on Facebook fifteen times a day? It’s like they have set the bar. What if I have a(nother) shitty day? What if I can’t live up to their expectations? As Burroughs says:

“Giving yourself permission to feel an emotion without judgment or censorship can lessen the intensity of those negative emotions. Almost like you’re letting them into the backyard to run around and get rid of that energy.”

In this Bookslut interview with Lisa Appignanes, author of Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors, Appignanes says:

“…gladness has become almost an imperative in itself, a kind of superego injunction, and so one is told to be happy. Certainly in America, and indeed the West, the pursuit of happiness carries its own burden of guilt when you’re not happy, or experiencing dissatisfaction, because you haven’t attained the ideal of happiness. So it has played back on itself, and the pursuit of gladness drives people mad as well.”

The ‘50s housewife who greeted her husband at the end of the day, dressed to the nines, with a smile and a martini in hand still lives inside many of us today. Like Laura Brown in Michael Cunningham’s brilliant book, The Hours. God, I still feel pressure to be her, don’t you? As does the overworked husband coming in from a terrible day at the office, putting on a smile and saying, “Hi, honey, I’m home!” Here we are, fifty years later and so much has changed, but not society’s icon of happiness. It’s even in our Declaration of Independence—right up there with “life” and “liberty”—the “pursuit of happiness.” It’s our right to pursue it. But, must we?

If you must, Burroughs has this advice for pursing it:

“Whatever being happy means to you, it needs to be specific and also possible. When you have a blueprint for what happiness is, lay it over your life and see what you need to change so the images are more aligned. Still, this recipe of defining happiness and fiddling with your life to get it will work for some people—but not for others…. I am one of the others.”

Me, too, Augusten. And so for today, my goal is not to be happy, but to be interested. And interesting. If moments of happiness are given to me today, I will embrace them with gratitude. If not, I will embrace whatever emotions I am feeling with honesty.

This past weekend I was with a group of writers at the Creative Nonfiction at the Crossroads writing workshop. (Come back for “Writing on Wednesday” to read more about the weekend.) We met at the Shakup Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the “home of the blues.” Of the dozen or so manuscripts that we critiqued, several were stories of unspeakable loss—a son who committed suicide, spouses who died too young, the aftermath of disasters like Katrina. The authors weren’t pursing happiness in writing these stories. Maybe some of them were writing for therapy. But most were getting up and above their pain and creating art. I came away with a deep respect for each of them, and especially for their honesty. None of them were pretending to be happy. But they were interesting. And bold. And alive.

Two-For Thursday: The Irony of Metaphor—Circling Faith at the Presbyterian Church

I’m only home for one day between two trips this week, so I’m departing from my new blog schedule today. Instead of two posts: Writing on Wednesdays and Faith on Fridays, you’ll get a Two-For on Thursday. And it will be about both—writing and faith.

Having spent Tuesday night in Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly’s lovely guest house in Oxford, Mississippi, I’m hopeful that the brilliance of those two authors rubbed off on me just a tiny bit. I almost couldn’t sleep, as the guest bed is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of enough treasures to please the best insomniac. The guesthouse doubles as Tom’s writing studio, but the volumes of his work snuggle up next to Faulkner, Richard Ford, and dozens of others. I enjoyed a sneak preview at the newly published collection edited by Tom, Grit Lit. It’s filled with stories about the “rough South” by twenty men and three women (aren’t you curious which gals made the cut?) who paint uncut images of life below the Mason-Dixon line.

The next morning, while I was enjoying coffee with Tom and Beth Ann (and reading to their precious 20-month-old, Nolan) I mentioned how much I loved Beth Ann’s poem, “The Snake Charmer,” which was framed in the guesthouse. It’s included in the only volume of poetry by Beth Ann that I didn’t already own. She immediately pulled out a copy of Open House: Poems by Beth Ann Fennelly and inscribed it as a gift for me.  Later I sat on the porch swing reading the first poems in the book, including these words from “The Impossibility of Language”:

The irony of metaphor:

you are closest to something

when naming what it’s not.

