Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Great Sunday

A really good day at church. Lots of stuff going on. For starters, it was Matthew's last Sunday. He has made quite an impression in his two years as Music Director, and the congregation is certainly sad to see him go. He took the opportunity of his last Sunday to make hymn picks that were very indicative of his time with us. I was proud of him, and glad that he has been able to do so much to shape the musical tastes and vocabulary of the parish.

The kids prepared a little surprise for him--a hymn written to celebrate Matthew to the tune of "Lord of the Dance." Very cute. I presented him with a nice framed photograph of Matthew and some of the kids making music with signatures along the matte border. Matthew gave us a framed copy of two pieces of music. One is an anthem he wrote based on the church's history. Another is an Alleluia his mother wrote after being inspired by one of our parishioners. Very nice. I prayed for him using a collect for "Transitions in Ministry" in the Book of Occasional Services.

We also commissioned a new Warden, Caroline. I used a short ceremony that including handing her the keys to the church as a symbol of her ministry. I'm really glad to finally have a third warden, and pleased that my patience in this matter paid off. Sometimes you just have to give the Spirit time!

Preaching was interesting. I decided to go with the Song of Songs and preach about sex. It was a tight, crisp sermon that people seemed to really enjoy. It made me nervous to preach it, however, as I could easily imagine communities that would freak out if the pastor talked this way. I trusted my COTM crew to be cool with it. One of them told me afterwards about how one my predecessors preached about sex at least twice using some very personal anecdotes, so my sermon was entirely non-controversial!

We had a visitor who grew up Pentecostal who also enjoyed the sermon and told me that it was really refreshing to hear something preached that would be impossible to do in her previous community. Sweet. I love that kind of feedback. Anyway, I'm looking forward to posting that sermon soon.

We had cake (it was a "Polychronia Sunday") and coffee and much joy. Many of the kids were back from camps. Came home and fell asleep watching football.


Saturday, August 29, 2009


Betsy and I are feeling overwhelmed by the possible options for transporting our future gene-bearer in safety and comfort. Options abound. Do we go for the "travel system" that combines stroller and infant car seat? Or do we get a separate stroller and car seat. The problem is quite complex when you start overlapping time lines like "this seat is good to 22-lbs and that stroller can be used starting at 6 months but must be replaced when the kid is 50-lbs. etc. etc." Jogging-style strollers are good in snow (and we'll be dealing with that after the kid is born in December), but they usually don't take infant car seats. Options and combinations proliferate. Making matters more confusing, many of the models are only slightly distinguishable from each other. Sigh!

On Friday we put up book shelves in the ARC and starting sorting through our resources. Lots of great stuff, but we need some money to develop the ARC. We need a computer to catalogue and some money to buy more books. Still no word from the Diocese about the innovative ministry grant we applied for, which means we probably didn't get it. It frustrates me a great deal that something that would so obviously help the Diocese move forward is getting such little support from a Diocesan level. They say they want us to develop parish-level stuff to take the place of services formerly provided by the diocese. Yet our little committee is getting basically no support or even encouragement from the powers-that-be. Cutting edge is figuring out how to work together to do grass-roots development of excellence in parish ministry. Sigh!

Still, it was encouraging to start filling up shelves with books! Yeah, us!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 12 2009

For my first sermon back from vacation I discussed the "Bread of Life" passages in John's Gospel. I argued that we constantly make choices about whether we encounter God or not, and that the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, is such a moment of choice.

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Toronto Song

Sometimes Betsy and I have what we call "Canada Moments"--things that strike us a particularly Canadian to remind us that we do live, in fact, in a different country. I mean, so much of what we encounter is pretty much the same as what we would experience in an American city--until a "Canada Moment" comes along.

So here is the hilarious, but totally earnest, song that was selected to be the official song to celebrate Toronto:

Only in Toronto...



One of the finest features of a Hampden-Sydney education is the "Rhetoric Requirement." Many Colleges and Universities require students to take composition courses, but rarely do they come anywhere near HSC's rigorous standard. Stanley Fish's latest blog article in the New York Times--What Should Colleges Teach?--gives a sense of state of things elsewhere. Several years ago Fish was disturbed to learn that most of the "composition" courses being taught by graduate students at his University actually taught very little about the craft of writing. The common pattern was for students to discuss something (like an essay, TV show, or controversial topic) and then write about it, however there was little or no instruction in basic grammar or the art of argument.

