Monday, May 03, 2010

The End of the Rainbow

The picture above does not quite capture the beauty of the rainbow that seemed to come straight down to the hood of the car as I drove along I-80 approaching Roanoke, VA, on my way home from two days in the Cherokee Forest. This was actually the third of four such rainbows that appeared one after another along the highway during a hail and thunder storm that lasted for hours as I drove slowly along, at times barely able to see. I finally pulled over both for safety and to try and capture this third rainbow. The first one was even more dramatic as it appeared to actually touch the ground on the side of the road. I fear that gawking at these awesome spectacles may have helped cause the dreadful tangle of 3 big rigs further up the road that slowed traffic to a crawl for over an hour and it's probably fortunate I pulled over when I did.

The two days I spent with buddies David and Tom in the Cherokee Forest were filled with many other wonders of nature that were a healing balm for city-sore eyes and ears. The first night we were treated to a symphony of forest creatures, frogs, insects and birds, as they wove their voices in and out through the whispering trees. David made us try and guess which voices belonged to which species and how many different tones each family were producing.

We had spent most of the daylight hours driving around and seeing the main attractions of the terrain and then settled in with a nice campfire to enjoy the sounds of the forest accompanied by a spectacular light show of fireflies, the first of the season that David had seen. It was also the first day it was warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirts, and we sat comfortably in the fragrant open air without even the worry of biting insects. Time seemed to stand still and then suddenly it was 3:15 and we decided we had better get some sleep. My tent was cozy and I slept well, not even waking up once, although David and Tom thought I was a sissy for not sleeping out in the open like they did. Maybe next time!

The next day we arose at 8am and went in to Tellico Plains for a hearty country breakfast, then spent most of the day driving around the area, up to the highest peak, and visiting two Indian museums and Fort Loudon, a recreation of the original outpost. I learned alot about the sad history of this region and the former Cherokee nation capital that now sits underwater, flooded for a reservoir after the government moved the Cherokees to a reservation in North Carolina.

It started raining in the late morning and continued raining until the next morning, at times with very high winds and the occasional startling thunderbolt. We came back to camp in the late afternoon and decided we all needed a nap, so we spent a couple of hours each in our own cocoons, listening to the sound of the rain and the increasingly high winds. About 7:o0 we arose and began to prepare for a long rainy night with no campfire, huddled under Tom's tarp with our chairs and David's camping candle and kerosene lantern as our only lights. Just as we were about to start mixing the cocktails a ranger walked into the camp and shone his flashlight around, looking for evidence of alcohol or other illegalities. It was like deja vu all over again, but luck was with us as we had not yet brought the goods to light and we spent a few awkward moments chatting with the ranger about the impending storm. He reassured us that the tornado watch had been canceled, although we could expect high winds and alot of rain, which indeed was the case. We were most afraid of trees falling on us, and discussed which way it was best to run in the event we saw one falling, but fortunately they all stayed put. We told ghost stories and other tall tales as we sipped our forbidden cocktails and tried to keep the tarp from flying away.

The wind and the rain finally got the better of me and I went to my tent around 1:15, more afraid of a flood than anything. I lay awake for quite awhile watching an intense light show on the ceiling of my tent from the constant lightning that was strangely unaccompanied by thunder. It rained so hard for so long that at last I really had to get out to make an outhouse call and prayed that it would stop for just awhile. Finally it did let up for a few moments and I managed to pull on my rain gear and struggle out of the tent, but just as I was making my way out it started raining very hard again. I didn't think I should try to hike the 100 yards uphill to the outhouse, so I must confess I had to just take care of business behind the camp, praying I didn't fall or get washed away before I could get back in the tent. When I finally made it back into the tent I had to change clothes because I was soaked, but I was so worn out I managed to sleep away the rest of the night.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear and this part of the world anyway seemed washed clean as we made our way back into Tellico Plains for a final breakfast before we went our separate ways. It was a wonderful 48 hours that I will long remember and the four rainbows that I witnessed a while later seemed to promise that the good times are not all in the past.

Tom, David and me in Tellico Plains, TN

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
- Paul Williams

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Blazing Candles

“Through the intercession of St. Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from ailments of the throat and from every other evil. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Blessing of St. Blase).

We know that Bishop Blase was martyred in his episcopal city of Sebastea, Armenia, in 316. The legendary Acts of St. Blase were written 400 years later. According to them Blase was a good bishop, working hard to encourage the spiritual and physical health of his people. Although the Edict of Toleration (311), granting freedom of worship in the Roman Empire, was already five years old, persecution still raged in Armenia. Blase was apparently forced to flee to the back country. There he lived as a hermit in solitude and prayer, but made friends with the wild animals. One day a group of hunters seeking wild animals for the amphitheater stumbled upon Blase’s cave. They were first surprised and then frightened. The bishop was kneeling in prayer surrounded by patiently waiting wolves, lions and bears.

As the hunters hauled Blase off to prison, the legend has it, a mother came with her young son who had a fish bone lodged in his throat. At Blase’s command the child was able to cough up the bone.

Agricolaus, governor of Cappadocia, tried to persuade Blase to sacrifice to pagan idols. The first time Blase refused, he was beaten. The next time he was suspended from a tree and his flesh torn with iron combs or rakes. (English wool combers, who used similar iron combs, took Blase as their patron. They could easily appreciate the agony the saint underwent.) Finally he was beheaded. (from

I always love the Feast of St. Blase, which we usually commemorate after the Candlemas ceremony, with a throat blessing in the chapel with two crossed candles. We have a rather arcane device which holds the candles, and legend has it they used to be lit as in the drawing above, but now we just tie a red ribbon around two beeswax candles (unlit). St. Mary's still uses lit candles held by a very peculiar looking contraption, quite dramatic and rather scary I must say, to have your throat between two blazing candles. This year we will have this rite on Sunday, which will also be the Feast of the Dedication.

Last night we celebrated the Feast of Candlemas in grand High Church style, with newly restored proper ceremonial for the candle blessing and procession. The past few years various MCs and priests had tinkered with the ceremonial to try and streamline things, rushing a service that defies being rushed, to the point that we had lit all the aisle candles and extra altar candles beforehand, which kind of defeated the purpose of lighting all the candles from a single flame. It was wonderful to finally do it right again with the ancient ritual, starting out in semi-darkness, then watching the place gradually fill with light as the choir sang the Antiphons. We processed around with a decent size congo (about 55, mostly visitors) in the semi-darkness (finally got that setting right also, last year it was way too dark). I was subdeacon and got to chant the epistle to the Hebrews in the solemn tone. We were honored to have Bishop Andrew St. John with us, preaching a fine and entertaining sermon that included his Candlemas adventures in Australia where it was the middle of summer and often hot enough to melt the candles before they could get lit. He also gave us a great new term for high church: a "tabby and six" as they say in Oz: a tabernacle and six high altar candles. The choir did a splendid job on the Missa “Ave regina coelorum” of Dufay and the altar party did fine even without a rehearsal with the added pontifical elements of the Mass. All in all a splendid celebration which ended with an auspicious snowfall, which supposedly means there will be an early Spring.

"If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again."

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Deep and Dark December

It was a cold and gloomy Advent for the most part, with two solemn requiems in the second week, for Alan McClare and Don McCall. Fr. Hitchcock came back for both and preached at Alan's. He and Alan were friends since grade school in Bronxville so it was a very emotional farewell for him especially. I was subdeacon and managed to save my tears for later. It was a white mass of the resurrection, as was Don's, although Don had a real solemn requiem with the Missa pro Defunctis of Victoria. We laid Don to rest in the columbarium right under Murray Kempton and the large crucifix, only about 10 feet from where he used to sit right behind the organ.

Alan's family apparently have a horror of high church and insisted on a streamlined, rather low service, no choir and very minimal music and incense, and no reception afterward so it felt rather unsatisfactory to many of us who knew Alan. His ashes were taken away for a resting place unknown.

