Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

Changing the Lights

“Do you want to help with the lights?”

That was the cryptic question posed to Jeremy this morning while we stood around in the parish hall after liturgy. He just had to ask, “What does that mean?” One young parishioner explained that it’s a tradition at Holy Ghost. Two times a year, right before Christmas and right before Easter, all the men of the parish go up to the church after coffee and climb up on a huge ladder to replace the burned out light bulbs. This young parishioner also explained that it’s kind of a rite of passage for young guys, the first time a guy gets invited to help with the lights is a Big Deal.

100_2079100_2081So Jeremy, of course, agreed to help. After all the men left, the ladies were explaining to me what all is involved in changing the lights. First of all the ladder is enormous. “How tall is the ladder?” I asked. “…uh,” each lady said. “…it’s really tall.” At least as tall as the inside of the church, however tall that is. Second, the ladder is really old, and really heavy. It takes every man in the building to help with that thing. How many church guys does it take to change a lightbulb? They all take off their suit jackets and drape the coats on church pews. Then they troop over to the rectory garage and get organized to lift the ladder down off the wall pegs, carry it over to the church, and very carefully raise it upright. They have to be very organized and focused. A mistake could send the ladder toppling down to crush guys, the icon screen, and anything else in its path. Then they position the ladder under the first burned-out light, and Michael climbs up 30, 40, 80 feet in the air. Who knows? It’s just really high. Michael stuffs the large, fragile bulbs in his shirt and climbs up while all the other guys hold the ladder steady. While Michael is at the top of the ladder stretched out to reach the light, the church is silent. All the guys stop chatting and just watch Michael switch the bulb. You can hear the scratching of the threads as Michael unscrews the bulb. He changes the bulb then climbs down, breaking the elbow brackets as he descends so the guys can fold up the ladder and move it to the next position. The guys start talking again. I asked Michael if he’s the only one who climbs the ladder and he laughed and said, “I’m taking volunteers!”

After all the burned-out bulbs were replaced and the guys had very carefully lifted the 90-foot ladder back onto its wall brackets in the garage, I told Jeremy that I think this tradition is really cool. He sat there in the car picking ladder splinters out of his dressy pants and said, “I guess so,” in a not-very-enthusiastic voice. Well, at least the pants aren’t his favorite anyway! Now we have an excuse to go shopping.

This tradition is cool because it’s unique to Holy Ghost parish and it’s part of the folklore of this community. It’s a duty the men perform ritually and at specific times of year. All the guys know about it and all the guys know how to do it. Jeremy and I, as new parishioners, had to learn about this tradition. It’s a mystery that belongs this parish. One of the ladies told me they should just get a new aluminum ladder to make the whole job easier, but the 150-foot-tall ladder is part of the story. No one needs to know how tall it is; the vagueness of the ladder’s height is part of the story. No one needs to know how old it is. This ladder has been used for this job as long as anyone can remember and that’s part of the story. There is one guy who climbs the ladder, and that’s part of the story. What if he doesn’t come to church on the weekend they want to change the lights? I don’t know. Perish the thought. I guess they would just do the lights the following week! It’s a rite of passage for young male parishioners and that’s part of the story. It’s wrapped up in the spirituality of Advent and Lent, preparing for the two high points of the liturgical year. It’s important for the holy days, yet not obvious like setting up the Christmas tree or arranging the potted lilies.

Modernizing the procedure would probably make the job easier. Aluminum ladder. Longer-lasting light bulbs. But the ritual surrounding the activity of changing the lights is important, and I think it is a blessing for the life of Holy Ghost parish.

