What is a Week End? # 2

JMJ

SORRY TO BE LIGHT in posts recently. I’ve three weeks of Deacon classes in a row, along with all the reading that would normally come over 6 weeks of classes. It’s sacramental theology which is, really, the most un-Orthodox of Western theology. So I’m having to lean in here. That’s just made the weeks really tight. We even had a class on the Saturday after Thanksgiving! But I have more than a few half-baked thoughts for posts running around in my head so it seemed like a good time for an update. This is a lot of different things…

Bible Nerding

There are two ways to say “have mercy on me” in Hebrew: racham na רחם נא and channeni חנני. The latter means something like “have grace on me”. We can imagine asking God to pour down from the heavens. More interestingly, the former speaks of the uterus. This is where the King James Version talks about the “bowels of mercy”. We can imagine asking God to let one curl up in a fetal position and be comforted. “Hold me while I cry, God.” What came to me as I was just looking into these two words – not really looking for anything in specific – was the passage from John 3 where Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about being “born from above”. In John 3:4, Nakdimon said to him, “How can a grown man be ‘born’? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time?” And Yeshua’s reply includes the eventual rebuke, “You hold the office of teacher in Isra’el, and you don’t know this?” (John 3:10) and it came to me that perhaps the Elder from the Sanhedrin was making a comment about God’s mercy (racham) with the Son’s “born from above” reply indicating God’s grace (chanan). Are we seeing humorous wordplay between the two rabbis?

A second bit of this nerdery on another topic: Marc, my formation classmate called out Genesis 22:8 where most translations saying something like, “God, himself, will provide a lamb” or even “provide a lamb himself” but the Hebrew actually says “God will provide to himself a lamb”. The echos of God the Son as Atonement increasing here.

Related but not, my second semester in Hebrew started tonight. My teacher is Avigail.

Meat Pumpkin

My Savory Side Dish came out quite tasty but I’m not quite blind enough to imagine the taste was for everyone. The spices were very Victorian. Which is to say strong. I think next time I might try it with my stuffing rather than a Victorian Christmas theme. Only one person at the Thanksgiving Party said “Three Cheers for the Meat Pumpkin!” I felt like Great Aunt Cecilia. (St Dom’s inside joke.)

I have tried the Figgy Pudding Spam. It’s very tasty. I can’t think of a single thing to do with it. It’s not right for crackers or breakfast. It would not be a thing for a sandwich at all. Maybe whizzed up with some Duke’s and used as a spread? I don’t know. I’m going to leave it alone. It’s Advent as of today on the Julian calendar.

Rebyz

Working at a Byzantine Catholic Church I’m re-exploring Eastern Christian spirituality. My first thought is God has brought me to where I am through where I’ve been. The things that didn’t feed me at one time now do. The things that drew me on, now push me forward. I’ve been hearing the Orthodox theologians “of my youth” (by which I mean my early middle-age) coming out of the mouths of the teachers of my old age. When a Catholic quotes an Orthodox are we breathing with two lungs?

I never was Old Calendar as an Orthodox. Here I am, Old Calendar Catholic. How does that happen?

God’s sense of humor.

Shout out to my friends. All the love. These were taken at my birthday party in September, but I have some amazing friends and stumbling across these made me smile all over again.

Weekend Update

JMJ

AN EMAIL Arrives reminding me that today, the First Saturday of November, is the Antiochian feast for my Patron Saint, Raphael of Brooklyn. His feast is in February in the Russian use, I usually miss this one. Raphael is considered the patron of all the Lost Sheep of North America. I figure I still fit that bill. So I rely on his prayers, no matter how I stray.

By coincidence – which is a pagan word – a book arrives also today, Praying from the Free-Throw Line – for Now, by the late Minka Sura Sprague. I started reading it at dinner tonight, sitting in GyroXpress on Castro. It’s good to hear her voice again in my head. She served as my Spiritual Director, although we never used such language in those days, and she counseled me through a number of things including breakups and my first three semesters of Hebrew at NYU. In the earliest pages of the book I learned the origin of the line she shared with me, In the Old Creation people said “no” unless there was a good reason to say “yes.” In the new creation, we say “yes” unless there is a good reason to say “no.” I also learned, in those same pages, that she suffered from panic attacks. Sometimes debilitating her for days. I never knew that. She used the yes/no mantra in part to avoid making choices out of panic, to lean into her faith in God for strength to do things she could not otherwise do. Since “panic attack” was not a phrase we used in those days, did she impart that mantra to me because she saw that I, too, had the same debilitating fear? In this book she refers to the “divine-design”, a hyphenated phrase just like that. There is no coincidence: luck is for pagans. I have Minka’s wise guidance just when I need her.

