In ‘Healing a Shattered Soul,’ Mindy Corporon invites us to join her tribe of peacemakers

Clicking on this image will take you to Mindy’s own website, where you can learn much more about her book—and her ongoing peacemaking and training programs. But, first—as you read our cover story, below, you’ll find even more helpful links to Mindy’s work.

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“Every day we have a choice to make.
For me and my tribe, we choose courageous kindness.”
Mindy Corporon in Healing a Shattered Soul

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page and pre-order your copy right now. Books will be shipped at the launch date. Mindy’s book also can be pre-ordered at Barnes & Noble and other online retailers.

Healing a Shattered Soul begins with a news story—like so many others we read these days with heart-breaking regularity: Three Killed in Shootings at Kansas City-Area Jewish Centers. We all have seen far too many of those headlines, haven’t we? Usually, these stories fade as they are eclipsed by the next mass shooting—or they become the fuel of true-crime dramas that take us into the killers’ worlds.

That’s precisely what makes Mindy Corporon’s new book unique and so compelling. This is not a true-crime thriller about mass murderers. In fact, the shooter who killed Mindy’s father and her young son is never even named in these pages. This book is not about such monsters. Instead, what will keep you turning these pages are the stories of people just like us—Christians, Jews and Muslims—whose lives are forever changed in such a moment of violence.

In this book, you’ll meet moms, dads, grandparents, children—and discover their courageous responses after crimes that would crush many of us. Their kindness is inspiring and contagious. As Mindy intended when she was writing—this book represents the collective story of so many of us who have found our lives “shattered” through domestic terrorism.

Mindy makes this clear throughout her book and in her public talks and podcasts: Rather than recoiling in fear after such horrific moments, our daily focus can be on compassionately reaching out to the countless families nationwide who have been scarred by violence. Underlining this theme near the very end of her book, Mindy writes: “Every day we have a choice to make. For me and my tribe, we choose courageous kindness.”

Ultimately, this book is a call to action—an invitation to become a part of Mindy’s tribe of peacemakers.

Here Is Mindy’s Invitation 

In most of our cover-story interviews with authors, we quote them about their hopes for their work. In this case, Mindy responded with a video. AND HERE’S A GOOD IDEA: This is a great short video to share with friends to convince them to discuss Mindy’s new book—and to get involved in peacemaking.

But, wait! There’s more! If you are interested in inviting friends to discuss this book—and perhaps follow up by connecting with some of Mindy’s peacemaking programs—then you may also want to send your friends a link to this review of Mindy’s book by veteran journalist and author Bill Tammeus.

Bill’s review says, in part:

What Mindy Corporon would like everyone who reads her book to know is this: “Everyone can heal. You have to keep looking for what your path is. God will put people around you and you need to welcome them. … Everyone has a path toward—I don’t want to say complete healing—but healing enough that you can move onward and can make a difference in your life and in other people’s lives.”

It’s a Real Invitation to Get Involved in April 2021

Here’s another reason that this ReadTheSpirit cover story is unique: Rather than focusing exclusively on her own story in our interview, Mindy immediately focused on the many ways people can get involved in peacemaking today.

“This upcoming program—SevenDays® Make a Ripple, Change the World—began as an annual response from the community around Kansas City,” Mindy says. “But because of the pandemic, in 2021 these events are virtual—so we want people everywhere to know that we welcome them. Visit our SevenDays® website and get involved.

“You can take part in these events from wherever you are able to join us online. For example, part of the SevenDays® experience is a walk. It’s on April 25 this year, 2021, but I won’t be walking in Kansas City myself, this time. I’ll be taking part in the event virtually as I walk in Pompano Beach, Florida. You can walk wherever you are around the country. In fact, it will be really inspiring this year to think about people walking with us all across the United States.”

This annual program first was organized as the one-year anniversary of the Kansas City shootings approached in April 2015. Mindy explains, “We wanted to encourage people to respond in a helpful way—to discover ways they could reach out in kindness. Someone suggested simply asking people to think of their own acts of kindness, but I wanted to give people more specific ideas of things they could do. We created this program so that people can commit six days to focus on kindness for others and one day on kindness for ourselves.”

Jump into the SevenDays® website‘s homepage or, if you want to learn more about the focus of each of the seven days, visit the Our Events page within that website.

Or, Contact Mindy about Workplace Healing

As you will learn in her new book, Mindy’s career before the shootings was all business, quite literally. She was a successful business consultant and head of a wealth-management company, so she has a lifetime of expertise in corporate management and culture. Even though she has stepped away from most of her earlier roles in business, she has launched new ventures. The most important is Workplace Healing LLC.

“Workplace Healing LLC was born after some experiences I had in late 2017, as I was making a transition out of wealth management, I still was interacting with a lot of business executives and it became obvious to me that most companies don’t give their employees any training on how to deal with grief and trauma experienced by their co-workers,” Mindy says. “It might be the death of a loved one, or a family crisis of some kind, or suddenly finding yourself in an empty nest, or—well, there are a lot of painful life disruptions that so many people face, but the people in their workplace just don’t know how to respond.”

Far too often, co-workers or managers all but ignore these personal relationships after such a crisis. “For example, a president of a company told me about an employee he valued who had lost her husband and now it seemed likely that this employee might leave his company. He didn’t want that to happen. So, I asked him what he had done to reach out to her. He said, ‘Well, our company has an employee assistance program.’ I pressed him on that. ‘That’s all? You left this to employee assistance? What did you do personally?’ Turns out, he ignored her. He said he didn’t know what to do or say—so he basically did nothing. In the end, that valuable employee did end up leaving because she felt no one cared enough to reach out.

“That’s why we started Workplace Healing LLC and we’ve helped a lot of people so far,” Mindy says. “But right now, we’re pausing for a few months.” Through the spring of 2021, Mindy and her colleagues at Workplace Healing are redeveloping the way their programs are presented to allow wider access to more companies. “So, tell people reading this story that we do welcome them. They can visit the website right now and learn about what we do. They can contact us with their interests. But we aren’t quite ready to roll out our new training programs just yet. Launching the technology for this next phase will take another four or five months to complete.”

How can Mindy possibly maintain this schedule of writing, podcasting, online writing, video appearances, nonprofit organizing and the redevelopment of her corporate programs?

She answered that question with two words—two words that really sum up the inspiring power of her new book. Those words? “People help.”

And that brings our cover story, this week, full circle to Mindy’s new book. Her central theme also is captured in a couple of lines in the final pages: “While God placed the words, ‘I am with you,’ in my head and in my heart—God actually showed up through people most often.”

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From Lucille Sider, author of ‘Light Shines in the Darkness’—Forgiving My Father

EDITOR’S NOTE—The Lenten season that leads to Easter is a call to spiritual reflection for millions of Christians around the world. As Benjamin Pratt writes in our first Holy Week story, some of the questions we ask are: What are we yearning for? Dreaming for? Hoping for in our lives, our families, our communities and our world? Much like the Jewish call during the High Holy Days, Holy Week calls Christians to reflect on our relationships with God and with other people. This moving column about forgiveness by author Lucille Sider relates to the larger story she tells in her book, Light Shines in the Darkness.

