Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What're you going as?

Here are some possible Halloween costumes for me this year:

  • girl with bad eyesight
  • girl with beer in living room while husband is giving out candy at the kitchen door
  • girl with who needs to pluck her eyebrows
  • one of the mysterious childless neighbors. What's their deal? They seem nice, though, and they keep the yard neat. 
  • girl who shouldn't have picked at that blemish on her nose this morning, seriously, no one would have even noticed it but now look at it.
  • girl who owns one orange shirt
  • girl wearing the same jeans she wore yesterday
  • girl with random hot flashes
  • un-sexy pastoral minister
  • survivor of some awful illness that doesn't actually show. Stomach ulcers?
  • girl who doesn't dress up for work
  • girl who's really not into Halloween
Really the options are endless, and all of them apply today- so take your pick! Happy Halloween, or whatever, everyone!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

7 Quick Takes, don'tcha know

1) I went to an exercise class at my church the other night. It's offered a couple of times a week, through our senior citizen group, so I was one of the younger people there. It's called Aerobics Plus, and the Plus is weights and stretches. I haven't been to an exercise class in probably 10 years, so I was a little nervous, but the leader is encouraging and positive, and when I got to the point where I thought I couldn't go on, there were a few people there to look at who were significantly older than me, and they were doing it... or, there were some people there who are younger than me who were taking breaks, like I was, whenever the teacher turned her back. Encouraging!
The next day I felt pretty good, not agonizingly sore like I expected to be, and I slept great that night. I'll go back.

2) I heard Eve Ensler interviewed today on the CBC- she wrote The Vagina Monologues, which I have never seen but the title of which has always kind of conjured an odd mental image for me. It was a great interview, and she said some beautiful things about the work she is doing for girls around the world. She said (and I'm paraphrasing) that girls must be powerful because they are so feared- the one thing everyone tells both boys AND girls not to be, it's a girl. She said girls are emotional, intense, dramatic, and can't be talked out of what they know. She cited Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who was recently shot by the Taliban. She said great, intriguing things. 

3) Tonight I was sitting here with a cat in my lap, who then stepped on my iPad, snapping the cover off, which made him leap directly into my face. I have tiny cuts on my nose, cheek and ear- I mean tiny, really- but holy hell that hurt! I burst into tears and cried straight out for about ten minutes. I thought, Yes, Eve Ensler, I shall cry with abandon, and honor my girl-ness. I guess I've cried a couple of times since the kittens have joined our household, and whenever I do, they sit a few feet away from me, tails curled around them, watching me with expressions of horrified fascination. If I weren't already crying, it would totally make me laugh. 

4) It's 11:00 PM and I should be going... Tonight is the youth group laser tag overnight. I meet them at the LT place, which is here in our area, stay a while, and then come home to bed. It is a purely awesome night for young-people watching, complete with busy middle school power-walking, drama, bravado and sometimes fights. Great stuff. But it is really not my style to be going out after 11. I resolved pretty early in my youth ministry career that lock-ins were not going to be my signature move. Retreats, yes. Overnights, not so much. Since I am not The Youth Minister at these things, I get to play the part of a grandparent- coming in, loving everyone, and leaving when I need a nap.

5) Here comes Election Day and I'm as curious about its outcome as I am glad to not have to watch those damned ads anymore. I've been thinking a lot lately about how the moment of voting is a purely private moment, one where no one knows how I will act, and where the decision as to how to act is fully mine. It's a moment for me to use my conscience and faith and understanding without having to convince anyone that I'm right, or worry about judgment. It's a faith-filled moment, for me. My parents taught me long ago that our votes are private, and I am relishing that unique moment of privacy that voting will afford me this year. 

6) Here comes Sandy! This weekend we'll be battening down the hatches, and then, dammit, battening them down again. (Ha! Old movie joke!) We've got  lots if emergency supplies by virtue of being campers, and live at the top of a hill, and I have a whole passel of books to read should the power go out, so I get to be relatively excited about this. Have I mentioned my storm-geekery? I love watching them approach on the radar, love the updates, love watching the weather reporters being tossed around, LOVE snow days. As long as our big old maple tree hangs in there, I'm ready!

7) I am feeling calm and happy and good lately- maybe because my Dad is doing well, and that feeling of crisis has passed for now. But also, I'm trying not to worry a out the changes that will eventually hit our Archdiocese, and I'm really enjoying the events that come around at work. I am so glad to not be carrying around fear like I was. The trick has been, I think, that old cliche of taking things on one at a time. When I group things together in my mind, it gets overwhelming-  but individually, they're just not so scary. I feel lighter and more joyful and more fun to be around when I'm carrying less fear. I'm just so panicked that it'll come back again. Just kidding. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Circumambulating the Stupa