That describes a bit of how I felt as I stood in the pulpit (yes) at First Presbyterian Church in Oxford on Tuesday evening, reading to a mixed crowd of Presbyterians, Episcopalians (the event was also sponsored by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church) and others from my essay in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. Since I grew up in the Presbyterian Church (in Jackson, Mississippi) but left it for my new spiritual home in the ancient Orthodox faith, I wondered if our guests would see me as a turncoat. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone—from the pastor, John Semmes, to each person who introduced themselves or asked me to inscribe a copy of the book they had purchased from Square Books—was welcoming.

Jennifer Horne

As Wendy Reed introduced the readings, and her co-editor, Jennifer Horne, read from the introduction to Circling Faith—the second anthology assembled by these two gifted women (the first was All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality)—I breathed in the familiar atmosphere of the faith of my father, who was a charter member of another Presbyterian Church back in the 1950s. How could I explain to these lovely people that I had found a church that was a better “fit” for me, just as I had purchased a new outfit for the reading, always a bit obsessed with my outward appearance? I found comfort in the words Jennifer read from the introduction:

“Of course, we do say something with what we wear. I want to be comfortable, I love the color red, I’d rather blend in than stand out, I feel sexy. It’s all very well to consider the lilies in the field, but a lily never experienced closet trauma or wondered whether the field made her butt look big. So maybe clothing is an apt metaphor for the ‘fit” of religious or spiritual practice. The wrong outfit can make you feel as though you are spiritually holding your stomach in. When you are wearing something that fits well and suits you, you feel unselfconscious, at ease.”

And I did, indeed, feel at ease once it was my turn at the pulpit and I got to share my story of leaving the faith of my childhood and taking a long and sometimes bumpy seventeen-year-journey to the Orthodox Church. I read about how I went to extremes along the way. I told about my pilgrimages to monasteries. About learning to paint icons. About the way the church did—and did not—help me with my ongoing recovery from sexual abuse and eating disorders.

I read about meeting my fellow panelists at the Southern Festival of Books in 2006 and falling in love with these “strong women of passion,” as the introduction to the first anthology calls them. And finally, I shared about my recent efforts to find balance, and what the late Madeleine L’Engle called wholeness, and wondrous newness.

“…that newness has shown up to cheer me on as I embrace the darker aspects of my Mississippi childhood by laying down difficult chapters of my novel-in-progress. Sometimes I feel its presence during the sacrament of confession, when I’ve been up all night facing down my demons as I write, often chasing them with vodka or wine. Maybe my brokenness, like the egg yolks that I use to make tempera paint for my icons—themselves a form of life interrupted—is part of my offering to God.”

Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann closed out the evening with her reading from “Taking Terroir on Faith.” As a transplant to the South from Chicago, Beth Ann has embraced every aspect of her new home—even to the point of eating dirt. Yes, she wanted to experience geophagy, this phenomenon she had read about. Not only by doing research (and she did plenty of that) but also by tasting. By taking the dirt of her new world into her body, just as we take the body of Jesus into ourselves during communion. She’s also “church shopping,” and currently finds herself at First Presbyterian, where the event was held on Tuesday night. And so she read to her fellow parishioners, her pastor, and the other visitors about how cultivating a taste for church compares with cultivating a taste for dirt:

“The search for a church has been a little more successful. My husband and I have been attending a service that doesn’t feel so restrictive that we balk and chafe, but doesn’t feel so loosey-goosey that we wonder why we bother to dress up. Yet I still wouldn’t say I wake up on Sunday mornings with an urge to go there. And I certainly couldn’t call it a compulsion. But I have the idea somehow that I should stick with it. Maybe the only way I’ll learn whether I can nurture a craving is by feeding myself…. Maybe educating my palate is the first step. Maybe the leap comes next.” 