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

When I was 15, I visited my sister Ruth and her husband Edmond in Ontario, Canada. It was the 1960s, they were about to have their first child and I visited to help them paint and prepare a perfect room for the baby.

What a happy time!

That is, until the night I was awakened in bed, startled to see Edmond standing over me. He began touching my breasts and declaring his love for me—all while Ruth was sleeping soundly downstairs. In an instant, I swung my arms to fight him off. As I fought harder, he left the room. What a horrifying experience! He did not enter my room again, but I could not sleep.

As the next day dawned, I did not confront him about the attack. How could I? I couldn’t fathom how to respond to what had happened at a time when Ruth was happy about all that was happening in their family. I was paralyzed and afraid.

Even though I did not confront Edmond, I hated him. I feared him. A second night was coming. Again, I could not sleep. Would he return?

What could I do to keep him away since there was no door to the room—just a curtain? But I found some straight pins in the room and I fastened the curtain to the wood.  Of course, I knew that he could break through this, but I hoped that at least this might deter him, even a little bit.  He did not return that night but the trauma continued to build within me.

The following afternoon, my father came to pick me up. He admired the baby’s bedroom, then took me home. As soon as we arrived, I insisted that I talk with him and my mother. They sat opposite me at the kitchen table as I sobbed my way through the details. In my heart, I knew they would help. But instead, my mother sat silent, stricken. My father uttered a short prayer which I barely remember hearing.

I expected them to defend me, but they were silent.

I felt totally abandoned.

They never said another word to me about it. They did nothing. I was left alone to carry this secret for 33 years.

For decades after that interaction, I was painfully aware that I still held tremendous anger toward my father. Sometimes, it took the form of despising him. Other times, it took the form of disobeying him. Once I even cut my hair short—much shorter than was expected by women in our denomination. For decades, I harbored anger toward him.

Why didn’t I confront him? He was an adult; I was a child. That horrible day around the kitchen table, he had made his reaction crystal clear in such a hurtful way that I dared not risk a second injury. And, unlike today, there were no models for me of women publicly talking about such abuse. I could see no way to respond further to him. The trauma festered. My anger and hatred simmered silently.

Eventually, in 2002, my father died. (And my mother had passed six years earlier, in 1997.) We had never found a way to address this deep wound.

While I held onto this anger for decades, it did not prevent me from succeeding in other ways in life. I enjoyed a career as both a clinical psychologist and clergywoman. My faith was strong, and I developed powerful spiritual practices, like meditation. It took over 50 years, but meditation was what allowed me to forgive my father.

It happened just after I turned 68, 54 years after the abuse. I moved into an apartment in the south side of Chicago, in the same building where my dear friend Frank lived. I had known Frank for many years. We lived near each other in our 30s and meditated together weekly with one other friend. Even after that period in our lives, we still would gather for meditation occasionally. But beginning in our late 60s, we began to meditate twice a day.

We started each meditation by saying and enacting “The Lord’s Prayer” as Frank interpreted it from Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. In the traditional line about forgiveness, the Bible tells us to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But from the Aramaic, Frank translated it to something we could truly see: “Loosen the knots that form within and between us, freeing us to forgive.” This made the Lord’s Prayer an “alive” prayer, full of powerful imagery—not at all static the way the traditional rendition can become.

Frank then enhanced this “aliveness” by embodying each line with physical postures. At one point, Frank suggested we use a prayerful posture that is common throughout many of the world’s religious traditions, although most Americans may not have seen it except in a Catholic or Episcopal ordination service. And, some clergy encourage this posture on Good Friday to mimic Jesus’ form on the cross. They call it “lying prostrate.” In this particular form of prostration, a person lies face down on the floor—the ultimate form of prayerful surrender.

Frank suggested we use this posture during the line about forgiveness. I remember the first time I did this—spreading out on the floor face down, arms out, in the shape of a cross. How deeply this embodied the prayer’s petition. With our arms straight out, there could be no “knots.” Being in the shape of a cross, we were powerfully reminded of Jesus on the cross. And as he suffered there, Jesus offered forgiveness for those who had crucified him—something that later on was understood to be forgiveness for all of us for all time.

After two years of saying and enacting this prayer, I had a profound experience of forgiveness toward my father. It was not a strong lightning bolt that shocked me to my core. It was not a burst of remorse that brought me to my knees. In that moment, I simply realized that there was no heaviness in my heart in regards to my father. There were no knots. The heavy, angry heart that I carried for 57 years was simply gone.

It took commitment on my part.

I learned that forgiveness doesn’t always come quickly, or immediately, when someone has been hurt so badly. But by committing to saying this prayer of forgiveness, I gave myself the time I needed to let it truly sink in. Without this meditation and time, I don’t think I would have ever forgiven him.

And, so, this year as we enter Holy Week, I invite you to consider this spiritual discipline to help ease those knots that may be tying you to a troubling past. Remember: For me, it took time. Lots and lots of time.

But you may at least want to start right now. This is a season of new beginnings.

A Reflection on the Wonders of Holy Week: The Jesus Cabinet of Curiosities and a traditional soup of many beans

 

An early Corn School in LaGrange perhaps 1909 or 1911, decades before Doug Yunker was born.

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By DOUG YUNKER
Contributing Columnist

Corn School is both a festival and one of the few traditional, rural-American street fairs still in existence. It takes place in downtown LaGrange, Indiana, in the first week of October every year.

The festival originally started as a one-day opportunity for boys in the local corn-growing classes to show off their products. A day was designated in their honor and they could win prizes for their corn. Notables such as Indiana Gov. Frank Hanly and the State Secretary of Agriculture were speakers for the event for the first couple of years.

In just a few years, the Corn School tradition evolved into a rural street fair that opened on Tuesday and continued for a week—with the exception of two years during World War I, three years during World War II and one year, 2020, because of the pandemic. The centerpiece was the Corn School Week Parade. The “premium list” for the week-long fair—that is, the categories in which entrants could win cash prizes—included livestock, poultry, farm products, needlework, fruit, pastry and for a time, 4-H Club work. In 1938, the LaGrange County Corn School, Inc., was established as a non-profit corporation.

My grandfather taught corn growing classes and my father was one of the boys who competed to win a prize for his corn growing skill.

By the time I was aware of Corn School, it had long ago expanded from a simple harvest festival into an elaborate celebration with carnival rides, games, talent shows, food vendors, parades—and still the traditional vegetable awards. Crafts and canned goods were displayed in the public library. As it grew, fortune telling, games of chance and entertainments became popular at the fair and the parades did as well. By the time I was able to enjoy Corn School, the parades were led by the presiding Corn School Queen, a tradition started in 1950. The Corn School Queen still is crowned every year and local businesses still contribute prizes.

