Hail Mary, full of grace

June 16, 2012

I have mentioned before that I am part of a choir at St. Thomas More Catholic Church here in Austin. Our choir director has decided that we take a summer vacation so we haven't had rehearsal on Tuesday evenings for 3 weeks. I feel like telling him how much he's wrecked my life by doing this, but I can't figure out how to do that without it seeming to be as pathetic as it actually is. I counted on those Tuesday evening rehearsals; they kept me going from week to week. I've decided that my life definitely needs structure or I lie morosely around my apartment or go out and spend unChristian kinds of money on food and drink – mostly drink.

It's just ironic that we were preparing for Easter at the same time that my CRHP team prepared for our retreat weekend, that I was working so hard for both of them and now they're both over at the same time. It would have been nice if they had been spread out a little.

Last Sunday evening Ren, the Muppet-like choir director, emailed us that one of our members passed away. It was such a shock; I kept rereading the email because I was certain that he meant that her mother had passed away and that I was simply misreading it. But, no matter how I read it, it always came out the same and I had to accept that one of my choir sisters was no longer with us. She was also a member of the funeral choir with STM and now they are going to be singing for her.

Ren wrote the email very late on Sunday and I read it Monday morning at work. I was a little numb for most of the day. I went by the church to talk to Ren and offer a hug, but he was off helping give mass somewhere. I felt lost, like I needed interaction. I told a couple of people and they were sympathetic, but somehow I needed something else.

So, I texted my CRHP brother, Bill, who is the facilitator for the new CRHP team going through formation. When I went through formation there were men who got together to pray the Rosary before our meetings and we began to make that an optional part of our meetings – come 30 minutes early and pray together. I had no idea that men liked praying the Rosary. I mean men in general. I would never have thought that it was something men did; I've always associated it with women.

I asked Bill if they still prayed the Rosary before their meeting and if I could join them. His answer was a simple "Yes and yes". He didn't ask why or question it at all; he just welcomed me to join them. Before we begin the leader always asks if there are any special intentions and I said 'for the repose of the soul of Regina'. A few people heard me and we discussed a little who she was, though none of them seemed to know her. But, we prayed. Over and over we prayed Our Father and Hail Mary and over and over men’s voices rose up in prayer asking Mother Mary to pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

When we were finished Bill walked with me to the door. He asked what I was going to do for the evening. Of course I didn't know. Make dinner, go to bed. But, I told him why I had come and he listened and I thanked him for letting me join them. There is something comforting about being with others that you know and praying the Rosary together. That was what I needed, and this is why I'm Catholic.

Rest in peace, Regina.

e A r n i e

Follow-up to Holy Thursday. Good Friday, for Instance


Well, it's been over a month since I last wrote. There's a reason for that. I've been spent, emotionally and physically.

My last post was about Holy Thursday. After that – after Easter – I wrote a post about Good Friday and the Easter Vigil; I just didn't publish it. Actually, I told myself that I would write it for myself, and then rewrite it for posting. Turns out, I didn't even make it through the first writing. I was reading it just now and it stops mid-sentence. I was crying while writing it and I think I decided to sleep on it and then finish it later. Then, I didn't finish it later. Father Larry had said that the readings for Palm Sunday and the rest of the week were bi-polar (his words) and he wasn't lying. I won't go into too much detail – because I told myself I wouldn't dwell on things like that here – but I’ll summarize.

Friday was a mix of being too long and being wonderful with dramatic songs. Saturday I rested and then went to church by 7:30 PM, ready to sing. After having practiced so much and after singing beautiful songs with a beautiful choir and a small orchestra, after a finale of the Halleluiah Chorus from Handel's Messiah and the adrenaline rush that went along with it I had a complete meltdown. At one point, I was crying in a grocery store shopping for a piece of cake to take home and eat alone. I was very lonely. My friend, Nameless, usually would come with me to events like this, but he must have been with his family that night. I don't even remember why he didn't go. Maybe I didn't ask him to. Then, nobody asked me how it went and I felt even worse about it.

Then we had a retreat to put on the next weekend. I'm sworn to secrecy, so I can't describe what is involved in a Christ Renews His Parish retreat (CRHP), but I will say that it was one of the  most moving, rewarding, exhausting experiences I've had in a while. And, I made friends that I would not have had otherwise.

However, coming as it did on the heels of Easter weekend I was very, very tired and there were follow-up meetings to attend and there were other things going on to the point that last week I had to play hookie from choir practice because I had something going on every night of the week and I couldn't take it any more.

