Tag Archives: Books

Gleanings from a Book: “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Note: This book sat on my shelf for several weeks, waiting until I had time to read and review it. Despite the delay, it turns out that the timing is perfect. Here we are, right in the midst of the Paschal season, and the book is full of references to the Resurrection of Christ. And it should be so! For how else can we, Christ’s followers, better celebrate His Resurrection than by responding with joy? If we truly know and believe what He has accomplished for us, our “light and momentary troubles” – yes, even the impossible ones we may be facing at this very moment – pale in comparison to His victory. St. John Chrysostom’s homily which we all just heard at Pascha says, “Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!” My brothers and sisters, let us join with the angels!

Phoebe Farag Mikhail’s book “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” is a balm for the disheartened soul. The author has found a way to simultaneously calm, soothe, and reassure the reader while also challenging them to live in an attitude of godly joy. Readers will step away from the book knowing what they need to do, with tools at the ready to assist them as they pursue true joy.

The book begins with an invitation section which answers the question, “What is joy?;” then offers insights into who/what steals joy from our life. The (much larger) second section of the book introduces seven joyful practices. These seven practices which the author offers as means to the pursuit of joy include: praying the hours; visiting the sick; repenting; giving thanks; offering hospitality; praying arrow prayers; and singing praises to God. Each practice is expounded via stories (both from the author’s experience and from others), scriptures, quotes from Church fathers, contemporary writings, scientific findings (as appropriate), and more. The book closes with an appropriate epilogue, casting the joy-filled light of the resurrection on a modern story of martyrdom which to the world seems to be only a tragedy.

The author admits that it took her five years to write this book from beginning to end. This was not because she had to search for so long to find all the right quotes or because she only has to write in the few moments left here and there to a wife/mother (who also happens to be a Coptic priest’s wife). Rather, she took five years to write the book because, at one point as she was writing, she found herself not practicing joy. She wanted the book to be genuine, tested, lived, so she set the writing aside and worked on her heart. It is my opinion that it was worth her wait. The text is a smooth blend of stories, practical advice, and wisdom founded on the strong base of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church fathers.

Although the author is a Coptic Orthodox Christian, this book is written in such a way that any reader who wants to live a more joyful Christian life will benefit greatly from having read the book. The references to Christian practices exercised in Ms. Mihail’s Church may differ from some other expressions of Christianity, but the ideas behind them are helpful to any follower of Christ. “Putting Joy into Practice” helps its readers to find practical ways to live out St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (and to us): “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 18)

If you are generally a joyful person, read this book. It will give you reasons to continue choosing joy, as well as  tools to boost your not-so-joyful days. If you are a complainer and grouch, say a prayer and then read this book, but prepare to change your attitude. Ms. Mikhail’s challenge is difficult to dodge, because the scriptures and Church fathers are pretty straightforward. Regardless of the attitude of their heart at the beginning of the book, readers will step away from it with a smile on their face and – better yet – with joy in their heart.

Purchase your own copy of “Putting Joy into Practice” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/putting-joy-into-practice

Find additional writings by author Phoebe Farag Mikhail at her website, http://beingincommunity.com/.

 

Here are a few gleanings from this book:

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“Why is living in joy so hard? What can we do to live in the joy of the Resurrection when there are so many ways our joy can be stolen? As I pondered these questions, they led me on a path of trying to learn why joy is so hard, but more importantly, to learn how to live in joy, how to protect it from the thieves that strive to steal it, and how to share it with others.” (p. 8, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“We might not be happy every day; in fact, we might face suffering every day. But we can have joy every day. Running after joy is akin to holding a cup upside down. Joy is there, waiting to be given, but it doesn’t enter in. Rather than running after joy the way we might seek after pleasures or happy circumstances, we must instead rest and reorient ourselves into a posture of receiving, not running. The practices I share here are meant to help us reorient ourselves, to turn our cup right side up so that joy enters, and we exclaim, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5).” (pp. 15-16, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Joy thieves can be just like the little animals that steal tomatoes from the garden. On the outside, they can be small, cute, and furry, even comforting, and yet somehow they can still manage to steal our joy. The early church fathers called them ‘the passions.’ In this context, passions are not to be completely confused with our modern use of the word to describe a positive, driven desire to do something good or meaningful. Nor are they to be confused with the ‘passion of Christ,’ which is related to the Latin word for suffering and endurance. Rather, these passions are extreme versions of human behavior that lead to sin.” (p. 22, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Praying the Hours helps us, even in the bustle of our days, to stand in God’s presence and feel this ‘fullness of joy.’ The Hours are not just for ascetics, then, but even for busy, distracted laypeople, an anchor to pull us away from the storms of life into God’s presence and the presence of the entire community of believers. The moment I pick up my prayer book to pray, someone else is praying the same prayer, someone else has prayed another prayer a few moments before me, and others will be praying when I stop. In this way, when I pray the Psalms, I become part of an eternal chorus, even if it seems like I am praying alone. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)” (p. 37, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“The common thread running through these experiences is that visiting the sick is not about finding the right words to say, giving a sermon, or asking intrusive questions. A visit to the sick that brings the joy of the Holy Spirit is a visit that provides giving, listening, and connection. Bring bright flowers, a gift, a meal, or your hands and feet to serve when needed or asked. Bring listening ears and the ability to be silent when necessary. Bring a smile, a song to sing, or a story to tell. Bring a piece of art or craft you have made—-or bring supplies to create something together. Be joy, and expect the experience the joy of visiting Christ himself. Christ certainly needs no sermons from us.” (p. 61, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Repentance makes room for joy within us, room that was previously filled with sin, shame, and fear. When we repent by turning our lives around like the prodigal son and the Samaritan woman, we experience its joy, and it is contagious. The heavens rejoice. The church rejoices. We cannot help sharing that joy with others, so they too might encounter Christ. Putting joy into practice means practicing repentance, even on a daily basis.” (p. 76, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“I am learning… that when I thank God ‘in any condition, in every condition, and in whatever condition,’ I might not be asking God to take me out of a condition of suffering, or even to see a silver lining around that suffering. Rather, I am thanking him in that condition of suffering, and sometimes I might even thank him for that suffering… Thanking God for suffering is… acknowledging that perhaps that suffering can serve a greater purpose.” (p. 85, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Sometimes discovering who needs hospitality is a matter of taking a few moments to sit outside, linger on your front porch, or say hello to the neighbor living on the same floor in your apartment building. We might feel overwhelmed by great needs of the world presented to us on the news, but it is our simple acts of hospitality that will change the world, not our worries.” (p. 122, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“These days, when we find ourselves waiting, we fill the time by looking at our smartphones, checking our social media feeds or our emails, making every moment a constant input of information—often information we cannot control or tasks we cannot take action on while in line or sitting in traffic. This can add to our general sense of stress and lack of control… Using arrow prayers can help us reclaim control of our time and energy. Information overload drains us, but prayer fills us.” (pp. 127-128, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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Need to learn a few “arrow” prayers? Here are some of the arrow prayers found on pp. 136 -137 of “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. You may wish to print them onto cardstock, cut them apart, and glue to decorative paper or a blank index card (which you can decorate if you’re so inclined). Place these prayers around the house, in your purse or briefcase, even in the car so that you remember to pray.

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“The joy of the Lord’s presence starts in the fiery furnace, not outside it… We begin the hymn [of the three saintly youths in the fiery furnace] with an exhortation to the youth in the fire to sing to the Son of God who is there with them in their suffering—and therefore also in their joy. This exhortation applies to us as well. We don’t wait to praise God until after we are saved from the furnace, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be. We praise him even in our troubles, acknowledging and confessing that he is there with us in those troubles. When we can wipe away from our eyes the smoke of our problems and praise him, we see him in his glory there—and this is powerful. This is joy.” (p. 146, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“My hope is that, by drawing from examples of how my church helps us live in the joy of the Resurrection, this book might open your eyes to the ways your tradition helps you practice joy. Once you begin to see it, whether you are in a happy situation or in great pain, it is all joy.” (p. 163, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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Learning About a Saint: St. Kendeas (Commemorated Oct. 6/19)

St. Kendeas, who lived sometime between the 7th and 10th centuries, was born in the Alemanni region (part of today’s Germany). When he was 18, he became a monk in Palestine, near the Jrdan River. He lived there in a cave, spending his days in prayer and fasting. While he was there, a rich man nearby was trying very hard to find a way to heal his possessed child. He spent a lot of his money trying to help his child. When he heard about the monks who lived by the Jordan, he took his child to one of them, named Ananaias. God told the monk Ananaias to send the child to the monk Kendeas. Kendeas prayed, and the child was healed!

After that miracle, Kendeas became known in the area. He was made the Metropolitan of Jerusalem, and served in that role for a while. He missed living as a monastic, though, so a few years later he went back to the cave to live.

Some people came to the monks to be healed, but many others came to steal things from the monks. Being robbed so often became frustrating to the monks. Eventually the monks left that area and traveled to the island of Cyprus, to live there instead. The seas were terribly rough as they traveled, and their ship broke into two pieces! But Kendeas and the others walked on the water and arrived safely at the shore. Kendeas ended up in the Paphos region of Cyprus. Another monk, his friend Jonas, went on to Salamina.

After a few years, Kendeas went to Salamina to visit his friend Jonas. Along the way, Kendeas found a cave near the village of Avgorou. He went inside the cave. He liked it so much that he promised God that he would stay there until he died. However, Kendeas was so hot that he knelt down on a rock inside the cave and prayed for water. He also prayed to see his friend Jonas. Two miracles happened because of his prayers: clear water began to pour from the rock, and a cloud full of light carried Jonas to Kendeas, to visit him! The two friends were so happy to see each other again, and they enjoyed talking together. After a while, the cloud took Jonas back to Salamina.

The people in the neighborhood saw that water was coming from the rock in the cave. They knew that there had not been water coming from there before, and they wondered about it. They asked Kendeas how it got there. When they found out that his prayers were so powerful that he could pray and have water pour out of a rock, the people began to bring sick people to him so that he could pray for them and heal them!

Kendeas lived in his cave for a long time. During the time that he lived there, there was a long stretch of time when there was no rain on Cyprus. When there’s not enough rain, we call it a “drought.” This drought on Cyprus went on for 17 years. Finally the people begged Kendeas to pray for rain. He told them all to go home! When they were home, he held his hands up in the air and began to pray for rain. Right away, clouds gathered, and it rained and rained!

Kendeas did not like to be comfortable. You might have guessed this because he chose to live in a cave instead of a house. But there was something else that he did so that he would not be too comfortable. Beginning when he was a child, Kendeas did not sleep in a bed. He slept instead on the ground.

One day when some of the people of Cyprus brought their sick family and friends to Kendeas to ask for his prayers for healing, they discovered that he had departed this life. His body was still there in his cave, and it smelled miraculously beautiful, like heavenly flowers. The people buried Kendeas right there in his cave.

A church was built in the area of his cave after he died, and a monastery, too. Today, the nuns in the monastery continue St. Kendeas’ work of caring for the sick. The water from his miracle prayer still pours out of the stone in the cave.

St. Kendeas’ miracle working did not stop when he died. He continues to pray for people, and God hears his prayers and heals them. He also often appears to people. Many people who live in the area have seen him, especially the nuns who live in the monastery. But the people who meet him are not afraid, even if they do not know who he is. He is so friendly, that if people meet him who do not know him, he just introduces himself!

St. Kendeas is celebrated on October 6/19. Holy St. Kendeas, please pray for our salvation!

Source: http://www.ayiosnektarios.co.uk/stkendeas/stkendeas.htm

 

Troparion to Saint Kendeas

Having hallowed through struggles the Jordan wilderness and the island of Cyprus,

You shone out upon all through remarkable battles as a fixed star.

Therefore, having seen the fullness of your wonders,

O God-bearing Kendeas, we lift our voices:

Glory to You, O Christ, through him who extols.

Glory to You through him who magnifies.

Glory to the One who through you heals illnesses for all.

Here are some related links that you may find helpful as you plan a Sunday Church School lesson about St. Kendeas:

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Teachers of young students, Paterikon for Kids has just released a new, perfectly-child-sized book about St. Kendeas. Sweetly illustrated, it tells many of the stories from his life in a way that children can easily understand. The book is written by Dr. Chrissi Hart. http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-81-86-NEW/87-Paterikon-for-Kids-Saint-Kendeas/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Teachers of middle years or older students, “Under the Grapevine” is a picture book by Dr. Chrissi Hart. It tells the true story of how her grandmother was healed by St. Kendeas under the grapevine at her family farm. The book is no longer in print, but is still available here: https://www.amazon.com/Under-Grapevine-Miracle-Kendeas-Cyprus/dp/1888212845

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Listen to Dr. Hart read the story of her grandmother’s healing in the first episode of her podcast “Under the Grapevine,” here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_1

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Here’s an idea of a way to help children learn more about St. Kendeas: http://orthodoxyforkids.blogspot.com/2014/10/st-kendeas-of-cyprus.html

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If your class studies the life of St. Kendeas, you may want to invite each student to think of someone who they know who would benefit from a visit with the saint. Let each student draw/write about the person on this printable pdf. Take some time to pray and ask St. Kendeas to pray for those friends and family members.

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Studying the life of St. Kendeas could be a great segue into studying monasticism. Here are a series of lessons on monasticism for ages 4-6. http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/focus-units/Monasticism4-6.pdf

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Students of all ages will enjoy hearing this recent account of another miracle through the prayers of St. Kendeas: http://www.chrissihart.com/2010/10/saint-kendeas-feast-day-2/ Glory to God in His saints!

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Gleanings from a Book: “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Tuggle’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She refuses to spoon-feed her readers, instead inviting them to mull over the story, perhaps re-read sections, and ponder the reading. Her expertly-crafted sentences are clad in words befitting their message, saying just enough to allow the reader to find the pieces of the many puzzles in the story. Tuggle’s words spin ordinary farm life into gold, without sugar-coating the dirt.