By the time I was 10 and able to roam Corn School unattended, it had become mostly a carnival. Cotton-candied and caramel-corned, I rode the merry-go-round, bumper cars and Ferris wheel. I won my first live duck by skipping a nickel onto a plate. At Corn School I visited a small wax museum depicting various atrocities, including a woman who had been stabbed in her naked breast.

Entering the Cabinet

I also perused The Jesus Cabinet of Curiosities. The fascination with cabinets of curiosity also has evolved—all the way from natural history exhibitions in the 16th century to suspenseful novels and short stories today that draw on this idea in various eerie ways.

In my case, I paid 50 cents to enter a carnival-style chamber of wonders inside a semi-trailer presided over by a man who looked like a priest.

The room was shadowy, lit by candles and hanging lanterns and dominated by long tables covered in purple velvet. From somewhere, organ music purred Ave Marie and I Walk in the Garden with Him.

Greeting us were faces of religious notables—the Virgin Mary and Jesus—and lots of symbols: crosses, rosaries and other manifestations of miraculous origin!

MILLIONS STILL VENERATE SOME OF THESE IMAGES. Msgr. Francesco Camaldo holds up the Veil of Veronica in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. The relic is one of the major treasures kept at St. Peter’s and veneration of this cloth is recorded from the 8th century. Since the 17th century, then, the Veil has been displayed annually during vespers on the fifth Sunday of Lent.

The Wonders I Witnessed

As an awe-struck boy, as I stepped further in this truck-sized Cabinet, large photographs displayed apparitions of Mary and Jesus:

  • I will never forget the images of Mary on the side of a building, a fence and even on a felled tree.
  • I peered at images of Jesus miraculously imprinted on the Veil of Veronica and the Shroud of Turin.
  • Lighted display cases held artifacts marked by supposedly sacred visages, including a lump of firewood, a discolored skillet, a pebble, melted candle wax and a broken mirror.
  • Even food showed signs of the divine: a jar of Marmite, a slice of toast and a cinnamon bun.

As I approached the exit at the far end of the trailer, a nun-looking woman urged me to purchase a crucifix or myrtle wood cross, perhaps a Bible or a sachet of frankincense for mother. It was Catholic intimidation of this Protestant that accounted for my payment of 50 cents for a booklet, The Way of the Cross, the only exit gift I could afford.

As Lent and Holy Week approach each year, these memories reemerge. I recall my own curiosity about what I saw that night at Corn School. Even then I thought the displays were far-fetched. I was a Doubting Thomas early on. All these years later, of course, I know that The Jesus Cabinet of Curiosity was not some bizarre isolated phenomenon, but a part of a larger cultural phenomenon introduced to me when I was just a kid in rural Indiana.

For example, I now know The Jesus Cabinet of Curiosity included some of the historical religious imagery and symbols found in natural phenomena, sometimes called simulacra. They are sightings of images with spiritual or religious themes of importance to the perceiver. The original phenomena of this type were acheiropoieta: images of major Christian icons such as Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Acheiropoieta is roughly translated to mean “not created by human hands.” These are said to have spiritual powers.

Scientifically, such imagery is generally characterized as a false perception of imagery due to what is theorized as the human mind’s over-sensitivity to perceiving patterns of a human face, in otherwise random places. From cultural and psychological perspectives, perception of an image, icon or symbol of religious or spiritual import to the perceiver is mediated or filtered through his or her politics and worldview.

Tasting the Spirit: From Fanesca Soup to Pretzels

Fortunately, there is a more satisfying aspect to religious iconography:

  • Saint Agatha, the Patron Saint of bakers, was martyred when her breasts were cut off by infidels. St. Agatha’s Breasts are round fruit filled buns with a cherry on top.
  • Unleavened bread and wine, the two eucharistic elements.
  • Hot Cross Buns, with the vacant cross depicted on the tops, only available near the Christian Good Friday.
  • The British Easter Biscuit, a crunchy round current-studded cookie made with Cassia Oil, believed to have been used in the process to clean Jesus’s body after his crucifixion.
  • Fanesca is a rich soup traditionally prepared and eaten by households and communities in Ecuador during Holy Week. The ingredients of Fanesca include 12 different kinds of beans, for the twelve disciples, gourd, pumpkin and milk.
  • Baklava is traditionally made with 33 layers of dough in recognition of the 33 years of Christ’s life.
  • Pretzel’s unverified lore locates its origin at a monastery in the borderlands of Southern France and Northern Italy, where monks baked up an austere and frugal form of Lenten bread in approximately 610 C.E. Since pretzels, first called pretiola or “little rewards,” contain none of the forbidden agents of the pre-Easter fast (eggs, milk, butter, lard) they became the perfect Lenten snack. It is said that the shape of the pretzel was meant to mimic the crossed hands of a child in prayer, or perhaps to be Trinitarian in its likeness.

Think of the religiously inspired Holy Week foods you can enjoy.

Bon Appetit!

Care to Taste More?

THERE ARE MANY DELICIOUS RECIPES for Fanesca online, each with a little different twist on the Ecuadorian tradition. Here are just a few of them: Epicurious offers a “streamlined” recipe without the added empanada; then here is an alternative version from GimmeYummy’s website; Food Channel competitor and cooking teacher Emma Frisch offers this recipe, which is complete with lots of photos to help you prepare the dish the first time.

Care to Learn More?

DOUG YUNKER is Professor Emeritus, School of Social Work, Boise State University. He resides on the Oregon Coast with his wife Susanna and dog Riley. He is a writer, watercolorist and gardener. He is a member of St. Luke by the Sea.

Doug also is a first cousin to ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. David’s branch of the Yunker family moved away from northern Indiana and David never had the pleasure of attending Corn School, although—as a lifelong journalist writing about religious diversity—David certainly envies Doug’s chance to walk through The Jesus Cabinet of Curiosities. Despite an exhaustive search of newspaper clippings from the era of Doug’s childhood—no trace of this mobile “Cabinet” has been found. Like a lot of the haunting stories, these days, that touch on such Cabinets—this rolling carnival Cabinet seems to have appeared on the circuit for a fleeting time.

Then, it vanished without a trace.

That’s why we urge interested readers to enter this world of wonders—as Doug suggests—through the world of delightful symbolic Holy Week foods like Fanesca. However, just in case any of our far-flung readers should spot this venerable semi-trailer of Curiosities still rolling along America’s back roads, give us a holler!

THIS COLUMN by Doug originally appeared in the quarterly magazine The Labyrinth and is used with the permission of both Doug and the editors of that magazine.

AND, THEN, AN EDITOR’S NOTEThe Labyrinth is a lively magazine about spiritual diversity published via PDF and email. While we receive hundreds of emailed newsletters and PDF magazines, each year, The Labyrinth is one of the best we’ve seen at ReadTheSpirit—and that’s not just family bias. Our friend Richard Rohr calls this magazine “a powerful spiritual tool reminding us that life is more like a plate of spaghetti than a grid.”

You can read four back issues of The Labyrinth here. There are lots and lots of columns, prayers, photographs, ideas, questions and meditations to enjoy!

