JC’s Confessions #12

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I don’t miss going to church.

I’m writing this after being unable to attend in-person mass for two and a half months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been watching a pre-recorded mass on television and often reading a homily from the Catholic Women Preach website. These are good resources, but I feel more like an observer than a participant. Obviously, there is no opportunity to receive communion, which is a very important part of Catholic practice.

I should interject that there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t gone to church every weekend. For many years, I was involved in music ministry and liturgy planning. I am also a long-time advocate for church reform, including the ordination of women, the recognition of equality among the laity and clergy, and the model of servant-leadership. In 2005, my parish home was shattered due to abuses of power. Those wounds have never healed, but I still continued participating in mass, even though I would sometimes cry – and sometimes feel that I could write a more thoughtful homily than the one I heard in church.

Perhaps, being an isolated home observer feels safer than being in the midst of a congregation when I get emotional. It’s also unlikely that televised mass will plunge into fraught topics, so there is a certain level of safety that doesn’t exist when you are in the pews.

Some church congregations or groups have taken to meeting via Zoom or other kinds of video conferencing during the pandemic. The congregations that I know that have done this are much smaller, though, so there is opportunity for interactions, such as offering prayer petitions. There are well over 1,000 families in my parish here, which makes meaningful videoconferencing impractical. Some of the church reform groups with whom I affiliate are offering prayer services, which is appealing in concept, but I worry that participating would make it even more difficult to remain within the institutional church. Leaving has been a decades-long temptation for me. [There is not enough room in this post to explain that struggle. Maybe, someday…]

I received a letter from my parish, explaining that this weekend they will begin celebrating mass under a new protocol. The priest will livestream weekend masses so that people can see and hear it on their phones or other wifi devices from the church parking lot. At communion, several Eucharistic ministers will zigzag through the parking lot, stopping at each car so that its occupants can come out and receive communion and then get back in their cars so that they won’t be near to anyone else.

This scenario does not appeal to me. I worry about the risk to the Eucharistic ministers, who will be in close contact with dozens of people, albeit outdoors. Other than being able to receive the Eucharist, the participation quotient is about the same as watching a televised or live-streamed mass, other than being in your car in whatever weather that day offers instead of in your home.

The root meaning of the word liturgy is “the work of the people.” To me, the current methods of celebrating liturgy at a distance feel more like watching a performance. I don’t know if I will adjust to this over time or not. I also don’t know if, many months from now when larger gatherings with singing are reasonably safe to attend, it will be difficult for me to muster the energy to leave my home and be in the midst of people and all the uncertainties that involves.

I don’t know and it makes me sad.

a very different Mother’s Day

Today in the United States, we are observing Mother’s Day, which was originally begun as a call by women for peace, but that is another story.

I have been dreading Mother’s Day this year because it is the first since my mom’s death last May.  She was under hospice care in the nursing home, but we were still able to be with her and bring cards and flowers and treats. I keep thinking about how different it would have been this year with pandemic protections in place. No visiting is allowed. I know that is necessary to keep the virus away from such vulnerable people, but it must be so difficult today for all those moms, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers to be separated from their loved ones.

I am grateful to have daughter T here with us. We got to videochat with daughter E and granddaughter ABC. ABC showed me a special drawing that she and her dad had made for me for Mother’s Day. They were able to scan it and B printed it for me, so now it is on the mantel. It was fun to see ABC dancing about the living room, to hear her sing and “play” the piano, and hear her ever-expanding vocabulary. She will turn three next month. This is also the first Mother’s Day since they moved to London after E’s spousal visa finally came through. Though I wished E a happy Mother’s Day, the UK celebrated weeks ago.

It has also been unseasonably cold here. We have had snow this weekend, which is late in the spring for us. No outdoor flowers for Mother’s Day gifts this year!

Because of my mood and the pandemic restrictions, our celebration here will be low-key. B made Chelsea buns for breakfast, which were amazingly delicious and hot-from-the-oven. For supper, he is making lasagna, using the recipe that my mom always did. It is definitely the comfort food that I need today.

It was also comforting to watch mass recorded from television. The one I chose was my mother’s favorite when she was homebound for so many months. Of course, they mentioned Mother’s Day and included prayers for mothers. It was another way to remember my mom on this special but difficult day.

a package!

Like many other places during this pandemic, our stores have been out of yeast for weeks.

I usually keep a jar of bread machine yeast in the refrigerator. Besides using it in the machine, B sometimes uses it to make treats like Chelsea buns. As my jar was running low, every time I went to a store, I would check to see if I happened to catch a new shipment coming in, but either my timing was never right or there wasn’t any in the warehouses to send to the stores.

