There would be tissues left on the floor of the theater after performances of Les Misérables. Members of the production crew would have to clean them up afterwards, but that was actually a happy thing because it meant that the performances were really reaching the audience - causing them to cry. Some of us were teary backstage - watching Eponine die or "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from the wings - even though we'd seen those scenes over and over at rehearsals and performances.
I've been going to Good Friday and Palm/Passion Sunday Masses/Services for about thirty years. We listen to the events of the torture and death of Jesus - and we're stone-faced. It's part of the central story of our faith, but we don't express emotion about it. I'm not saying that people don't feel emotion (I'm assuming they feel a lot), but it's not part of our tradition to express that.
Our choir often sings "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" for either Palm Sunday or Good Friday. I have to work very hard to sing it at services without having tears running down my face.*
Many of the wonderful cast members of Les Misérables were also excellent in this winter's production of Jesus Christ Superstar. While watching, I was finally able to cry freely while watching the events of the Passion vividly acted onstage - and I wasn't the only one with tissues out.**
I've had various health problems for the last few months, and I had a few weeks where I felt too weak to leave the house at all (I was in the Predni Zone - like the Twilight Zone, but not as interesting). I had planned on singing in choir for the winter and spring. Instead, I only sang one Sunday between New Year's and Easter. I'm still slowly regaining my energy (my adrenal glands apparently decided to reappear last Monday, which means that I no longer have to eat every ninety minutes to keep my blood sugar from plummeting), but I'm not back to normal yet. Even though it exhausted me (and I had to keep swigging blood-sugar-enhancing orange juice throughout), I went to choir rehearsals the last two weeks because the music they were singing was so wonderful.
I finally sang again for the Easter service today! Again, I had to take two naps this afternoon because I was so exhausted, but I had a wonderful time. I was so happy to be singing at a service again that I had tears of happiness running down my cheeks for the first half of the Eucharistic prayer.
After being stuck at home for a large part of the last three months, my priorities seem to have changed. I accepted the tears as a heartfelt response to the blessing of being in choir and let them go their way.
"As a person of faith, you do not have to keep Christ in Christmas, he is already there. He is there with the lonely, the depressed, the joyful and the confused. He is there with the widow and the orphan, with you, with me and with the atheist. As people of faith it is in these places, fueled by grace love and hospitality, we can, not bring Christ back to Christmas, but join with him in the work he is already doing, and sometimes work he is already doing in spite of the best intentions of his people."
A few weeks before Lent started, I read a comment on a religious discussion board that said that people with allergies and asthma should just endure their reactions to incense (no matter how severe) in order to fulfill their religious duties. Basically, incense was too important to change its use for a bunch of whiners.*
Since I have asthma (back under control now, but it was really bad in November & December) and it was the height of seasonal depression, my first reaction was that maybe God just doesn't like asthmatics (& other people who have reactions to incense).
My second reaction was that I needed to stop reading things that made me feel like I couldn't be a Christian. That's what I should give up for Lent!
I've never seen the point of New Year's Resolutions - if you want to make a change, make it! Why wait until New Year's?! The same with this. A few weeks before Lent, I gave up reading things that looked like they would make me feel like I couldn't be a Christian. Basically, this means that before I start reading articles or discussion boards, I pause and really think about the possible results of reading them.
This was so useful that I'm also doing the same thing with articles & boards that have nothing to do with religion. Is this article really going to give me any useful new information or is it just rehashing the same arguments? Does it give a new perspective? I read far fewer articles now.
The wonderful thing is that I'm reading more books.
I also decided to try reading more things that actually encourage my faith! While this seems like a fairly obvious thing to do, I've spent lots of time reading things that other people recommend because they encourage their faith. I've never tried to focus on thing that will help my faith because that seems like cherry-picking - maybe I'll only focus on the easy stuff. However, with my bout of not-being-sure-of-what-I-believed a few years ago,** I decided that it would be good to nurture my faith for a while. I've been listening to Father Phillip's homilies online, and I've been reading Inspiration from Pope Francis.
The thing is, unlike the usual Lenten changes, I don't see a reason to change back when Lent is over.
* I tried to go back and find the link, but my internet history doesn't go back that far.
** During the Nicene Creed, I would mentally add "I would like to believe" at the beginning of every section.
[The photo is of the mother and baby dolphins that we watched in the harbor in Charleston, SC a month ago. The photo is only loosely connected to the post (I bought the book about Pope Francis from the Pauline bookstore in Charleston).]
In the last year, I've found that doing yoga and getting massages have helped me to slow down and be more thoughtful (and reduce blood pressure). I'm really in a different, more observant, calmer frame of mind after both. I like the way I think then.