The Labyrinth is supervised by two editors:

Jeanne St John is part of St. Luke by the Sea Episcopal Church in Waldport, Oregon, where Doug Yunker attends. Co-editor Marcia Casey is part of St. Stephen Episcopal Church in Newport, Oregon. They invite your questions, suggestions and encouragements via emails to Marcia at [email protected].

Ancient Wisdom for Our Troubled Times: Journey through Holy Week with the Holy Twins

THE HOLY TWINS—St. Benedict and St. Scholastica watch over the city of Prague in the Czech republic from high atop the Church of the Annunciation.

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EDITOR’s NOTE—At ReadTheSpirit magazine, since our founding in 2007, we have asked writers of various faiths to describe for us the experience of traveling through their holy seasons. This week, our longtime columnist and author Benjamin Pratt invites us on a journey through Christian Holy Week. (And, to our Orthodox friends in the eastern branches of Christianity: We know your calendar places Holy Week in the final days of April this year—and we hope these reflections this week are an inspiring preview for you.)

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By BENJAMIN PRATT
Contributing Columnist

Let’s start our journey into the Christian Holy Week by recalling the timely wisdom of the Holy Twins.

Benedict of Nursia, (c. 620 AD)—who built on the ancient wisdom of the Essenes, the Desert Fathers and Augustine—integrated monastic life into the lives of ordinary people by welcoming them to participate in the monastic disciplines of education, agriculture and liturgy. Regular ReadTheSpirit followers have seen numerous reminders of the timely relevance, today, of Benedict’s centuries-old rules, including this 2018 cover story with poet Judith Valente.

Lesser known in this country is Benedict’s twin sister. Saint Scholastica is the patron of Benedictine nuns, education and convulsive children, and is invoked against storms and rain. According to a long Christian tradition, she is identified also as the twin sister of Benedict and shows up in icons, statues and illuminated manuscripts around the world. To this day, for example, she and her brother look out across the historic city of Prague, where a resurgence of faith played a catalytic role in the downfall of Communism 30 years ago.

Benedict and his twin sister focused on the Way, the Path of Jesus. Through their teachings, Benedict and Scholastica encouraged the sensible redirecting of one’s ordinary life toward a Christ-centered life. Their goal was to help people expand their awareness of Christ’s presence in their everyday lives as they seek to follow the Christic journey.

What can the Holy Twins teach us today? Consider this: Benedict lived in a time when the positive values of culture and community seemed to be crumbling all around him. On the one hand, Benedict rejected the lavish excesses of wealthy Roman families. On the other hand, he recognized that European culture more broadly was disintegrating as the old Roman Empire had been repeatedly invaded and had slowly collapsed. His collected disciplines, or rule, became the foundation for many other religious communities and was credited with stabilizing and reviving European culture. In the 20th Century, popes elevated him to the status of Europe’s patron saint.

Benedict’s and Scholastica’s history and legacy are not unique. In fact, nearly all of history’s great religious movements—in Christianity and in other global religious traditions—arose to confront and address major social crises.

Perhaps we need a new monastic order for our chaotic era, today.

For a few moments, then, let us approach the Christian Holy Week as a spiritual tradition, evoking the disciplines of Benedict and Scholastica, day by day.

The Call of Jesus

“I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life,” says Jesus in the Gospel of John. The Way calls followers of Jesus into the Christic Journey that can transform our lives and the world.

Just a few months ago, Christians acknowledged that Christmas celebrates two birthdays—the historical birth of Jesus and our birth into the life and way of Jesus. Then, as the year turns, Holy Week now leads us into the most intense part of this journey with Jesus.

There are many Christian traditions around the world that mark Holy Week—community customs, songs, liturgies, family traditions, food and even different ways of counting the days on our calendars. Together, they represent a vast global journey that passes three timeless pillars in this journey:

  • Friday, the day Jesus was tacked to a tree, the day in which his spirit was broken.
  • Saturday, the long day of waiting, some say the day Jesus descended into hell.
  • Sunday, Easter morning, the day of the resurrection of Jesus, which made Jesus our Christ.

I invite you, then, to go deeper with me into these three days.

Ask yourself: Where are you on your own Christic journey? Do you feel yourself stuck in Friday, or are you, like so many, trapped in Saturday? Or, have you reached the triumphant spiritual “Yes!” of Sunday morning?

FRIDAY—When Our Dreams Collide with …

First, as we prepare for Friday, it is helpful to ask some of the questions we share: What are we yearning for? Dreaming for? Hoping for in our lives, our families, our communities and our world?

At some point in the midst of these hopes and dreams—every one of us has hit a Friday. For many, the current virus is a Friday. At some point, nearly all of us have been thrown up against a rock, or tacked to a tree, and our dreams have been devastated, our innocence violated. Those are the Fridays of our lives.

Ask yourself: When was my spirit broken? What broke it? Did that brokenness threaten or even destroy my faith in myself, in others or in God? For some of us, these questions take us way back. Perhaps our innocence was violated very early by an angry mother or a distant or absent father, by alcohol in the family, or by physical or emotional abuse.

This week, to go even deeper into this part of the journey, I invite you to read Lucille Sider’s deeply moving Holy Week story, titled: Forgiving My Father. Some of us, in reading Lucille’s story, will recall our own similar moments of brokenness.

Or perhaps that brokenness took a different form in your life. I will never forget a friend telling me that, when she was 7 years old, her beloved uncle—who had seemed to embody all the goodness in life—died of cancer. “Something in me wasn’t sure where God was, and whether I could believe in goodness any longer,” she recalled.

For some of us of a certain age, the brokenness was the horror of discovering that our senior trip was heading toward the jungles of Vietnam. And for others, it was when our marital dream died. Or we dreamed of who we were supposed to be in this world, but we never opened that door. Or we didn’t have the children that we thought we would have, or we had more children than we thought we would have, or a child of ours became mentally ill or a child died.

On these Fridays, the pain is excruciating, and it is very appropriate to be angry or in deep grief.

SATURDAY—the Temptation of Accidie

Fortunately, most of us don’t live our lives stuck in Friday. We move to Saturday. The temptation for many of us is that we can become Saturday’s child. Remember the nursery rhyme? Saturday’s child works hard for a living.

For Saturday is the janitorial day of life. It’s the errand day. It’s the “get-through-it” day. For some of us, it’s the day when grief and anger can combine into a flat, soft, cynical bitterness. It may even lead to a kind of spiritual deadness.

Stuck in this endless Saturday cycle? It’s the kind of life in which we don’t feel any spice, any vitality, any vigor. The Desert Fathers and Mothers called this “accidie”—one of the so-called seven deadly sins.

Why is accidie such a dangerous temptation? Because it can cascade into other sins. In our accidie, we may turn to lust, perhaps affairs. We may turn to gluttony. Or, avarice might send us into obsessive buying. We may be laboring so hard each day that everyone else thinks we are just fine—and yet we are aching to fill our empty hearts. We are trapped.

