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Archive for April, 2009

This was the title of a song when I was a young woman, back in the 1960s.  I hear it a lot on the channel guide that my local cable company puts up — they play a lot of “elevator music,” which is actually quite relaxing, when you’ve had it up to Here with ads for luxury items on the local classical-music station — and I thought I’d track down the lyrics.  A Google search notes that it was first sung by Leslie Uggams (from the old Mitch Miller show!) in 1968, and a best seller for jazz singer Peggy Lee in 1969; a Wikipedia citation notes the existential quality of the song:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Of course, there’s a lot more to this song, a string of disappointments that end in the refrain, “Is that all there is?”  The final lyric runs:

I know what you must be saying to yourselves,
if that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
for I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself:  Is that all there is, is that all there is…

It comes to me, on this Great and Holy Friday, because last night I was one of two chanters singing the Canon of this day, contrasting the perfect goodness of our Lord with the avarice of Judas and the envy of the Pharisees and Sadducees that put Him to death, the feeble efforts of Pilate to save His life, and the final disappointment of His followers:  Is that all there is?

We all know about death.  There is no return.  It all ends at death.  After all the expectations, after all the miracles (including raising people from the dead!), after all that lofty talk, after all the Hosannas of less than a week earlier, after a meal shared in closest intimacy among friends who were so sure of themselves and their Leader–and this is how it ends?!  Is that all there is?!

Not to mention His Mother.  Who can begin to imagine what she must have been thinking:  the miraculous entry into her life of her Child, the circumstances of His birth, all the odd little moments they must have shared as mother and Son, the miracle at Cana — all to end in a death no mother ever wants to witness for anybody, let alone her own Child…what it must have taken for her to say to herself, “This can’t be all there is.”

In about an hour I will take myself off to church to read the Royal Hours with my priest.  While he is conducting a retreat for the Sunday School, I will review the Sunday bulletin one last time and print it out.  This afternoon there will be the Vespers of the Unnailing, and tonight the Lamentations, processing out onto the street with the Tomb of Christ, up to the library and around into the parking lot and back into the church, a deeply moving procession that is not without its own hazards, such as the couple who bought candles at church, joined in the tail end of the procession, and, as we all filed back into church, asked the ushers, “What are we protesting?”  Is that all there is to a candlelight procession?!

Then comes tomorrow morning, the Vesperal Liturgy, with that incredible reading from Ezekiel about the dry bones, and the Canticle of the Three Youths who relied on God to keep them safe from the flames — and He did — this canticle of such great faith and trust, and while it’s going on, yet again, our Lord is busy at work, harrowing Hades and “leading forth them that were captive.”  And tomorrow night — the Resurrection, the cancelling out of death’s power over us, when our Lord, having bound Satan in his own chains and “cleaned house” in Hades, brings Himself back from the dead, as if to say to Satan, “That’s all there is to you, buster.  Now take your existential philosoophy to the trash heap of history and  stop bothering people.”

Eternal life.  That’s not only all there is, but the fullness of all there is.  Christ is risen, and death is conquered!  Christos anesti!  Christos voskrese!  Christos a inviat!

That’s way more “all” than I can handle in a lifetime — an “all” big enough to last for all of eternity.

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As the Buddhists say, “After ecstasy, the laundry.”  We all know that feeling.  I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before, but it bears repeating:  The story told by Kathleen Norris (in, I think, The Cloister Walk, though it may have been in The Quotidian Mysteries) about the woman who said she was going to have engraved on her tombstone, “At last her laundry’s done.”  There are days when I think about that completely seriously.

In this instance, though, I’m not talking about laundry, but about the Groan Ones.  I e-mailed my son on Saturday to find out if he might be coming home for Pascha, and he told me that he had been furloughed on Friday, and would be spending this week sending out resumes.  Now, as I understand it, “furlough” is not the same as a layoff — it means you’re still on the rolls of employees, just not getting paid, and when there’s work, they call you back.  But I guess Chris is looking for something with more stable hours, and I hope he finds it.  Meanwhile — prayers would be appreciated.

