Thursday, March 27, 2008

Holy Week, Half-Remembered

Cross-posted from the usual place:

The further I get from the end of Holy Week, the less I actually had to say about it. Nor can I fill an entry with photos I took of Holy Week this year. I didn't always have my camera with me, and was too busy being part of things to photograph them too. Well, heck, maybe that means I won't be too long-winded in covering the subject. (What are the chances?)

For those of you who weren't raised in a denomination that celebrates it, I should explain that Holy Week is basically the week that leads up to Easter at the end of Lent. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday. Then we've got three days of nothing special, followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and of course Easter Sunday. I'm not here tonight to convince anyone of anything, just to explain what all that involves at the Episcopal Parish of St. Michael & All Angels, and what small part I played in all that this year.

Palm Sunday 2006

Palm Sunday, 2007

Palm Sunday: This commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, to the acclaim of the crowds. At St. Michael's this service always starts outside in one of the courtyards. The members of clergy celebrating the Mass (priests and subdeacon) wear an oddly shaped hat for some reason, on this day and no other. Palms are blessed and distributed, the Gospel is read, and we all process into the church, singing.

Reading of the Passion (Good Friday 2007 I think)

Once we're inside, it all gets darker. The church is decked out in penitential purple, and a second Gospel is sung, of the Passion (the arrest, trial, and death of Jesus). A member of the choir sings the part of Jesus, another one Pilate, another one Peter, another one the narrator, with the rest of the choir filling in the crowd and bit parts.

This year I was either crucifer (carrying the cross) or torch (carrying one of the candles), I forget which. I kind of think I was crucifer. As you can see from the picture above, the cross gets covered up with a purple cloth at the end of Lent. I'm not quite sure why, but by Good Friday all the icons of the church are covered.

the sacrament that almost made it.
Washing of the Feet, 2006

Maundy Thursday: I can never quite remember what "maundy" means. At St. Ann's in Manlius when I was growing up, it was called Holy Thursday. Either way, it commemorates the Last Supper, which immediately preceded Gethsemane and the arrest, and which is the basis for the sacrament of Holy Eucharist (Communion), the ritual transmogrification of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

The Last Supper was basically a Seder, a ritually significant meal in the Jewish celebration of Passover, commemorating the meal of sacrificed lamb and unleavened bread eaten immediately prior to the flight from Egypt. At St. Michael's we have a lamb dinner in the Parish Center, punctuated by prayers and readings. I was a couple minutes late this year because of John's car breaking down at Oracle and Ina, almost a forty minute drive from our house. When I arrived, Father Smith was just starting the service. He waved me over to a table with a few empty seats, which happened to be the table where Kirk Smith, the Bishop of the Diocese of Arizona, was the honored guest. Before we ate and in between prayers and readings. Proscovia called me away to get my alb on (a one piece white robe), because I was going to be crucifer and would not have time later.

Back at the table, Ila Abernathy suggested that we each give our names and a little-known fact about ourselves. I said that I blog every night, no matter what, which surprised no one. The Bishop also has a blog, it turns out, and mentioned that he's gotten nasty comments on it. When another parishioner mentioned as her fact that she was a fan of Doctor Who(!), the Bishop impressed me by asking, "old series or new series?"

After dinner, the Bishop and Father Smith went around washing the feet of the people who served the dinner at each table, following the example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples in one of the Gospels. The other Doctor Who fan and I had a good-natured discussion about which of us had the ugliest feet, each of us vying for that distinction but not providing visual evidence. The Bishop gave a little sermon, during which he mentioned having once gone through the motions of washing where a parishioner's feet would have been if he'd had any.

Then I stood outside the Parish Center with Proscovia and the two torchers as everyone else processed past us into the church, singing Shalom, O My Friends. The Mass ended with the stripping of the altar and a haunting musical rendition of Psalm 22. I went back and forth several times between the sanctuary and the sacristy, carrying out cloths and other stuff from the three altars.

the church around midnight.
Waiting up with Jesus: St. Michael's 11:30 PM (2006)

On Thursday night, overnight, the leftover Eucharist resides in a vessel at the Altar of Repose in the back of the church. 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 while Jesus prayed. I had scheduled myself to do this at midnight, but I was blogging and very tired, and I forgot. First year in a long time I've missed doing it.

close encounter
The only icon of Good Friday is not a comforting one (2006)

Good Friday. I was crucifer again, carrying the cloth-covered cross. The Passion was sung again, I think from a different Gospel. Then we lined up for the Veneration of the Cross. A five-foot crucifix was held up. First the clergy, and then we acolytes, and then the people came forward, one by one, to kiss the statue's feet, or just touch them; or to bow, or make the sign of the cross, or just pause and move on. After the veneration, the cross was laid on the steps at the edge of the sanctuary, and people lined up again, this time to receive "leftover" Communion. There is no Eucharistic Prayer on Good Friday. As the service ended the acolytes and celebrants "scattered" in disarray, as the apostles did all those years ago. And then I drove a friend home to the south side of town.