I have written about this powerful spiritual struggle many times over the years, including in my book about Ian Fleming and James Bond. In the Middle Ages, “accidie” was translated as “sloth” or “torpor.” But, this is a spiritual condition and is distinctly different from either physical exhaustion or depression. In accidie, we loose all energy for engaging the world. The needs, the goals and even the good and the evil around us do not matter enough to inspire any action.

Falling into accidie is not a sin in itself. The sins—the separations from a fuller life—arise when we fail to recognize that we are stuck in the Saturday of accidie and never search for ways to resist its clutches.

SUNDAY—A New and Right Spirit

We all yearn for Sunday morning, the day of a clean and restored heart.

Eternal life begins now!

This is a resurrection of our spirit within our daily life—a spirit filled with gratitude, joy and hope that we share in daily service of others. Yes, the Resurrection gives us hope of life beyond this life—but first it gives us hope of life within this journey, this Way! It is the day that even with your broken spirit you are able, perhaps with a limp in your soul, to sing a Doxology.

Doxology is one of the oldest forms of Christian praise. A modern rendering is:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God, all creatures here below;
Praise God for all that love has done;
Creator, Christ and Spirit, One. 

Sunday is the day we can say humbly that life is good as it is given. I like to pray: Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, not a cynical spirit, not a bitter spirit. God will not reject a humble and repentant heart.

So let’s look together at the hope of Sunday morning. How do we get there? How do we prevent ourselves from staying Saturday’s child? I’m going to give you a spiritual solution because it is a spiritual problem.

Religion is for people who try to stay out of hell. Spirituality is for those of us who have already been there.

Sing a New Song

So what is the first spiritual answer? This is where the wisdom of Benedict’s disciplines really shines through in our Christic journey. The first spiritual corrective, the first spiritual discipline, is singing.

How long has it been since you’ve just burst forth in song? You don’t have to do it when somebody is near—but try it at some point. Yes, actually burst forth in song!

In the early 1600’s, Martin Rinkart was a Lutheran pastor in a small town in Germany.  An infectious disease spread throughout his community and more than half his congregation was lost. He conducted as many as 50 funerals a day. And in the midst of that loss, he wrote the hymn, “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices.” It is one of the most powerful faith statements ever uttered. Can you imagine in the midst of that loss singing that song?

So here’s an invitation. For the next 30 days, perhaps at your lunch hour, find a few private minutes and sing that hymn. Or, you may want to do what I have been doing in the morning for many years. I sing the Doxology.

Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, through singing.

The Work of Our Hands

And in addition to singing, Benedict knew that we need to labor with our hands.

We need manual labor. So much of the work we do in our times is intangible work. It is mental, emotional, relational work. An excellent way to combat our accidie is to get into some good, hard manual labor.  St. John of Damascus in the eighth century defined accidie as “a sorrowfulness so weighing down the mind that there is no good it likes to do. It has attached to it as its inseparable comrade a distress and a weariness of soul and a sluggishness in all good works which plunges the whole person into a lazy languor and works in him or her a constant, slow, lazy bitterness.” We all know that at times of idleness or unemployment, we are more liable to succumb to accidie. But often we need more than the intellectual or emotional drain of everyday work.

We need a work that involves our whole physical being.

Henri Nouwen, who spent seven months in the Genesee monastery in New York, labored lifting rocks and digging ditches and sorting pebbles out of raisins that went into raisin bread (thank you, Henry).  And he wrote this about the value of manual labor: “Manual work indeed unmasks my illusions. It shows me how I am constantly looking for interesting, exciting, distracting activities to keep my mind busy and away from the confrontation with my nakedness and powerlessness, my mortality and my weakness.  Dull work at least opens up my basic defenselessness and makes me vulnerable. I hope and pray that this vulnerability will not make me fearful or angry but instead open to the very gifts of God’s grace.”

For my wife Judith and me, gardening enriches our souls. I did a little planting already this week. For Gandhi it was weaving. And there are even the mundane chores of vacuuming, washing dishes by hand or carefully preparing traditional foods.

Want a great suggestion? A 12-bean Ecuadorian Holy Week soup called Fanesca is described, this week in Doug Yunker’s column, titled: A Reflection on the Wonders of Holy Week: The Jesus Cabinet of Curiosities and a traditional soup of many beans. Read some of the recipes for Franesca at the end of Doug’s column. Making that soup? It’s work!

Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, through manual labor.

Turning to Prayer

As we continue along this Christic Journey, many of us will discover that what kills accidie outright is prayer. A decade ago in this magazine, I shared this prayer that I have found helpful in wrestling with accidie. However, I do not want to mislead you. To meet the attack of accidie with prayer means more than just a quick appeal to drive away the black mood.

All of the steps I have described are part of a larger spiritual transformation. For if we really dedicate ourselves to this entire process, all kinds of things begin to happen. Right away we are beginning to rise from the dead, for whenever we honestly turn our thoughts to God, then new life begins to happen in us.  We shall be reminded again and again through prayer of the great and good purposes of the living God.

For many years I have been inviting couples especially to pray daily the prayer of St.  Francis. In marriage counseling, I focus especially on the middle portion of that prayer, “Lord help me to seek more to understand than to be understood, more to console than to be consoled, more to love than to be loved.” And some people have taken it very seriously. I’ve been absolutely amazed. One couple has prayed it together even when they are out of town. The husband sat in my office, with the tears running down his face, “Never in my whole life did I imagine I would be more interested in understanding my wife than in forcing her to understand me.”

Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, through prayer.

Hospitality, the Doorway to Community

And finally, the fourth spiritual discipline is to be in community, to remain hospitable—to be in a community that does not forget the least among us and seeks God in all things.

Shortly after Front Edge Publishing was founded in 2007, I became one of the publishing house’s first authors, attracted to this team’s founding principle: Good media builds healthy community. And, we say: A book is a community between two covers. Now, 14 years later, our collective community of writers and writings—including my own contributions to many books—circles the world. I have told stories, shared prayers and songs and poems, and invited readers into a larger spiritual community along with friends we have met in Europe, Africa, Asia and, of all places on the planet, New Zealand.

So, what is “community”? It is closely related to compassion, humility and hospitality.

One of my favorite examples happened just a few years ago in Seattle, Washington, at the Special Olympics. Nine children lined up on the starting line for the 100 yard dash, and the gun went off, and these children began to move with great relish! But, before they were even one-third of the way, one child tripped and fell, skinned his knee, bloodied his hand and begin to cry. By that time, all the other children were farther ahead of him, but one by one they began to stop and turn around. And one little girl with Down’s syndrome knelt down and kissed his forehead and said, “This will make it feel better.”  And each of the other children helped pull this child to his feet and all nine children, locked arm-in-arm, walked across the finish line together.

Thousands of people came to their feet and cheered—and cheered—and cheered.

Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, with singing, prayer, manual labor and with community.

And to all of our friends around the world, I wish you a glorious struggle and triumphant renewal in this Holy Week laid out before us—and I wish our Orthodox friends the same a month from now.

