Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Conclusions

Cross-posted from Outpost Mâvarin:

Thanks to everyone who left comments over the past 24 hours. Most of them were very much appreciated, and the remaining one upset and challenged me. Tonight I'm going to share five more pictures from Easter Day itself, and a few last thoughts before I go back into lurker mode on the subject of religion.

I figured out today the relationship between the people who nearly fill the church for the Easter Vigil on Saturday night and the crowd that does fill the church on Easter Sunday. On a Venn diagram they would overlap, about half of of the population occupying both circles. The Vigil crowd consists mostly of the "hardcore" St. Michael's parishioners, the people who attend most of the major holy days, who know that they're signing on for a very long Mass, but do it because they know how special it is, and truly want to be there. About half of them also show up on Easter morning. The other half, knowing that they've already attended one Easter service, leave the Sunday Mass to the remaining regulars, the semi-regulars, and what Father Douglas once called the CEOs - Christmas and Easter Only.

Toni Sue, our verger, greets my friend Eva,
who will be 101 years old in May.

I was scheduled to be crucifer today, and besides, I'd promised to give Eva a ride to church. No Easter morning lie-in for me! I don't regret it, even though I only had four hours of sleep last night. Some years the Easter morning Mass is almost a rerun, but not this year. It was a different sermon, and there was different music: a little Bach, and little Beethoven, and (mostly) Mozart! Organist and choir director Jane Haman conducted not just the choir, which tends to swell in size for holiday programs, but also what I guess might be called a chamber orchestra: strings, brass and timpani.

Jane conducts the choir and guest musicians.

Easter morning is typically when babies are baptized, as opposed to older children and adults. This morning there was a toddler and a kindergartener. The toddler sucked her pacifier and nodded in preparation for each dousing at the baptismal font - not as if trying to avoid it, but as if cooperating. I make no claims that the little girl had a clue what was going on, but she didn't cry, didn't protest. And what a cutie she was!

Baptismal party - including parents and godparents

The newly baptized.

Now I'd like to respond briefly to what Paul said in his comment about "indoctrination" by baptism, and about there being something very wrong if I get sick on Good Friday. I talked a little bit to the kid, perhaps ten years old, who was baptized last night. Toni Sue, who was herself baptized just last year, chatted with him and his dad for quite a while last night, and previously as well. The kid, Jason, was the very definition of irrepressible. He asked questions during the liturgy, and volunteered his opinions to anyone in range, before, during and after his baptism. There is no way he was merely doing what he was told, what his dad wanted him to do. He made the choice himself, and I think he had the right to do that.

The larger question is, does baptism--of a baby, a child, an adult--do any harm? Is there a reason to try to prevent it? Unless it's done under true duress, or as part of a cult that teaches people to worship some human maniac or suffer or cause some serious harm, I'd say the answer is no. If baptism confers the Holy Spirit, it surely is beneficial to the person, and to the world. If it does not, then the person just gets wet. As for indoctrination, Jason is in danger of learning that there's at least one parish in Tucson (probably many more than one) where the people are friendly and welcoming, and care about human rights and tolerance. He'll be exposed to such dangerous ideas as helping displaced Guatamalans set up medical facilities, saving illegal immigrants from imminent death, helping African refugees find a new home half a world away, and on and on. And oh, yeah: they also believe in Jesus, loving their neighbor and stuff like that. If Jason later decides that those aren't values he wishes to hold, he will be making an informed decision about it. The alternative to allowing the baptism of babies and children is to abridge the first amendment in a major way. As much as religion troubles him as illogical and potentially harmful, I doubt that Paul is in favor of going that far.

As for my digestive inconveniences of the past four or five days, I hope I made it clear that religious concerns are, at most, a contributing factor. I had the taxes to do this weekend, and I needed to go make up a couple of hours at work--and never got there. I'm fussing with two diuretics and combinations of minerals, feel perpetually guilty about diet and exercise, and have chronic IBS. Trust me, Paul, giving up religion would not have helped my discomfort this weekend. It would only have stressed me out more.

But enough. I really hate wrangling about religion. I hate debate and strife and confrontation of any sort. So I'll leave you tonight with a nice little bit of cat blogging from someone who is terribly allergic to cats. John spotted this kitty in the next block early this evening, sitting near a cast iron cat sculpture. He turned the car around so I could take pictures. The cat got up from the sidewalk and lay down at the edge of the road, meowing at me. I meowed back, and took the shots. Here's one of them.


