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In a week to few weeks, most Catholic parishes will be reopening for regular Sunday Mass. It’s already begun in some places. There will be much reflection about What This Has All Meant and How We Have Been Changed.

I’m going to do something I generally try very hard not to do – which is to make suggestions about what other people should do. Sharing information and trying to make connections is more what I’m about. Hell, I don’t even see myself in the business of encouraging and inspiring you.  But I am feeling, as we say, a burden on my heart, so here goes – from someone who just sits in the pews and listens. And is sort of dreading it.

Speaking of burdens, it will be a heavy burden and responsibility to get up in front of a congregation – deacons, priests, bishops – and preach for the first time after months of empty churches. There is a great deal to unpack. But here’s my simple suggestion as a way to begin thinking about an approach:

Don’t assume that everyone has had the same experience of this time. 

Just start there.

And for sure..

Don’t assume that everyone shares your experiences and opinions of this time. 

Let’s survey the range you might find in a typical congregation:

  • Those who have suffered from Covid-19 personally. Those who have been ill. Those who have known individuals who have been ill and cared for them. Those who have known individuals who have died from Covid-19.
  • Those who have seen their businesses skate to the edge because of shutdowns, those who have lost their businesses.
  • Those who have lost their jobs.
  • Those who have have been sent home from school, who have missed milestones like graduation.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are sanguine about it.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are confused, angry and resentful.
  • Those who haven’t known anyone personally impacted.
  • Those who have kept working during this time, who’ve not lost time or money.
  • Those worried about the stock market, not because they are fat cats, but because there goes their retirement income.
  • Those who have welcomed this as an opportunity for change and growth.
  • Those who have resented the experience and are angry. Outraged, even.
  • Those who are impacted in a negative way by the constant flow of news and speculation.
  • Those who are at peace with it all.
  • Those who are totally on board with restrictions.
  • Those who are restriction-skeptics.
  • Those who are afraid of being infected.
  • Those who aren’t afraid – those who don’t think that they are at risk, or those who are accepting of whatever comes.
  • Those who started wearing a mask on March 1.
  • Those who pull their shirt collar up over their nose for a mask and resent that. 
  • Those whose family lives have been deepened and enhanced by the time in quarantine
  • Those for whom the quarantine and extended time with family has exacerbated tensions and made problems more obvious
  • Those who think this is a Very Big Deal
  • Those who think this is Not Such a Big Deal
  • Those who have experienced this as a call to change.
  • Those who just want things to go back to the way they were.
  • Those who have, for the first time in their lives, thought seriously about questions of life and death. And are maybe coming back to the church for the first time, or for the first time in a long time because of it.
  • Those who are rethinking their priorities and choices as a consequence of the shutdown and the mystery and possibility of serious illness

You may not find every permutations of this variety in your pews, but I think you’ll find a lot of it. Don’t be fooled by the echo chamber of news, reporting and discussion that most of us fall into that confirms our own biases. Some of those perspectives might drive you crazy and strike you as so very wrong, but well…there are as many different experiences and opinions of this time as there are human beings. That’s just the way it is.

My point?

I am dreading a slew of homilies that do little more than echo the endless drumbeating of We’re All In This Together PSAs with a particular modern Catholic flourish of We’re an Easter People, everything will be all right!  Nice to see you again!

So how can a preacher, teacher or speaker communicated in this moment without assuming too much, but then, as a consequence, simply falling into platitudes and pious generalizations?

I don’t know. There! That solves it!

Well, perhaps part of the answer might come from Bishop Robert Barron, whose homily we watched yesterday.

(We have, as I mentioned, been attending Mass at the parish where my son is employed as an organist. But a week ago, he had a bike accident, lacerated his elbow, and is still on the mend, so we stayed home this weekend. He’ll be back on the bench this coming weekend.)

 

 

Here’s the recording.The point Bishop Barron makes, in his words mostly addressed to other preachers, but applicable to all of us, since all of us are called to give witness, is to look to Peter’s approach, as described in the first reading from Acts:

Focus on Jesus, not yourself, your own doubts, your own experience, your own ideas. And pray, not that your words give superficial comfort, but that they cut to the heart. 

I’ve always felt that the great strength of Catholic liturgy – of any high liturgical tradition – is to give space. It all seems, from the outside, very full  – but all of the proscribed words, gestures and symbols function, in the end, as a space of freedom. Your worship is not about an individual standing up in front of you telling you how to feel in a certain moment or how to respond to God right now.

