Posts tagged ‘icons’

March 5, 2017

A Letter to Lupin and Tonks (and Their Reply)

Nessa Hake

If they were alive this is
what I’d write to them:

3-2-17
Dear Lupin and Tonks,

Wotcher! My name is Nessa Ann Hake. I have a little eight-year-old brother, and my mother is pregnant! I am almost thirteen. Harriet is a family cat that I practically own because we have a bond. She sleeps with me. St. John Chrysostom is the Orthodox Church my family goes to. My whole family works or goes to Logos Academy which is an awesome muggle school. (I think some of the staff are magical though. 😊)

My aunts (my age), my cousin and me all have read books about Harry Potter, and you are in them. I really love the books and you. Please don’t take this wrong because I know you’re humble. But, I just had some questions and would like to get to know you some more.

Here are some of my questions: What was it like fighting Lord Voldemort? What was your childhood like? How do you feel, overall, about life now in these past couple of years? What was one of your worst and best days in your life?

Some of these questions might be hard or uncomfortable for you to answer. You don’t have to, but I really would like to know.

How and when did you start falling in love? How did you tell each other? What was your different stages of love like? When Dumbledore died, what did you feel like? (I felt like it was the end of the world until, I found out you loved each other in the hospital wing.) How do you feel about your friends like Harry, the Weasleys, Dumbledore, Moody, Kingsley, and Sirius?

How many kids do you have now? What do your normal days look like? Does Harry visit often? How is everyone? Could you please give an overall of your life and feelings?

I love you! It would be nice to either meet you or get a reply.

From,

Nessa Hake

 

[And here is their reply to be delivered to our home shortly by the U.S. Postal Service.]

Dictated from a Small and Treasured Double-Portrait
On a Wall of the Potter Home
London, UK

March 5, 2017

Dear Nessa,

Ginny just read your letter to Tonks and I, and now she is kindly writing down our response as we dictate it to her. We were very glad to learn about you and how much you love our story. Of course, we are only the picture-memory of ourselves, but our real selves heard your letter while you were writing it. Our real selves, on the other side of death’s veil, know about the lives and thoughts of everyone who loves their stories. However, neither we, the picture-memories of ourselves, or our real selves on the other side of death could answer your kind questions about what would have happened if we had lived.

We did enjoy hearing your questions about our future lives if we had survived the Battle of Hogwarts, and we love to imagine with you what might have happened. At least, we, our picture-memory selves, love to imagine those future lives with you. We’re not sure what our real selves on the other side of death love to imagine.

Now we hang on the wall of Ginny’s study corner, beside her desk. We were painted from memory by Harry and given as a gift to Ginny on their tenth wedding anniversary. We are a very small painting and not a very good one, but we were made from living memory and filled with love. Teddy also has a painting of us made by Ginny several years earlier. These are the only two paintings that we have to travel between.

You asked how many children we would have if we had lived. Well, Tonks wanted lots of children, and she probably would have gotten her way in the end if we had survived the Battle of Hogwarts. She was always the crazy one of us two. I was afraid to even fall in love, and having just one child terrified me at times. You have to remember that I spent most of my life and energy as a young man just trying not to let my “little problem” cause the death of anyone that I loved. I saw my place in the world as someone who was watching it from the outside (in a way) and trying not to let myself forget that if I became careless or lazy I could end up killing someone whom I dearly loved. I was ruled by fear and loneliness. But Tonks helped to start changing all of that for me. She helped me to learn about some kinds of courage that I had not even known I needed to learn about before I began to love her.

You also asked our imaginary future selves how often Harry comes to visit us. Well, after the Battle of Hogwarts, when Harry and Ginny married, Harry probably would not have been able to visit Tonks and I as often as we would have wanted him to visit. If I had lived longer, I would have been the closest person to a father that Harry still had alive, but Harry was like his own father. Harry would have usually been busy with something that felt more important than visiting old friends, and many times he would have been right. Even now, you notice, we hang by Ginny’s desk, not Harry’s. We were painted by Harry, but our first painting was made by Ginny. We love Harry very much, but he is still learning many things even as a grown man. But you know that Tonks and I were still learning many things when we died. For example, I was still learning the courage that it takes to receive love and to live my life with her. That is maybe one of the saddest things about death. We are still learning who we are in this world, and then we must suddenly be separated from this world.

