Time For a Change?

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Four years ago this summer I decided to organize my blog posts into three categories: Mental Health Monday, Writing on Wednesday, and Faith/Family on Friday. Over 600 blog posts later—keeping for the most part within those parameters—I might be ready for a change. I had been blogging for five years (since 2007) without using those categories, but in 2012 something shifted in my small corner of the blogosphere. I think I was craving organization. And most days it’s helpful to have those writing prompts for the blog. But sometimes—like on any given Friday—I might not have something on my heart about faith or family. And not every Monday finds me “cryin’ all of the time.” Since I write—or read or research or think or do something related to writing—almost every day, I don’t really need Wednesdays as a category for writing.

As I write these words, I’m wondering what it might feel like to wake up on a Monday morning, for example, and think, “Hm. I don’t have to write about mental health today. I can write about anything!” Would that free up the muse, or break down the discipline I’ve been following for four years?

Of course it’s no small thing that one of the main topics I blogged about for Mental Health Mondays was my mother’s journey (and mine as her caregiver) with Alzheimer’s, and that journey ended with her death in May, so I know I’m feeling a huge gap, not only in my life, but in my writing world. (I penned sixty posts about Mom over the past nine years.)

So, I’m considering a change. But I want to know what you, my readers, think. Do you enjoy having these categories for the blog? Do you only read the blog on certain days, when you know I’m going to be writing within a category that interests you? Please leave a comment here, on Facebook, or email me at sjcushman@gmail.com and let me know your thoughts. If I quit using these categories, it won’t be a change I’ll make lightly (if it ain’t broke….).

Have a great weekend, and thanks, always, for reading!

Faith on Friday: (God’s) Family Matters

Icon of Saints Joachim and Anna at St. John Orthodox Church, Memphis

Icon of Saints Joachim and Anna at St. John Orthodox Church, Memphis

In the Orthodox Church, today is the feast day of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anna. Being a grandmother (of four little girls, ages one, four, six, and seven) is one of my greatest joys. Although I live over a thousand miles from my granddaughters, I think about them every day. I pray for them. I smile as I look at their pictures all around my office each day and on the refrigerator. I send them letters and gifts. I look forward to Face Time with each of them, and I often wonder what they will be when they grow up. And yes, I imagine spending time with them more often if we retire to Denver in a few years, picking them up from school and taking them to soccer or dance or art classes, having them for sleepovers, taking them shopping, to bookstores and the theater.

Since I couldn’t have biological children, my husband and I adopted our three wonderful “kids” who are now in their thirties. We waited seven years after we got married before an adoption agency would grant us our first child. At the time, those seven years felt like an eternity to me. All our friends were having children, and my empty womb cast a sad shadow over many of those early days of our marriage. And then God’s blessings began to come to us as He gave us Jonathan, Jason, and then Beth. I was only 34 when we adopted our third child, but we had been married fifteen years by then, and I remember feeling a bit old. Couples were getting married and starting families younger back then.

Imagine how Anna must have felt. She and Joachim had been married for fifty years and were barren. They were often ridiculed by the community—many even said it was their sinfulness that caused Anna’s fruitless womb. (I know that feeling.) Joachim was a faithful Jew who went to the temple and offered sacrifices regularly, giving a third of their income to the poor, a third to the temple, and only keeping a third to live on. Finally God blessed them with a child in their old age. And not just any child—their daughter was Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Saints Joachim and Anna with their daughter, Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Saints Joachim and Anna with their daughter, Mary, the Mother of Jesus

The Orthodox Church (and the Catholic Church) venerates Mary, the Theotokos (the “God-bearer”) very highly, as it should. But it also holds her parents in high esteem. At the end of every divine liturgy, we hear the priest say these words:

“May the risen Christ, our true God, with the prayers of his pure and holy Mother, the power of the precious and life-giving Cross, the protection of the spiritual powers of Heaven… the holy and righteous ancestors of God Joachim and Anna, and all the saints whose memory we celebrate have mercy on us and save us.”