As I learned more about the world of composition studies I came to the conclusion that unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham, and I advised administrators to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else. This advice was contemptuously dismissed by the composition establishment, and I was accused of being a reactionary who knew nothing about current trends in research. Now I have received (indirect) support from a source that makes me slightly uncomfortable... (source)

At Hampden-Syndney, on the other hand, everyone must prove proficiency in Rhetoric in order to graduate, irregardless of Major. "Proficiency" had two parts: passing a test of pure grammar knowledge and then passing a creative-writing essay test. In other words, you had to be able to prove that you know the rules of grammar and then creatively apply those rules in a cohesive essay. Neither of these tests are easy, the majority of students fail the first (Freshman-year) attempt. Luckily we all have four years to learn and try again. Students that struggle get extra help.

The result is that all Hampden-Sydney graduates (even those majoring in "hard" sciences) have excellent writing skills. At the very least they know what a comma splice looks like! This sensibility seems to pervade the academic culture across disciplines at Hampden-Syndney: you were expected to write well (and correctly) in all your course work.

When I was a Teaching Assistant at Yale for an undergraduate course I was shocked at how poor writing is tolerated. All kinds of mistakes would be passed back to the students without a jot of red ink. I made it a point of principle to take to time to at least note the mistakes. How else will they learn? Many of my colleagues at the graduate level discovered they had a lot to learn about how to write, as well.

So Stanley Fish's argument that basic composition courses should focus on basic composition rings true to my experience. I am thankful that my Liberal Arts education put so much emphasis on something as foundational as writing!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

First Sunday Back 2009

I was really glad to be back at the helm in church today. Even though I've been away for a month I snapped right back into familiar patterns. People were glad to see us, too. I'm really getting excited about this upcoming year at COTM!

I think I'll be even more excited once we've finished the selection process for the new Minister of Music. We have our first interview today!


Friday, August 21, 2009

St. Peter's Lutheran, NYC

Take a look at this font:

It's in an architecturally interesting church--St. Peter's Lutheran (ELCA), Manhattan--that you may recognize from the TV series "Kings" on NBC. Alas, "Kings" was cancelled. Too bad, another example of why the traditional networks can't imitate the success of HBO's high quality productions. They just don't have the patience to develop a show like this. Anyway, they shot a bunch of scenes on location in this church, and I was pleased to be able to track it down.

One of the interesting features of this font/baptismal pool is that you can walk into from above easily with the steps that go right into the pool. Or, it's an a convenient height relative to the nave floor for doing baptism via sprinkling.

The set-dressers for the show "Kings" added some really cool tree-shaped free-standing candelabras. I hope the chancel guild of the church was paying attention!

Here are some more photos of St. Peter's Lutheran...

And, yes, that organ is a "Tracker."


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Betsy's Return

Yesterday Betsy's flight was delayed many times. She didn't finally step through the sliding glass doors of international arrivals at Toronto Pearson until about 12:10 A.M. last night! I greeted her there with a poster that said "Yeah Betsy!" and had various slogans on it like, "It's all Greek to her," and "The icon of loveliness," and so forth. We were both utterly exhausted when we got home, so both decided to take it easy today. I have a couple of things to do at work, but have basically decided that this morning belonged to me and the wife and I haven't seen in nearly two months!

Anyway, we are safe and sound and together again. When I left her Betsy was alternating between light housework and watching some talk show called "Motherhood."

Today I've got an ARC meeting. And have been fielding a few e-mails and phone calls.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


It was a brief but nice stay in New Jersey. My mom had some of her friends over for a baby shower in our honour. My sister, brother-in-law, and their son were able to make it over from Manhattan. My other sister and her family, however, were unable to make it due to illness. Betsy and I received some nice gifts, including a "Moses Basket" that will go great in my office. There we some baby clothes, too, and a nice go-bag for daddy.

It was important to me to go to St. John's on Sunday. This is my "home" parish--the one that sponsored me for ordination some years ago. Right now they have a priest-in-charge while they figure out whether they can afford a full-time Rector. Like many parishes, they are dealing with the fact that the neighbourhood has changed dramatically since the parish was founded in the 1850's by British immigrants brought in to work the mines. These days Dover, the town, is largely spanish-speaking. The previous Rector, Maggie, established a spanish language service in the afternoon, but it is not yet self-sustaining financially.