Easter Vigil: Saturday night was Easter Vigil. In some churches it's held just before dawn on Easter Sunday, but St. Michael's does it the night before. It began around dusk, with a small fire in front of the church. I was torching, which is a bigger part of the Vigil than other services. The parishioners entered the darkened church, each carrying an unlit candle, or "taper." Father Ireland lit the huge Pascal Candle from the bonfire, and entered the church, where a young acolyte named John and I lit our oil-fed torches off the Pascal Candle. "The Light of Christ," Father Ireland chanted, three times, as he moved up the aisle, to be answered, "Thanks be to God." Between the three of us we provided fire to start the tapers in each pew.

It's a very long service, perhaps the longest of the year, but seemed slightly less so this year. After several readings and chants, little John and I stood by as the Gospel was proclaimed, the story of the empty tomb and Jesus' first post-resurrection appearance. The church was lit and bells were rung, horns played a fanfare and the people sang. I had forgotten my bells, but I noticed later that Father Smith "rang" his jingling keys in the triumphant singing of Jesus Christ is Risen Today. I followed his example, briefly.

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

Easter Vigil at St. Michael's usually includes a baptism in the pool in the middle of the labyrinth. This year we baptized two kids from the parish day school, Paul and Anthony. People again lit their tapers off our torches. As the newly baptized went off to get into dry clothes, Father Smith led us in song. Then we were back inside for the rest of the Mass. And when all that was over, we had a "Break-Fast" of quiche and fruit and blintzes and punch (or champagne) in the Parish Center.

These two rows of chairs are where I sit as an acolyte. 2008.

Many parishioners figure that after celebrating Easter Vigil, which is the first service of Easter itself, they don't need to show up yet again on Easter morning. But as with Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I was scheduled as an acolyte. I torched again. The church was filled with music and light and flowers, and with CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) people. And this time I actually took a picture or two.

Wow, it's late. Good thing I slept for a few hours this evening. But I feel better now, because I'd kind of promised to write about Holy Week again, as I do every year. Good night!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Knitting a Prayer Shawl

Knit. Knit. Knit.

Purl. Purl. Purl.

It's a prayer shawl.

I should be praying, but I have to watch each stitch,
and count them as I go.
How can I pray as well?

Knit. Knit. Knit.

Purl--oops, don't slide off too soon. Purl. Purl.

Every day two rows, fifty-seven stitches.


Dear God, help me to finish this.

Stitch by stitch, row by row,

Carefully, Fearfully.

Knit. Knit. Knit.

Purl. Purl. Purl.

It will be thick and fluffy.

Warm, too.

Holey, sort of, where the purls succeed the knits.

Should I be praying for the one who'll get this shawl,
who'll need the warmth and comfort of it?
I wonder if she'll sit, enwrapped and quiet,

And hear a distant echo, whispering

Knit. Knit. Knit.

Purl. Purl. Purl.

by Lucy Rasmus

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Alan Schultz and the Spark of Divine Fire

Crossposted from Outpost Mâvarin, as usual: Who Is This Guy? A Recital Review

This is the part that can be seen from the church.  But not at this angle!
The antiphonal section of the organ, May 2005

A friend of mine from church took me out to dinner this evening, followed by a pipe organ recital by Alan Schultz in honor of the 50th Anniversary of St. Michael & All Angels Day School. Mr. Schultz (as his former students call him) or Alan (as longtime parishioners call him) recently retired from the school after teaching there for over four decades. I know him mostly as the substitute organist who occasionally plays at the 10 AM mass - not just Bach and such, but his own sacred classical works as well.

Tonight he started us off with Fantasy in G by J.S. Bach, turning much of it into a call and response between the main section of pipes behind the sanctuary in the front of the church and the antiphonal pipes above the back door. He said it was supposed to represent sets of angels singing to each other. It was interesting to hear, and made more use of the organ's capabilities than the average Sunday hymn.

Mr. Schultz introduces a composition.

Next came the premiere performance of Schultz's Psalmist Songs, "a song cycle for mezzo, English horn and organ." This was based on seven psalms (1, 121, 31, 45, 103, 133 and 126) sung by mezzo-soprano Korby Myrick, accompanied by Alan on organ and Kay Trondsen on English Horn. One of the psalms reminded me strongly of the L'Engle novel The Moon By Night, which quotes from it extensively.