As blessed as Joachim and Anna must have felt by this amazing gift, I can’t imagine how difficult it was for them to let Anna go and live in the temple at a young age, where she would remain pure, preparing herself to become the mother of Jesus. They gave up the joys most parents experience in having their children live at home with them. And they both died before experiencing the miraculous joy and incredulous pain they would have known watching their grandson grow up and become the Christ, who would eventually suffer crucifixion before his miraculous resurrection and ascension to Heaven. Their mission as His grandparents was over early, but will forever be a cornerstone in the Church’s history. And so we sing to them on this day:

“As we celebrate the remembrance of thy righteous grand-parents, through them we beseech thee, O Lord, to save our souls.”

Faith on Friday: Icons and Street Art

Saint Charitine by Fikos

Saint Charitine by Fikos

This wonderful article in the Orthodox Arts Journal, “Contemporary Byzantine Painting: Street Art and the Icon in Convergence,” introduces the reader to the Greek artist, Fikos. Fikos started painting as a child— comic book strips, landscapes and, yes, icons. At age 13 he was studied under the renowned contemporary iconographer George Kordis. His work is beautiful, but it’s his approach to art—both street art and liturgical art—that drew my interest.

‘I was born to love, not to hate,’ by Fikos, 2013. Acrylics on wall, 12×5 m. Kolonos, Athens.

‘I was born to love, not to hate,’ by Fikos, 2013. Acrylics on wall, 12×5 m. Kolonos, Athens.

Street art and liturgical art have something in common? But isn’t graffiti historically a youthful act of rebellion? And what does the graffiti writer and the icon writer possibly have in common? In this interview with Fr. Silouan Justiniano, we learn more about this:

Can graffiti possibly bring us to remembrance of our common humanity, meant to aspire towards a higher life of blessedness? Perhaps… If so even graffiti, or at least some of its more positive strains as found in recent Neo-muralism, can be seen as an attempt to imaginatively transform our bleak post-industrial environments ̶ to offer an alternative vision ̶ by infusing them with images suggestive of a far richer, living and higher reality, imbued with beauty, lyricism, joy, rhythm and hope. So similarities with the icon in fact begin to arise…

That’s what Mare tries to do, in my novel, Cherry Bomb. Along with the street artists she meets in Atlanta, who are protesting poverty and corrupt landlords and the ugliness of the lifeless buildings in the 1980s, Mare throws up images of the darkness she has lived through in her young life. And when she discovers icons and eventually visits churches and monasteries, she embraces the liturgical art of iconography in a way that both surprises and saves her.
Fikos’ work is beautiful—both his icons and his street art. The article is definitely worth a read if you are interested in either of these art forms.

Have a great weekend!

Faith on Friday: Faith-Based Presses and Four-Letter Words

I’ve got exciting news that can’t wait for next week’s “Writing on Wednesday” post: I just got a publishing deal for my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s! It’s a collection of essays culled from eight years of blog posts. I’m over the moon with excitement. But here’s something I didn’t see coming. The publisher is a small, faith-based press (they also publish secular work, and mine really isn’t a “Christian” book) with a pretty loyal readership (they send out regular newsletters with their catalogue), so they asked me to edit out the four-letter words!

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The funny part is, they don’t even know my husband is a priest. He’s probably rolling his eyes if he’s reading this, although he really likes my novel, Cherry Bomb, which will not be published by a faith-based press.

The bottom line is I’m happy to oblige, and I certainly don’t want to offend any potential readers. The publisher is thinking the target audience is baby boomers who are caregivers—at some level—for their aging parents. Or maybe even some of those aging parents themselves. But I hope that younger folks will also read Tangles and Plaques. Maybe it will help some people who might be facing these issues in the future. And evidently that’s a lot of people. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and more than fifteen million people provide care to people with dementia.

So, I hope the censorship protestors will forgive me for taking out some of those colorful words. Hopefully the words that are left will be enough to move you to tears, laughter, or both.

