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.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I've taken enough retreats over the decades to know that no one of them brings dramatic, instantaneous changes. Still, I hope.

No dinner would be served the first night, which spared me the Lenten, meatless-Friday dilemma1. I stopped at the Forked River rest area on the Parkway to grab a slice of mushroom and spinach and reached the retreat center at Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island very shortly into the check-in window of "between 4 and 7 pm."

I left my belongings in the car just to be sure I was in the right place. Two women came running from another vehicle and overtook me as I approached the entrance. They were met inside by the weekend's guest speaker who was concerned to welcome them and see them checked in. Even with three staff working the counter, each assigned a third of the alphabet, I waited my turn, trying not to look impatient or annoyed.

So typical, the check-in process of those ahead of me hit a snag: no room keys tucked into their name tags. I think most of us are capable of waiting so long as things appear to be moving along. But things looked to be spinning into chaos. Fortunately, there's the tendency to toss in the towel and move to the next person, attempt a fresh start. So the woman with wavy hair and glasses faced me, asking my name. My tag did not have a key either! Well, then all the keys were found under the counter! The woman with wavy hair and glasses expected me to move along to my room but she had not given me a retreat folder or a welcome bag. When she realized her mistake, she apologized for her absentmindedness,
You see, my son was just accepted to Fordham. I want him to go there but he said, 'Mom, it's a Catholic school!' I told him it's a good school.
How to congratulate her on raising such a fine son? I mean, seriously, can't this bigotry skip a generation even?

I went to my car for my stuff. Returning, I was caught behind a woman pulling a cooler on wheels, plus her suitcase and several plastic bags. We were all supposed to bring a snack to share in the evenings, so the staff asked whether any of her bags were a snack. No, she said all of this stuff was for her for the weekend. I, on the other hand, had brought cookies and gluten-free pretzels to share, so I passed them the bag with that.

When I entered my private retreat room, I was stunned. Seeing the sofa first, I thought, "Ok, a sofa bed, that's alright." Then I turned to the right and saw the bathroom. "Ok, no walking down the hallway to the showers, great." Then I saw the kitchenette with a full-sized refrigerator. "Oh, this is getting serious!" And the bedroom with a full bed. "Ok, when are my other roommates showing up?" I could not believe this was all to myself.

I knew Friday would be the best day, weather-wise, so I quickly got settled and went for a walk. The first retreat event of the evening began at 7:30 but I intended to visit the Franciscan parish fifteen minutes down the road for Stations of the Cross. There are four Catholic parishes on Long Beach Island, but only St. Francis of Assisi is open year-round. It was also the one farthest away from Harvey Cedars in Brant Beach, but most lights on Long Beach Boulevard flash amber for north-south traffic.

I would not be able to stay for the entire Stations program and the visit was mostly exploratory: to locate the place, learn the lay of the land. Since I would be leaving the program early, I sought out a discreet seat. Assuming a typical devotional of all fourteen stations, I sat by number 5, in the back pew, but found it strange that Station 10 was directly across the narrow nave. "How are these laid out?" I wondered. Three large, wooden figures, actually stations themselves, were at the center-aisle end of the pew I chose. A young girl was dropped in a rush at the sacristy by her mother to robe up as cross bearer but, as her mother went forward to the sanctuary, I heard the girl call after her. I offered to help her but, you know, I don't know anything about vestments or the sacristy. She figured it out for herself and got vested. Three teens scooped up the three wooden stations from the back row and the procession line was put in place by a sister. No priest was in attendance and the youth ran the program. It all dawned on me gradually: on this third Friday of Lent, Stations 7, 8, and 9 would be prayed and that's why they were removed from the back wall and carried forward. So, only Station 6 hung there and I easily overlooked it.

My exit did not go unnoticed, unfortunately, despite trying to be discreet. The program was so out of the ordinary that I might have been forgiven. However, it was well-attended and the youth were heavily involved. Good things.

Back at the retreat, I endured an ice breaker with the usual questions. I had met three of the women previously at bible study and another woman once sent her children to the same private school as mine. Still, there is the most commonly asked question, "Where do you attend church?" once they learn that I do not attend the retreat host church. I dodged that question all weekend.