I was hobbling during Alan's requiem with a pulled left thigh muscle and it got worse after that. I had to be MC for Don's requiem a few days later and managed to get by with a lot of help and mastering the art of the faux genuflection. It has gradually gotten better and I am relieved it doesn't seem to be permanent arthritis or something quite yet. I must get back to the gym next year and also lose the 10 pounds I've gained.

Christmas Eve I was thurifer and managed to provide some really good smoke but apparently I put a little too much myrrh in the blend as the rector was coughing and said it smelt too much like Lent. Well you have to take the bitter with the sweet I guess. I slept in Christmas morning for the first time in many years, as I wasn't scheduled to serve, then headed out to Forest Hills for a wonderful Christmas with my brother Gene, in from Denver, and Laurie's gang. It was great to see my old Gibson bass restored, courtesy of Gene's friend in Denver, and Evan promising to learn it.

I resigned as chair of Building and Grounds during Advent, after 8 years on the case. It seemed like a good time to move on at the end of this old decade of leaks, floods, infestations, upgrades and restorations. We got alot done but much remains to be done and very little money to do anything at the moment. I look forward to going back on the vestry next month and trying to move some things along and help out in other ways, but someone else needs to have some fun now trying to keep up with this old house. I'm sure I will still be prone to noticing every lightbulb that needs changing but I hope to depend on someone else to go get the ladder.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51)

November always makes me shiver and the autumn leaves this year around St. Ignatius seemed to remind me more than usual of things past and things gone forever. We commemorated All Souls on November 2 with a solemn requiem (Victoria's Missa pro Defunctis) and absolution at the catafalque (the so-called absolution at the catafalque, as Fr Weatherby always added). I was subdeacon, a role I had seldom played in requiems, and I got to sing the wonderful epistle from Corinthians about death and resurrection, which always makes me feel better in spite of how illogical it all seems.

After Alan McClare's tragic death (his solemn requiem will finally be on December 12) we had hoped that would be enough death for a season, but sadly we only had a couple of more weeks until Don McCall fell and cracked his head and died 10 days later. Somehow Don's death hit me very hard even though I could see it was perhaps the only rest the poor man would ever know in his ill-fated life. He had been around the church for over 20 years, having been baptised one Easter Vigil, an event that he always mentioned whenever he spoke to me, and I sensed that it was truly the most wonderful event of his life. He had so many physical and mental problems, but he was always cheerful, always had something funny to tell, and always forgave my temper tantrums that he sometimes evoked, such as the times when he felt the need to take home the bathroom soap, not realizing it left other people stranded. After I found out it was him and explained it to him, it never happened again. He had a bit of a drinking problem also, which made it often necessary to ask him to leave the soup kitchen, where he always helped out as best he could on Saturday afternoons, in spite of only having one semi-workable hand. He would sometimes get unruly in concerts, which he loved to attend, and last year had to be taken away in an ambulance after he fell over on his pew and couldn't be roused. But he always came back and we always welcomed him and several of us tried our best to help him. St. Ignatius was a stable environment that he felt safe in and the past year he had also been attending the City's outreach program run in our undercroft, The Other Place. He had been making a lot of progress in recent months and the last time I saw him he seemed like alot of healing had taken place. But sometime around Nov. 19 he fell and cracked open his head. He never regained consciousness and died on Nov. 29. Fr Blume and a few others from church went and last rites were given. He will be buried in the columbarium in a niche donated by the church. May his soul and those of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Strangers and Pilgrims

These stones that have echoed their praises are holy,
And dear is the ground where their feet have once trod;
Yet here they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims,
And still they were seeking the city of God.

Remembering George Blackshire, who died October 5 at the age of 85. He had been a trustee of St. Mary the Virgin for many years and was in his latter prime when I was there. He was also the head of the Brother Lawrence Guild and for many years was in charge of the hospitality after services. Although he disapproved heartily when St. Mary's went to Rite II, he remained loyal when others fled to more traditional parishes. As expected, he had requested a solemn requiem with black vestments and the Faure Requiem. I'm sure he would have been happier with a true solemn requiem with subdeacon instead of the missing man formation now in effect at St. Mary's, but the Faure was divine and the reception afterward adequate, although I missed the sherry and jalapeno jack that were regular staples of George's receptions.

We were also notified of a sudden farewell by Alan McClare yesterday, of as yet unknown causes. Alan was a longtime vestryman and warden of St. Ignatius who had in recent years been absent from our midst. In keeping with recent history of male wardens, he had disappeared soon after being relieved of warden duty, for reasons still unclear. I wish now I had made more of an effort to keep in touch, as he was such a constant figure in our parish life for so many years and did so much for so long. I was just thinking of him rather vividly the day before and wondering what had caused him to suddenly disappear. Now I guess we'll never know.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

After the Deluge

We celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels last night with a procession and solemn pontifical mass, Bishop Roskam celebrating and preaching. We had a pretty good crowd of mostly visitors and the music was offered by our new ensemble in residence, Tenet, a quartet of singers who did a fine job on the anonymous 14th century French Messe de Tournai and the motet “Factum est silentium” by Alessandro Grandi (ca. 1575–1630). I was subdeacon and got to sing the wonderful passage from Revelation about Michael and the dragon. I was thankful that we have inherited the notated epistle chants from St. Paul's K Street after they decided to switch to the new common lectionary, so I didn't have to write it out myself.

The organ is operating at about one-quarter of its capacity after the organ chamber was soaked a couple of weeks ago by a failed water heater which had inexplicably been installed above it about 20 years ago. It was an accident waiting to happen and in spite of my best efforts to get it removed in recent months, it finally could hold out no longer and burst at the top and bottom, sending about 50 gallons of water down the floorboards and flooding three-quarters of the pipes. Our organist gave me a tour of the damage that evening and it was a sight I had always dreaded to see. I had been aware of the danger for about 8 years since I took over as Building & Grounds chair, and the removal of the water heater had always been on the to-do list, but there was always some more pressing emergency that demanded our attention and money. This spring we finally got the money to do the work but the summer went by with one thing and another stalling the work until finally time ran out. Perhaps it will work to our benefit, making lemonade out of the lemons as the rector put it, and we will actually get enough insurance money to do all of the work on the organ that has been needed for a long time. Let us pray.

Friday, August 28, 2009

At the Shrine of the Muse Divine

O Sound the call to dear old Interlochen
Land of the stately pine
Where stalwart hands and loyal ever greet you

Faithful to Auld Lang Syne
Old friends you'll greet, new ones you'll meet
A welcome you'll ever find

So sound the call to dear old Interlochen
Shrine of the Muse Divine!

It was like Woodstock on Grand Traverse Bay for 4 glorious days of music, peace and love at the unofficial 1969-72 Interlochen Arts Academy reunion held August 5-9. A week later would be the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and also the 40th anniversary of the end of my first summer at Interlochen. I was just out of 9th grade and played bass clarinet that summer on a scholarship from the Texas Music Teachers. I was a stranger in paradise there amidst all those gifted youth from all over the world and often felt like I would never keep up with all that talent. I couldn't wait to return the following summer, however, this time playing bassoon on another scholarship from the Texas Music Teachers. I had a lot to learn about the bassoon but made a quantum leap that summer and the next, finally getting into the World Youth Symphony the summer of 1971 and then aspiring to get a scholarship to the Arts Academy for my senior year. I didn't quite believe I would actually get to go to the Academy since I needed virtually a full scholarship. These days the tuition is $42,000 and I don't know how anyone can afford it. Back then it was about $5,000 but that was way more than we could afford. My only hope was that they needed another bassoon badly enough to finance me for the year. I went back to my senior year in Belton the Monday after camp was over and started marching band practice, waiting without much expectation for a couple of weeks before getting the call that I had a scholarship.