Faith on Friday: Wisdom of the Saints

Final_2016_Cover_copy_q8mndnWe have a wonderful calendar that we get each year from The Orthodox Calendar Company called “Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints and Fasting Calendar.” For each day there’s a quote from a saint, information about a saint or feast being commemorated that day, Epistle and Gospel readings, and information about fasting guidelines for the day/season. The company has a Facebook page, and the book is also available for Kindle and other eReaders. (Most) every morning, I use this book with my morning prayers, which I pray in our icon corner in our dining room. It almost always helps me focus for the day ahead. The first line of my Morning Prayers is “Grant me to greet the coming day in peace.” Another line says, “Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Thy will governs all.” Peace of soul. That’s one of the goals of the saints whose wisdom is offered in these quotes. Today I’ll share a few that have blessed me recently, and I pray that they bring peace of soul to you. I’m especially thinking about those suffering from the flood in Louisiana and the fires in California today. Lord have mercy!

One must act in such a way that the soul does not turn to God only when one is standing in prayer, but should do so as far as possible throughout the day. It should be an unceasing offering of one’s self to Him.—St. Theophan the Recluse

If you possess love, you feel no jealousy or envy. You are not boastful, carried away by reckless pride. Nor do you put on airs with anyone. Nor do you act shamefully towards your fellow beings. You seek, not simply what is to your own advantage, but what also benefits your fellow beings. You are not quickly provoked by those who are angry with you.—St. Niketas Stethatos

If you are entirely deprived of something, do not hope in man or be distressed; and do not grumble against anyone. Rather, endure eagerly and calmly—reflecting as follows: ‘I am deserving of many afflictions, on account of my sins; but if God wishes to show mercy to me, He is able to do so.’ If you think along these lines, He will fulfill your every need.—St Isaac the Syrian

That one would be really hard for me if I had just lost everything in a flood or a fire.

Remember never to fear the power of evil more than your trust in the power and love of God.—Apostle Hermas of the Seventy

While we have time, let us visit Christ, let us serve Christ, let us nourish Christ, let us clothe Christ, let us offer hospitality to Christ, let us honor Christ.—St. Gregory the Theologian

z­.;Ìÿ

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Danielle Blount kisses her 3-month-old baby Ember as she feeds her while they wait to be evacuated by members of the Louisiana Army National Guard.

Because even as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Christ.

I’m sure there are many sites offering ways to help the victims of the flood in Louisiana, but this one seems especially helpful:

“How to Help Victims of Louisiana Floods” (Huffington Post)

 

 

Faith on Friday: Most Holy Mother of God, Save Us!

il_570xN.817688957_oyk3We’re in the Atlanta airport waiting for our connecting flight to Denver. I was going to skip blogging today until I realized that I’ve got a bit of time here. And then I was thinking of writing about Elvis and the Mother of God—who are commemorated on August 14 and 15—but then I realized that I did that last year. And yet the Mother of God is on my heart today.

For the past two weeks Orthodox Christians have been observing the “Dormition Fast” and praying Paraclesis Prayers to the Mother of God three nights a week—or at least that’s how it plays out at St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis. These two weeks lead up to the Feast of the Dormition (death/passing to Heaven) of the Mother of God on August 15, a celebration we will miss as we will be preparing to travel back home from Denver that morning. Anyway, many times during those prayer services we chant the line, “Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!”
These are words that sometimes cause non-Orthodox Christians to stumble a bit. Well, except for Catholics. Growing up in the Presbyterian Church I heard very little about Mary, other than at Christmas when she seemed to receive a place of honor. But Orthodox Christians look to her for help, as this verse of the Paraclesis says:

il_570xN.818289498_68iu“After God do all of us for refuge flee unto thee.” After God. Not equal with God. We don’t worship Mary, but as “Theotokos,” which means God-bearer, we venerate her, we love her, and cry out to her with love and praise but also for help in time of need. Especially as a mother and grandmother and Godmother, I find myself turning to her to intercede for my children and grandchildren and Godchildren. It is as natural to me now as saying, “Lord have mercy.”

If you’d like to read something more theological about this, here are two (among many) good articles, both by Orthodox priests:

Why the Orthodox Honor Mary” by Father Stephen Freeman, and

“Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!” by Father John Breck.

