Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Psalm 201: Let Them Praise Eric

Here's us having a little fun at the Choir/Chancel Guild Christmas party this year. Betsy and I wrote a little psalm to honour Eric. He took it well.

Psalm 201: "Quam decorus es vestri induviae"

For Eric
Tone 2.1

Antiphon: Let the peoples sing praises,
let them präise Eric.

How beauteous are thy vests,
with buttons and brocade they sparkle.

In colors liturgical and festive,
the gaudate is so gay.

Music by Marilynn, harmonies by Howells,
so hard to teach,
a–vert thine eyes.

All things bright and Anglican,
all music right and li–be–ral

No ornament meets your ire,
nor doth the zimbestern offend.

Thy stomach is so sensitive,
it cannot abideth Lad–y Gaga.

Thy status ever changeth on Facebook,
yet thy repertoire var–i–eth not.

The church rolls from generation to gener–a–tion,
yet the Golden Girls di–eth off.

Blanche no more goeth forth,
nor does Dorothy go–eth out.

Thy library is so large,
yet thy librarian is so dwarfish.

The canticles of thy prayers are numbered,
beyond the days of thy life.

Thy cassock fits so snug,
God mistaketh thee for a curate.

Principle, chimney flute, trumpet, super octave, clarion, vox céleste,
the churches foundations shaketh much.

Thy phrasing is so sound,
no comma goeth un–noticed.

Let the peoples sing praises,
let them präise Eric.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Christmas is done, and I am mostly recovered. Still, I think getting away for a week and a half to the tropics is about what I need to return all the way back from the brink of madness.

The church had a very charming Christmas Pageant as the Liturgy of the Word on Advent IV (the last Sunday before Christmas). We've taken to calling it the "chaos pageant" to reflect the just-in-time nature of how we put it together. We tried, in past years, to do more sophisticated pageants with memorized lines or, at least, blocking. But we can never get nearly enough rehearsal time with our kids. So last year we created a format that would allow us to plug in the kids with as much flexibility and as little preparation as possible.

So, this year, we started off with the chairs in the square format we have been using for a few weeks, now. In the centre, on the rug, was the wooden coffee table from my office. Upstage and to one side was a rocking chair, a reading lamp, and one of those fake electric hearths.

As the pageant started, one of the grownups with a good reading voice comes out and sits down in the rocking chairs and starts reading the story of Christmas from a children's book. As he does so, the kids come out in costume to listen and sometime pantomime the action. The story is cut up with a series of thematically appropriate carols.

Henry, now twelve months old, got to play baby Jesus. We put a Moses-basket style cradle on top of the coffee table and he managed to lie in it for a few minutes. When he got squirmier the kids held onto him, which is he quite used to by now.

When the story was complete we announced the peace and cleared most of the set away. But instead of using hip-high altar to celebrate the Eucharist, I simply sat on a stool and used the coffee table. That way, the kids could gather around like we do for baptisms. Someone later noted that it was remarkable how comfortable the Messiah kids are surrounding me at the altar when I'm singing the preface and doing all those priesty things. It's a very "Messiah" style way to do things. I loved it.

Because I was sitting and the Deacon and Sub-deacon were sitting and the kids were sitting, it only made sense to have the congregation seated as well. On person said that really opened his eyes to an entirely new set of perspections of the sacrament. Cool.

That afternoon we had the annual Lessons and Carols service. Very nicely done, as always. I especially appreciated that it was all Messiah talent--to outside performers this year. It's a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Christmas Eve, itself, was intense as you would expect. Christmas Day had a light feeling. We had decided to do a BCP (that is, Canadian BCP) Traditional Communion Service. The language is beautiful, but there is a lot of it. It's also strange to get used to having the Creed before the sermon and some of the other idiosyncratic pieces. Still, I was pleased to note that Eric and I are perfectly capable of doing a well-executed, polished BCP Traditional Eucharist (with hymns, of course). Too bad attendance was so low.

