Humans of Ancient Faith is a series of mini-interviews designed to introduce you to the many wonderful human beings who make this ministry possible. We asked the same 5 questions in each interview, and let the interviewee choose a sixth question. Today’s guest is author Bev. Cooke.
If you were named for your defining characteristic, what word or phrase would be your name?
I had no idea, so I polled the family for this. According to them all: Tenacity Cheerful. It sounds like something some Puritan would name their child (or what Sir Terry Pratchett might name a character). But apparently, that’s what I am. Tenacious and cheerful. (And apparently these two are mostly mutually exclusive. While I can be cheerful while being tenacious, it’s rare. According to the family, I range from solemn and serious to terrifying in my determination to get the job done.)
What is your earliest specifically Orthodox memory?
Our first ever attendance at a liturgy. It was before we converted, or had children, and it was the midnight Pascha service. It’s a blurry, episodic set of memories: riding in the car to the church with my hysterical 3-or-4-year-old (just woken up and not happy about it) goddaughter; pitch black darkness, the scent of incense and flowers, sound of muted voices and rustling cloth, footsteps on hardwood and linoleum floors; spreading lights, smiling, joyous and tired faces rising out of the darkness; joy, singing at the top of our lungs, a lot of “Christ is Risen” and roof shaking “Indeed He is Risen” responses; as baskets were blessed, the children screaming in excitement and laughter, racing around to be drenched in the storms, waves, tsunamis of holy water flung every which way. Lots and lots and lots of sausages and wine and cheese and butter and eggs and laughter and hugs in the absolute dead of night, which was now light and alive with His resurrected presence.
What’s your favorite story about your patron saint?
I think it’s the one about St. Macrina the Younger (my saint) and her younger brother, St. Basil the Great. He’d come back from school in Athens, where he and St. Gregory Nazianzus had been wowing everybody with their brilliance. When he came home, according to his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil was “excessively puffed up with the thought of his own eloquence” and “in his own inflated opinion he surpassed all the leading luminaries” who (according to Basil) were really just country bumpkins who knew nothing. In other words, he acted like a conceited twit. Macrina took Basil in hand and read him the riot act and brought him down three or four pegs. She pointed out to him just Who exactly was responsible for Basil’s brilliance, talent and gifts, and suggested (in no uncertain terms) that Basil owed God big time for that. She told him that his time would be better spent using those gifts and talents for God’s kingdom, rather than to punch up his own ego. It was a major part of the reason he chose the monastic life over a career of rhetoric and teaching, coming as it did right after he’d read Eustathius’s (an old family friend’s) book on the monastic life.
I love it because it shows that saints are people too, with all the failings, frustrations and weaknesses the rest of us struggle with. St. Macrina had a temper, and it showed. She had a blunt, straightforward way of talking that didn’t spare people’s feelings, especially if faith was involved (more than once, she had pointed out Gregory of Nyssa’s failings to him in just the same, blunt, no-holds-barred kind of way), and she could be quite hard on people by being so outspoken and undiplomatic. St. Basil wasn’t this perfect, humble, closed-mouth someone who is so revered and important and intimidating and impressive, and saintly. He was a person, with failings and weaknesses that needed correction, yet both of them loved God so much that we still revere them today.
It shows me that even we, as broken and fallen as we are, can reach the heights they did, because they were just as broken and fallen, and look what God did with them. It reassures me, because I tend to be as blunt and undiplomatic as Macrina, and often end up hurting people when I don’t mean to. So this reminds me that she knows about that, from the inside, and can help me overcome that failing.
What’s the title of a conference Ancient Faith has not yet hosted that you would absolutely attend?
Wow. That’s a hard one. The content creator’s conference is a major, major blessing. It’s so amazing to be able to gather with people who share my faith, know the life, and write or make things to help other Orthodox in their striving toward God, and to be better at what they do and in their own journey of faith. It is so neat to be around people who love God so much they’ll do anything to get closer to Him, and understand that drive and desire, and can show me, either in the talks or just in conversation and being together, how to do that. I’m still hoping to get to a Women’s retreat, and I can’t think of anything other than those that would give me more (which is not to say there aren’t any areas I’d benefit from, if someone else came up with an idea!)
What’s a book or movie that you’d highly recommend? What did you like about it?
Any book by Sir Terry Prachett, but especially any book in his Discworld series. They’re not only really great fantasy, and funny, but surprisingly from an atheistic humanist, they’re stuffed full of practical Orthodox theology. He shows us what humility is, what dying to self is, what true evangelism is, what mercy can and should be, what the criteria for sainthood has to be, how God’s strength can be shown through our weaknesses. He talks about how true faith has to burn hard and bright and unmistakably. One of his characters even shows us what it is to be Equal to the Apostles!
Two other books, The Shield of Psalmic Prayer, and The Psalms of David – both by Donald Sheehan. The Psalms are his translation, and are marvelous – he was a poet and a teacher of poetry. To have the Psalms translated with such care and attention, by someone who knows the languages and in addition is familiar with poetry and its demands is a wonderful thing. And his Shield is a revelatory meditation on the Psalms and the work and discoveries he made while doing the translations.
If you could have one wish for your work, what would it be?
That I could learn all the things I need and want to know to keep writing books that will draw people (and me) closer to the saints and to God.
About Bev. Cooke
Bev. Cooke has been Orthodox for almost 20 years, and was sure the Chrismation service was just last week. Yet, with each additional year, heck, with every additional day she feels even more gratitude that she’s been led to this ancient faith that has so much to give to the modern world. Writing from an increasingly Orthodox mindset has brought her delight, joy and struggle. Her latest efforts are included in the women’s devotional, Darkness is as Light, edited by Summer Kinard and published by Park End Books. She’s working on a fantasy novel for mid-grade Orthodox kids, and contemplating her first collaboration on a new take on saint’s lives for children and children at heart. She and her husband attend All Saints of Alaska parish in Victoria BC, Canada and are the minions of Sampson, the household feline.