Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shofar Blast

During the Jewish High Holidays there are two sounds that give me chills. One is the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn. On Rosh Hashanah it is blown 100 times, in a certain pattern. T’kiah! Truah! Sh’varim! After 10 days, at the end of Yom Kippur, the rabbi invites all the shofar blowers in the congregation to come forward for one final “T'kiah Gadol” - a great long blast. It is not a musical sound, but has a rawness that shakes the soul. Well, it shakes my soul.

The other sound is the tune of Kol Nidrei, a haunting melody probably 6 centuries old which is sung at the beginning of the Yom Kippur day of atonement and fasting. The words, though, are at odds with the music. The lyrics are in Aramaic. It is a rather legalistic passage, about being released from the vows you made with God and then broke during the year. Fortunately for me, I can’t understand Aramaic, so I am left with just the music, which is a good preparation for the service that follows: confessing to an alphabet of sins (yes, really), appealing to God (Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father Our King) to forgive us, pleading for a good year ahead.

Although the theology of Yom Kippur is not what I ascribe to, I find the Jewish High Holidays meaningful. The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are supposed to be for apologizing for the wrongs we have committed against each other during the past year. You could argue that we are supposed to be saying those things all year long, but deadlines are great!

Fasting is a challenging spiritual discipline. At the very least, not eating for 25 hours helps one appreciate, just a little, what it is to be hungry, and how just one day without food can affect one’s emotions, reaction time, and general outlook. A fast gives one more time for pondering things of the spirit. I am amazed at how much of my time is freed up when I don’t need to prepare, serve, and clean up a meal.

So, Happy New Year! Next up, it’s Sukkot – the tent holiday!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

They also serve who only stand and wait

Today a man collapsed during the church service. It was during the sermon. There was a small commotion from the back of the sanctuary, a cry for a nurse. Someone said “Call 9-1-1.” By the time I turned my cell phone on someone else was already calling. A good thing – I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep my cool. As she was talking to 9-1-1, I realized that the church building is a long way from the street entrance, and that someone should go down to the street to direct the ambulance. As the minister was directing us to begin praying, I just left the sanctuary. I went out in the rain, down by the street, and waited. Just as well. I have no medical expertise to offer, I can pray on my own, and somehow I just wanted to be by myself. These are times when the prayer is just “Oh, God. Oh, God. Please heal, comfort, send peace.” After a few minutes a second person came out of the sanctuary to wait for the ambulance, too, but he waited further down at the other entrance.

When you are waiting for an ambulance to come revive someone who has collapsed, 10 minutes is a long time to wait. Finally the ambulance arrived, and was directed to the sanctuary by the other waiting person. I started back up the hill. As I ascended, I noticed a squirrel and a crow, just standing there, looking toward the sanctuary. It was as if they too wanted to know what was happening.

When I got back inside the sanctuary the congregation was singing. “Great is thy faithfulness... All I have needed thy hand hath provided...” The man was being wheeled out on the gurney, waving to us. I was thankful to see that he had regained consciousness. Someone went with his wife to take her to the hospital. We resumed our worship service, although the minister declared that the sermon did not need to be preached that day, as we had already lived out our faith in those moments.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sending Autumn

Today is my father’s 81st birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad!

And it is autumn, my favorite season. I wish I could send some autumn down south to my friend Angie. Instead I’ll have to send autumn thoughts. Cheryl Wheeler wrote a beautiful song called “When Fall Comes to New England.” Here’s a snippet of the lyrics. If I knew how to embed songs in my blog I would. But I don’t. Maybe you can find it on i-tunes.

When fall comes to New England
The sun slants in so fine
And the air's so clear
You can almost hear the grapes grow on the vine.

The nights are sharp with starlight
And the days are cool and clean
And in the blue sky overhead
The northern geese fly south instead
And leaves are Irish Setter red
When fall comes to New England.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dinner conversation topics

It is September, and the thoughts of youth everywhere turn to... math? Here are some tidbits captured from our dinner conversation tonight.

