Welcome to My Orthodox Family.Com! Tell us who you are.
I’m Bev. Cooke, a writer of various things, including mid-grade and young adult books,
akathists, opinion pieces and short stories. I’m married, and my husband and I have raised two children who are now adults and on their own, so I’m in the autumn of my life (not yet near winter, though!). We converted to the Orthodox faith in the early 2000s, and while Al and I have stuck with it, the kids have left the church and are living in a very secular way, which is a constant heartache for me.
What do you most enjoy sharing? What do you feel most called to share?
I go back and forth. I want to share things about my journey in faith, but don’t, much, for
reasons outlined below in the next question, things about my family, who are very protective of their privacy, so I often can’t, and my general uneasiness with the entire world of social media keeps me vacillating. It’s tendency to make everything about “me” and “my” centrality in the universe, which fosters pride and vainglory and a very skewed picture of the perfection we all want to have and be. I’m also not sure of the values I see on social media, or online generally. And because social media is addictive. If I’m not careful, I don’t have a real, in the flesh life. I spend all my time on social media and nothing gets done, so I have to ration it and be careful with it. I enjoy and feel called to share things I find funny, usually memes from others; thought-provoking (especially when it comes to my faith) but not incendiary items (I try avoid the hot button issues), things that I do, that I’m happy with, like my needle crafts, things I see and hear on my walks, bits and pieces of my life that are difficult, or striking in some way, or that puzzle me or affect me. I want, especially now, to share peace, calm, light and good, redemption and courage. I want ME to be there, not an image of who I am, but me: both the good and weak, the failures and successes, the problems and the easy parts, the joys and the sorrow.
The world of social media is complex. What do you see as difficult and as redemptive about sharing your journey in this way?
Difficult in that sometimes I’d like to address some of the really hot issues. I do have opinions and on some topics I’m impassioned, but I’m also very aware that words can hurt, especially when you don’t mean them to, and that combining impassioned feelings about a topic and having expertise in using words can lead to really bad outcomes. Difficult in that I’d like to share more about my faith and my journey in faith, but it feels as though I’m boasting about how “holy” I am (I’m not, at all, holy) or that I’m somehow wiser and more entitled to lecture others on how they should be living their faith – which is completely wrong and it’s not true, either (that I’m wiser or more entitled). Difficult in that even when I do think about sharing something about my faith, I often feel that it’s so obvious, everybody already knows it, so why beat a dead horse? And that the Fathers and Mothers and other people of our faith have said it better than I ever could. And because who am I to say these things? I’m a kid in the faith – not a baby, but certainly not as old in faith or as experienced and wise as others! I might qualify as a baba by age and my occasional use of a cane (haven’t whacked anyone with it yet, but it’s only a matter of time! <grin>), but in the faith, I’m not even 20 yet! Redemptive in that sometimes I share anyway, and find that through my words, God has touched people and given them something they needed and wanted. Redemptive in that both by reading their posts, and in their responses to mine, I learn about my faith from all the people I see on social media, and find all kinds of wonderful wisdom and lessons from everyone! Redemptive in that we have been able to discuss contentious things, respectfully, carefully and have learned from each other and taught each other things we didn’t know. Redemptive because sometimes you see that people who seem to be on opposite extremes aren’t looking the right way. They’re looking along the continuum, from their extreme position at 10, all the way past their people to the middle to 0 and then along the other side down to -10. Like it’s a number line. But then they – I – turn around, and find it’s not at all a line! It’s a circle, and when we’ve turned around, there the enemy is – close to where we – I – am, sometimes right next to me, just for different reasons! And healing happens. Redemptive because I’m in an Orthodox community – my people. They get me. In the world, I have to deal with non-Orthodox, and non-religious, who range from “just don’t get it” but will ask questions, to “just don’t get it and don’t want to know” to “just don’t get it and are now going on the attack.” We attack each other in the faith, too, to my sorrow, but at least we have a common language and a common set of expectations and can hold each other to account based on common values and ethics. And it’s family and we share a common set of beliefs that we don’t have to explain or justify or defend. We get us.
What is your earliest, distinctly Orthodox memory?
The earliest was at the chrismation of some friends, long before we became Orthodox (it was actually my introduction to the Orthodox faith) and all I can remember is that it took place at a university chapel, I had no clue what was transpiring except that my friends were being brought into this faith I knew nothing about, and it was at some mid-afternoon service (an early Vespers, maybe?) and partway through the service, just before the chrismation started, this very tall, very lean, very long-haired, very bearded (he looked far too young to have a beard that long!) young man appeared in the entrance. He did nothing but cross himself and bow for the entire rest of the service. As the dismissal began, he whirled on his heels and left. The most vivid memory, though is of the very first Pascha I attended with those same friends a year or less later and is my second Orthodox memory. The children were woken up at 10 pm or so, and the littlest one (about 3, if memory serves) had hysterics from the time she was wakened until well into the service. I remember very slow-moving people arriving with covered baskets and sleepy greetings and tired smiles, but a feeling of excitement held in tight check running through the entire group. I remember low lighting, and chanting that sounded ancient and deep and touched my soul. Then darkness, and a single flame came out of the altar, and I watched as one flame after another sprang up. I remember a complete stranger tapped me on the shoulder, and with a smile that came from heaven, lit my candle and I passed both on
to my husband and he passed them to the next person. And one flame at a time, one joyous, heavenly smile at a time the entire room was lit. I remember the shouts of joy as people proclaimed the faith – Christ is Risen! And how the tight energy and excitement burst out and every single evidence of sleepiness, tiredness, hysterics, frustration and sorrow vanished into the joy that is Pascha. And I remember the sharing of the baskets and the food and wine and good fellowship after, at the 3 am Paschal feast, and wanting to belong to all of that.
What do you hope will be the mark you leave on the world as you pass through it?
I don’t know. I used to want to be generationally famous – so that someone would see their children or grandchildren reading my books and exclaim – I remember that book! I loved it! I love all her stuff! I wanted to win awards and be currently famous. I wanted to be a better mother than my mother had been and raise my children to be faithful Orthodox. I wanted to be loved and accepted and special to people. A lot of that has happened. I am kind of well known, and I’ve seen daughters reading my books that their mothers love. I’m not as good a mother as I should have been, but through the grace of God, I had more tools to be a better mother than mum was able to be. I am loved and accepted and special to people even though I often don’t deserve their love. And while I haven’t won any awards, I’ve figured out that I’d rather have hugs. Awards don’t hug very well. Now? If, through my presence or my work I can leave someone loving God a little more and wanting to grow closer to Him, that’s more than enough.