Well, that is enough about our imaginary future lives if we had been able to keep on living. Of course, we can answer your questions about our past selves much more fully. It would be wonderful to sit and chat with you some time. Chatting with portraits is not as wonderful as chatting with our real selves, but even that will almost certainly be able to happen again one day. You remember how Harry was able to chat with the real Dumbledore at King’s Cross station when Harry was almost killed just before the battle of Hogwarts? There is probably more life than we can image on the other side of the veil between life and death, and this veil does not seem like the kind of thing that will last forever.

We will share a little about our past selves in this letter because you were so kind as to tell us a little about your own wonderful and fascinating life. However, Ginny does need to go very soon, so we cannot let this letter get too much longer.

What was it like fighting Lord Voldemort? Tonks never really let the fact that we were fighting Lord Voldemort be the most important thing about her life. This was one of the many wonderful things about Tonks. She could be sweet and funny even at the most dark and terrible of times. She always seemed to understand that life was greater and more important than death even up to the last moment when death took us in the middle of the battle. This also gave Tonks a kind of bravery. In a way, she loved to fight when she had to because fighting was like running into the wind or running through the waves on a beach. Fighting could be a way of living more than it was a way of killing. Ha! Tonks is making faces at me right now in the portrait and saying that I’m too philosophical. We’ve talked together about you, Nessa, before we wrote this letter, but I am doing most of the dictating to Ginny because it saves time. However, Tonks wants to add that I was one of the greatest heroes in the fight against Lord Voldemort because I had learned so much about darkness in my own hard life. She says that fighting Lord Voldemort was sad, so terribly sad. She wanted so much to see life on the other side of this battle with Lord Voldemort, but she never got that chance. But she says that terrible sadness can train some of the greatest warriors like Dumbledore, Snape, and I. So she laughs and says that she loves sadness. I secretly think she is the philosophical one and that she must love sadness so much that she always keeps it hidden quietly in her heart and all she ever shares with other people is life and joy.

What was your childhood like? Tonks had a very normal childhood (except for her clumsiness which was a little more than normal). She says her childhood felt boring to her sometimes, but I think that her childhood is one of the great gifts that she carries with her and gives her a power that I don’t have. My own childhood was stolen from me by Fenrir Greyback, and in a way the love of Tonks has shown me what I lost and helped me to learn some lessons about life and love that I never had the chance to learn as a child.

How do you feel, overall, about life now in these past couple of years? This question actually seems to be about our future selves, and we can’t really answer it. We would be guessing just like you. It’s fun that your questions actually slip back and forth between our future and our past selves.

What was one of your worst and best days in your life? One of the best days of my life was when Tonks first announced publicly that she loved me. This forced me to deal with my love for her which, for a long time, had terrified me and caused me to run away into the most dangerous and serious work that I could find. Tonks says that one of the best days of her life was when she first caught me watching her without even seeming to notice what I was doing. She didn’t let me know about this until much later, but it is one of the things that made her so sure that I loved her just as much as she loved me (even though I would never admit it to anyone for so long). For both Tonks and I, the worst day of our life was definitely when I left Tonks after learning that we were having a child. I had been afraid all my life of hurting someone whom I loved, and becoming a father made me so afraid that I had just passed on all of my own fears to another person. I couldn’t face this, not even with the help of Tonks, but Harry was a help to me that time. He knew something about what it meant to have no father.

How and when did you start falling in love? How did you tell each other? What was your different stages of love like? Our last answer talks a little about this, and this is a topic we could say way too much about because once we start, the stories just keep going. I think that I started falling in love with Tonks first. I used to find myself thinking about her after we had been working together on assignments for the Order of the Phoenix. Everyone in the order respected her teacher Mad Eye Moody, and so they treated Tonks well. However, I think that everyone was also a little annoyed by how clumsy this young auror could be. We were living a dangerous existence, and a clumsy mistake could easily mean that someone would die. But I couldn’t help noticing that everyone always forgave Tonks and that their trust in her continued to grow each day. She was so generous and humble while at the same time having a kind of bravery that was not like the kind of bravery that I knew about. Fear didn’t seem to exist in her world. She was just always modest, hard-working, and full of fun no matter what we were doing: cooking dinner at 12 Grimmauld Place or dueling with Death Eaters. She says that she loved me from the first time that she saw me but only started to notice what she was feeling after she saw that I was falling in love with her. She says that one of the things she loved about me was that I still obviously had so much to learn about falling in love.

