Thursday, August 24, 2017

During the twelve or so weeks of summer, I make plans, right, on how to spend the time, not only with the kids but also on my own. And, lately, the past three or so summers, I mark a mid-week church service in the Calendar app. I feel the need to keep up "meeting together" (Hebrews 10:25) when the school-year programs go on break.

But for whatever reason, I hardly attend a mid-week service except for maybe once. Tonight, I was early, as usual. The parking lot was jammed but I'll be damned if I knew where everyone was. They weren't in the gathering space and they weren't in the sanctuary. Their wall clock in the gathering space is ten minutes slow but everyone goes by it. So, the few singers were still rehearsing and we let them finish up.

I sat towards the back thinking I would need to leave early. I thought they were ending James but they already had. The pastor wanted to do ten psalms, chapters 11-20; they had done 1-10 last summer. But first he wanted to hear whether anyone had experienced a miracle of God in the past week. A couple of people shared that God had provided opportunities to speak with their neighbors about him. "Divine appointments," they called them. I thought that was just a euphemism for when you're running late.

Not to be outdone, a woman named M--- shared about a friend who was going through a tough time with personal loss. As soon as she mentioned his association with Villanova University, I braced myself. The friend was a Catholic and M---, being a former Catholic herself, had all the answers: "How can a loving God ...?" "But they chose it ..." "I've never heard that before ..."

Somehow we have it all backwards, we believe folks who tell us things we've never heard before.

Then M--- related that the friend said her words sounded better than the Catholic Church and she said, "That's because this is better than the Catholic Church," and so on. And I listened, thinking, do people still say such things? They do. I looked at my watch, only five minutes into the service and someone was bragging on witnessing to a Catholic. 'Bout right.

Psalm 11 is short, only seven verses. The pastor read from the King James but the pew Bible was NIV. I followed along, flipping around as he took us to the end of Isaiah, 1 Thess. 4:11-12 (lead quiet lives, etc) and 1 Timothy 5:13 ("busybodies"). The idea about psalm 11 is that the Psalmist, taken to be David himself, was getting bad advice, in a way similar to Job. But rather than focus on present circumstances, that one person posited may be exaggerated in order to manipulate, the Psalmist reaffirms personal faith in God's sovereign position (in his holy temple, on his heavenly throne).

I thought the pastor glossed over words and phrases that are problematic, notably "the righteous" (in sharp contrast with "the wicked"), and when someone asked about it, he seemed uncomfortable that he didn't have a pat answer. He also stumbled over the strong language in verse 5, that the LORD "hates with a passion" (NIV). He wanted to insist that God hates the violence committed but not the person. Naturally, someone mentioned Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:13) and began to explain that since we are in the image of God and we have emotions, then God also has emotions. The anthropomorphism was getting a bit uncomfortable. And the emphasis on God's justice. I felt an impulse to give the pastor Cardinal Kasper's book but maybe that wouldn't do any good.

My own idea about this psalm and the psalms in general is that, as wisdom literature, they overstate matters, draw sharp contrasts between wicked and righteous, attempt to model godly living but at the same time the psalms aren't the most consistent place to begin at synthesizing a systematic theology. The psalms are filled with human emotion which is why they speak to us and soothe us.

Ultimately, there was an admonition to try to give good advice to others. Things wrapped up in about an hour and I didn't even need to leave early.

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.

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 Sebastião 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?
KICHIJIRO Nagasaki.
GARUPE What’s your work?
KICHIJIRO Fisherman.
RODRIGUES You know our language.
KICHIJIRO Little.
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. Sebastião 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.
1 http://www.paramountguilds.com/pdf/silence.pdf
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.