Neil White, Susan Cushman, Beth Ann Fennelly

I’m so thankful to Neil White for organizing this event, to our sponsors, Nautilus Publishing, First Presbyterian Church, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and Square Books. And especially to my friend and fellow writer, Doug McLain, who drove to Oxford to support me (and photograph the event—thanks, Doug!) and writing buddy, Michelle Bright, and the rest of the (49) people who came out to listen, including: John Semmes, the pastor at First Presbyterian, whom I enjoyed visiting with; Mary Ann Bowen, the freelance editor who is helping me with my novel; Anne Fisher-Wirth, poet, writer and professor at Ole Miss, Margaret Love-Denman, with whom I took a writing workshop a few years ago, storyteller, actress and playwright, Rebecca Jernigan, whom I met at the 2008 Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop, and the other lovely people I enjoyed meeting so much.

As I inscribed books, I found myself writing “keep the faith” at first, but later I began to write “keep circling,” which describes an honest seeking in response to the longing of the human heart for something beyond itself.

I’m off to Clarksdale, Mississippi, tomorrow, for a weekend with another group of writers. This time I’ll be reading and giving a short talk at the Creative Nonfiction in the Delta workshop, organized by my friend, Kathy Rhodes. Neil White will be the keynote speaker. I’ve never been to Clarksdale, so I’m looking forward to staying at the “Shackup Inn” and taking in some Delta blues while I’m there.
Here are a few more pictures from the event in Oxford. Photos by Doug McLain, except for the one of Beth Ann Fennelly reading.

Susan Cushman, Beth Ann Fennelly, Wendy Reed, Jennifer Horne

John Semmes, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church

Jennifer Horne and Susan Cushman in front of First Presbyterian Church, Oxford, Mississippi

Mental Health Mondays: ADELE and Amy Poehler on a Health Body Image

I don’t usually look to Grammy-award-winning artists and comedians for advice on dealing with body image issues, but last night two such women’s words just came to me. The first was British musical artist, Adele. My husband and I watched her interview with Anderson Cooper on Sixty Minutes. The whole interview was fun, but this part really caught my attention:

“The first thing to do is be happy with yourself and appreciate your body—only then should you try to change things about yourself.”

 She also told Cooper that she

“rarely thinks about her body image and feels no pressure to be a “skinny-mini” or wear revealing, hyper-sexual clothing.”

What a healthy message she’s sending to all of us women in this world that is so obsessed with thinness.

Take a few minutes and watch the full Sixty Minutes interview here.

And then I discovered that Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live) gives advice on a website called Smart Girls at the Party .  She has some great advice for those of us struggling with body image:

“Have some gratitude…. Thank the parts of your body you were given—good eyesight, thick hair, good teeth—and don’t focus on the parts of your body that will never change…. There are only like five perfectly symmetrical people in the world, and they’re all movie stars, and they should be, because their faces are very pleasing to look at. But the rest of us are just a jangle of stuff. The earlier you learn to focus on what you do have and not on what you don’t have, the happier you will be.”

Amy Poehler



Maybe this is obvious to some of you, but it was a fresh approach for me. And today, I’m going to try to begin to act on her words.


Watch the short (2 ½ minute) video with Amy here.


It’s a nice change listening to two successful entertainers share these simple but profound reflections on a subject that so many women (myself included) obsess over for much of our lives. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Family on Fridays: Gabby and Me

This is exactly what I was afraid of.  I can’t even write the first sentence of this post without crying. But I don’t have time to fall apart today. You see, I am babysitting my four-and-a-half-month-old granddaughter, Gabrielle Sophia, for three days (and nights) and I am overwhelmed with joy on a minute-by-minute basis.