The Sunday after Christmas also had sparse attendance. We anticipated this, but it still can be discouraging.

Meanwhile, at chez Moss, I was cooking up a storm. For Henry's birthday it was lobster (it's a Moss tradition to have lobster on your birthday). For Christmas Day we had goose, and Sunday Supper was cassoulet.

I was particularly proud of my first cooked goose. A little trickier than turkey, but it's a nice change of pace. I think I might actually prefer the meat of goose to turkey, anyway. Green beans, salad, and one of the best gravies I've made served as sides for this Christmas day feast. Sparkling white to drink. Creme Brulee for dessert.

Sunday afternoon we had Cassoulet. I made Anthony Bourdain's version--which is an epic undertaking. First off, I had to find a butcher with all the pieces. Grace Meats turned out to be perfect. Then, you have to prepare the dish over three days! The first of these is just to make a simple Duck Confit. That is a cool trick. There is a moment when you pour four cups or so of rendered hot duck fat into a dish with duck legs and rosemary and it all sizzles in the most appetizing way. Then you cook it in the oven for a long time, then it goes into the fridge where all that fat solidifies around the duck lucks to preserve them. Very cool.

Making the Cassoulet itself involved sauteing sausages in duck fat, cooking beans with pork belly, making a very cool paste from onions sauteed in duck fat and then pureed, and then layering these various meats and beans into a casserole dish for a long cook in the oven. Like I said, epic.

I might try doing this recipe again a few times and then posting it here with my modifications, as I did for the boeuf bourguignon recipe. But considering the time involved, I'd be curious how many people would try it when there are much simpler versions of Cassoulet available.

The beneficiaries of all this cooking were my wife's parents. They came up for the Christmas holidays and had a good time playing with Henry and eating. Henry's favourite Chistmas gift this year was probably the crawling tunnel they gave him.

Henry is finally getting over his bug. For a while he simply wasn't very interesting in food, but over the last few days his appetite has improved. I could hardly believe how much he packed away at lunch today. So then I offered him a bottle of big-boy milk for the first time, and he gobbled it right up without a blink. I've heard of people having trouble switching over to cow's milk from formula, but Henry has always been an adventurous eater.

Now... we rest.... some work, but mostly rest!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pasta with Ham and Mornay

Ever have leftover baked ham? This is a fantastic dish--fast, tasty, and mostly composed of ingredients you should have on hand. The nutmeg is a fantastic touch, but I would also consider playing around with a little white wine. Another direction would be to try mustard.

Pasta with Ham and Mornay Sauce

Serves 2

kosher salt
1 handful of spaghetti or fettuccine pasta
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 Cups hot milk
1-2 Cups cubed ham, cooked
1/2 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 Cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese
kosher salt
pinch white pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Bring a big pot of water with plenty of salt to a boil for the pasta. Put in the pasta around the same time you start the sauce. Keep checking the pasta as you make the sauce. Just before the pasta gets to al dente, drain it (but DON'T RINSE) and set it aside.

In a medium saucier or sauté pan melt butter on medium heat. As it begins to bubble, add the garlic. As the bubbling begins to subside and just as butter begins to change color, sprinkle on flour and whisk continuously to form a roux.

After about 2-3 minutes, but before the roux becomes too dark, slowly add the warm milk, still whisking constantly. (Hint, to make your hot milk, just microwave it in a pyrex measuring cup.) Once all the milk is incorporated, add ham cubes and bring back to simmer.

Once the sauce is simmering, take it off the heat and add the cheeses. Whisk continuously as the cheese melts. Once the cheese is melted, put back on medium heat and add salt, white pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Add the almost-cooked pasta to the pan and stir to coat pasta thoroughly. Bring to a simmer and heat until the pasta is finished cooking. Serve.

Optional garnish--freshly cooked bacon bits sprinkled on top.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas 2.0

An amusing video about how the nativity would be experienced in our own time.