I had not been back to Interlochen since the summer of 1974 when I was on staff, working in the library and music library. I was glad to see things have changed only for the better, with several new buildings, including a new concert hall, theater, recital hall/chapel with pipe organ, art building and creative writing building. The Bowl has nice new seating and the old gym which doubled as a concert hall was reborn as a fantastic new library and music library. The only thing I could find to criticize was the women's dorm which seemed rather in need of a facelift.

The week we were there was the week after the Music Camp, which only lasts 6 weeks now (it was 8 weeks in my day), so we had pretty much the run of the place. The marching band camp seemed to stay mostly on the boys side and the adult band camp was always practicing somewhere, so I had a lot of quiet time to wander through all the various sites, some of which I had never seen since they were off limits in camp and academy days. The high school girls camp brought back so many great memories, as did the high school boys. Somehow everywhere I went I ran into inspiration and encouragement, from the words carved into a picnic table ("I can do all things through Him who gives me strength"), to the Linus cartoons with Lucy's laments about falling in love with a musician, which were present also in my day, to the pictures and mementos in Giddings Concourse, which has that same smell it had 37 years ago. There is a timeless feeling about Interlochen that I had almost forgotten, the pure clean pine air (no smoking allowed on campus), the almost deafening quiet save for the wind in the pines and gentle lapping of the lake.

There were about 45 people there from that era who had all reconnected through Facebook and decided to get together unofficially. We rented a recording studio in Traverse City for two nights and about half of us played, sang or otherwise entertained in what was truly a transcendental experience. I never expected to hear so many great tunes done so awesomely. What a lot of gifted geezers we have among us! Truly amazing talent which was streamed in a live webcast and is now being made into a DVD.

The last night we got back from the concert about midnight and decided to make s'mores on the beach behind Kresge. We had a few bottles of alcohol also, but were busted by the security guy for drinking on campus shortly after we got there. We had to pour some of it out on the sand, but a couple of bottles survived and we continued the party after he left until 5:00 when the same security guy came back and advised us that a storm was fast approaching. By this time the last bottle had been drained and we were all getting very silly and would have probably sat there and gotten drenched if he hadn't insisted we leave. We had been watching the lightning get closer and closer from over Lake Michigan and made it out just in time before the heavens opened.

The next morning was Sunday and after only a couple of hours of sleep we got up and had a spirit circle at Cindi's beautiful cabin, where the heavens opened again as we shared our thoughts and experiences from the reunion and what Interlochen and the people we have met there have meant to our lives. I struggled through my own unexpected tears of joy to express my gratitude for the gift of Interlochen in my life, and thoughts of all my newfound friendships sustained me in a very long and agonizing trip back to reality.

Moonrise over Lake Wahbekaness

Friday, July 31, 2009

St. Joseph of Arimathea

Almighty, everlasting God, Who didst entrust Thy most blessed servant, Joseph, to take down the lifeless body of Thine Only-Begotten Son from the Cross, and to perform the due offices of humanity, hasten, we pray Thee, that we, who devotedly recall His memory, may feel the help of Thine accustomed pity, through the same, Our Lord. Amen.

The Glastonbury Hymn

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon her clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded there
Among those dark Satanic mills?
- William Blake

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lauda Sion

Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Faith, the law of sight transcending
Leaps to things not understood.
Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see.

We celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 11 in grand High Church style. We were a little bit light on altar servers but we had a great crowd for once. We were treated to a wealth of wonderful music in our choir's last appearance for the season, starting with the Mass in g-minor of Ralph Vaughan Williams and the motet O sacrum convivium by Thomas Tallis. Canon Osgood gave a very entertaining and edifying sermon, and we also had the Rev. Woodward from London in quire as well as Deacon Paul, so it was a lively event that went pretty well considering we didn't have a rehearsal. It was Craig's last appearance as MC and by the time it was over he seemed to be glad that the mantle had been lifted from his shoulders and I even felt a little envious of his newfound freedom, I must say. Our other retiring MC Frank was not able to attend, sadly, and it was the end of 22 years of altar service for him and about 10 for Craig at St. Ignatius and close to ten at SMV before that. In spite of all the arguments we have had over the years, I will miss their wisdom and grace under fire.

The procession and Benediction after Solemn Mass was the usual near chaos but we managed to wing our way through it even with the mixed signals and sotto voce stage directions from several quarters. The immortal words of Fr Wells again echoed in my mind a few times, wondering "will we ever learn how to do Benediction?" We had no torches but we did have two thurifers, I being one of them, and we had pretty good smoke up until we got back to the altar for the Tantum ergo (Elgar). There was just too much music, as beautiful as it was, having started out with Elgar's O salutaris hostia, then processing around slowly and by the start of the Tantum Ergo my coals were dead and we still had to get through the Te Deum (Vaughan Williams). The second thurifer had better luck with the bigger thurible, so we had a respectable amount of smoke, but not nearly as much as you should have for a Te Deum. It was really too much to add that on after Benediction and it made the service 2 hours and 20 minutes long, which is almost as long as the Easter Vigil. It was glorious but I think Te Deums should be done either on Trinity or at the Feast of Dedication. A hymn to end Corpus Christi is a lot more reasonable even for someone who generally says too much ain't enough.

Now we are into summer and everything is much simpler, with just one sung mass on Sundays. There are no urgent building projects at the moment so I have finally found some time to get back to my candle recycling project and have been spending one night a week in the kitchen making bottle candles and votives from melting down old candle stubs and paschal candles. We have amassed quite a bit of wax the past few years and it's a shame to let it go to waste. It's actually rather fun now that I've gotten the hang of it. Keeps me off the streets anyway.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

25 Years On

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful;
Enkindle in us the fire of your love

I guess this painting gives a precedent for standing, sitting and lying on the altar, but I'm sure on the first day of Pentecost it was probably inevitable. That first rush of the Holy Spirit must have been awesome and gave original meaning to slain in the Spirit. These days it is all very formal and one who gets as carried away as those in this painting is most likely to be seen as mentally ill. We have our own extremist who comes around when the Spirit moves I suppose, caressing the statues and lighting candles, usually during the sermon or some very noticeable point in the service. She used to light her candle right from the altar before they were extinguished but was finally persuaded that was not kosher, so now she just likes to prostrate herself in the sanctuary after Mass and gets very irate if she is told that this is not done at St. Ignatius. Perhaps she is filled with the Spirit, but cursing me when I asked her politely (at coffee hour) to just kneel on the cushion at the rail and not enter the sanctuary and telling me I am going to incur the wrath of God for interfering with her prayers, somehow that doesn't sound like the Holy Spirit. We have this scene about once a year and I have gotten used to it, but it had to happen on the one Sunday in a long time that I got to sit in the Zabriskie pew and enjoy the service. Such is life at the shrine church.

This Holy Week was the last for two of our most senior MCs who are retiring, and the sacristy will not be the same without their wisdom and experience. Next year someone else will have to learn the Good Friday and Easter Vigil services and maybe Maundy Thursday also, who knows, but life goes on and we are training one new server and a new MC and welcoming back a former MC who will add some depth.

I was MC for Maundy Thursday, as I have been for the past 10 years, and it went very well until the Procession to the Altar of Repose. You'd think after 10 years I would remember that it is not like Corpus Christi, as I was waiting for the choir to start the O Salutaris. As Fr Wells famously shouted at Benediction once at St. Mary's, I was about to say "Will the choir please start the O Salutaris!" Luckily I restrained myself and we simply got going and the choir started the processional hymn.