My mom had told the priest-in-charge that I would be coming on Sunday morning, but I didn't plan or wearing a collar or participating in the service except as a parishioner. I wore my Utilikilt and a white oxford with the sleeves rolled up. Needless to say, I was the most comfortable person sitting in that unairconditioned old building! At the peace Fr. John asked whether I wanted to come to the chancel. I agreed and went up, assuming that I just be a communion minister distributing the sacraments. As we got to the altar he said, "you do the wine and I'll do the bread?"

"Sure," I said, still thinking about distributing them.

"Ok, in that case I'll say the prayers from the Sursum Corda through the words of institution for the bread, and then you can take it from there to the Lord's Prayer."

"Oh!" now it struck me that he wanted to me co-celebrate with him. I excused myself momentarily to go to the sacristy to get a stole. I'm sure I looked kind of odd in my white oxford, gray kilt, sandals, and green stole! Oh, well!

As it happened, Fr. John was using "Rite I Holy Eucharist"--which my Canadian parishioners would recognize as being similar, but not the same, as the 1929 Prayerbook. I haven't said this Rite in probably 6 years! Remarkably, however, it was still in my head. I was able to read through the difficult Elizabethan style language with hardly a trip. All the while I kept thinking about Rowan Greer in seminary and trying to remember the manual gestures he would do with this prayer.

I've never done co-celebration like this. The usual pattern is more like "concelebration" in which the Assisting priests join the Presider in saying the words of institution in unison. We used to do this at St. Mary Magdalene's, for example. I'd have to check with my liturgy wonk friends about the pros and cons of the two styles.

Interestingly, the choreography at the altar was very smooth. Fr. John pointed to the text so I wouldn't loose my place (a very nice courtesy for the Presider), and when we switched off being in front of the altar it was quick and smooth. And the more conservative liturgy minds out there will appreciate that St. John's uses an East-facing (priest's back to the people) altar. After the service people said they really appreciated seeing me celebrate. It was special for me, too.

Bede came down from the monastery. He has known my family for a long time, so he enjoyed catching up with my mom. He headed off to New York after visiting with us to see two of the brothers that live there.

On Tuesday I packed the car (fitting the shower gifts in meant unpacking everything and then repacking it). Eight hour drive from NJ to Toronto. I talked my way through the border without much fuss. The house was in good shape. Our housesitters did a good job of cleaning it in anticipation. The tomatoes on the back deck are almost ready for picking. My kitties we a little confused, but glad to see me.

Pizza for dinner. Fitful sleep (indigestion from eating beef jerky for lunch?). Got up early for the Contemplative Eucharist this morning.

Here is a wonder: my Contemplative Eucharist service has grown substantially in my absence! I had asked Anne Croswaith to do the service this last month and I'm really glad I did. Suddenly that service grew from three or four to seven or eight! Most of the new people are from a particular Centering Prayer group that has heard of what I'm doing. I'm very pleased to have them.

Today I've set up my computer again and am just settling in to answering e-mails and taking care of urgent projects. This PM I'll pick up Betsy from the airport.

Feels good to be back!


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arrival in NJ

I managed to do a lot yesterday, but the amplifier is still not complete! Everything requiring a drill press on a table saw is done. Sawing 1/16 inch stainless steel sheet metal with a metal-cutting blade on a table saw is a pretty impressive sight. Lots of sparks! As far I can tell, the blade for this purpose is some kind of high-tech fiber with diamonds in it. Very cool. someday I would like to replace the stainless steel sheet with brass, but brass is a lot more expensive and difficult to find. I was frustrated that I didn't have enough time to finish the project, but I'll able to do that when I get home.

The final interview is done. I now have plenty of footage to put together some fantastic content. If I end up needing anything more, I can simply ask one of the monks to record it with their camera and send it to me. Several of the monks are interested in photography and I'm sure some stuff will come out of it.

Two of the monks and I met about the website I introduced them to the first, very basic iteration of the PHP-based content management tool I've been building. At this stage it's really just a web-based HTML editor. Not the most user-friendly thing on earth! I've been working on creating PHP functions that "read" (actually, "parse") the HTML content and present the data in a more friendly way, but it's pretty tedious work!

Still, at least the monks will be able to change the content without my help! I can refine the tools as we go along.

Packing up was a challenge. The monks gave me about six boxes of books for the ARC back in Toronto (the library I'm helping to found). These books were left over from Br. Michael Stonebreaker, a monk who passed away last year. Incidentally, someone else promised to give me a few boxes of books as well, at some point, so our library is already starting to grow! When I get back to Toronto I need to make an effort to get that project going again.

