Insta-Thanksgiving

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My church has a beautiful Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the typical collection basket, there is a basket at the entranceways for donations to St. Vincent de Paul Society. They provide food for Thanksgiving and Christmas and gifts for Christmas for those less fortunate as well as throughout the year. During the offertory, parishioners bring up canned goods and nonperishable foods and leave them on the altar for the Society. At the end of Mass, we are given a loaf of bread to continue the communion of the Eucharist at home as well as to break and share bread with our families. (c)2017

Thanksgiving Dinner with my sister-in-law and her family. Good food, good people. (c)2017


Dessert: apple pie and pecan pie. (c)2017

Massaversary

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Tuesday was my Massaversary. By the calendar, it was really about a month ago, in March, but the first Mass I ever attended was on Holy Tuesday, which was two days ago.

I remember it clearly because of the recommendation of my friend, Tim. He said I should try to attend the masses during Easter’s Holy Week, that they were really lovely. I went to that first one on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, I went to the second one.

And then I discovered that that’s it for the daily  masses in Holy Week. Thursday and Friday and Saturday were all simple prayer services; the big services or masses were held in the evening.

I went to the following prayer services, and was shocked on Saturday to have been caught up so emotionally at the lighting of the Easter fire. It was overwhelming, and almost too much, but it was.

Going back to my first Mass on that Holy Tuesday, it ran just like a regular mass. The fabrics were still purple, the flowers were a mix of greenery and red, leftover from Palm Sunday, although at the time I did not know that.

I sat alone behind an older woman with a colorful embroidered jacket. She was also wearing a hat. I would find out later in the season that her name was Shirley.

I was struck by the synchronicity of it all. Everyone doing the same thing, at the same time, sometimes before the priest gave the signal to move. There was a call and response, and everyone knew all the words. Everyone except me.

I was also struck  by the exercise program of it all.

Sit, stand, cross yourself. Bend your head, sit, stand, cross yourself. Kneel, stand, raise your hands, drop your hands, kneel, stand, raise your hands, drop your hands, shake hands with your neighbor, walk to the front, eat, drink, and walk back. Bow and sit. Then stand, bow, and genuflect.

Add a little bit of music and you’ve got a Richard Simmons video.

It was foreign, and I spent most of my time watching the others, trying to emulate what they did, just slightly slower than they.

That was the beginning.

I still go to the daily mass; at least I try to. I have returned for Lent, and I have indeed missed it. I think I’d gotten lazy, but I’m hoping to make it part of my daily prayer time again.

This year, since last week, excepting today, I’ve stayed after the daily mass for the recitation of the rosary. I have some issues with the after rosary prayer, but that is a subject for another day. All in all, I get good feelings from praying to the Holy Mother; something I couldn’t have imagined five years ago.

So, happy massiversary to me!

And Happy Easter to all of you.

Instagramming Across May

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When I first heard about Instagram, I thought, oh no, not another social media thingy. But once I began to use it, I really enjoyed it. Especially the way I can post directly from it to my Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Because those two latter ones are more anonymous than my FB, I do need to be careful not to post any identifying information or at least to be aware of it when I do.

In getting my new smartphone, I’ve discovered that its camera is better than my camera-camera and my Kindle camera and having 4G that actually works is the bonus, so I’ve been using it more lately. I also love the way the layout on multiple pictures looks. It lets me be creative and really use my imagination.

This May has been incredibly busy as you’ve read in the posts I’ve made and in the lack of posts I haven’t made. But I have managed to make Instagram posts because they are just so easy to upload.

I wanted to share them with you.

As a writer, I hate the saying, but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

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Rundown and Reviews

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When last week started I thought I had all the time in the world. The first half of the week was an empty calendar, and I tried to set up the incredibly busy weekend, not only for us to participate in, but for me to write about. I have a long list of ideas and WIPs and I thought the early part of last week was perfect timing to get a few things started. And then it was Thursday. Ascension mass, catch up on Supernatural, writing class, get ready for the weekend. Sleepover, Free Comic Book Day, Lunch at Dairy Queen, mass for the anniversary of my friend’s death, seeing Captain America: Civil War, meeting my son’s new girlfriend, and Sunday for Mother’s Day and Fear the Walking Dead. This week started the same way.  Nice and quiet, time to write and yet still unused. Damn. Next week isn’t going to be much different. It’s feast or famine, isn’t it? Feast or famine.

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Incense

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Incense is a large part of Catholic ritual. Two years ago at my Holy Thursday Mass I was standing in the back of the church waiting for the procession. I was to carry the oil of catechumen. I had spent the previous two years looking for signs and when I looked toward the front, I watched the incense rise and rise and then as it fell again in twisting spirals of smoke, its wisps joined into the shape of a Star of David. And then it was gone. I had received my sign.