I had my final preaching assignment today. I preached what I posted earlier. I left out of that homily the seed that planted it all in my head. Not ten seconds after I was assigned Holy Family Sunday for a homily, this story popped into my head:

Just out of college I took a job as Assistant Manager at the Episcopal Bookstore in NYC. There were two 2nd Avenue storefronts to deck out through the year, especially, of course, at Christmas. 

Once I painted the Blessed Virgin on foam core. 

Her hands were upraised in prayer and the infant king occupied an oval place in her womb like our window up here above the Creche. 

It was a style the Orthodox call “the virgin of the sign”.  

I invited customers, coworkers, and neighbors to donate pictures to the window display. All of us defining family in any way – pets, children, spouses, partners – were welcome to participate. 

“Let us all be the holy family”, I said.

I got an anonymous letter – remember letters? – from someone complaining that my invitation was too condescending to people who didn’t have “normal” families. They were offended and felt excluded. They had no family. Not even pets. They would never come back to my store.

30 years later I still worry about them.

Minka pulled me into her family as surly as did my Brother Knights mentioned in the homily. Minka’s kids all made comments (conveyed to me by herself) that helped me fine-tune my journey. When I walk, I have my brother Webb and my sister Caroline by my side (they may have other names now… they did when I first met them as well, as did I). We all walk in the New Creation together with their mother and my friend, and St Raphael. He is considered the Patron of the Lost Sheep of America, as I mentioned, and I certainly fit that name!

By the divine-design it’s the 3rd Shabbat of the Annual Cycle. This week’s Torah Reading is called לֶךְ-לְךָ‎ Lech Lecha. It tells the beginning of Abram’s story, called out of Ur of the Chaldees to be a blessing for all people. Lech Lecha is sort of a one-two punch because it means GO YOU GO! But, as the Rabbis point out, it also means “go to yourself“. Abram had to find himself in order to understand God or, more to the point, had to come to God in order to find his true self.

Suddenly I’m hearing the story of the Prodigal Son differently. Luke 15:17 says that the Prodigal “Came To Himself“. We have to come to God to know ourselves fully. We have to wait, trusting in God, to even begin to know who we are. The Lost Sheep of America do not know themselves. They think they do, they demand their “rights” and their identities, but they don’t even know who they are.

Because they are without God and reject his gift to them of their very selves.

We have been saying no no no, when we should say yes yes yes yes yes.

Yes

It’s like a tap-dance
Or a new pink dress,
A shit-naive feeling
Saying yes.

Some say Good morning
Some say God bless –
Some say Possibly
Some say yes.

Some say Never
Some say Unless
It’s stupid and lovely
To rush into Yes.

What can it mean?
It’s just like life,
One thing to you
One thing to your wife.

Some go local
Some go express
Some can’t wait
To answer yes.

Some complain
Of strain and stress
The answer may be
No for Yes.

Some like failure
Some like success
Some like Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes.

Open your eyes,
Dream but don’t guess.
Your biggest surprise
Comes after Yes.

Muriel Rukeyser

What is a Week End?

JMJ

THE DOWAGER COUNTESS of Downton Abbey rather famously asked, “What is a Week End?” Ascending high enough up the ladder of nobility, at a certain point the difference between work and life no longer matters: one is always The Dowager Countess of Downton even when other folks have “down time”. Vocation is like that: one is always the (fill in the blank) of the Parish Name even on (especially on) the Weekend. This comes to me now: the boundary between work and life are blurred, but in an entirely healthy way. I nearly never stop praying about work or worrying about guests, wondering if I should change something or thinking about the situation in the parish. This is not to say I should be on call 24 Hours (or that any parish appointee/employee should be) but if it’s a vocation rather than a job, then there is no time when one is not one’s job.

Boundaries are always something that has been important to me: I need to see where work quits and where life begins. But in the case of vocation that’s not the question. One is always whatever one’s vocation is: even when one is at work, one is at play, one is still whoever one is in God’s eyes at all time. It’s like marriage in that sense: there’s no moment when one is not married to your spouse. To wake up and pretend otherwise (even for a few moments) is literally preparing for sin.