The guest speaker was from Central New York State and talked about muck soil. Her accent sounded very Utica, not quite Western New York. Her descriptions of childhood abuse were so vivid that that night I had nightmares in which I was present and watching it happen. I decided that I would not attend any more of her lectures that weekend.

My suite had two doors to the veranda, overlooking Barnegat Bay, and I bundled up to sit outside for a bit.

I heard some wildlife but imagined how raucous the summertime must be. I saw a dark figure in the distance and I sat perfectly still as it silently moved my direction. I was wondering how on-site security was handled, at a Christian compound, in the off-season. It turned out to be a local who was walking her dog and felt quite familiar on the property. The dog, no leash, even came up on the porch to check me out. The porch lights went off, perhaps on a timer, and I was able to see the stars better.

1 My first post-college retreat was a weekend in 1995 at the Xavier Retreat Center on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station (Morristown), NJ, and the good Sisters there served meatloaf Friday night during Lent. Our Jesuit retreat director eyed all of us to see who would point it out. Sure enough, someone did.

Monday, March 13, 2017

How are you liking it so far?
The lyrics in the finale1 of the Palm Sunday cantata, Come to the Cross and Remember, are based on Philippians 2,6-11:
At the name of Jesus, ev'ry knee shall bow. At the name of Jesus, ev'ry tongue confess that the name of Jesus is high above all names.
Not recognizing it, an alto next to me at Tuesday's rehearsal tried for a rhyme with "confess," substituting "the rest" for "all names." I get that hymns typically rhyme and I considered the attempt fair. But I also thought, well, doesn't the slightly odd phrase just roll out from familiarity?

Sunday's service featured a rite, the installation of an ordained elder and deacon, and two sacraments, the baptism of their daughter and the Lord's Supper by intinction. I wondered why their daughter had not been baptized already but I'll never know. I haven't got the hang of how the Reformed understand sacraments. The baptism was a big deal, a happy occasion: the young girl walked up and down the aisle, so everyone could see and the grandmother was beaming at her, so pleased.

The minister explained intinction to the congregation. I can't know how many were unfamiliar and in need of explanation. Or whether it had ever been practiced before. The catch was that they had to leave their seats and process forward. By their reaction, which was audible grumbling and physical reluctance, this is not anything that they are accustomed to doing.

I stayed in the back corner pew, aware my "sitting it out" would be impossible to miss. Everyone, and I mean everyone, went forward! Ladies from the kitchen preparing a post-service turkey dinner came out, also, at just the right time to join the communion line. One dipped the bread into the cup too far and looked to shake off the excess grape juice only to, after catching my eye, wipe it absentmindedly on clothing.

I glimpsed the choir director peek above the piano, perhaps to assess how the line was moving. He finished one hymn and went into the next, "One Bread, One Body." I opened each of the two hymnals at the index to find it, even though I know it by heart. Neither one had it2. I was near tears because it was so appropriate. The choir director really knows his stuff.

He said that he picked all the songs for this morning. I planned to leave early, immediately after the sermon, again from the local reverend, my spiritual director. But I hung around long enough to join in "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus." Snow threatens to cancel Tuesday's rehearsal.

My view from the corner, in robes

1 Scroll down to #14 "Every Knee Shall Bow," page 81.
2 the newer, purple one seems to have it.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

That it was the beginning of Lent meant only I was wearing ashes on my forehead through everything.

A public school bus in the parking lot crept alongside me as I walked towards the church for Bible study. I heard the doors open and the driver ask me, "What kind of building is that, a religious center?" I stopped and turned to answer and as I did, he saw the ashes, "Yes, it's a bible church," an answer which I suppose meant nothing to him, specifically. "You're Catholic, I see. Well, me, too." Naturally. Then he changed the subject to politics, how Christie made him a Republican.