Technorati Tags: , ,

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Vigil...and My Annual Illness

Crossposted from my personal blog...

I got exactly zero comments to last night's entry [in my personal blog] about Holy Week at St. Michael's. This doesn't surprise me at all. People who care about the religious side of Easter are busy celebrating it themselves, and people who don't believe in such things are probably turned off by the subject. I can't really blame anyone for that. I get antsy myself sometimes when people talk about religion, pro, con, or, especially, trying to get people to subscribe to a particular narrow view of The One True Religion. So don't think of tonight's entry as an attempt to turn everyone into Episcopalians. Think of it as a photo study of Easter Vigil customs at one particular church in Tucson, AZ. It'll be reasonably painless, I promise!
. Gathering around the fire that lights the Paschal Candle

The Mass on the evening of Holy Saturday is technically called The Great Vigil of Easter, The Service of Light, and The First High Mass of Easter. The service itself is every bit as long as the name of it is. It starts outside the church, with the lighting of a small fire. The fire is used to light the Pascal Candle. Father Ireland (it's always Father Ireland for ome reason) lights the candles of the "torches" (candle-bearers), who in turn light little candles carried by the congregation. We enter the church as Father Ireland intones, "The light of Christ." We reply, "Thanks be to God."

Inside there is relative darkness for the first prayer. Then some of the lights come on and we hear some Old Testament readings: Abraham and Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, something called Salvation Offered Freely to All, and the most unusual of the bunch, the Valley of Dry Bones. "We only did four of the eight readings we could have done," Father Smith joked at the end of Mass, nearly three hours later; but it was true.

...and each man's son was baptised as well, a newborn and a kid.

Back inside the church, we hear in the the Gospel of Jesus' resurrection. This marks the end of the Vigil. The church is brightly lit, including the candles on the altar. The organ plays a fanfare. Two things we've done without during Lent - the ringing of bells and the word Alleluia - make their triumphant return. Those of us who forgot to bring a bell is encouraged to shake our keys!

Ring those bells!

I was going to say a few more words about Good Friday. I'm always sick on that day. I'm not quite sure why, but I think it has to do with stress and guilt. I'm technically supposed to fast, but I get too sick to my stomach of I don't eat. Even the thought of fasting, and the guilt of knowing I won't manage to do it, gives me digestive inconvenience. Plus there's all the stuff I'm not getting done this week while I'mat church, and all the stuff I haven't gotten done at know, the usual.

But I was especially sick yesterday, particularly last night while serving as crucifer at the Good Friday service. I felt feverish, my gut hurt, my back hurt, and I was nauseous. But there I was, commemorating much worse suffering on my behalf. My discomfort seemed like a petty thing,so I did my best to ignore it and carry on.

I didn't feel that much better on Saturday, and in fact John didn't feel well today. Maybe we've got a bug. Plus I really think the diruetics and minerals contribute to the problem. I've been drinking "light" fruit juices and such all night. It seems to be helping a bit.

What about all this religion stuff? What does it mean to me? It means a lot of things - interesting rituals and people I like a lot, and the continual chance to try to connect with God. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that an important part of faith is just showing up. If you don't, there's nothing around to feed it. If you do, you may learn something or be inspired intellectually, even if you don't get some kind of emotional, transcendent experience, the kind I've always wanted but don't seriously believe in. Yet when I look inside for my mustard seed faith, it always turns out to be there after all.

I did have a moment in front of the cross on Good Friday that came close to having a major impact. It was that bloody wooden crucifix I showed you last night. As the crucifer, I happened to be lined up directly in front of it, just a couple of feet away, nobody between me and the wooden Jesus. I took the time to really look at it, and tried to imagine the real person, and what happened so long ago.

And maybe, just maybe, I started to feel a little better.


Technorati Tags: , ,

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Welcome to My Holy Week

I'm not quite sure of the best way to handle tonight's entry. Aside from the fact that blogging about religion (aside from unadorned church announcements) always makes me nervous, there's a lot of ground to cover. Even if all I did was introduce each of the photos I want to show you, it would make for a very large, slow-loading entry. After all, like many of you, I'm still on dial-up. More important, though, I'm not sure I've processed the past two evenings yet. I need more time to ponder, and see what words come out of me after tomorrow night.

What I think I'll do for now is introduce the topic, show you a few key pictures, and point you toward the entry that announces the next Round Robin Photo Challenge topic: "holy."

