January 12, 2009

I’ve got a hot cup of Earl Grey tea beside me and Hawaiian music on the CD tray; the soft plinka-plink of ukeleles makes the late-night work a little easier. One of the rabbits is snoring (actually it sounds like a squeak) but the beasties are all vegging out big-time. Outside, a big bright full moon has turned the patio into the color of a light snowfall, but as much snow and storminess as my family and friends back home in Massachusetts have been experiencing this winter, the opposite is true here in the Valley of the Sun.

It’s actually been a fairly tranquil winter around here. We had two cold nights the week before Christmas, and the beautiful red bougainvilleas that once created a lovely cathedral effect in my prayer grove got hit pretty good. Carmelo cut them back last week, and the grove now feels tiny and empty and barren like early December. The pool temperature has plummeted to a frigid 48 degrees; my guess is that’s about as low as it’s going to go this winter – we’ll see. We probably have another three weeks before the weather turns, and when it does it will turn fast. Believe me, it’s a short journey from the 65-73 temps we’ve been having lately to the 80s and 90s of March. And then the real heat will be just around the corner. That’s just the way it is around here.

But sitting out on the patio a little earlier today after talking with my parents and hearing about all the snow and cold in New England, it’s hard not to see this place as a little oasis in the desert. A patio with comfy wicker chairs, the pineapple lights above casting a soft warm glow, lots of green (if not flowers) around, the tiki bar lit in all its festive glory. This is exactly why people live in Arizona – they certainly don’t for the eight months starting in March!

While work occupies my activities at this hour my thoughts are on finding a church that fits my spiritual personality and identity. I attended Vespers at St. Thomas the Apostle Byzantine Catholic Church yesterday and it was about what I expected and remember from previous visits to Orthodox churches. I don’t know – as much as I’m in awe of the ancient liturgy and rituals (not to mention the incense!) there’s something inaccessible about the customs and litrgical practices of Orthodox churches (as compared to, say, Roman Catholicism and the western churches) that makes it difficult to see myself ever feeling comfotable and at home in an Orthodox church.

Of course, I don’t think God cares one bit if we’re comfortable or not (my guess is He’d rather we weren’t!), and while I’m not yet ready to put aside St. Thomas as a potential spiritual destination for this world-weary soul, there’s certainly some apprehension about committing myself one way or the other. I will say this – you certainly come out of Vespers at St. Thomas the Apostle feeling as if you’ve been to church! Whether or not I would ever be comfortable enough to make St. Thomas my “home” church, there’s something to be said for that, especially after the travesty of last week at St. Anne Catholic Church. We’ll see what happens…

What was nice about yesterday’s service was getting some holy water from the Jordan River for blessing our house and all the occupants in it. Of course, that means cleaning the house so it can be properly prepared for a blessing! Sigh. That’s the one thing about the New Year – any New Year – I dread: the thought of turning over new leafs equating to turning over dust cloths and brooms and mops and paper towels smelling of glass cleaner.

This is gonna be an interesting year.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:44 | Comments (3)
January 9, 2009

…courtesy of my good friend Bob Noftle (a.k.a., “Tightwad”), Yoko Ono’s wishes to the world for 2009. It’s a little too, um, how you say [eyes rolling], new age-y for my taste, but I guarantee it’s right up our friend Jana’s alley. Heck, it sounds like something right off her keyboard! 🙂

Still, anyone who can lay claim to composing songs with such titles as “We’re All Water”, “Felt Like Smashing My Face Through A Clear Glass Window”, and “What A Bastard The World Is” (still one of my all-time favorite song titles, BTW), albeit many years ago, ought to be listened to.

Besides, given the way 2009 has already started off, my feeling is that we’ll take all the positive vibes we can get right now. So enjoy!