Speaking of sin, the question of celibacy has been weighing on me. To be ordained as a deacon, I have to take a vow of celibacy. This means forswearing the good of Marriage. That said, I’m surprised at the number of folks who say I can’t get married nor can I forswear Marriage because of same-sex attraction, as if experiencing a certain temptation means one cannot participate in the Mystery of Matrimony. I’m surprised at how widespread that idea is: as if I’m ontologically unable to make vows. For millennia men and women who experience SSA went out and got married. They also had children. These men and women are no different from the men and women who do not experience this temptation. They are the same human persons. Marriage is as much a salve for their souls as it is for anyone else. In fact, it may literally be the answer for most Catholics with SSA. God gave us all of the sacraments, all of the Holy Mysteries, to bring us to him, to make us like him.

The Sacrament of Matrimony is not a permission to have (or a blessing on) sexual activity, but rather an action of salvation in the world. We misuse some of God’s gifts outside of Matrimony, yes, but the end and purpose of Matrimony is not to sacramentalize those gifts. Rather those gifts feed into Matrimony to make it a mystery that speaks of Christ and the Church. Matrimony is a sign, a sacrament. It is the Ordinary form: a sign of Christ and the Church. But not all are called to it: there is an extraordinary form, also a sign of Christ and the Church, and it is a vow of celibacy. This last is an eschatological sign, a sign of the Church in heaven and eternity. It can be lived here and now by God’s grace. One forgoes the ordinary form of the sign to participate in the extraordinary form. One freely gives up the channel of grace provided to every man and woman – monogamous heterogamy – to engage in a vowed state of aloneness, what is called in Greek, μονᾰχός monakhos, which has come to mean “monasticism” but originally meant “singleness” or “aloneness”. St Ephrem the Syrian is one of the first “monakhos”, but he was not a vowed monastic as we understand that term. He simply wished to forgo the goods of marriage an explorer a closer relationship with God. It is (as it was) a mystical state of a man or woman living in the world alone with no one else except God. And therefore, available to share God’s love with everyone.

He was also a deacon.

But if one imagines one’s identity to be beyond the pale of marriage, then one cannot make a vow of celibacy. Since all humans are called (in nature) to Marriage, to place oneself beyond marriage is to make oneself unnatural or contra naturam (Latin.) or παρα φυσιν para physin (Greek) as St Paul says. One has crossed the boundary into something else. (Please note that the naturam or φυσιν here does not imply “things that happen in nature”. Literally anything that happens happens in nature. Rather what is implied is within the natural law: the use of things as intended by God and evidenced in nature. Fallen nature does a lot of things not intended by God.

Within nature, one can engage in one’s fallen nature, making up new identities and whatnot. Or one can seek to elevate nature beyond what is now normal, and even beyond what is now the intended (but generally rejected) divine order of things. One can seek to elevate oneself to a higher order: that of the eschaton even in this world.

That’s celibacy.

I got a couple of cool things: this translation of The Imitation of Christ from the 1930s (reprinted in the early 1960s). It has a thematic plan to read the whole thing in a year.

Also, I got this rather wonderful Cross from a Deacon friend:

I think it’s carved, but I guess it could be formed or sculpted of some kind of material. It’s a lovely representation of the Holy Face on the Cross. It’s now in my icon corner.

It’s still hard to be the one in charge. Today was no exception. Tomorrow I have a homily to present and a BBQ to attend. It’s the weekend. after all.

I’ve been watching an Israel Comic and trying to read/listen along. I hear some words – but I don’t get any jokes yet. I like when he does his mother’s voice, though.

Update OK… I totally get the part about the kholodetz.

A Child’s Autumn in Wurtsboro

JMJ

Two essays from September of 2000. They are nearly as old now as I was removed from my childhood when I wrote them. The “45” in the first graph has been changed to reflect today rather than the original Y2K date. I was already living in SF at that time, before 9/11 changed the world. I was not yet in school at CIIS, though, nor Orthodox. Nostalgia can be so old that it has neither referent nor referent-er.

AUTUMN HAS COME – not in a weather way, but in a calendar way. It always makes me rather maudlin about a place that no longer exists: Wurtsboro, NY, the town in the Catskills where I did some of my growing up (the rest was in the red clay of Georgia). Don’t get me wrong, the town is there, but not the same.

