Monday, October 12, 2015

Choir Director Report

Choir Director’s Report
It has been at least 6 or 7 years since I gave my first Choir Director's report, maybe more, and each year they are strikingly similar. I usually tell you that we are still expanding our repertoire to accommodate the gifts of the ever changing roster of singers, that we still need singers, and that music is very important in the Orthodox Church. I always say that singing in the choir is a ministry very similar to the ministry of the Deacon, who is a servant dedicated to leading the people in prayer. That's what the choir does, too. I always thank the choir, the readers and our pastor for their hard work and support throughout the year.
I'm taking a different road this year. This year, I want to talk about worship. We Orthodox are a worshipping people. That is what we do. That is who we are. Other flavors of Christianity focus on bible studies and exegesis, on being personally saved, on social justice and equality. As Orthodox, we worship. We worship privately, alone in our prayer closet, and we worship communally at church. One is not better than the other and both are necessary. That is not to say that we don 't also study the bible, encourage a personal relationship with our Lord, or bless others with the gifts we have received. Of course we do! But what sets us apart is the tradition of our worship, the private worship of the individual and the public worship of the community.
Would it surprise you to learn that the Jews in the time of Jesus had a cyclical structure to their worship which had been in place for 1500 years, and that Orthodox Church echoes that structure? Did you know that St. Basil the Great, in the fourth century, considered the hymn, Gladsome Light, which is sung at vespers, to be very old, and the first “true” hymn of the Christian church. The Apostolic Constitutions, which date from the third century, were, in part, a collection of hymns to be sung at different times of the day as a form of worship – to be SUNG.
Our worship is very old, yet it is ever new. There is a pattern to our worship, a rhythm to the feasts and fasts, the cycles of the eight tones, the reading of the hours of the day, the dedication of each day of the week. As each year passes, and the various cycles are repeated, I find that our worship more deeply reveals our Maker and his actions on earth and in heaven. There is real beauty in the cyclical nature of our worship.
There is an old Orthodox saying which is, to sing once, is to pray twice. We all know that one easy way to learn facts, is to set them to music. Somehow, music enlivens the synapses in our brain and connections are made which allow us to remember things. Important things. The same thing with Orthodox music. The marriage of beautiful words of praise and beautiful music is somehow greater than the sum of the parts. This is the work of the people – not just the work of the choir or the readers or the canonarch. The work of the people, the laos. This is how we worship.
When I was young and newly Orthodox, I read every book and was full of hubris. Some things never change, eh? A very old and saintly man named Aristidi Chacho befriended me, and every Monday we would talk about Fr. John's sermon. I would usually talk my head off and Steve would listen. Finally, one day he said to me, “Denise, you're a nice girl, but you don't know nothing.” I was a little taken aback as you can imagine. He went on, “Don't you know that on.. such and such a day, at matins, we sing...” and then he sang something that was precisely on point in our theological discussion. The elderly, unschooled man, was the greatest theologian, and I believe he was a saint. He could hold his own in theological discussions, and often taught others a thing or two, but with such humility. How did he come to this level of knowledge, of understanding, of living out of the gospel? How did he do that?
It's really quite simple. He spent his life in church. He lived the cycles of worship. His life was attuned to various seasons of our worship. He made the time to attend all the various services – he didn't sing, but he listened. He was a great theologian, a great teacher, and a great man, and he is heaven right now completely mortified. Sorry Steve! But I learned something so precious from him, that I want to share with you:
A life spent in church, worshipping God together with your church family, is the greatest gift.
I'm the choir director, and Fr. James has given me the responsibility for all things musical and all the readers. I can't do this awesome job alone, and I can't even attend every service or rehearsal, and neither can anyone else. However, I am guilty of being tired at the end of work day, and I have work and other obligations that sometimes keep me from fulfilliing my ministry. Just like everyone else. However, this coming year, I am going to take Steve Chacho as my model, and try to do better, try to attend more services. At every service throughout the year, the choir is there, maybe not every member, but the choir is there to assist in the celebration of that service.
Did you know that the liturgical day begins at sunset on Saturday, with Vespers? Did you know that Vespers is full of information and teaching about the saint commemorated on Sunday? Come to vespers and learn.
Orthodox, when trying to define dogma, like to say what it is not. This is called apophatic theology and it's uniquely Eastern in mindset. Orthodoxy is not a religion. It's not a list of things that we believe. It's not social system. It's a life. It's life itself. Spent in church. Singing praises to our Our God.
Thank you for listening to me. Thank you to the choir members, the readers, the Deacon and to Fr. James. Thank you to Xenia, my right hand woman, and to Reader Mark, Kat Broberg and Abby Eller for stepping into the void when I was not there.