Good Friday marked the 25th anniversary of my first service at St. Ignatius and I was able to "enjoy" (if one can possibly enjoy Good Friday) the liturgy from the Zabriskie pew in what was the first blessedly child-free Good Friday in recent memory. It was an appropriately cold and dark day and I was suffering from a terrible boil in a very inconvenient place. I was able to get through the service sitting very still, but had to go walking all over the West Side afterward looking for ichthamol ointment, which is rather hard to find these days. All in all, it made me feel very close to Job as I had been for several weeks during Lent after having a tooth pulled and suffering a splitting headache for 10 days straight, then getting this boil which felt like a volcano erupting. They say suffering is good for the soul, but I think it is overrated!

We had good crowds for all the services and quite a few visitors.The Great Vigil went well with some ceremonial adjustments, and we had a beautiful new fire from our new, fireman approved hibachi. We did the blessing of the water and paschal candle at the font this year, a first as far as I know. We had always done it in the sanctuary because we thought it couldn't be done at the font due to the height between font and covering, but Fr Blume got just the right angle to avoid dripping wax or having the follower fall off and it did work much better there as it was intended. We also started the practice of lighting everything from Easter through Pentecost from the original new fire, keeping the flame going in the sacristy until just a few days before Pentecost when we finally slipped and let it go out, but at least it was after Ascension.

I was subdeacon for Easter Day and that would have been fun if I hadn't been so tired, in spite of the earlier hour for the Vigil and actually getting a few hours sleep. It was a cold and windy Easter, Gilberto was in Philadelphia, Laurie and the gang had other plans, and I was in no mood for any kind of company this year, so I walked around Central Park for awhile. I found no solace there with the boisterous mobs and relentless wind, however, and I ended up in a movie, as usual, and a scary one at that (Knowing), but at least it put my little boil in perspective!

Procession, Easter Day Solemn Mass

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Old Time Religion

I found this picture of the old St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Belton, Texas, as it appeared in the latter days of its life as a functioning church. It was abandoned to the Bell Fine Arts Assn. when the new St. Luke's was built in 1970 and for many years was an art gallery and museum. I found this article about how it now sits in dire repair, although with some hope of restoration funding.

I came into St. Luke's in the fall of 1970 when they had just moved into the new church. I needed money to finance the next summer at Interlochen so I was desperately seeking employment and just by chance happened upon an ad outside the music department of Mary Hardin Baylor College seeking an organist for St. Luke's.  I had studied piano for 5 years and organ for a couple of years so I decided to try out for the job. I had some experience in church music having played piano for Sunday School and various other church activities in the First Baptist Church, so I had access to their wonderful grand piano and organ and could come in and play whenever I wanted, living just a block away. It became my second home in many ways, so when I was actually offered the job at St. Luke's, I was very torn about leaving the Baptists. I had many fond memories of years of choir practices and competitions, wonderful revivals and fellowship, and memorable services which included my cousin and me singing a duet and my voice cracking, whereupon we both fell apart in giggles. The choir director played to the end of the verse as we stood there and giggled. Then we had to slink down under our seats for the rest of the service. The pastor was not amused.

St. Luke's turned out to be a great turning point in my spiritual life. I loved the order of service and the music, so simple and sweet. They had a little Hammond organ and I did the best I could with it, but it suited the space, which was modern and clean but didn't have the quaint character of the old St. Luke's. I had rarely seen the inside of it in my 10 years in Belton, but it was always a fascinating and spiritual site to me and I often passed by wishing it was open. I do remember getting in to see it finally and it really did feel like a very holy place to me.

1970 was the first crest of the charismatic movement in the Episcopal church and our vicar was just out of Southwest Seminary, filled with the Spirit, quite genuinely. He was rather high church leaning and introduced a bit of incense, which was my first experience of frankincense. He also decided to introduce charismatic gifts to St. Luke's and we had several very interesting and probably Spirit filled gatherings where people spake in tongues and interpreted and may have been healed or delivered. I was only 16 and may or may not have really been speaking in tongues, but I definitely felt the Spirit there for the first time.  It was all too much for most of the church, however, and a parting of the ways was soon to come. I only spent one year there as organist and then got into Interlochen Arts Academy for my senior year and had to move on, but it was a year filled with much spiritual as well as musical growth and my mother and I went through confirmation class and got confirmed in the spring of 1971. Before I left for the summer at Interlochen (playing bassoon) I also went to some real Pentecostal churches with some friends and witnessed the real Holy Rollers. That was something to behold, but as much as I wanted to be a part of that, I didn't really feel the Spirit like I had at St. Luke's.  Which reminds me of the usher at St. Mary's who was heard to say to the woman who was slain in the Spirit and claimed that she had religion, "well you may have religion but you didn't get it here!"

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Remembrance of Things Past

Grace Church, Traverse City, MI

This Lent has been a time of reconnecting with my roots through the miracle of Facebook and some of the most poignant memories have been of the time I spent at Interlochen, a magical place in northern Michigan dedicated to the fine arts. I spent 5 summers there and one academic year (my senior year in high school).  I have recently been immersed in remembering the people and events of that blessed time and more than once been astounded at what grace led me there. It was probably the happiest time of my life although I didn't realize it at the time. There were many terrifying moments amid all the wonder and it was truly a rite of passage for my spiritual as well as musical education.

I spent many Sunday mornings at Grace Episcopal Church in Traverse City, trying to keep up my recent entrance into the Episcopal Church just the year before. I remember being one of the very few who actually got on the bus to go to a Sunday service, most of my fellow students rather smirking at my spiritual leanings, although my then boyfriend often accompanied me and being an organist took the opportunity to play a little on the organ there. He has since become the music director at the British Embassy in Tokyo, so perhaps that early experience also guided his career, if not his spirituality, somewhat.

The summer before, I had my first encounter with a satanist at Interlochen and remember taking his satanic bible and hurling it into the trash in a fit of righteous rage. It did little but cause a howl of laughter from him and his friends, but I felt like I had stood up for the true path regardless of how little it seemed to accomplish.  During the year I was also subjected to quite a bit of ridicule but I stood my ground even though it did little to enhance my popularity. The following year in Boston when I entered the conservatory I gradually succumbed to fitting in and only occasionally made it out on a Sunday to attend Church of the Advent, and by the time I hit New York I had ceased going to church all together. It would be seven years before I finally looked up St. Ignatius, which I had heard of at the Advent and was advised to attend when I got to New York. And the rest, as they say, is history.

"What is life but a series of preludes to that unknown song whose initial solemn note is tolled by Death? The enchanted dawn of every life is love; but where is the destiny on whose first delicious joys some storm does not break?"  (from Les Preludes by Alphonse Lamartine)

Les Preludes, final concert at Interlochen, summer 1969

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Cornerstone

How dreadful is this place: this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven: and it shall be called the house of God.

For the Feast of Dedication, which fell on a Sunday this year, February 8, we processed from the altar out the West End door and around the block to the cornerstone, accompanied by the choir and the Sarum plainchant Urbs beata Jerusalem, where we gave thanks to God and our benefactors, past and present, for this sacred place that we call our spiritual home.  It was an unusually warm  and pleasant day as we marveled at the bright and shining cornerstone and the rest of the wondrously clean stonework.

We had some wonderful English music for the Solemn Mass, Leighton's Missa Brevis, and Bairstow's Blessed City, heavenly Salem for the motet, which was quite long but glorious. I was MC so I didn't catch much of the prelude, Messiaen's Vision of the Eternal Church, but I hear it was marvelously ethereal.
The Monday before the Dedication was Candlemas and that was also wonderful.  One of our  ensembles in residence, Amor Artis, provided the music and did a fine job on Viadana's Missa "L'hora Passa" and Palestrina's Alma Redemptoris Mater. We had invited Bishop Taylor but had not heard whether he was able to attend until he suddenly appeared in the sacristy a half hour before the service. I'm glad I was only crucifer since we suddenly had to switch into Solemn Mass in the presence of a Bishop mode. We didn't have time to put up a throne and he insisted on sitting in the back clergy stall which is neither very comfortable for sitting nor very accessible for blessing incense and Gospel books, but we managed with a minimum of fuss. This was Bishop Taylor's last visit before he retires in May back to his home in Kingston, Jamaica, so it was a rather poignant occasion. He gave one of his long and captivating sermons and most of us were in tears by the end.

On February 12 the episode of 30 Rock that was filmed at St. Ignatius aired and it was really quite funny.  They made our statues appear rather scary and they used several of their prop statues that were pretty horrible, but the church looked great. You can view the episode here:
Ash Wednesday came much too soon and we did it without a rehearsal so things were a bit chaotic. I was subdeacon and spent most of the first part wondering where I was supposed to be. As usual the ashes weren't wet enough and they ended up flaking all over my alb. The deacon and subdeacon are down to amice and alb for Lent which will really make us feel penitent, but this too shall pass. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

Death Don't Have No Mercy

January was a cruel month. It started with the Feast of the Holy Name which was very cold. I was thurifer and a bit grumpy (even without much of a real hangover) and managed to spill the precious Omani frankincense all over the carpet during the first censing of the altar at the Sung Mass when I tried to get the MC to hold the boat closer to the bowl and we collided in midair. We had a rather small crowd but God was glorified and afterward I had a nice brunch at Carmine's with my old pals from SMV, Walter Morton and his newly baptized wife, Miyoko. They are both at St. Paul's Carroll Street now and enjoying that quaint conservative haven.

The Feast of the Epiphany was especially wonderful, with Lionheart providing the music. They sang the Obrecht Missa “De tou bien plaine” in exquisite style. I was able to enjoy the service from the Zabriskie pew for once and it was most refreshing. We had a good crowd and a lot of visitors. Spirits were high and Fr Blume was looking forward to a nice week or so in Paris.

Who could have guessed that four days later we would be mourning the sudden tragic death of Nicholas Kau, 18 years old, who somehow fell from a 9th floor window early on January 10th. I had seen Nicholas grow up at St. Ignatius and was sad to remember having thrown away one of his Sunday School drawings of a Station of the Cross a few years ago during one of the cleanup days. Nicholas was born on Easter Sunday 1990, the third son of Randall and Elizabeth, two of our long-time members. I remember him as such a sweet boy, always with a big smile. In recent years he had been quite a star in the theater as well as on the athletic field at Trinity and apparently had quite a fan club there, where he had graduated last Spring.

There were about 300 people there for the Friday night Vigil and 518 people there for his Solemn Mass of the Resurrection on January 17, many of them young people. Even Murray Kempton did not have so many people at his funeral. We spent several days getting ready for it. It was imperative that we get the library cleaned up so that we could have people up there during the Vigil, so I spent two evenings in there getting things straightened up and tossed out, with the help of our sexton. We got rid of some dilapidated chairs, several old computers, quite a bit of accumulated paper and debris, and by Friday morning it actually looked like a nice room, although still in need of major floor work.

On Thursday I had to spend a bit of time negotiating for a couple of porta-potties for outside since we only have 3 johns in the whole place and were expecting at least 500 people for the funeral. Fr Harding was in charge of preparations since Fr Blume was on vacation and not getting back until Thursday night. In the midst of deciding which johns we wanted and when and where we were going to put them, Fr Harding's beeper went off and he had to rush down to the famous Miracle on the Hudson plane splash to be a fire chaplain. Luckily his services were not much needed that day.

Friday I took the day off and we spent most of the day getting ready for the Vigil that night. We had a lot of work to do to get the place ready. There were several people arranging flowers (since it was white Mass of the Resurrection flowers are allowed) and I spent about an hour getting the bier lights looking nice since they had orangish beeswax all over them from All Souls, and I had to melt it off with the heatgun. Friends from the Tribeca Film Festival donated their services of a professional AV crew that set up a whole system to pipe the service down to the undercroft with two big flat screens. Another friend had a catering service and sent over 150 decent folding chairs to set up down there for the funeral and they were all used. That was a first for us, to have the need for an overflow capacity, but it worked pretty well I hear. They also brought some things to make the undercroft look a little more pleasant and another friend had some beautiful and heartbreaking pictures of Nicholas enlarged and put up around the room.

It was great to see Fr Stowe again and he preached a wonderful and very appropriate homily, although he fell victim to the sacristy ghost who made off with his vintage Wippell surplice sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning. We look forward to its reappearance someday but in the meantime Fr Stowe is quite bereft since he had been ordained in it in 1970. It was good to see Fr Parsons also and we three strolled down memory lane a bit before the Vigil. It was great to see several other old friends that had been away for awhile, although it is very sad that it takes someone dying for us to come together again.

The day of the funeral was the coldest day we had in quite awhile and I felt sorry for those who had to venture outside to the john. I was thurifer for the Mass of the Resurrection and it was quite amazing to come down the aisle looking at such a full house. I don't think any of us had ever seen it that full. We even had about 25 people seating in the Lady Chapel. It got so crowded down by the bier during communion that two of the glass votive lights got knocked off and smashed, spilling wax and shards of glass all around. Just when we had the first one cleaned up, the second one went down. Somehow it only seemed an appropriate background to the many sobbing teenagers who mourned poor Nicholas and gathered around his family with condolences. It was surely the saddest funeral I had ever attended at St. Ignatius, and there have been some sad ones. But the Mass was just ethereal, with the choir (mostly not our regular choir but some splendid hired voices) doing the Victoria Missa Pro Defunctis after opening with Morley's Burial Anthems. After the Commendation someone sang Loch Lomond and then a firefighter played the bagpipes at the procession. Nicholas was a great lover of all things Scottish and also all things Hawaiian. He had just had a wonderful vacation in Hawaii over the Christmas holidays with his grandmother where he basked in the warm sun that he loved so much. She sent three beautiful leis made of hundreds of petals of different flowers which were placed on his bier. The altar flowers were birds of paradise and other tropical plants. It was all so heartbreakingly beautiful, I was glad I had a lot of smoke to hide behind.

We learned of the death of former parishioner and semi-famous editor Tom Congdon in early January also. He and Connie had retired to Nantucket in the early 1990s and I was glad I had been to see them a few years ago in their quaint Nantucket house on Pine Street, near St. Paul's Church. We remembered fondly their Easter Even parties at their 87th Street townhouse in the late 1980s. We would get out of the Vigil around 1:30 am and head over to a royal feast with endless champagne that often lasted until around 4:00 am. Getting up for Easter Sunday was not so easy, and once the MC of the day never made it, so Fr Stowe suggested we start having the festivities in the Undercroft and it was never again so much fun as it was at the Congdons.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Auld Lang Syne

drawing by Lelia Ryan
based on High Altar window of St. Ignatius

We had a gift of some wonderful Omani frankincense from a parishioner who was over there recently and I made a Christmastide blend adding some myrrh and the rest of last year's blend. It was somehow a much purer essence than the Somali frankincense we have in stock but we will have to save it for the highest feasts since it is only a pound. I wish we could get a consistent supply of it for it truly is a much superior product, huge teardrops that release a heavenly scent when broken up and burned. Our thurifer for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve really made some wonderful smoke and only a handful of the 166 people who came did not stay for the whole service. I saw a group heading for the exit after the opening procession, and thought that the smoke must have been too much for them, but apparently they were there just for the carol service for some odd reason. It was great to have a nice crowd for once and the service went well in spite of not having quite enough servers, a few of us being ill (myself included but I managed to get through it as an acolyte). The MC doubled as crucifer (in the festive tunicle) and the Subdeacon rang the tower bell at the elevations from underneath the humeral veil. The next morning I had to get up early to be MC, and most of us came back and did it again for a much smaller crowd at 11am after not enough sleep. Then I went out to Forest Hills to celebrate with Laurie and the gang, which was fun even in my exhausted and sickly state.