In Autumn, right about now (45) years ago, the leaves would start to change. My Great Grandma Kate would go out to the row of maple trees that lined her block and tap them, hanging little buckets off the sides of the trees to catch the sap as it dripped slowly down. Later, slow-boiling the sap in a huge pot on her stove she would make the most amazing syrup ever. As the trees changed, the stream that ran through town, called The Brook, would become visible again, along the road up the mountainside. From my school bus, every morning and evening, I could see the Brook in its bed, now carrying brown, red, and yellow leaves along its way.

The schools would open. And I’d get to see friends again who had been absent from my life all summer – perhaps only running in to them in the Mall or at some social event – like the Penny Socials which we had all summer long at the Fire House, or the Ambulance Squad House.

Autumn meant that it would get colder again, and dark. I would wake in the morning at 6 – as I have most of my life – fixing breakfast as I stumbled through the morning routine, listening to Dr. Robert A. Cooke, President of the Kings College, doing his morning radio show on WFME, the local Christian Station. He began each broadcast asking, “How in the World Are you?” And he would laugh in a deep, throaty way. He would finish each show with, “Walk with the King today, and be a blessing.”

On the weekends, now that Labor Day has come and gone, the flood of tourists and weekend campers that had filled our town all summer would dwindle to nil. Eventually,all the festal realities would stop, in preparation for Winter in the Catskills. The Ice Cream stand would close, but the pumpkin farm would open. The Canal Towne Emporium would start to put out seasonal stuff.

My Grandmother (Grandma Kate’s daughter) would soon be preparing buckwheat batter. You sit the batter in a big crock in the cold on the back porch. In the morning, to make pancakes, you take what you need, and replace it with the same amount of water and stone-ground buckwheat, stirred in. Eventually it all becomes a sourdough. It goes rather well with Grandma Kate’s syrup.

I’m being maudlin because this is not only gone from my life: it’s gone. There is no small town there any more. There are hundreds (literally) of new people. My town even hosts a tattoo parlor.

I was born in Georgia. When I try to think of my first house – not with my maternal Grandparents – I’m left thinking of a house out in the middle of nowhere, with cows on one side and cotton on another, reached by a dirt road cut in Georgia clay. They have paved the dirt road, and built 20 more houses along the way to the home my Mother’s family of four shared with another family of five. The house is also gone, torn down to make room for more modern buildings with indoor water.

My hometown is rather another matter: It is Wurtsboro, NY. I walked to the elementary school there in 1975. I watched MASH, mourned my brother, and passed my childhood there. But my home town, too, is gone; torn down for modernity.

The post above was followed by a reverie on Autumn in New York

Autumn in NYC was always the beginning of the school year: I moved to NYC to go to NYU and so, even after my school years ended, September always implied “time to buy notebooks” for me. There is an odd smell that develops in Washington Square Park (or used to, as Herr Guilliani may have made it illegal). It took me nearly three years to figure out what the smell was: decaying leaves on the sidewalk mixed with pet leavings from the dog walkers plus additional fertilizer deposited by drunk students (including my own fraternity brothers) and various Personae Vagrantes. The smell was strongest at the two southern corners of the park.

Autumn also meant that the smells from the food carts on the street no longer seemed a threat. In the heat of too many NYC Summers I developed a distinct fear of the clouds of grill smoke that might waft from the Mystery Meat Carts. But in the Chill of October or November, there is something wonderfully homey about roasting chestnuts or pretzels.

The winds in the Village, at the corners of Broadway and 8th Street, 7th Ave and Christopher, or Christopher and Hudson Streets began to develop a chill that would not go away, and slowly, more layers are brought out of the closet and applied. My last winter there, after the slow build-up through Autumn, I was wearing t-shirt, flannel shirt, hooded sweatshirt, gloves, scarf, knit cap and insulated denim vest as my daily “regular” wear to keep out the cold. In the fall, all one needed was flannel and a coat – this is normal daily, nearly year-round wear in SF.

Autumn means that the bars and eateries of NYC will suffer from two things; increased crowding as people won’t hang out outdoors anymore so in they come (with their coats) and the heat. In NYC, the heat will turn on in about 5 days. Landlords are required to turn on the heat – and so they do. Autumn in NYC means that the radiators clang to life, but since it is still a little too warm, the windows are opened up. The chill does keep down the mosquitos (invading from the swamps in NJ). So while Autumn is ok for this automated heating, once winter sets in, everyone catches pneumonia because of jumping in and out of heated buildings all day.