Come to church. Come and sing praises to our God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King! Sing praises!

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Bucket Lists

I read often read a blog written by a young man that has pithy thoughts about what constitutes a good quality of life. Today, he was talking about his bucket list and that got me thinking.

What would my bucket list look like?  What are the criteria?

First, I think they should be achievable.  Let's face it, I will never be an astronaut, or an opera singer, or a ballerina, because the basic physical requirements have always been lacking in this old body. Since I'm nearly retirement age without any real financial cushion, the items should be achievable financially, too, That year-long trip around the world with my daughter and besties which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars will never happen, unless I hit the lottery, and I don't play the lottery, so that is simply not achievable, although more modest travel may be achievable.

Second, I think that the outcome should depend on me and me alone. Somehow, I think my old goal of finding Antonio Banderas naked in the back seat of my car would depend on him cooperating, if you get my drift, and his cooperation is pretty iffy, so that one is getting crossed off my list. Whatever is on my list should really depend on me alone.

I think they should stretch me in some way. To enhance the quality of my life, they should provide me the satisfaction that only comes with a job well done, with doing something that requires some effort, but they should still be achievable. My bucket list shouldn't devolve into a to do list, which is something completely different, at least in my mind. Yes, there are lots of icons I want to paint, sweaters I'm dying to knit, meals I want to cook, home improvements I'm dying to make, but those are part of my to do list, and I know that I can accomplish those.  To be life enhancing, my bucket list needs to provide me with the opportunity to do something new, or rise to a new level of competence, or require some effort.

I'll think some more about the criteria later, but now I'm moving forward to listing a few things that might make my bucket list. I'm nearly sixty. I hope and pray that I will live another 25 years or so.  How do I want to spend those 25 years?  Certainly, how I spent the last 25 years has not born fruit that met my criteria, and the 25 before that were, mostly, exploration.  What do I want to put on my bucket list now?

1. I want to feed my desire to experience new places, new people, new cultures, food and music. To me, this means travel, but my very limited finances will most likely prohibit me from being a world traveler. Maybe I will be able to make one trip that gets me to Europe or the Far East, perhaps to an Orthodox country where I could also study Orthodox music and iconography.  I love to plan, so my first travel goal is to plan this trip and how to make it happen.  The planning alone will be fun.

2. My second travel goal is a more modest one - I love road trips. I can't help it - I'm my father's daughter. I want to obtain a modest rv or trailer that will allow me to travel around the continent in my retirement with my pets, and even provide a full-time home if finances dictate.

3. I want to read the entire Bible at least twice, first, as a work of literature, so that I know all the stories and literary forms. My second pass would be to study it more fully, using the words of the Fathers and other sources so that I understand it with the mind of the Church. Receiving such understanding will surely change my heart in ways I cannot fathom at this point, but I know I'm hungry for such spiritual change.

Other than raising and supporting my daughter, I believe my life's work is as an Orthodox church musician and iconographer. I want to set the bar higher, so that my offerings to the church and the God I love is truly my very best. I think I can do better. I know I can do better.

4. Regarding church music, I need to learn to read enough Slavonic/Russian/Serbian/Greek/Arabic to be able to recognize hymns. This will also assist me in reading iconography texts and identifying saints in icons. I need to improve my musicianship - understanding and applying music theory better will allow me to give better pitches and to set music well. I want to improve my directing - maybe some courses, or better yet, watch and learn from the best choir directors.