Mr. Schultz plays a fugue.

Alan finished the recital with seven selections from his Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues in All Keys for Organ, which was also being premiered. He explained that in Bach's day, an innovation in the way instruments were tuned made certain keys, which sounded awful before, usable for the first time. Bach eventually composed two sets of Preludes and Fugues to cover each of the twelve major and twelve minor keys. Schultz has composed one set. He explained all this, and a little bit about what a prelude is and what a fugue is. I didn't really quite catch on what exactly defines each of this musical forms, but I gather that the fugue part developed from the canon, or round, which in turn arose naturally in medieval times from people not starting a chant at quite the same time. At one point Alan demonstrated the form by having the audience sing Row, Row Row Your Boat. These introductions reminded me a little of Leonard Bernstein's Concerts for Young People when I was a kid. He ended the performance by having us sing a particular hymn that led directly into his Fantasy, Fugue and Variation on "Divinum Mysterium" in E-flat major.

Before and after the recital there were prayers from Father Smith and testimonial speeches from several people associated with the school and its students. I had vaguely gathered that Alan taught English as well as music, but was surprised to learn that this was perhaps the most important part of his legacy at St. Michael's Day School. His eighth grade students learned to write research papers, something I wasn't exposed to until my senior year in high school. One speaker credited him with turning his students into "grammar police," and a former student of his joked that he tries "to never split...I mean, never to split infinitives" because of Mr. Schultz. The student's parents said they needed a dictionary to look up words in Mr. Schultz's report card evaluations, and the father, a professor, said he has higher standards for papers from former St. Michael's students because of Mr. Schultz. The headmaster talked about Schultz joking about buying a supermarket just so that the express checkout would allow "10 items or fewer." He sounds like my kind of guy!

Newspaper photos from his career adorn a centerpiece.

It turns out this man I've seen around the parish for a decade, and occasionally heard play, is a bit of a renaissance man. Today's program calls him a "composer, teacher, conductor, organist, harpsichordist and author." He was music director of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra for 15 seasons, and he's a former director of the Tucson Masterworks Chorale. He's written a book on teaching organ, had several recordings released, and has had both music and poetry published. Wow! And to think he was basically "just zis guy" to me until tonight.

Afterward at the reception, I tried to express my appreciation upon learning more about him, especially the English teacher bits. I somewhat nonsensically compared the recital to "a cross between Leonard Bernstein's Concerts for Young People and the writing of Madeleine L'Engle," a compliment he accepted graciously. To be honest, I'm a bit of a Philistine with respect to classical music; I do like it, including Schultz's own contributions to the genre, but not enough to seek it out or make an effort to learn more about it. Still, even my relatively untrained ear can tell that his music is creative, ambitious, and well-executed.

I remarked to my friend before the recital that St. Michael's can be represented by a big Venn diagram, with overlapping populations of students, faculty, staff, choir, parishioners who normally attend each of the three Sunday masses and thus seldom meet each other, the social concerns people, the Altar Guild people and ECW. There was a good selection from each of those groups there tonight, including one writer and former journalist I'd like to get to know better.

Given this revelation about someone I took for granted, I can't help but wonder: if this man I see each week at the 10 AM mass can be as accomplished and interesting as Alan Schultz, what about all the other people behind those familiar faces? I overheard one woman this evening mentioning that she was a nurse in Vietnam. Another parishioner is an expert on Byzantine art. We have engineers and astronomers, mathematicians and professors, photographers and who knows what else, some retired, some still working. What fascinating biographies do these people have, unknown by a shy fellow parishioner who barely scratches the surface of their acquaintance?

But maybe it's not important that I get to know each person in depth, learn all about their careers and their hobbies, their trips to Spain, their military careers, and their stories in major newspapers. Maybe it's enough to know and to remember that they're all people, mostly intelligent, talented people, each making unique contributions to the world and its people, each with his or her own "spark of divine fire." Occasionally, if I pay attention, I may even see them glow.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Is It Lent Yet?

Cross-posted, as usual, from Outpost Mâvarin:

Thanks for the tip, Julie! SeaMonkey, which I looked into once before without finding any indication that it had an HTML editor, does indeed have a slightly updated version of the old Netscape Composer. It's not perfect; a couple of times it froze up and would not let me select or unselect anything, and when I installed it a Windows Compatibility Assistant wanted to do something or other. Maybe I should have let it. And it didn't show the Hipcast play bar, which made me a little nervous about whether I managed to keep the code in the sermons page as I turned blog entries into a nice table. But it did work. The page has a bunch of new sermon links on it, and it looks nicer than before because I ran them side by side this time, two sermons across instead of a narrow bar down the middle of the page.