Thank you, thank you, thank you
Our planet is healthy and whole
Every part of the planet is revitalized and healed.
We, the people of Earth
See clearly, Hear clearly, Think clearly.
Express and communicate our thoughts clearly
Spiritually, Mentally, and physically.
For the benefit of ours and other planets’
We make the right judgement, right decision, right move
at the right time and the right place
for ourselves and others.
We are now bathing in the light of Dawn
Standing in the Heaven we have created on Earth.
We now wish to share this Age of Joy
With all Lives in the Universe.
We are all one, united with infinite and eternal love.
For the highest good of all concerned, So be it.

Yoko Ono Lennon
31 Dec 2008
New Years Eve

Listen, far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade. But reading it again I have the same reaction as I did after reading it the first time. All I could think of is that marvelous scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” where Mr. Potter, after listening to George Bailey’s earnest plea for the future of the Bailey Building & Loan and the people of Bedford Falls, sits back in his chair and grumbles, “Sentimental hogwash!”

But that’s just me.

Thanks for forwarding Yoko’s greeting along, Tightwad. Intended or not, it gave me my first good laugh of the year. Happy New Year to you!

And to you too, Yoko. Hang in there, kid.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:19 | Comment (1)
January 7, 2009

…The next day after my less-than-satisfying St. Anne experience, I had chores to do. First, a stop at my silk flowers friend Hi at Hi’s Silk Flowers to buy yet another phony tree for my rearranged living room (and to wish him an early Chinese New Year), then a trip to Lowe’s for a new kitchen sink faucet. An in between, perhaps a couple of tacos at a little Mexican stand. Or so I thought…

Allow me to take a moment to mention Hi. Hi is Vietnamese, and he has this cool store filled with silk flowers and artificial plants and trees of every imaginable size, color and type. Not to mention the Chinese paintings and lithographs which are beyond lovely. Ya see, out here in the Valley of the Sun, the summers are so hot that the sunscreens on our windows can make it difficult to grow plants inside, and outside only the heartiest desert flora and fauna can take the incredibly hot temperatures. So Hi does a booming business for people like me who don’t have a green thumb and just want to see greenery inside and out all year long.

Anyways, Hi’s a friendly and outgoing guy – something you don’t see much of around these parts, believe me – and we always talk when I stop by. Sometimes I’ll stop by just to say hello, and he’ll never pressure me to buy anything. And he’ll always knock a few dollars off of anything I buy. So being around Hi is always a pleasant experience…

But I digress.

So I was in a good frame of mind after leaving Hi’s and heading towards Lowe’s (I guess you can call it a “Hi’s and Lowe’s” trip). Anyways, there I was driving down Gilbert Road (as I’d done only about a thousand times since arriving in this area) when out of the corner of my eye I saw a small gold dome with a cross on top that I had never noticed before. I immediately turned onto this tiny road to find this small church with a small brick tower topped with a gold dome standing in front of a medium-sized parking lot. No sign anywhere. It was strange to see this church standing there (like I say, I must have passed by it hundreds upon hundreds of times without ever noticing it before, and it’s less than a ten-minute drive from the house).

I pulled up in front and noticed a piece of paper tacked onto the light blue door, and now I’m intrigued. I got out of my car and went to the door. The paper sign said “St. Thomas the Apostle Byzantine Catholic Church”. I could hear voices inside, but the door was locked. I was just getting ready to head back to my car when the door opened and I found myself greeting several elderly ladies who were obviously closing up the church after Sunday worship.

The first thing they asked was my name and where I was from, and they offered me a leaflet and a church calendar. I was floored – between the two Roman Catholic and two Episcopal churches I had attended services at since arriving here in AZ five years ago no one had ever bothered to ask me that. These women were obviously schooled in welcoming people, something many churches seem incapable of doing well. After a few minutes of small talk and pleasantries, one of the women, her name was Virginia, asked if I would like to see the inside of the church, and she proceeded to give me the grand tour.