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Care to read more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Before COVID struck, he travels widely to work with groups, conferences and other events. Even in the pandemic, he continues this work virtually. He has been a keynote speaker and is a veteran of designing workshops and weekend retreats, which he has conducted nationwide. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]

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A St. Patrick’s Day reflection from Kate Jacobs: Casting out the snakes, then and now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our annual coverage of St. Patrick’s Day over the past 15 years often has focused on Catholic traditions. So, this year, we invited a Protestant-Anglican writer to reflect on the holiday. In her long and remarkable career, the Rev. Dr. Kate Jacobs has been both a leading Baptist and an Episcopalian. She sent us this fascinating column from her religious perspective on how St. Patrick’s mythic battle with serpents remains relevant today.

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By KATE JACOBS
Contributing Columnist

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his year, St. Patrick’s Day falls just three days after the fourth Sunday of Lent when that day’s lectionary—the Bible readings used in many churches—will focus on serpents, a synchronicity since legend declares that St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland.

Of course, he did not, since there were never snakes in Ireland. The Ice Age made the region too cold and, even after it warmed, Ireland’s separation from the continent by water meant that snakes could not migrate there.

What St. Patrick did, however, is bring the power of Christianity in an attempt to rid the people on the island of the evil spirits arising from within them.

We are told that, when he was young, he was captured by pirates from his home in Britain and taken to Ireland where he was sold into slavery for six years until he escaped and returned home. But then he felt the urgency of God to return to Ireland to call the people to follow Jesus to a better way of living.

As a person with Irish heritage, I love St. Patrick’s Day. Like most people, I also think about the themes of this saint’s legacy through many filters of family, faith and culture. I think about the writings of Walter Wink who pointed to  the New Testament language of “powers and principalities” and said that this phrase does not refer to demons leaping from the sky to wreak havoc on earth—but to spirits arising from our “collectivities” and leading us toward wrong. Wink says that those collectivities may even have been created to do good but over time can become fallen and do wrong, and it is our responsibility to name, engage and redeem those powers.

So, when I think of this venerable myth about the snakes, I think: St. Patrick freed the people of Ireland not from snakes but from the evil spirits arising within the people themselves.

To this day, we are called to confront all that goes bad and inflicts harm through the systems of our age.

So many snakes!

There are many snakes in the Bible! Snakes are mentioned more than 80 times, almost always as poisonous and instigators of sin. First in Genesis 3 the snake tempts Eve to disobey God and Adam follows, for which they are evicted from the Garden. Then finally in Revelation 12: “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

Does the snake (or serpent or dragon) represent an external force that impels humanity to engage in acts contrary to the will of God? Or is the snake symbolic of a system that arises from within us? And what does that interpretation mean for how Christians see the role of Jesus in our salvation? Gabriel Fackre, one of my favorite professors in my seminary studies and also preacher at my ordination service 40 years ago, presented various models for the atoning work of Christ that switched my focus. Atonement requires repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation—all necessary steps to being at one.

As a young woman I had seen the role of Jesus as dying on the cross to appease the wrath of God for our sins—paying the price with his blood so that God’s judgment turned to mercy. But as I looked at the models for the atonement and then looked at the entire life of Jesus and its meaning for our lives, I began to perceive Jesus more as example and teacher who shows us the love of God and neighbor, illuminating and inspiring us to follow him and shape our lives.

That upcoming lectionary text in Numbers 21:4-9 comes when the Israelites are freed from slavery in Egypt and are traveling through the desert. This passage shows how in challenging times we can become angry and cast blame rather than maintaining our journey through the wilderness toward freedom. The text from Numbers says that God sent venomous snakes among the people to bite them so that they repented and Moses turned to God, who told him to place a bronze snake on a pole toward which they would look up and not die. Even when they were poisoned by the serpents, as they looked up at that symbol they were saved. I tend to see that story as myth that conveys deep truth—the people were suffering the harm inflicted by their own evil spirits. Then, as they were drawn to look at the source of that poisoning, they were transformed.

The Gospel text in John 3 gives us words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, a Pharisee who sought him out under cover of darkness to inquire about his role. Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

For Christians, the role of Jesus is not simply to die to appease the wrath of God so that when we say his name we are guaranteed entrance to heaven, no matter how we choose to live. I believe that the role of Jesus is to show us how to walk the way of life toward a new day when all people are united as one, all dedicating our lives not for the sake of power and wealth for a few but for peace and the well-being of all.

When we look up at Jesus, as Christians we see the one sent by God to show us how to live, which brings me back to the snakes, the evil spirits that we must name, engage, redeem, so that this might be a world of justice and peace.

So what shall we do?

So what shall we do? How can we banish the snakes from our land for the sake of a good life together? Like St. Patrick, we must take action to name forces of evil, reach out to engage them not in negativity but for redemption and reconciliation.

Over the years, I have found this to be both a valuable and very challenging lesson. Today, serpents can sneak up on us without warning even as we are enjoying daily life.

Here’s just one example: A cross I like to wear was given to me almost nine years ago when we lived in Tennessee, by a woman who told me it was a tribute to all the work I was doing in our community chairing the long-range planning committee and then the communications and marketing committee. I very much appreciated the gift.

Then one summer day in that year a number of neighbors were gathered in boats on our lake for a “raft off,” swimming in the lake and sitting in boats to chat. Suddenly the name Trayvon Martin came up. This was a few months after he had been shot as he walked home with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea in his hands. The neighborhood watchman who shot him had been charged and was subsequently acquitted.

A number of people on those boats began talking about their hatred for Trayvon and their support for his murderer—including the woman who had given me this cross. I was so horrified that I wanted to take off the cross and hurl it into the lake. Then, the realization struck me that the cross stands for God’s love for us and how far God will go to rescue us from our wrongs and lead us to a new way of being. No matter how those who claim the cross as the symbol of their truths pronounce and perpetrate hatred, the cross is the cross of Jesus and our calling as Christians to live by God’s truth and invite others to join us.

As St. Patrick’s Day draws near and we look forward to putting on our green shirts to celebrate, as Christians may we pray that God will draw us more deeply into the ways St. Patrick sought to follow Jesus.
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The Rev. Dr. Kate Jacobs responded to the call of God, entered seminary and was ordained after she had five children, taught high school French and worked as an employment counselor, plus earned her first master’s degree. After seminary she was ordained 40 years ago, served at the First Baptist Church in America founded by Roger Williams in 1638, then for 13 years served as executive director of the Ministers Council of the American Baptist Churches USA. In her Tennessee retirement years she was confirmed as an Episcopalian and licensed to preach. Now she continues to preach for the Christian Interfaith Church at Ashby Ponds in Ashburn, VA. One of her most meaningful educational experiences was a Harvard fellowship in 2001 when she studied quantum theory and theology, since the connectivity of all things shapes the basic tenet of her life.

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Welcoming the millions of “other” Christians around the world as they prepare for Great Lent

Father Elias Khoury with some of the children and parents from his Greek Orthodox parish in Jadeidi, Israel.

