Archive for May, 2008

Yesterday I returned to work. Nothing radical, it was just that the Sunday bulletin needed to be written, and that’s my job, and I was up for it. I still can’t drive, so Fr. Costin picked me up and drove me in to church. I must say, he was flatteringly ecstatic at the thought of not having to work up the bulletin himself. I can’t think why, it’s a boilerplate job; but maybe that’s because my talent is secretarial, and his is sacerdotal. (Like that one?!)

OK, so we get in to church, I get down to work, and so does he. He has phone calls to make, and a couple of visitors, and pretty soon I’m as done as I can be without further input from him; but he’s still in his office with a visitor, and can’t be disturbed. This has happened before, and I always end up checking e-mail and playing card games and other useless stuff. Not yesterday. Yesterday I grabbed my project bag, which was kitted up with Teresa Wentzler’s Needle Guardian.

I had a little piece of tail and part of the bottom chain done when Father came out, escorted his visitor to the door, and came back. “What are you doing?” he said. He knows I do cross stitch, and appeared intrigued by the variety of colors and the bag I had all my materials in. I explained it as quickly as I could — like most craft people, I can talk for hours about my favorite topic — and then he said, “And what are you making?”

Well, when I showed him the little dragon, and the saying next to it, he burst out laughing, then said, “I could use something like that for my diocesan vestments. When we all serve Liturgy together, we all wear the same pattern, and everyone’s vestments are always getting mixed up.” “What,” I said, “‘Fr. Costin’s vestments — touch ’em and you’re toast’?” “No,” he said, “more like, ‘touch them and you’ll have to answer to Meg.”

What could I say — I just pointed at him and said, “You got it.” To be honest, I rather like that idea. Now, what do you all think of vestments covered with glowering little dragons? 😉

(By the way, I tried twice to add an image of the pattern, but this thing won’t let me add any more images — I don’t know why. Very frustrating. Just click on the link, or up top, where it says, “Needle Guardian, by Teresa Wentzler” — you should be able to get there just fine. It is a cute pattern.)

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A Couple of Links

Now, since the real Memorial Day isn’t till Friday, here are a couple of links to honor the members of our Armed Forces. It annoys me mightily that I can’t find the Marine Hymn sung, but there it is — if anyone knows of a youtube video where it’s sung reverently, please let me know, and I’ll update this post.

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Last night, dh and I watched the Memorial Day concert on PBS.  I don’t know why we’ve never watched this thing before.  It was wonderful, a beautiful tribute to all our fallen heroes.

It got  me to thinking about the event that finally precipitated my departure from the Catholic Church, and I think it’s important to share, for a couple of reasons.

1976.  The Bicentennial of the American Declaration of Independence.  Lots of plans for celebrations both large and small.  Although the town I grew up in is actually part of New York City, being in Queens County — what most people don’t realize about New York is that it’s nothing more than a lot of little towns with no real borders between them.  Rego Park, right next door to Middle Village, was practically a foreign country.  Brooklyn might as well have been on another planet.

So we were planning a classic small-town celebration for the Fourth — the parade, the marching bands, the commemoration at the town’s memorial to the fallen soldiers, the hot dogs and ice cream at a local park, the whole nine yards.  The churches of Middle  Village (Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist) had planned to mass their choirs, and we were all going to sing a special Fourth of July concert.  And one of the pieces we were all working on was Battle Hymn of the Republic — not just any version, but a real, rip-snorting, roof-raising arrangement by none other than a Russian, Peter Wilhousky.  If you ever get the chance to hear this, go.  Nothing gets the blood stirring like this arrangement.

Our choir director decided that we should use this as a recessional hymn after Mass on the Sunday closest to Memorial Day, so she did.  And we gave it our all.  I can still see her pumping out her heart on the organ as we gave full voice.  Come choir rehearsal on Wednesday, she just didn’t look like her usual chipper self, so I asked her if she was okay.  When the low-level nuclear explosion died down, it developed that the priest who had served that Mass had informed her that he didn’t want any more “war songs” at his Masses.

And something snapped inside me.  I had been dismayed when the Catholic Church came out against the Vietnam War.  I still think that anybody who says, “We didn’t really know what we were doing there” is smoking something, or does the phrase “containment of Communism” not ring any bells??  But that snotty statement did it for me.  “War song,” my foot.  What exactly is the problem with, “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free”?!?!?!

Well, okay, from an Orthodox perspective, you can find a few holes in that statement.  For one thing, He died to make men free, not just holy.  But on the overall scale of what’s important in life, I happen to think that freeing Europe from the horror of Nazism was kind of important.  Liberating China from the perpetrators of the Rape of Nanking wasn’t exactly inconsistent with the Christian concern we should have for our brother’s welfare.  And stifling Communism — keeping it “contained” to those regions of the world which it had already poisoned — also strikes me as a worthy goal, especially in light of what happened to people who uttered the Lord’s Prayer, or even heard it, in Vietnam.  (Read Tom Dooley’s books.  If you can find them.)