I decided to look online. I couldn’t find any jars or packets, but finally found a one-pound bag of Fleischmann’s instant yeast. I wasn’t used to the term “instant yeast” but apparently it is the same as rapid-rise or bread machine yeast. The yeast is sourced from Canada, so perhaps instant yeast is the term most often used there.

It took over a week to arrive, but now we should be supplied for a long time, given that this bag is equivalent to four of the jars I usually buy.

The pandemic has changed my perspective of time so much. I admit to thinking maybe this yeast will last until we have a vaccine available to the public so that the pandemic will be well and truly over.

Of course, this won’t be a miracle like the story of Elijah and the widow in 1Kings 17, where the flour and oil did not run out until the drought was over, but it does symbolize to me that same sense of perseverance, that call to not be afraid while we wait, watch, and work for better times.

the later verses

For some reason, yesterday the topic of the later verses of songs to which many know only the first verse well came up a couple of times. In a Binghamton Poetry Project session, we read Ada Limón’s poem “A New National Anthem” which quotes from and asks why we don’t sing the third verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. Last night, I was discussing the hymn “Amazing Grace” with a friend; I relate much better theologically with the ending verses than the opening ones, which are the ones most people recognize.

Although I am Catholic, much of my training as an organist was in a Protestant context. Unlike most Catholic churches, which often sing only two or three verses of a hymn, Protestant churches usually sing all the verses, which, as a poet and a liturgist, I find more proper. I sometimes choose a hymn specifically for a message in a later verse. I did this in choosing hymns for my father-in-law’s funeral, only to have the substitute organist truncate the hymn so we never got to verses that were connected to the occasion. I noticed the pastor giving a sidelong glance at the organist, but he didn’t take the hint.

Some of my favorite verses of hymns are later ones. In Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”, I especially like the end of the second verse/stanza: 
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
We could really use some of that self-control these days. Interestingly, in researching the poem, I found that the version most of us know is the 1911 revision. The original 1893 version ends the third stanza with:
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!
We could really use that message now, too.

Sometimes, later verses are just fun because you get to sing words that your would not otherwise. For example, the second verse of the standard version of the United Kingdom National Anthem “God Save the Queen” which deals with the Queen’s enemies contains the lines “Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks”. It’s not often one gets to sing about “knavish tricks”!

Sometimes, especially in folk/protest songs, verses are included, excluded, or altered due to political circumstances or the audience. Woodie Guthrie’s original lyric of “The Land Is Your Land” contains a verse about private property and ends with a verse about hunger that closes “As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me.” Most people are familiar only with the verses that are a US travelogue, not these more challenging ones.

There are some hymns, such as “Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB, that I love all the verses so much that I will sing omitted verses to myself if we don’t get to sing them all during the service.

My first college choral conductor, Rob Kolb, taught us that the hymn is the poem which is the text, as opposed to the tune, which is interchangeable with another of the same metric form. Because the hymn is the poem, you sing it as you would recite it, with its punctuation and word emphasis intact. You also honor the hymn as an entity, so you sing all the verses, as you would read or recite all the stanzas of a poem.

Some lessons stick with you for life.

Is it Easter yet?

In my religious tradition, Easter is about joy and light and hope.

Easter this year does not feel like that.

I was trying to get ready for Easter by viewing this series for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. They were beautiful videos and being able to watch them alone was helpful. I spent decades involved with church music and/or liturgy planning, so I have many wonderful memories of those liturgies. They are very emotional for me. Even if we had been able to celebrate at our church, though, I probably would have chosen not to attend because I would have been at risk for crying through them. At this time last year, we were in the last few weeks of my mother’s life, so this is another in the long line of “first times” we have been dealing with over these last months. In some ways, it felt appropriate to be commemorating at this time alone.

Easter Day itself was complicated by some upsetting things that happened with family and friends beyond our household. It is difficult to want to help but not be able to do anything, or even to go to see them. Instead of Easter joy, there was a lot of sadness. pain, and uncertainty. One bright spot was watching Mass recorded at our diocesan cathedral. I decided to watch because our bishop is relatively new and I hadn’t heard him preach yet. I  appreciated how pastoral he is: Pope Francis has been appointing bishops who have more pastoral experience rather than just those who have worked their way up through the bureaucracy. It was also nice to hear the cathedral’s pipe organ, two great soloists, and trumpet. I especially appreciated the soprano singing the Mozart “Alleluia” that daughter E had sung for her college auditions.