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LEARNING ABOUT ANCIENT CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES

‘Why are we ‘celebrating’ the fast of Great Lent this month?’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Right now in America, there’s not a hotter question than: What does it mean to be “Christian”? Of course, that question is freighted with our own “local” political meaning in the United States today. Here at ReadTheSpirit magazine, our goal week after week is to cover global religious and cultural diversity—because we believe that learning about diversity leads to healthier communities.

Around the world, Christians make up nearly a third of our population, according to Pew Research. However, North America is home to only about 12 percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians. That means our American battles over who can be called a “Christian” can sound like a local family feud among the nearly 2 billion Christians who live in South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

This week’s cover story reminds us, as Americans, about another vast swath of Christianity—nearly 300 million Christians who most Americans tend to forget: the Orthodox. Thanks to researcher Kevin Vollrath and our long-time friend Mae Cannon, ReadTheSpirit plans to bring readers a monthly series of stories from this ancient Eastern branch of Christianity. You can read our latest Cover Story on Mae Cannon’s work from 2020, headlined: As millions of Christians move toward activism, you should meet Mae Elise Cannon, an ethical organizer. Among her many commitments, Mae is executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, which made this new monthly series possible. You can learn more about Kevin at the end of this column.

We start this week with a story about Father Elias Khoury, a Greek Orthodox priest in Jadeidi, Israel, who is preparing for Great Lent to begin on March 15. That may surprise many of our readers, because we reported on the start of Lent for Western Christians last month! In fact, this year, the Western and Orthodox calendars vary by almost an entire month.

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Father Elias: ‘As Christians, our life is a fasting period.’

Father Elias Khoury

By KEVIN VOLLRATH
Contributing Columnist

When Father Elias Khoury, a Greek Orthodox priest in Jadeidi, Israel, talks with his community about the Fast of Great Lent, he uses words like “celebrate” and “joyful” that may sound surprising to Christians living in the United States. Millions of American Christians—Catholics and Protestants—began Lent on February 17 with Ash Wednesday. Because church calendars vary between Western and the ancient Eastern churches, Orthodox churches will begin the period of reflection that leads to Easter with Clean Monday on March 15. And very much like Father Elias’s sermons in the Middle East, Orthodox clergy emphasize the great joy families should feel while giving up a whole host of favorite foods.

For Americans, giving up chocolate during Lent seems like a major sacrifice. In the Orthodox world, observant families abstain from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, wine and oil.

What’s joyful about that?

This kind of fasting is a reminder of the watchfulness and humble self-denial with which Christians should live their lives, Father Elias says. “As Christians, our life is a fasting period. We’re not just doing it one day or one week. It’s not just a celebration of a memorial day. It’s something that we live, not just during times like the Fast of Great Lent, but all of our life. It involves much more than what we are eating and drinking. We must learn to become watchful and fasting is living in that awareness, when you watch yourself always. It’s a daily process and our job as Christians.”

That is also why Great Lent is part of a much longer process that actually began weeks ago for Orthodox communities—preparing week by week with scripture readings, prayers and a gradual paring away of foods to be ready when Great Lent begins.

The seven weeks of Great Lent are preceded by four weeks of preparation in which the faithful give up whole sections of their normal diet until a family’s dinner table is, for the duration of Lent, stripped of animal products, wine and oil. Far from arduous, it is a joyful time of drawing near to each other and God, with daily prayers and inspiring Bible readings. Lent is a celebration because it gives us the opportunity “to live the biblical story” liturgically, from creation in Genesis to redemption in Revelation, as Father Elias puts it.

“Our readings during this time are joyful and not sad,” Father Elias says. “We’re celebrating the Kingdom of God on Earth! It’s part repentance, and part happiness that God gave us salvation”

Before becoming a Greek Orthodox priest, Father Elias worked as an engineer. He has been married for over 20 years and has two kids. He also enjoys teaching in a local middle school.

Turning to the Triodion

The Triodion preserves ancient Eastern Orthodox traditions for this special season. Some centuries-old manuscripts of the Triodion are richly illustrated like this 15th-century illumination that shows Jesus speaking with a woman at a well.

Orthodox churches don’t have an Ash Wednesday and, instead, they begin Great Lent on Clean Monday, which refers to the cleansing from sin resulting from Lenten fasting. Clean Monday this year is March 15, 2021.

These churches are guided by the Triodion, their liturgical book for Great Lent, beginning on the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18:9-14), four Sundays before Clean Monday (11 Sundays before Pascha, Orthodox Easter).

Observant Orthodox families are far more familiar with fasting than most American Christians. That’s because they are asked to abstain from animal products, wine and oil on most Wednesdays and Fridays (unless those days happen to be special feasts).

However, during the special week following the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican, that weekly fasting is suspended. Why? Because, in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, the Pharisee boasts about his fasting: “I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” With a tinge of irony, Orthodox believers try not to be like the Pharisee so they skip that week of fasting.

Then, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son marks the beginning of the second week of preparation and is the only week of preparation with standard fasting (on Wednesday and Friday). This parable continues the previous week’s theme: framing fasting properly. Both the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Pharisee and Publican teach heartfelt repentance. The Prodigal Son parable, in particular, teaches that returning to the father is a gift; according to Father Elias, this means “we can’t be proud of our grace,” and neither can the Publican.

The third Sunday, the Sunday of Judgment, marks the beginning of Lenten fasting. Known as “meatfare Sunday” in English, and “the lifting of meat” in Arabic, this is the last day to eat meat until Pascha nine weeks later. The liturgy focuses on the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) in which Jesus judges people according to whether they treated the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and the prisoner as though they were Jesus himself. One finds God in other people, and must learn to “relate to the others as Jesus relates to them,” Father Elias says. One cannot be reconciled to God without being reconciled to other people, in whom one must find Christ.

The Sunday of Forgiveness is the final Sunday before Great Lent. It recalls Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden, reminding believers of the depth of their sin and need for forgiveness. The return to paradise is a common Lenten image for Orthodox believers, so it is fitting to begin Great Lent by remembering our exile from the garden. This Sunday also includes a reading from Matthew 6:14-21, emphasizing our need to forgive each other in order to reconcile with God. Like the Sunday of Judgment, we remember that we do not fast alone and need other believers to seek God, Father Elias teaches.

Also known as Cheesefare Sunday, the Sunday of Judgment is the last day dairy products can be eaten. At this point, one might be wondering why Orthodox believers stop eating animal products during Great Lent? Orthodox believers stop eating meat and dairy in order to reconcile with God, each other and animals. True reconciliation must involve action in addition to prayer, or as Father Elias puts it: “Reconciliation and prayer are the two wings needed to fly.”

He explains further, “We are the new Adams trying to come back to heaven through this action.” According to Orthodox biblical interpretation, Adam did not eat meat during his life at all; no one ate meat until after the flood when God specifically gave Noah and his kin permission (Genesis 9:3). By not eating meat or animal products, the faithful move closer to paradise. This Sunday in particular also reminds observers that animals were created by God and received God’s blessing. In fasting from animal products, one also reconciles with animals.