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, but it's on the following Thursday that it really starts to get intense. In the Roman Catholic church I attended as a kid (St. Ann's in Manlius) it was called Holy Thursday. At St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church here in Tucson, though, it's called Maundy Thursday. I keep forgetting what Maundy means, if I ever knew it, but apparently it's derived from Old French and before that Latin. I'll just give you the Wikipedia entry and let you explore from there, if you care.

the sacrament that almost made it.
Washing of the Feet.

At St. Michael's, the Maundy Thursday service begins with sort of a Christian version of a seder meal, with lamb, pita, and even semi-bitter herbs. This is accompanied by prayers, hymns and liturgy readings. One parishioner from each table does the serving, and afterward, the priests go around and wash the feet of those who served. Then we enter the church, singing Shalom, O My Friends, and have the rest of the Mass. It ends with the stripping of the altar and a haunting musical rendition of Psalm 22.

the church around midnight.
Waiting up with Jesus: St. Michael's 11:30 PM.

On Thursday night, overnight, the leftover Sacrament resides in a vessel at the Altar of Repose. People come to the church all night long, usually in pairs, to pray and wait up with Jesus, in commemoration of the night at Gethsemane, when Peter, John and James kept falling asleep. Kevin and I usually do either the 11:30 PM shift or the midnight one. The church is a remarkably peaceful and beautiful place late at night. It's at this point that I try my hardest to connect with God, to make immediate again what is too easily dulled by repetition and nearly two thousand years' distance from modern life.

close encounter

Not a plastic Jesus.

Friday is of course Good Friday. The altar is bare, with just one little candle behind it, under the hidden purple-draped cross. The Passion is sung by three principals plus the choir. Perhaps the most moving part is the Veneration of the Cross. A five-foot crucifix is held up, and people come forward, one by one, to pay their respects by proxy. Most kiss the statue's feet. Others bow, or make he sign of the cross, or just pause and move on. I watched people come up, and it was highly individual, the way different people responded to their close encounter with this rather grotesque piece of art. This particular cross is not of a sanitized, prettified Jesus. It's very definitely of the Suffering Christ. After the veneration, the cross is laid on the steps at the edge of the sanctuary, and people stand nearby to receive the "leftover" Communion. There is no Mass tonight, no Eucharistic Prayer to commemorate the Last Supper. That was last night. Tonight Jesus has been crucified, and is in the tomb.

another view of the cross

After the service, Jesus remains.

Tomorrow night is the Easter Vigil. It's the longest service of the year, with the possible exception of the "Midnight Mass" on Christmas Eve (which at St. Michael's begins with a 10 PM concert). The Easter Vigil begins around dusk, with a small fire in front of the church. We process in bearing candles. The church is mostly dark as we listen of a number of readings. Eventually we come to the commemoration of the Resurrection. The church is lit, and we ring bells as borrowed musicians play triumphant music. The adult baptismal candidates end their months of study and prayers, and make their way out here:

The labyrinth with the baptismal pool.
The labyrinth, with the baptismal pool uncovered.

This is the St. Michael's labyrinth, used for meditative walks. The orange cones are marking a small pool, with is usualy kept covered. That is where Tim and Tim and I-think-the-third-name-is Charles will be baptized.

More tomorrow night, including Easter Vigil pics and the story of "my annual illness."


Technorati Tags: , ,

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Signs and Wonderings

The following is adapted from two entries in my personal blog.

The sign in the photo above doesn't look like anything special, does it? Covered up as it is right now, with a plastic banner advertising the day school, it appears to be nothing but a commercial sign. But if you were to pull off that banner, and peel back layers of paint, you would find something very different. Pastor John R. Smith of St. Michael's calls it the "prophetic sign." The school banner will be down soon, and the prophetic sign will again broadcast its message to passersby.

If you've been reading my personal blog for a while, you may have noticed that I don't write about politics very much. Doing so properly would require a level of research I really don't have time for. And if I did write about it, someone would inevitably disagree with me. Then there would be arguments and harangues and debates, and I'd have to marshall even more facts for a follow-up entry, Sorry. It's not worth it to me. Now we can move on, to another subject I'm always nervous about covering - religion. And fair warning: politics are going to sneak in here a little bit, too.

About nine years ago, I decided that I was never going to figure out what I believed about God if I mostly ignored the subject outside of my nightly prayers. At the time I was reading non-fiction by Madeleine L'Engle, who for many years was writer-in-residence at an Episcopal cathedral in New York. The Episcopal / Anglican tradition came across in her work as pretty much everything I liked about the Roman Catholic Church, minus everything that had driven me away from Catholicism many years before. Besides, there was an Episcopal church just a couple of miles away from me. So I went there one Sunday. I've been going to St. Michael's ever since.