As we fly to Denver today to celebrate two of our four granddaughters’ birthdays and enjoy being with two of our four children and their families, I’ll be thanking the Mother of God for keeping them safe and healthy, and for the joy and blessing of having them in my life. These Asian images of the Mother of God and Christ are for you, Jason, Beth, Grace, Anna, Beth, Gabby and Izzy.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

Faith on Friday: A Time to Grieve, Part 2

Dad Mom tombstone 2I ended my post on July 4, “A Time to Grieve,” I by saying I was no longer grieving (the death of my mother on May 22.) I was wrong. It’s not that I lied; I just didn’t recognize grief. Nor did I expect it, as I’ve said before, because of the less than perfect relationship I had with my mother, and because I really “lost her” to Alzheimer’s several years ago.

My grief morphed from sadness into depression this summer. There were days when I couldn’t motivate myself to write or call a friend or do anything but sit in my recliner chair and watch re-runs of “Law and Order.” I had a couple of health issues going on—a summer cold and a pulled muscle in my lower back—but they wouldn’t have been enough alone to plunge me into a depression. I looked at my elliptical machine as I watched TV, but couldn’t motivate myself to exercise. I ate junk. I drank too much. I gained back some of the weight I had worked so hard to lose. The oppressive summer heat wasn’t helping.

How did I come to recognize this as grief? Lee Smith talked about it in her memoir, Dimestore, which I wrote about here on Wednesday. Here’s what she said:

“In 2003 I had done a lot of historical research but had barely begun a novel named On Agate Hill when Josh [her son] died. My grief—and rage—were indescribable; ‘oceanic,’ to use one doctor’s terminology. He told me that there are basically two physiological reactions to grief. Some people sleep a lot gain weight, become depressed and lethargic.” (p. 178)

Although this wasn’t Lee Smith’s reaction to grief—she had the opposite experience of being unable to sleep and eat and function and lost thirty pounds—her words here rang true to my experience this summer, during the two and a half months since my mother died.

Journeying_through_Grief_set_largeOn Wednesday I received a timely gift in the mail. Experiencing Grief is Book Two of Kenneth C. Haugk’s series, Journeying Through Grief. I wrote about Book One in my July post. In Book Two he talks about what often happens weeks or even months (sometimes years) after the loss of a loved one. After we’ve done everything that needs to be done (like yesterday, when I closed out the joint bank account I had with my mother for over ten years, to manage her finances) and we can make room in our psyches for the emotions we might have been repressing in order to function. Haugk writes about how grief affects your entire self—psychologically or emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally, and even physically. It’s the physical aspect that is hitting me now:

Grief gets physical. It can affect your eating habits, so you might lose or gain weight. It can make it difficult to sleep or to stay awake. Grief can cause shortness of breath, frequent sighing or dizzy spells. You can experience tightness in the chest or throat, headaches, gastrointestinal pain, or sexual problems. Grief can lower your resistance to diseases.

Wow. Thankfully I haven’t been experiencing all of those symptoms, but several have been with me this summer. So what does Haugk suggest for helping one get through grief? Among his many suggestions in this book is one I did yesterday, when I drove down to Jackson and visited my mother’s grave for the first time since her funeral on May 24:

Talking to the loved one who died. Many people have told me that they found it helpful to talk to their loved one who died. They were afraid to admit it at first until they learned other people do this, too.  You could carry on a conversation with your loved one at the person’s grave, while doing the dishes, in the car, or simply by talking to his or her photograph.

For years after my father died (in 1998) my mother talked to his photograph. And she visited his grave frequently, taking a bottle of water and paper towels to clean off the tombstone and new silk flowers to replace the old ones as they faded in the hot Mississippi sun. I pictured her doing this yesterday, as I talked with Mom, Dad, Mike (my brother) and Mary Allison (my Goddaughter), whose graves are within a few feet of each other on a beautiful little hill near a comforting shade tree with a memorial bench underneath—the perfect place for talking with the dead.