Two hours later, my cell phone was ringing when I reached my car. I had to pick up my son at school because he had had a seizure. Completely incredulous, I drove around the corner and picked him up. He slept on the way to the emergency room, 50 minutes away. He walked in with me when we arrived. He was still in his school uniform: sweater, tie, penny loafers, right next to me in my ashes. We probably looked the Catholic school family part. I was downplaying the whole thing:
The school nurse thought I should bring him here but I'm sure it's nothing.
I had his lunch with me and we were taken to an examination room. They started an IV and let him eat his lunch. I supplied insurance cards and medical information. The staffer deduced my religion from my ashes, "Catholic?" Yup.

My husband showed up rather quickly but he couldn't stay long. As he was saying his goodbye to our son, we noticed that he looked like he would cry. His mouth was firmly closed but seemed to be moving slightly as if he wanted to speak. Then he turned his head sharply up and back to the right and his open eyes followed. I unbuttoned his shirt but otherwise I stood there and felt my own lips trembling as my husband called out to him.

He ran for the nurse and doctor who came and observed. They immediately gave him Lorazepam, I don't know how much. It made him sleepy. After my husband left, they ran a CT scan which was normal and tried to elicit a seizure during a non-invasive EEG. I think the Lorazepam may have interfered with that. Also, I noticed that my son wasn't clear on the tech's directions. She used a strobe light but I saw that he was closing his eyes!

I wasn't being intentional about fasting for Ash Wednesday but my circumstances prevented me from getting anything to eat until about 4 in the afternoon. I was subsisting on sugary soft drinks until that time. After the EEG and CT scan, waiting for the results, I made my way to the hospital cafeteria. I bought my son some fried chicken strips and a tuna sandwich for myself. Most of the cafeteria staff wore ashes. Carrying my food back, I passed a Roman Catholic priest who did a double-take and said, "Oh, well, hello there!"

They moved us to a larger hospital and ran video-EEG monitoring overnight. I think that they intentionally kept us up late, well past 11:00, so that his fatigue would trigger a seizure. We had to answer many of the same questions as before. I was tired of answering. The nurse asked which religion we practiced and would we like a visit from the hospital chaplain? As much as I would have liked to speak with someone, I declined it. I wiped my ashes from my forehead because I couldn't think of anything worse than an "Ash Thursday." I made myself comfortable in the window seat for the night.

I was skeptical that they would have any success in capturing a seizure but they did. I watched the video the next day: he sat upright in bed and the nurse came in, asking him if he knew where he was. He said, "I'm in bed," which wasn't a good enough answer. Then he said, "Room 5005," but they wanted something else. Eventually he just lay back down and they left.

The next morning, I got out early for a Mass down the street at St. Peter's. This is directly near the university. I was early enough that I thought the turnout would be light. Instead, I was soon surrounded by the young men of the campus ministry. The young women sat on the other side of the center aisle. They were all very devote, as young people are, as we all once were. The following morning, which was Friday, I was sure to sit on the proper side, with the other women.

For the rest of his brief stay, he ordered his food for each meal with plenty of lead time. We borrowed some board games and played Battleship and cards. He also borrowed video games and my husband brought his laptop and iPad from home.

I gave him a list of his school friends' texting numbers so he could keep in touch. That gave him a lot of joy. The kids sent e-cards to the hospital that moved him emotionally.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The snow storm, such as it was, pushed out our monthly meeting a week. To today, that is. I had in mind a few things to discuss, current activities, and Lenten plans, including a weekend retreat. She couldn't wait to introduce me to the Anglican rosary. But the one she offered was broken, the Celtic cross had separated from the beads.
What prayers are said on the beads?

It's Anglican. Various prayers. There's no praying to Mary.
I had a feeling that she didn't herself practice it. I declined the one she offered, because it was broken, and I said that I would research it online. I could get one at Amazon, but the review there is that they break easily. "Handmade." I already have a rosary. Several, in fact, which have, on occasion, broken and been repaired.

I had given her my background information at our first meeting last month but not too much stuck in her memory. She blurted out, "Are you a lifelong Presbyterian?" What's the penance for misleading one's spiritual director? Maybe Teresa of Avila can tell me. I haven't expressly told her my affiliation but I've allowed her to think what she thinks. I don't know why it matters.1 Anyway, I stated simply that campus ministry in college led me to the church, which is true enough.