Tay's Chicken Noodle Soup

This is an extremely adaptable and forgiving recipe. I improvised it based on what I had at hand, but you could adapt it. For example, by using dark meat or a whole chicken rather than white meat. And using Turkey stock was totally a product of necessity--we had some leftover in the fridge. So think of it more as a guideline...

Tay's Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4
2 Quarts Turkey stock
1 Quart Chicken stock
Bouquet Garni
Garlic Clove
2 Medium skinless bone-in chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
3 Medium carrots
3 Celery stalks
1 Small to medium onion
3 Tbs. Butter (in three slices)
1 Tbs. All purpose flour
12 Oz. package of egg noodles

Put you meat out on the counter so that it is room temperature before you get to the stage of prepping it.

Get the stocks simmering in a large pot on the stove over medium low heat. Add the Bouquet garni and garlic. If the stock is thin, allow a long time to reduce, otherwise, reduce to taste, adding salt and other seasonings to taste as it develops over the course of the following steps.

Preheat over to 400 degrees F. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts and place them breast-side-down in a 10" to 12" stainless steel (oven-proof) skillet. Put in oven.

Slice carrots, celery, and onion into relatively small (1/8") slices.

After about 15 minutes, beginning checking the chicken frequently. If you are uncertain, use a kitchen thermometer to check doneness--you want to take them out of the oven just this side of 175 degrees F at the thickest point. It's easy to over cook a chicken breast, so beware. When it's finished, remove and set aside for a few minutes (at least 5-10) before carving meat off the bone. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces and set aside. Put leftover carcasses and any pan juices in the simmering stock.

Put 1 Tbsp. butter into the skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter begins to bubble, add the carrots and saute until the carrots begin to brown slightly on edges. Pour them (and whatever liquid is left in the skillet) into the pot.

Put the next Tbsp. pat of butter into the skillet over medium-high heat to saute the celery and onion. When they become translucent, toss them and their juice into the pot.

Put the final Tbsp pat of butter in the skillet and turn heat down to medium-low. As the bubbling of the butter subsides and the color just begins to change, sprinkle flour onto the flour and begin to whisk. Cook this roux for about a minute, whisking continuously. Before it burns, laddle in a bit of the boiling broth and whisk it in. Incorporate another laddle-full of broth. You should see something like gravy in your skillet. Try to scrape off any of the charred bits from the pan.

Remove the two carcasses and the bouquet garni from the stock pot. The garlic clove can remain as a bonus for a guest. Pour the contents of the skillet into the stock pot. Add chicken pieces and egg noodles, too. Simmer for about 10 minutes until noodles are done. Correct spice balance of the soup as necessary.

Laddle into bowls and garnish with parsley.

Simmering your stocks long enough results in a ridiculously rich and delicious broth. Just be careful about ending up with something too salty. Salt should be added in increments throughout the development of the dish, not just all at once at the beginning or end.

Using turkey stock left over from Thanksgiving added an interest complexity to the dish, but was totally optional.

The roux added a little more thinkness and richness to the broth, but is also completely optional.
This was a good dish to serve on a blustering Toronto winter night with a sick kid in the house and a 24-hour fire in the living room!


Monday, December 13, 2010

Funeral II

Saturday there was another funeral. Although it was a member of my church, the family had a colleague from another parish do the funeral at a local funeral home. It was all rather strangely handled, but at the end of day I can't really go against the family's wishes. Still, I was invited to preach, at least. The service only lasted 20 minutes (the family didn't want any hymns or tributes/eulogies)--and liturgically was the diametric opposite of the funeral service we did for Daphne the week before.

It's quite remarkable to reflect on how varied funeral liturgies can be. They are probably the most contingent of all the liturgies we do regularly in church. Contingent on the family, contingent on the timing, contingent of the presider, contingent even on the weather! So much of what we do around death betrays our cultural location.

It was a pleasant enough funeral and the turnout from Church of The Messiah was strong. It was fine. My colleague was professional and polished, as was the funeral home staff (mostly).