As a Smoker (now an Ex Smoker), I used to like Autumn a lot because I could hang out outside without sweating. In the middle of the day, I could also still manage to leave my desk without wearing a jacket, without folks knowing I was leaving the building.

The leaves changing in NYC was not an issue: they would blow off the trees almost as soon as they had faded from green. There were no wood fires (or precious few) to scent the air, and there was no one tapping trees in order to make syrup. But once Autumn set in, soon that parade would be going past Macy’s, and soon enough there would be snow. In my memories, NYC suffers through oppressive heat and humidity in the summer, not really getting much done, nor looking for much to do, for that matter. But about now, from October or so, until May, NYC lives – this is the NYC that I miss.

By Way of Update

JMJ

LAST WEEK WAS filled with what could be called “emotional labor”. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and my pastor has called out “maintaining particular relationships” as a hallmark. On top of that, my own devotional life is swirling around seeing Christ in each and every person. Pope St John Paul II wrote, “Jesus Christ is the chief way for the Church. He himself is our way ‘to the Father’s house’ and is the way to each man.” (Redemptor Hominis, 4 March 1979.) As the “the way to each man” it is seeing Jesus in the Other, that lets me relate to them and, even so, to begin Evangelism. The real relationship between human persons must begin in the Divine Person, even those who are not yet baptized are Persons precisely because of their real (if hidden) living relationship to the very ground of their being. That man there, that woman is Jesus. It’s worth the emotional labor. It’s worth the love.

Things that came home to me last week: it’s hard to be the one who is responsible. Also, it’s unusual when your body does something it’s never done before. Reconnecting is hard.

I’m doing a lot of work at the Byzantine Catholic Parish. As part of the Diaconate, I’m expected to do about 10 hours a month, but OLF is getting about that much a week from me! It’s ok: I love the community and the work. However, there is a double irony: one reason I moved away from Orthodoxy was that it is (in America) a very boutique religion. In Russia or Greece, the situation would be reversed: Latin Catholicism would be the boutique. However, because of my faith journey, I’m pretty much perfectly suited to volunteer at a place that is so very boutique-y that there are only 12 parishes like it in the world. Another thing that’s pretty wonderful is they also have a (ByzCath) seminarian there: he’s able to help me keep my feet firmly planted.

My own seminary work seems to be going ok. It’s good to be back in class and to see my brother students face to face. We’re currently being taught homiletics by a Friar Preacher, Fr Bart. He is very funny, but also very dead-on serious about preaching: it’s their charism, yo? That said, for this class (we also have a Homiletics 2 later) we only get three homilies.

Hebrew class is going well, and I’ve been approved to move on to the next level. However, I don’t think I can afford it. I may need to wait until there’s an opening for online classes at the SF JCC.

Finally, it is embarrassing how many times a day I try to open FB, even though I’ve deactivated my account.

Currently reading:

(There seems to be a pattern forming. Real Relationship.)

Recently finished:

Pulled the Trigger

JMJ

YER HOST WOKE UP THIS AM KNOWING today Facebook would end. It’s not clear why this was the case but a book we are currently reading (see blow) indicated one should spend ten hours in homily prep. The question of where those hours would come from answered itself upon waking this AM. Facebook was gone before the first pot of coffee was brewed. That said, there have been at least five attempts to access FB today. Meh.

This means that personal, diary-style blog posts will now appear here amid all the essays. Yer host does not think anyone actually reads these pages, but parents and a few friends voiced sadness at the idea that FB would stop. So there is a category here called “blog” now, with subcategories for diary entries as well as photo posts. Mind you, there will not be any sort of incessant social media here, that’s the whole point of killing FB. But if there’s something that needs to be shared, it will be here. When there is a “Diary Post” it will be headed with a date as above.

Currently Watching:

Soap Operas are as addictive in other languages as they are in English. Srugim is what would happen if 30Something and Friends had children who were all Orthodox Jews in Israel. Whilst looking for a streaming service that would provide Hebrew Language media, your hose found a free S1E1 for Srugim and greatly enjoyed it, but said service did not provide enough other content to warrant a subscription. Luckily the same series is available on Amazon for much less money. The English subtitles cannot be turned off, but the number of Hebrew words that these ears can recognize (at full speed) is surprisingly large.

Currently Reading: