Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who Wears the Face of God?

My cup runneth over. So much going on—I could fill several blog posts. The only thing to do is combine several items that each deserve their own post. [Reminder for blog newbies: click on anything that's underlined to link to more information.] I’ll begin with another book review:

The Unbreakable Child by
Kim Michele Richardson
A Pen & Palette Book Review

“Who wears the face of God?” This question is asked, silently for the most part, about a half dozen times throughout Kim Richardson’s gritty memoir about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the nuns and priests in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Kentucky in the 1960s. First she asks her attorney, William F. McMurry, and later she asks the Catholic Church's attorneys. She asks Father Lammers, the priest who abused her, her older sisters, and numerous other orphans. With years of pent-up emotion she finally asks God, Himself:

“I'm so disappointed in you, God.... You forgot to tell the world, I was supposed to be a princess, God, a princess!”

Finally she concludes that her attorney, the one helping her, is actually the one who wears the face of God for her, all the while declaring that "only the innocent child could wear the face of God." Her innocence, and that of the forty-four other children, now adults, who received a monetary settlement from the order of Roman Catholic nuns for decades of abuse, could never be restored, but, as McMurry says in his Afterword, "Kim's book will empower all of us to look beyond the cloak of secrecy of any institution responsible for the protection of children."

It’s a scary thing to confront evil when it’s embedded in the church. One of Kim’s sisters, a cancer survivor, backed out of participation in the law suit near the end because of this fear, saying, “Have you ever thought, Kimmi, God will punish us if we punish the Catholic Church and their priest and brides of Christ? Maybe I’ll get the cancer back.”

My own memoir-in-progress contains elements of abuse, so I thought I was ready to read Kim’s story without flinching. I was wrong. I flinched. I wept. I raged. But most importantly, I took some personal steps towards forgiving those who hurt me—and those who allowed it—because of Kim’s amazing journey of forgiveness. I also took a long, hard look at my own dysfunctional ways of dealing with my abuse, compared with Kim’s commitment not to give in to the things that ultimately destroyed one of her sisters, who followed their own mother’s path of drug and alcohol addiction.

I read with admiration as Kim “wavered between guilt and rage” and even felt compassion for the nuns themselves, “the dysfunction of these innocents.” I read with amazement as she told of keeping her silence about the abuse, even from her husband until she began the depositions. “I felt as if I were abandoning God, my soul. I prayed for forgiveness. I wished I could talk to God about it… but my voice screamed silence…. And with age came more silence…”

The Unbreakable Child moves seamlessly between the graphic scenes of a nightmarish childhood and the present depositions and interactions with her attorney, her husband, and her grown siblings. The scenes within the orphanage are written without judgment. She just tells the story, almost as if she were writing fiction, and lets the story reveal the truth—emotional and actual—to the reader. So, from a literary point of view, Unbreakable Child is creative nonfiction done well, a beautiful example of the old adage, “Show, don’t tell.”
Kim’s on her first book tour now. You can read about it and see photos on her blog. Just before her book launch, she took time to speak with me on the phone at length about my own writing, sharing wisdom from her experience dealing with agents, editors, publishers, and lawyers. A generous woman, on top of being creative, brave and …. yes, unbreakable. Kudos, Kimmi!

Next, Holy Week Continues…

Last night was Holy Unction—the service of anointing with holy oil for healing—the Holy Wednesday service in the Orthodox Church. I lit a candle for Kimmi, and thought about her a lot during the service. And when the priests anointed me with the oil of healing, I thanked God for these good men who love and protect their people, unlike the priest who abused Kimmi. One of the three priests anointing us tonight was my husband, Father Basil. That’s him in the picture. My six-year-old Godddaugher, Sophie, slept in my arms for much of the service, but woke in time for the anointing. I explained what was happening, and she said, “So, the holy oil on my hands will help me not to hit? And the holy oil on my mouth will help me not to say bad things?” She gets it. If only the nuns and priest at Kimmi’s orphanage had gotten it.

Today is Holy Thursday. Read my post from last year for info about dying eggs red and be sure and read the comments at the end for important tips from Erin and Anne Marie! This afternoon we’ll celebrate the Last Supper, and Jesus’ act of washing His disciple’s feet.
Then we’ll have a meal together in the fellowship hall. Afterwards we’ll return to the nave for the Twelve Gospel Readings that tell the story of Christ’s crucifixion.

And then comes Holy Friday. I won’t be blogging on Holy Friday this year, but you can watch videos and see photos and read about last year's services here. There’s Royal Hours. Then the women and children decorate the bier, and in the afternoon there’s the Taking Down from the Cross. And Friday night is maybe my favorite service, the Lamentations.