Breathing in the incense at not only last night’s Holy Thursday Mass, but nearly every time I have seems to transport me to the ancient times and lands of my people. I haven’t gone anywhere but it’s drier, it’s sandy and my mind can’t help but wonder how these rituals and beliefs got started. History is an amazing thing. FAith is also. There is something about the scent of the incense traveling through my nose, reminding me of a place I’ve never been, but will always belong to.

Massiversary

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I was running late this morning, and wondered if I should even try to make it to the 9am Mass. Since it’s Tuesday during Lent (the last Tuesday in fact) there is another mass in the evening. I thought a moment more or two about which one to choose, and then decided to go to the first one.

I was glad I chose that one. Today is my Massiversary, so it was really important for me to be in attendance then.

When I first started showing up at this church, it was random. If I got the urge that I should stop in, I did. I’d find a pew, also randomly, and read that day’s readings from the Missal. Often, they were right on target for what I was feeling or what I needed to hear at that moment. I was going through a lot at that time, and all I wanted was a quiet place where no one would bother me and I could sit quietly. Somewhere I could be anonymous.

I wouldn’t describe it as a perfect solution to what I was feeling, but it was peaceful and what I wanted; what I needed when I needed it. I did this for a couple of weeks, probably closer to almost four. It wasn’t everyday; It was perhaps ten times in total but they were important to me. They centered me and got me ready for my recovery. I hadn’t realized what else I had to look forward to, but all that was on my mind in these first few moments was evening out my mental health. I still call it recovery.

I had been talking about my depression on Facebook and talking about my church visits and receiving encouragement from a small group of close friends who knew what was going on as I started my medication and therapy. One of these friends, T was a college student in Nebraska. He talked about going to the seminary, but was in college for a different major. He was an incredible friend during this time, posting encouragement on his own page that really resonated with me. Scriptures, Antiphons, quotations from saints and holy people. He sent me a very nice, personal note that I still look at on occasion and it gives me abundant feels. Another friend, B, loves choir music and he would also post a variety of encouraging things unbeknownst to him until I mentioned that I found the posts and the music encouraging.

On one of these days, T suggested that I attend an actual Mass, telling me that the Easter week masses were really quite beautiful and he thought I would enjoy them.

I took his suggestion to heart, and showed up on the Tuesday of Holy. Week. A woman was sitting at the end of a middle pew in the church. I noticed her because of her jacket. It was black with multi-colored flowers and stems and leaves embroidered on it. She was also wearing a light colored straw pill box hat. She would wear a hat every day. I loved the embroidery, so I sat two seats behind her. I stood when she stood, and sat when she sat. I didn’t kneel or cross myself, but I followed along as best I could.

The service really affected me, the priest’s homily hit on things that I, again, needed to hear,  and I went back the next day and the day after that. The day after was not a Mass, but a prayer service. At the end of Holy Week the masses are in the evening. We went to visit my mother in law and I borrowed one of the missals for the weekend. I read it every day that we were away.

That was the start. Over the course of that first year, I’d either sit directly behind that woman or two rows back, depending on when the other women arrived. We’d switch back and forth until one of the women sat right next to me. We still sit together.

Today when I arrived, an elderly man was in my usual seat. I sat behind him and about halfway through I realized that this was my original seat that first day, two rows behind my first church friend with the embroidered jacket who’s not here anymore.

I hadn’t intended to make such a memorable statement on this morning, but it was nice that it randomly happened that way.

It was nice remembering that first time. Every day, it’s like the first mass. Except I know what I’m doing. I pray, I cross myself; it all came in its own time, and each different ritual when I was ready. I hadn’t told myself that I was ready; I just did something and realized after that fact that I’d participated in some aspect of the mass.

The rebirth and renewal of Easter is the perfect time to remind me of my beginning with the church. I was baptized two Easters ago even though I’ve attended since 2012. This week is full of those anniversaries, but that first Tuesday will always be a special one for me.

From Death into Life

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There is a line in a hymn, I think it’s sung at funerals or as they’re called in the Catholic church, Mass of Christian Burial. It goes, “from death into life.”

I began attending this celebration of life by accident in one of my early days of attending Mass. I was there, and I couldn’t leave without drawing unnecessary attention to myself, so I remained, hidden in plain sight, in one of the back pews, wishing I was invisible, feeling as though I didn’t belong in such an intimate family gathering. I was, however, wrong – this mass invites the community members, the congregation; to be in communion with the family, to send their loved one on their next journey. I followed the program, I sang along, I prayed, and I found something in that service. I think my first funeral service was for a woman named Dottie. I still have her program in my church papers that I’ve collected and saved.

After that first time, I continued to go to the Rite of Christian Burial when it occurred during the daily mass time. I almost never knew until I arrived at church, and after one or two more, I found great comfort in this Mass.

But I still didn’t get it – that death into life bit.

I could never understand that phrase. How can you go from death into life?

