Saturday, June 10, 2017

Red balloons were tied to the end of each pew; the atmosphere was festive. During the brief children's message, the pastor distributed pinwheels in patriotic colors. With the price tag still attached to each, the kids blew extra hard to get them to spin 'round. Thank God the windows were open.

We're working on a version of "This Little Light of Mine," that, pardon me for thinking, would have fit the mood. But we aren't ready with it. Instead, we opened with one of the choir director's favorites, "Days of Elijah." He canceled our regular rehearsal Tuesday night for Shavuot, assuming everyone knows the Hillsong praise tune. But I don't. So I used a YouTube to learn it. When I saw him Sunday morning, I asked how the cheesecake was.

Not only was it a Sunday for communion but also there were candidates for confirmation. People around me were calling it the never-ending service. No one with any lectionary experience would volunteer to read on Pentecost, the Acts 2 passage with all those place names and nationalities. But the lector cleverly left off those tricky lines and the reading still made sense.

The youth reaffirmed their baptismal covenant and then the pastor called upon all the ordained members of the congregation to come forward to lay hands. I muttered something like, "Well, that's going to be just about everyone" and I wasn't wrong. Cindy's husband remained in the choir box with me even though the others were calling to him to join. If not for that kindness, I would have been sitting there alone.

They were to say a brief statement of faith as they laid hands but everyone left bulletins that had the wording in their pews. So rather than retrieve the bulletin and come up again, everyone just returned to their seats and said the words from there. I looked the words over and they looked harmless so I said them as well. (I participate as much as I can.) But afterwards the pastor informed us that the words come from the Book of Confessions, so maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I really thought it was just something the pastor had cobbled together for this occasion and not anything official.

It did my heart good to sing along on what they call an "anthem," in this case Fr. Foley's "One Bread, One Body." They love the song as much as I do. I had been late enough arriving that the pastor followed in right behind. We were caught behind bicyclists and an EMS vehicle on the main road before turning in. She commented that she'd thought a car with a "Catholic Radio" bumper sticker would be heading to St. Joe's. I told her 10 o'clock Sunday is between the services there and I helped her bring in her things. The bumper sticker simply reflects my sense of irony and nothing more.

That evening, a Pentecost rally took place at an AG church outside Lakewood. I used to drive past this church every week on my way to school. At the time, the church was practically in the middle of nowhere but it's built up now. I meant to stay only long enough to get a sense of the event. I had an impression going in that met with justification. For instance, I observed a worshipper spinning in a doorway that led behind the stage, her arms out and sometimes raised, her head occasionally thrown back when she wasn't looking at her reflection in the door's glass windows. She was in the minority, however. Frankly, Pentecostalism has aged as an institution. And given its timeline, that would be expected.

I knew there would be a collection for a couple of sponsored church plants. I gave a nominal amount, not thinking about Catholics but rather about the pastors of already existing AG churches that would feel the new competition. I noted flags from around the world on display, Israel and the USA were on center. Should I anonymously donate a Vatican flag? Were they aware of the pope's Pentecost plans?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Watching and listening again to Martin Scorsese's Silence, things come to mind that I want to put in words.

The five senses play a part in Ignatian spirituality, I learned while attending an Oremus workshop this past week. Even before learning that, however, I caught references in the movie to seeing, smelling, tasting. The movie's soundtrack is practically overwhelming with the sound of crickets!1

Consider these examples from the movie that mention the human senses. When the Jesuit priests encounter the Japanese peasant Christians, they recoil, presumably because of the odor from an inadequate hygiene. On top of this, Kichijiro smells from his alcoholism, "I know, I smell of sin."2 At the Buddhist temple, the interpreter asks Fr. Rodrigues whether he is affected by the smell of incense burning or perhaps the smell of meat being offered. The trip to Hirado brings them close to the sea, "I am sure the air must feel good." The most significant mention of the senses, however, is during Kichijiro's pre-confession confession, what he remembers of his family's execution3.
"Wherever I go, I see the fire and smell the flesh."
Kichijiro is haunted by this eight year old memory, of course! Almost certainly, the memory has become a part of his meditation, his prayer life. He admits how the priests' arrival began to change this for him:
"After I saw you and Padre Garrpe for the first time...I thought...I started to believe...that God might take me back. Because in...in my dreams, the fire was no longer so bright."
During the boat ride to Goto, Fr. Rodrigues brings sea water to his lips while mediating on Christ's crucifixion, “I imagine Your Son, nailed to the cross. My mouth tastes like vinegar.” The human senses augment the priest's spiritual imagination. The overly salted fish served up by Kichijiro makes Fr. Rodrigues thirsty and weak, "The fish was so salty. I...I thirst."