Yoga, of course, is Eastern, but my massage therapist also has Eastern symbolism, etc. in her massage room. I'm so used to the busy-ness of churches that I've been wondering if there is any strand of Western Christianity that encourages this kind of slowing down and awareness, but I hadn't gotten beyond wondering.
When I first found out that our church is having a workshop on Centering Prayer, I was really excited. Unfortunately, it's the same day as as the Durham Pride Parade that we've gone to the last three years.* I should try to find books on Centering Prayer.
Dear husband was talking to the guy setting up the sound system at The Depot in Hillsborough yesterday evening. This gentleman plays a number of instruments including the mandolin, drums, guitar, and the tuba. He mentioned that he'd be playing in the Pride Parade in a few weeks. He's the sousaphonist for The Bulltown Strutters, a wonderful, New Orleans-style community parade band. We've seen them in the Pride Parade and in the Hillsborough Handmade Parade. Dear husband said he'd cheer him on in a few weeks.
Here are the Bulltown Strutters in last year's Handmade Parade:
* It's also a really busy weekend because the Gallery Players in Burlington are performing Fiddler on the Roof (and we have a friend in the cast), and the Carrboro Music Festival is that Sunday.** Being an introvert and knowing that this would make me exhausted, I've told the guys that I'll talk to them as much as they want at these events, but I will probably be really un-conversational the rest of the weekend.
I mean this question to be within Christian theology. Obviously, in practical terms, Christians can work out as much and be as fit as anyone else.
But, theologically speaking, should they? Is that how they should spend their time?
I got really out of shape this spring and early summer when I was getting used to the CPAP because I was so exhausted all the time. I couldn't drive to Zumba classes in the evenings, and walks were even difficult (Can I go to sleep now? At the next driveway?). Now that the musical is over (and it was So much fun!!!!) one of my goals for the next half year is to get back in shape. Walking, Zumba, swimming, physical therapy exercises, weights, etc.
This morning I walked for an hour, and this evening, I swam laps. Tomorrow, I'll walk first thing in the morning and do Broadway Dance in the evening. I'm going to try to keep up the "walks and..." as much as I can.
It struck me this evening, though, that I'm planning on spending a lot of time exercising this next half year. If I were a good Christian, is this what I should be doing?
I'm a really lousy Christian, though (I've covered that in other posts so I won't go into it here) so this is really a theoretical question. I'm so lousy that I wouldn't become a good Christian by exercising less so I'm not worrying about it.
The exercise question isn't necessarily new, either. I spent about two hours a day doing my physical therapy after my second knee surgery (the pt was much more intense after the second surgery because I was doing it through Duke Sports Medicine)(one of my happy places). After the first knee surgery (with a lousy doctor at a different practice), they gave me pt to get me back to normal activities - chores, walking, etc. The pt at Duke Sports Medicine was so intense because it was designed to get me teaching hi/low aerobics again. I got to that point, but then I found that hi/low had been replaced by Zumba in most health clubs.*
Anyway, I theoretically wondered the same thing then. Was it good use of a Christian's time to spend 2 hours/day on pt to really get in shape rather than to do about 1/2 hour to get back to just basic activities?
I'm not saying that Christians shouldn't exercise, but I'll be exercising more than the recommended 60 minutes 5X a week, or whatever it is that magazines are preaching right now. It's the extra part that I'm (theoretically) questioning.
Of course, I could ask the same question about dance, musical theater, hiking, kayaking, reading, gardening, and any of the other things I do for fun - even writing silly blog posts.
* The question now is: Do I want to join the small ranks of Zumba instructors over 50?!
The illustration was from a manuscript of Froissart, a medieval, French, chronicle writer. We couldn't easily find the artist who painted the illustration, but the Froissart article mentioned that one of his manuscripts was illustrated by Brugeois artists of the day - from the Flemish city of Bruges. I will show the Wikimedia photo for Bruges (below), which makes me really want to go back to Europe some day.
Getting back to the Seven Deadly Sins, while I was looking for the Latin names, we ended up at the post about sloth, at The Starry Cave. The post goes into depth on sloth (socordia):
...Sloth has turned into absolute selfishness where one become a burden to ones surroundings where one’s own misery and hopelessness becomes the ominous worth of one’s sorry excuse for a life. A life where one feeds upon others goodwill and favors, where one expect the world to listen to one’s putrid lament while one is not giving anything to anyone – not even to oneself. Sloth can work as a darkened scale where one pleases others because one has renounced ones centre or that one like a beast of pestilence demands the world to attend to the suffering void of one´s painful existence. In both cases one has sacrificed ones soul to the realm of Hypnos and has taken greedily the chalice of Lethe’s waters of forgetfulness to mend ones pain and self-inflicted soul-sores. This is true sloth; a denial of love both its coming and going...