It wasn’t until after my spiritual conversion, and after passing this tree, always on my way to my writing workshop.

On the way to the library, I passed the church adjacent to this tree, and the cemetery that surrounds this tree, and one spring day it was gloriously sunny and bright, and the green leaves had sprouted and grown.

I could see them bright against the white of the siding on the church building; this delicate new growth rising from the fallen tree, its life long thought buried and gone.

This was when I could grasp death into life, life from death, the infinite from finite, everlasting life from our journey on earth.

Now, when I sing the hymn, I picture this tree when I sing death into life.

Retreat, Day 2: Anointing Mass

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My church has a twice yearly Anointing Mass for anointing the sick. It is also called a Healing Mass. Everyone is welcome whether for a physical or a mental ailment. Many of the neighboring nursing homes and assisted living centers bring in their residents for this special mass. This was my third one. I go for both my depression and my knee pain.

Obviously this is for people of the Catholic faith, but belief or not I still think it is a wonderful experience of community and sharing our joy which halves our pain*. Seating is every other pew so the priests can move through to anoint and offer the Eucharist.

There is music and singing; there are prayers and scripture reading. It’s a Mass so it includes the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The Mass is followed by lunch. I usually attend alone, so it’s always a surprise who I will be sitting with. So many people go to so much trouble, cooking, setting everything up, decorating. There are prayer cards and a favor to take home. One of the volunteers makes them. They are so thoughtful and creative; it makes me want to go home and create something.

In yesterday’s writing, I mentioned having an object to help with meditation and contemplation. Today we were given a small medal with a cutout of a cross. I have been given this week’s object, I see.

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I encourage you to look up today’s readings. They are always a link from the past history to our daily lives. One of the things I enjoy about going to Mass so often (usually four times a week) is that despite the words being thousands of years old, they still speak to me. I relate to them on a regular, almost daily, basis.

First Reading: Lamentations 3:17-23

Second Reading: James 5:13-16

Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

My prayer

card:

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Julian of Norwich is one of my favorite mystics. Her work is said to be the first one written in English by a woman (1395).

One of my favorite of her quotations struck me when I first heard it. Ironically, when I am in a pessimistic mood, I will still often say that everything will work out; it will be okay.
Her words:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

is so close to my own sentiment that I did a double take the first time I heard it, which was appropriately at my first healing mass.

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[Borrowed and paraphrased with permission from Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness.]

Lost and Found in the Homily

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Today’s homily was all about being lost, and being lost sheep, and the everyday ways we are lost and find ourselves again. I don’t know why, but my first visit to the UK kept popping up in my mind throughout my pastor’s talk. Not just the visit or the trip itself, but all the little times that I was lost there. I don’t think we were ever truly lost,  but those moments seemed so big at the time, and even now they stand out in a seemingly unrelated homily that included my pastor being lost in the snowy woods with his dog.

My first thought of being lost in England was standing in the rain. I don’t think we had umbrellas, but we were looking at a map and it was raining. It was a cold, poking kind of rain that covered my glasses  We were years away from little wipers on your eyeglasses.

At that time, we stayed at youth hostels and you can’t spend the daylight hours at a hostel, even in the cold, winter months, so we were up and out every morning. I don’t remember where we were heading on this day, just that we didn’t know where we were, and we needed to look at our map.

We were surprised when an older woman came out of her house and across the street with an umbrella and showed us where we were, and how to get to where we were going. She said to go across the field we were standing next to – it was faster if a bit muddy. We weren’t sure about going across someone’s property, but she said it would be alright. We took it.

It was definitely a shortcut.

When we crossed the border into Wales, I hadn’t realized that I was lost, but I knew that I had been found. I talk about this aspect of my trip often, so I won’t be redundant, but it is a significant thought of being lost even if I hadn’t known it at the time. It was, and continues to be a sacred place for me.

We also found ourselves lost on Craigower Hill just above Pitlochry in Scotland. We kept climbing up and up and up. We didn’t quite make it to the summit, but we made it pretty close. We slid down and had to start again about halfway up, and then it started snowing.

Luckily we found ourselves at the bottom eventually at The Moulin Inn for some fabulous lasagna and cider.

We became stuck in the Cotswolds having planned on leaving on Sunday, and not knowing that the buses don’t run on Sunday. The hostel warden took pity on us and let us in earlier than their usual evening opening. He also loaned us books and told us some of the history of the town, Stow-on-the-Wold.

Being lost in Edinburgh, in the snow, at two o’clock in the morning was better with a new friend than alone.

This was a three week trip in January with my college roommate, and these are only a handful of memories that popped up during the homily on lost sheep.

Being lost isn’t so bad. I know I’m never alone and what all of these anecdotes remind me is that no matter how long you’re lost or where, there is always a way out, a way to be found, a way to find yourself and that trip was one of those places and times that I did.

(Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6)