This Easter Monday has been spent trying to work through some of the complications that arose yesterday. In the back of my mind, I am also thinking of my parents, who were married on an April Easter Monday, though that year Easter Monday was not the thirteenth.

It was 66 years ago and the first time that they won’t be celebrating together.

One-Liner Wednesday: rules and principles

“Rules are not necessarily sacred,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “principles are.”

This quote begins Sister Joan Chittister’s column this week about applying the wisdom of centuries to the present day. I highly recommend reading it: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/where-i-stand/principles-pandemic
*****
Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/04/08/one-liner-wednesday-april-8th-2020-connection/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

charting a pandemic path

Around the world, most of us are sharing in the battle to limit the damage from COVID-19 to the extent possible.

In some places, the path is proscribed by local or national government and there are not a lot of personal decisions to make.

Here in my county in upstate New York (USA), things are not laid out as clearly. I have been trying to prepare and make plans, but circumstances keep changing – and so must the plans. Our state and local governments and community organizations have been much more proactive than the federal government, but, as more and more cases are diagnosed closer and closer to where I live, additional measures continue to roll out.

Over a week ago, I started the general preparedness guidelines to have a couple of weeks of food and medications available in case we had to self-isolate. This was not a big deal for our house, but I have been much more concerned about preparing things for my dad, known here as Paco. He lives in a senior community in an independent living apartment, so he has a number of services available in-house, but I visit every day to check on him, make sure his medications are all organized and his schedule is laid out, etc. Early last week, a sign went up that people who were having any symptoms of illness should not visit. This is practical and a commonsense precaution that I would follow anyway, but, later in the week, the health care part of the center was closed to all visitors, except those whose loved one is in very grave condition. This meant that Paco could no longer go over to concerts and singalongs held in the health care facility. At the same time, they cancelled activities in independent living that involved outside performers or volunteers. For example, the Irish dancers would not be able to come for a scheduled pre-St. Patrick’s Day performance.

At this point, I had to face the probability that even healthy visitors might not be able to visit independent living at some point, so I started making contingency plans that could be carried out reasonably well without me. Sadly, we’ve had to cancel a planned visit from my sisters and their families to celebrate Paco’s 95th birthday later this month. They all live in areas where the virus is more prevalent and we didn’t want to risk them bringing it with them, given that they might not have obvious symptoms.

Thursday night into Friday, several large employers announced that they would be having most of their employees work from home starting on Monday. The universities had also announced that they were moving most of their instruction online for several weeks or the rest of the semester. Professional sports leagues announced they were suspending or delaying their seasons. Some combination of these functioned as a trigger that caused some people who hadn’t been taking the virus very seriously to spring into action – or, at least, into shopping. I went to my favorite grocery store to pick up a few things for Paco and for my household and was surprised to find that there was almost no peanut butter, canned legumes, frozen vegetables, etc. in the store. And I hadn’t even checked the cleaning supplies and paper goods aisles. The evidence of panic-buying took me by surprise. Given that I had been in concern and preparation mode for days, I had obviously underestimated the number of people who were suddenly paying attention and freaking out a bit.

On Saturday, the county executive announced that all primary and secondary schools will close through mid-April. Now, people are even more upset.

It appears that there are some people who still think that fears of the virus are overblown, given that we have no known cases in our county, even though our neighboring counties do have confirmed cases; they don’t want their personal and family routines disrupted. Others have been following the news and the advice of medical experts and realize that, while we can’t stop the virus completely, there will be fewer deaths and more treatment available to those with severe illness if we can spread out the number of cases over a longer period of time, so as not to overwhelm our medical system. The way to do that is to reduce the number of people who are in close contact and in large groups, also known as social distancing.

There are a number of different opinions about how much distance is required and how many is considered too many to be in a crowd. This leaves some situations to personal discretion. I admit that I had a difficult time figuring out what to do about church attendance this weekend. Our diocese has dispensed with our obligation to attend mass, but services are still being held. I am not especially concerned about my getting seriously ill, but I am concerned with the possibility of bringing the virus into Paco’s community, so I’ve decided to participate in a mass on television. At least for now, I plan to still shop. occasionally eat at restaurants, and attend small gatherings with friends. If we start seeing community spread in my town, though, I’d cut back further. If we get to that point, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to visit Paco; it’s likely that only residents and staff would be allowed in the building.

I admit that it is disconcerting to know that, despite our best efforts, people are going to continue to get sick, some of them severely sick, and some of them will die. I hope that our communities will face up to this challenge and do as much as we can to protect people, especially the most vulnerable.

Be well. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be considerate.