Within the space of a highly structured, rich liturgy, there’s room for everyone to feel whatever they are bringing with them – joy, sorrow, confusion, doubt – and to sit with it, pray with it, present it to God, and respond to him freely. And it does so in whatever context it’s happening, in a place of privilege or poverty, comfort or insecurity.

It’s a space in which, when we are open, no matter who we are, or where we’re coming from, there is the chance that we might be cut to the heart. 

Powerful preaching, it seems to me, should fit that paradigm. Proposing the Gospel, presenting it in all its fullness, pointing to Jesus, clearly and joyfully – but without manipulation, respecting the wild variety of hearers, respecting God’s power to redeem and save, offering the Gospel that the Church has always preached, forcefully, clearly and humbly – and then stepping back. Letting the Spirit do its work.

So where do we start? Where we always do.

With the liturgical season, with the liturgy, the Scriptures that we’ve been given. It’s Easter Season. Maybe your parish will be gathering for the first time on Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday or Corpus Christi. That’s where we begin.

And I do think, no matter how different the experiences of each of us have been, it’s possible to draw connections without platitudes or incorrect generalizations.

For what have we all experienced?

The cold hard fact that the “control” each of us have over our lives is limited.

My life on earth is transitory. Ephemeral.

I don’t walk on earth as an isolated individual. I’m impacted by things I can identify, and many which I can’t, and are unpredictable and mysterious. It may not have felt like it over the past weeks, but I am in deep communion with every other person on earth. I affect them, they affect me.

Suffering and death are real. Unintended consequences are real.

Human beings stumble as they attempt to solve problems.

Life surprises us. Maybe I don’t know as much as I thought I did – about my own life, my family, about how the world works and why.

Maybe I need to change.

A yearning for permanence, health, security, normality, life – but a realization that none of that can be promised to me on earth. But still I yearn for it. Why? Is it perhaps because I’m created to yearn for this Good, and it is, indeed promised? Promised to me in an eternal way, to feed my eternal yearning?

 

Traditionally, Catholic spirituality is intensely centered on the Incarnate presence of Jesus in this broken world, in our broken hearts. It’s about reassuring us that yes, indeed, he’s present, that he loves us and that his Risen Life can be ours as well.

And it’s about helping each of us – no matter where we are or who we are – recognize that Presence and that Voice.

Essentially:

Where is God present in this weird, unpredictable life we lead?

and

What is God teaching me right now? 

Posing the question isn’t the same as answering it. The crucial thing is to propose that ancient truth that every moment of life on earth, no matter who we are,  provides an opportunity to do the most important thing: to know Him. To hear these words that we’ll hear in next Sunday’s Gospel and understand that they are true – right now. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.

And no matter who we are, and where we’ve been over the past weeks, no matter what our opinions or experiences are – that’s what we all have in common. We need Him. Every experience we have can, if we are open, alert us more deeply to that reality – that right here, right now, we need Him – our only Way, our only Truth, our only Life.

 

 

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It is invariably, unfailingly true, that if I wait long enough, my inchoate thoughts on a topic find expression in someone else’s knowledgeable, rational words. I’ll link to those more knowledgeable words in a second.

First, let me just run this by you. This is the kind of post that back in the day, I used to be able to toss out,  and some would feel strongly one way or the other, sure, but for the most part, the conversation would be genial and people would be able to laugh and see the oddities, inconsistencies and questions, not only in the opposing point of view, but in their own.

But that really doesn’t happen much any more. I have loads of ideas about why that is and who or what to blame, but none of that really matters. What matters is the pronounced lack of chill in the world these days. Geez, people. Relax. It’s a joke. Everything’s a mess. Cry, then laugh.

(But, as Ann Althouse frequently points out, we’re in the Era of That’s Not Funny, so what can you do?)

So. I’ve been following the news, as I do, and particularly following the Catholic news related to the pandemic. Over the past few days, hints have come from various bishops and dioceses that we, the laity, might be permitted to attend public Masses again.

Thanks!