Worst of all — and I apologize in advance to those of my readers whom I know this will offend — out of this condemnation of the Vietnam War came the silly notion that “Christianity is a Religion of Peace.”  Bull hockey.  And I’ll say it again — bull hockey.  Christianity is all about war.  If it isn’t, then the enemy of mankind is winning.  If you aren’t on the front lines of our Life in Christ every single day, you are losing.

I always forget who it was — St. Silouan, I think — who said that “Spiritual warfare is warfare to the last breath.”  By brainwashing people into believing that Christianity is a religion of peace, our so-called spiritual “leaders” deprive us of the very weapon we need most urgently in spiritual warfare:  watchfulness.  I have been greatly blessed, in my lifetime, to have had two spiritual fathers who understood spiritual warfare very well, and whose “basic-training tactics” were exactly like military basic training:  intense, brutal, and designed to teach you how to keep yourself alive.  I bless them every day for it.

Meanwhile, on this Memorial Day, at least place some flowers on the town memorial.  If you see a veteran, or someone in uniform, swallow your pacifism long enough to say Thank You.  He really isn’t a “baby killer.”  He just knows the nature of the enemy better than any of us.

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As in, “Take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and give thanks to God!”

My surgery is done, and to all appearances, I am on the mend!  After the horrors of 2006, I can’t believe how easily this one is going — I still have energy, I still have my sense of humor, and best of all, I can actually get around the house and do a little work, mostly cooking and washing dishes — which is more than I could do during the last round.  Probably this is so because hernia repair is nowhere near as radical as a hysterectomy, but still — I was prepared for the worst (unlike the last time), and this is SO much easier than that was.

And now a word of advice:  Should you ever need surgery, of any kind, make sure beforehand that your doctor will use self-dissolving sutures. No staples.  I don’t even know if anyone uses regular sutures anymore; it seems to be either staples or these self-dissolving thingies.  I found out about this when I told my surgeon that I was concerned about this wound not healing, as happened with the last one.  He smiled and said, “I used self-dissolving sutures.  They dissolve in 3-4 weeks.  This wound won’t open up.”  Then he said something that fried me:  “A lot of surgeons use staples because it’s easier for them, but I like the self-dissolving sutures, because there’s a better chance of success for the patient.”

So all that hell was caused by two gynecologists making life easy for themselves.  I am just open-mouthed.  I had thought that maybe they used staples because, face it, I am not the most svelte person on the planet.  But apparently that wasn’t it at all.  I’m just flabbergasted.  Words fail me (and that doesn’t happen too often).

Back to the present.  I do have a drain, a little rubber syringe thingie attached to a tube that allows excess serum to drain off.  That should come out by next Wednesday, and till then, no showers.  Ugh, back to the sink baths, but at least it should only be for one week, two at most.  And the mesh they used — herniae are repaired by patching the hole with mesh — is (are you ready for this?) biologic.  It occurs to me that I may have mentioned this before, so forgive me if that’s the case, but I’ve made my little funny to so many people that I can’t remember who I told and who I didn’t tell.  The patch comes from a cadaver (eww), and when I asked about tissue rejection, my doctor explained that the patch is so thoroughly treated and broken down that by the time it’s put into a warm body, it’s basically just protein, and the warm body accepts it as such.  Kewl.  Now, I did some internet research on these things, and apparently they don’t have to come from a human cadaver, so I was thinking — but I never did get around to it — of asking my doctor if he could obtain skin from a sheep.  My family used to tease me that I knitted so much, I was turning into a sheep anyway, so why not go whole ewe?  (How can you go whole hog with a sheep?)

Okay, the silence is deafening.  Bad joke.  Almost enough to make anybody wish I was as knocked out as I was the last time.

Meanwhile, I have laundry to hang up in the back yard.  No, I am not supposed to lift anything, nor will I.  DH will carry the laundry basket out to the line, and I will hang it out — I figure that’s good exercise, which I need plenty of, anyway.  And no lifting.  I should actually be going for walks, but I would be happier about that if I had a cane — all I can picture is me taking a header on a pebble or some other stupid piece of road litter, and cracking open that beautiful surgical job.  No, thanks.  So the exercise component will consist of hanging out laundry.  Heaven knows there’s enough.

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Just that I wish to note that my blog has a new page:  My Lust List.  A Lust List is something dreamed up by a member of one of the numerous cross-stitch chat lists I belong to.  It consists of photos of cross-stitch projects that I have no business whatsoever purchasing, due to either financial or time constraints — I mean, the word SABLE (stash accumulation beyond life expectancy) is approaching frightening reality as it is — but if by some great good fortune I actually got through most of my cross-stitch projects, these are the projects I would love to add to my stash.

Next I think I will create a Stash page, photos of the stash I actually have in my possession.  And then a Works-in-Progress page — hey, now that I have figured out how to upload photos from my computer, I’m unstoppable.    ;->

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This is a sample of my own embroidery, an analoy cover that I embroidered about three years ago.  Mostly I uploaded it because someone was asking me how to upload pictures into WordPress, and I wasn’t sure how — it isn’t quite as simple as it was with BlogSpot, but I think I’ve got it now.Analoy cover

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I’m not entirely sure when it was that I said something about Metropolitan Laurus’s embroidered vestments. I never did track down the photo of his vestments, but when I found this on another blog, I had to copy it in here — this is exactly what I was talking about. This epitrachelion is exquisite!

