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.

One-Liner Wednesday: dinosaurs!

“T-Rex ate meat!”
~~~ how my two-year-old granddaughter ABC greeted the choir, the priest, and random parishioners at church last Sunday
*****
Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/29/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-29th-2020-doggy-boo-boo/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

Our last full day in Slovenia

After collapsing into bed after our bus ride back from our Koper concert, we were gifted with a (mostly) free morning. B and I took the opportunity to finish shopping for gifts and remembrances to bring back. We shopped for honey, as Slovenia is home to a long-standing tradition of bee-keeping. We bought two Christmas ornaments, one of handmade lace and one of wood, both crafts that are important culturally. We bought sea salt from Piran. A cute, artist-designed Ljubljana dress with a dragon on it for ABC. Chocolate because they had interesting flavors, including a lot of white chocolate products, which I appreciated as I need to avoid dark chocolate.

Then, we started a string of official Smith College Alumnae Chorus events. We had a meeting to hear from our officers and take care of some organizational tasks. We went to a local restaurant for our farewell luncheon.  We proceeded to St. Jakob Church for our last rehearsal.
img_0344

LIke many other churches we visited, it had been renovated and changed styles as the centuries went on. Also, like other churches, some of the renovations had been necessitated by earthquakes.
img_0353

We were surprised to see a vehicle from the Slovenian version of public broadcasting. They were setting up to record the concert for broadcast. Our rehearsal in the church was quite short; we couldn’t run long because we needed to clear out for vigil mass. While we rehearsed, B took some more photos.
img_0355

For some reason, there was a donkey grazing beside the church…
img_0359

Street performers were amusing the children with giant bubbles.
img_0352

After rehearsal, B and I grabbed a quick salad from an al fresco restaurant before returning to the church to get ready for the concert. We were honored by a visit from a representative of the US embassy, who wanted to meet us before the concert.

The concert went very well. We again had a full house and the audience was very appreciative.
concert in Ljubljana

We had a reception back at our hotel, a last chance to talk and laugh together – and to compare which sections of the Haydn and Duruflé kept playing over and over in our heads.

And to eat cake, because, I, for one, always have room for a good piece of cake.

 

 

Koper

After a few hours in Piran, we boarded our bus for a late lunch in Koper and then went to the cathedral to rehearse for our concert that evening.
img_0339
The cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Our Slovenian guide told us that about half of the churches in Slovenia are dedicated to Mary under one or another of her many titles. Originally built in the 12th century, the cathedral evolved over the centuries to incorporate elements of later styles. Interestingly, the bell tower was originally a Roman watchtower, which explains why the stonework is so different from the rest of the cathedral. You can see some beautiful photos of the cathedral, including its impressive artwork, here.

As we saw often in Slovenia, locations tend to be a mix of styles over its long history, most of it spent dominated by other entities. The square where the cathedral is located is named Tito Square, after the president-for-life of Yugoslavia. The City Hall, which is on another side of the square, is a 15th century Venetian palace.
img_0337

After rehearsal, we had a bit of time to get something to eat before we had to dress for the concert. Given that our lunch had been both late and large, B and I decided to visit a gelato shop down near the port. We ate quite a lot of gelato in Slovenia, as there were shops or stands selling it wherever we had free time, perhaps a nod to the Italian influence in at least the southern part of Slovenia. Fortunately for B, who is lactose intolerant, most of the shops had a nice selection of sorbets and vegan gelato. On this evening, I chose a yummy vegan peach gelato.

After we dressed in our black concert attire, we waited outdoors until it was time to file into the cathedral. Here, my roommate at Smith and my first Smith friend are sitting and waiting, utilizing the fans that she brought for us. The sitting was important because we would be spending a lot of time standing on stone floors. The fans were important because it was July and quite warm. We were lucky, however, to have been in Slovenia in the time between two major European heat waves that set many all-time high temperature records. (I’m the one on the right with the silver hair and blue fan.)
img_0336

The concert was well-attended and well-received. It was so much fun to sing in that acoustical environment. You can read more about the music and concerts here.
img_0340

 

Piran

On Friday, the Smith College Alumnae Chorus and our travelling companions visited Piran, a beautiful, historic town on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia. Slovenia, before its independence in 1991, had spent centuries under the dominance of other entities. Piran shows the influence of its time as part of the Venetian republic.