5a. Regarding iconography, well, I have wonderful teachers and I want to maintain my very expensive connection with them, and increase it.  I want to maintain my week long iconography camp for the comaraderie and for the shot in the arm that it give me every year, but I also want to study with them one on one. Ksenia offered that to me and I didn't make it happen before she died. I regret that so deeply. Bucket lists are all about having no regrets, and it's important to me that not lose out again, so I want to regularly study with Marek as he has offered to me.  He is such a patient and clear teacher, and I just get a kick out of him, so spending time in his studio with him would be so enjoyable as well as blast me out of the status quo.

5b. I also want to study from time to time with other master iconographers whose work I admire. Dimitry Shkolnik immediately comes to mind, as does Fr. Anthony Salzman, Daniel Neculae and Theodoros Papadopoulos, in addition to studying with my main teachers Marek and Anna.  This year will be my fifth with Marek and Anna, and I realize that a personal style is emerging, and it is less russian than their style.  My style is not truly greek, either, but it is somewhere between the two, and the icons that truly touch me deeply have elements of both styles.  I want to develop and improve as an iconographer, to move beyond copying and tracing, to drawing on the board and letting the saint develop in a more lively  and immediate way.  That relationship of the saint, me and the board is what it's all about. It's time to move beyond tracing and copying.

Well, that's what I came up with this morning. I will revisit my bucket list from time to time to tweak and fine tune it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Love Letter

I'm watching a sweet romantic comedy called The Love Letter. The premise is that a lonely bookstore owner finds an anonymous love letter and how it affects her and others.  The text of the love letter is this:

Dearest, Do you know how much in love with you I am? Did I trip? Did I stumble - lose my balance, graze my knee, graze my heart? I know I'm in love when I see you. I know when I long to see you, I'm on fire. Not a muscle has moved. Leaves hang unruffled by any breeze. The air is still. I have fallen in love without taking a step. You are all wrong for me and I know it, but I can no longer care for my thoughts unless they are thoughts of you. When I am close to you, I feel your hair brush my cheek when it does not. I look away from you sometimes, then I look back. When I tie my shoes, when I peel an orange, when I drive my car, when I lie down each night without you, I remain,

This is not the greatest love letter I've ever read... think Shakespeare's Sonnets, or the drippily sentimental, but still moving, Sonnet 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese, of "how shall I love thee, let me count the ways" fame.

This little love letter, though, really touches something within me, and awakens some memories that I usually try to keep suppressed. I've truly loved three men in my life. Any one of them could have been forever, but each had a fatal flaw that basically kept them from committing to living in community with anyone.  With me. One, my husband is dead. The other has been lost to time and space, though he did contact me about ten years ago - not truly sure why; maybe he was working a program and needed to make amends, or maybe he was trying to line up the next woman to take care of him.  The third is someone that I see often in my every day life - a beautiful man, who is growing older and is rather needy, but still, has made it clear that he cannot, will not, chooses not to get involved with anyone ever again.

All three were not truly available.  That speaks to something within me, something that I take out of it's box and inspect from time to time, but not tonight.

However, the sweetness of this note from this second rate movie moves me. I am that person. Still. And I am not open to meeting or loving someone else, even though I am lonely, because my heart is caught in a familiar net of longing that will never come true.

Everyone has a need to be known and loved despite their flaws and dark places, to be loved for their true selves. Humans are pack animals - we need and thrive on some degree of companionship. Me too. I'd like to be loved like that, to inspire a letter full of passion and longing.

I will have to be content to say that I've loved like that. Yes, I have.

That's something. Right?