Effie grave unsettled

If you’re hoping I’ll share those conversations here, forgive me, but even for a “confessional writer” like me, some things remain private. All I can say is that I felt God’s peace and love in my heart and on my face, as a merciful little breeze broke through the intense heat. It was 11 a.m. and I had just driven into town. The drought they’ve been experiencing in Jackson meant that Mom’s grave hadn’t had time to “settle” yet, so it remained an unsightly pile of dirt, with the gravestone she shares with Dad sitting to the side until it can be replaced. Maybe by my next visit to Jackson, my hometown where I still have friends and relatives. Which leads me to another helpful point in Haugk’s book, “Secondary Losses”:

Part of what makes grief so difficult is that the death of a loved one is inevitably accompanied by other losses in your life…. These are commonly called secondary losses—part of your life that turn up missing or changed because your loved one is no longer here…. Many of those losses are very obvious and emerge right away, while others might not surface until later. Here are examples of some subtle yet significant secondary losses: [I’ll just share one here.]

A woman told me that months after her mother died she realized she was also grieving the loss of her hometown. ‘My mother was the last tie to where I grew up, so I had no ‘home’ to return to. It was as if I also lost my origin, my childhood.’

I was feeling some of this myself as I planned my trip to Jackson this week, my first since I was here in May for mother’s hospitalization, death, and burial. I’ve been making monthly trips from Memphis to visit Mom in the nursing home for eight and a half years. And before that, I visited her in assisted living every two weeks for over three years. My trips to Jackson were an integral part of my life, and it just hit me this week that I no longer have a “reason” to drive down here every month. I found myself scrambling to make plans to have lunch on Thursday and Friday with friends of my parents. And then to have drinks last night with an old high school friend—one I hadn’t seen in several years. What a healing time that was, as my old friend and I talked about our mothers, our spouses, our children, our lives back in high school as compared to now, in this seminal year when we both turn sixty-five. I felt my spirits lifted by those shared experiences, and we plan to get together again on my next visit to my hometown.

My next visit. See? I won’t be abandoning Jackson, as much as I told people for years that I couldn’t wait to leave it and have never missed it. There are lots of wonderful things about this city, including the items pointed out in the article in Southern Living: “5 Things You’re Missing in Jackson, Mississippi”. I’m also missing my niece, Aubrey Leigh, and her husband and two sons, my great nephews who live in Jackson, so I’ll be back to visit them soon.

I’m leaving Jackson after lunch today with a close friend of my parents, but I won’t be headed back to Memphis yet. I’m driving down to Gulfport to spend the weekend with a dear Goddaughter and her family.  Katherine lost her mother to cancer at a young age, so her children are growing up without one of their grandmothers in their lives, something many of us take for granted. I have Godchildren (who used to live in Memphis) spread out from North Carolina to Mississippi to Alabama to Pennsylvania to Washington (state) now, and of course two children and four granddaughters in Colorado and a son in Louisiana, so travel is an integral part of my life. Fortunately, I love to travel, since it feels like bits of my heart are spread out all over the country. Next up? Denver next weekend, for two granddaughters’ birthday parties! And hopefully, I’ll be farther along in my journey through grief, healthy enough to shower those children with love from their mother and grandmother.

Faith on Friday: Axios!

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves—Isaiah 62:6

"Axios! He is worthy!" Father John Troy is ordained by Bishop Antoun in March of 1987.

“Axios! He is worthy!” Father John Troy is ordained by Bishop Antoun in March of 1987.

This weekend is a significant milestone in the life of our church—Saint John Orthodox in Memphis. Our pastor, Father John Troy Mashburn, is retiring, and our young Assistant Pastor, Father Philip Rogers, becomes our Pastor, bringing along his wonderful wife Kathryn. (And—icing on the cake—Father Alex Mackoul joined us this summer as Assistant Pastor, with his wife Amanda.) An ordinary passing of the baton, right? In many churches this happens every few years, or at least every decade or two. But not in most Orthodox churches. And not at St. John in Memphis.