Between the boxes of books and all my stuff the car was nearly full and I was totally exhausted. I was a little worried about driving in such a tired condition--but three red-bulls and a CD with Mickey Avalon was enough to keep my awake! I arrived and had a pleasant supper with my sister's family and my mom. Sipping Grand Marnier in my grandpa's old chair by the hearthy, I started nodding off until my mom suggested I might just want to go to bed! Eleven hours of excellent sleep the same room I had in high school.

Today we are having a party. We all seem to be alternating between preparing for the party and playing with my nephew Charlie! He's such a wonderful, happy kid. It makes me hopeful that our child might turn out okay!


Friday, August 14, 2009

Freaky Friday

I was up all night last night. First, spending precious time with Bede. Then, in the workshop fabricating the metal bits of my amplifier project. This project is turning out to be more difficult than I imagined--but I'm certainly learning a lot. The value of a good table saw and drill press, for example! I working so hard on it right now because I want to get it completed before I leave for New Jersey to see my mom. Once I leave, I won't have easy access to these tools. I suppose that since the major fabrication is done I might be able to finish without a workshop, but I just as soon get the damn thing built while I have my work spaces set up, etc.

Also today I have one last interview to do, a short list of B-roll to shoot that I haven't gotten already, a session with the monks to go over some final details about the website, and then packing up all my crap (and there is a lot of that).

Even as I write this I realize I'm going to have to drop something. Either I spend another night here (disappointing my mom), or else something doesn't get done. Sigh.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Winding Up

I leave Holy Cross tomorrow. It hardly seems like I've been here for more than a week or two. Probably the two side-trips I took (to NYC and to North Carolina) contribute to that sense the time here has been brief.

In the first few days when I arrived we had a community meeting to talk about what I wanted to accomplish viz. the website. I've actually managed to do most of that, though plenty still remains. Notably:
  1. Redo the Order's website
  2. Set up a Content Management System
  3. Establish a social networking tool for Associates
  4. Add videos to the website

I've made progress on each of those, but they are daunting tasks. Setting up a content management system, for example, has turned into building my own from scratch in PHP (a programming language). So first I had to learn PHP! Progress in developing the tool with which Holy Cross monks will be able to edit data online is steady but tedious.

Producing a series of videos is another example. I've interviewed almost all the monks and a few friends and Residents. There are only a few left to do today and tomorrow. That means about 12 hours worth of interviews in the can. Then consider that I taped all these interviews with two cameras (for two different angles) and used my digital audio recorder as back-up--so that's a total of 24 hour of interview footage, plus another hour of B-roll, plus about 10 hours worth of footage of liturgies. When I get back to Toronto I should easily have enough for six or seven 12-15 minute videos! Yikes!

But when I first sat down with the monks I was aware that it would be unlikely that I would complete everything on the wish list during my stay. It gives me something to do when I get home, I suppose. And in truth, most good websites keep evolving, anyway. The only way it would have been possible for to have completed everything on the list would have been a death-march like effort that would have left me exhausted and haggard when I should be feeling relaxed and inspired from my time here.

So do I feel relaxed and inspired? Yes, I do believe I am. In a few minutes I'm saying Mass in the chapel. I'm looking forward to that. Then I have an interview to do. I'm also hoping to complete my amplifier today. Yesterday I spent about five hours working the wood to create the enclosure. Because the workshop here is very hit-or-miss when it comes to even basic tools, I had to do a lot of improvising. Even simple tasks like cutting a straight line with a table saw was made difficult! So today I should be able to stain the wood and then, hopefully, do final assembly.

There is a saying that the benefits of retreat are gained in the last few minutes before it ends. Certainly this last week or two I've felt very much at home here. I think "the house" and I have re-established our relationship on new terms. There was nothing wrong with the old terms of that relationship, except that they were old and therefore in need of renewal. The benedictines say, "And always we begin again." I've had to build up relationship with some new people and refresh other relationships that I've had for many years. So it goes.

One of the Brothers asked me when I'm coming back. As it turns out, I'll be back in September with my confirmation group. That will be only a weekend, but it will be great, I'm sure. After that, who knows. The baby will determine a lot of my schedule come December.