On Holy Saturday, after the morning service, during which I usually fall in love with my husband all over again (he’s the one throwing the bay leaves with such vigor in these videos) I’ll be making Easter (Lamb) Soup again. This year I’ve invited some of the younger women at St. John to join me in the church kitchen Saturday afternoon to help me make the soup—I’m wanting to pass on this tradition, which was taught to me by my dear friend, Urania, before she died in October of 2007. I miss her so much. Here's the recipe:
Easter (Lamb) Soup

This is the recipe in St. John Cooks, originally contributed by Urania Alissandratos, with a few alterations* made by Urania's daughter Julia and me, from our experience making the soup together in 2008. Also, the amounts have been adjusted for making a large pot to serve at the Paschal feast at church, rather than the smaller pot for eating at home. Suggestions for making it in stages before, during and after Pascha Liturgy are also included.

8-10 lbs. ground lamb
(depending upon how meaty you want it)
1 large batch parsley
1 large batch cilantro
4 bunches green onions
2 yellow onions
2 T fresh dill
1 stick butter
salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Avgolemono Sauce:

15 eggs
juice of 12 lemons
5 T cornstarch

Wash and chop onions, parsley, and cilantro. Brown meat until juices are absorbed. Do NOT drain off fat.* Add 1 stick butter. Add all chopped ingredients and cook until tender. Add enough water to make soup. This is a personal choice, as to how thick you want the soup. Cover and simmer one hour. While it’s cooking, prepare the Avgolemono sauce:

Squeeze 12 lemons, removing and disposing of seeds. Dissolve 5 tablespoons cornstarch in ½ cup of the lemon juice. In large bowl beat 15 eggs ‘til fluffy. Add the lemon juice and cornstarch mixture and the rest of the juice from the lemons. Put all of this into a large jar with a lid, or a large plastic container with a tightly fitting top and shake together well. Place in refrigerator for use after Paschal Liturgy.

Cool soup enough to place the pot in the refrigerator. This first part can be done as early as Holy Thursday, or as late as Holy Saturday afternoon. It is not recommended that lamb soup be cooked on Holy Friday. (It's traditional not to cook or eat any food on Holy Friday.)

When arriving at church for the liturgy on Saturday night, place the soup on the stove on low and stir. Come into the kitchen once or twice during the liturgy to stir and be sure the soup gets hot but doesn’t boil over. Immediately after communion, return to the kitchen and get the Avgolemono sauce out of the refrigerator and shake vigorously once more. Remove lid. Pour sauce into small saucepan. Gradually add broth from soup so that eggs do not curdle. Finally, add blended sauce and broth from saucepan into large soup pot, stirring constantly. (See why it helps to have more than one set of hands!)

Last: Add salt and pepper to taste. It’s better to wait and add these last for two reasons: (1) You can’t taste the soup if you’re fasting on Saturday afternoon, and (2) It’s really better to add salt near the end because it loses its flavor when it’s cooked for a long time.
I'll think about Urania and her husband Andy when I have my cup of soup, along with a glass of champagne, after the midnight Pascha service, greeting others with "Christos anesti! Alithos anesti!"... "Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen!" Urania would love this next part:

Our Baby Robins!

For several weeks now I’ve been watching a mother bird build her nest just a few feet from our front door, on top of a brick column on our front porch, lay her eggs, and sit patiently protecting them through the storms of the past few weeks.

Today when I looked up at the nest while showing a visitor out the front door, we saw them—four baby robins!

To keep from scaring them, I’ve been watching them through the front windows, and taking pictures through the transom above the front door.

Once I opened the door and snatched a couple of better pictures while the mother was off digging worms.

What a joy to watch her arrive back with food for them and see their tiny beaks rise up out of the nest like the trumpet section of an orchestra!

The intimacy of this image, of the mother feeding her young, reminded me of something Frances Mayes wrote, in her essay in All Out of Faith: Southern Women On Spirituality: "Intimacy. The feeling of touching the earth as Eve touched it, when nothing separated her."

What a beautiful way to anticipate Christ’s glorious resurrection in just three more days!

And remember that whole thing about rhythm vs. balance in my last post? Well, with all that's going on this week, I've decided to go with the "rhythm" that's telling me to slow down and not stress myself by trying to do too much. So... this year I won't be dying eggs. Or hosting a Pascha Brunch at our house on Sunday morning. Instead, maybe I'll have the time and energy to be more present with those around me... my family and friends who wear the face of God.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Kalo Pascha! A bird has made her nest inside the wreath on our front porch. She hasn't laid yet, but we're waiting for the eggs to appear. Guess I won't be changing out that winter wreath for something more springy.