The main square has a statue of Italian composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini, whose birthplace, now a historic landmark, is on the piazza.
img_0259

As you would expect, some of the streets, now used as footpaths, are very narrow.
img_0295

Consequently, the cars are very small by US standards. (For scale, I am 5’1.5″ or 156 cm.)
img_0326

We walked up to the Church of St. George, shown here from Tartini Square.
St. George, Piran, Slovenia

The baptistry is the small, octagonal building whose roof you see to the right of the belltower, which is itself a smaller replica of the tower of St. Mark’s in Venice.
img_0270-2

The restoration of the church is amazing! The wall on the left has a sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon.
St. George church, Piran, Slovenia

The ceilings were especially eye-catching.
img_0320

Because I was an organist, B took a special photo of the organ.
img_0313

A path leads down from the church to the point and lighthouse.
img_0292

Piran affords views of the coast of Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.
Piran view of the Adriatic

We loved our visit to Piran and definitely recommend including it in your itinerary if you visit Slovenia.

Lake Bled

Our first excursion away from Ljubljana was to Bled, which is northwest of Ljubljana and close to the border with Austria. Bled is famous for its beautiful lake, which has an island with a church and belltower.
img_0159

As you can see in the foreground of the photo above, one common way to visit the island is by pletna boat, powered by a single (very adept) oarsman. This is a job that tends to be passed down within families; our rower had a brother working on the lake, both following prior generations of their family.
img_0194

One must climb 99 steps to reach the church.
img_0161

The current form of the church dates from the the 17th century but there has been a Christian church at the site since the 12th century. In earlier times, it is believed that a temple to a Slavic goddess stood at the site. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, but is sometimes called, for obvious reasons, Our Lady of the Lake. Here is the main altar in the Baroque style; on the side walls are fresco remnants of the prior Gothic-style church, which was damaged in an earthquake. img_0180

After spending some time in the church, we climbed the belltower.
img_0171
B took this interesting shot as we ascended the stairs, showing the weights that make the clock work.
img_0188
We were in the tower at noon. Unlike many clocktowers which would just ring the hour, these bells rang for several minutes. It was a bit loud, being that close to the bells, but it was interesting to watch the mechanism work.
img_0187

After our time on the island and the return to shore by pletna, we took our buses up to Bled Castle. And I do mean up! Here is what Bled Castle looked like from our boat.
img_0158

And here is what Lake Bled looked like from the castle.
img_0197

The castle paths were quite steep, but we were rewarded with a fancy lunch at the restaurant. It was the first time I have had trout caviar; probably the first time I have had caviar at all.
menu from Bled Castle

And because it never hurts to end a post with dessert…
dessert at Bled Castle

Remembering Nana

My mother, known here at ToJCM as Nana, passed away last month.

I have been wanting to write a post about her funeral and other commemorations but I haven’t been able to find the quiet time needed to do so. When a loved one dies, close-by family members often become very busy with memorial planning and estate issues and a rather astonishing amount of phone calling and paperwork. It’s necessary, but also distracting and can make it seem that reflection and grieving have to be stuffed into little pockets of time between tasks.

I also realize that I have been grieving over a long period of time as Nana was declining. This anticipatory grief has made my initial reactions to my mother’s death very different from the shock of my mother-in-law’s death, which was like being suddenly submerged rather than a slow walk into the waves.

I have begun this post in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. The silence in the house reminds me of my mother’s absence. We literally spoke to each other almost every day of my 58 years. Will I eventually get used to that silence?

But, I set out to write about the funeral, so I will try to re-direct my thoughts…

I should probably start with the planning. My sisters, who live out of town, were staying with my dad and helping with tasks like moving Nana’s things out of the skilled nursing unit, while I embarked on the funeral planning and paperwork. I am very grateful that my spouse B took time off work to be with me while we met with the funeral director and the florist and signed papers at the memorial park and such. Some of the plans were already in place, but other decisions remained.