So tomorrow I'll pack up. But today there is still a lot of work to do!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Frog Legs

I thought you all would appreciate this--me trying Frog Legs for the first time. The community wanted to thank me for redoing their website, so Bede and Bernard took me out to Peekamoose for a very special meal. Peekamouse is an amazing restaurant near Woodstock that serves some of the best food I've ever had--no exageration. I would match it any day with the best places I've eaten in New York, Los Angeles, and even in Nice, France!

So when I saw Frog Legs on the menu I just had to give them a shot. My impressions are below...


Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Unusual Vespers

Long Retreat is over, we are all talking now. I'm glad for it, myself! Matins and Eucharist in the morning, of course, and then the monks and I went out to a diner for brunch. People were in a good mood. Now that Long Retreat is over about half the monks of the house are taking vacation time. Some have already left (but not without giving me hour long video taped interviews, first!), but for lunch it was decided to go out to a diner. In the afternoon I took a nap before Vespers.

Vespers was remarkable for several reasons. First, a storm come on. Between having the windows open and the rain hitting the roof, it was quite loud. Just before the Angelus bells rang, Bede told us that the incense he would be burning was a slightly different variation of the scent oils--he wanted feedback about how we liked it. As the bell rang and we started the Office a family came into the chapel. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a woman with a kid in arm crossing herself with holy water as she entered.

As the family settled in, I could sense that the community was a curious, by they seemed so natural and self confident that I thought that they were probably related to one of the monks, and were planning to go out for dinner or something (Sunday night are often a convienient time for that kind of thing). It was a husband and wife and two boys, perhaps as young as 5 and 8. As it turns out, they have NEVER been to Holy Cross before. The husband is a professor at Vassar and his wife is from France. They have been aware of Holy Cross for sometime, and have been checking out the website. Something inspired them to come on this particular day, for some reason, and we received them graciously. The boys did extremely well for such a quiet service, and I think we were all delighted to have them. Of all the Offices that happen in the course of a week, I think this is the one I would pick to take young kids. Sunday Vespers is always pretty relaxed--the mark of the end of the week and the beginning of sabbath rest. The next Office isn't until Tuesday. Almost every guest has left by Sunday Vespers, so it is usually just the monks and residents at Vespers.

So between those three things--new incense, the rain storm, and the family--it was a very energized Vespers!

BTW, I've interviewed about half the monks, now. Lots of really excellent material!


Red Heads and Pain

Did you know that people with (naturally) red hair require higher doses of anesthesia and other pain killers to have the same effect as people with blond or black hair? Apparently the same gene mutation that causes red hair also effects the performance of various drugs:

The MC1R gene belongs to a family of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain, and as a result, a mutation in the gene appears to influence the body’s sensitivity to pain. A 2004 study showed that redheads require, on average, about 20 percent more general anesthesia than people with dark hair or blond coloring. And in 2005, researchers found that redheads are more resistant to the effects of local anesthesia, such as the numbing drugs used by dentists. (NY Times)

As a result, Red Heads have a statistical tendency to avoid dentistry.

As an aside, when I was at the hospital I noted that pain management was often a weak spot in medical care. Doctors are often nervous about prescribing narcotic pain killers, even in a hospital setting. God help you if someone writes "drug seeking" on your chart! I remember one doctor who became suspicious of a patient simply because that patient asked for a specific drug with a specific dosage, never mind that this person has a painful chronic condition and had been through hospitalizations enough to know what worked to control his pain, in this case knowledge worked against him. There have been a lot of studies that have concluded that many (by no means all) doctors under-prescribe to treat pain, probably because there are no objective metrics clinically available to quantify pain. As a result, they end up asking that "On a scale of 1 to 10" question, which honestly seems lame to me. People have no reference point. Better to ask, "Do you think you are in more pain today or less?"

Honestly, I was also very suspicious of the class and racial bias that may exist in pain management. I knew a black woman with Charcot Marie-Tooth that has some real horror stories of what it was like to present herself at an emergency room asking for help with pain from her condition. She is currently working on a timely documentary about how race affects medical care in this country.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Monastic Mass

I said Mass for the monks this morning. It was the second time this retreat I've had that honour, and only the third time in my life. I arrived early in the sacristy and made sure that the sacristans and server had done their jobs (they had, to perfection), so I put on my alb and cinture and paced on the "Lesser Cloister." The Lesser Cloister is one of my many favourite spots around here. It is a colonnade portico open on the river side. It's easy to find yourself on a bench there, gazing through the arches at the Great Oak that sits in the courtyard between the Church and the Guest House. Beyond the Oak is the ever-present Hudson River and beyond that is Hyde Park. Betsy and I had the receiving line of our wedding on this cloister. I'll never forget the antipasti-style table that rewarded those patient enough to stand in line to great us: local cheeses and freshly-made pickled hot peppers (my request). Our caterer, Claudia, was incredible.