Upon leaving, I noticed a nuthatch feeding upside down at a bird-feeder. I recalled the numerous red-winged blackbirds from my walk yesterday. She would say that spring is around the corner and I would say they're year-round residents.

She said after three meetings we would evaluate how suited we are for each other. There is still a possibility that this is not a "go," then.

1 It does matter. It matters to me. And apparently it matters to her. But it shouldn't. I mean, it shouldn't affect how we interact. But it would. I know it would.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

He warned us of a couple of things, that his talk was long and that he was inadvertently drawing from next year's lectionary reading1. On the first point, he said he'd removed about 200 words over the past few weeks. On the second point, he didn't care to change it.

I suppose if he'd decided to start over with the correct lectionary reading, he wouldn't have had enough time to make it too long. If he were the regular speaker, his jumping ahead wouldn't be the least bit noticeable. But, once a month or so? I found myself saying, "Hey, weren't we in Matthew?!"

He read us the entire fifth chapter of 2 Kings without any paraphrasing, summarizing or embellishments. I had some trouble following because I'm only familiar with the scene between Naaman and Elisha (v. 14-17). He stressed the role the young girl played in Naaman's healing (v. 3) and how, in the end, Naaman's skin became like that of a young boy. He imagined that, after setting down the dirt Naaman had taken from Israel, he and the young girl might worship together. An altogether odd thought.

After ascertaining from the choir director how much Hebrew he knew, the speaker gave us a brief language lesson. I suppose he wanted to be sure that, if his language skills were a bit rusty from seminary, the choir director wouldn't call him on it. He said that the word qatan (Strongs 6996) for "young" could be masculine, as in verse 14 or feminine, as in verse 2, depending on the vowels. I see that qatan is an adjective, modifying a masculine noun in verse 14 naar (Strongs 5288) and a feminine noun in verse 2 naarah (Strongs 5291). I guess beyond that, I don't see the significance. Plenty of languages are inflected, having adjective-noun agreement.

As for the songs we sang, well, I need to promise myself that, going forward, I will take them all seriously. When we rehearsed "Brighten My Soul With Sunshine," I thought I was singing something from Godspell. I kept up with the part in rehearsal but lost my place live, coming in with the sopranos and tenor instead of with the other altos. I was so ashamed. We didn't rehearse "There is a Balm in Gilead" because it's assumed that everyone knows it. But I do not. And then this somewhat dark tune in G minor which I liked.

1 6th Sunday After Epiphany which will be First Sunday in Lent (2018)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Let me just say that I'm glad I never saw Andrew Garfield as Spiderman. Or anything else.

Why didn't Martin Scorsese become a priest or join the Maryknolls? His recent comments indicate that his asthma disqualified him. Why did he make Silence?

Some scenes, with dialogue or even without, are awkward, perhaps intentionally. Repeatedly, it is pointed out to the Portuguese Jesuit Father SebastiĆ£o Rodrigues that he doesn't know Japan. The Japanese way of engaging in conversation indirectly, can be as provocative as anything so long as it is not directed personally. Fr. Rodrigues speaks too directly, too plainly. The soil of Japan has been "poisoned," he tells the samurai at his interrogation. He tells Inoue that the fault lies with those who tear the faithful from their faith. "You mean me," Inoue replies with surprise and indignation. Ferreira tells Rodrigues he's been in the country fifteen years and Christianity does not take root in Japan. Rodrigues asserts that the roots have been pulled up but Ferreira counters no, that the Japanese peasants never grasped the truth fairly.

What is the extent of Fr. Ferreira's apostasy? In a highly supervised meeting with Fr. Rodrigues, who knew him as teacher and confessor, he says that he is "much the same" and asks with some incredulity, "Do I really seem so different?" Maybe he doesn’t realize how much he’s changed or he genuinely doesn’t think he’s changed. “It’s fulfilling to finally be of use in this country.” Ferreira seems uncomfortable at the end of the film supposing what Christ would do if he were present, if he were in Fr. Rodrigues's sandals. Is this an indication that Ferreira is now so unfamiliar with Christ as to be unable to speculate or is he yet too familiar to dare speak for Him?