You can search for the various policies that are being proposed and promulgated, but the conditions that seem to be most common involve:

  • Asking the vulnerable to stay home. Which I generally have no problem with because, of course, the vulnerable are never obligated to attend Mass. My only issues are two: First I trust – I trust that all of these vulnerable, sick and elderly people who are being told to stay away from the parish grounds are also being told that pastoral ministry will certainly be coming to them because FieldHospitalAccompanimentLoveYa.  Secondly, these dioceses are…suggesting a cutoff age to define these vulnerable populations.Fort Worth, for example, has put it at…60. SIXTY. SIX-TY.

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Ahem.

  • Also, social distancing.
  • Masks, sometimes.
  • No touching. No hand-holding at the Lord’s Prayer, no Sign of Peace.
  • No singing.
  • People should super cautious about receiving Communion. No Communion from the shared chalice for the congregation. Congregants maybe don’t take for granted that they will receive, or no Communion distributed during Mass, or only in the hand.

So, I’m reading through all of these, and I’m getting the picture: a Mass where’s there’s more silence, where social aspects are minimized, people sort of keep to themselves, where they’re not touching, there’s no Sign of Peace in the congregation, and people aren’t looking at each other and constantly talking or singing and aspirating material all over each other, and it’s not taken for granted that you’ll receive Communion…

Hmmm. I’m thinking..

…thinking..

…something’s coming….

…I think I can conjure that up…

 

 

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Hahahaha. Come on. Laugh. You can do it. 

It sort of reminds me of a few months back, when a parish in these parts started advertising regular sensory-friendly Masses. I read about what that would be like, and I thought, “So, a traditional low Mass, right?”

The point about the Mass pictured above is made even more sharply when you understand that it was quite common for Communion to be distributed outside of Mass, during this time. I wrote about that here, in this post on the sociological study, St. Denis – a small Quebec community in which the laity would go to Confession and receive Communion before Mass, and then attend the Mass itself.

Look. Here’s what this is about. It’s about what I point out over and over and over AND OVER.

There is wisdom in tradition. 

Traditional practices grew out of human experience – human experiences of joy, sorrow, difficulty and challenge. Human experiences of trying to obey Christ, bring his presence into the world as it is –  in peace, war, plenty, famine, health and disease.  I wrote a bit about this earlier this week., Yes, tradition and traditional practices are always subject to reform and development. But it helps if, as we reform, we keep the wisdom of the tradition in mind and are realistic about life in this world as well.

Short version: Maybe they knew what they were doing, after all.

 

As promised, here’s the smarter take from a slightly different angle, from  Joseph Shaw of the UK Latin Mass society on “Epidemic and Liturgical Reform.”

Clearly, a carefully controlled approach to distributing Holy Communion outside Mass will place a limit on the numbers able to receive, and even on the most optimistic view Catholics will have to get used to another aspect of standard past practice: infrequent Communion. Today, not only is Communion outside Mass hard to imagine, but for many Catholics so is attendance at Mass without the reception of Communion. This implies a casual attitude towards the reception of Holy Communion which perfectly accords with the placing of the meal-symbolism ahead of other considerations, but is not a positive development from other points of view.

It certainly would not have been the way I would have chosen to do it — I have previously argued for the restoration of a longer Eucharistic fast — but the enforced infrequency of Holy Communion will do much to restore the fame eucharistica, “eucharistic hunger,” the lack of which Pope John II so lamented. It is to be hoped that priests will encourage the Faithful who are able to receive less frequently to make the most of it when it is possible, by careful preparation, ideally including fasting, an act of perfect contrition (or, if possible, sacramental Confession), and prayer, and to follow it with a serious thanksgiving.

It is dangerous to speculate too early about the long-term consequences of the current epidemic, but it will certainly have some. It seems likely that among them will be a shedding of the naivety about hygiene which characterizes modern liturgical practice. It is to be hoped that this will be accompanied by a restoration of a more acute awareness of spiritual realities, and of the practices which have historically served to nurture that awareness.

Update:  An example – the guidelines issued by the Diocese of Wichita. All of what I spoke of above, including specific directives about not greeting each other before or after Mass in the church, and no congregational singing.

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As many of you know, my youngest son has, since October, been the paid, staff organist at a local Catholic parish. He works with a music director, who is also the cantor. There’s no choir at this point. It’s just the organist and a cantor.

When the virus lockdowns hit, the media-savvy pastor immediately went to streaming Masses and holy hours (and doing drive-through confession, btw – which was featured on Good Morning, America.) There was no thought of having the organ continue, which was fine and seemed correct.