Right now, I'm watching the Buddhist temple down the street online- they are streaming a live visit from the Dali Lama this afternoon, which everyone around here has been very excited about.
I'll confess that I don't know much about the DL, and probably should. I asked a friend "what is everyone so excited about?" Is he going to say something earth-shattering? Does he have a message from... somewhere? God, or aliens? Or, is he just a really inspiring speaker? Would it be like having a Pope come here?
My friend said that he brings a message of compassion. So, okay, I'll watch.
When I tuned in, people were chanting, and other people were singing, and still other people were dancing but it didn't appear that they were dancing either to the chanting or to the music. Now people are dancing along to music by a band.
It reminds me of something my mother once said. She imagined that anyone peeking in the window of a Catholic Church on Good Friday, not knowing anything about our Story, might think there was something crazy and cultish going on.
In the early Church, going to Mass was not an entry-level activity. You became involved in the Church through interacting with its members, inquiring to know more, proving yourself sincere, and learning your way into the sacred rites that the Church held so dearly, like the Mass. You can still see RCIA candidates leaving after the reading of the Gospel as Easter nears, harkening back to those early days. Now it's a bit of an empty (or, even, non-sensical) gesture, as it means that those who are sincerely seeking entry to the Church are removed from the assembly before the Communion Rite but any other person who may not even want to be there in the first place, is welcome to stay.
Back in the day the Church was protective of Her rites, because Christians were persecuted, and so they needed to be really sure a person wanted to commit themselves to the faith before they would expose their sacred rituals to potentially dangerous outsiders.
Today I am an outsider looking in, and it reminds me to pray for those people who sit inside our Church but still feel like outsiders. It reminds me to pray for seekers everywhere.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

the Work of the People (two new posts)

I should mention that I'm not trying to say that the Mass that is most meaningful to me is the RIGHT Mass. A  wise professor of mine pointed out that conservatives do just that... they work to conserve what has been. During this week's Mass I felt a strong kinship to the pre-Vatican II conservatives who might be longing for the Mass of their youth, because I am longing for the Mass of mine. That's all.

I went to Mass the other night to kick off the Year of Faith, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. I was starting to get excited to learn more about the Council, which is directly shaped my faith and my life in the church since I was born. We invited the priests from our local area to come and concelebrate, and asked them to advertise the Mass in their bulletin (and, we called that "collaboration"- it wasn't, and I'll write more about that in another post). We had a smattering of priests participating, and about 50 people sprinkled throughout the pews of our giant church.
It was, as we joked about afterward over coffee, less than "scintillating". I love the Mass, although I do confess to feeling a little out of step with it since the new translation. We had invited the local Bishop who has been named to be in charge of the New Evangelization, and ordered cool prayer cards to hand out. In short, and without pointing fingers, the Mass was overall (in my opinion) a joyless experience. It was somber, not celebratory, and... even a little boring. I struggled through it.
As I sat there in the last pew, camera poised to catch anything great that came up, my mind wandered to other Masses that have imprinted in my memory. Memorable Masses.
I remember gathering for Mass with our parish priest at Bradbury State Park after climbing around the mountain all day on a youth group trip. There were probably only 10-20 of us there, but I was transfixed by the priest's words, the readings, and the community in the midst of God's beautiful creation. I remember sitting on boulders in a circle and sharing Communion with my peers.
I remember being given the opportunity to plan Mass at Catholic Leadership Institute back in 1986. Each small group had a turn planning the Mass for a night during that week, choosing the readings, the Psalm, and the music from scratch to reflect what we had done that day, and to connect with our little community. It felt so moving to seek out inspiration from the Word of God for our peers, and to be given the opportunity to minister to each other through the liturgy. The music was scrapped together with whatever shreds of talent happened to be present in the group, and sometimes the readings were less than polished. But it brought us closer as a group of leaders and as a community every time, without fail.
I remembered being with my friend Ann-Marie at a Good Friday Mass, sensing her start to cry as the story of Christ's Passion was read.
Another Mass I witnessed from the back pew of my parish, celebrating an anniversary of Cursillo. The large crowd was packed in the front of the church, wanting to be near each other and near the altar. The music was imperfect but that crowd sang their hearts out, because each song was meaningful to them as worshipers and as a community. It was breathtaking to see their earnest and expressive faith.
I guess I've been to Mass thousands of times... I've forgotten a lot of them, which is natural, I guess. I remember more important Masses and moments than I could write about here. But I can see a thread that connects the Masses that have stayed in my heart- these were liturgies that reflected the community, bonded us, responded to our individual and communal needs. They were Masses where my God-given gifts counted and mattered. They were Masses where I knew the people around me. They were Masses that acknowledged my existence and my importance to God and His church.
My weekly experience at my own parish fits those characteristics, and I'm afraid that I am one of the very few blessed in that way, these days. But to get to that point, it has taken hard work on my part. It's work I'm willing to do and work that the Church might really benefit from encouraging among all its members.