It’s not that I didn’t also love having my daughter, Beth, and her husband, Kevin, stay with us for a couple of days this week, because that was also a wonderful treat. But they took off for Knoxville yesterday for a three-day football weekend (Tennessee vs. Florida . . . go, Vols!) with friends from their college years at UT. They honored us (and I mean that in the most serious way) with the privilege of keeping Gabby while they’re gone. If you follow my blog, you already know that I was there when she was born. I mean THERE. In the delivery suite, with Kevin, helping my daughter do the hardest and most wonderful thing she’s ever done in her life. It was so hard that she passed out just as she delivered Gabby and I “had to” hold the baby for the first hour of her life while Beth recovered. I spent five weeks in Denver in April (she was born on April 23) and visited for a week again in July.


So… when I picked them up at the airport on Tuesday, Gabby recognized me right away (no room for arguments here) and just lights up every moment of every day that we are together.


At this point some of you are thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s how every grandmother feels.” And I would like to think so. But what some of you might be missing here is the back story. (Okay, more tears… good thing Gabby is asleep.)


When I was sixteen years old, I learned that I could never have children. One year later I fell in love with a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Ole Miss and I remember how nervous I was when I told him I could never have his children. He didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, you will. We’ll just adopt them.”


The day Beth arrived from S. Korea (November 4, 1985)

And of course we did…. Jonathan, in 1977, Jason, in 1984, and Beth in 1985. Over the next 35 years we watched these three awesome people find parts of themselves in sports, engineering, architecture, literature, the world of food and wine (one is now a sommelier and part owner in a gourmet wine and cheese business), the armed services (both boys) and for Jason and Beth, marriage and children. They’ve traveled the world for sport, recreation, war, and (Jason—to South Korea) in search of roots. And now Jason and Beth have their own birth families (Jason’s girls are 2 and 3). The circle of family and belonging is growing closer and my joy is made full.


I see much of Beth in Gabby’s little person, even though Beth didn’t come to us until she was almost three years old. Sometimes I cry when I imagine her life when she was Gabby’s age, and I wish I could have been her birth mother. I wish I could have been the one up with her for feedings in the middle of the night and holding her and kissing her and telling her how much she is loved.


Of course it’s much harder, physically, to do all of those things at age 61, but it’s only for three days. And last night Gabby slept for 9 hours straight—a personal record—which thrilled me. Today we’re just hanging out. We might go for a stroll later if it doesn’t rain. And I might indulge in a rare nap for myself during one of Gabby’s.


Life is Good. My cup runneth over.

(Not) Writing on Wednesdays….

Our youngest Granddaughter, Gabrielle Sophia, is visiting from Denver with our daughter, Beth, and our son-in-law, Kevin Davis. Gabby is almost five months old and keeping me quite busy, so no time to write today. Instead I’ll share a few cartoons for writers. Enjoy! (You can read more of Debbie Ohi’s cartoons at

By Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Mental Health Mondays: September 10—International Suicide Prevention Day

Last last night I worked myself into a frenzy about today’s blog post. Since I organized my blog into categories a few weeks ago—Mental Health Mondays, Writing on Wednesdays, Faith or Family on Fridays—I thought it would be easier to come up with something worth reflecting on three days a week. And yes, the categories do serve as writing prompts. But they can also hold my feet to the fire, if I let them. It’s my blog, right? I can do whatever I want to, right? And yet at midnight last night I set aside my notes for today’s post, dissatisfied with the topic and the prose.

I poured a(nother) glass of wine and cruised the TV for something to watch. I landed on the 2010 movie, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” based on the 2006 novel by American author Ned Vizzini. The story is about a teenage boy, Craig, who cracks under academic and social pressure, considers jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, but checks himself into a psychiatric hospital for a week instead. The book, which was inspired by Vizzini’s own brief hospitalization for depression in November 2004, received recognition as a 2007 Best Book for Young Adults from the American Library Association.

Craig describes his depression:

“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”

And later, he talks about how it’s helping him to be with others in the psychiatric hospital:

“People are screwed up in this world. I’d rather be with someone screwed up and open about it than somebody perfect and ready to explode.”