Then the week before Palm Sunday, we were at the church exchanging some keys, when it occurred to me, Wouldn’t it be nice to have the organ playing for the Easter livestreaming Mass?

I suggested it, and the suggestion was immediately embraced and expanded – why not start with Palm Sunday?

So…get home, scramble, find the music, and start practicing!

(Here’s some of the Easter practice.)

Then on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the reality hit me.

We’ll be among a few thousand Catholics in this country, and maybe even worldwide, who will be attending a Catholic Mass this Sunday.

It honestly shook me a little. As I shared this with the others, I emphasized something: What a privilege. And what a responsibility. Not only to contribute to the beauty of the liturgy through music, but to be present at Mass, receive Jesus in the Eucharist, when so many cannot and are yearning to. Start now – think of all the people you want to pray for.

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As it has for many of us without access to the Mass at this time, it prompted thoughts of those persecuted for the Faith, those in mission territories – which is really, most Catholics, through most of history – with only sporadic participation in the sacraments. This present situation will pass, and most of us will have our weekly Mass again. Will we remember this? Will we slip back into resigned sighs that we “have to go to Mass?”

I have no profound spiritual experiences to report from those Masses the past couple of weeks. I felt a bit uncomfortable that I could be there simply because the organist isn’t old enough to drive and requires a chauffeur. I was angry about so many dimensions of the current situation. I did some soul-searching about what I take for granted.

But mostly what I tried to do was to pray, and, as much as I could, in whatever mystical way my small soul could muster, to bring the prayers of everyone I could think of into that moment – all of my kids, my kids-in-law, my grandchildren, my in-laws, my many deceased family members, my friends. They were at home, some of them watching, all with needs and hopes and fears, and so that privileged, mysterious time with Christ couldn’t be just for myself. How could it be? I had to bring them with me, somehow. And not only them, but also those I don’t know and will never know.

I can’t really explain the mechanics of what it means to “offer it up” or to “offer my Communion” for another. All I know is that after my husband died over eleven years ago, hundreds and maybe even thousands of people prayed for us, and I received more notices than I can count of people telling me they’d offered their Communion for us and for his soul, that their Mass intentions were offered for us.

And all I know is that, bluntly put, it worked. We’re fairly fine. I think we’re fine, at least. And we were well on the road to health and acceptance not too long after that shock. Because, I’m convinced, of the prayers.

Human beings tend to have a self-referential perspective on spirituality. For Catholic human beings, that means a temptation to a self-referential perspective of the sacramental life. Modern individualism doesn’t help. Being deprived maybe doesn’t help either.

But having the humbling privilege of going to Mass the past couple of weeks reminded me – again – that it’s not about me. If I am baptized, confirmed, and am a part of the Body of Christ that’s nothing to boast about for my own sake, as Paul says over and over again. It says nothing about me. It’s all about him. Going to Mass in this situation is really a microcosmic illustration of that truth. The Christian life, no matter the circumstances in which we live it, is not about building ourselves up, but about opening ourselves so we, like him, can be poured out.

The gift Jesus gives is, indeed, grace showered on me, salvation and redemption for my soul, but whether I’m the only person in attendance or one of hundreds – or millions – it’s a gift not be hoarded and treasured because it’s mine and even less because it’s my “right” to receive it. It’s a gift. A gift of the freedom that comes only from Christ, a freedom that this broken world so desperately needs. Every moment I have the opportunity to be in communion with Him – in the Mass, outside of it – is a call to remember. To remember not only how much *I* need him, but how much the world needs him, to take, as much as I am able, those needs along with me – and when I have the privilege – to lay them at his feet.

He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’

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Last week, I pulled a book off my basement bookshelves: St. Denis: A French-Canadian Parish. 

It’s a rather well-known sociological study, published in 1936, with an postscript briefly describing changes that had occurred by 1949. The book was from my parents’ home and was one of the few I took with me after their deaths. My father was a political scientist, not a sociologist, but had a few works from that field that were popular or of general

amy-welborn2

My mother’s aunt, after whom she was named.

interest in the 50’s and 60’s. The other factor that I’m sure led to this book being on their shelves was my mother’s French-Canadian heritage. She was born in New Hampshire, but was first generation – everyone else in her family had been born in Quebec. In fact, since my mother was born in 1924, the emigration activity described in this book was her family’s story in a way – that very fluid border that existed between New England and Canada at the time through which young people who either had no work on family farms or simply wanted a different life passed constantly back and forth until probably the 1960’s. In 1973, we took a family vacation and visited some older  third cousins in Sayabec, Quebec, women who had lived in Lewiston (Maine) for over a decade in the 1950’s and 60’s and, of course had never had to speak a word of English during their time in the United States.