When Dumbledore died, what did you feel like? In our own ways, we each felt a little like you did. We felt that the world had ended in some way. Tonks says that she immediately felt that we would all be doomed to die in our fight against Voldemort but that this wasn’t what really mattered to her. Everyone who she admired most had loved Dumbledore so much. She always suspected that, even though Dumbledore held more sadness in his heart than any of her other great teachers and friends, his mischievous smile came from some place deeper than all that sadness. His smile seemed like an invincible charm and a promise of victory even at the darkest moments. She gave up hope of victory when Dumbledore died, but that didn’t matter compared to her sadness at the loss of his smile. She did not despair herself in any deep way, but she felt that one of the brightest signs of life had gone out of the world. She didn’t know Dumbledore in the same way that I did. I was probably more tempted to despair. Neither of us gave up caring or fighting after Dumbledore died, but we shared a sadness at the loss of everything he had been for us and for so many of our friends.

How do you feel about your friends like Harry, the Weasleys, Dumbledore, Moody, Kingsley, and Sirius? I guess that some of our earlier answers have hinted at how we feel about Harry, Moody, Dumbledore and other dear friends. We each loved them in different ways, and it was wonderful to learn a little more about each of our friends when we began to fall in love with each other. We could share more about each one of them, but we really do need to end this letter now.

We do want to add that you are a wonderful girl, and we are so glad to be loved by you, Nessa. Keep on enjoying the secretly magical people at your school, your cat, your little brother, and your family’s new baby on the way. We’re glad to have been introduced to them all by you. Tonks likes to tease me for reading some muggle philosophy and theology now and then, but I couldn’t help noticing that your letter understood how we were real. You were sad that we had died but you were not wishing that we were real. Maybe you will find our portrait someday. That would be fun, but, if not, we are sure that we will all find something even better. This is something that we all enjoy each day on this earth: life together. We have lost that for now. However, we think that Dumbledore’s smile is a sign that life comes from a deeper place than pain and death, and we hope that somehow life together can be restored. In that life, our story will be with you, we are sure.

Love,

Tonks and Lupin

P.S. Here is a wonderful part of another story about life that Lupin once read by a great muggle author who you probably know about, too. This part of the story reminds us of the way that we are able to speak with each other, even though others cannot see the world that we share:

Celeborn and Galadriel … had journeyed thus far by the west-ways, for they had much to speak of with Elrond and with Gandalf, and here they lingered still in converse with their friends. Often long after the hobbits were wrapped in sleep they would sit together under the stars, recalling ages that were gone and all their joys and labours in the world, or holding council, concerning the days to come. If any wanderer had chanced to pass, little would he have seen or heard, and it would have seemed to him only that he saw grey figures, carved in stone, memorials of forgotten things now lost in unpeopled lands.

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June 11, 2016

Myrrh, Mercy, and Oil: Deciding What to Do with It All

I don’t know what to do with two small zip-lock baggies of myrrh that my wife and I collected last Sunday (June 5, 2016) from a miraculous myrrh-streaming icon of the Theotokos in Taylor, PA. These two swabs of white cotton soaked in a bright yellow-orange oil are shut up tightly inside plastic, but they still give off a pungent, sweet fragrance that definitely includes rose blossom (along with other scents that are less easily discerned, such as two that my children suggested: “honey comb” and “new doll”).

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy this year (March 20) my kids and I went to church, and the priest said that he had thrown out the notes for his homily yesterday evening after he participated in the Triumph of Orthodoxy vespers at a neighboring parish where several churches from the region were gathered together. During this joint prayer service (which celebrates the restoration of icons after a dispute about them within the early church), my priest witnessed the myrrh-streaming icon of the Theotokos that was visiting from Taylor, PA. In addition to watching sweet smelling oil flow from its surface, he heard stories of the many blessings and healings associated with this icon. For several years, visitors to this icon had been healed from cancer and other diseases that doctors had declared incurable by medical means. My priest is Father Peter of St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church in York, PA, and the priest visiting with the the myrrh-flowing Kardiotisa (“The Tender Heart”) icon was Father Mark of St. George’s Orthodox Church in Taylor, PA. (See image of the Kardiotisa icon at bottom of this post.)

One story told by Father Mark touched Father Peter in particular. It was about a teenage girl who struggled with a horribly negative self-image and who faced harsh bullying at school. When anointed by myrrh from the icon, she was delivered from thoughts of self harm and became a strong and confident young lady who was filled with thanksgiving for God, her family, and her friends. Father Peter also relayed how God clearly did not discriminate between various types of believers when it came to granting mercy through this icon. Those healed included Christians from many traditions as well as Muslims and others. Father Peter had seen many other myrrh streaming icons over his decades of ministry, but this experience had clearly moved him in a fresh way.

While he spoke, I was thinking of my mother who was diagnosed over a year ago with stage four breast cancer that doctors said could never be eradicated by medical means. My eight year old son was evidently thinking of my mother as well. He leaned over to me and whispered, “We should take grandma to see this icon.” After the service, he and I joined the line of those going forward to be anointed with the sweet-smelling oil collected from this icon.

As I said, that was March 20, and it was June 5 before we made it there with my mother. Our visit to St. George’s Orthodox Church in Taylor, PA was rescheduled twice. Then, on the morning of the visit, it was difficult to get up on time, to pack up and clean the house where we were staying for the weekend as an extended family, and to keep our cool while following GPS directions that took us via an extremely strange and circuitous route. (Truth be told, I did not fully keep my cool during this last leg of the road trip.) We made it to the Sunday morning service (called the Divine Liturgy) about half way through (near the end of the sermon), and my extended family followed me quietly into seats within the first two rows of pews on the far right side of the sanctuary. We did our best to pray and sing our way through the remainder of the highly elaborate and largely unfamiliar service. Visiting along with my mother and I that morning, there were also my wife and two children, my father, my young twin sisters (the same age as my daughter), and two of my grown siblings, a brother and a sister (a mother of five) who had her baby boy along with us.

At the end of the service, Father Mark had a lengthy announcement about the proposed purchase of a walk-in freezer for the congregation as well as comments about a recent chemical analysis of the myrrh from the streaming icon (an analysis by a Ukrainian association of chemists that had not been sanctioned by the bishop but that had produced some fascinating results that Father Mark detailed quickly to his congregation). He finally concluded the service by inviting anyone to come forward and to receive an anointing with myrrh from the icon. Every member of my family and extended family came forward, and a visiting priest gave the blessing and the anointing, placing a small dab of myrrh in the sign of the cross on each of our foreheads with his thumb. As we were all going up front for this, my wife checked that all of our family members had noticed the location of the streaming icon near the center of the sanctuary. Its entire surface was visibly wet with myrrh, and some oil could be seen on the outside of the icon’s protective case.

My mother needed to use the restroom after this, and I hung out near the sanctuary hoping to catch a word with Father Mark, who I had corresponded with several times over the past few weeks in preparation for this visit. He was busy with a portion of his congregation offering a prayer service for a recently departed member of their church. I checked on my family situated in the social hall attached to the church and returned to the sanctuary, where I waited and finally had an opportunity to greet Father Mark. He was praying with a devout and emotional young couple who were clearly also there to seek help from Mary at her myrrh-streaming icon. Father Mark was also busy with some of his deacons and several remaining members of the congregation, lifting the protective cover from the icon and examining the cotton swabs packed into a tray along the icon’s bottom edge to collect the myrrh. He and several others were expressing joy at the quantity of myrrh as it dripped from the protective case itself, and one woman reached out to catch the drops before they fell to the floor.

With some persistence, I was able to get Father Mark’s direct attention and introduce myself. He seemed to vaguely remember corresponding with me, and then he warmly welcomed my entire family and extended family. He asked each person to hold out their hands as he held up the icon and waited for one drop of myrrh to fall into the hands of my father, mother, four siblings, wife, son, and finally my little nephew. My daughter quietly declined. During this time, as the drops fell one-by-one into outstretched hands, two older women from the congregation were alternately praying out loud and chattering with members of my family (telling them many stories about the icon). Father Mark invited us to leave any written prayer requests in little decorated blue boxes at the back of the church. These requests would be read out loud in the sanctuary and placed into a large wooded chest that was kept near the icon. One of the elder ladies explained that a member of the congregation had given this chest to the church for this purpose and let us know that hey had another chest stored within their altar area that was already filled with paper slips holding prayers from previous visitors. In one last effort, I asked Father Mark if he would pray specifically for my mother right then and there. He agreed and prayed for her out loud before the Mother of God’s myrrh-streaming icon. Father Mark was a generous and unassuming man who radiated simple joy and good humor. I felt bad to ask for so much, but he gave graciously.