LAGANA BREAD is a traditional Clean Monday delicacy because it can be made without any oil. The strictness of the fast varies, family by family. A popular online food writer among Greek Orthodox families in the West is The Greek Vegan, Kiki Vagianos. Her recipes range widely throughout the year, but some of her recipes do fulfill all the fasting rules. She also makes note of the variance in strictness of fasting, offering options in preparing her recipes. Click on this photo to find her Lagana recipe and explore her website.

So, what do Orthodox eat during Great Lent?

The day after Cheesefare Sunday is Clean Monday, or the first day of Clean Week and the beginning of Great Lent. Clean Week and Holy Week prescribe the most serious fasts, during which many congregants abstain from all food until noon or 5pm every day. Many priests will abstain from all food Monday-Wednesday and Thursday-Saturday.

Orthodox believers observe the fast with various strictness, but Father Elias was clear that most of his congregants fast in some capacity from animal products, especially during Great Lent.

In Orthodox homes, Great Lent—and other fasting days throughout the year—are times to enjoy a host of healthy, traditional foods that often become family favorites. Some of these dishes are even popping up in more health-conscious homes in the West. Bulgur wheat and parsley—a variant on tabouli—is a mainstay in the U.S. now. Observant families also enjoy a wide range of rich soups, stews and casseroles featuring root vegetables, greens, chickpeas and other ingredients that are popular in vegetarian cooking around the world.

Want more ideas? Check out The Greek Vegan, where recipes are presented in formats that are familiar to Americans. Also, be warned: Only some dishes on that website are appropriate for Great Lent.

Throughout the entire season of Great Lent, Father Elias says, the focus is on using these spiritual and physical disciplines to continually refocus ourselves on prayer and deepening our faith. Therein lies a major difference between simply healthy eating and religious fasting.

“You can diet without prayer, but you cannot fast without prayer,” Father Elias says.

Inside Father Elias’s church.

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KEVIN VOLLRATH is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion & Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, writing in this series as the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). He lives in Lambertville, NJ, while he waits to begin his fieldwork for his dissertation in Bethlehem once travel resumes.

Marilyn McEntyre invites us to consider ‘Where the Eye Alights,’ opening ourselves to the power of lectio divina

EDITOR’S NOTE—Writer and teacher Marilyn McEntyre describes her work as “creating connections between language, medicine, faith and the world we share.” In 2018, we recommended her book, Make a List—How a simple practice can change our lives and open our hearts. At that time, we featured this author interview with Marilyn about Make a List. You can learn more about her other books by visiting her website www.MarilynMcEntyre.com. To introduce her new volume, Where the Eye Alights, we asked Marilyn to write a column for us that would tell the story behind the book from her author’s perspective. And, here it is …

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By MARILYN McENTYRE

Click the cover to visit it’s Amazon page. The book also is available at Barnes & Noble and other booksellers.

The invitation by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing to write this book about writing gave me particular pleasure, since I teach writing, write about writing, and have come to believe that writing can be, as my spiritual director once suggested, “an extension of your prayer life.”  Writing this little book felt like that for me. Of course I hope that readers will find blessing, consolation and invitation in it. I also hope they’ll “go and do likewise.”

In the book, I reflect on 40 common phrases. I hope that, just as I did in writing the book, readers will discover how a simple phrase can open up an avenue of reflection that can take surprising turns.

A phrase like “remember that you are dust,” for instance, connects the biblical creation story with a scientific truth (that the elements we are made of are those we find in the soil, and that it’s all—literally—stardust) and to a reminder that underscores our deepest hopes for peace and equity in human community: We’re all made of the same stuff.  My thoughts, as I sat with the phrase, led me to one of my favorite works of popular science, Dirt, by William Bryant Logan.

I pulled my well-thumbed copy off the shelf and took renewed delight in Logan’s introductory reflections on the story of Moses and the burning bush.  After admitting he’d always wondered why God didn’t just call out to Moses to get his attention rather than resorting to the rather dramatic device of a burning bush, he says, “Now I know why. The truth, when really perceived and not simply described, is always a wonder. Moses does not see a technicolor fantasy.  He sees the bush as it really is. He sees the bush as all bushes actually are.”

His phrase, “all bushes” triggered another memory—a wonderful sermon I heard on the inclusiveness of God’s love that started with the question, “What part of all do we not understand?” I thought of a line I love from an old hymn: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.”  We are dust. We are beloved. All of us. All of creation.  All political leaders, laborers, refugees, prisoners, patients, all the endangered animals and desecrated rainforests—all dust.  All loved.

One thought led to another as I sat remembering, connecting dots into constellations, dwelling on phrase as it grew into a refrain .  It opened into wide and deep places.  It led me into prayer.

This is how lectio divina works:  you read, you listen for the “word or phrase” that calls you to pause and reflect—this time, on this reading.  Another time it might be a different phrase.  You read prayerfully, inviting the Spirit to speak through the text into the lived moment in which you read.  The word or phrase you pause over becomes a portal that opens onto the broad landscape of memory.  Associations arise: images from stories, childhood memories, learning moments in science classes or in Sunday school.  The process is meant to be an open, prayerful, receptive, and deeply subjective encounter with the Living Word.  It is a moment of intimacy, always enlivening, often surprising, shaped by and grounded in our theological understanding, but not a moment for intellectual analysis so much as enjoyment of loving divine guidance.

Lectio divina can become a habit of mind we carry into all our reading and conversational life.  Listening for a “word or phrase” is different from listening to grasp key ideas or arguable points.  As a reader, when you come upon a phrase like this—“love in the open hand” or “heart of my own heart” or “with malice toward none”—you may find yourself catching your breath in a moment of simple delight at what it evokes.  It may be a feeling of gratitude.  It may be a shift of frame:  I hadn’t thought of it this way before. It may be a recollection of the whole speech or poem or song that invites you back for another look at words that may bear some new blessing.  What is worth reading is worth rereading—especially the words of our sacred texts and surely also the rich legacy of words poets and writers have left for us to reclaim or reframe or reflect on.

The contemplative reading that has its roots in lectio divina is certainly not the only fruitful way to read a text.  We need the critical reading skills we learn in classrooms.  It’s good to know how to summarize, analyze, construct arguments, and define terms for use in law and policy making.  It’s good to read a whole sentence and be able to paraphrase it to arrive at a “common sense” of meaning and intent.

Our words our equipment we take into public life. But they are also instruments we play in our tenderest moments, not to deliver information but rather to delight the mind and open the doors of the heart.

Writing down what came up around a word or phrase every morning for forty days was a valuable practice for me.  It changed the quality of those days.   Many have done this before; many are doing it now in monasteries and pastors’ studies and in parks (where it’s still warm enough to be in parks) with pencils and an hour reclaimed from the daily schedule.  That hour or so is time well spent.  The returns come all day, and keep coming.

I hope that, for any who read Where the Eye Alights, the book will be both a gift for the moment and an invitation to begin a fruitful practice of prayerful, receptive reading and writing in which you find, just where the eye alights, the word you need for now.