(My mother’s Catholic grammar school classes  in Maine were half in French and half in English. When she went to public school, everything was all English, all the time. The French-speaking children called their non-Quebecois classmates “Johnny Bulls.”)

So anyway, I did have a personal interest in this book, but more than that, a general interest in the subject matter, related to those persistent questions of religion and culture. What was the lived faith of these early 20th century Catholics like? How is it similar to mine? How is it different? How was faith enmeshed in culture? And can I find any clues at all as to why it has collapsed so completely in Quebec?

Well, it’s only one book centering on one tiny slice of life, but in terms of that last question, what came to me – not a very original thought – was that the intimate weaving of religion and culture gave faith its greatest strength – and was a factor in its collapse as well.

For as the study indicates, although St. Denis was, even in 1936, a very traditional rural culture, change was coming – economic pressure was prompting young people to seek amy-welbornwork in the cities and even in the US, and they were bringing back different values when they returned. Religious life was intimately tied to the rhythms of daily and seasonal life and was a largely uncontested worldview  – which we look at with nostalgia and yearning – but perhaps (perhaps) led to an experience of faith ill-equipped to cope with the spiritual questions raised in a more open culture (Not everyone believes as I do – and some of those people are good people – is it really necessary to do and believe all of this? I’m having experiences that I’ve been taught were sinful..and I still feel okay…was what they told me true at all? ) – simply because they weren’t raised.

I don’t know. Just guessing here.

Anyway, here are a few pages from St. Denis.  The first is just there to give you a taste in case you don’t want to click through. The second takes you to this link – a pdf I made of some pages related to the Mass. The first couple of pages relate to the role of the boys’ and mens’ choir – which have different liturgical functions. And then I’ve given you the entire chapter on the Mass, which I think you’ll find interesting. Note that, in this case, those laity who receive Communion don’t receive it during Mass. They go to Confession before Mass, and then Communion is distributed before Mass begins – my scant knowledge indicates that this is High Mass under discussion, and Communion was not distributed to the laity during High Mass. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong!

 

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Excerpt from St. Denis.

I often think about what I believe is the greatest difference in the contemporary landscape in which the Church evangelizes today and say, the most frequently-encountered conditions of a hundred, two hundred or a thousand years ago. To me, that great difference is all about human choice, mobility, awareness and relative prosperity. Some of that is reflected in St. Denis – although these people certainly had more choice and mobility than say, a medieval peasant – still. Lives were fairly circumscribed, most people followed life paths determined by their families and human health and flourishing was highly dependent on how the forces of nature treated you this year. A spirituality of Let’s make this your Best Lent Ever and God wants you to use your unique gifts and talents to set the world on fire and wow, isn’t it great to know that God made you beautiful and wants you to have an exciting life?! ….

…would be…irrelevant.

Which is why, when I’m sorting through spiritual messages and discerning what’s real and what’s fake and opportunistic, one of the criterion I’ve taken to consider is: Would this expression of the Gospel and these spiritual stylings be equally applicable to me – in my world of mobility and choice – and to a 9th century Italian peasant – or to a person in a refugee camp – or an elderly person in a nursing home – or a child? 

Yes, our different circumstances do call for varied specific applications and challenges. But fundamentally – one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. The basics of what we say should make sense to anyone, at any time, anywhere.

 

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As I mentioned, we’ve taken a quick trip to Colorado (first time)  for the weekend, thanks to Frontier Airlines beginning cheap flights out of Birmingham. Of course a part of the “cheap” means you can maybe take a Ziploc on board and you have to pay for the air you breathe, but hey. It works.

(Seriously – you can take a small “personal item” on board as part of the fare. Our backpacks with clothes, etc., fit that fine, and I also took my purse separately without them saying anything about it. Because it’s winter and winter clothes are fatter – and we didn’t want to wear hiking boots all weekend – I splurged on a carry on bag. Just one. It was fine, and we might have been able to do without the carry on. The plane was good, although J found the seat uncomfortable. I don’t know what the plane was, but it was for sure the quietest plane I’ve been on in a long time, maybe ever. They did say in the announcements that it was new.)

