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Nearly Orthodox: On being a modern woman in an ancient tradition Paperback – July 25, 2014
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With uncommonly keen insight born of uncommonly keen honesty, Angela Doll Carlson has given us an uncommon pilgrim's journey, one that might actually serve, comfort, and assist other pilgrims along the way.
--Scott Cairns, author of Short Trip to the Edge and Idiot Psalms
With deft, poetic writing, Angela Doll Carlson recounts the struggle to know herself, to know herself in God, and to know herself in and through the ancient tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. Her story resounds with truth, humor and the desire to encounter the holy. Highly recommended.
--Mary C. Earle, author of The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness
Angela Doll Carlson has been a chain-smoking poet, a singer in a punk band, a tattooed mother who types film scripts while nursing her infant daughter. Indeed, she's unorthodox in almost every sense of the word . . . except for the one that ultimately comes to matter. A wise and beautiful memoir.
--David McGlynn, author of A Door in the Ocean and The End of the Straight and Narrow
Because [this writer] is a poet, her deeply felt and unsparingly described progress as a seeker resounds with freshness. There is some extraordinarily authentic writing here, some insights of profound simplicity and truth, . . . a story penetratingly painful but revelatory. She tells us that Orthodoxy settled into her, soul and skin. And we believe her.
--Luci Shaw, author of Scape: Poems, and Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey; Writer in Residence, Regent College
I love reading stories like Carlson's because they remind us to recognize faith as a long journey, as something that continues ever on....Angela Doll Carlson's is just one voice among many, but a voice attesting to a unique and somewhat mysterious tradition. Like this book, Orthodoxy is a journey of beauty and poetry, weaving and wrapping its way throughout all of one's life.
About the Author
Angela and her husband, David, currently raise their four children in the urban wilds of Chicago with some measurable success.
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I, too, am a woman convert to Orthodoxy but my story is very different. What drew me to Orthodoxy was its theological integrity. Therefore, as a seeker I would not have found this book particularly helpful. So I would suggest that this book does an outstanding job of presenting Orthodox spiritual practice from the view of a contemporary seeker, but does not have much to say about the theology.
Therefore, I would recommend it to seekers who want a well laid out spiritual practice, but those whose interests are largely theological should look for other books. . .there are many of them out there.
Wait… don’t stop reading if you think this is only a book for Orthodox Christians. Or Christians in general. It’s so much more than that. It’s a book, as the Orthodox poet and theologian Scott Cairns says, that might “comfort, serve and assist other pilgrims along the way.” Yes, it’s about Angela’s spiritual pilgrimage and it’s filled with candid looks into a pilgrim’s honest grappling with issues many of us face, but few of us talk (or write) about.
Like fasting and being clean. Like confession and communion (and who’s allowed and who’s not). Like how prayer cleans your nous and how saints open windows when God closes doors. But ultimately it’s about freedom, although Angela doesn’t use that word. I almost chose “freedom” as my “OneWord365” for 2015, so maybe I look for it everywhere now. But I don’t expect to find it within the rules—or the structure—of the Church. Angela learned something about this from her friend, Beth, an artist and fellow homeschooling mom who eventually sent her daughter to a traditional school:
Beth had tried homeschooling…. Her artist-mom temperament made her a natural life teacher…. It sounded good on paper, this pairing of freedom and bonding and making the world a vast learning environment…. When Beth told me about the new plan to send Grace to school… the first thing she said was that Grace needed structure. They both needed it…. Because it allowed them both to be wild in their art lives.
Wild in their art lives. Structure provides that freedom? Angela points out that G. K. Chesterton agrees that it’s needed for “good things to run wild.”
One reason I started writing (painting) icons is also one of the reasons I quit—because writing icons requires lots of structure. There are many rules and even Church canons governing the process, and at first I found comfort in those rules. But eventually I realized that I was hiding within the liturgical art form when everything in my being was crying out to be “wild in my art life.” Iconography isn’t for everyone. Neither is Orthodoxy.
Which is why even after her chrismation Angela feels that she is still only “nearly Orthodox”:
“My chrismation didn’t fix me, because I will always be in need of healing from the bleeding wounds I brought into the faith with me the day I was welcomed. I am always going to be healing, always practicing the faith, just nearly Orthodox—almost there, within reach, welcome at the feast, given food for the journey—because the road is long and winding, and it was never about the destination. It was always about the road.”
In my own personal experience I have to say that it IS about the destination for me. If it was only about the road, I might not have made it. The road was (and often still is) too difficult. Too full of dangerous curves and unsafe passages. Sometimes I don’t feel that the destination (the Orthodox Church) was worth the journey, which damaged my soul as much or more than my years leading up to that journey. But I can still appreciate Angela’s story. And it’s so well written that it should be read and enjoyed for its own sake. She figured out a way to be “wild in her art” and to produce a memoir that is truly a work of art.