The reason I had noticed St. Michael and All Angels Church in the first place was that it had a sign out front that I liked. It was a line drawing in black paint of a man, a woman, a baby and a donkey, presumably the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt. Next to the picture were the words, "Jesus was a refugee." That sign made me like St. Michael's even before I drove into its parking lot for the first time.

But that's not the only message "The Church with the Sign," as it's sometimes called, has had on its famous sign. Back in the 1980s, before "Jesus was a refugee," the sign said, "It's a sin to build a nuclear bomb." For the Jubilee Year in 2000, it exhorted us to ask governments and other institutions to "Forgive the debts of the poorest countries." And since 2003 or 2004, possibly a little earlier, the sign has depicted a long line of children of many ethnicities. It says, "Either we are all God's children - or no one is."

The sign in 2004.

Illegal immigration is a big issue in Tucson, which is about 100 kilometers from the Mexico border at Nogales. Every year, roughly a thousand people die in the Arizona desert, trying to get to a better life in the Land of Opportunity. If the heat and dehydration don't kill them, they are often victimized by "coyotes," people who smuggle immigrants in for money. At the first sign of trouble, coyotes tend to abandon their clients in the wilderness, or in the back of an overcrowded, unventilated truck. What do they care if some of the people don't arrive alive? The coyotes already have their money.

This is why a number of churches around Southern Arizona support organizations that try to save the lives of these people, most of whom are here to take jobs that few Norte Americanos would want, especially at day labor wages. Groups like No More Deaths don't encourage people to sneak into the country; but they don't want the border crossers to die, either. So volunteers set up and maintain water stations, clean up trash along migrant routes, and administer first aid. This is all done in uneasy cooperation with the U.S. Border Patrol. The volunteers do not help the border crossers establish illegal residency, but they do render humanitarian aid.

Once in a while, though, humanitarian efforts clash with governmental ones. From the No More Deaths website:

Shanti and Daniel Fight Humanitarian Aid Charges

No More Deaths volunteers, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, both 23, were arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol for medically evacuating 3 people in critical condition from the 105-degree Arizona desert in July 2005.

Shanti and Daniel were following the protocol of NMD training (acknowledged by NMD and US Border Patrol) by consulting medical professionals who advised them to evacuate the critically ill men to a medical facility, and then consulting a NMD attorney who approved the evacuation.

A pro bono attorney for Shanti and Daniel spoke at St. Michael's several months ago about their case. After church, she handed out lawn signs that said, "Humanitarian Aid Is Never A Crime." I certainly agree with those words, so at her urging, I took a sign home, although I explained that I would want to consult with my husband before putting it up. She told me to take one anyway, so I did - and put it in my closet.

As of last night, the sign was still in my closet, although John had raised no objection to having it in our front yard. Unlike the woman who is currently in trouble with her homeowner's association for displaying a Support Our Troops sign, I was worried about ticking off the neighborhood association or individual neighbors. Go ahead. Call me a moral coward. I'll probably agree with you. But we get neighbors anonymously reporting us to the city if the grass gets long, the pool gets dirty, or water leaks from a burst pipe. And people just don't have a lot of signs or banners up around here, unless you count the occasional flag --U.S., P.O.W./M.I.A., or Dale Earnhardt.

But in the past week or two, I've noticed that a few neighbors do have signs on their lawns - not just any signs, but this sign:

So I asked John if he would mind if I put up mine. He said he'd never had any objection in the first place, and to put it up if I want to. "Not that it will accomplish anything," he added, "except to alleviate your guilt."

I don't really believe that, so this afternoon I went home at lunch, and put up the sign. Here it is. And here it stays, for a while at least. The trial of the NMD volunteers, previously set for January and then April, has now been postponed indefinitely.


This is my entry for this week's Round Robin Photo Challenge: "Obstruction," as suggested by Nancy of Nancy Luvs Pix. As it happens, it's also a follow-up to the previous RR Photo Challenge, "Signs."

Despite the obstruction, a few of God's
children manage to wave hi.

Remember the St. Michael's "prophetic sign" I showed you last time? It's the one that says, "EITHER WE ARE ALL GOD'S CHILDREN...OR NO ONE IS." As you may recall, that sign has been covered up recently - in other words, obstructed - by a printed plastic sign advertising St. Michael's Parish Day School. You can just see a few children waving at the edges of the wooden one if you peek at the sides.