I say mostly because of this odd thing that happened... After the reception Betsy and Henry and were poking around the showroom at the funeral home. We were looking at the caskets (yes, death is expensive) and the urns. Some of these are so cheesy I swear they are there as a kind of negative example to swing people towards a moderate, rather than budget, priced item. Anyway, we were poking around in there for a minute and one of the funeral directors walked in. "And who is this?" he asked looking at Henry.

"This is Henry," I said.

"Henry! Does Henry want to be a funeral director someday? Henry, do you want to see the basement? We have an operating room down there. But it's not very pretty, it's kind of old and yucky, actually...."

Betsy and I agreed, in the car, that this guy was just creepy. I had heard before that the "operating room" at this particular funeral home is a positively medieval affair that hasn't been modernized since the 1950's. Morgues and places like that are frankly creepier in person than they are in the movies and TV, and old ones are triply so.

Sidebar. Morgue sets are expensive to build, so a lot of the police shows you see on TV actually shoot those scenes in real morgues. Also, the morgues in the hospitals I've worked at aren't marked "morgue." Instead they usually have some innocuous title on the door like "Storage" or "Room B204." You could write an interesting paper about how the hospital architecture denies death.

Sidebar #2. Here is a counter example, however. At Yale-New Haven Hospital we also a "Bereavement Room" near the ER. When someone died up in the regular hospital rooms we would do viewings with the families up there, but if someone died in the ER we would move them to this room. The Emergency Department is a busy place with little privacy, and the hospital administrators would just as soon turn around the beds as fast as possible, anyway, and a proper viewing can take an hour or two. So YNHH had a special room where we could put the deceased and their families. It was great, we loved it. They something similar in Newborn ICU. This an example of a hospital really understanding how to handle death in a healthy way.

Anyway, that was the second Messiah funeral in as many weeks. I've told some of my leaders that I think we should have some notes set aside for each of our older members, just in case. We should have a list of whom to call, for instance.

After the funeral I visited a Messiah kid who is in the hospital. I found it more difficult than I usually do. Hard to see a kid in the hospital. My mind wanted to picture what I would do if Henry was in that bed. Ah, "Transference!" learning to deal with transference is a critical skill in pastoral care. Anyway, it was a good visit.

On Sunday I was struggling a bit. I was just off my game and making all kinds of mistakes. For example, I failed to remember or notice that this is the one Sunday a month when we do Anointing for healing during Communion. The Chancel Guild hadn't noticed, either. So I had just starting giving communion to the choir and when I got to Betsy she whispered, "Anointing?"

I briefly considered in my mind whether I should perhaps skip it this Sunday. Then I thought about all the people hurting in our community right now, including me, and decided to make it work. So I signaled to a priest who attends my church. He came up and took over giving communion like a pro. Meanwhile, I went to my office to grab my anointing oil (I had taken it with me to the hospital the day before). Back in the sanctuary, I went to a side area and began anointing people as they came up and knelt. More than usual. When it seemed that they were finished, and my two theological students were just doing the ablutions (cleaning up the dishes after the Eucharist), I signaled one of them to come over. "Have you ever anointed anybody?"

"No?" she replied as I kneeled in front of her.

"Ok, I'll be your first. Just makes the sign of the cross on my forehead with the oil and pray." Then I tried to remember the formula that I use for anointings. The formula I had just said about 15 times without hesitation, and it was gone. Just not in my head. Wow, I thought, I really am hanging out on the ragged edge. "Ok, I can't remember it. Just make something up." My student laughed. She then prayed over me just fine.

I needed it. I was struggling. What a weekend.

Today I did some Christmas shopping and some other errands. Made a stew for dinner. Also made a batch of Fish House Punch and did some Christmas decorating. Henry had to come home from Daycare early because of a fever, so Betsy and spent much of the evening caring for him. It's probably just a little cold.

Tomorrow it starts again!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Office Time

<----Begin Rant

The last two days I've been getting some static from folks outside the church community about the degree to which I am in the office at church.

So here's the deal.... I'm in the church office a lot. About 40 hours a week, in fact, NOT including work done off site. In truth I'm probably working 50-60 hour weeks, easily. But just because I'm not there on Mondays (my only day off, and even then I still work it sometimes against my better judgment), and Friday mornings (I have a standing meeting on Friday mornings), doesn't mean I'm hard to get a hold of. I'm on Facebook, Twitter, and email pretty much constantly. I have my cell phone on my hip (and the number is on the church's voice mail, website, my business card, and the bulletin), and I usually answer it unless I'm in the middle of meeting, one of my 3 or 4 weekly services, or am praying. If you stop by and my office door is closed but the light is on, it means I'm probably either meeting with someone about something important or working on something that requires my complete attention. Respect the closed door, please.

So I was pretty annoyed today when when one guy told me I was "a hard man to reach" and another was surprised that when he showed up at the church randomly and I wasn't there.

I said to the first guy, "Did you try my cell phone? The number is on the message of the church answering machine." He said, "I don't know what my associate tried." Sigh. You know that part on a church's voice mail where it says, "In case of pastoral emergency Father Tay can be reached at ....." Perhaps DEATH is such a case? Of course, I didn't point that out. Instead I went with the more pastorally appropriate response, "I'm disappointed that you proceeded without speaking with me...."

In the case of the second guy, a tradesman who needed to repair something, I simply had him wait five minutes so that I could walk back to the church to let him in. I had just walked home after already working seven hours without lunch and feeling ill from a cold. I had settled into a project in my office and home but dutifully put my shoes back on and trudged back to the church because he couldn't be bothered to call me before he showed up.

Some people (not parishioners, let me be clear) seem to think that clergy should keep banker's hours. That we should sit passively in our studies just waiting by the phone and our desks for someone to come by.

In fact, I should be spending less time in my office. I should be taking more meetings and having more coffees and lunches with people. Ministry is about ministry, not about being around in the office. Most of the time I'm in my office I'm by myself, doing e-mail and reading and either cleaning up from one event or preparing for another. I'm sorry, but stacking chairs and throwing out old bulletins is not the best use of my time, but I do it because it needs to be done. But the best parts of my day inevitably involve other people. Being a body available to let people in or answer phones is one of the least important things I do in a day.

Okay. 'Nough said.


End Rant---->

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Saturday was the funeral of a dearly beloved member of our congregation, Daphne Archer. Daphne was a spry 84 year old who loved to ring the church bell and tell anyone in ear shot what's-what. She had a thick accent betraying her Barbados roots, and loved to talk. She was surprisingly strong for her age, so it was a surprise when she died suddenly at home.

Everyone who thinks of Daphne thinks of her faithfulness, to family, to her work, and (naturally) to the church as well. So mother church returned the favour with a proper Anglican send-off. Funeral Mass and grave-side committal with lots of music and some high-church touches she would have appreciated.

I arranged the chairs "choir-style" in the church, rows facing each other across the nave. This has several advantages for a funeral. For one thing, people can see everything (particularly the coffin). Second, it provides more place for the coffin, whereas in many churches the chancel or crossing gets a little crowded when you put a casket in the space and gives the impression of imbalance. Third, because people are facing each other (across the casket, no less), it feels very warm.

The casket was processed into the centre of the space (sacred ministers leading the way). The Pascal Candle burned proudly by the her head. Moving liturgically-east is the ambo and then the altar. The sacred ministers sat behind the altar an bend set on a platform one step high. Because we had to accommodate so many (112), we put more chair rows on the open end of the rectangle, but these were angled in at 45 degrees. It was a nice, balance, comfortable affect over all.

When the casket first arrived I coordinated a few details with the funeral director. Then I met the body at the hearse and escorted it in while saying some prayers and psalms to the church lounge for a time of visitation.

I feel strongly, for myself, that I want to see the actual body of every person I bury. Part of this comes from the old-fashioned notion that you, as the presiding minister of the burial, are responsible for making sure the correct body is being buried. These days funeral homes rarely make that kind of mistake anymore, but it's not totally unheard of.

But the real reason I want to see the body is more existential or spiritual in character. One of the roles of the priest is to be the "secret keeper" for the congregation. And if the ceremony has a closed casket, then you have established a certain mystery or secret in the community. It's not a bad thing, but it is a power thing. The closed casket has a kind of gravity and power that functions. By peering into that mystery, you become a kind of witness on behalf of the community. I can assure anyone that we buried Daphne because I saw here, with my own eyes.

That said, this kind of approach isn't necessary. I certainly wouldn't tell a colleague or student that they must or even should view the body, merely that it is something to consider in developing one's pastoral ministry around death.

When I told the Funeral Director that I wanted to the see the body, he advised me against it. "I recommend that you remember her the way she was." That's funeral parlor code for, "It isn't pretty." I assured him that I had seen many dead bodies, even attended an autopsy once, and that I was okay with whatever might be in there. He was looking at my very straight... no doubt trying to assess what sort of man I am. He became a little more direct. "She had been dead a long time." "Yes," I said, "I realize that. But I feel that it is my responsibility to look at her before the funeral." Realizing that I was not to be dissuaded, the Funeral Director said that he would leave this up to the family.

That was fine with me. In fact, I had mentioned my desire to view the body during my planning meeting with the family. So they quickly gave permission without hesitation.

We created some privacy by closing the doors to the lounge. Then the Funeral Director opened the casket. It was Daphne, of course. And I could see that they had placed a prayerbook in with her. I would have asked them to place one inside if it hadn't been there already.

I only needed to give her a solid look, then I asked them to close it again. After that they opened the doors to the lounge and people came in to pay their respects. When it was time for the service itself, I met the coffin and the back of the church (which is also where the lounge is) and led the pall bearers down the aisle.

There were three sacred ministers for the service; myself, Father Mark from St. Thomas', and Rev'd Catherine, a Deacon who is also a Theological Intern assigned to be one of my students. The service itself was pretty much straight out of the BAS, with only a few minor variations. After a reading from Revelations and the singing of Psalm 23 and the Gospel reading ("I am the Good Shepherd"), a member of Daphne's family gave the Eulogy.

Eulogies at funerals are tricky. Many families wish to have a great many people come up and praise the deceased. But in my experience, it is far better to limit the number of eulogies. The problem with eulogies are, first off, that most people that give them aren't actually experienced with public speaking and the second problem is that eulogies often make a fond remembrance of the deceased, but don't really bring religion much into it. Susan, the eulogist for Daphne, however, was actually strong on both counts. She was a good speaker with a well written text, and she did bring in some nice spiritual content. It was one of the better funeral Eulogies I've ever heard, in fact, and I've heard quite a few!

My turn, next. The congregation wanted to applaud Susan, but restrained themselves. I understand their impulse to thank her, so I began my sermon by saying, "Let the people say, 'Amen.'" This being a mostly black congregation, I got an immediate and heart-felt "Amen!" Then I launched into my sermon.

A number of people have told that it was an excellent sermon. Certainly I felt "in the groove." It was mostly improvised based on a couple of land marks I knew I wanted to hit. But as I went along new rhetorical and theological avenues opened up to me. This is the most satisfying part of preaching extemporaneously, when you both know where you are going, are feeling your way to that place without labouring, and are also superbly aware that your congregation is with you all the way. I could feel the people with me. I looked at those I knew well, my parishioners, and I could tell they were listening with close attention. I looked at the people visiting and I could see them nodding and listening, as well. I even got a few muttered, "Amens" and "That's rights" that assured me that I was on the right track. I began by talking about Daphne's faithfulness and how it shows us a glimpse of God's faithfulness. But my real zinger was when when I said, "With Daphne, the conversation never stopped." Lots of nods. "She couldn't stop talking to us because she loved us." Then I talked about how with God, the conversation also continues, even through death. I felt great about that sermon, but the end of it my voice, already strained from a cold and several days of non-stop talking, was pretty much gone completely.