Last night the choir gave a wonderful concert of three Christmas oratorios by Bach with a small orchestra that was just superb. The church was almost full and it was a good mix of parishioners, neighborhood people and music lovers. For once the church was warm enough for comfort after we had the whole heating system cleaned out and a new motor installed on one of the blowers a couple of weeks ago. That combined with all the cracks and crevices we sealed up on the north wall have made the place comfortably warm, and the Omani frankincense still lingering in the air and the aisle candlesticks glowing gave the place a very nice atmosphere. Perhaps some of our visitors will even come back for a service.

And so another calendar year draws to a close tonight. Let us pray that '09 is a good and joyous one in spite of all the uncertainty that abounds.

Don't look so sad,
It's not so bad you know.
It's just another night,
That's all it is, it's not the first,
It's not the worst you know,
We've come through all the rest,
We'll get through this.
- B. Manilow

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Windy New Year

Church of the Incarnation
Dallas, TX

I went to the Choral Eucharist at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas on Advent I, accompanied by Gilberto. Fleeing the Diocese of Ft. Worth, we drove 75 miles from my brother's house in Granbury and his Baptist relations from Garland met us there. They had never been to an Episcopal service but were game participants, following along with all the ups and downs, although no crossing or bowing, and even received Communion. Afterward they said they had enjoyed it but could not see making a habit of it, their own service was much livelier.

It was a "bells but no smells" Rite I Choral Eucharist, and for some reason there were 8 candles on the altar. We were impressed to see a mitre coming down the aisle at the procession and Bp. Burton (a young Canadian Bishop who has lately come down to this gig) had a nice presence and gave a decent sermon on the meaning of Advent. They had a very fine choir, although the mass settings were out of the hymnal, and they did a nice motet at the Offertory but the leaflet gave no details on the music or the readings. Afterward our Baptist friends remarked that they had already been singing Christmas carols that morning in their early service and were amused that we were so joyously singing Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending as the hymn called for deeply wailing. But they were impressed that there was an Advent wreath although I never did see it get lit.

The Sunday before, we celebrated Christ the King in grand High Church style with Bp. Sisk celebrating and confirming 2 and receiving 1 into our fold. We had a great crowd, with both 9:00 and 11:00 congos combined and several visitors from GTS and elsewhere. I was thurifer and did better this time with kneeling on my left knee since I had learned to use it when my right knee was injured for several weeks last Spring. But I managed to get branded by the hot chain when I knelt down and then had to hold up the thurible for incense. I was just on the verge of dropping it when Our Grace finally got through sprinkling and blessing and I could move my hand. At least he didn't say the whole Latin prayer like the Rector does. It was also the anniversary of Fr. Blume's institution on Christ the King 2007 by Bp. Sisk and we gave thanks for that. Bp. Sisk loves playing high church for the day and goes along gamely with all the MC throws at him. We put up a full throne for him and he gets a kick out of that. He even donned the pontifical dalmatic under our Christ the King chasuble.

After a festive reception and brunch we came back for Solemn Evensong, Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. I had to jump in as MC and we got by with just a thurifer and two acolytes, and no canopy. It was not our most glorious Procession of the Sacrament, with only a handful of people in the congo, but perhaps we have passed into a new era where the monstrance need not fear the open air and Our Lord might even deign to be jostled a bit at the porch when the doors have not been opened for Him. We do Benediction a little different every time and this time was no different. But God was glorified and it was a lovely way to end the Church Year and start Thanksgiving week.

The next day I flew down to Dallas with Gilberto and we spent the next week driving 1100 miles around Texas seeing various friends and family, dropping by Lake Belton for lunch with some friends, spending one night in San Antonio and taking a stroll along the Riverwalk on a perfect night, then ending up in Spring for a warm 3 day Thanksgiving family reunion of 25 people. It was the first time my three brothers and I had all been together in a few years and it was wonderful to meet two new members of the next generation and a new Iranian nephew-in-law and to see nephews and nieces I hadn't seen in awhile. And it was nice to see Texas and once again remember all I love and hate about it. It was wonderfully warm in San Antonio and Spring but I had forgotten how cold and windy Dallas can be and that Saturday as we traveled northward into a blue norther, it felt more like Boston than Dallas.

After church we went over to the West End to Sonny Bryan's for barbecue sandwiches and then our Baptist friends gave us a tour of downtown Dallas (it has changed a bit in the 30 years since I worked at the Dallas Public Library for a year). Then we made our way back to Granbury in the blinding sunset to my brother's new house by the lake. Granbury is rather like the town in The Last Picture Show, a very long way from downtown Dallas. But there's not even a movie house in town, so we watched Run Silent Run Deep at home and had rum drinks till we passed out. We left the next day for New York after walking around the quaint old town square and having a wonderful Texas cheeseburger at Grump's. It was still windy as Hell and about 10 degrees colder than New York. Just in case I might ever feel nostalgic about the place.

Proclaiming the Gospel,
Christ the King

Friday, October 31, 2008

The End of an Era

October 26, 2008

At long last the scaffolding came down and a bright shining church was revealed last Friday, the octave of the Feast of St. Ignatius, which we had celebrated in grand High Church style the Sunday previous. When I got there it was already twilight, then Saturday we had a near hurricane all day so I had to wait until Sunday morning to really see how wonderful it looks. It feels like a new era has begun and tomorrow we will put up a new flag and then it's on to less glamorous projects like nailing down the loose shingles and patching up the bell tower and apartment roofs. I'm so glad our new leaf screens on the gutters will mean we only have to have them cleaned every 2 or 3 years rather than twice a year. With the new roof over the narthex and holes in the party wall sealed up we should finally have a dry porch and dungeon. And it already feels warmer with all the other gaps that were filled up. The windows look much brighter also and now we must pray for funds to finally clean the inside.

October 4 we said goodbye to the Cursillo Kid, Kevin Farley, with a "Burial of the Dead" service at St. Mary's. I'm pretty sure Kevin would have preferred a black requiem, but they apparently don't do black anymore there, so it was white and a Mass of the Resurrection, with Fr. Wells celebrating and Fr. Gerth assisting and preaching. It was good to see and hear Fr. Wells at the altar and he was in very fine form 10 years after retirement. It was a lovely service with readings and music that Kevin had chosen. The choir did a splendid job with the beautiful Durufle Requiem and also gave us Bruckner's Ave Maria and Mozart's Ave Verum before the service. It was great to see many old time St. Marians and Cursillistas there and hear a rousing Alleluia, Sing to Jesus at the Offertory. Kevin's cortege down to the Holy Sepulchre in Trenton was too far a trip for most of us, but afterward 12 of us toasted Kevin in grand Irish style at the Playwright Tavern and proposed creating a new Cursillo wristband with WWKD (What Would Kevin Do) on it. October 4 was also the 29th anniversary of his (and the NY Diocese's) first Cursillo weekend. I dare say there will never be anyone more devoted to Cursillo than Kevin. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Kevin Farley

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

War in Heaven

"But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!"
I got to read that great passage from Revelation 12 last night as subdeacon at the High Mass on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. We had a small but worshipful congo and our 4 voice evensong choir. No acolytes either, but we managed okay. There was no procession since our St. Michael shrine is at the high altar. We just smoked him really well a couple of times and had a nice bright votive light for him. He needs a good dusting off as do all the statuary after the summer's exterior cleaning project. The outside is really looking wonderful and who knew we had pink granite at the base. I can't wait until the scaffolding is taken down after they finish replacing the roof over the narthex and installing leaf screens for all the leaders. Then we must focus on fixing the other roof problems at least temporarily to get us through the winter. Recent storms have manifested a number of problem areas where water is getting in, over the organ chamber, around the skylight and the apartment skylight. Insurance companies are looking for every reason not to help us, and who can blame them in this economic climate. But hopefully we will be qualified for some kind of grant for at least part of the expense.
In other news, I got to hear the High Priest of Honky Tonk, the great Ray Price, a couple of weeks ago up in Monticello. My cousin, Laura Hazelbaker, plays fiddle with his band and she flew in from Cincinnati the day before and we drove up. I got to hang out with Ray and the band on his bus and that was a trip. Not quite as wild as Willie's bus, but close, with a great pre-show ritual of whiskey shots and orange soda chasers with a Mexican toast. It was a great show, even though the venue (a racetrack!) was not quite the acoustic delight that Radio City was, but Ray's voice, even at 82, is still so wonderful. He sang all his great songs and the band was just classic authentic honky tonk.
I'm sad to report the death of the Cursillo Kid, Kevin Farley, last Thursday. Kevin was one of the first people I met at St. Mary's back in 1996 and I believe the one that persuaded me to jump ship and join SMV for a 3-year term. He also persuaded me to go on Cursillo (something I could never have imagined on my own) and we served on several teams together. I'll never forget his Father Farley in the sacraments skit on one team. He was in seminary to become a Roman priest when his spiritual adviser had told him that he took his religion much too seriously to be a priest. He dropped out soon after that and became a public servant but also a devoted member of St. Mary's, having converted soon after Fr. Wells became the rector, and was thereafter a spiritual presence there serving at the altar and in many other capacities. Kevin's love of Cursillo was profound since he had been on the very first weekend in New York back in 1979, along with Fr. Wells. He was diocesan lay director for many years and a constant fixture at clausura and ultreyas until just a few years ago when his and his partner's health began to fail. He will be buried in Trenton after a High Requiem at St. Mary's on Saturday, mostly likely with Fr. Wells celebrating. Kevin left very explicit instructions and if I know him, it will be a lovely and very old fashioned requiem with a Cursillo tune or two thrown in, no doubt.
Almighty God, we give you thanks for all the benefits you have given us, you who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Grand Assumption

Mystical rose, Tower of David, House of god, Tower of ivory,
Ark of the covenant, Gate of heaven, Morning star, Pray for us.

We had a grand feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15. Our choir was back for a command performance and did a fine rendition of that first polyphonic mass by Machaut. It was a dark and stormy night but we had a good crowd with many visitors. We processed to the Shrine of St. Mary and Our Lord, which was nicely adorned with roses and some devotee had scattered a small sea of rose petals, which was a nice touch. It was the debut of our new deacon, Rev. Paul Kahn, and he did a fine job with an excellent singing voice for the Gospel. We only sang one Marian hymn, however, which rather disappointed a few of us, and I would much rather have heard Charpentier's Missa Assumpta est Maria. I went home and listened to it on CD but it wasn't quite the same. It was the tenth anniversary of the St. Mary's diaspora and I was reminiscing on that glorious Assumption at SMV on a hot Friday 10 years ago. I had gone by the Shrine Church of St. Mary at lunch hour to pay my annual respects. They were in the midst of the sung mass as I arrived, so I enjoyed Kenny's latest blend as I said a prayer at the shrine and asked her forgiveness for saying for many years that she didn't live there anymore. For years it really felt that way after the great debacle that was the end of the Wells era there, for which I was witness three years before returning to the Ignatian fold. I thought about that day ten years ago that I had so enjoyed being subdeacon for the Solemn Mass. It was probably the grandest High Mass I'd ever been subdeacon for and it was a wonderful if blazing hot night complete with the now-discontinued procession of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, although by then without those mythical twinkling lights. Three days later the infamous train wreck occurred which sent 10 faithful MCs and acolytes fleeing the premises and rang down the curtain on an era of the SMV sacristy although it was the beginning of a new one at St. Ignatius.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Cover the Waterfront

St. Joseph of Arimathea and Our Lord landing in Britain

I always think of today, July 31, as the Feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea, although most calendars now have him tomorrow and the Romans I think have August 31. I've always loved the legend of him taking young Jesus over to Glastonbury with him on a tin trading mission and letting him stay there a few years among the Druids as part of his "lost years". Then, all those years later, after being thrown in prison when Our Lord disappeared from his tomb, Joseph was visited by Jesus and given the mission of taking the Holy Grail to Glastonbury and starting the first church there. I think it would make a great opera and hope to get down to work on that one day soon.

Meantime, work goes on at the shrine church of St. Ignatius, and the outside of the north wall is almost done being repointed, waterproofed and cleaned. I went up on the scaffolding with our architect to survey some of the roof problems and that was interesting if more than a bit scary (not to mention illegal). We discovered the source of our narthex and dungeon waterfalls to be some missing bricks in the party wall with The Boulevard so that alone was worth the trip. Now if we can just get them to help with the repairs we can perhaps even start using that corner of the dungeon again.

There were so many logistical problems with the interior cleaning phase that we decided to just continue working on the exterior instead, so the west wall will be done next along with some critical roof repairs, including leaks in the apartment roof and the copper flashing above the organ pipe chamber. Hopefully when we are through all the current waterproofing problems will be cured. Then we can start planning for the interior cleaning, which I hope will be done in my lifetime.

I've been rereading some of Barbara Pym's novels this summer and many days feeling like a character out of one of them. Some day I may write a book about all the characters I've known at St. Ignatius, perhaps a roman a clef to protect the innocent. We've said goodbye to several good parishioners this year and a few have just disappeared. One died, one got married, a few are still mad about something or other, one went back over to Rome, one moved to North Carolina, one moved to Ohio, one is moving to DC, one lost his mind and another just sank into a very deep slough of despond. I miss them all, believe it or not, but hope we start getting some new faces this Fall. We're getting a Deacon (a real one) in September, the Rev. Paul Kahn, lately at Good Shepherd, so that should liven things up.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Cheeseburger In Paradise

Mayan Observatory at Chichen Itza

I had a great time on the cruise to the Yucatan aboard the Carnival Ecstasy. We ran into a little rough weather from Arthur, the first tropical storm of the season, but were very grateful that he kept things mostly cloudy while we were in Cozumel and Chichen Itza, else we would truly have roasted. The beautiful turquoise Caribbean sea was a bit muddy for our subocean trip but we did see some beautiful fish and coral reefs even with cloudy skies.

We were a group of 14, 10 of us schoolmates back in Belton, Texas, class of '72. We were the Cruisin' Chicks and t-shirts to match, with one rooster, everybody's favorite boyfriend Billy and his wife Linda, who kept him well in hand. We were a scenic surprise wherever we went, especially when Henrietta, a fine looking old bird who had a most fetching cackle in all the wrong places, got to talking.

We started out in Galveston, spending the night before the cruise at the Holiday Inn Resort on the seawall, closing down Gaido's and causing a scene with Henrietta's cottonectomy. Jerri had stuffed cotton down her throat to try and keep her quiet, but we decided she needed her voice so it took a couple of coat hangers and several margaritas before she got her voice back, poor old thing. No wonder she was so talkative the rest of the trip.

The next day we set sail for Cozumel and it took us all of Sunday to get down there. It was the first Sunday in a few years that I did not go to church. Surprisingly there was no form of religious observance aboard the Ecstasy. I went to the gym instead and was treated to a wonderful view of the oncoming storm which was quite dramatic and made 20 minutes on the treadmill seem like fun. By the time we got to Cozumel on Monday morning Arthur was just a steady drizzle, which kept things cool, mercifully. After the subocean view we had lunch at Margaritaville and had a great time singing Jimmy Buffet songs and drinking strong margaritas, along with pretty good cheeseburgers. Afterward we stumbled around in the rain looking for souvenirs amid the constant sales pitches from the endless vendors, assuring us their stuff was "almost free". I did get a nice fishbone Last Supper and a wonderful Mayan tablecloth. That night after dinner Billy, Carleen and I smoked a fine Cuban cigar on deck with the captain accompanied by blue margaritas. Henrietta also took a few puffs and coughed her head off.