“If Christ were here He would have acted. Apostatized. For their sake.” "No, no....Christ is here. I just can’t hear Him." The Jesuits believe that Christianity can take root in Japan because their own St. Francis Xavier had such success. A saying is attributed to him: “We shall never find another race to equal the Japanese. They are the joy of my heart.” Even so, Fr. Ferreira claims, “I never knew Japan when it was a country of light.”

Japanese allow saving face. "The path of mercy” that Fr. Ferreira took and Fr. Rodrigues is urged to take neutralizes the priest only as a priest. It does not seek to convert him personally. He enjoys interior freedom, he simply cannot act as a priest, he can't spread his beliefs. He is set up with a household, an inherited wife and inherited children. It would seem that he could remain a celibate, everything is for appearances' sake. You would think that giving up the priesthood would be the hardest thing for a Jesuit. But, how much pleasure did Fr. Rodrigues experience while serving the Japanese farmer peasants as a priest? It was mixed. He may have talked himself into feeling more satisfaction than he actually did. Certainly there were frustrations for both him and Fr. Francisco Garupe. Fr. Rodrigues is pragmatic in telling the peasant farmers to trample on the image of Christ if asked and in distributing to them the crudely-fashioned religious tokens that they crave, though he wonders whether they value them more than faith itself. Significantly Kichijiro, who claims to be weak, refuses even these small physical representations of the faith. After baptizing a baby, the mother asks whether they are all now in heaven. The Jesuit Fr. Garupe says, “Now? No," to her lack of understanding, though he quickly provides assurance that God is now and forever in heaven and that He prepares a place for us all, even now.

Kichijiro is the priests' greatest ministerial frustration, the proverbial thorn in their side and then some. Dressed in their impressive black cassocks with their superior air of education and training, on their first encounter with Kichijiro, the Jesuits don't recognize him as a Christian. Kichijiro doesn't help his image by repeatedly denying to them that he is a Christian. From an online working script1:
GARUPE Where is your home?
GARUPE What’s your work?
KICHIJIRO Fisherman.
RODRIGUES You know our language.
RODRIGUES You learned it from the Jesuit padres. You had to. So you are a Christian.
KICHIJIRO No. No Kirishitan.
KICHIJIRO I am not Kirishitan.
RODRIGUES You can tell us.
KICHIJIRO Kirishitan die. They die in Nagasaki
Then, immediately after their first encounter with Kichijiro:
GARUPE Our guide. He can’t be a Christian.
RODRIGUES He says he’s not but can you believe anything he says?
GARUPE I don’t even want to believe he’s Japanese.
Still, it's Kichijiro's desire to return to his home of Japan, knowing he will be a persecuted religious minority, that brings him into the fathers' company. One wonders whether Fr. Rodrigues ever longed to return to Portugal, even as a public apostate.

Men from a nearby village seek out the priests, who are in hiding and who want to know how the other villagers knew of their presence. A Christian in their village, Kichijiro, told him that he brought them to Japan. Rodrigues says, "But he is not a Christian," and the villager says, "Yes he is."

In contrast to Kichijiro is Fr. SebastiĆ£o Rodrigues, so sure of his vocation, the mission, and his relationship to God through Christ. Constantly he speaks to God as a son, oftentimes in words from the Gospels. Twice he says towards Kichijiro, “Quod facis, fac citius. What you will do, do quickly.” When Fr. Garupe points out that they have trusted Kichijiro with our lives, Fr. Rodrigues reminds him that Jesus trusted even worse ones. He returns to the abandoned village of Goto that the officials destroyed because the priests had been harbored there and surveying the devastation, he quotes the Spiritual Exercises, “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?” These words are typically said before a picture of Christ crucified but the ruined village serves.