Youngest Daughter says: Infinity is the third largest number. The second is googol and the first is googolplex.

Son says: How come there is an infinite number of numbers between 0 and 1, and there is also an infinite number of numbers between 2 and 50,000? That’s just not fair.

Youngest Daughter says: Here’s a probability question. If there is a 1/10 chance that you will find a $1 bill on the street, and a 1/50 chance that you will find a $5 bill on the street, what is the chance that you will find both a $1 and a $5 bill on the street?

Youngest Daughter says: How many carrots do I have to eat in order to get another serving of macaroni and cheese?

Oldest Daughter says: Can a cube have a volume of zero?

Youngest Daughter says: “Money is just a concept.”
To which Oldest Daughter says: “Australia is a concept. Australia is a better concept than money.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Looking for the Risen Jesus

I was waiting for a friend on the grounds of a local Catholic school and convent. I discovered a walkway with statues along one side. The statues were of Jesus carrying the cross, on his way to be crucified, probably a depiction of the Stations of the Cross. Jesus meets various people as he struggles along the path. The statues were all painted with some sort of sticky, glaringly white sturdy outdoor paint. I could see paint dripping down the concrete pedestals, as if the statues were bleeding white blood.

I walked along the path, following the statues. Though I know the story, it was interesting to see it from this wordless perspective. Further down the path, I saw them nailing Jesus to the cross. The cruelty of the crucifixion was only partially masked by the whiteness of the statues and the calm setting on the wooded path.

I looked for the last statue – the resurrected Jesus. You know the pose: Jesus in a toga with his hands outstretched so that we can see the holes, with a huge halo of light behind his head. I walked to the end of the path, but there was no statue of the Risen Jesus.

I have thought for a number of days about whether there is any lesson to be drawn from this. Why was there no Risen Jesus there? Scripture says, “He is not here; he has risen.” Jesus is in our hearts. Why do you look for the living among the (dead) statues?

Perhaps the message is that Jesus isn’t finished yet. He isn’t ready to be confined to a statuary. Keep looking for him. Out there in the real world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Beware of Dead Fish

Common Household Hint:

Beware of dead fish; they still can fight back: Do not stab yourself on the dorsal-fin spines of a red snapper fish. If you stab said spine on, for instance, your finger, then your finger will swell and hurt like the dickens. Try to find out before, not after, you prepare the fish, that the spines contain a toxin.

I hope that I will be able to play the piano again someday (sob).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bands

We went to the football game last night, the first of the season. Tigers vs Lions. My son was playing in the marching band, Oldest Daughter took her date, Common Household Husband was working the concession stand, and Youngest Daughter didn’t want to go.

She thought the only thing to watch would be the football game. She was delighted to discover that a football game is more like a three-ring circus. First and foremost, there is the concession stand. Pizza! Soda! Candy! Then there are the cheerleaders, who spend a lot of time demonstrating their superior spelling skills: “L – E – T – S – G - O Let’s go, Tigers!” The cheerleaders did some impressive acrobatic stuff, like lifting each other high up in the air. There’s the marching band, 250 members strong, in full uniform, complete with poufy plume on the hats. They put on a good show, but it was impossible to tell which one was my flesh and blood. And, somewhere in there, there is a football game going on.

At half-time, the band played three songs while marching around. As a music listening experience, it left a lot to be desired. I was there to hear the band, but nobody else was, so the folks in the stands talked and milled around right through it. During the game there were times when our band played at the same time as the other band played at the same time as the cheerleaders cheered at the same time as the football players moved the ball. Good for the multi-tasking generation, but this Common Household Mom couldn’t tell where she should be looking.

The whole place was teeming with students dressed and painted in our school colors. I estimate that 75 percent of the teenagers were not watching the game, as other non-football dramas played out on the stadium grounds.

But the weather was pleasant, the moon was full, and our team won. Youngest daughter is now hooked, and will go back to another game with little complaining, if only to get a slice of pizza.