hail thou dawn of the mystic day

Posted by on November 22, 2007

I did so much traveling in October and early November that I was away from home roughly nineteen days in all. I really hadn’t consciously planned to be away from home and Jeff this much, and the whole thing sort of happened in a non-plan fashion. If I had sat down and figured it all out in advance, I probably would have seen the insanity of all of this travel by myself with a toddler. People kept telling me I was brave, but I secretly wondered if by that they meant “and also a little foolish.”

I tried but failed, several times, to write something about my last trip to post here, but I may need to skip it altogether and start current with late November. Traveling expands the data of my usually simple life by bringing me into contact with people and scenery I don’t normally see, and the energy required is of such a different variety than the kind that flows through everyday life at home. The logistics of catching planes, trains, and automobiles with a burgeoning toddler has shown me a few mom muscles I didn’t know I had, particularly ones in my back. Then coming home after being gone– the cleaning, unpacking, resettling…I haven’t had the energy to sit down and sort through all of my travel stories for anyone’s sake but my own. I am content with the jumbled version of the data, but making that data publicly presentable in essay-format is a little bit too ambitious for me right now. Beyond just the descriptive details of setting and a straightforward telling of what I did on this trip, there would also be a great deal of abstract content. Conversations alone, on this particular trip, were, as it turned out, events in themselves.

But I think I can write about November, in which I have no forseeable plans to leave home. I took the picture above just because I thought it was pretty– my drained plastic water glass on the window sill with an early winter scene behind, which was the view next to the rocking chair where I usually nurse Esme before naps and bedtime. I missed that rocking chair while I was traveling.

Now at home, I spend the bulk of my time alone with Esme, who is changing rapidly into something different, more complex, more challenging, and also more delightful: a toddler. During her infancy, I was so looking forward to the time when she would walk, interact, understand toys with multiple parts, and say things. Now that she is doing all of this (she says “hot” while pointing to my coffee mug and “woof woof” when she sees any animal, even a flock of geese) I realize that along with these developments is the advent of the paradoxical mother-daughter relationship that will probably always exist in some combination of her dependence upon and independence, her clinging to me and pushing away, her needing precisely me at certain times, but needing anyone but me at others. All of this has come clear to me because it stands out starkly against the neutral, unchanging backdrop of a daily, tiny, apartment living, where our energy passes back and forth and we sometimes can feed off of each other’s frustration. She wants to yank on the toilet paper no matter how often I say no and remove her from it, and yet her apparent determination and grit melts into tears if I set her outisde the bathroom door for one minute while I’m inside. Then I feel terrible. This kind of deadlock can take over our mutual mood unless we find a way to venture out and be around other faces, voices, and sights. For me this can mean braving the landscape of mom-politics of our community’s play room (which replaces the playground now that the weather is cold), where I am constantly introducing myself over and over again, often to the same people.

The last few days have been very foggy ones in which I return to the problems of self– feeling badly over something I said to someone which was accidentally tactless, trying to stay hydrated and perhaps eat something besides string cheese, peanut butter, or bread– something green, or at least with a stem.

But today was the eighth anniversary of my becoming Orthodox– the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. I love this feast day because it is a very poetic, feminine one, and I actually was not aware that it was upon me today simply because I wasn’t aware of what day it was today– or date, rather–that it is the twenty-first of November. My Catholic friend Dawn e-mailed and happened to mention it because it is her name day in the Catholic Church. She quoted the line of poetry from the day’s service, “Hail thou Dawn of the Mystic Day.” Dawn of the Mystic Day is one of many poetic names for Mary.

What does it mean that I wasn’t even aware that it was 1) a feast day in the Church (and one that I happen to sincerely love); and 2) the anniversary of my Chrismation into the Orthodox Church? I don’t really know. I think that there are some strange distances and dualities in my life that I tell myself I am powerless to change, or will change someday, when the conditions aren’t so unfavorable. I wish I were closer to the liturgical life of the Church, and that its rhythms would actually register inside me of their own accord– a phenomenon I can see so clearly in others. Even when I was a student at seminary, where the full liturgical cycle is lived week in and week out and I participated in this, I was not genuinely attuned to its rhythm, and felt instead that I lagged behind or was simply impervious to the deep meanings of these feasts and seasons that were always catching me by surprise and out of harmony with my emotions and thoughts, which swirled with me into the church and stood contained in me and separate, behind the music stands where I sang with the choir. I was totally new to Orthodoxy then, and maybe that forms a valid excuse. Now, after eight years, there probably isn’t an excuse. Or maybe this liturgical closeness that alludes me will be the last thing to truly take root in my convert soul. I realize these words might be taken by some as highly irritating and peccant.

But tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which, since getting married, has become my favorite winter holiday– even favored over Christmas, because it has all that makes Christmas fun and warm without all of the gift-exchange burden and post-Christmas blues. There is the “issue” of it falling in the middle of the Orthodox Nativity fast– a fast in which Orthodox Christians aren’t really, technically, supposed to be basting turkeys or whipping heavy cream. This, on a larger level, has nothing to do with me personally, and probably falls into that duality category I mentioned earlier. But it takes an organized person– I mean organized on an internal, spiritual level– to manage the interchange of the feasting and fasting here with wise dexterity. But all I can really manage is to not completely forget about the overarching Nativity fast, as I am so prone to do when it comes to anything related to the Church calendar. So, tomorrow, when I do not think twice about eating two desserts because I can’t (don’t want to) choose between pumpkin and pecan pie (an external symbol of the internal letting-go of the parsimony that normally dogs my consciousness) I’ll try to offer up some effort to contextualize. Thanksgiving, like the other feast days in which God touches down and helps us tremendously, is a break from the painful realization of ones own horribleness that is going on in varying degrees during the other days of the year. After “the teas and cakes and ices” I will try to make it to confession before the Nativity fast is over, because it’s not o.k. to live in constant, partially wine-induced relief from introspection and circumspection– not yet.

So, these are my thoughts upon the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, which this year happens to be the eve of the American Holiday Thanksgiving, which, in turn, falls smack into the middle of the Orthodox Christian liturgical tradition of fasting (no turkey) in preparation for Christmas, a practice which was around before America was a country. I will eat turkey tomorrow as I have been all my life, and I will also try to make it to confession during the Nativity fast. It all comes together somewhere on a platform of thankfulness, I think. So, as I understand it in my eight whole years of being Orthodox, American Orthodox Christians everywhere can freely enjoy turkey and cheesy casseroles tomorrow if they choose.

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  1. Jenny
    November 22, 2007

    Julia,

    Lovely post. I delight in the way you express our shared faith, in your nuance and playfulness and honesty.

    And it cheers me to remember your Chrismation–you were a radiant bride. How grateful I am that I was there that day and have been able to watch you grow all these years.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you. I’ll plan for indecision at pie time, at my own joyous double portion.

    Jenny

  2. Ser
    November 24, 2007

    Having children has made me, on the one hand, more attuned to the cycle of the Orthodox year, since I try to teach my kids about the feast and fasts and such. But, too, it has made all of this harder. I never pay attention in church and I don’t find time for prayer much. So I completely understand when feasts sneak up on you.

    Congratulations on the anniversary of your becoming orthodox!

    And congratulations to Esme on moving closer towards age two, and language and strong opionions and such. What fun!

  3. Red
    November 25, 2007

    Julia,

    God grant you many years. So glad you and I are in this giant family of wandering souls. I continue to be facinated by how my own experience of the liturgical cycle changes from year to year and place to place. I suspect we have a liturgical cycle because it is so easy to not be internally attuned to these things. So take heart, you are exactly like the rest of your brothers and sisters who are hoping the message of our Christmation and unity with Christ will finally sink in. Thinking of you fondly. – Rachel

  4. Julia
    November 25, 2007

    Thank you so much, Jenny, Ser, and Rachel. When I write about faith, particularly Orthodoxy, and my feeble identity as an Orthodox Christian, I worry about being frowned upon by some (and I mean rightfully frowned upon) and completely incomprehensible to others. Overall I feel like a lousy spokesperson for Orthodoxy, and wonder if I should even be writing about it at all, but keep my mouth shut. Well, maybe I should (just keep my mouth shut), but it’s still nice to hear your familiar and understanding voices.

  5. anna j
    November 26, 2007

    Dear Julia,
    1. I’m SO excited to see a new post by you!
    2. Though not Orthodox, I have always wrestled with my inconsistencies with my faith: being intensely spiritual and yet feeling irreconcilable worldly, at apparently the same time . . .
    Anyhow, I think that you are an amazing Woman of faith–I admire you greatly. And the struggle you write about here is simply a sign that you are human like the rest of us mere mortals 🙂