One of these was choosing prayer cards. The funeral director gave us a binder with pictures for the front of the cards and verses for the back. Even in the midst of such a solemn occasion, there are moments of levity and the prayer card binder provided that opportunity. Most of the pictures were mid-20th century paintings of praying hands, or Jesus crowned with thorns, or various saints in pious poses, none of which seemed appropriate. We decided to use the one set of nature photographs, which reminded us of various places where Nana had lived or visited. Finding the most appropriate choice among a hundred verses was more difficult. Most of the Bible verses were King James, which is not a translation that my church uses any more. The poems were incredibly sappy with the kind of rhymes that give poetry a bad name; this was the source of most of the levity. Poems in which one invites the Blessed Mother to tea just don’t quite have the cultural relevance they used to, if indeed they ever did. We did, though, find a very nice quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson to use, even though it meant that our prayer cards didn’t have a prayer on them. The quote can be found at the end of this post.

Planning the funeral gave me several writing assignments: the obituary for the newspaper, the words of welcome which would preface the funeral mass, and the intercessory prayers that conclude the liturgy of the word. Usually the family chooses from a set of readings and prayers that are already established, but because I spent a lot of years doing liturgy committee and music ministry, I was able to suggest some other choices. My daughters helped me choose the scripture readings and I had my writing done and some music ideas before I met with the pastoral minister Sister A and the music director, with whom I have been friends for many years. Everything focused on love because that seemed the best expression of Nana.

The hour before the funeral, we had time for friends to visit with the family. My younger sister had put together some photographs which were on a table as people entered. Nana had chosen cremation, so the urn with her cremains was there with flowers on either side. We had a mix of my parents’ friends and staff from their retirement community and caregivers and hospice volunteers. There were also some of B’s co-workers and my friends, including some poets, singers, and spiritual companions. I appreciated everyone’s support.

The funeral was very meaningful for me. My words of welcome focused on how Nana was so welcoming and loving with people and how she was such a good listener. I admit that I was grateful to speak first, because then I could concentrate on the rest of the service without distraction. Well, without distraction other than grief and tears, both personal and family. We were blessed to have family and friends in special roles. A priest-friend who came to concelebrate. Sister A who had been visiting Nana and Paco over the months reading from Proverbs. My niece and nephew sharing the reading of 1Cor 13. The hospice volunteer who had visited and called on a regular basis for almost two years reading the prayer petitions. My daughters E and T and the almost-two-year old ABC, along with son-in-law L, who was able to make the trip from London to be with us, bringing up the offertory gifts. Music ministers singing with the Resurrection Choir representing the parish community. My long-time friend at the organ, who had been such a support to me during Nana’s illness as I had tried to be to her through years of struggle with her parents.

After the mass, the family and two of Nana and Paco’s closest friends proceeded to the chapel at the memorial park for the committal service, led by the deacon from our church, and reminiscences shared by my younger sister. Then, we went to one of Nana’s favorite restaurants for lunch. We had a server who remembered what Paco usually ordered, even though he hadn’t been there over the last couple of years. The restaurant also treated us to desserts, which was so thoughtful of them.

The next day, we had a gathering in the social hall of the senior living community that has been home to Nana and Paco for over ten years. Along with coffee, punch, and cookies provided by dining services, we had an assortment of homemade cookies, mostly made by B – lemon and chocolate pizzelles, snickerdoodles, shortbreads, and cherry-pistachio biscotti, all family favorites. The snickerdoodle recipe is written in Nana’s cursive. Nana was especially fond of the lemon pizzelles, shortbread, and biscotti. The photos were on display, which was nice because some of the residents, staff, and hospice folks weren’t able to come to the church, but could join us then.

I’m so grateful for all those who have supported us during Nana’s decline and who are grieving with us, offering the love and compassion which Nana had shared with so many over the course of her eighty-seven years. Her example is the reason we chose this passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson for the remembrance cards:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.