The post concludes with Edgar Allen Poe's poem, A Dream Within A Dream:
Take this kiss upon the brow! And, in parting from you now, Thus much let me avow- You are not wrong, who deem That my days have been a dream; Yet if hope has flown away In a night, or in a day, In a vision, or in none, Is it therefore the less gone? All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar Of a surf-tormented shore, And I hold within my hand Grains of the golden sand- How few! yet how they creep Through my fingers to the deep, While I weep- while I weep! O God! can I not grasp Them with a tighter clasp? O God! can I not save One from the pitiless wave? Is all that we see or seem But a dream within a dream?
Daughter goes to a rather unusual Catholic church in Asheville. I love visiting it with her. The priest was once in an interfaith discussion in Asheville, and someone brought up the cesspool of sin comment. Most of the clergy there didn't want to address it, but the priest chimed in with: "Catholic churches are full of sinners so you could say that they're cesspools of sin."
He repeated it in a homily during Mass one Sunday. I really enjoy his homilies. :)
Since I became a Christian again in college, for the most part, I haven't had difficulty with the idea of God as a loving Father. I think it's because my father was so loving that it seems totally natural.
I've been reading "Searching for God Knows What" by Donald Miller lately. I like the way he describes the Biblical stories, not just in an analytical way, but really getting into the emotions and what things meant to people.* I was totally stopped, however, on page 139:
And so when I consider the way I am treated by Christ, the degree of kindness with which He guides me, I know that as Napoleon said, I would die for him because he threatens me; I would die for Him because he loves me... [emphasis mine]
I still can't get into, or over, the italicized phrase. I haven't resumed reading the book, and I won't until I can get past this idea.
At first I was surprised at myself. Of course, Jesus loves all of us. That's what it's all supposed to be about. Jesus is supposed to be the loving, Human Face of God.
However, I realized that, deep down inside, that wasn't my picture of Jesus.
How do I have a view of Jesus that varies so much from my view of God?
I went back to my original impression at the top of this post. If I could, in some way, understand God's love by looking at my father's love, what did I have Jesus tied to? It didn't take me long to figure out.
Jesus started the Church/church. That kind of puts him, in a Catholic sense, in the same place as the Pope, who would (when there is one again) definitely disapprove of me because we've used birth control and now dear husband has a vasectomy.
Okay, what about in a Protestant sense? No help there. Jesus ends up, subconsciously in my mind, linked to some leaders of local churches - ministers, priests, preachers, etc. [By the way, I'm discovering all these assumptions I had that had never totally reached my conscious mind before. This isn't something I ever consciously put together.] These particular leaders speak very authoritatively and often are very good at raining down judgment. There are some preachers I've heard that made me feel like I'm definitely one of the "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (by God) [Romans 9:22].
In fact, I realized that I've incorporated every story where Jesus is angry into my view of Him, but not the stories where he is gentle.
One of the ministers I've known that was the best at raining down judgment was at the church we went to when I was in college. I knew that I wasn't everything that women were expected to be at that church. If I saw him coming down a hallway, I'd hop into the nearest Sunday School room and become engrossed with the bulletin boards. I didn't want to encounter his judgment.
I realized that this is the sort of thing that I have Jesus linked to in my head. Subconsciously, I've concluded that Jesus is Someone to avoid because of judgment.
I've read all the verses where Jesus is loving and gentle, but I can't hang anything on them. They're in a story, but they don't enter the real world for me.
I have known gentle ministers and priests - both men and women - so that's not it either.
I have no conclusion to this post, just wandering thoughts (and a window box from Charleston).**
* The sermon last Sunday was like that. It was my favorite sermon I've heard at our church.
** We were there for half of last week for part of older son's last Spring Break. Daughter is home on Spring Break this week!
Giving up chocolate for Lent is far less pleasant, but it's actually easier. Chocolate doesn't follow you around. You can make efforts to avoid it. Chocolate isn't the stream underlying every waking moment - and probably lots of the sleeping ones. Chocolate isn't a creature constantly sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear.
Let's back up. Two weeks ago, I mentioned something that was bothering me, and younger son said that I should give up feeling guilty for Lent.
How bizarre! Isn't that what Lent's about?!
I thought about it for a while. I even offhandedly mentioned younger son's comment on Facebook. I didn't expect any response, but twenty-three people either liked the post or left a comment agreeing with younger son.
It's such a strange thing to give up for Lent, but, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed the right thing to do.