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St. John started in living rooms in the early 1970s and eventually moved to the Barth House (Episcopal Student Center) on the campus of the University of Memphis, before finally purchasing its current property in midtown in 1990. Father John Troy was there from the beginning. And he was still there in 1987 when the clergy were ordained and the people were Chrismated and the group became an official Orthodox mission, and later a parish. A few years later he retired from his secular job to become our full time pastor, which he has been now for over twenty years. I’m not checking the dates as I write this, but I believe he has been serving this group of people for about forty five years.

Troy Mashburn and Bill Cushman at a Sigma Chi formal at Ole Miss in 1969

Troy Mashburn and Bill Cushman at a Sigma Chi formal at Ole Miss in 1969

My husband, Father Basil Cushman, has served as Associate Pastor here since 1988, but our friendship with Father John Troy started way back in college, where the two of them were fraternity brothers at Ole Miss, and Father Troy’s wife, Pamela, and I were sorority sisters. Then in June of 1970, Father John Troy was a groomsman in our wedding. As we continued our journey to Orthodoxy in Jackson, Mississippi, the Mashburns were on a similar path here in Memphis. It seemed almost inevitable that we would end up together again.

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The little group of less than forty people who were the original members of St. John Orthodox Church in 1987 has grown to over 350 members today. Our beautiful old (1920s vintage) building has gradually been transformed, especially the nave and sanctuary (altar area) with its wonderful iconography and recently installed hardwood floors. And this fall we begin construction on a new building next door, which will house our new parish hall and kitchen. (We’ll start by tearing down the duplex that stands there now, which the church owns.) Our growing congregation is full of young families and lots of children—a wonderful blessing to us all.

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So now I’d like to wish Father John Troy “many years!” (an Orthodox blessing for many occasions) and say thank you for all you have done to help build this wonderful parish. I would love to know how many people you have baptized, Chrismated, churched and married over the years (I’m sure the accountant in you knows those numbers) and I’m sure many will join me in wishing you and Pamela many blessings as you enter this next stage of your life. I won’t go into all the ways you have helped me personally, but you know them. And even through our disagreements, I have always loved you.

Holy Week 2016

Holy Week 2016

And to Father Philip and Father Alex, our new pastors, “Axios!” (He is worthy!)

Kathryn and Father Philip Rogers, our new Pastor and his wonderful wife!

Kathryn and Father Philip Rogers, our new Pastor and his wonderful wife!

Father Alex and Amanda Mackoul

Father Alex and Amanda Mackoul, our new Assistant Pastor and his lovely wife

Faith on Friday: Commencing… with Jesus

Since my mother died in May, I’ve been going through some paperwork and discovered a file folder I hadn’t looked at in many years. Mother had labeled the folder “Susan’s Letters, Ole Miss.” What a treasure… letters I wrote home from Ole Miss in 1969 and 1970, my freshman (and only) year there. Other miscellaneous items had found their way into the folder, like report cards from back in elementary and junior high school. I got a kick out of a comment on my choral music report card from Chastain Junior High in April of 1965: “This is the last ‘S’ on attention I will give–improve!!” Guess I was easily distracted… But I was pleasantly surprised to see my first semester grades from Ole Miss: “A”s in art, English and French, and “B”s in western civ, algebra and PE, for a 3.56 GPA! (I didn’t remember doing that well. I spent most of the year pledging a sorority and then planning my wedding!)

One item I don’t remember finding in this folder in the past was the commencement speech given by my husband at his graduation in June of 1970. It was only two short weeks before our wedding, and I remember being so proud of him as he stood and gave his response to Chancellor Fortune’s remarks. He was only 21 years old. As I read his words again today, forty six years later, I’m still proud of him. He will probably be embarrassed, but I’m going to share them here. Be sure and read the final paragraph to see why his speech is included in my “Faith on Friday” post.

 

Bill Cushman, Ole Miss, 1967The University of Mississippi 1970 Annual Commencement

 

RESPONSE to Chancellor Porter Lee Fortune, Jr.