I was so encouraged that I took care of another page on the St. Michael's web site that's been languishing since last summer: the Seasons page.

This used to a a somewhat complex and repetitive series of pages showing what church season we're currently in, which one preceded it and which one is next. I had them on my hard drive with names like seasonsepi.html and seasonslent2.html. In theory as each one came around, I'd rename that file as seasons.html and upload it. Only I hardly ever got around to actually doing that!

CandlemasSo tonight I deleted the bars with the previous, now and next seasons, and consolidated the rest into one master table showing all the seasons for the year, with major feastdays within each. Well, some of them, anyway. I had enough clipart to stick an appropriate gif or jpg in each season's cell. Much better! Only problem was that when I checked it just now, Firefox was reading a clear and correct html link to as the nonsensical, and therefore not displaying the picture. I specified actual size and supplied alternate text for the two affected images, and that cleared up the problem. Weird.

Silly Firefox! There was nothing wrong with my
link to this image of vestments for all seasons.

It still needs tweaking. There must be a church calendar widget somewhere that will tell people that if today is March 5, 2008, then we're in Lent. That will be more informative than either my rotating season pages or the new combined one. And I can probably get a photo of St. Michael's itself to illustrate each season, either instead of or in addition to the clip art.

But not tonight!


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Looking for Starfish

Crossposted from Outpost Mâvarin:

Have you noticed that when you feel guilty about not doing something, it sometimes makes you want to continue to avoid doing it? I'm not quite as bad about such things as I was in my misspent youth; back in high school I was a master procrastinator, if not quite a world class one. But even now I have a tendency to put off doing certain things, and once I start, I continue to put them off.

I say all this by way of introducing the fact that I just updated the St. Michael's news blog for the first time in three weeks. It's not a hard task; the church sends me the church bulletin weekly as a Word file. All I have to do is paste and format and proofread. But it takes about half an hour, usually, and I put it off, rationalizing that the announcements don't actually change very much from one week to the next, and stuff is almost always announced a few weeks ahead. It doesn't make it right, though. There may well be something in any given week that should be posted promptly.

One of the reasons I've become so avoidy about it is that I'm supposed to be solving the sermon problem. It used to be that I could paste the sermon podcasts onto the sermons web page, spend about two hours formatting and tweaking, and then it would be done. It would work. But that was on the old computer, when I had Netscape Composer. That doesn't seem to be available online anymore; at least, I haven't found it. I've tried a few substitutes, including Open Office, only to see my web pages ruined as the program automatically updates all the links to point to my hard drive instead of the web. I can't imagine how that would be useful to anyone, let alone the default setting. And so far I haven't found a way to make it stop doing that.

Not that I've tried in the last two months. Not at all. Not once. I was so frustrated the last time I did try that I'm having trouble making myself tackle the problem again. Even if I get the links to remain static, it will still be an awful lot of work.

But for tonight I'm going to call the sermon posting tomorrow's problem, and hope that turns out to be a true statement. At least I got the announcements posted. I spent an hour on it, largely because I wanted a picture of a starfish.

That's right. A picture of a starfish.

It's kind of a parable, you see. The story apparently comes from a writer named Loren Eiseley, according to the Operation Starfish web site. (The names Project Starfish and Operation Starfish seem to be interchangeable.) The gist of it is that a man comes across a kid throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean so they won't die. The man points out that there are a gazillion starfish on the beach, all up and down the shoreline. The kid can't possibly make a difference. The kid throws another starfish into the sea, and says, "I made a difference to that one."

The idea, of course, is that you or I cannot personally solve world hunger, stop the spread of AIDS, end homelessness, etc. A single person, or even a whole parish or a whole denomination, or a whole country, can't completely solve any one of these problems. But we can help one person, or contribute to helping one person, or one family. This concept seems to be powerful enough to have inspired numerous charity efforts with the word Starfish in the title, for a number of different causes.

So what St. Michael's is doing is collecting small donations in a basket, to build a house for someone in Haiti, one of the "poorest of the poor" countries. If you work it right, with volunteers and local materials and labor, money goes a lot farther in a poor country than it does here. Raising enough money for a house is a fairly tall order for a medium-sized parish, but eminently doable. Announcing the effort in the church news blog should help a bit, especially if there's a nice copyright-free starfish picture there (such as one from a government website) to catch the eye long enough to get people reading the accompanying text.

No, I haven't dropped even a dollar in the Project Starfish basket. Yet. I will contribute, but i haven't gotten around to it.

But I did find a starfish picture.

Starfish photo from