During Fr. Rodrigues's initial encounter with the Inquisitor, Inoue, he looks him steadily in the eyes as he speaks to the Japanese peasant Christians in their native language. The Japanese peasant Christians do not dare raise their faces up to him. After the peasants are dismissed, Fr. Rodrigues answers whether he understood the Inquisitor's words by saying, "I saw your eyes." The Inquisitor calls Rodrigues's bluff, an attempt at covering up his poor language skills, but his regard for him is evident. Characters look to heaven occasionally as they speak. They look upon religious images, they touch and fashion crosses and rosaries, they take communion.

The concern of the Christian peasants of whether God sees them, even though they "hide the Kirishitan images ... Even though we do not have a priest? ... God still sees us, yes?" is contrasted with the repeated use of the words "hidden" and "hide."4 An aspect of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises is expressed as "looking at God looking at you." This is why Fr. Rodrigues speaks to God from the position of a son, out of his belief that God sees him as a son. And unless the Japanese Christian peasants are convinced that God sees them, their spiritual imagination is stuck.

Repetition as a practice of the Exercises comes through in certain scenes: when Fr. Rodrigues is leading his cellmates in devotions, he repeats with them the phrase, "I shall never be shaken." In his personal reflection, he imagines Christ saying to him, repeatedly, the promise "I will not abandon you." Words and phrases are repeated until they are internalized and become personally meaningful.

On that last point, the word "abandon" occurs throughout the movie. Fr. Ferreira is the first to use the word when he writes that Japanese officials expect Christians to "abandon God and the gospel of his love." In his letter to Fr. Valignano, Fr. Ferreira promises that he will not abandon their hidden Christians in Japan. Fr. Valignano reads aloud Fr. Ferreira's words to FF. Garrpe and Rodrigues5, essentially making the words his own. Fr. Garrpe doesn't want to abandon their mission. Kichijiro begs the priests to take him home to Japan, "Don’t abandon me here, Father, please!" Kichijiro confesses that he could not abandon his family during their execution even if he had abandoned God. In the meeting between the apostate Ferreira and Fr. Rodrigues, the interpreter gets angry with Fr. Rodrigues:
He is Ferreira only to you. He is Sawano Chuan now. A man who has found peace. Let him guide you along his path. The path of mercy. That means only that you abandon self. No one should interfere with another man’s spirit. To help others is the way of the Buddha and your way too. The two religions are the same in this. It’s not necessary to win anyone over to one side or another when there is so much to share.
Then Ferreira confides in Fr. Rodrigues, "I’ve been told to get you to abandon the faith."

I haven't read any online articles that touches upon these things I've noticed about the movie in terms of Ignatian spirituality. I'm not all that versed in the Ignatian program. I would be interested in discovering more ways in which the movie models Ignatian techniques.

1 Funny that the sound of crickets is our way to say, "Nothingness."
2 Kichijiro knows that his besetting sin(s) keep him from being a "pleasing aroma" to the Lord. I think he does get his chance eventually. Quotations are taken from a working script found online at Paramount which does not always match the movie.
3 the way in which Kichijiro's seven family members are lined up as they watch him trample the fumie before their execution reminds me of the Jewish martyrs at the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes mentioned in 2 Maccabees 7, even though the movie shows a father, mother, two daughters and three sons.
4 the voice that speaks to Rodrigues, that approves his trample of the fumie, says, "Your life is with me now," so similar to Colossians 3:3, "your life is hidden with Christ in God."
5 the opening scene is a little amusing with all of them addressing each other as "Father," especially because it is clear that they do not all have the same rank even though they have the same title.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I thought it was required that at least one parent attend a "call to prayer" event at my son's diocesan high school but I was mistaken. Maybe I just wanted to anyway, an excuse to get away. Picking among the offerings was an easy process of elimination: I cannot stand living Stations and I already had a lessons & carols event in my calendar. Something new and original.