CHARGE TO CLASS

By William Chandler Cushman, President, Senior Cass

 

Let me begin by saying that I identify with the establishment. But there are some basic inconsistencies within this system that have created the polarization that Chancellor Fortune mentioned a moment ago.

Many people predicted that my generation would live in a world of near utopia—a world with no fear of war or hunger. And yet, we find ourselves confronted with increasingly crucial problems.

Young men today are literally compelled to risk their lives in a war from which the majority of Americans feel we should withdraw. By and large these young adults are denied the right to express their views with a vote. Ironically this sounds like involuntary servitude, or, at least, conscriptive taxation without representation. Is it any wonder that thousands of young people feel compelled to create a disturbance in order that someone will listen?

Unfortunately, they continue to be frustrated, being written off as “mere children” who will someday “grow up.” This frustration has persisted for so long that many young people now believe that the only way to improve our society is to present an active opposition to the existing system. This activism manifests itself in the violence we have witnessed on many college campuses today.

I am strongly opposed to these violent expressions, but I cannot, and I hope you will not, categorically condemn a confused and disillusioned generation.

Some have said that student violence in this country began at the University of Mississippi in 1962. Whether this accusation is true or not, this University has matured a great deal since that time and has undergone many changes:  For the most part it has not been change merely for the sake of change, but rather for the sake of definite progress in a constructive, and not a destructive, manner.

Nevertheless, even our campus has not been free from the political polarization and other dilemmas that colleges throughout the United States are experiencing.

What I am saying, then, is that, as graduates, we will be confronting a multitude of problems. Perhaps we will solve them, and then again, we may not. But as Chancellor Fortune has challenged, we must be individuals and seek out our own answers.

The way that I have found to deal meaningfully with these problems is through what I feel to be the wisdom and love of God as expressed in Jesus Christ. This is my personal response, and it does not necessarily represent the convictions of my fellow graduates. But let me urge that each one of you honestly seek out your solution.

Faith on Friday: (Our Nation is) Yearning for Mother-Love

Part of my icon studio, six years ago

Part of my icon studio, six years ago

I miss writing icons. Yesterday I found this link to a wonderful video that demonstrates the process of writing an icon, and I found myself enthralled as I watched. (The iconographers are Anton and Ekaterina Daineko, a married couple from Minsk, Belarus, who are teaching workshops in the U.S. this summer.) I even got a little teary-eyed. And while I feel strongly that I will never return to this liturgical art form, I will always be thankful for the time I spent learning, practicing and teaching it, because of the greater understanding and appreciation of iconography those years gave me. (If you missed my post about five years ago on why I retired from writing icons, it’s here.) 

And so this morning when I went to our icon corner to do my morning prayers, I smiled as I read about the saints who are commemorated in the Orthodox Church today. And especially about this event, which is also commemorated: “The Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.” In 1579 in Kazan, Russia, a terrible fire destroyed part of the city, but spared a nine-year-old girl named Matrona, although her house was burned. The Mother of God appeared to Matrona and directed her where to find a miracle-working icon, buried under a stove, covered in ashes, but wrapped in cloth for protection. The icon was taken to the Annunciation cathedral, where it became known for healing the blind and curing eye diseases. A church was built on the site where it was found, but sadly it was later destroyed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.

I found this wonderful poem in the book, Mother of God, Similar to Fire (given to me by friends a few years ago), which contains beautiful icons paired with poems—a form of ekphrastic writing that I enjoy immensely. The icons are written by William Hart McNichols and the poetry is by Mirabai Starr. I don’t have permission to publish her poem in its entirely, so I’ll quote a part of it here:

KazanOur Lady of Kazan

You lived a fully, deeply human life,

And this humanity is what helps us feel connected to you.

This world is yearning for your Mother-Love.

Show our leaders how to guide us

With respect for our dignity and well-being.

Teach us to love one another

With boundless patience

And unbridled joy.

 

I found these words—and the beautiful icon (which I’ve only shared a detail of here) comforting to offer as a prayer as our nation mourns the loss of more lives to violence on our streets and in our homes.

© Copyright SusanCushman.com