Then there’s the Other One, whose 34th birthday is today.  I stopped up to see her last week — I was literally in the neighborhood, and thought I’d stop by with her birthday card and a check — she was out with the kids, but her husband was home, painting, and we had a very nice conversation.  He says he doesn’t know what her problem is because he doesn’t want to know; he said he told her, “You need to settle whatever it is between you, because I actually like your parents.”  My goodness.

And there was the thank-you note I got from Herself:  “Thank you for the card and the gift — much appreciated.  Take care.”  And her signature.  E-mailed, though that’s not a problem for me, since I e-mail everybody these days.  But — “take care”?!?!?!

Sigh.

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It occurred to me last night, while at Bridegroom Matins, that one of the very nicest things about the Orthodox Church is Holy Week.  As most of you know, in the West the 40 days of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday and end on Holy Saturday at noon.  In Orthodoxy, again as most of you know, there are six full weeks of Lent — six weeks in which to struggle with those points where we “miss the mark” in life (from the Greek word for sin, “‘amartia,” missing the mark), six weeks to identify them and grow our lives closer to Christ.  Great Lent ends with the celebration of the resurrection of Lazarus, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and Palm Sunday is its own feast.

But then comes this whole separate thing, Holy Week.  My mother used to ask me why the Orthodox had seven weeks of Lent (among many other questions designed to point up the “superiority” of Catholicism), and until just this year I had no answer.  But last night it occurred to me:  Those prior six weeks are all about us.  Holy Week is all about Him.  Cleansed by confession, refreshed and renewed in our determination to continue the spiritual warfare — now we have the “basic training,” the strength to accompany our Lord to His crucifixion, and to witness — oh, glorious Holy Saturday! — the Harrowing of Hades.

Which is another point of departure from the West.  I used to think of things in terms of, “Now it’s Good Friday.  Now we’re supposed to be sad.  Now it’s Easter Sunday.  Now we’re supposed to be joyful,” and Holy Saturday was this kind of nebbish, nothing day in between.  Enter Orthodoxy.  It all happens on Holy Saturday.  That’s the day when Christ enters Hades and completely destroys its power, freeing all the captives of centuries past and leading them to heaven.  WOW!!!  By comparison, Easter Sunday — Pascha — is almost anti-climactic, except that it does serve to confirm that He has all power over life and death, including His own — nothing can stop this Man.

Blows my sox off.

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…to all who responded to my last post.  As so many of you noted, all we can do is pray for our children, and hope that they figure it out before it’s too late.  Meanwhile, our daughter’s birthday is coming up, and my husband doesn’t want me to send her anything, not even a card.  I can picture the reaction that that would elicit!!  To say nothing of the fact that I really don’t want to be so mean-spirited.  Just because she keeps us on the outer fringe of her life, doesn’t mean I don’t love her dearly.  Dang kids.    😉

In other news…  some of you may know that eight years ago, I was basically thrown out of a job I loved to make room for the priest’s wife’s best friend.  (He would deny it, of course, but that was the upshot.)  All I can say is, thank God for the internet, because I would have had no contact with anybody at all, if it hadn’t been for my online friendships — which my priest abhorred, saying that I needed to Get Out and Make Some Real Friends.  I suspect that most people reading this blog know how difficult that is:  People’s lives are too full as it is, and to ask somebody to shuffle things around to make room for you is bordering on hubris.

So I’ve been grateful beyond measure for my internet friends.  But a funny thing happened over the past eight years:  While I was sitting around trying to figure out how to jump-start life — I actually did make a life for myself.  It was much quieter than anything I was used to, but ya know — I got used to it.  I got used to having time for my new internet friends, and time for cross stitch, and time for learning new things.  And now that I have my old job back — dang if it doesn’t get in the way of the quiet little life I’d built for myself.  Now, if only I could find a replacement, so Father Count would still have a secretary…

Anyway, thanks for being my sounding board all this time.  I love youse!    😉

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