Friday night we stayed at a Residence Inn halfway between the airport and downtown. I’d thought about staying downtown that first night, but I’m glad I didn’t – it wouldn’t have been worth the double cost & need to pay for parking, and we got in late enough so that we wouldn’t be venturing out for any night life.

Saturday was rainy and, eventually snowy. The plan had been to spend time seeing things in Denver and perhaps Boulder and then make our way up to Estes Park, where we’d stay Saturday and Sunday night. Part of the plan worked, but I was concerned about the “snow” part of the forecast, considering my rental car was just a regular car – not an SUV or anything like that – and I had no idea what to expect in terms of roads and driving. As the day progressed, I decided it would be wiser to start the journey to Estes Park sooner rather than later, and it was a very good decision – I am not sure if I could have made it up if I’d waited until 5 or so – and the stress factor of driving that in the snow and in the dark would have been high.

So anyway, back to Saturday morning in Denver: very simple – Union Station, the glorious Tattered Cover Bookshop, the State Capitol building – exterior and the mile-high marker only, since the interior is only open during the week, the History Colorado Museum, lunch at Torchy’s Tacos (a good chain) and a drive-by of the Broncos stadium.

Observations: the History Colorado Museum was okay, but was missing a comprehensive, chronological history of either Denver or the state. Interesting stuff about a variety of subjects: Skiing, the RMNP, the presence of the Klan, the Japanese internment camp, the Chicano movement, the Dust bowl – but an organized, comprehensive, you know – history  – exhibit would strengthen the museum.

Secondly, many, many homeless folks around the capitol, with many of their effects scattered on the grounds. I was glad to see what looked like groups offering them help of one sort or another, including a mobile laundry. But still – seeing soaked clothing, blankets, chicken bones, etc. littering the state capitol grounds is expressive of what is left to do.

 

The drive to Estes was not the easiest drive I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t terrible at 3pm. We arrived at our hotel in one piece, checked in, chilled out, walked around a bit, then the younger one and I embarked on a longer walk. Our hotel is about a mile from the small downtown, and even in the sub twenty-degree weather, it was pleasant. Crisp, with the everyone in a cheery mood because, well, it’s vacation time and they were celebrating their Christmas tree lighting ceremony. After a bit, I called the older son and told him to walk down and meet us and we’d find dinner. We did – at a place where one of us could have an elk burger and another could have a game meatloaf.

 

Sunday morning – Mass at the lovely Our Lady of the Mountains. Packed 10 am Mass, intelligent homily.

Then it was time to …do something. I had not done a ton of research into this day, and what I had done confused me, and there was the snow issue – although by Sunday morning the roads in town were clear. Doing a bit more research Saturday night and chatting with a fellow at the visitors’ center five minutes before they closed indicated some direction – basically attempt a hike in the Rocky Mountains National Park, perhaps with snowshoes, and probably around one of a few easier lakes to get to .

So after getting ourselves ready back at the hotel, we headed to a very busy mountain gear supply store, where a conversation with one of the sales people gave me even more direction. We rented snowshoes and poles and set out.

We didn’t end up at any of the spots I’d thought, and the hike was probably harder than I’d anticipated, considering it was 1.2 miles mostly uphill. But it was the first trail we hit after a steady drive that nonetheless unnerved me since the park roads were still snow-covered, and so I really didn’t want to keep doing that not-fun activity. Plus, I saw the name of the trail destination to be a sign: Bierstadt Lake, named after the German landscape artist who painted so much of the American West  – including this lake and this area – and one of whose paintings of Yosemite is a star holding of our own Birmingham Museum of Art. Of course we have to hit the Bierstadt trail and see Bierstadt Lake.

Well, we first discovered that the snowshoes were unnecessary, at least for the hike up the mountain. The trail is a series of switchbacks up the mountain, down a much shorter distance through woods, and then to the lake. It wasn’t easy – but I did it! The youngest ditched the snowshoes first, followed by me about halfway up. The trail was packed, and moreover, it was narrow, making the snowshoes mostly an obstacle. They’re light, though, and it was less hassle to carry them than wear them. However, when we did the trail around the lake, the snow was deep, and the snowshoes fulfilled their promise – although they still weren’t necessary, honestly.

