Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eternal March

Really, this month has dragged on and on and on. The cherry blossoms are out but few people are walking about looking at them because the weather has been so impossibly awful and cold. This is the coldest end-of-March in my memory and I've been here 15 years.
Just got something pleasant in the mail today; a copy of Iceland Review with one of my articles in it! Unfortunately the magazine does not allow one to link to articles therein, but you can get a feel for the publication here. One may be able to purchase the publication on the streets of Reykjavik but here it is subscription only. Iceland is one of my favorite countries and I am always wishing to go back there.
During my second visit exactly 10 years ago this April, a friend of mine who works for the local morning newspaper took me to this amazing Good Friday service where actors were reading from an amazing group of "passion hymns" by one 17th century poet named Hallgrimur Petursson. The 50 poems, which Icelanders usually read one per day during Lent, dwell on the passion of Christ, starting with the Garden of Gethsemane. The poems are like meditations but they are in verse. The church service I attended was packed with people who sat for hours listening to these poems. Iceland is a very secular nation but here is one instance where people actually were rapt in worship. For one day out of the year, they go back to their Lutheran roots.
I was so fascinated with this man - and fortunately someone in Iceland gave me a copy of his poems before I flew back here - that I wrote 2 columns about Petursson for the Washington Times way back when (they are here and here). A few months ago, I began asking the Iceland Review folks why they never carried anything about religion and one thing led to another and I got this assignment to write about this amazing poet. I ended up interviewing 2 scholars in Iceland (by email) and one who lives in Pennsylvania. And so here we are. It's not often I get stuff in foreign publications.
Life is uneventful in a fashion; wish I had good news to share but at least there is no bad news. Today - which I was supposed to spend in preparing my taxes - was spent in taking my kitty to the vet. And the little vixen in the photo is Miss Veeka at her ballet/tap dance lesson.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jonah and the ides of March

Finally my story on Metropolitan Jonah, the head of the Orthodox Church in America, is out in this Sunday's Washington Post magazine. You can see it here. And the print edition, which most people will see Saturday, is gorgeous with some really great photos by a Russian-speaking photographer who belongs to the local Orthodox cathedral where a lot of the action in the story takes place. I've learned more about Orthodox church politics during the past 10 weeks than I've known in a lifetime, especially after the story took a dramatic turn in late February when Jonah's bishops revolted against him and he came perilously close to losing his job. Long story why. Had he resigned, the story would have had to be killed and I would have been one unhappy camper. Fortunately Jonah hung on and just this week, a high Russian church official from Moscow - Archbishop Hilarion - breezed into New York and apparently gave pretty much everyone involved a dressing down and told the OCA'ers to get their act together. Note: the drawing in red/blue is Jonah, not Hilarion.
Our lives here are quiet and the second photo is of Veeka and some friends on a bridge in the Shenandoah Valley where I went a few weeks ago just to get away. The crocuses and forsythia are finally out here and the danger of snow is past, for which I'm grateful. I'm working on more freelance stories but - alas - none of them are enough to pay the bills and so I'm also trolling for full-time work. I was talking with a lawyer friend tonight who was remarking as to how many firms are using contract help so they don't have to pay benefits, much less salaries. This is deadly for folks like me. Another friend remarked that the only way that anyone who writes books, blogs and magazine articles can survive is to be married to someone who *is* making a salary.
Which all goes to say the world of blogging and freelancing is lovely in a fashion but economically it is not working and has not been working for me in my now-nine months of being out of work. So when the Subaru dealer informed me yesterday I was paying $618 for car repairs, that was again a reminder that my days of working out of my home cannot last much longer.
Veeka is doing better in her new school and is gaining some serious weight, making it much harder for me to lift her. She's become a desert-aholic like me; a meal is not complete unless there's something sweet at the end. We were at a friend's home for dinner tonight and sure enough, she was whispering to me afterwards whether I could quietly sneak her my last piece of candy in my purse.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Redeemer part 3