I saw a secret the other day, saw it happen in a room full of people but no one else did, and if I hadn't, the moment would have been lost to history, lost to consciousness.
My Dad, in his nursing home bed, was groggy and sluggish, struggling mightily to stay awake because he had loved ones in his room. His bed was up, letting him sit upright-ish, but his eyes kept closing and his head easing back, despite his obvious efforts to resist. My Mom was in her wheelchair next to his bed, holding his hand, and trying to wake him so she could visit with him.
But she was sleepy too- it had been an absolutely exhausting week- and they kept missing each other's awake moments. She'd stare into his face, willing him to wake up, and then she'd close her eyes for a minute and he'd wrest his eyelids open and try to talk to her.
As I watched, Mom closed her eyes and Dad opened his. They were still holding hands, and he turned to look at her. He tried to will her to look back, but couldn't muster a word, couldn't catch her attention. He kissed her through the air, two kisses, and then surrendered to sleep. She didn't catch those kisses, opened her eyes too late to see them, only in time to see his head fall back on his pillow.
But I saw them.
Their love for each other is deep and strong, romantic and care-ful, thoughtful and sweet. My siblings and I have been raised through a marriage of love that is patient, is kind. Their love does not seem to envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Their love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
I'm thankful to have been, and to still be, a life-long witness to that kind of love. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I just quit my volunteer job

...well, not exactly. But I am continuing to learn a lot about volunteering and supporting volunteers, by being a volunteer. I've written here about some of that learning, but here's the latest lesson: if they come, you'd better build it.
I imagine the old saw is true, too, in volunteering: if you build it (opportunities to serve- really serve- people will come and get to work) but in my case, the opposite has happened. Over a year and a half ago I felt a burning call to volunteer with people who dying. Actively dying. Now I'm here in volunteering purgatory, doing something I don't feel called to, to try and get to the point where I can finally be trained (!) to do that thing that I do feel called to. That is, in order to be trained to do vigil work, I had to do 9 weeks of training, followed by 6 months of another kind of volunteering, and after that they'd train me to do vigils. But, at our last volunteer support meeting, the coordinator mentioned that she was pretty sure a training for vigils would be coming up, but that they'd actually never done that before, and she wasn't at all sure how the whole vigil-ing thing would work, but they were working on it, and to hang in there.
I was willing to do the training, and it was good, and worth my time, and I was willing to do the time volunteering dying (but not actively dying) people. Visiting dying people, as it turns out, is the same thing as visiting living people. I'm not bad at it, but it is not something I feel very suited to. My introvert-self kind of dreads trying to make conversation for an hour, or two, and then is exhausted afterward. I've met some lovely people and it's all been nice, but it's not for me.
And when the coordinator confessed that what I had signed on for, well, didn't exist, I felt a little used. It's the old bait-and-switch. I understand her wanting to sign on volunteers whenever they come forward, and I understand the point of visiting people in preparation for vigiling, except, I've been visiting people for years. I've got it down, I think... I don't need 6 months more of it to get me ready for doing something very different.
I'm not sure how I wish it had all been handled. Should the coordinator, after I contacted her initially, said "well, we don't do that yet, but I will get started and call you when we've got it up and running"? Well, yeah! I might have waited just as long as I am now, but not filling the time with busywork to fulfill their requirements. Or, I might have contacted a hospital nearby and offered to start a vigiling ministry with them. Maybe we'd be doing vigils by now, as a church.
Anyway, I wrote to the coordinator, explained that it's been a really long time and I'm not doing what I felt called to, and that I wouldn't like to take on another (relatively) long-term patient. She asked me to stay tuned, but granted my request to step out of ongoing visits. We'll see where this goes. But in the meantime, I want to remember as a volunteer coordinator that if they come, I'd better get to work building.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Faith By Association

  Where was I? Oh my, what is up with September?? It seems like the last several Septembers have held family and friend health crises and serious work stress. This year's September was no different, and all in all, however nicely things seem to have turned out, I'm glad it's October!
  This week was a doozy- not just because of my elevator-sized bottom lip (a pox on whoever invented cold sores!) but my Dad's bypass surgery, and a big week at work. Last Sunday was our volunteer luncheon and workshop and this weekend we kicked off our Generations of Faith events.
  I come away from the parish events feeling encouraged and proud. At the luncheon we had almost a hundred volunteers present, and looking over that room I could see so many people that I know well (a testament to the connectedness of this parish) and so many people who care so deeply about their faith and their parish. They jumped in to the conversation about the mission of the parish and had wonderful answers, and all their answers folded so neatly into Jesus' mandatum (Matthew 28). As a staff we've worked so hard to teach that mandatum and empower the parish to follow it, and it was just so lovely to hear it echoed in their words, these faithful leaders on the ground in the parish.
   This weekend's GOF sessions were full and full of happy people. Again, there were so many familiar faces and a lot of new ones, too. We worked so darn hard to do something for them that would make them glad to be there, to bring them closer to God, to remind them of how important each member of the community- each generation- is in the learning process. We got great feedback.
   Every day I'm learning about how people perceive the Church and the parish, how families work, how deep the faith is of people who we might think are not dedicated. I'm more and more convinced that inter-generational, whole-community total catechesis is the way to go. I feel hope for the lowerarchy and the survival of parish life. My faith is strengthened by association, and I think there's a lot to that.