Pacing in this lovely spot, I wasn't particularly concerned about the upcoming liturgy. It's simple enough, what Anglo-Catholics might call a "Low Mass." No sermon. No singing. Just the Eucharist. On my mind, instead, was the first Mass I ever said. It was in the Holy Cross Chapel, too, and much like the one I was about to say. I wanted to say my first Eucharist here because the place had been so important to my vocational discernment and priestly formation, and I like full circles. I'll never forget the nervous energy, yet the calm inevitability of it all that was also present. How natural most of it felt.

Douglas, OHC, was my Deacon. He was Prior, then, and has now gone on to his reward. I chose Douglas for many reasons. I wanted to involve him, I knew it would mean a lot to him, and I knew, also, that he would do an excellent job patiently keeping me on track. He has stood beside many a nervous seminarian before.

Indeed, when I was about to make my one mistake of that day, presenting the gifts before doing the fraction, he gently touched my side to correct me before I could misspeak. Now that's a Deacon!

He passed away a few years ago, after I moved to Canada, but I find myself thinking a lot about him on this retreat. The only other monks who have been here every time I've been here are Bede and Ron. Most of the rest are at other houses of the Order, or perhaps decided they weren't called to monastic life after all.

So I paced back and forth a bit more, thinking about Douglas and about death and architecture. I thought about how these buildings make me feel. Even though the oldest among them only dates to the 1900's, they make me feel more connected to something ancient than say, The Cloisters in NY or the ruins of great monasteries in Europe I've seen. I think that's because the monastic life is still happening here, and that somehow soaks into the stone, brick, and wood. I can just look at the stone work and feel something. "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40).

Five minutes to Mass. I went into the sacristy and put on the stole and chasuble the Sacristan had selected for me. Just then, my glasses broke. A polycarbonate lens clattered to the floor. Not enough time to go back to my room and put in my contacts. I tried a quick repair with the edge of a scissor blade, but it wasn't quite the right shape to catch the tiny screw head, and my pocket knife (which I know works for this), was back in my rooms. I decided simply to say the Mass without my glasses. I'm nearsighted, anyway, so I don't need my glasses to read prayers.

When I sat down in the choir I felt very relaxed and, well, priestly. The feeling continued. I timed the silences by saying the Jesus Prayer in my head. I noted that I couldn't see people's expressions without my glasses, but I could read without straining too much.

I said a collect to the prayers of the people from memory. Once at the altar I felt totally at home. My manual gestures were intentional, unhurried, and expressive of the theology of worship that suits this place and suits me: precise and intentional, neither rigid nor fussy. Smooth like good scotch, with just a touch of bite. When I was learning priest-craft I used to practise setting the Eucharistic table over and over and over again. I watched videos of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and reflected about the most direct and best way to, say, cup the chalice with one hand to wipe out the interior with the other. In the seminary chapel I used to study and critique the various styles of manual gesture that our professors would use when they celebrated mass. Rowan Greer's humility and respect for the tradition. Marilyn Adam's extemporaneous genuis. Brian Spink's minimalism.

Since then, and since saying my first Mass at Holy Cross some six years ago, I've done this probably a few hundred times, and most of the movements I worked so hard to learn are now mostly automatic. Still, when someone else is celebrating I almost always watch their hands. You can tell a lot about a priest by his or her hands.

After that first Eucharist six years ago, I stood in the chancel and gave blessings individually (an old tradition). A few of the people who came forward also kissed the palms of my hands (an even older tradition). It was a tender moment. It made me think about one of my favourite prayers when I was in college. I used to put my hands, palms down, on the Holy Table (they would never call it an altar) in the college church and pray that God would make them instruments of healing. A dangerous prayer, be careful what you ask for!

The monks' hands as they came forward to receive--so different from each other, not alike at all. One monk sort of rolled his hands out like they were flower petals. Another seemed to make them incredibly flat. Yet another didn't receive at all due to an allergy, but instead bowed and bid a blessing.

At the credence table doing ablutions, I looked Mary in the eye through a very old icon. This particular icon was once stolen from the monastery by an overzealous Orthodox Christian--"Anglicans don't deserve Icons"--his parish priest brought it back with apologies.