It was a lovely inside – fairly small, able to seat probably 150 or so if filled, lots of dark wood, with brightly painted icons in the Greek and Russian traditions all around. (Click on the gallery on the link above and you’ll see what I mean.) It was set up like your typical Orthodox church with the altar behind the screen and such, but rather than feeling imposing and stuffy, it felt warm, intimate, and monastic to me. Like an otherworldly place set amidst the real world.

Virginia mentioned that while the Byzantine Catholic Church worshipped in the Eastern tradition (something I’ve always loved but could never quite get a handle on) it was nevertheless in full communion with Rome. Now you’re talking!, thought. Heck, I could feel my heart begin to melt. And when she said that their Saturday 5 PM Vespers only attracted 9-10 people because of its monastic feel, well, it seemed as if some gigantic life tumblers were somehow clicking into place.

When Virginia asked if I wanted to meet their pastor, I declined. I didn’t want to press my luck. We ended up talking for about an hour, and all I can say is we found a certain kinship in each other’s spirituality. For her, it was all about living your life as Christ led you, and finding your own spiritual home in a sacramental church where worship and reverence for God was primary and the center of one’s larger spiritual life. Taken seriously but not to the point of rules and rigidity, and leaving plenty of room for the Holy Spirit to operate, if you know what I mean.

So I’ll give Vespers a try this Saturday, and then the Divine Liturgy on Sunday to see how the whole thing feels, then take it from there. I’m still amazed at how the whole thing went down between Saturday and Sunday, but I’ve never doubted that miracles do occur and God’s time is not necessarily our time. At any rate, and no matter what happens, 2009 is off to a very interesting start.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:23 | Comment (1)
January 4, 2009

The tree and decorations and window lights are all down. The New Year’s Eve turkey is on the verge of soup makings, and we’ve arranged some furniture to create a greater sense of space in our living room and dining room.

The new year has begun, and we’re off and running with it.

Of course, there are still some items left over from 2008 that still require attention in 2009. Like that pesky bathroom leak ever since the plumber performed open-heart surgery on one of our toilets Christmas Eve day. And that rapidly-disintegrating kitchen faucet that will finally be replaced after the bathroom leak is fixed tomorrow. And the new tires we were strongly encouraged to put on Tracey’s car ASAP by the Saturn service guy, also on Christmas Eve day – I just didn’t feel like forking over another $200-$300 dollars after forking over $1,200 on emergency repairs. But it still has to get done.

And then there’s the church thing. Over the past few months I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with the worship experience at St. Anne Catholic Church. Certainly the new music director there (I call her the “Music Nazi”) has a lot to do with it – while obviously talented, she just as obviously feels as if everyone must know she’s the Big Kahuna in charge of the music and the creative force behind it. But there are other things as well, and yesterday’s Mass pushed me, I’m afraid, to the point of no return.

The Feast of the Epiphany should have provided a joyful kickoff to the New Year, and I for one was willing to wipe the slate clean and worry less about the various distractions that had clouded the last months of my 2008 attendance there. The church was still decorated in all its Christmastide splendor – white linens, white candles everywhere, the two green Christmas trees in white lights and potted red pointsettas providing a gay and festive contrast. But right from the start I could tell the vibes weren’t right. First, while kneeling in prayer upon taking my seat, a couple intent on filling the space for only 1.5 people next to me plowed in and made room without so much as an ‘excuse me’. Then, the guy gets up and leaves, and the woman pulls a small set of scissors out og her handbag and proceeds to start trimming her facial hair! No lie.

More than a distraction, this woman was freaking me out. Thoughts raced through my mind. I asked myself, ‘What would Jesus do?’, and I the only reasonable answer I could come with was that he’d grab the damned scissors out of her hand and begin casting demons out of her. So even though Mass was now getting started (to the strains of “We Three Kings Of Orient Are”), I got up and made my way to the other side of the church. It was crowded as usual, so for a while I was content to stand in back and try to get my focus back on reverence and worship.

The Music Nazi had other ideas, however, for the Psalm for the day was sung (chanting the Psalms was one of the first casualties of the MN’s reign of musical terror, BTW) to a rockin’ 1980s-style ditty more appropriate for a pop tunesmith like Christopher Cross playing Vegas than a worship service. This clash of setting and musical style and selection – awkward, to be kind – was the MN at her most outrageous and bizarre.

Things got back in the box for a short time courtesy of a marvelous homily delivered by the visiting priest, but even this was destined to a bitter end. Although a bit lengthy in comparison to the usual 8-minute homilies given by Fr. Greg or Fr. Tim, it was nevertheless a finely-crafted, thought-provoking meditation on the Three Wise Men and our own faith journeys to God-With-Us. Just after he sat down following its conclusion, Fr. Greg suddenly appeared out of nowhere to deliver his own four-minute chat – this one on, of all things, stewardship!

Talk about a momentum-breaker! At one point he asked the congregation if any of us were to stop attending St. Anne would anyone notice. I couldn’t help but think that in my case – I’d been attending off and on for well over a year and had yet to be asked by anyone (not even Fr. Greg or Fr. Tim) my name, where I was from, or if I were interested in joining the parish or becoming a Roman Catholic – there was an obvious answer. I should have left then and there, but I didn’t.

The final straw was during the Eucharist, where it seemed to me that only thing that reigned was absolute chaos. A guitarist appeared to play some quiet and meditative tunes but his microphone wasn’t working, so now the MN was up and walking all around the back of the church, giving hand gestures to the choir to hook up another microphone. And then – undoubtedly because the Mass was running longer than it usually did after the extended homily and Fr. Greg’s stewardship talk – it seemed 1/3 of the parish was heading straight for the doors after receiving Communion. Not only was this incredibly bad form (after all, you’re not only treating Our Lord and Savior rudely but all those who are still receiving or waiting to receive His Body and Blood), but, given that this is the time I usually reserve for my own meditation since I don’t go up to receive, I was left to marvel at the madness of it all. I might as well have been sitting in the middle of Grand Central Station at rush hour.

If it seemed things couldn’t get any more chaotic, after the Eucharist the visiting guitarist who had just been playing walked up to the lecturn and proceeded to begin speaking about his own particular ministry (it was to Catholic families). You could visually see whatever patience the congregation might have had remaining disintegrate then and there. The poor guy was up there talking and now whole families, even whole pews, were getting up and leaving! Sure, the Mass was now running 20 minutes longer than it normally did, but the whole thing seemed utterly disrespectful and distasteful to me – a sentiment that didn’t change when the MN and band romped through two hurried verses of “Joy To The World” as if the only important thing was to draw things to as hasty a conclusion as possible.

Afterwards, driving over to a friends house for a post-New Year’s dinner party, I told Tracey I had had enough. St. Anne appeared to me to be the epitome of everything I always believed about Roman Catholicism: great theology practiced horribly. I told her I could never see myself going back to Anglicanism and the the Episcopal Church, but what else to do?

(Ed. note: This feeling was only reinforced afterwards by a late-night perusal through one of my once-favorite books on Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church; leafing through the pages I knew my heart and my mind had moved on and beyond that period in my life and that I could never see myself ever going back.)

Tracey, wise as always, told me not to worry about it so much; because of my monastic leanings I just required a different kind of setting for attending church than most people do. She added that in a place so large and diverse as the Valley of the Sun I was bound to find that somewhere. Her suggestion was to be patient, do my daily offices, and allow God to lead me to where He wanted me to be. As always, I knew she was right.

Little did I know a potential alternative to St. Anne was to drop into my hands the next day…

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 15:50 | Comments (6)
January 3, 2009

Doesn’t feel much like winter here in the Valley of the Sun.

But just to remind everyone that there is such as thing as winter, at least somewhere, take a look at these awesome photos from the top of Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Very cool… er, cold.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:51 | Comments Off on Looking For Winter?


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