“Lights on the Mountain” is filled with purposeful pain, glazed with moments of joy. How else could the story of a boy-becoming-a-man be genuinely told? The readers follow pensive Jess Hazel from his late boyhood through the moment when he fully embraces his adult responsibilities. Constant to his tale is the everyday glory of life on the farm. A host of colorful characters appear in different parts of his life, and not until the end of the book does the reader fully understand each one’s significance. True to life, some parts of this account leave the reader hanging until the parts come full circle, and there is beautiful completion.

This book is an interesting blend of thoughtful words, difficult subject matter, complex characters, deep faith, and simple glories. Readers will come away from reading “Lights on the Mountain” knowing that their time was well spent. I’ll warrant that many of them will read the book again, to revisit the characters and gain further insight into the puzzle pieces that they missed the first time around. I am particular with my fiction selection, and I will be among those re-readers.

By the way, according to my research, Tsura is a Romanian name. It means “light of dawn.” You’ll find that interesting when you read the book.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Lights on the Mountain” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/lights-on-the-mountain

Watch the trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/VfCLI998hh4

 

While this book is a work of fiction, the insights that it offers will encourage you as a Christian, a spouse, a parent, and a Sunday Church School teacher. Here are a few gleanings from the book, to offer you a tiny taste:

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“No doubt his father was right. Clyde always was. The beam of light probably was an extraordinary reflection of the everyday sun, but did that mean it couldn’t also be more? It might also be a kind of ladder, the means for God to get down to this patch of soil Hazels had been working since old Penn first claimed these woods and set things back to the way they used to be.” (pp. 19-20, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“Now that he knew how it was a man should live, it was clear that it was no more than his lot to do so. He still grieved, still felt acutely the pain of his aloneness. But there was a great deal of solace, he found, in taking Clyde’s approach to existence. Acceptance had its own plain reward. To be sure, living in such a way, a man’s sense of wonder was muted. But so was his sense of tragedy. Jess did not pine now for the old joy or wish for knowledge beyond his ken. And except for that which he now put in himself, and that which ought to be placed (with caution) in his fellow man, he did not long for faith. He did not long at all. Or he did but did not know it. And then, while he was longing without being aware that he longed, Gracie came to him. In the cool
of an evening. Almost as if she’d been sent. As if someone knew it was not good for man to be alone.” (pp. 42-43, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“For if there was anything he knew about Gracie Morozov after three months of loving her, it was that she was serious about God. It wasn’t a thing she talked about endlessly like some religious girls Jess had known—she seemed to take her faith as a natural gift, much as she did the shine and gloss of her hair or the unusual hue of her eyes, and rarely spoke of it directly, but he would have to be a fool not to see how it affected everything she said and did.” (pp. 65-66, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she said, ‘I haven’t met Mr. Zook. But he’s human, right? And don’t we all suffer? We all have weaknesses. Injuries. Battle scars. Sins. Even the Amish. Straw hats and horse-drawn buggies don’t buy paradise. Or else none of us would need a savior.’”(p. 102, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“It seemed to Jess that he was being humbled on purpose, as if having stood for a few brief moments before the icon of Christ, he was now somehow standing within it, viewing himself through those all-seeing eyes. And from this view it was pretty clear that he had acquired more than just his father’s so-called natural way of taking his place the world. He had also acquired his stiff-neckedness. ‘There’s a way seems right to man,’ he remembered Orville Hays saying, ‘and oft times it isn’t.’ Jess wondered then if this was to be the response to his prayer. (If indeed such silent groaning was prayer.) God, after all these years, speaking to him in voices he could recognize. Or (and this was a sorrowful thought, weighted with regret) it could be that God had been speaking all along, and Jess only could not hear because he was not with any real amount of honesty listening.” (p. 184, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“Silence is a good teacher, but most of us make poor students.” (p. 210, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“‘There is a prayer we make to Christ,’ Father Daniel said, his voice growing tenderer, as if he’d heard Jess’s thoughts, knew the reason for his sigh. ‘“Wound my heart with love for you.” Is that not a strange request? It’s madness! And yet, don’t we understand it, you and me? At least a little. From the moment I saw you, I said to myself, now here’s a pilgrim I recognize. A fellow wounded. He has heard tales of a singular healing salve and has been limping about the earth to find out if one truly exists. Tonight, you’ve made a discovery. Yes, this miraculous ointment does exist. And what is it? More madness! More sweet pain to be endured. More sorrow mingled with joy. It’s love.’”(p. 214, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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Gleanings from a Book: “Piggy in Heaven” by Melinda Johnson, Illustrated by Soraya Bartolomé

“Momma, is Fido in heaven?”

“Will I get to see him again?”

“What is heaven like?”

These questions are among those that we parents encounter both within our own hearts and from our children when a beloved pet passes away. We may not have concrete answers, but we do have “Piggy in Heaven” by Melinda Johnson, illustrated by Soraya Bartolomé. This book is about a beloved guinea pig named Piggy who has passed away. The book’s readers will savor Piggy’s story as they think of their own departed pet.

“Piggy in Heaven” allows the reader to be alongside Piggy as he awakes in heaven. He meets new friends, learns about angels, and munches on the tastiest grass and daisies he’s ever eaten. Sure, he misses his cage and his pigloo, but now he can make his own nest anywhere he wants! And if he accidentally eats it, oh well: he can just go make another, wherever he’d like! Every part of heaven is safe for piggies!

During the course of the story, Piggy learns that he died, but he does not have to process this hard news alone. His arrival in heaven grants him community in two new friends, guinea pigs named Bubbleberry and Fuzzbuzz, and they are right by his side to simultaneously explain things and comfort him. They are able to describe the change from earthly life to life in heaven in a very concrete way that even Piggy can understand.

Piggy is delighted to live in this new place, but he really misses his person. She always made him feel so special. Bubbleberry and Fuzzbuzz comfort Piggy with the news that she will be coming to heaven, too! All he has to do is wait for her. While he’s waiting, though, there’s plenty to do, other piggies to meet, and so many tasty treats to enjoy!

The story line of this book is gentle in the face of the tough topic it presents. The characters are immediately loveable. (What’s not to like about a yawning, stretching piggy whose waking thoughts include how delicious the daisies in his view look; a steadfast gray piggy who gently imparts her wisdom; and a tiny black bouncing piggy who tends to yell out “wheek-wheek-wheek” at will?) The artwork in the book is charming. Bartolomé’s illustrations fit the characters to a T. Readers will wish they could jump right into the story to play with the darling piggies.

“Piggy in Heaven” extends sweet hope to young people who have lost a beloved pet. This book allows its readers the space to consider how heaven might look (at least to a guinea pig). Behind the words and pictures, it offers comfort to readers who are missing their own beloved pet. And beneath it all lies the subtle encouragement to be the best person one can be in this life in order to be better able to partake of such a beautiful place as heaven, in anticipation of all the happy reunions there!

Purchase your own copy of “Piggy in Heaven” here: https://paracletepress.com/collections/childrens/products/piggy-in-heaven

Piggy Puppets

Here are a handful of resources related to “Piggy in Heaven” that can be of help if you share the book with your students:
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Learn more about guinea pigs here: https://cavymadness.com/care/index.html

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Piggy toys

Create your own puppets (or “pocket piggies”) to go with the story “Piggy in Heaven” with this printable pattern. Follow these directions to create your puppets or pocket piggies.

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Print these paper guinea pigs to play with: https://www.thecrafttrain.com/printable-paper-guinea-pigs/

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Find some cute guinea pig drawings to print and color here: https://www.momjunction.com/articles/guinea-pig-coloring-pages-for-your-toddlers_0093423/#gref

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This secular article offers practical ideas of how to handle the death of a pet: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/pet-death.html

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This article (not Orthodox, but helpful, nonetheless) offers some support to Christian adults who are helping their children through the experience of losing a pet. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-happens-to-pets-when-they-die/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas

“Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas is so much more than just a book! It is a journal that walks an Orthodox girl through many of the challenges she will meet in her teen years. It is also the centerpiece of an experience that a group of young Orthodox girls can share, to help them grow both individually and together. The heart of the book is to help Orthodox teen girls to embrace the reality that they are created by God and have been woven together on purpose, so that they can accept and share the love of God.

“Woven” is a beautiful book in so many ways. It is physically attractive, with page-by-page colorful accents which tie the chapters together. The illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are contemporary and tasteful. Even the text is eye catching: some phrases or quotes are in different fonts or colors, engaging the reader and encouraging thought. There is also a delightful balance between information, scripture, story, and creative response opportunities throughout the book. Readers of varying learning styles will resonate with different parts of this book.