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Our Journey to the East

Someone just sent me an email asking what took Jeremy and me to the Eastern Catholic tradition, and as I was writing I thought, “gee, this would make a purdy good blog post.” I hope my emailing friend doesn’t mind!
Jeremy and I had been going to Roman Catholic church, but as you can imagine, every parish has its own “vibe” and the way they do things. So when we moved to Akron, we took some time to shop around to find a parish that had the things we liked, and lacked the things we were happy to do without. We wanted a parish that celebrated reverent liturgy, with a priest who was obviously spiritual and not “tired” of his ministry. We wanted good music, or at least music that didn’t make us want to plug our ears! We wanted a parish where the prevalent mood was one in support of the Pope and keeping with Church teachings. We love the Pope and we wanted to be surrounded by others who do, too. We wanted a parish with a strong devotion to Mary the Blessed Mother. We wanted a parish where the actual church building looked like a church inside and out, rather than like a gymnasium or auditorium with an altar at one end.
So, with all that in mind, we shopped around. We actually have a few friends who worship in the Eastern Catholic tradition so we had heard about it before. The way the Catholic churches shake down is, there are two major branches: the Western (Roman, Mozarabic, and Ambrosian) and the Eastern (everything else that is Catholic). The Eastern Catholics tended to branch off more specifically according to ethnic groups, geographical regions, and language spoken. The Bishop of Rome (the Pope) is still the universal pontiff for everyone, but all the different Eastern Catholic Rites also have their own Patriarchs. And each ethnic tradition has their own Archbishop. There are several major Eastern Rites: Alexandrian (Coptic and Ethiopian Catholics); West Syrian (Maronite, Syriac, and Syro-Malankara Catholics); East Syrian (Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Catholics); Armenian (Armenian Catholics), and Byzantine (Albanian, Greek, Melkite, Ruthenian, Ukrainian and others). All these Eastern Rites are in union with the Pope of Rome, so we say all these churches are “in communion” with Rome. That is why Jeremy and I could just up and decide to go to a Ukrainian Catholic Church! There are some differences in the organization of hierarchy and stuff between East and West that I don’t feel really comfortable discussing, so I’ll move on to the liturgy!
I’m not too familiar with all the Eastern Rites, but each Rite has a favorite liturgy they use for worship. The two big ones for Byzantine Catholics are the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of Saint Basil. Any Eastern Catholic Church that uses these liturgies for worship are going to be similar to each other. The main difference will be with whichever ethnic language is thrown in. Jeremy and I have learned how to do a couple of the responses in Ukrainian!
This is the biggest difference for me between a Roman Catholic Mass and a Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy. The feel of the two liturgies are totally different. The reforms of the liturgy that occurred in the 1970’s for Roman Catholics did a lot to streamline Mass, update the language, and open up some areas for a parish or diocese to do something individual. The liturgy of the Byzantine Rite didn’t go through this reform so there are lots of repetitive prayers and litanies, and the liturgy is almost entirely the same week to week. There are just a few things that change for each Sunday or feast day. I like the repetition. I like that the priest sings almost everything and the congregation sings all the responses. I like all the litanies. The Eastern Divine Liturgy feels mystical to me, with the cool chanted music, incense, bells, symbolic gestures, and icons. I love that we are hit with the fragrance of incense as soon as we walk through the door on Sunday. The fragrance of incense and pyrogies! I love gazing at the beautiful icons of Mary and Jesus and the saints.
I grew up Roman Catholic and Jeremy has been catholic for 15 years, so it’s hard for us to put aside the Roman thing! We still are more in tune with the Roman calendar of saints and feast days. We still pray the traditional Roman Catholic prayers at home. We still really like Latin! We celebrate liturgy at a Byzantine church and we try to incorporate some of the Eastern spirituality into our lives. We love icons and pray with icons at home. We try to remember to make the sign of the cross “backwards.” It’s a process, like any faith journey. And we’re enjoying it!
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What I Wore Sunday: September 8

Linking up with Fine Linen and Purple.

We’ll do this “quick and dirty” as my Ear Training teacher in college used to say. Only she was referring to the sight-singing quizzes, and I’m referring to a blog post. Whatever, apples and oranges.

Stephen and me, in front of the iconostasis at Holy Ghost.

Stephen and me, in front of the iconostasis at Holy Ghost.

Liturgy was fine this morning, except the lady who leads the choir was out sick, so another lady started us on the troparion. But she sings alto so of course she started out with her own part, and all us sopranos were like “…..” so we sang the alto part too because we couldn’t find our way up to the soprano. For me, at first I didn’t realize we were all singing alto because I don’t know the music yet, and when I did realize it, I was stuck in the alto range with the alto notes in my ear and I couldn’t get out. Oh well. Now I know that when Anna leads, I should find my way up to the soprano part ASAP! Today was kind of interesting because in the Eastern Catholic calendar, we celebrate two events today: The Nativity of the Mother of God, and the pre-feast for the Exultation of the Cross which occurs on September 14. I don’t fully understand the pre-feast thing yet, but I’m getting there. Anyway, we sang double stuff today to cover all the feasts. There were even two Epistle readings instead of one! Only one Gospel reading, though.

I finally managed to snag a photo of the interior of Holy Ghost. In the picture you can see the iconostasis, which is the gold screen across the front of the sanctuary. There are icons of major saints on the screen. As you face the screen, Jesus is to the right of the main doors, and Mary is on the left. I believe it is St. Stephen on the little door on the right, and St. Gabriel the Archangel on the little door on the left. The rest of the saints pictured are church fathers such as St. John Chrysostom. Across the top of the screen are scenes from Gospels. The painting on the dome above the sanctuary is an icon of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rested as a tongue of flame over each apostle and Mary the BVM. The altar is not in view; it is behind the doors of the screen. The little table directly behind me is called the tetrapod, and it holds an icon for the feast day or liturgical season, and a cross. So there’s a little about Eastern Catholicism for you!