This past Sunday, I happened to notice that the plastic sign no longer covered the wooden one. I also noticed and remembered the other side of the sign, which is visible from the parking lot, a message to parishioners as we leave church. I set out to take a photo of both sides. The message "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" is partially obstructed by the pale, thorny sticks of a dead ocotillo. This is appropriate, I think, because the prickliness of our own tempers often gets in the way of our being peaceful and loving.

The sign's message to departing parishionersA message of peace, obstructed by thorns of ocotillo

As I set out to photograph the back side of the sign, three of my friends waited for me in my car, including 100-year-old Eva. I had put the air conditioning on, but I didn't want to keep them waiting for long. So I took a few shots of the "Go in peace" sign of the sign, and left re-photographing the "God's children" side for another day. This was a mistake, it turns out. On Monday, the sign for the school was back.

Hi there!Nails in the wood hold down the second sign,
and obstruct the children's view.

On Tuesday after work, I walked around and took more pictures of the sign from different sides, all the ones you see here and more. I thought about slipping a few of the grommets of the plastic sign off the nails that are holding it on, and getting a quick shot of the sign underneath before putting it back the way I found it. But it sounded tricky to do, and a lot of traffic was going by, and I was afraid people would think I was vandalizing the church. So I didn't do it.

While taking these shots, I discovered another sign. It's a Notice of Hearing before the City of Tucson's Sign Code Advisory and Appeals Board. It seems that St. Michael's is "requesting a variance to exceed the allowable sign area of twenty square feet frontage on Wilmot Road." The hearing took place on March 15th, but this is the first I've heard of it. Then again, I don't attend Vestry meetings.

A notice of hearing about the famous sign,
and noncomforming crosses.

According to the notice, the St. Michael's prophetic sign is 20.5 square feet, just over the limit for a "Single Family Residential District, Public Uses and Churches" zone. (St. Michael's is next door to the hospital and the public library on one side, houses on the other. The other side of the street is all businesses and offices.) In addition, the notice lists St. Michael's as having "six noncomforming 'crosses,'" which it says have a total area of "31.3 square foot." The requested variance is to increase the allowed signage area enough to include the sign, the crosses, and more. The leftover square footage is probably for the temporary signs the church puts up from time to time to promote such events as the English Faire and the Advent Bazaar.

two of the noncomforming crossesTwo of the noncomforming crosses, as seen from the parking lot.

Now there are two more points about this I find instructive - or rather, obstructive. For one thing, I can only find three "nonconforming crosses" at St. Michael's, at least without an exhaustive search. The ones I did find aren't right up against the "frontage" of Wilmot, anyway. One is over the end of the left wing of classrooms, one is over the arch that leads to the tree-lined walkway in front the the church proper, and one is directly over the church itself. They're not signs, either, in the sense of having words or pictures. They're crosses, and they're part of the architecture. Gee. Imagine a church having crosses on display! And from Wilmot Road, the view of the crosses I saw was partly obstructed anyway. So is the church itself, for that matter. What's visible from the street is mostly the school.

One of the crosses is near the white truck, above and to the leftOne of the crosses is near the white truck,
above and to the left

And the sign. That's very visible from the street. I have to wonder why this hearing took place just this month, when the wooden sign and the crosses have been there for many years. Did someone try to use zoning laws to achieve a political or religious purpose, namely the censorship of a sign the person found objectionable? Or was it simply a matter of the church trying to ensure it doesn't run afoul of city sign regulations in the future? I don't know, and I don't think I'm going to ask.

But I sure hope the Sign Code Advisory and Appeals Board agrees to the variance, and doesn't obstruct the church's ability to "sign" its messages to travelers on Wilmot Road.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Mary's Eggs!

I've seriously neglected this blog recently. Let me start to make it up to you, "you" meaning anyone who actually bothers to visit this blog. Tonight: Mary Urich's eggs. Tomorrow: a photo essay on the St. Michael's "prophetic sign."

Mary has been making egg ornaments for a number of years now, designing and experimenting all along the way. One of her more recent innovations has been to use goose eggs to accomodate larger, more ambitious patterns.

Most of the eggs shown here are goose eggs, photographed shortly after Christmas at the St. Michael's coffee hour after the 10 AM Mass.

This last batch is chicken eggs:

I'll have a second entry with more eggs sometime between now and Easter.