Each chapter has a different focus. The chapters are set up to be experienced in order, in 6 chapter-sessions. The first focuses on helping each young woman find her identity in the truth that she is created to become like God, and that she is living her identity when she participates in His grace through the spiritual gifts He has given to her. The second looks at emotions and how to better understand what her emotions are telling her, so she can react in healthy, non-destructive ways. The third focuses on helping young women work towards being authentic in their self-understanding. Instead of trying to present a “perfect” self (conveyed by how she dresses or what she posts on social media), she is encouraged to know that God created her to be a joy, and that embracing this knowledge can help her to truly be a delight. The fourth encourages developing healthy friendships with other girls. It looks at behaviors that can harm those friendships, and suggests ways she can change her habits and break harmful cycles so those friendships can grow. The fifth looks at love and romance, encouraging the young women to step back and look at the world’s views on each, and to embrace the healthier ways to look at these topics which the Church has offered for centuries. The sixth chapter is a review of the book, offering once more the truth of God’s love and acceptance of each reader. It also offers space and time for reviewing each chapter to see what she has gleaned from the book as a whole.

While it is intended to be completed in a small group context (like an extended Sunday School class or a girls-only SOYO/GOYA small group), with a few adjustments a mom could guide her daughter(s) or a godmother could work through the book with her goddaughter(s). The free, downloadable discussion guide adds value to the book. There are a few parts of the book which will not make sense without it. The guide contains additional links, as well as a suggested movie to watch after each chapter/session. This book would make a wonderful series of monthly retreats for young girls in a parish!

We highly recommend “Woven.” It is an invaluable learning tool for the young women of the Church. The insights the girls will gain as individuals, the bonding they’ll experience with fellow Orthodox Christians, and the wisdom they’ll glean from their leader(s) are all of a value far beyond the small expenses of time and money required to provide this opportunity. We hope that many parishes will invest in their young women, weaving love into their hearts through this book and the experiences it affords.

Purchase “Woven” here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/book/

Discussion leaders (Sunday Church School teachers, SOYO/GOYA leaders, small group leaders, and/or moms) can download a free (and indispensable) facilitators’ guide here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/facilitators-corner/

 

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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woven in his image

“We are a mystery, even to ourselves, but in the next few weeks, we will hope to unravel part of that mystery by discovering more about how God has lovingly woven us so beautifully in His image.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 18)

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“We are each created with a purpose, not just in the broad sense of all people are created in God’s image, but in a deeply personal sense of: ‘God created me because he wants someone like me in the world.’” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 28)

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“No matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad things seem, please remember two important things:

  1. There is always something you can do to make things better. It may be really small or it may be really hard, but there is always something that can be done.
  2. God never bails on you! He never leaves you in the dust. You can turn anything over to Him.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 53)

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“Sometimes we feel like we have to change too much of ourselves in order to fit in and have friends. It’s one thing to modify some outward behaviors or change your appearance to fit it; it’s another to adapt so much to the crowd that you lose yourself… The problem comes when we try to be somebody else because we think people won’t like us.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 97)

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“Can you imagine the relief Mary found in her friend, Elizabeth? In Elizabeth, Mary found love, assurance, support, encouragement, and a sisterly confirmation of their faith in the Lord. How amazing of a friend is that? …We are called to be a friend like Elizabeth—a blessing to others, a friend who brings peace and love to her friends’ minds, and helps them see blessings and hope as they face their fears, insecurities, secrets, and burdens.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 119)

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Woven illustration“Something that is very hard to understand is that people love you, but the unconditional, filling love we are looking for can only be given to us by the Lord. Only God can fill that lonely void that hurts so badly sometimes. God always accepts you. He always loves you; there is no rejection from the Lord.
He chooses YOU every day.
He thinks you are so worthy of love He sent His only child to die for you. He doesn’t wish you were prettier, smarter, or more athletic… He loves you exactly as you are; He created you because He wanted someone like you in the world.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 141)

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“We all want happiness here on earth, and sometimes we have that, but the heart of life is not what we get here, it’s who we are becoming in the light of eternity along the way. We are woven in His love and He understands us—God understands our complex emotions, our hearts and minds, the innermost needs that confuse even us. He loves us even when we’re a hot mess.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 158)

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Ps 139 Woven

Gleanings from a Book: “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson

Author’s note: I am going to be forthright and admit that I’m cheating, and I’m actually okay with it. Perhaps I should explain. Ordinarily, when I review a book, I read it in one giant gulp before I share it with you. However, there is too much in this book’s 400 pages that I would miss if I did so, and selfishly, I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to experience Angela Doll Carlson’s daily walk through the first volume of the Philokalia as it was written and is meant to be experienced: one bit each day for a year. But at the same time, I am far too enthused about this book to keep it to myself until I have read the whole thing. My compromise is to “cheat” by reading from selected spots and sharing a few gleanings with you right now, so that you get a taste of it. I will be reading “The Wilderness Journal” as it was intended to be read in the year to come. Perhaps these gleanings will encourage you to join me!

Angela Doll Carlson’s book “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” is a year’s worth of daily meditations on volume 1 of the Philokalia. That volume features writings from St. Isaiah the Solitary, Evagrios the Solitary, St. John Cassian, St. Mark the Ascetic, St. Hesychios the Priest, St. Neilos the Ascetic, St. Diadochos of Photiki, and St. John of Karpathos. “The Wilderness Journal” is divided into sections which feature each of those holy writers. Angela has invited a fellow author to introduce each writer. Thus, there are a few “guest author” days sprinkled throughout the book, one at the beginning of each section, immediately preceding the entries related to that writer’s quotes. Each subsequent day features one thought-provoking quote from the holy writer, and a short meditation related to that quote which Angela wrote as she pondered its message. She invites the reader to amble along slowly with her in this way through the first volume of the Philokalia, so that they, too, may learn “the love of the beautiful”.

I have read enough of the journal to know that I need it. I’ve found quote after quote that speaks to where I am right now: from needing to still my mind and focus on God; to learning to love and care for my neighbor; to being diligent in my pursuit of godliness; and so much more. Every entry offers a delectable nugget that I will be able to chew on all day long. Angela’s meditations grant the reader a glimpse of her take on the quote, as well as the opportunity to stretch their heart and mind in a way that is both good and helpful. She does not want the reader to consider her words as writing “about the Philokalia,” preferring rather that we readers read her words as “a book about [her] reading the Philokalia.”(p. 7) She recognizes that each reader may respond to the quotes in a different way, so she encourages each person to keep their own wilderness journal as they read.

As I mentioned above, I have not read this entire book yet. But I have read enough of it to be convinced that it will be an excellent aid for the spiritual growth of every person who reads it. So, dear community, here we are at the end of a calendar year. God willing, a brand new one gleams before us. As we step into this new year, please consider joining me in reading this book. Together, let’s walk through the year of “The Wilderness Journal,” learning and growing through these meditations on the first volume of the Philokalia.

Find your own copy of “The Wilderness Journal” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-wilderness-journal-365-days-with-the-philokalia/

 

Here are a few gleanings I have gathered from what I read. I will share one quote from each holy writer, then a tidbit of Angela’s reflection on that quote.

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“Like a pilot steering a boat through the waves, he should hold to his course, guided by grace. Keeping his attention fixed within himself, he should commune with God in stillness, guarding his thoughts from distraction and his intellect from curiosity.” ~ St. Isaiah the Solitary

 

“I cannot silence the world. I cannot calm the waves… The world is what it is—noisy and beautiful and enduring. I can only look ahead to the shore and hold to the course. Today it means letting the phone ring, ignoring the dog barking, taking a deep breath and returning to these words when the waves crash against the side of the boat…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 18)

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“You will recall how Christ did not reject the widow’s mites (cf. Mark 12:44), but accepted them as greater than the rich gifts of many others.” ~ Evagrios the Solitary

 

“Whatever you have, it’s enough. I say this, but I don’t believe it easily… as long as we see ourselves as profoundly lacking, we will not offer ourselves to another person… What is at risk today in knowing that in Christ, I am enough—not perfect, but enough?” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 57)

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“The Gospel teaches us to cut off the roots of our sins and not merely their fruits. When we have dug the root of anger out of our heart, we will no longer act with hatred or envy.” ~ St. John Cassian

 

“Anger is not without its bloom. We are angry sometimes for good reason. Anger, like pain, tells us something. But if left unchecked, it grows out of control and chokes the possibilities of beauty… The deep work of anger is regular maintenance for the soul…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 93)

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“The intellect cannot be still unless the body is still also: and the wall between them cannot be demolished without stillness and prayer.” ~ St. Mark the Ascetic

 

“Even if it’s only one minute, I’ll take it. Even if, in the middle of the crazy busy-ness of this city, this family, this job, this life, I can contact the stillness, I will take it.

Each moment like that is a small stone I take from the wall that already exists between who I am and who I mean to be…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 140)

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“A true monk is one who has achieved watchfulness, and he who is truly watchful is a monk in his heart.” ~ St. Hesychios the Priest

 

[On beginning to run again, as she prepared for a 5K]

“I was surging one week and retreating the next, feeling failure, reveling in improvement, rising and falling, and on and on. I did not realize that over time I’d developed a habit of running. ‘I’ve never been a runner,’ or ‘I hate running,’ I had said in the past. I may quit after this race and never run again, but those old statements will never be true again.
Habits show who we are.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 248)

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“Through our anxiety about worldly things we hinder the soul from enjoying divine blessings and we bestow on the flesh greater care and comfort than are good for it.” ~ St. Neilos the Ascetic

 

“How far do I get from home before I begin to worry that I’ve left the door unlocked or the stove on? Not far…

So many reasons to worry. So many reasons to fear. How far do I get into the muddy pit of fear before I decide to move to prayer, to reach up and take a hand offered and pull myself out? Not far, I hope. Not far.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 282)