After liturgy we went to the hospital to visit Agnes. My parents were there already, in the midst of their twelve-hours of care. So Jeremy, Stephen, and I just hung out for awhile before coming home. It was at that point that Stephen decided to turn on all his annoying. He did take a brief nap, but he was ornery before, and he was ornery after, and he’s in bed for the night right at this moment and he’s still ornery. I’m choosing to ignore. As soon as I’m done here I plan to grab me an adult beverage and a snacky-snack and chill with some “Storage Wars” or something of that ilk.

I do just want to point out one thing about my church outfit: I’m wearing shoes that are not black Minnetonka Moccasins.

The rest of my gear: Top from Old Navy. Green skirt from an Albuquerque thrift store. Veil I made myself!

Stephen picked out his own duds for church. I was flipping through his (four) nice shirts in his closet and he told me, “red shirt, red shirt.” Then I offered him blue jeans or navy slacks and he chose the navy slacks. Kid’s got style.

Finally before I sign off, the latest on Agnes is she continues to need a bit of oxygen. They did wean her off briefly a couple days ago, but when she gets made, her sats drop and she needs a bit of an oxygen boost. I don’t know if she will come off of oxygen before we bring her home this week. She needs less than she did at the beginning of the week, so it’s already an improvement from where she was. We’ll see. She will hopefully be coming home Tuesday; if not Tuesday, then certainly by the weekend. We’re just waiting on the home care nursing. Praying it all gets sorted out!

Head over to FLAP for more link-ups.

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What I Wore Sunday: May 26

Linking up with Fine Linen and Purple. I haven’t done this link up in a while and it’s good to be back at it!

Jeremy and I have decided to attend Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is an Eastern Rite Catholic tradition. This rite is in communion with Rome, but they follow a different liturgical calendar compared to Roman Catholic churches. So today we celebrated All Saints! In the Roman calendar All Saints is Novemeber 1st, but the Eastern Catholics observe it on the Sunday after Pentecost to make the link between the gift of the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit can do in our lives if we allow God to work through us–like the saints have done!

100_1644Today for Liturgy I wore one of my favorite shirts, a new skirt I bought at Target (Liz Lange Maternity), a head scarf, and my trusty black Minnetonka Moccasins. I look a lot pregnant-er since the last time I appeared in a WIWS link up! Actually, the shirt may not work for me if I continue much longer in the pregnancy. It’s starting to not pull over the tummy as well.

The skirt is pretty roomy. I maybe should have gotten the smaller size, but I’m just so tired of my clothes being ill-fitting and falling off my body. I definitely won’t be able to transition this skirt to post-maternity wear, unless I engineer something to hold up the waist. I might be able to do it but the question is, do I want to bother with it? Hmm… we’ll see.

I opted for the head scarf today since we’re going to a new church and it’s not Roman Catholic. I’m sure the folks there don’t care if I cover my head, but my lacy chapel veil really screams “Roman Catholic! Roman Catholic!” Or maybe I’m just being sensitive.

Stephen was kind of ornery at church today like he rarely ever is. It was strange. He was still much better behaved than I have any right to demand of a two-year-old, but it was a change for him. At least he still looks adorable.

Tomorrow I go to the hospital for an NST (non-stress test) for Agnes. Remember, this is where they strap on a fetal heart rate monitor and listen to her heart beats for a period of time; usually not less than 30 minutes, and often longer. They’re listening for her heart rate to accelerate when she kicks; 15 beats per minute above where her baseline happens to be. If her heart rate doesn’t accelerate by at least 15 beats per minute when she moves, that indicated that she may not be receiving enough oxygen. If her heart rate actually gets slower in response to movement, that is really bad and indicated fetal distress. I had an NST last Tuesday that didn’t produce the desired results so I was stuck in the hospital overnight while the docs listened to Agnes and decided whether or not to deliver her. I had an NST last Friday that really looked poor until Agnes perked at the last possible moment and I was released to be on my way. That was a close call.

We’re praying that Agnes “passes” her test tomorrow because it would be much better for everyone–me, Jeremy, Agnes, my doctors–if Agnes is not born this week. I will be only 34 weeks pregnant when I go in tomorrow. If she can hang on for at least one more week, everyone would feel a lot better about her health and chances of thriving.

But the reality is that Agnes could arrive tomorrow or Tuesday, depending on what signs come across on the test. My hospital bag is ready to go and I’m mentally and emotionally prepared (almost) for the fact that I could have a newborn this week. Almost prepared. Almost.

Here’s a round up of Agnes’ story in case you’re just tuning in:

Part One: Ven-TRIC-u-lo-MEG-a-ly

Part Two: Oh Baby

Part Two b: Chimayo, NM: Holy Dirt

Part Three: Ventriculomegaly Update

Part Four: Update on the Baby Girl

Part Five: 24 Hours of Fetal Monitoring

Part Five-and-a-half: Fetal Monitoring Update

Part Six: More News About Baby Girl

Part Seven-ish: 7 Quick Takes (a few of the takes are about Agnes)

 

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