An Essay For Lent
As I was watching the morning news I was reminded of my childhood in a remote island-village in Alaska. Country singer Clint Walker was promoting his new book titled, “Jesus Was a Country Boy”, a story of faith, family, and forgiveness. Mr. Walker wrote this book about his battle with being diagnosed with MS not very long ago. When he learned of it the prognosis was very devastating, as he was told he would be in a wheel chair in four years and dead in eight years. Luckily he’s still here and still walking. If I had written a similar book when I was 12 years old it could have been titled, “Jesus Was an Orthodox Village Boy”.
St. George Island, Alaska could not be anymore remote and isolated from the rest of the world. As children we thought everything in this world came from Seattle as five times a year all food and necessary living stuff were shipped by sea out of Seattle. There were times when stuff like sugar, coffee, flour---had to be rationed by the local store because of shortages before the next shipment of supplies. There was no airstrip to turn to. Our village had only one church and that was the Orthodox Church. Everyone in the village was Orthodox except for a handful of government workers from the “States” or from “Outside” as Alaskans say. Even if we were isolated from the razzle-dazzle of the outside world we managed to find a way to change the village life during Great Lent. Here we were just living with the basics of life and we had to give up more? What made it acceptable and not unusual was that the entire village went into a “Lenten Mode”!
Not only did we change our diets, the organized village movies which were once or twice a week were stopped. The periodic community dances (yes and with live music) were also stopped. And we could not even play the phonograph and musical instruments for the entire Lent. Every teenage kid I’m sure was dusting off the phonograph records and were ready on Easter Sunday afternoon—after the Easter Vespers!
What got my attention with the Clint Walker interview is that he mentioned that he was raised around the Catholic and Protestant faith. And he said like many who were raised in a family that practiced a faith in God he drifted away. And he confessed he never thought he would have to lean on his faith in a time of strife.
This is exactly what happens to people who were raised in an Orthodox village and became over-taken by the razzle-dazzle of the outside world—especially in large cities! They tend to remember the Church when they want their children baptized, sometimes for marriages, and of course they want Orthodox funerals. To some Russian Orthodoxy was a village religion and irrelevant in the city and modern world. Clint Walker’s statement of “leaning on faith” especially struck me hard. Our faith in God is a Spiritual Cane. A cane we all need to walk straight and upright in our spiritual and daily life.
And I’ll finish this essay with a warm note. Once when I was about six years old, on the first Monday of Great Lent I found a small dish of butter in the cupboard that my mother forgot to put away. So I buttered my bread and turned it over and put jelly on the other side. As I was walking out the kitchen with my “jellied bread”, my mother said—“hey—what’s that in your hand?” I said. “bread with jelly”. She said, “turn it over”. And I had to show her the buttered side---and she said--”throw it away!” And even as a slice of home made bread was a valued item I complied!