Granted, the flyer's description was vague, only the promise of visiting Princeton. I registered in mid-September for the early May day, hoping to keep it. Jeff flew to Finland that night for a few days on a business trip but there was no schedule conflict.

The high school's parking lot had a number of cars when I arrived the morning of the so-called "art spirituality" day. The back door that led directly to the chapel hallway was propped open but I decided to enter through the main entrance. Even though this was a Saturday, students were on campus, prepping for AP exams, so I was curious what sort of security they had. A guard greeted me as I entered through the main doors, but I didn't mention my business to him. As I entered the chapel, I nearly bumped into one of the coordinators who was dashing out briefly to bring in stragglers. When she returned, she gave me a folder with the day's schedule and a blank sheet of paper, and a paper with a song based on Wisdom 11.

She offered me a ballpoint pen but I said that I had my own. A woman turned around from a row ahead and said, "I always take the freebies, for what we pay in tuition. And wait until college!" I couldn't see any economic logic behind her attitude and it made practical sense only because my own pen seemed dried up. We didn't write much at all!

We moved into the next room and completed a hand-crafted Thank You card while listening to John Michael Talbot on CD and eating homemade chocolate chip cookies. We sat now facing each other instead of rows as in the chapel so I got a better sense of the participants. One woman had with her an old hardcover, tan AT&T lab book so I asked her which location she worked at. Understand that most locations are a considerable distance to the north and east and that employee rolls are now a far cry from the glory days. In reply, she began with an emphatic, "Where haven't I worked?!" then gave me a blow-by-blow of every position and AT&T location she's been. More information than I needed but I learned at least her approximate age, that she's two years older than my husband. We talked for so long that we were the last ones to our cars for the drive to Princeton.

Traffic around Princeton on a late spring weekend morning is horrendous but I had a plan. I would not park in a garage but rather in a faculty/staff lot off Washington near the University Chapel that was unrestricted weekends and evenings. I'd only ever parked there at night so I was surprised to see the back of the James M. Stewart '32 Theater. That's right! Now I remember that one of my favorite all-time actors was a Princeton graduate! Too hurried to take a picture for his Facebook fan page, I hoofed it over to the university art museum, thinking myself so late. When I saw no one waiting in the lobby, I was disappointed to think they'd left me. Then that one from AT&T arrived and went through the same steps as myself: asking the gift shop employee and the security staff whether a group of women had just passed.

I was incredibly impressed with their collection. I'm partial to mosaics.



We spent just enough time at the museum to whet our appetite for lunch for a return trip with the family. The restaurant was ready for us with a table set up in the front window. We could watch the bustling Princeton side streets. One of our leaders held up the server, who was ready to take our drink order, to say grace. I picked the least expensive menu item after the eggplant parm (always the cheapest) because I wanted that dish. But it was not good and I took home the uneaten portion.

Our mealtime conversation was about interactions with police while driving, that is, our experiences in getting pulled over. I thought it was a slight step up from the usual health and medical nightmares people our age relish sharing. The most outspoken among us worked, I learned, for a law firm. She spoke confidently of driving 80 mph on the Turnpike because "the speed limit is already 65." Meaning, I think, the tacit implication that drivers go faster. She indicated that she was accustomed to talking her way out of tickets but one time before she could even begin her spiel the officer said, "You are getting a ticket!"

I could contribute to the topic so I broke in with the story of my son's first day of high school. Not sure whether buses were running, I drove him. We left in plenty of time but traffic was already heavy. I watched the police car enter the highway and pass us, but then he dropped back and behind. I was incredulous and he approached the passenger side where my son was sitting. He asked about my headlamp, yes, I had known for about a week that it was out. He wrote up a paper about it and told me to get it fixed. I had so much trouble getting back on the highway because of the traffic. It was terribly inconvenient and I immediately switched off my daytime running lights. If they had not been on - but I have them on for safety! - he would not have pulled me over. The officer's note helped motivate my husband to replace my headlamp.

Women at my lunch table told me that I should have played dumb with the police officer and pretend that I had not noticed the light was out. That made absolutely no sense to me. I'm no model of integrity but I can muster enough to be straight with a police officer.

My AT&T friend was having none of this conversation. She was hoping for a more spiritual discussion so she brought up the indulgence that Pope Francis had announced the previous day for the Fátima centennial. I was the only one who had heard of it besides her. She wanted to know where she could find a statue of Our Lady of Fátima by next Saturday. Off the top of my head, I knew none. I imagined pastors across the diocese and around the country scrambling in response to the papal declaration, maybe even muttering frustration at Francis's apparent capriciousness. Who knew he was such a Marianist, that Jesuit?! I pictured church secretaries checking closets and cellars, peeping under draped cloths for long-lost Fátima statues. Fátima isn't now as popular as Lourdes, if she ever was.

The business of the restaurant check came and, as usual, splitting it equally was proposed first. No, everyone should pay for what they ate. I'm not so charitable as that. I had figured mine out with tax and tip: $11 meal + 7%1 + 20%2 = about $14. The woman next to me came up with $23 for her $19 meal and she asked me to validate it. I said, "I'm putting $3 on an $11 bill and you're putting $4 on a $19 bill, so what do you think?" Yes, she was ok about it so I threw in another dollar to cover her.

We walked to the University Chapel to conclude our spirituality day but the chapel was in use. We could not enter. Some went for ice cream to return to the chapel later but I went home.

1 our sales tax is actually 6.875%
2 our party size put us in the 20% gratuity category

Monday, April 10, 2017

Despite the rehearsals, I had no intention of singing the cantana on Palm Sunday. I woke up with a stiff neck and my swollen lymph nodes made it painful to swallow. I had good reason to skip. But I reported to the church on time, even early, and donned a choir robe almost immediately. There seemed to be no way out of it.

Seated next to the tenor section, one of the men mentioned to me that we have a mutual friend. I said her daughter had babysat my kids when they were little. I had told her recently that I'm singing here, with them. He said, "Well, now word is out and it's all over town." I'm quite sure he's joking! He thanked me for singing with them. And his wife also thanked me.

In the ninety minutes before the service started, we went through the entire work of music. I had practiced on my own with an instrumental CD of the alto part. My goal was to memorize at least the words but I could not. Except for those portions lifted directly from sacred scripture.

Someone proposed that we pray together before the service started. That seemed like a novel idea so I encouraged them. We all moved to the kitchen and held hands. It was quick. Taking our seats again, someone said that, in recent memory, only one person had ever passed out. I mentioned that my oldest son, who is 16, passed out last night during the reading of the Passion at church. (Jeff caught him.)

Our thorough warm up raised my confidence and the music was so beautiful that I simply found myself singing the piece without realizing it. A couple of times I heard my own voice which is never a good thing in a choir. And another time my voice cracked. I felt that the middle songs were weak; we were sloppy.

But I hear it was well received by the fifty or so attendees, the congregation. Still, I don't know a soul there, not anyone from our "big" little town. People claim the church as theirs, including my piano teacher. But she hasn't been, she hasn't picked up her envelopes yet for the year. I'm tempted. To. Bring. Them. To. Her.


The whole thing runs about 30 minutes. The finale is based on Philippians 2:6-11 which happened to be the second reading in the lectionary.

We did not sound like this, of course:



About the only thing there was time for afterwards was the offertory. We sang the doxology:

Not one but two cars in the retreat center parking lot had left their lights on overnight. The Ford was close to the building entrance, but facing towards it, giving me the faulty impression that someone was getting picked up early. The other was parked just to the far side of mine, and mine was the farthest possible from the building. I approached with caution, in the pre-dawn darkness, dragging my wheeled suitcase across the crushed stone, unpaved lot. I didn't dare venture to that far side, inside piling my things into my car from the near side. Consequently, I didn't realize the car was empty and even unlocked. It was a BMW from a Princeton dealership. I even had an idea of whose it was.

I was the first and for some time the only one to mount again the spiral staircase to the third floor widow's walk for what the retreat schedule termed "sunrise prayer." The sun would not be up for another hour. Stairs lit from the floor below.

I brought the book I was reading with me, forgetting it's too dark to read. A woman who had also just returned from placing her belongings in her car joined me. And then two more women. We sat in silence for a time until one of the women began saying she never thought she'd be where she is today. And she began to sob, talked about exorcising demons from everyone around her. Not knowing what sort of tears hers were, I brought the beach-themed tissue box to her in the darkness and made a gentle offer. I could do little else for her. The first woman began an out-loud, extemporaneous prayer which I had little stomach for. I largely tuned it out. When she ran out of words, she went downstairs.

It was time for the next scheduled event, "morning reflections." I went down also. It would be my final retreat event before checking out and leaving. I sat directly next to the guest speaker whose talks I was skipping. As the other women gathered in the second floor lounge, one came flying in and crashed into a couple of the retreat coordinators. She was distraught because she had word that her father was having a medical emergency. I thought she might rather go to her family and when someone offered to drive her, she laughed and said he was in Central America.

As we sat there together, I caught the guest speaker craning to see my book's spine for its title but the print is small on the long name. I doubt she came up with it, and she didn't ask me for it. The woman who had prayed aloud upstairs repeated the very same words to this new group. She must have thought the words good.

I was the first to check out, the three at the front desk told me. I mentioned the two cars in the lot with their headlights on but raised little interest among them. "You have the makes and models and probably the license plates of the retreatants who drove. One is a BMW and the other is a Ford. You can learn whose cars these are." Unmotivated. Their working weekend was over. Before getting into my own car, I switched off the lights in the BMW next to me, now that it was daylight and I could see that it was unoccupied. Why doesn't a BMW's lights turn off automatically when left on accidentally?

I drove to mass at St. Francis. There was a pancake breakfast right before which I thought strange considering the fast. The church was packed and I figured everyone on the island was in attendance. Fr. Kevin seemed impatient with the cantor, as if he wanted to speed through things. Local police stopped traffic on Long Beach Blvd so parishioners could exit the parking lot. Again, isn't the entire island here?

In my Facebook newsfeed, a fellow retreatant posted several group selfies and also this one. I can't say that I caught her in the act of bible reading, up in the widow's walk. But, God, I hope she did.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

At lunch, I was asked how well I like my small group and I fessed up that I was skipping the group portion of the retreat in favor of personal time.

After lunch, I drove the few miles to Barnegat Lighthouse with a fellow retreatant named Cecilia. She had visited the park once before a long time ago. She surprised me by saying that she would walk up with me. I took each step as slowly as I could and at the first landing, she declared she needed a break. I encouraged her to rest. By the second landing, she turned back. I continued on, reaching out to the railing with each step to pull myself up. Gasping and coughing, I burst out the door at the top and startled a man with a tripod taking photos. Not a clear day, not a great view. And windy!


On the drive back, my passenger asked how I liked my watch. She said she wanted one for herself really bad but was trying to justify the cost. I told her it's great to swim with because it tracks distance, laps, calories, heart-rate, arm strokes - way more information than I'll ever need. But since it was a Valentine's Day gift, I can't help her with justifying the cost. I only know that my husband is an excellent bargain hunter. She had pretty much made up her mind that she would get herself one.

The outing took an hour. I sat in my room, near an open window and read until it was time to drive to St. Francis of Assisi for confession.

One car was in the church lot with the occupant still inside. I figured I could be done before he worked up the courage. I entered by the side door that had a light on overhead. I walked past the tabernacle and turned towards the rear of the sanctuary to catch Fr. Kevin in his brown, cinctured habit, standing in the doorway of the sacristy taking a huge sip from an insulated bottle. I didn't exactly startle him, though I walked briskly and we've never met.

By way of an informal introduction, I mentioned I was visiting the area, on retreat at Harvey Cedars and he said, to his knowledge, it was a nice facility and how nice to be visiting Long Beach Island. We sat in the sacristy. Switching into my reading glasses and pulling out the schedule portion of St. Francis's website bulletin on which I had written my examination of conscience-type notes, I explained that I would read from the paper and he said that was fine. It's a formula either way, whether read or recited from memory.

My favorite part of the rite is when we're talking simultaneously to God: I'm making my act of contrition and he's pronouncing the words of absolution. The hard part of naming my sins is done, praying the homestretch towards that wonderful grace.

The other man went in after me while I said my Our Father. Then he left after saying his penance. I moved out of Father's sight, towards the tabernacle, to take more time. Others trickled in, but no one mistook me for being on queue. At one point, Father wandered from his post so I directed a penitent seeking him to the back. Father came out, calling, "I have a customer!" It was an hour before mass was scheduled to begin but the musicians were on site warming up and sacristans were preparing the altar.

Dinner would be my last meal at the retreat center so I was sure to tip the kitchen staff. I made the difficult decision to sit next to a woman whose children had attended private school with mine years ago. I can't even say that it was fun to catch up with her. Since it was more than ten years ago, we weren't aware of the youngest child in the other's family! She was at the retreat with someone as no one ever goes to these events alone. So after a few more polite questions, she turned her full attention back again to her friend.

I spent the evening in my room, listening to the light rain outside, the gusty wind and the occasional goose. It was too cold to sit on the porch. I read from a book I'd brought by Christian Smith (reviewed by Mark Noll1 at First Things). Sometimes my reaction is "Preach it!" I love it when he advocates for church membership and commitment. Other times, I see problems or a double standard in his criticism, "He's being too harsh."

1 "As someone whose respect for the strengths of Catholicism has grown steadily over the last four decades, and yet whose intention to live out his days as a Protestant also has grown stronger over those same decades, I have a particular interest in the questions Smith raises." - Mark Noll
I had a six pack - of water - that I drank at night and in the morning. Before the optional "sunrise prayer," I caught up a chapter of New Testament reading, aloud and standing in my retreat quarters, to help me wake up.

"Sunrise," scheduled from 6 to 7am, was a misnomer for a few reasons: (1) the sun rose after 7, (2) the sky was overcast and (3) the third floor widow's walk faced west-southwest. When I mounted the dizzying, spiral stairs to the third floor, the half dozen women sitting in near-darkness, their faces bathed in smart phone glow, made me question whether "prayer" was also a misnomer. As my eyes adjusted, I spotted the guest speaker in a Hilton Head sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. A humble posture for prayer but actually she was covering her bed head.

The woman who helped me locate the gathering did not herself remain more than five minutes. I didn't do much more than mumble some memorized prayers. In the next hour before breakfast, a few more of us congregated on the second floor to talk about how things were going. Many confessed to staying up too late last night and looking forward to a shower before breakfast.

Having been up already for three hours, I was eager for breakfast and entered the dining room while staff was still setting up. I did not take a seat immediately but as the hot food was brought out, I found a table with an available seat. I'm not in the habit of saying grace before or after meals unless I'm really, really hungry. But I'm ok with other people saying grace, either to themselves silently or aloud for me. One of the men in charge of the dining room said a blessing over a microphone as the food was served but too many people came in late and said their own. When a woman I knew joined our breakfast table, she bowed her head over her food for what seemed an inordinately long period of time. Much beyond "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts ..." I wondered what else she prayed about. Then I realized she was checking her phone in her lap.

I discovered that some of the women at the table work for the church. One talked through breakfast about the grant proposals she was writing for the church's food bank. She said that she directed money from the food bank to fund projects that no one wants to fund and now needs to replace the money through grants. She talked about paying someone's rent, for instance. This all struck me as very illegal. I wanted to follow up with her about that and maybe talk with someone else from the church.

The conversation turned to afternoon plans because, remarkably, the entire Saturday afternoon was wide-open, free time. This was very unexpected to me. At a Jesuit retreat house, for instance, Saturday is a busy day, the only full day of a weekend retreat and Saturday afternoon is especially packed with Stations of the Cross, a penance service, Saturday liturgy, anointing, eucharistic exposition and benediction, not to mention dinner with wine. I had a strong feeling that tonight's meal would not include wine.

So, anyway, five and a half hours of unstructured time. Everyone said they were going to take a nap. I said I was driving down to the lighthouse and if it was open, I was going up. One woman asked to come with me so we agreed after lunch to meet up.

While everyone else sat in the morning's lecture, I walked the grounds:

Harvey Cedars Bible Conference

I walked to Loveladies.


I passed a Catholic retreat compound, Maris Stella.


I crossed Long Beach Island Boulevard and walked out onto the beach. It was really unbelievably perfect.


As I walked, I listened to a talk given Thursday night by someone I've known a long time.

The Harvey Cedars water tower was a great landmark for me to find my way back.