But, I'm better now. I have gone through most of the things in The Room and though it's still not presentable, I feel better about it. I found a nice little shelf and wooden magazine holders for my piano music. I've gone through the box of artwork and I've decided where I want to put most of it.

One thing I decided to do this year was remember birthdays and I did pretty good until May. I blew it on the first few weeks. But, I think I'll be able to get back in the saddle and keep going with it. I do love writing letters (actually handwriting them) and sending cards through the mail and people really seem to appreciate getting them, so it's something I am going to keep up.

So, that's what's been going on this last month. That and visiting four relatives in four different hospitals on four different occasions for four different ailments. But, that's a different story for a different time.

More later,

e A r n i e

Holy Thursday

April 5, 2012 – Holy Thursday

I am a part of the Triduum choir at our church. I joined the choir late last year, but this is an extra, above-and-beyond choir that sings for the Holy Week services. I have never attended the Holy Week services and this is a good way to get me there. I have often wanted to, but I get lazy at the last minute. Plus, I would have been going alone, and that really doesn't seem like that much fun anyway. But, this year I am part of the choir, which is an integral part of the services. I have a reason to be there, which is why I joined the choir in the first place.

We have been working since early February on the Triduum pieces. Ren, our music director, has led us through rehearsals and I’ve followed blindly, learning my parts as he threw them at us in no particular order. He would talk about them and where they fell in the week as if we all understood every part of it, and I'm sure that those who have been singing for years do understand, but I was just going along with the herd. Now it's all coming together. This last Tuesday we rehearsed in the church rather than in the music room and it all kind of found its place and most of the songs I knew because Ren had taught us so well. (There was one I had never seen before, which is strange, but enough people knew it that I could follow along, which is what he was counting on, I’m sure.)

So, after learning all sorts of music that seemed to come at me at random we finally arrived at Holy Thursday. We were called to arrive 45 minutes early. We warmed up and went over one piece, then he released us for 15 minutes because he said we were ready; there was nothing else for us but to wait for Mass to begin.

As Father Larry said in his homily tonight, this week is a roller coaster of mood swings. Four days ago on Palm Sunday the Psalm was number 22, My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Then we sang praises and waived palms at Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Then we heard the Passion. Now, Thursday is here and it’s the Last Supper. We’re singing praises to be with Jesus on this Passover meal, but we know what’s coming. For my part; I am feeling a little – and genuinely – solemn.

Ekaterina, the accompanist/pianist did a solo during the washing of the feet. She is beautiful and incredibly talented, and though it probably looked awkward I leaned over to see around the people in front of me, to see her eyes focused on the music as she played. The music from a piano has a special place in my heart and without expecting it I was reliving emotions from 20 and 30 years ago. I was a small child listening to my sister play. I was longing to be accepted by a group of siblings who have a different father than I, and who are a generation older than I. I was longing to play the piano and play well, to make the beautiful music that they made when they played and sang because then they’d accept me. I was practicing the piano, trying to learn to play as beautifully as the people I heard at church, practicing against the ever-present tension in the family and the TV that was never turned off. I was longing to be a part of a family that was mine, but which I wasn’t a part of… and no matter how much I practiced I couldn’t make a place in it. I was swept away with Ekaterina and the beautiful sound of the piano playing alone, the simple song she was playing seemingly without effort and the look on her face as her eyes read the music.

The oils have been presented. We’ve had the ceremony of the washing of the feet. We’ve taken communion. On the night of the Last Supper Jesus gave us our Holy Communion, and then he was arrested. We began to sing/chant Holy Is God/Pange Lengua – part in English part chanted in Latin. We got through two verses of the chants and Father Wade stood and picked up the Blessed Sacrament, turned and began a procession out the door and out of the church. We follow, singing the English refrain over and over. And over and over.

I think about the emotions of the night. Part of me thinks that I feel at home in melancholy. No, I take that back. I know I feel at home in melancholy, but I think there’s more to it than that. The piano music brought back memories, but they were just that. I was remembering the emotions, but I was doing it from a new perspective – different than what I had even a year ago. I have made my place in my sprawling family. I don’t have time to practice piano or voice as much lately, but it is a good goal for myself now, not a desperate attempt to fit in. And more than anything, after reliving all of those feelings and emotions, when I sit here quietly contemplating it all I realize that I do love the music of a piano. And, Ekaterina is beautiful, and her eyes are beautiful when she’s reading the music, and her playing is something special, something I can appreciate now while I have it. And it was wonderful to be a part of a group of people who sing, and to be a part of this celebration of Holy Week with St. Thomas More Catholic Church, which is now my church home.