Walking back to my bench. Feeling the patient silence. So natural was the walk that I could have closed my eyes and found my seat my intuition. No need to remind myself not to walk too fast, the pace to walk was there. Right there, in my body. A monastic walk.

More silence. My thoughts drift for a moment and I bring them to heel with the Jesus Prayer timed to my breath. I brought my attention back to the room, was anyone restless? No, just the vastness of the silence. I took another breath. It felt right to end, so I stood up and said the closing prayers. Back in the sacristy I looked up at the crucifix above where the celebrant vests and was moved to pray a particularly heart felt set of petitions, then I carefully put the vestments away.

The last few days of the "Long Retreat" have been very intense for me. All this silence is really starting to shift and transform things for me. Yesterday I almost cried when Father Superior poured my a glass of water at supper. We didn't say anything to each other, of course, he just saw me reaching for a glass and went ahead and filled it with the pitcher he was holding. No need to say thank you, he understood I was thinking it. I also got a little teary when Br. Jim gave an amazing Tranfiguration sermon. It was personal but relevant, and like the best sermons makes Christ's presence felt as much from the "how" it was delivered as the "what" of the message. In the afternoon I felt both sick and tired, so I went down for a nap and couldn't rouse myself for Vespers. I'm not required to go to Offices, of course, so I'm trying not to reproach myself too much for this.

This is deep stuff. Yesterday I thought about how this retreat has been uniquely challenging to other times I've been here for extended periods. The last time I was here there were three of us "Residents" in the guest house, and we had quite the little confraternity going. Lots of mutual support. We shared common challenges and joys. But this time the only two Residents on the property are up in the gate house, so I mostly only see them at meals and liturgies. Being here for an extended period as a Resident or even a long-term guest is a lot harder than most of the monks realize. On their side of the cloister they have patterns and relationships that support them. On this side of the cloister you have to improvise. Since the monks have been in silence for more than a week, I haven't been able to get that support from them, so I've tossed it up to the Holy Spirit. She makes a pretty good Spiritual Director, as it turns out, but demanding.

The food has been a nice consolation to my spirit. Edward, the cook, outdid himself for several of the meals we've had during this Long Retreat. The warm scallop and greens salad he made on Thursday was so good I had to go out of my way to tell him so, despite the silence! We had a homemade cheesecake with local raspberries last night that was to kill for. Still, I've made a rule not to go for seconds, and have even managed to loose a pound or two.

Things swing back toward "normal" tomorrow. I'm hoping to have a nice long talk with a couple of folks before they head of for their vacations. (Yes, monks take vacations, too!) I'm also looking forward to sharing some of my experiences from this retreat with them. I'm sure they have stories to tell, as well!


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Colder Room = Better Sleep

I know this is true! From the NYTimes:
Studies have found that in general, the optimal temperature for sleep is quite cool, around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. For some, temperatures that fall too far below or above this range can lead to restlessness.

Temperatures in this range, it seems, help facilitate the decrease in core body temperature that in turn initiates sleepiness. A growing number of studies are finding that temperature regulation plays a role in many cases of chronic insomnia. Researchers have shown, for example, that insomniacs tend to have a warmer core body temperature than normal sleepers just before bed, which leads to heightened arousal and a struggle to fall asleep as the body tries to reset its internal thermostat.

For normal sleepers, the drop in core temperature is marked by an increase in temperature in the hands and feet, as the blood vessels dilate and the body radiates heat. Studies show that for troubled sleepers, a cool room and a hot-water bottle placed at the feet, which rapidly dilates blood vessels, can push the internal thermostat to a better setting. (source)


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Project Updates

Betsy completed the difficult and worrisome trip across the border into Macedonia (FROY) yesterday (Thessaloniki to Ohrid). It was mainly scary because there was so little information available about how to make this trip. We couldn't even get maps for her GPS. When all was said and done she made the trip safely and even met a few fellow travellers who helped with translation and advice. You can read about the train adventure on her travel blog. I was particularly amused by the giant bath towel origami swan that was waiting on her hotel bed.

One of the really neat things she told me when we last spoke a few days ago is that she can now feel the baby moving--no doubt about it. In fact, she was at a hotel pool one day and looked down and could see the little mossling pushing against her belly and making its shape change. This was a big relief for her, and for me. Something about being able see and feel the baby moving is very reassuring!