As we were finally leaving, several members of the congregation came forward to receive pieces of cotton that were torn off, one-by-one, from the larger swabs that were packed into the trough at the base of the icon. These were soaked with myrrh and were placed in small zip-lock bags for members of the congregation to take with them. My mother and sister hesitated at first. However, Father Mark was clearly liberal in the distribution of these bags, and they each ended up with one. My grown sister overheard Father Mark telling a little girl in the congregation to take one with her and teasing the girl by telling her to go and tell her brother that Father Mark said he couldn’t have one today. My wife and I each got a separate bag as well.

Scripture is full of references to oil used for cooking, with sacrifices, and for anointing. All four Gospels speak of the myrrh bearing women who came to anoint Jesus with the same kind of expensive perfumes that Mary had poured over his feet and wiped off with her hair not long before his crucifixion. These ladies are described beautifully in the book Christ in His Saints by Patrick Henry Reardon. He explains that they spent a lot of money and some no doubt risked the wrath of their unbelieving husbands to get up before sunrise and take this myrrh to anoint the dead body of their Messiah whom they had seen placed within a cave behind a massive stone and under the watch of a professional Roman guard. How they planned to move the stone and get past the soldiers is unclear, but one thing is clear: they had not imaged the possibility of a resurrection. When they arrived, however, the stone was gone, and they met angels instead of soldiers. Reardon ends his account of these devoted women with an intentional note of irony by asking us to consider “all of that myrrh gone to waste.”

In 1 Kings 17 and then again in 2 Kings 4, we read of first Elijah and then his disciple Elisha making a jar of oil flow continually in the service of God as well as an old widow who is seeking to care for her destitute family. In a vision from Zechariah 4, we again see an endless supply of oil. In this account, two olive trees provide a continual stream of oil to keep a beautiful lamp stand alight with seven flames (like the lamp in the tabernacle and temple as well as the seven lamps that represent each of the churches written to by Jesus Christ at the beginning of St. John’s Apocalypse).

In many of these Biblical references, the oil is connected to the Spirit of God bringing light and life to all His creatures. And there is also another theme, one of anointing with medicines and perfumes. The word “mercy” in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word is based on an older Greek root meaning olive oil, a substance that was used as a soothing agent for bruises and wounds (as we see in the story of the Samaritan who was a good neighbor).

Keith Green sings: “My heart is hard, my prayers are cold / And I know how I ought to be / Alive to You and dead to me // Oh what can be done for an old heart like mine / Soften it up with oil and wine / The oil is You, Your Spirit of love.”

And before this, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote within an astounding poem: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / …It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?”

This song and this poem both capture a lot, in different ways, about God’s presence as it has been mediated to us all daily, in unexpected ways. After writing all this, however, I am not much closer to making a decision about what to do with my bag of myrrh. My wife and I have shared a few ideas with each other, both immediately afterward and in the following days. Regardless, I am simply grateful to have had its beautiful smell in my home for this week and to be faced with the strange dilemma that it brings. I’ll probably try to share my myrrh somehow (the wise men gave away all of their myrrh after all), and I will also seek ideas from others who are older and wiser than myself. And your suggestions, dear reader, are welcome too.

[Note: shown in the photo at the top of this post are the two bags that I mention, containing cotton swabs soaked with myrrh. Also in the picture is my son’s small prayer book (a recent gift to him from my mother) and two small (prayer-card-sized) icons gifted to us by friends about a year ago (depicting Hawaii’s Myrrh-Streaming Iveron Icon and Saint Elizabeth the New Marty who is a granddaughter of Queen Victoria).]

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August 11, 2014

you know the ghosts are there when you see as they see

Ghosts attend such events. I don’t know how else to say it. This was 1967. Mr. Feltner had been dead for two years, and Virgil for twenty-two. You know the ghosts are there when you see as they see, not as they saw but as they see. You feel them with you, not as they were but as they are. I never shed a tear that day, but all day long I saw Margret as her father and her grandfather saw her. I loved her that day with my love but also theirs. …I saw her as as Virgil and Mr. Feltner saw her, and I thought I would perish with the knowledge of loss and of having.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (118-119).

March 29, 2013

photo of the Shroud

C.S. Lewis in a letter to Sister Penelope from Oct 9, 1941:

…Thank you very much for the photo of the Shroud. It raises a whole question on which I shall have to straighten out my thought one of these days.
Yours sincerely,
Clive Lewis

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