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“We share in the image of God by virtue of the intellectual activity of our soul: for the body is, as it were, the soul’s dwelling place.” ~ St. Diadochos of Photiki

 

“It’s a funny thing about windows: two-way glass means I’m looking out, judging what I see, but if anyone were to look in, what a invasion it would be… This whole journey into the wilderness of the soul—the reading, the study, the prayer, the daily reflection—cannot merely be an exercise in looking out. This journey must allow for some looking in, as well.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 346)

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“As we look up to Him with cries of distress and continual lamentation, it is He Himself that we breathe.” ~ St. John of Karpathos

 

“When my children were young and got hurt, I would hold them first, tell them I know it hurts, then tend to the wound. That embrace was foundational. Triage of the soul first. That embrace said, ‘I am here, so you are not alone…’
This is what God does for us when we lift up our hurts to Him…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 396)

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Gleanings from a Book: “I Pray Today” by Angela Isaacs

Teachers desiring to help their Sunday Church School students grow in the Faith know that the students each need to embrace the Faith for themselves. These teachers must help their students to begin to nurture their relationship with Christ and His Church. One of the most powerful ways a teacher can do this is by leading their students into a life of prayer. Angela Isaacs’ new board book, “I Pray Today,” clearly models what it means to live a life of prayer. This book will help Sunday Church School teachers to help their young students begin to live a life of prayer. It begins thus:

Good morning, God. The day is new.
I say my first small prayer to You.
Lord, have mercy.

“I Pray Today” takes its readers by the hand and guides them through a day in the life of a young girl. Throughout her day, she wakes, eats, misses a sick friend, plays, gets hurt, and eventually unwinds and goes to bed, just like we all do. But at every turn, she prays, “Lord, have mercy.” (Well, one time she forgets, oops! But Daddy helps her to remember!)

Angela Isaacs has beautifully worded this book. Throughout her day, the little girl’s activities are conveyed in rollicking verses that are fun to read and delightful to hear. The clever rhymes are likely to be memorized in a short time, after a few re-readings. And at each moment, there’s a “Lord, have mercy!” as she turns to Christ in prayer throughout her day. Children will be drawn to the verses, and want to read the book again and again.

The illustrations in this book are simple and charming. Amandine Wanert uses child-level perspective (with an occasional “birds eye” for variety) to help children feel that they are right there in the young girl’s day. Readers will be drawn into the girl’s world and will recognize there elements of their own life. There are just enough details in each illustration to make it believable, without overwhelming the eye. Orthodox children will also find details like crosses and icons in her world which they recognize from their own world. Children will absorb these details and be comforted by their simplicity.

“I Pray Today” gently teaches its readers the value of prayer while also modeling what it looks like to pray throughout the day. Readers of all ages will enjoy this book. Children will like the lyrical wording and lovely illustrations, and adults will treasure its message. This book is a must for a Christian library, and can easily become part of a young children’s Sunday Church School lesson on continual prayer.

 

You can find “I Pray Today” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/i-pray-today-board-book/

Here are a few related links and ideas that can help you as you share “I Pray Today” with your Sunday Church School class:
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“I Pray Today” author Angela Isaacs recently went on a blog tour, wherein she was a guest blogger on other blogs. On this tour, she wrote blogs related to her book that can be helpful to you as you prepare to use her book in your Sunday Church School classroom. Find the first one here (and links to the others at the bottom of the page): https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/guest-post-from-angela-isaacs-what-parenting-taught-me-about-a-life-of-prayer/
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Even children older than toddlers will benefit from hearing/reading “I Pray Today.” Sunday Church School classes with children of varied ages can read the book as part of a lesson on prayer. After reading it, talk together about how to make God an important part of every part of each day. When is a good time to pray? Talk together about times in the day when each of you prays. Invite ideas of additional times you could pray. Invite your students to use this printable to help them commit to praying at one of those times.
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If “I Pray Today” strikes a chord with your students and they are inclined to pursue a more fervent prayer life, you may find this blog helpful: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/
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Share this quote from St. Ambrose of Optina with older students: “Pray for yourself and seek only the mercy and will of God; whether you are in church or outside of church walking, sitting or lying down, pray, ‘Lord have mercy, however you think best, however you will.’” Invite them to compare it to “I Pray Today,” and ponder how it relates to the book. What (if any) difference is there between the two? How can this quote shape our life of prayer?

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Teachers and older students who desire to boost their own personal prayer times may want to read this blog (and the book which it features): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/gleanings-from-a-book-when-you-pray-a-practical-guide-to-an-orthodox-life-of-prayer-by-l-joseph-letendre/

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