Fr. Rodrigues eventually comes, after some concern that he may not be worthy of Christ and some prayers that he be made worthy of Christ, to his own unworthiness of Christ: "As I feel...I fear...Jesus forgive me...I may not be worthy of You." And we still pray like this, in the words of the Angelus, said after Hail Holy Queen in a recitation of the rosary: "Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ." Or the prayer before communion, in the former English translation, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed2." When he watches Fr. Garupe drown trying to save hostages who are also drowning, one wonders whether Fr. Rodrigues recognizes that he is seeing yet another martyr or whether he is simply feeling the personal loss of a friend, a fellow priest, his sole remaining comrade in a foreign land. The Interpreter is pleased to lead him along this path when he says to him, "At least Garupe was clean. But you. Your spirit is weak. You have no will. You do not deserve to be called a priest."

The publicly apostatized priests, Ferreira and Rodrigues, are put to work inspecting imported goods for smuggled religious images. Presumably, as former religious, they would recognize these items most readily but they seem to struggle. A Dutch trader observes and chronicles an incident where a simple wooden cross was found sewn into a coat. Other Dutch traders are heard muttering with disdain "Catholic" in reference to the religious object. Remember, Dutch Christianity, then as now, is expressly not image-oriented. Their trade business is preferred in Japan due to their personal low tolerance for religious images. Their contempt is not missed by the former priests and Ferreira reminds Rodrigues to "love those who scorn us" but Rodrigues says he feels nothing. We see now why the young priests were so ready to suppose intentional slander on the part of the Dutch trader who sent word by letter of Fr. Ferreira's apostasy to Fr. Valignano read in the movie's opening scene. "It could be a slander created to further discredit our faith." One wonders whether the Dutch are motivated by commercial interests in Japan over religious ones as they seek to edge out Spain and Portugal, in making the Catholic expression of Christianity as odious to the Japanese as it is to themselves.

I do not know what to make of the scene in which an amulet is discovered on Kichijiro while he is serving in Rodrigues's household. The online script calls it "Rodrigues's House in Christian Residence," whatever that means. This scene appears immediately after Kichijiro begs Rodrigues to hear his confession yet again however, considerable time has passed, we don't know how much. Kichijiro defends Rodrigues, claiming he is not the source of the religious image in his possession because even though Rodrigues has access as one who sorts through imported goods, he is watched so closely. Kichijiro is removed from the house as a result and one wonders whether Rodrigues got his revenge. Remember, Kichijiro never seemed to have as much use personally for religious trinkets as the other peasants.

But as regards religious mementos, Rodrigues holds onto the one crudely-made wooden crucifix given him by the martyr, Mokichi. He carries it throughout the movie and it finds its way into his Buddhist casket at his death. The martyrdoms Rodrigues observed puts flesh on the phrase he utters so proudly in the movie, "Blood of the martyrs are the seed of the church." It was the seed of his own sustained faith. Andrew Garfield expresses such intense emotion in this movie. He is absolutely perfect as a tortured Jesuit priest.

There needs to be a photo book made of the beautiful scenes from this movie. Fr. James Martin's contributions to the screenplay are obvious. Only in Fr. Martin's universe do Catholics make their regular confession. I thought the dedication of the movie to the Japanese martyrs and “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam" was strangely curious until I learned from an interview that Fr. Martin had suggested this closing. "AMDG" - only Jesuits talk that way.
2 Reading Facing East years ago about Frederica Mathewes-Green's adoption of Greek Orthodoxy over Episcopalianism, parishioners would acclaim of her husband during Divine Worship, "Axios!" Worthy! (Let me quote Liam Neeson final line from Silence, "I doubt it.")

Sunday, January 08, 2017

I googled "spiritual direction trenton" and found a page of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. I was already familiar with the ladies at the Upper Room in Neptune. Nothing against them; I've been there many times over the years. But I'm looking for something nearby. A hospital chaplain seemed the closest and somehow I thought she was Episcopalian. The mailing address, telephone number and email address were all for her office at the hospital. I emailed in early May, not realizing that she had retired from the chaplaincy the previous year.

After two weeks passed without a response, I used Facebook, that wonderful online directory. In desperation, I sent a Facebook message in mid-May, asking about spiritual direction. Right before Thanksgiving, actually, when I was standing outside my daughter's homeroom waiting for her class's family heritage presentations, I received both a Facebook reply and a text message saying that I should call the landline if still interested.