But getting to the lake? Worth it. Gorgeous, humbling and stunning. (Don’t worry – it looks like they are standing on the lake in the photo, but they are well on the shore.)

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The idea of cold weather activity has never appealed to me – I frankly never understand why people want to do it. Perhaps I’m still suffering from the ill-effects of my Maine-raised mother tossing me out to play in the snow in northern Illinois winters, assuring me that it would be enormously fun. I hated it.

But this? It was good. I finally understood that with the proper equipment (snowshoes excepted)..no, freezing and misery is not the only possible outcome of going outside in the cold. Took a while, didn’t it?

Oh – one more thing. On the trail, I spied a group of two men and one woman heading towards us. One of the man was wearing a UAB sweatshirt. Turns out he and the other fellow were Australians studying at UAB – So there we were, two groups from Birmingham meeting there in the Rocky Mountains. It’s pretty crazy, but to tell the truth, every time I travel, I run into someone with some connection to either me personally or wherever I’m living at the time. I imagine all those degrees of connections are far closer than we think – we just don’t know it because we’re not stopping to talk to every single person – and we’re not all walking billboards advertising our home.

img_20181118_160610Back into town, return equipment, stop at the grocery store, as well as at the Stanley Hotel, which is the inspiration for The Shining – King was staying there when he got the idea for the novel. Photo is of the son who’s read the book and seen the movie a couple of times (much preferring the latter, btw) doing his best Jack Nicholson-in-The-Shining performance.

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Now? Football one one TV, The Dark Knight on the other, and me here. Home tomorrow, but hopefully one more small adventure before we have to be at the airport.

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Super fast blog post. It’s late and we’re up early tomorrow. If you want to see some videos related to the post below, head to Instagram Stories.

The day began with me heading out to find the closest Catholic church, so I could figure Sunday out. Maps told me there was one less than a mile away, and it had a website, but either the Mass times weren’t listed or I just couldn’t figure it out. So out I went on a walk to see if the actual building had anything to tell me.

It was a lovely walk (albeit very hot) along the canals in this area – Fushimi – which I will write about later. I eventually did find the church, and was pointed to a sign by a very nice lady, and the sign told me that Sunday Mass would be at 10:30 – too late for us, so Plan B it will be. Upon reflection later in the day, I transitioned to Plan C, which is going to require very early rising and great suffering but I’ve already prepared us for that by pointing out that there were, according to what I’ve ready, Christian martyrs in this very area of Kyoto. So stop your whining. (Including myself in the order, to be sure.)

It was so hot by then…I took the train back. Speaking of avoiding suffering…

Anyway, it was then off to Osaka. The train was – very unusual for Japan – rather late. It seems there had been an accident of some sort on some tracks, which caused us to wait on the platform for about twenty minutes. As I said, this is very unusual. Japanese trains are known for their timeliness.

A side note on a day trip to Osaka – we might or might not have done this, but the weather told me that there was going to be heavy rain in Kyoto all afternoon and nothing worse than intermittent showers in Osaka. Now, I don’t know if it ever did actually rain here, but just in case, I didn’t want to be stuck. So off we went, on a not very deep, but nonetheless educational afternoon.

We had every intention of starting out in a serious way with Osaka Castle, but when the time came to transfer, we got on the train going the wrong way, so we shrugged and said, “Eh. We’ll just go see other things instead.”  So we ended up, first at Osaka Station and the very, very big Pokemon Center (the largest in the world) and, adjacent to it, a large Uniqlo store – Uniqlo does have some stores in the US, I believe (I went into one in New York City last year), but I don’t know how many. It’s a good, basic clothing brand – simple styles, affordable prices.

So we did that, and then went right over to Dotonbori Street, widely known (and photographed) as a crazy busy food street with monstrous signage. I’m sure the place is even more fantastic at night, but because of the early day we have on Sunday, it just wasn’t a good idea to hang out to see it, unfortunately.

But what we did see was fun. The street is all restaurants, food stalls and, it seems, drug stores. We are not sure why every store that doesn’t do food seems to be a drug store, but there it is. Also – Osaka is just like Tokyo and Kyoto – especially Tokyo – with extensive – extensive underground shopping – that’s where the variety is, it seems.