Luckily, I had already asked Mark to celebrate the Eucharist. Catherine and I deaconed for him. As Betsy said, "Mark gives a good Mass." Indeed, he was articulate in both word and gesture. Nice and clear and rich without being fussy at all. Perfect. It was also rewarding for me to note how my training of Catherine had paid off with her assisting another priest at the altar with high skill.

Many more people came up for communion than I expected. And after "the dishes were done," we had a liturgical dance piece done by one of Daphne's cousins. Originally the family had suggested we play the music for this dance over the speakers, but with Eric on piano and our cantor as vocal it was a far richer experience. The composition they chose started with Amazing Grace, but then added a few verses in a related, but different, melody composed by Chris Tomlin.

We took our places for the Commendation and listened the choir sing a Russian setting of the Kontakion ("Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints..."). More prayers, then we led the body out of the church. Fr. Mark and Catherine said their goodbyes. We shared a few comments of the sort priests and deacons share. "Good sermon." "Very nice sung preface." Thanks all around. I got a ride with the Funeral Director, and we had a nice talk on the way to the cemetery.

The worker at the Cemetery told me that although he was Roman Catholic, he had been to my church a few times as part of some ecumenical work he was doing at the time. It's a small world.

It was cold and very windy at the grave. They lowered the coffin and I said the committal service, which is blessedly brief. The Funeral Director kept trying to get me to use the little vial of sand he had for the ceremonial tossing of dirt on the grave. White sand. I'm not sure what that has to do with death. Dirt. A handful of dirt has a substance that is more than mere metaphor. We are actually burying this woman, not just making a gesture towards it.

While we sang favourite hymns from hymn sheets my music minister had helpfully prepared ahead of time, the workers prepared the grave and then people took turns with a real shovel putting real dirt on top of the coffin. When people had taken enough turns, a backhoe was brought in to complete the burial. By this time I was quite cold despite the Capa Negra (black cope) I borrowed from Fr. Mark. Capa Negras are a really great vestment to have, I must get one if I keep doing funerals in winter! The family, like Daphne, were from Barbados, and had no intention of leaving the grave until it was completely filled in. I appreciate this. In fact, I make it my custom to stay behind at committals until the grave it completely filled even when the family has gone on to the reception.

By this time my voice was completely shot. I sounded like a frog that had swallowed gravel. Nonetheless, I made a brief appearance at the reception and then accepted a ride from one of the funeral home's drivers. Before we parted company, the Funeral Director shook my hand and said, "You're a good man." I flashed back to his evaluative gaze a few hours before. Apparently I had passed his test.

As I relaxed on the car ride home I thanked my lucky stars, or perhaps God, that I had scheduled one of my parishioners to preach on Sunday many weeks before Daphne's death. Surely I could have preached today, but in all honesty I didn't have a lot left to give, and Brendan's sermon was excellent.

After I got home I spent some time with Betsy and Henry and baked up 200 chocolate chip cookies for the church's bake sale. Yeah, 200! Supper, a few pages of a Patrick O'Brien novel set in the 19th Century English Navy, then sleep. Blessed sleep. I dreamed about church, but they weren't anxious dreams. Just me working on different projects with different people. I would have rather dreamed of being on a Frigate in Indian Ocean chasing a French Squadron, but one doesn't get to choose one's dreams!

Woke up this morning feeling pretty good. Church went well--and now I'm going home to watch football!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Betsy and I are starting to think about our next trip--a long overdue trip to Hawai'i to see my dad, his wife, and the chickens, pigs, mongooses, coffee plants, and general green-stuff that is their home. To get in the mood, here's a brief video my sister shot of her son playing with a chicken at the farm: