Monday, August 14, 2017

It wasn't exactly Broadway.

A Manalapan church chartered a bus to Sight & Sound, located in Lancaster, PA but couldn't fill it. They opened the outing up to the PCUSA congregation in my town, and I signed on. I received scant specifics about the day, despite some effort on my part to learn the details and, as a result, missed the departing bus by a minute or two. Fortunately, I was able to board at the host church's location in Manalapan which meant I had a seat in the very rear of the coach near the pastor's teenage grandchildren and their friends.

The movie shown on board to pass the two hour drive time was Heaven is for real, which is something I was interested in seeing but wouldn't necessarily make any effort to. I like Greg Kinnear as an actor even though I've only seen him in Little Miss Sunshine. I always wanted to see his Sabrina remake but haven't. Sitting where I was, I caught only snippets of the movie here and there. I was already under the impression that the factuality of the events had since been denied by those involved but I may be confusing it with a different movie. Either way, I substituted any "beyond belief" experience as I watched and just pondered the characters' various reactions. I wondered whether the heavenly host's prolonged laughter at the boy's request to hear "We Will Rock You" was some slight on the popular notion of various rock stars jamming together in heaven. As if angels need any mortal's help.

Our first stop after reaching Lancaster, or more specifically, Intercourse, PA, was at Kitchen Kettle Village. The woman leading this church outing was shy about using the bus public address so I approached her personally after exiting the bus and asked, "What are we doing now and what's next on the itinerary?" I may have still been smarting from the experience of being left behind earlier in the day. So she told me to explore the shops and return in 90 minutes. I looked around for a Birkenstock outlet but there was not one at this location. Failing that, I shopped for locally-made souvenirs and found them few and far between. At a Christmas-themed store, I picked up a 2017 wood tree ornament and a small music box. I also got an Amish nativity (which Jeff joked was Orthodox Jewish, eh) and, feeling guilty about being away from home on my son's birthday, a personalized bottle opener.

I had a small book with me and after making my purchases, sat down to read. Soon enough, we were back on the bus heading to our meal at a family-style restaurant. We were way early for our late afternoon reservation. Some became vocal about their hunger and thirst, showing restrained impatience. The staff seated us and brought out pitchers of iced tea and lemonade, plates of homemade bread, applesauce and a relish that someone called "chow-chow" but was more like Giardiniera. Where condiments are concerned, of course, there are many recipes under the same name.

Now, let me say that the table manners required for family-style eating have apparently fallen into such disuse that some folks cannot call them up even on occasion. So, for instance, a man picked up a slice of bread from the serving platter, then changed his mind and put it back. I waited until someone else helped themselves to that slice before I had one. A woman passed me her glass for some iced tea but when I asked her for some lemonade she ignored me. The teens at our table did not know to pass the serving plates but they did as we asked. The same man who put back food also taught the young girl next to him to load up the middle of her mashed potatoes with corn, in other words, to play with her food. It's entirely possible that I'm too fussy about it, actually, but I was so busy passing food to others that my plate looked like this:


Starting behind, then, I was the last to finish eating. I decided either this parable is pure wishful thinking or this is hell. Still, I'm asking myself, "What's the hurry? Why the race?" For heaven's sake, enjoy the meal.

We left the restaurant and arrived at Sight & Sound just as the matinee show was exiting. We were 75 minutes early for the evening performance. Maybe if we had stalled another 15 minutes at the restaurant, it would have given the visitors at the theater's earlier show a good chance to disburse. But the restaurant has high turnover. So instead, we waited on the bus, watching the people leave on the one hand and the storm approach with its flashes of lightning on the other.

My first visit to Sight & Sound and a companion took my picture:


We were encouraged to take our seats 45 minutes before the show began to avoid any potential bottlenecks in the case of late arrivals. When they come by the busload, you know. I noted at intermission that the theater was not full.

Sight & Sound has a style all its own. I could not put my finger on it, exactly. Is the theater's facade inspired by Italian church architecture? Does the interior make one think of Egypt ... or the Holy Land? Both and yet neither, definitively.

I'm no theater critic, certainly. I'm not about to draw any comparisons between the two and a half hour live production and the four chapter biblical story. Suffice to say, there's embellishment. To suggest that Jonah's reluctance to preach in Nineveh stemmed from their having killed his father, Amittai, eh, you know, it added dimension to him. The fabricated characters, sister, mother, grandparents, who knows? In the end, these are apples and oranges. The biblical tale stands on its own and this theater production is its own work, too.

I liked the personality of their Jonah, as different as he was. The special effects were drawn out so that they could be enjoyed for all their worth. I laughed out loud when the mariners' ship hull opened to reveal Jonah peacefully asleep in a hammock amidst the raging storm. I was a bit disturbed that as soon as he was cast into the sea, the raging ceased. And when all the mariners converted on the spot, I thought Jonah could quit while he was ahead.

There was, in some subtle sense, the idea that Jonah, in criticizing the Ninevites, becomes just like them. When Jonah is running from the Lord, not even his fellow Israelites will aid him. This perturbs him. But, when he changes course, he is mystified by their overwhelming kindness. What's the message? At the end, I think it's Jesus who walks out to Jonah and proclaims that obedience brings blessing but not salvation, or something like that. So, to the oft-heard objection, "if salvation is by grace, why obey," the answer is "for the blessing." Consequently, I found the theology on display to be a therapeutic dose of psychology as motivation for practicing Christian morality. "There is something in it for you, right now!"