Eventually Craig discovers his artistic talent. When he leaves the hospital, he tells his dad that he wants to be an artist and not pursue his dad’s goals for his life.

I’m not trying to make more of this than the writers intended, but I do think it’s interesting that there was an artist at the core of this young man trying to fit into a prescribed role.

 And then I opened the newspaper this morning to learn that September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. I had no idea that suicide was the leading cause of death in the world, with current numbers at one every forty seconds—more than the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined. And in the United States, one person commits suicide every 14 minutes.

Experts believe that most suicidal individuals do not want to die. They just want to end the pain they are experiencing. Even in my darkest nights of the soul, I’ve never seriously contemplated suicide. But I know several people who have. And I’ve met mothers who have lost children to suicide—the worst kind of pain I can imagine.

So what can we do?

These men, Zachary Chipps, left, and Thomas Brown, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are bicycling across the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention. They both lost an older brother to suicide. Their journey began March 1, 2012, at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and will end Sept. 30, 2012, in Wappengers Falls, N.Y. They are pictured during a stop in Colorado.

The International Association of Suicide Prevention is asking everyone to light a candle and place it in your front window at 8 p.m. tonight, to show support for those struggling with suicidal tendencies, and to honor those who lost their lives to suicide.

Like this woman, who lights a candle to remember her son, who died by suicide. Her daughter also lights a candle to remember her older brother.

I can do that. But I’ll also light a candle in my icon corner, where I try to say my morning and evening prayers. I’ll ask God and His saints to comfort those who are struggling with the hopelessness that can lead to suicide. Some people pray especially to St. Jude, who is known as the patron saint of “lost causes.” The artist in me immediately thinks of these words from the Beatles’ song, “Hey, Jude”:

“And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain,
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.”

But I think the best thing we can do is reach out to each other. And not just family members and close friends, although that’s a good place to start. Often the people in the most pain are those just on the edge of society. The middle-aged man who is out of work. The elderly woman who lives alone. The homeless person holding the sign at the intersection. The teenager who doesn’t “fit in.” Or maybe just the person who is trying to free her inner artist.

Faith on Fridays: Miraculous Icons

If you follow my blog, you know that I did a post about “Weeping Icons” back in March. So when Katherine Hyde invited me to contribute a guest post for a series she was introducing on her blog, “God-Haunted Fiction,” I immediately thought of those weeping icons. Katherine has titled the series, “Mysteries in Ordinary Time.” Please click on this link to read my contribution today:

“Miraculous Weeping Icons.”


Katherine Hyde

Katherine Hyde is acquisitions editor for Conciliar Press, the print publishing arm of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. She also does freelance editing and book design under the business name Hyde Publishing Services. And she has written and published several books, including Lucia, Saint of Light (children’s book).  I met Katherine on Facebook (she lives in California and I’m in Memphis) when she invited me to join the Orthobloggers Facebook Group. I hope to meet her in person one day.

This has been an unusual week for me, with two invitations to contribute guest posts to other blogs (Wednesday’s and today’s). I’ll be back next week with more Mental Health Mondays, Writing on Wednesdays, and Faith on Fridays. Have a great weekend, everyone!


Writing on Wednesday: “A Subtle Reciprocity”

This week I’ve been invited to write guest posts for two blogs. Today’s post is for “The Sounding,” a blog published by the Orthodox Christian Network.


Melinda Johnson

Freelance writer and editor, Melinda Johnson, is the blog chief for The Sounding. Her novels, Letters to Saint Lydia and The Other Side of the Bonfire, are available on Amazon. Thanks so much to Melinda for inviting me to contribute a guest post.


My article for The Sounding, “A Subtle Reciprocity,” was inspired by the poetry of Scott Cairns. Just click the link to read the post, and as always, I welcome comments.

 Thanks for reading… I’ll be back on Friday with links to another guest post.

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