I'm pretty well recovered from my trip and have been working very hard on two major projects--the HCM/OHC Websites and my tube amplifier. I've been blogging more about the website, but the Tube Amp has seen good progress as well. The only problem is that I keep finding myself missing small but critical parts. The sort of rare and specific stuff that you can't just pick up at Radio Shack. (Ever searched through bins looking for a 47uF 250V Capacitor?) Luckily there are lots of websites on line for buying these kinds of odd parts.

"Didn't your kit come with everything I needed to make a tube amp," you might ask? Sure, it came with everything I needed but not everything I wanted. The initial design is so simple and open to improvement and modification that it is very difficult not to tinker. So at the this point I'm doing all kinds of mods like upgraded transformers, capacitors, and the potentiometer, substantially modifying the AC/DC conversion part of the circuit, and making other changes, as well. For instance, in the original design the inrush current into the four vacuum tubes is uneven, they sort of start glowing in sequence rather than in parallel. This is because, effectively, the circuit trace on the PCB connecting these tubes and providing the electricity to the "heaters" is too thin. Solution--connect the last pair of these pins with the first pair of these pins, thus giving the juice a more even in-rush. Another tip, adding small capacitors between each pair of heater pins to even out juice. But making these mods I just mentioned required some very intricate soldering work. So far all my solders have checked out with an ohms meter--but I do wonder how much time I'm going to have to spend debugging this amp!

I spent a good part of today scanning old photographs from the Order's archives. More of that do. lots of downtime as the scans commence, so I'm reading David McCullough's book 1776 to fill the time.

The Monastery is very quiet. Silence reigns as everyone is on retreat. Quite nice, actually, though I am looking forward to things getting social again.


Monday, August 3, 2009

My Wife the Photographer

Unpublished icon w/ revetment, 14th cent (?), Benaki Museum
Unpublished icon w/ revetment, 14th cent (?), Benaki Museum

Betsy is finished with her language programme in Athens, so the second part of her trip (research) has begun. That means travelling, mostly by herself, all over Greece and into Macedonia (the part that is in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, not the province in Greece). You can read about the details of her trip on her travel blog.

Before she left we bought her a second camera, a discrete little point-and-shoot canon sureshot along with a small tripod. It honestly seemed a little redundant to me to bring two digital cameras, but they have turned out to be very complementary. For instance, when visiting sites she has often given a friend her point-and-shoot while she takes charge of the DSLR. Also, there is a lot of sensitivity in some places about looking too professional when you are taking pictures of the art. In low light situations it simply isn't practical or advisable to try to set up the DSLR for a tripod shot. The point and shoot, on the other hand, can be deployed quickly and discretely.

She has been taking hundreds and hundred of pictures of churches like this one:
Panagia Koubelidiki
Panagia Koubelidiki

as well as some more artistic shots like this one:
Lake Kastoria at sunset
Lake Kastoria at sunset

I'm very proud and her and her pictures. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of them when she returns...


Charlie and the Chicken

Here's another video of my sister's family visiting my dad and his wife. They have a number of semi-feral chickens that run around the place eating bugs. Here, with Mary Lou's help, Charlie learns how to pet a particularly tame hen.


Dad's Engine

My sister and brother-in-law are visiting my father out it Hawai'i. My dad likes to restore old engines--by which I mean old farm/industrial engines of the type used to pump water or run mills, etc. Here is footage and explanation as he starts up a 1931 Fairbanks-Morse engine which he has restored at attached to a generator. He can run his whole house and the guest house on this engine quite efficiently. The start-up procedure at the minute mark is pretty neat. Basically you just give in a shove and it starts running. There no electricity in this engine whatsoever. It was built to be tough as nails, too, this thing spent many decades rusting the tropical weather before my dad got a hold of it and restored it.

And people wonder where I get my technical bent!


Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Southern Wedding Weekend

I know I haven't been blogging much during this down time. It's partly because I've been very busy between prayer, Tay-time, website development, and then just this past weekend with a wedding I did in North Carolina. Normally, I would not have consented to take a wedding during the middle of my vacation time, but it was an old friend (more than 13 years) and you just don't turn those down. I just got back to the monastery a few hours ago, and my body feels like I was in a fight.

It was a real Southern wedding, complete with Antebellum plantation backdrop, mint juleps, and the sort of stories and drama that you could never make up. Alas, a lot of it is not blog-safe, but I will tell some stories about it eventually ;)