Perhaps I’m not the only mother of a child who struggled to read, nor the only to find that graphic novels, comics, and Big Nate style hybrid books were part of the key to helping such a child to ease into reading, spurred on by visual story to decode the text that would give the key to understanding.
When I met the author of The Cross and the Stag, Gabriel Wilson, at a writer’s conference, I was intrigued by his project with Ancient Faith, the Among the Saints Series. Graphic novels with beautifully rendered illustrations that tell the stories of our beloved saints? I immediately thought of my newly-illumined eleven year old son and how much he’d appreciate this way of learning about the saints.
The Cross and the Stag tells the story of the life of St. Eustathius, his wife, and two sons through their conversion to Christianity, their seemingly insurmountable trials and tests of faith, and their martyrdom circa AD 118-126. I had heard his story before, but somehow seeing it illustrated placed and grounded my imagination into the scene, the horrors he faced as he lost all that he held dear were inescapably before my eyes, indelible as ink.
As a mother raising six children, I am so incredibly grateful for every tool available to teach my kids about the heroes of our faith. Finishing the book in one sitting, my eleven year old wrote out his thoughts, among them: “Never give up God, even in the hardest times. It’s hard for me to find God when I miss a playdate or something, but St. Eustathius lost his cattle, servants, grain, and got his wife taken away from him. He thought his kids were dead, but he kept praying to God.” What a powerful example of perseverance for all of us to aspire to!
It is one of the first thoughts as my eyes blink their way into the morning light, as my body stretches taut and I yawn, expanding every cubic inch of bronchial space. “What day is it?” I wonder, which also means, “What can I make for breakfast?” My belly rumbles at the thought of buttered toast, coffee with heavy cream, eggs over easy, the yolks running vibrant yellow ochre. My brain settles the calculation, and oh, it’s Wednesday. That means black coffee, peanut butter toast, no eggs, no yellow ochre pooling in the plate.
I didn’t grow up this way, and it doesn’t come naturally to any of us to limit our consumption of certain foods as a part of our spiritual discipline. I’m a very bumbling beginner, often failing to plan enough in advance to have a fasting-friendly meal ready for my large family. I keep trying to remind myself to just keep getting a little better, week by week, each Wednesday and Friday and during the other extended fasts of the church calendar, not missing the forest for the trees. Keep picking up the rhythm of soaking beans on Tuesday night, of keeping coconut cream around to make the coffee less harsh, of finding recipes that give us a good protein boost that can be assembled quickly during sports seasons. I am just beginning to get the mechanics right, and have far to go to fast well, physically and spiritually, to fast from envy, from sloth, from all that hinders growth in Christ.
My small offerings feel like handing bouquets of dandelions to a king, small bundles of yellow ochre. I can only offer these little, imperfect sacrifices to the One who offers me Himself. It’s humbling in the extreme to struggle to even give up my dandelions, the small comforts of foods I love. The cream in my coffee and the eggs on my plate, running into pools of yellow ochre.
This chant pulls worship up and out of my soul like no other. And the tears too, yes, but when worship is pulled up, the tears oft are pulled right along.
Try singing along with this and see if the same doesn’t happen to you (it’s repetitive, so you can catch the words easily). I find that my most full-throated singing is set free. It was recorded within the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
“For His mercy endureth forever and ever, Alleluia!”