Tuesday we landed in Progresso, a small port from which we took a 2 hour bus trip to Chichen Itza and saw the Mayan pyramid, observatory and sports stadium. I didn't have time to see the well where the virgins were sacrified or the other ruins because we only had 2 hours. Their gods demanded a lot of sacrifices, with someone having to lose a heart, a head or some other body part at most every event. They were brilliant people for their time, if a bit extreme in their theology, and were very advanced astronomers and mathematicians. Some say they were space aliens or maybe a lost tribe of Israel. Our tour guide informed us that people think the current Mayan calendar has the world ending on December 20, 2012, but really that is just the day the space aliens will bring the new digital calendar and a new era of Mayan ascendancy will begin. We'll see.

Leaving Progresso we ran into some rough tides and many people were really lurching around and getting sick. My seabands kept me just borderline queasy and the rest of us good sailors managed to close down the Starlight karaoke doing "Friends in Low Places". Then after another blue margarita and the midnight Mexican buffet, we called it a day.

The last day I slept late and then went up to the top deck to get some fresh air and sun alone in my favorite spot under the front window with a great view ahead. Then I ran into some of the Chicks and we spent the rest of the day hopping from one watering hole to the next, drinking Ultimate Suntans, laughing our asses off, singing "Baby Got Back" at Kamikaze Karaoke and then ending up totally exhausted about 10pm and actually ready to get back to America. I don't think I could have stood any more fun.

Donna, Lisa, Carleen and me at Margaritaville, Cozumel

Those changes in latitude, changes in attitude
nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.
If we weren't all crazy we would go insane.
(apologies to J. Buffett)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Let the Good Times Roll

It has been a rather somber and chilly Spring here in Gotham, so I am very much looking forward to my trip down to Galveston and the Yucatan tomorrow. I'm going on a cruise with a group of high school friends to Cozumel and Progreso to see some Mayan ruins and perhaps swim with the dolphins or go snorkeling, all of which I have never done before. I will be in Galveston only one night but I hope to get to the cathedral there and see the wonderful shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I hope to find her down in the Yucatan also but time is short. I ask her protection for the journey.

I'll miss the beginning of the restoration work, delayed a few weeks by details about how we are going to protect the Ralph Adams Cram Lady Chapel artwork and statutes of St. Ignatius and Our Lady. They're just putting up the sidewalk bridge and scaffolding to start on the outside on Monday so we have a few weeks to figure it out with the help of a few expert consultants. We will have a free-standing altar down by the statue of Our Lord since there will be scaffolding in the sanctury for about 8 weeks. It's going to be a long dusty summer in the shrine church, but the results will be glorious. I never thought I would live to see the Lady Chapel and the north wall including the wonderful St. Ignatius window cleaned. We may need to rethink having the thurifer parking in the Lady Chapel before the consecration in order to keep it clean.

We also must figure out how to pay for some necessary roof work, including a leak over the organ pipes which has already damaged several pipes due to corroded flashing along the outside wall. The roof over the apartment is leaking and must be replaced soon. The Lady Chapel also needs a new roof since it was done in a similar substance that only had a 15 year warranty 12 years ago. The shingles on the main roof also are showing signs of deterioration, well ahead of the 30 year warranty they purport to have. I'll be busy when I get back dealing with shingle manufacturers, roofing contractors and insurance claims so I will do my best to have a good time for a week.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Great is thy Faithfulness

Gordon-Hurst Barrow+
January 5, 1915 - April 15, 2008

Fr. Barrow died a couple of weeks ago in Indianapolis, where he had spent the last several years near his son, also a priest,who lives there and helped him through his final years. He was 93 years old and had been a robust old man until a few years ago when he started falling and had to leave his Chelsea apartment for assisted living. He didn't say goodbye and I was left wondering where he went after that last dinner at the Oyster Bar a few years ago. He had called me one last time at work a few months later, wanting to go out for lunch one day, but I was busy and couldn't go, and he hung up in his usual fashion and didn't call again until one Saturday morning last fall when he had finally gotten a phone in his apartment in Indianapolis at the insistence of his children and he explained what had happened. He sounded very frail and had trouble putting things into words, but he seemed his old cranky indefatigible self, although grudgingly reconciled to life on a fast downhill tread. His daughter, Amanda, called me the Saturday after he died and we had a long talk about him. From all I had heard about her life and her art, I felt like I knew her although we have never met. She is organizing a memorial for him at St. Thomas', where he said a couple of weekday masses every week, so I look forward to that.
During our final talk I am thankful that I managed to express that I loved him and was grateful for all he had taught me and for all the wonderful masses and other meals we had shared over the years. I had served Saturday morning mass with him for several years back in the late 1980s/early 90s. After Mass in the Lady Chapel we said a decade of the Rosary sitting in the pews outside the Lady Chapel and then went and had coffee and pastries up in the Common Room or went somewhere for brunch. He loved to tell stories of his life, which were always interesting, and he loved to talk about his four children who all had interesting lives as well. His wife had died several years ago and he had moved to New York after retiring. He was also a good carpenter and one summer very generously built me a wonderful chickenwire and wood cage for my pet iguana, Iggy. Poor Iggy died a few years later after outgrowing the cage and getting way too big, tangling with the cats and eventually dying from eating their food, which I should have known was bad for a vegetarian like him.

Fr. Barrow was also very old fashioned and we eventually stopped speaking to each other for a few years over the women and gay clergy issues. I can't remember how we made up, but eventually we were back going out to dinner, his favorite activity along with going to the gym, which he did religiously almost every day, rising at 4:00am and getting to the gym right when it opened at 6:00. For several years we went to the same gym, at the Worldwide Plaza, and I would often see him there intrepidly working out.
Fr. Barrow was a very frugal man and lived in a bare-bones studio apartment furnished mostly with furniture and shelves he had made himself. I was only invited there once, when he decided to give me his vintage Raleigh bicycle, which was way too big for me but I took it anyway and made some use of it for many years. He kept books in his oven and only made coffee there, which he was passionate about, always taking great care in the brewing. He had trouble sleeping so he slept on the floor, but he refused to have a television or even a telephone for the last 20 years in New York. He woke up on September 12, 2001 and went down to the big post office near Penn Station where he would always get his mail as soon as it was put in the box. Finding the eerie dawn streets and the unimaginably closed post office he couldn't figure out what had happened until he asked a man wandering dazed and confused what was going on and he told him in an incredulous tone that New York had been attacked the day before and described having seen the first airplane going down Eighth Avenue.
For a few years Fr. Barrow slept on the floor of the Common Room at St. Ignatius on Friday night so he would be up early for Saturday mass. He loved to sit near the back of the north wall and meditate/doze, and when I arrived for mass I often found him sitting near the Centurion window where there was a tiny bit of heat seeping out of the radiator on the wall. It was freezing in the winter and blazing in the summer and there was no solution, he used to say. After he left, in the early 1990s when he cottoned on to the fact that we had gay and women clergy in our midst, the heating got better, thanks to Ted and Maurice, the rain gutter system was redone, and these days he would probably find it quite toasty, but back then it was very cold for a very long time and there were often cascades of water in that area. I think of him often when I sit back there myself on a sunny Saturday afternoon enjoying our newfound warmth after sealing up many holes in the south wall. And blessedly, tomorrow begins the restoration of the north wall which will undoubtedly seal up even more cracks. It will be a few months before we can enjoy that area again, but it will be wonderful to have the whole north wall, inside and outside, repointed and the windows recaulked and cleaned, as well as the Lady Chapel. Then we must find some more money to secure the roof over the Lady Chapel as well as over the apartment. It will be a busy summer.

Iggy in 1987