I think I joined a choir

I think I just joined the choir at church. I’m not certain exactly how it happened, but my meds are making me “dizzy” at the moment, so maybe it will make more sense later. What I remember is this:

I recently went though a retreat call Christ Renews His Parish and I am currently going through formation. I can’t say anything more about it, and I might have already said too much. My point is that I was looking through the list of ministries in my church last night and there are apparently over 70 of them. I went through the ones listed in the bullet points of the main page of the Saint Thomas More website. The one that appealed to me most was St. Vincent de Paul. However, the list of contacts was just a list of names; it gave no indication how a person was actually supposed to contact those people. I didn’t write it off, but I felt the need to do something so I continued to look at the other options. This was Saturday night and I was looking around for a ministry to join because even though I’m going through formation I’m still feeling a little lonely in the parish.

Let me back up just a little bit. I don’t think I’ve introduced myself to anybody who might not know me, so there are probably some things that would be important to know before much of this could make sense. First and foremost; I’m single. That speaks volumes in the way my family interacts with me, and the church as well. (I didn’t write The Church because I don’t mean the entire entity which is The Roman Catholic Church. I’m speaking directly about the church to which I currently belong, and the church before that and the church before that. All of them Roman Catholic and all of them very family-oriented and I don’t have a family except for my cats and I haven’t found the official stance of The Roman Catholic Church regarding cats, or pets in general, though I’m certain that it would be a very charitable one. The Right to Life and all. I mean; I don’t think they would picket a veterinary clinic for fixing animals, even if those animals happened to be pregnant at the moment, but I’m sure that they would require the humane treatment of animals in general and pets especially.) So, the church where I have landed is very, very family-oriented and I feel somewhat more isolated here than I did before. I felt alone at St. Ignatius, Martyr; I felt very alone at Sacred Heart in Elgin, but that was mostly because all of the people who would stop and talk to my roommate – and me when I happened to be with him – didn’t look at me twice when I was by myself. An interesting thing about Saint Thomas More is that they have an organization for adult parishioners who are single. However, you have to be 45 years old in order to belong and I haven’t reached that landmark yet. So, instead of waiting around, lonely and wondering why nobody loved me every week when I went to mass I decided to do something, which in my experience produces 23% fewer results than doing nothing. Yes, I wrote the word ‘fewer’. Perhaps it’s because I make bad decision – and I do – or perhaps it’s because I should let Providence have its way, but I’ve discovered that for the most part doing nothing works out better for me than doing something when it comes to personal matters. Professional matters are different, as are charitable ones. As I mentioned earlier, I’m single, and it hasn’t always been that way and it’s better this way than how things were when I did something instead of nothing and made my own decisions about who I would be with. So, when I moved into my present apartment and joined Saint Thomas More I did nothing for a while and then I was invited to attend a CRHP retreat and I did. That was a great experience and if you have the opportunity to attend one I highly recommend it. It’s also another example of my doing nothing and good things happening because this fell in my lap; I didn’t go looking for it.

So now I move on and look for something and it’s getting outside of my comfort zone a little bit. As I said I was up on Saturday evening looking for a ministry in my church (which says a lot in and of itself) and I made a mental note of several that seemed interesting to me. The page for the Music Ministry was subtle about its acceptance of new members. It read something like this. “WE NEED MUSICIAN! OMG WE ALWAYS NEED MUSICIANS. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED COME JOIN US.” Of course, it didn’t have the acronym ‘omg’ because that stands for something that would not be appropriate on a church web site, but you get the idea.

I thought that maybe I should put those years of voice lessons that I paid for in my youth to work. Of course, I need to warm up the vocal chords again, but that’s okay because it’s almost December and I’m certain that the choir is preparing for Midnight Mass and I can join in January. Not so. Yes, the choir has just begun to prepare for Midnight Mass, but I receive an answer to my email this morning (Sunday morning?) that there will be a hymnal and a STM Music Ministry tote bag waiting for me in 2 weeks when the traditional choir meets again for rehearsal on Tuesday evening at 6:30 in the music room which is opposite the main RE office just down from the Family Center and Gift shop in the building south of the
Church. I’m not saying that they are desperate because the choir makes beautiful music and obviously they have their stuff together. But, he didn’t seem to be taking any taking any chances when it comes to my joining – the date, time and location were crystal clear.

So, now I’m going to go warm up these vocal cords and stretch my range out like it used to be. That will take time; weeks. I won’t be there by Christmas, but I’ll do my best. I feel better already. Fortunately, I’m sitting at a wooden table so I was able to knock on wood because I shouldn’t really make any pronouncements about this new experience until it has actually begun.