By the way, does anybody know how to get text to wrap around a photo in WordPress? I can’t get it for love or money.

(Sorry, I keep forgetting that I can put posts into Categories, and I meant to do that with this one.  Also, in case anyone finds it offensive that I haven’t acknowledged the new First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia — many years, Vladyka Metropolitan Hilarion!  From what I read, he will do an excellent job of carrying on after our beloved Vladyka Metropolitan Laurus, of blessed memory.)

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This afternoon, Father got into work so late that I had all the work done (i.e., the Sunday bulletin) — he just looked it over, pronounced it a done deal (at least, it’s done unless we get any more news, so we won’t print till Friday), and then I had a chance to sit down with him and talk about this dissonance thing.

Good priest that he is, the first thing he said was that we shouldn’t be speculating about the relationship of the Trinity to One Another.  Good point.  Then he said that dissonances are actually very important, even in relationship with God, since they tell us what we need to work on, to bring ourselves into harmony with God.

Now where in Western Christendom would you find that point of view?!

In commenting on the last post, Mimi wrote, “I heart Fr. C!”  Me too, me too!  He is hands down the best priest I have ever known, and I feel so blessed that he’s in our parish!  Now…how to ensure that he stays put until he retires???

(Actually — believe it or not, the poor soul was on the receiving end of a couple of critical comments having to do with there being no dinner after Paschal services — a tradition of only ten years’ standing in this parish, and occasioned by the fact that the woman who’s done it for the past ten years took a break, and no one else stepped up to take her place — and he mentioned that he had been feeling a bit depressed about the negativity in the parish.  It gave me a good excuse to tell him that between Emily and me, he is becoming famous in the blogosphere as a Wunderkind.  He laughed an embarrassed little laugh and said he was over his depression by now, but he still looked pleased.  So I do worry about this parish wearing him out, and am trying to think of ways to keep his spirits up without being too obvious about it.)

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Today’s sermon was, naturally, about St. Thomas, who has (unfairly, I think) gone down in history as Doubting Thomas. Father Costin started out by noting that “Thomas must have been a scientist” — not an unreasonable observation, since Thomas was at the very least an empiricist, someone who wanted to check out for himself the claim of the other Apostles. But from there, he segued into his real topic: What actually is reality? Is it the reality of the everyday, the bills, the house, the kids, work, school? Or is it the reality of Christ, of the kingdom to come, the unbelievable certainty of the Resurrection and the life of relationship with one another in Christ?

And it’s this life of relationship with one another in Christ that leads me to pose my question about dissonance and reality. I think I have mentioned that besides being a theoretical physicist (!!!), Father also trained as a classical musician — his parents, he says, wanted him to be a pianist, and listening to him play Bach is its own education. So he frames a lot of his own experience either in terms of science (as in his observation about Thomas) or in terms of music. A few weeks ago, in our weekly Bible study, we were talking about transgressions, and he described transgressions as “dissonance” — discussing a passage from John, he said that the Greek word for “transgression” was actually better translated as “dissonance.” I mentioned that to a priest I know who is from Greece (the priest to whom I have gone to confession for the past several years), and he blinked, then said, “That’s actually not a bad translation.” I guess he thought of it in other terms, probably having to do with his own training in engineering. (What is it with these scientific guys all going in for the priesthood?!?! My confessor was graduated first in his class from Columbia School of Engineering, no mean feat by any standards! There must be something about Orthodoxy that attracts logical minds, which is quite some recommendation, given the “touchy-feely” aspects of Western Christendom.)

So, back to my own question. The problem I’m having with “transgression” as “dissonance” is this: The relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity is assuredly one of perfect harmony, and is the model towards which we should all strive. When we sin, when we “miss the mark,” to translate the Greek word for sin (amartion), it’s because our relationship with God and with each other is out of whack — it’s “dissonant.” The thing is — in music, dissonance creates interest. When things are constantly in harmony, they’re beautiful, in the same way that plainchant is always beautiful, but the interest in music comes from those seventh chords, where you have a major chord (do-mi-sol) augmented by a minor seventh (a flat ti, to put it in terms of the do-re-mi scale that most folks are familiar with). That flat ti is very dissonant, and its resolution back into harmony is what makes music pleasing to the ear.

Similarly, dissonance in relationships is what makes them interesting. I mean — if we all liked the same thing, all the time, we’d all be in perfect harmony, but do I hear “BOR-ing” screaming through everybody’s brain? Of course I do. It’s our “dissonances” that make us interesting to one another. Similarly, when there’s real conflict between persons, it’s the resolution of that conflict — the resolution of that dissonance — that deepens the relationship.

But what’s niggling at my mind is Father’s sermon. Which reality is real? This world, or the world of the risen Christ? Is dissonance essential to interesting relationships, or is that because we live in this world, and we only think that dissonance is interesting? And, does dissonance deepen our relationship with God, or does it get in the way?

Any takers?

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