Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Quote from St. Aquilina of Byblos

During her martyrdom in the year 293, the twelve-year-old St. Aquilina of Byblos told her torturers, “The Lord is here with me invisibly, and the more I suffer, the more strength and endurance will He give me.”

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Review of "Of Such Is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability"

I received a review copy of the audiobook for Of Such Is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability by Summer Kinard.

What I enjoyed most in this book was the early sections discussing how the Orthodox Church understands disability and the fact that God allows disabilities for the purpose of cultivating virtue. I found this part really encouraging to listen to. I felt like it even applied to my experience of infertility, which of course is the inability to do something that others can do and that a healthy body can do.

I had some concerns about the author's suggestions for accessible Church School curricula. I talked with my husband about it, because he has a type of muscular dystrophy that affects all his motor neurons and causes all his voluntary muscles to be weaker. Kinard's suggestions heavily emphasize hands-on activities for all students in order to accommodate students with brain-based disabilities. This is something that would actually exclude my husband. He said that, if he were a kid, he would try to avoid going to class because he would think, "Ugh, I get really tired from doing the physical activities they do in class!" and it would feel like another place where he doesn't really belong and can't do what other people are doing.

The book seems primarily geared toward families dealing with autism or other similar conditions. Kinard makes an effort to mention suggestions related to other disabilities, and she has some "spotlight" sections on particular issues, such as blindness. However, much of the book feels specifically applicable to those who have autism themselves or in their family or among their church community members. From the way the book was advertised, I expected it to be more generally applicable to people with all kinds of disabilities.

Overall, I enjoyed this book the most in the earlier sections, and as it went on, I felt less and less engaged. In the beginning I expected to be giving it a 5-star review, but by the end it had fallen to a 3-star review for me.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Every Gift Bestowed By God Is Good

 “The general gifts consist of the four elements and all that results from them, all the wonderful and awesome works of God outlined in Holy Scripture. The particular gifts are those gifts which God bestows upon every man individually, whether it be riches for the sake of charity, or poverty for the sake of patience with humility; whether it be authority for the sake of justice and the strengthening of virtues, or subjugation and slavery for the sake of the expeditious salvation of the soul; be it health for the sake of helping the infirm, or illness for the sake of the wreath of patience; be it understanding and skill in gaining wealth for the sake of virtue, or weakness and lack of skill for the sake of submissive humility. Even though they appear contrary to one another, all these are very good according to their purpose.” 

– St. Peter Damascene

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Review of "Taught by God: Making Sense of the Difficult Sayings of Jesus"

I first heard from Rev. Dr. Daniel Fanous when he was interviewed on Ancient Faith Radio's "Ancient Faith Today with Kevin Allen" live call-in show. This was several years ago, and I remember being fascinated by his discussion of some of the confusing statements in the Gospels. This year I came across his Taught by God in a list of books available from St. Barbara Monastery, and I decided to purchase it. My husband, Ariel, and I really want to understand everything we read, and, in the Bible, that especially matters! We read the book together, and it was truly fascinating!

I absolutely loved the methodical way in which the author built each of his arguments. He illuminates the context of the Gospels, which modern readers struggle to understand simply because we don't live in the same time and place. While the details of the explanations could get confusing at times, the author laid everything out step by step so that I was able to follow his logical progressions. I felt like he thinks the way I do, and I found that I had a much greater understanding of a topic once I finished reading his discussion of it.

One of my favorite sections sheds light on the scene in Mark 7 and--the more detailed version--Matthew 15, when Jesus is approached by a Syro-Phoenician woman, who begs him for healing for her demon-possessed daughter. First the author describes in detail why the passage is confusing and can even cause embarrassment for Christians at Jesus's seemingly harsh response to the Gentile woman. He talks about suggestions that some people have made for interpreting the scene in a less shocking way, and he explains why he thinks those approaches miss the mark. Then, he lays out his interpretation: the Lord is giving the woman an opportunity to develop and demonstrate humility and faith, so that she can become a believer and be able to receive His healing for her and her daughter. As Fr. Fanous writes, "He seeks not to hurt a woman in need, but to bring her to glory. He places her in abandonment, and watches in amazement as the mustard seed within her becomes a majestic forest. As he insults her, his heart weeps. As she grows, his heart rejoices" (p. 115). I love that this section demonstrates how God allows struggle in our lives in His love for us, so that we can become more fully the holy people He created us to be.

I highly recommend Taught by God: Making Sense of the Difficult Sayings of Jesus for anyone who wants to think carefully through the difficult-to-understand parts of the Gospel. This book deepened my ability to connect with the Gospel text and, most importantly, with Who Jesus is, from my own time and place that are so far removed from Jesus's earthly context. I was very impressed with Fr. Daniel Fanous's work, and I am looking forward to reading more from him.


Friday, November 6, 2020

Review of "Healing Your Wounded Soul"

Healing Your Wounded Soul is exactly the book I was looking for. I participate in a reviewer group for Ancient Faith Publishing, and I have received a number of free review copies from Ancient Faith through that group. However, Healing Your Wounded Soul is a book that I purchased on my own, and I’m so glad that I did.

 

Recently, I reviewed another book from Ancient Faith, Gratitude in Life’s Trenches, and I was disappointed with that one. I was hoping it would offer an Orthodox perspective on healing past trauma and learning to approach life’s challenges in a healthier way. Gratitude did these things to a degree, but it often fell short of how deep and meaningful I wanted it to be. I felt like Gratitude tried to do too many things and address too many subjects. At the same time, the author admitted that he wasn’t an expert on the subjects that he was sharing, and he relied on his sources to provide wisdom in the book. However, it seems to me that if a person is approaching a subject as uninformed and new to the material, how will he have the appropriate discernment to know what is true wisdom that should be included in his book?