We agreed to touch base after Thanksgiving and set up a meeting. January seemed the best time, after the New Year.

Meanwhile, I went to choir rehearsal this week for the first time since before Christmas. We were preparing songs for Epiphany and someone suggested We Three Kings.
No, the pastor who is filling in on Sunday specifically said no to that song.
Then the choir director mentioned the name of the fill-in and I recognized it as my possible spiritual director. And still thinking she was Episcopalian, well, maybe in a pinch things are freer than you'd think. I thought that I might better attend Sunday morning service to get a sense of her in advance of our first meeting this week. I wasn't sure I would need to introduce myself; I could be a "face in the crowd." But she stood right next to me as we warmed up our voices with the anthem song before the service. And only about twenty people total were in attendance at the service. Hardly a crowd. It's still entirely possible that she would not remember or recognize me. But I didn't want to risk the embarrassment in any case.

As far as a sense of her is concerned: You know, you can almost just about pinpoint the years these ministers were in seminary because their thinking and preaching is so molded by topics from those times. She mentioned a book in her sermon by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas. She mispronounced 'Crossan.' Seeing her struggle, I mouthed the surname at her from my seat in the choir box, hoping she'd get it. She said, "croissant." Anyway, The First Christmas, rather recent stuff from them. I had found a xeroxed packet of the book's second chapter among Kenny's school papers at the end of last year. She said the book changed her life.

After the service, I introduced myself and mentioned our meeting later this week. "Remind me again? Oh, can we move that earlier? Ok, say, 10?" That was it. Apparently she is not an Episcopalian. I'll try to keep her thinking that we are of the same denomination.

I intend to say something in our discussion about the popular small group vehicle in the local church for spiritual growth not working well for me. There are various reasons but mostly I don't like the clique culture it creates. But that's one of the small group model's purposes! Actually, I'm thinking that choir is a kind of small group.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

New Year's Eve Communion Service, 12/31/2016

I swear that the event was initially touted as a prayer service. Somehow, after I'd decided to attend, it changed into a communion service. Once I make up my mind, I can't just up and change it.

Recalling last year's service, this wasn't identical. As a woman played the electronic keyboard, I could hear her long fingernails clacking on the keys. We sang three of what they call a "chorus," just a refrain, really. Stuffed with the hymnal is a "chorus binder." I sat behind the associate pastor and his wife and imitated their gestures as we sang. We hand-clapped for the first number, except on the final time through. In the second one we raised our hands when the lyrics mentioned that. Well, I didn't raise my hands but I managed to turn my palms upwards. After confirming that she hadn't planned another song, the pastor asked for testimonies. Just about everyone in attendance gave one. It was like an auction and he'd call on anyone who so much as scratched their chin to witness. I dared not flinch. I felt like I was back in grammar school getting called upon.

But the pastor prefers talking to listening so he didn't linger on testimonies. He gave the musician at her keyboard on the platform with him an opportunity to take her seat with the congregation but she declined. He began reading from Genesis 1:31 and threw everything including the kitchen sink at us. Creation was very good but man was disobedient and sinful but God knew the plan from the beginning and Jesus would come to redeem us. And if you've never given your life over to him ... words that skip past the intellect and resonate at the core.

He described how communion would be distributed: everyone would come forward and take the elements from him. I could tell that procession wasn't their typical practice because there was no order. Everyone made a dash for it. I could also tell that, unlike when communion is passed, I would not dodge it. In a way, he was monitoring it. And a teen girl did not go forward, so he came to her and made her take it1. He also started towards the musician on the platform but as he approached she said she already had. Like before the service even started! After we all had, he said the words from 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 but also included Matthew's mention of the remission of sins.

We said a quick prayer and things were done. I left rather promptly. I counted 15 attendees including myself. The pastor blamed the low turnout on it being a Saturday night.2

1 and it's gestures like that that show they want the ordinance to carry more weight that they even admit.
2 it's interesting to note that in 2012/2013, Bishop O'Connell celebrated with Te Deum and vespers on New Year's Eve. NLM's write-up and my own recollection. As far as I know, it has not been repeated.