Cynthia Long is a librarian, folklorist, and writer with a focus in Celtic folklore, mythology, and history. She earned her M.F.A. in Fiction from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Penn., in May 2016. In August 2017 she presented at Doxacon, the Orthodox Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, on the topic of fairy tales and the famous C.S. Lewis quotation that says, "Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again." Cynthia was Chrismated in September 2012 and attends St. George Church in the Philadelphia suburbs, where she tends the parish library.
It was last Spring, just after Pascha. A Sunday at the conclusion of Liturgy. Our priest was announcing the forthcoming daytime services for the next few weeks. I wish I could attend a mid-week liturgy, I’d thought. But I was too busy at work.
Then, two days later, I learned that my annual employment contract was not being renewed, and I was out of a job. (Be careful what you hope for.) It was the best bad news I’ve ever received. After working long hours for months in a literally and emotionally toxic office, so busy I’d missed nearly all of the Lenten and Holy Week services, suddenly, I didn’t have to worry about my workplace anymore. It was a gift, even if it didn’t immediately feel like one.
At first, unemployment was hard. It was admittedly a blow to my pride. Equally as significant, all my friends work; there is no one at home to speak with during the day. Even taking graduate classes and applying for jobs wasn’t enough to completely fill my time. I started tutoring a friend’s daughter, but only for one or two hours a week. I tried to keep busy by working on our parish library, but cataloging and processing books is largely a solitary endeavor. By Friday afternoons, I was desperate for conversation.
In his book Beginning To Pray, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom points out that “it is absolutely pointless to ask God for something which we ourselves are not prepared to do.” Now I go to as many of the midweek services as I can, cognizant of the privilege of time. Attending Tuesday matins and Thursday Third Hour have given my weeks a pattern and consistency that I need.
Each year, the sudden arrival of the Nativity Fast comes to me as a surprise. A lifetime of Protestant habits has led me to expect the abridged four weeks of a Western Advent. Once again (because I’m a slow learner), my priest has reminded me that the Nativity Fast—that all fasting—is not solely about food. One point in eating more simply is to have more time to devote to prayer, reading scripture, and even reading other uplifting books like Metropolitan Bloom’s.
Last week, I was able to help deliver the Thanksgiving meals for charity that our Orthodox Christian Fellowship college students had collected and assembled; I wouldn’t have been able to participate if I were still working full-time. I am grateful for my current schedule flexibility.
As a convert, fasting menu-planning remains quite a challenge. I have a limited recipe repertoire. But as my priest said—to paraphrase—that’s not the point. Like Lazarus’ sisters, I am still learning to put aside Martha’s kitchen duties and be more like her sister Mary, being still and learning from Christ.
Just as my hopefully temporary unemployment is a break from my regular pattern of working to enable me to focus on prayer, service, and updating my skills and knowledge during this phase of my life, so too the fasting seasons of the Church are a planned interruption to remind us to pray and focus more intentionally on God. It’s a re-set button, like spring cleaning or back-to-school, to remind us of what is truly important. Personally, I need this reminder.
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