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Endings, Beginnings, and Everything In-Between

I was let a few thousand when my Mom died, and I was determined to not fritter it away, but instead to invest it in some way. I used it as a downpayment on a house which DD and lived in for about four years, and rented the other house out. Long story short - the renter from hell trashed the other house, using up all my dollars to get it fixed, and I had to move back. My lovely new home became a rental. I figured that when I was ready to retire, I could sell one house to pay off the other house, and I could live mortgage free in my old age. Not so. Housing prices crashed, I had run of decent, but semi flaky renters, and ended up putting my lovely little house on the market. Eventually I accepted an offer, and the tragic saga of getting from contract to closing is a tale for a fantasy novel set in a post apocalyptic world.

We closed last night. The proceeds will fund on Monday. I will receive about 10K less than I put down on the house. I'm sad.  I'm sad for a lot of reasons, but one thing keeps nagging at me - my parents were hard working people, children of the Depression, and they scrimped and saved to save a little bit so they would not be a burden on me in their old age, at least financially.  I thought I was doing the same thing, but it didn't turn out the same way.

The sale of this house is, in some ways, the end of an era - the end of my childhood, I think. The worth of that house was, really, my last safety net from my parents, so now I'm walking the tightrope of life without that net.

I am tempted to splurge on a couple of small things with these dollars, but I've decided to fund my safety fund in my savings account, pay for iconography camp in the fall, and take 2K for some desperately needed repairs to my current abode. The rest needs to go elsewhere, to some place where I can't easily transfer a couple of hundred if I run short some month. I'll have to research that.

In figuring what to do with this money, if anything, I've thought about what my priorities are.  I need to feel semi secure that I can pay for surprises that crop up, like new tires, or vet bills.  So, I need to fatten up my savings account, and, decrease spending (OMG WHAT ELSE CAN I POSSIBLY CUT?????) so that I can save a bit every month.  That should allow me to replace whatever gets spent from the savings.  Second, I need to set up a system to fund two expenses every year: iconography camp and plane tickets to SFO to visit DD. Iconography camp, including some spending $$ while there and gas etc., is probably $1500 a year, and the cheapest round trip tickets I've found are around $600.  I need to save around $2100 per year for these two, top priority things each year. I cannot delve into the main stash for these things every year or I will, once again, have nothing. The third priority is still the fact that I am turning 60 on my next birthday and I can reach out and touch retirement. I am hoping to work part time for my current employer when I retire, which should allow me to have a few days a week to spend on my real life.  However, that won't last forever - eventually I will need, or be forced, to stop working.

So many choices to make. I've made so many bad choices in the past - I need to make good financial choices this time around. I need to maintain and grow this little nest egg, while funding the most important priorities in my life.

So, signing my little house away last night - the house that dear daughter and I chose because we loved it - the house that was a new start for us - the house that we ran away to when the old house had too many sad and painful memories - signing that house away was bittersweet, and symbolic. The new family will have a happy life in that happy house.  I am back in my old house, and have been for five years, but the memories don't sting the way they used to. It's fine, living here - I just haven't had the dollars to perform repairs or maintenance the way I need to.  Perhaps I can do some of that now.

It's an ending, but also a beginning.  It's the beginning of my final act, I think. My eyes are on the prize, and I'm starting the last leg of this race.  I really do need to get it right this time. Maybe being very clear about my priorities will help.

Goodbye, 107 Blue Wing Drive! Welcome your new owners! Hello, renewed purpose in life! May I have wisdom and strength to finish the race set before me.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, here in the US, and I'm just not sure what I feel about it.  Tomorrow will be the tenth Mother's Day I have spent without my mother, and the third without my daughter. I'm sure that my daughter will telephone me from her home in that most wonderful of cities, San Francisco, but there are no telephone numbers for the dead. The acuteness of grief for my mother waxes and wanes.  Since my mother died, my father has also died, as well as my husband, and my dearest and oldest girlfriend, so I'm no stranger to grief, or to missing someone I love, but as I've said many times, there is something different when you are separated from your mother. There is something mystical about the relationship of mother and child, and when that bond is broken, there is an unfillable hole deep in your gut.

So, I've filled that hole with a lot of things - with food (I am now very, very fat), with laziness, with knitting, with painting, with busyness.  I've filled that hole with everything and anything, and it remains, ten years after the fact.