Here's an example of what I'm giving up: That Friday, I did the usual morning Zumba class. It was the instructor's 30th birthday, and we all applauded for her at the beginning of class.
Now, I can blame my behavior on other things. I had been to Broadway Dance class the night before so I was into the musical theater part of my personality. The instructor occasionally has people come up and dance a song onstage along with her, and I was one of the ones she chose that day. The onstage part of my personality was in rather high gear for a non-musical-theater-rehearsal day.
During the cool down and stretch as the class was winding down, I remembered how special it seemed when the whole cast of the musical sang "Happy Birthday" to one of the cast or crew last summer. At the end of the Zumba class, after the teacher finished and said to have a nice weekend and people started chatting with each other, I jumped up onstage, got everyones' attention, held up my fingers in a "Three, Two, One," and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her.
And I spent the rest of the day fighting guilty feelings. What if she didn't want us to sing to her? What if she doesn't like other people hopping up onstage? What if...? What if...?
I thought I had banished that from my head by Sunday. However, Monday morning, when I went to class, she said hello to me and asked how my weekend went. Obviously, she wasn't angry at me, and I relaxed a couple of notches. Apparently, I hadn't totally banished the guilt from my head.
I feel guilty when I do something that might bother someone. I feel guilty when I'm doing the speed limit in the right hand lane on the highway and someone is tailgating me* because I'm holding them up. I feel guilty if I have too many books at the library or too many groceries in line at the grocery store - anything that might inconvenience others. I feel guilty if I don't respond in conversations the way other people seem to need.**
I also feel guilty when I don't live up to the expectations I have in my head. Last night, we celebrated older son's birthday. We got him lots of books and CDs. It was an unusually good set of very special stories and music. Dear husband and I made lasagna, Swiss chard, and brownies - which we had with 9th Street Bakery challah and Edy's Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. We didn't finish celebrating until after 10:30 pm.
Did I feel good about putting that together?
I ALMOST felt guilty because I was too tired to do the dishes. One of my own expectations for myself is to have the kitchen clean before I relax in the evening.***
I couldn't feel guilty, though, because I gave it up for Lent. There were five different times yesterday evening where I would clench my hands in frustration because I was tempted to feel guilty, but couldn't. The guys kept giving me stranger and stranger looks everytime I did that and said what I was feeling guilty about. Younger son finally said, "Your mind is broken."
As I said at the beginning, guilt seems like a stream that underlies every moment, or a small creature who always sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear. How can I get rid of that? Can I?
Every time I feel guilty, I push it out. I may have to do it every ten five three really often. It's often hard to remember.
The result is really strange, though. It feels like there is a really large, open, grassy park in my head, or a large dance studio. There's all sorts of room to think all sorts of things. What do you fill your mind with if you're not filling it with guilt?!
Getting rid of guilt doesn't mean I'm all of a sudden doing all sorts of wrong things. Morals and guilt aren't the same thing. I do what's right because - it's right - not to avoid guilt, which I can't avoid anyway. I actually feel freer to do things the right way because I'm not spending my time and energy on guilt. I actually even have more energy to think about God this way.
I'm not sure where this focus on guilt came from. I certainly didn't grow up with it. It came along later. I know lots of people used guilt on me in college and after, and there are lots of religious books/blogs/articles/sermons that motivate with guilt. Interestingly, the numbers are pretty even in terms of Catholic and Protestant as far as motivating by guilt. Protestants do it a lot too.
On the other hand, my experience with the clergy has been different. Thinking back on all the priests that have been at the Catholic churches I've gone to, I can't think of any priests that focused on guilt. Oh, they would discuss right and wrong, but they didn't use guilt to motivate. Occasionally, a visiting priest would, but the regular ones didn't - not the one whose homilies sounded like editorials from the Independent, not the one who had been a clown before becoming a priest, not the one who was involved in the Charismatic movement, not the one who was a poet, and certainly not Father C. However, I've known two Protestant ministers who could make me feel like I was God's biggest mistake and that everything was hopeless. They're part of that guilt stream that runs under every moment.
It will be interesting to see how Lent plays out.
Here's another post I wrote, six years ago, about guilt. I like the post - it's a shame I can't keep these thoughts in my head.
* Older son said that he's decided not to feel guilty about following traffic rules.
** I've realized, recently, that, after a while, this has the result of making most people seem very needy and incapable of handling any inconvenience whatsoever.
*** I don't have those expectations if someone else is doing dishes though. If someone else were doing them and they were tired and left them for the morning, I'd be fine with that. I certainly wouldn't want to exhaust them any further. I don't treat myself that way, though.