Nothing was particularly "anti-Catholic" in the production. In fact, on the contrary, the drawn-out forty day period of repentance and prayer that the Ninevites observe had a strong Lenten feel: the scene was repeatedly bathed in purple light and some characters wore purple and black.

On the ride back to New Jersey, the "Moses" video was put on but I couldn't make out much. We dropped off at the Manalapan church first before returning to our town, primarily because it made sense for the bus driver, but I had concern for the teens as well. I was pretty sure that few would make it to church services the following day. And they gave themselves a fine excuse.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A consideration of how Martin Scorese's 2016 movie, Silence, shows the characters Jesuit Fathers Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garupe discerning God's will:1

In the three-way conversation2 at St. Paul's College, Macau, Fr. Valignano seems to have his mind made up about the young Jesuits' mission to Japan. It's a no-go. After working through their initial, emotional reaction to possibly redirecting their vocational aspirations, the young Jesuits begin to reason with their superior, even persuade and to argue. It's their persistent agreement, being "of the same mind"3 about the mission, that leads the older Jesuit to declare that God is motivating them. So he grants permission for their trip, with plenty of warnings.

When the fathers meet Kichijiro in the waterfront tavern in Macau, Fr. Garupe appears as sad for himself as he is for the drunk fellow handpicked to be their guide. Rodrigues's attempt to entice Kichijiro through the offer of money turns Garupe off completely. "We have trusted that man with our lives," Garupe says to Rodrigues after Kichijiro has already, with abandon, plunged from the boat into the surf, to make way towards the land, towards Tomogi Beach, Japan. Fr. Rodrigues counters Garupe with a seemingly imprudent reference to Jesus' trust being even greater.4 These two are paired up to balance each other. As Kichijiro leaves them shivering and praying in the cave, Garupe supposes he's gone to betray them, a hunch that proves true.5

In the charcoal shed, while discussing options for their mission to find Fr. Ferreira, they cannot reach a workable plan. They dare to sit outside the next day in the sun and, spotting a soaring bird, Rodrigues romanticizes to Garupe, "It's God's sign," as if to say a plan will take shape. But cutting through that, Garupe spots clearly men from Goto approaching and observing them from a short distance. He physically restrains Rodrigues whose impulse is to talk with them. Is this God's will that they go to Goto?

They bring the matter before Ichizo who says he doesn't know whether the people in that village can be trusted. Rodrigues tries to woo him with some flimsy logic about those in Goto also being Christians "like us." Ichizo insists one priest stay behind and Garupe agrees instantly without argument. Ichizo's proposal makes immediate sense to him. And even though Rodrigues has an apparently fruitful time of ministry in Goto and hears something of Fr. Ferreira's whereabouts, upon his return to Tomogi Village, he learns that Ichizo has been taken hostage and returned, only to bring three more hostages back with him.

The climactic scene of discernment is the general meeting of the Japanese peasant farmers as they decide who should accompany Ichizo before the authorities. Garupe makes a declaration that turns out true for Goto: "They’ll keep coming back if we stay. They could destroy the entire village and kill you all while we hide." It is a violent, ugly scene and even though the priests' poor native language skills may not allow them to understand the debate, it's very clear that the group gangs up on the outsider, Kichijiro. One has the impression that the priests have never seen anything like it.

And when Mokichi asks the priests what he should do if asked to trample on the fumie, each Jesuit gives his own answer.6 And after the peasants are martyred and Rodrigues separates from Garupe as they "run away," as Garupe puts it, Garupe says, "They were right. If we’d left they might still be alive."

In captivity, after what appears to be a successful interrogation of his fellow peasant prisoners, Rodrigues bows in prayer, thanking the Lord for answering him. No sooner have the words left his lips than a samurai beheads the peasant Juan, Monica's husband, in the courtyard. Whenever the Interpreter asks Rodrigues if he knows who's coming, Rodrigues guesses incorrectly. He's convinced the Japanese authorities intend to undermine his will power by indulging his bodily needs, making him physically comfortable.
He treats me kindly. Three meals a day. So my body will betray my heart. That is your plan, isn’t it? That’s what you’re waiting for?

Not at all.7
Overall, Garupe's discernment, what I would prefer to call his religious instinct because he exercises it with such little apparent effort, is spot on. The only time he's wrong is in regards to assessing himself, while deprecating his own strengths. He calls himself "weak," a "coward," without any hint of false humility. Rodrigues's discernment, on the other hand, is clouded by wishful thinking and overconfidence. Even though he's teasing when he calls Garupe a "bad Jesuit," this epitomizes his general ill judgment. Objectively, Garupe is the finest of Jesuits: he prays the Anima Christi8 with the peasants, he esteems St. Francis Xavier highly; he screams, "Take me instead," as the peasants are cast overboard and he swims out to them, drowning. He even prays the rosary when he's frightened and shivering in the cave.9 Sure, Garupe is ultimately a foil to the protagonist, whether you think that's Rodrigues or Kichijiro, but I'm sure the 400 Jesuits in Rome at the private screening were all pulling for him. It's refreshing to see someone for whom Christian virtue comes so naturally even if we personally identify more closely with a Rodrigues or a Kichijiro.


1 One discerns perfectly and the other does not.
2 Or four-way as Fr. Ferreira's presence is felt via his letter and the others' remembrance of him
3 Philippians 2:2
4 However, John 2:24
5 Of course, Kichijiro betrays them both.
6 Two Jesuits, three opinions.
7 Quotations taken from the online, working script which does not exactly match the final film
8 Incorrectly attributed to Ignatius Loyola because he included it in his Spiritual Exercises
9 Like Mt. Carmel?

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.