I'm reminded of a series of photos my Dad took of me when I was a chubby toddler at the Inn. I was in my ruched blue bathing suit (which I clearly remember, by the way) with it's matching kerchief, and I was toddling around in the shallow water near the wooden steps on the side of the dock at the Inn.  The water came up to my dimpled knees, and I wanted to sit on the sandy bottom.  The problem was that the sandy bottom was covered by knee-high water.  I thought about it for a while and figured out the solution - I got my bucket and carefully filled it with water, toddled a few steps away and deposited the water somewhere else.  In the lake.  I kept at this for quite a while, but never seemed to make any headway.  The water where I wanted to sit was still knee high, no matter how many bucketfuls of water I carted away. My Dad captured it all in his trusty 35 mm.

I think I need to learn something about my life and my ways of coping from this memory. I work harder and harder. I fill my life with good things, with good people. I am very busy, with lots of plates spinning on their rods. I am very good at time management, and I get so much done - people are amazed - yet, I know deep down that I am lazy. So many things things that others do effortlessly are impossible for me: maintaining an orderly and clean home seems to be a daydream.

I am carrying a bucket of water from place to place and never reaching my goal.  I'm not really sure what my goal even is, anymore.

I'm going to be 60 my next birthday.  I'm not sad or upset about that in any way, but I recognize that the time I have left on earth is getting smaller, and I still haven't gotten this thing called life right yet. I'm still not sure that I'm headed in the right direction. As I look back (do I do too much of that?), I can see that my daughter's cancer 24 years ago was where I started to change directions, and with each loss or tragedy, I moved further along a path that has not brought me satisfaction or contentment. The choices I have made, including about the people that I have trusted with my innermost and most private self, have left me distrustful of my ability to make choices.  So I don't make any. I play on FaceBook instead. I am far too busy with ever so many Very Important Things to properly research each and every possibility to make any choices, so I don't.

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, the tenth without my mother, who truly was able to hold a loving mirror to me and gently, but clearly, let me know when I was off base.  I so miss your wisdom, Mom.  I know that I am off base, but I don't know exactly where I am, or where I need to be.  I'm just carrying buckets of water, and it is exhausting.

On the other hand, I am also a mother, and my daughter has been through so much in her short life. She is now in a good place, and I'm thankful. I hope that as time moves forward, I will be the kind of mother to her that my mother was to me.  Whether I succeed or fail at that, is immaterial in a way, because I will love her, no matter what. Hopefully, she will always know that, deep in her bones, and that is what I'm holding onto this Mother's Day of 2015.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What's in a Name Day?

We Orthodox are pretty big on naming our children for saints, and celebrating the child's feast day every year.  Yesterday was St. George Day, the feast day of my late husband, his father and both his brothers, as well as my dearly loved cousin.  I prayed for them in particular yesterday, though I pray for all of them every day, and I prayed that St. George the Great Martyr would have mercy on them and intercede on their behalf to our Lord.

When we first married, we didn't do a lot with name days, mostly because I didn't make it happen.  I knew my middle name was Marie and that my mother had named me for the Virgin Mary, but I really didn't know when her feast day was.  As I began to grow in faith and cycled through several church years, I found that there were multiple days dedicated to the Mother of God, and all I had to do was to choose one.  So I did.  I chose the Annunciation which had great personal resonance and meaning for me.  Jerry already knew about his patron, Saint George, and all that was left was to figure out how to celebrate our saint days.

When it was just the two of us, we mostly ate a festive meal chosen by the honoree and wished each other a happy Name Day, but when my parents came to stay for lengthy periods, it seemed more fun to make them feel more special on their special day.  I bought a fire engine red dinner plate and painted, "You Are Special" around the rim. We used this plate to honor name days, birthdays, anniversaries, as well as good doctor visits, no cavities, and anything else that deserved celebration. The honoree still got to choose the dinner, and that is how I ended up making poutine rapee for my Dad one year. He didn't think I could make it, but I did, and they were delicious. (For those who are not Acadian French, poutine rapee are basically snowball sized dumplings made of rasped potatoes with a bacon and salt pork center.  They are boiled, served hot, and eaten with sugar, molasses or maple syrup.  Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it!)  My Dad loved them and ate them often as a child in Canada, so I made them. Somewhere, I have photo of his happily surprised face when I brought out a platter piled high! Moment's like that are priceless.

I tried to learn about the saints, to get to know them better. As an iconographer, I find the lives of saints endlessly fascinating and inspiring, so this was not a chore.  When our baby came into our lives, we wanted to raise her with a sense of the various cycles of the church year, and so we spent a lot of time teaching her about saints and name days and a lot of what we tend to call traditions with a little "t".  This built up a sense of anticipation in her, and honestly, her childlike wonder and excitement was infectious!  We celebrated everyone's name day: Jerry's patron is St. George, mine is the Theotokos and the Annunciation, Elizabeth's is St. Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, my mother's is St. Helen the Equal to the Apostles and my father's is St. Joseph the Betrothed. My child grew up praying to her patron saint to protect her and intercede to Christ on her behalf. She prayed to St. Elizabeth and St. Helen, both.  As time went on, it became apparent that St. John of San Francisco had a special relationship with her, that he chose her, really, so we celebrated his day as well.

I think that St. John of San Francisco is responsible for many miracles, big and small, in our family, and in the life of my daughter, in particular.  Just last summer, she and I were discussing whether we should acknowledge him as the patron of our family.  This is a Serbian custom - the family Slava. In Serbia, many people are not named after a saint and do not have an individual patron saint, but the entire family has a patron saint which is celebrated from generation to generation. The saint is usually the saint of the day on which the family became Orthodox Christians. Christianity came to Serbia in the first century, and Orthodox Christianity became the official religion in the 800s.  That's a lot of celebrating!

My Serbian friend, Ariane posts pictures of her Slava on Facebook every year. Her brother comes to visit, her husband stays home from work, her kids and her mother are there.  They cook fabulous, traditional Serbian food for days, and invite the Serbian priest to celebrate the traditional liturgical service, which includes the rotating and breaking of the slava bread in the presence of the icon of the patron saint. She has little kids and they are growing up with a richness of faith and a rootedness in tradition and culture that will serve them well when they grow up and question everything. Those memories will be in their bones, and that's what will bring them back, as it brought my daughter back.  Those memories -- and the prayers of their beloved and close friends, their heavenly patron saints.

Parents of young ones, celebrate your child's name day! Make a big deal of it! Make sure your child learns all about his or her patron saint. Hold that saint up as a model of holiness to be emulated. Take your child to church on his name day.  Have the priest and people sing Many Years for your child on his name day. Plan ahead - think about the traditions you want to build and then be consistent from year to year.

As the parent of a child who went through years of questioning, but who found that the call of the church to her could not be denied, and she returned, I can tell you that what you do in your home while your children are little affects them as adults and informs many of their choices later in life.  It's hard to fit in another family celebration in between all the meetings and soccer games and dance lessons, I know, but trust me when I say that you will not be sorry in the long run.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

What's in a Name Day, indeed!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

More about Time, Habits and Procrastination.

This is Saturday, my day off. I have no work to do, but I do have lots of housework that needs doing, as well as knitting and iconography. Instead of doing anything useful, I'm on my computer, playing on Facebook. Facebook, all social media, really, has become a time sucking habit for me, another way of procrastinating.

I know that procrastinating is a sign of a deeper issue - psychologically speaking, I procrastinate for several possible, rather passive-aggressive, reasons: I don't want, or fear, to do something, so I do something else instead.  I value my short term pleasure more than my long term goal achievement. I fear failure, so I don't even begin.  When procrastination becomes a habit, a veritable way of life, then there must be a deeper reason why I have to drag myself kicking and screaming to do some very basic chores, or to get ready for work.  As I turn this over in my mind, I wonder if this is the scenario: I procrastinate on doing chores because a well kept house would clear my mind.  Part of the clutter in my house resides in my brain as clutter. If my brain was free, then I'd have to consider why I procrastinate about doing the more soul satisfying things, like painting icons, reading, and praying.

That's it!  That is the underlying issue - iconography.

My teacher, Marek, has a student who made tee shirts which says, "Iconography is Hard Work!" and it's true.  It is actually physically difficult and at the end of a long day of painting, there are knotted neck and shoulder muscles, and physical exhaustion. It is also mentally and emotionally hard work, with the intense focus needed. That focus cannot be maintained when there are many undone tasks nagging at your consciousness.

But it is the spiritual work of iconography that is hardest of all.  When painting, or writing, if you will, an icon, the iconographer meets that saint in a very intimate way.  You are confronted with holiness which inspires and also convicts. A completed icon is often called a window to heaven, a way of piercing that veil between the seen and unseen, between this world and the next.  To this iconographer, though, an icon in progress is more of a mirror, forcing me to confront my own sinfulness and inadequacies.  My interior life, the lies I tell myself, are reflected back to me on the board, and I have no choice but to deal with them.  It is so much more than a method of painting. It forces me to look upon that which is the eternal good, and I'm convicted. In the board and the slow reveal of the saint, I am also revealed.  It is a mirror and I look upon myself, my true self, with every wart that I usually convince myself is not really there.

Iconography is, indeed, hard work, and I've put it off for too long.  Forget the housework.  I'm spending this afternoon letting an icon in progress teach me something about myself, even if it hurts.

Friday, April 10, 2015

When Time Stands Still

Today is Holy Friday in the Orthodox Church. Christ's passion has begun, and he is hanging on the cross, or tree, as we sing. At 3pm, we will begin the solemn vespers where he will be taken from the cross and entombed.  Tonight, we will sing lamentations at his tomb.  The curtain of temple is rent in two, the earth quakes.  We sing all these things in the present tense.  We do not not think of our worship as a cultural memory, or something we do as a remembrance, we participate with Christ in his voluntary passion.  We suffer with him, we are the wise thief on his right hand, we enter the tomb with him, all in the hope that we will enter the Resurrection with him.  The Orthodox idea of time is not linear.  It's more like dropping a pebble into a pond - all the circles at once, never ending circles, but still. Time stands still, and at the same time, it rushes all around - all of it, at the same time.  It's a mystery.

Another Great Lent has ended.  Another Holy Week - my 17th as choir director here. I look back on other Great Lents - how many has it been? 39, I think.... since 1976 when I began this Orthodox journey. Last Sunday was my 39th Palm Sunday and tomorrow night will be my 39th Pascha.  Has this journey changed me at all?  39 years is a long time - enough time to have rubbed some of my rough places smooth, enough time to have grown a tiny bit in wisdom, in love, in charity.  Enough time to have let go of one or two ugly things and grasped a firm hold of the beautiful.  Not enough time to have become who I was created to be. Not enough time to reach that point where I can see God in every person.  Not enough time run joyfully forward towards my creator.  Not enough time to understand the inner workings and belchings of my heart. Not enough time to learn self discipline in my prayer life. Not enough time to move from judging others and judging only myself.

I will be 60 on my next birthday. I guess I'm a grown up now. I've buried both my parents and my husband. I live far from my daughter and we have developed a healthy separation as well as a healthy need for each other.  It is not a dysfunctional relationship any longer and I'm grateful. I live far from all my family, and although I miss them, and miss my parents most of all. I am on a high trapeze without a net, without anyone else to rely on, other than myself.  And that is the crux of the problem.

Time has stood still and I take stock. I find myself curiously dispassionate about myself and my greatest sin - that of holding fast to myself.  If both of my hands are full of me, how can I grasp that hand that is outstretched toward me?  How can I grasp that hand outstretched on the Cross?  I don't know how to let go of myself.

That's what I'll pray for today, as we sing the mesmerizing Noble Joseph.