You can get a sense of it from the photos (but if you want a deeper look, just search for img_20180630_142728videos on Dotonbori – easy to find). It wasn’t as packed as I expected – it wasn’t, for example, as thronged as Shibayu in Tokyo was. The food is almost all one of just a few types: ramen, sushi (although not tons), IMG_20180630_135903.jpgokonomiyaki (characteristic Osaka pancake type thing), kushiage (skewers of mostly breaded fried things), crabs, beef, and most of all, takoyaki, sauteed balls of batter with octopus inside, either chopped or whole baby octopus. We had street okonomiyaki, some very good fried chicken bits from a street booth, an ice cream sandwich made with what they call melon bread – you find something similar in Sicily using brioche and gelato, and then sat down – shoes off, on cushions, finally – for kushiage. In the restaurant, in fact, with the angry-looking fellow in the photo above.

 

The guys spent some time in an absolutely insane 6-story gaming/entertainment/indoor sports complex called Round 1, and then it was time to go. Not the most cultured day, and there’s a lot more to see in Osaka, but we did what we could and experienced something new – always something new.

From Osaka, we went straight to downtown Kyoto, parked our purchases in a coin locker at the Gion station, then plunged into the Saturday evening crowds to finish up some souvenir shopping and grab some fuel for those who need refueling. The quick choice, rationalized by a full day of eating Japanese, was “Wendy’s First Kitchen” – the Japanese Wendy’s that has a bit broader menu – including 4-patty burgers and pasta and actual fried chicken – and serves beer. The customer who got the chicken nuggets and chicken pieces (came in a combo) reported that they were of far higher quality than you’d find in the US – and I had a couple of bites of the chicken, and was duly impressed. Good job, Wendy’s First Kitchen.

Followed by some matcha ice cream – which I felt a responsibility to try since it’s everywhere here. I still don’t like it.

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We are home today, back in Birmingham, the boys asleep this morning – the younger one able to sleep past 7 for the first time in a couple of weeks. Nothing much on tap this week, finally.

Yesterday at this time, we were in Charleston. We went to Mass at the Cathedral, where the music was beautiful – done, as Cathedral music should be (and as we experience here) as a model for the rest of the diocese, embodying the mind of the Church on matters liturgical.

There’s a short post up on Instagram with a bit I recorded. I don’t like how huge videos post on WordPress, and I can’t figure out how to resize them, so you’ll just have to go there.

What I particularly appreciated was the lack of accompaniment. Yes, there was organ for hymns, but the chanting was a capella, as this non-musician thinks it should be. I appreciate the organ, but especially with the propers and parts of the Mass, and especially when the congregation sings as well, there is something quite moving about the sound of nothing but human voices filling a church with chanted prayer. I like hearing the other human voices. When the organ’s going at anything less than a minimal level during chant, it’s all I hear – my own voice and the organ – and that’s not an experience of community. It’s almost more of a battle, in the end.

Anyway, go here for a snippet of Ave Verum Corpus. 

The homilist had good things to say, but….(you knew this was coming)

..he didn’t preach from the ambo. He strode down to floor level, right in front of the first pews, and paced back and forth there. I get it. I suppose. The desire to be closer? To us? I guess? But guess what…

No one could see you.

We were pretty close to the front – five or six pews back. He wasn’t that far away from us. The sound system is good, so he could be heard very well, but all we could see was a glimpse of him once in a while as he paced over to our side.

Now, you’re saying..hey…you’re an advocate of ad orientem and less clerical personality on offer during liturgical prayer. What’s this annoyance at not being able to see the homilist’s head during his homily?

Well, here’s how it functioned: very weirdly, the homilist’s posture, which was intended to make him more accessible, but actually made him more invisible, worked to elevate his person because yes, we normally do look at a homilist while he is preaching – that is our normal stance, so we’re having to strain and move around and make an effort to do something that is usually, in the course of liturgy, something we don’t even think about – which then allows us to focus on what’s being said, instead of the peculiarities and particularities of the one saying it.

This is convoluted, and really, all I’m saying is – there’s a reason the ambo (or pulpit) is elevated. It’s not a bad reason, either. And changing that up takes attention away from content. It’s distracting.

And it’s just something to think about that may or may not be related, but is also a Life Lesson: When we do something with the mindset, I want to make sure people know that I’m ______________ or I want people to know that I feel _______________ about them or I don’t want people to think that I think _____________…the consequent choices we make often unwittingly end up  reflecting that overriding concern, blinding us to what others really need from us, and shining the spotlight even more brightly on ourselves….

 

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