 

Fr. Joshua Makoul, on the other hand, is a spiritual father and therapist with many years of experience helping people to heal. His expert-level approach is so apparent through the gentle, understanding demeanor that he conveys and the masterful way he lays out the material of his book and guides the reader through it.

 

Healing Your Wounded Soul really strikes me as a masterpiece. Much of what Fr. Makoul writes perfectly addressed my own struggles. I repeatedly thought, “He knows exactly how I feel!”

 

The book conveys deep meaning and genuine hope. It helps the reader understand common sources of trauma, which continue to bring harm in our lives if we don’t come to terms with our experiences and bring them before God for healing. Fr. Makoul masterfully strikes a balance between generality and specificity with his examples. I often felt as though he were speaking directly to me about what I’ve gone through, even though the examples he gave were never exactly the same as what I’ve experienced.

 

I felt the love of God coming through the page and was so convinced that He brought this book into my life. I’ve been copying large sections of the book into my journal, which is not something I’ve done before! I feel compelled to write them down in order to help me absorb them better.

 

I’ve been working through some major past trauma for a long time now, and this book both affirmed the healing that I’ve experienced so far and led me toward the next stage of my journey toward wholeness. I especially appreciate how Fr. Makoul makes the book truly Orthodox by describing “this healing work,” as he calls it, as an integral part of our path of theosis.

 

I strongly recommend Healing Your Wounded Soul for anyone who wants to better understand how trauma may be affecting our lives and how, with our Lord’s help, we can choose healing and growth.

 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Review of "Gratitude in Life's Trenches"

I received a review copy of Gratitude in Life's Trenches: How To Experience the Good Life Even When Everything Is Going Wrong

As I read through the book, I found some parts that really spoke to me, and other parts that I wished had more depth. The book covered topics that I have been interested in for the past several years, and that influenced my reactions to the ideas that author Robin Phillips presents. I think that if I were new to more of the information, I would have found it more engaging. I believe that readers who are looking for an introduction to topics like cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness will find this book more profitable than will someone who is already familiar with these concepts. 

However, I did enjoy reading about ideas that appear in present-day therapy from an Orthodox perspective. When I've learned about these ideas from secular sources, I always test whether they fit with my understanding of Orthodoxy, and it was really nice to read the work of an author who is making those connections directly. For example, when Phillips wrote about our perceived meanings of traumatic experiences versus the "actual meaning I can have access to" (pg. 148), I appreciated that he used Bible verses to demonstrate God's truth that genuinely conquers what our feelings might tell us.

Some of the parts in the book that engaged me the most were when Phillips shared his own struggles with depression and anxiety after some major upheaval occurred in his life. I always appreciate hearing people's real-life experiences of healing and learning to process their traumatic experiences. However, I was disappointed that he seemed to leave off in the middle of talking about his own experiences, and he never came back to how he moved through the difficult time that he was in. 

Just as I was intrigued by Phillips's real experience, by the same token, I found other examples that he used less satisfying. I found that he included a lot of stories in which it was unclear whether the characters were actual people whose names he had changed, or whether they were fictional examples that he came up with. I found this distracting because stories about how people improve their lives are more meaningful and convincing to me if I know that they really happened. These examples often felt generic to me, and that made it difficult for me to connect with them.

Overall, Gratitude in Life's Trenches is a book that I hoped I would enjoy more. I think some readers will really appreciate it and find that it gives them tools for healthier ways of approaching their struggles in life. It seems to me that it works best as an introduction or overview for those who want to begin learning about topics like thinking errors, re-framing, mindfulness, and intentional gratitude. Personally, I was looking for more in-depth discussion, and it was too often the case that the book skimmed the surface but didn't delve deeper into the topics that interested me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

"You're Dwelling on Your Mistakes Again"

 "Sticky's mind returned to the nightmare he'd awakened from this morning. All those scorpions on the floor. Contrary to what others might expect, he didn't imagine they represented Ten Men.

"'You're dwelling on your mistakes again,' his mother had said to him not long ago, and not for the first time. 'It's good to acknowledge them, but I do wish you'd not forget everything you get right.'

"They'd been having breakfast in their home across the street. Sticky had just awakened from a similar dream.

"Sticky's father had nodded his agreement, which for such a profoundly quiet man was a significant contribution to the discussion. 

"'I know,' Sticky had said, taking up a glass of grape juice, then setting it down again. 'You're right, Mom. I know that. I just get so frustrated! I never see Reynie make the mistakes I do.'

"His mother regarded him with hooded eyes. 'Can Reynie do all the things you can do?'

"Sticky sighed and rubbed his scalp. 'No, I know. I just don't like making mistakes.'

"'Reynie makes his own share of mistakes, love,' said Sticky's mom. 'You just don't dwell on those. Do you know who probably does?

"Sticky pursed his lips. 'No idea. Constance?'

"They all chuckled at this.

"'Well, she probably does, too,' Sticky's mom admitted. 'And on everyone else's. But there's a reason, you know, that your father and I are comfortable with you making your own decisions. You're doing a wonderful job leading your life. We only hope you'll come to us for love and support--and maybe, sometimes, even advice. Who knows?'

"'I'll always come to you for all of those things,' Sticky had said, rounding the table to hug his parents. 'Advice included.'

"Now, in the Blab, Sticky took a deep breath and let it out. He tapped a pencil on the clipboard. Yes, he'd forgotten the chemicals on the rooftop patio, and it hadn't occurred to him to get a copy of Mr. Curtain's letter, and he hadn't thought to ask Tai about his reading abilities before scanning the letter. That was okay. He couldn't think of everything. He was who he was, and that was enough. He knew that. He believed it. And now it was time to rejoin his friends."

--Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages, pp. 186-187