These lovely beings to my left are the Redeemer dancers who never stopped moving during the closing service. I am not sure how many folks in the congregation (which overflowed into the balcony) realized the stunning amount of work those dancers put into performing one dance after another during the whole 2-hour-45-minute length of the service. Here they are dancing "Glory Be to Jesus" and using the choreography, I am happy to say, that I created for that dance 20-some years ago.
I wish I could say the diocese sent one of its bishops to be at the closing ceremony but no, they sent Ann Normand, a canon priest who was nice enough and who tried not to get in the way of what was going on but considering Redeemer's historical place in the city, the diocese could have freed up someone of much higher rank. But she was also there to do the "deconsecration ceremony" soon after we all filed out of the church after the recessional. That, for those of you who don't know it, effectively un-sanctifies the church in terms of allowing Communion - or any other sacrament - to be celebrated there. Deconsecration today, changing the locks tomorrow, wrecking ball to come - yep, we can see where this is going.
Anyway, they really put on the dog for the closing service. The 2 front rows were taken up by members of the Tellepsen family (their grandfather Torjus is who built the place in 1932) and I was amazed by how many people came in using walkers! Hmmm. George Mims and Max Dyer did a lovely prelude improvising on cello and organ variations of songs such as "Psalm 27" and "Alleluyahweh" (or however it's spelled) before the processional, at which point everyone sang "Jesus is Our King" in parts. Only Redeemer has a congregation that can do this. Banners were waving everywhere with yeoman work being done by the choir and small orchestra.
A bunch of congregants joined in the next dance, "God Make Us Your Family" as well as many of my friends (I stayed put) and I felt I was transported into the future, watching some heavenly procession of all the people I knew dancing away. The sermon, by Redeemer's youth minister, Mark Ball, was quite good. I wrote down this quote: "Everything we love about Redeemer will be kept safe. It is at the end of a a thing that we see clearly that all the good was from God and all the ill was from men."
Eventually came the "prayers of the people" in which the intercessions went on and ON. Leading these prayers was (I think) the senior warden (he never introduced himself) and at one point the prayers segued into naming the Redeemerites who had died which was quite moving. People were crying as they prayed. After all, we were at a funeral; the funeral of a church. One person did mention Graham Pulkingham's name during this time for which I was glad; Graham had not even been mentioned this whole weekend, which I felt was a bit bizarre considering none of us would have been here were it not for what happened to Graham in 1964 and the resulting events that catapulted Redeemer on national and international stages.
Then Tom Tellepsen II, grandson of Torjus, made a few remarks, saying the land for the church was bought in 1919, a church was started in 1920 (and added to later) and he pointed out people in the congregation who were descendants of the original people for whom the parish hall and downstairs chapel had been named. He also pointed out June Tellepsen, 95, the daughter-in-law of Torjus and Ingeborg and wife of Howard (who I think I interviewed in 1990. He has since died).
Tom's closing prayer: "May God continue to look over you, invigorate you and shine his light on a church opening a new frontier in its journey of faith. It is time. Amen."
For Communion, waves and waves of people walked down the aisle, many whom I'd not seen in decades. Again, there was this feeling that we were all in some heavenly procession and this was a dim foretaste of when the roll is called up yonder. Paul Felton showed up to assist at the altar and it was so good to see a familiar clergy face up there.
Well, I loved being there. Mark and Elise Ashey (and son Sam) showed up - all of whom I'd not seen in ages, so we all went outside for the Last Redeemer Church Photo and then ate lunch together at a giant potluck in the parish hall. There were some bittersweet moments; a number of people at this gathering couldn't stand my book and either refused to talk to me or turned away when I approached them or looked past me. But there were others who came up and thanked me for writing it. Some had just ordered it (being quoted in the Houston Chronicle 2 days before had helped) like one woman who came up to say, "I was one of the women in the book who was raped!" Wasn't sure how to respond there but she was grateful, in fact, that that part of Redeemer history (about how dangerous the neighborhood was) had not been forgotten. Others came up to buy a copy.
But all too soon the dream ended and off to the airport I went. My plane was delayed 2 hours; we didn't even land til close to 1:30 a.m. and then (for fear of lightning) Dulles airport made our plane sit and sit on the tarmac. I didn't get home til nearly 4 a.m. I know the church is more than the building but it's the saddest feeling to know that in future trips to Houston, I won't be able to enter that church and wander down its hallways and about the sanctuary nor sit there in the dim evening light gazing at that wonderful mural. I've never attended another church like it; in fact I never officially transferred my membership out of there so a piece of me is gone and that's so very sad.