i love my cat

Dateline: The Farm. 3:45 a.m., September 27, 2005

I am sleeping deeply, enjoying a very pleasant dream (can’t remember now what it was about), when it happens. First the heavy weight going across my back. From the way my body feels as I wake up, I know I am in need of a chiropractic adjustment I don’t have the money for right now. Never mind — try to go back to sleep.

Sleep, however, is impossible. A soft paw pats my face. “Meow,” says the one cat on the planet bold enough to wake me up in the middle of the night. Bubba-Thor wants something. He can wait; I roll over. He follows me, walking back across my back and patting my face on the other exposed cheek. I raise my arm to cover my face. He persists.

Now, what he wants is food. The cat food bag is standing on the floor, wide open — all he has to do is stick his nose in the bag and he can eat all he could ever want in one sitting. There is even a saucer on the floor with bits of fat from the ribeye steak I ate for supper last night. This is also a cat that easily will top the scales at more than 20 lbs. Bubba could very well wait… two and a half hours for breakfast. But, oh, no, what this cat wants is for me to get up and fill his bowl. Now. No excuses, no delays.

If I ever want to be allowed to sleep again in this lifetime… I get up, go fill the stupid bowl, stop by the lgr (little girls’ room) and go back to bed… where I lie in bed, tossing and turning, wide awake. Boogers!

And that is why I am posting to my blog at 4:30 a.m. Maybe, with a little luck, I can get about another hours’ sleep before I have to be at work?

His Yoke is Easy

Another of the choruses in Messiah is “His Yoke is Easy,” taken from Mt. 11:30. It follows immediately on the heels of the wonderful Alto and Soprano Airs, “He Shall Feed His Flock” (which I sang for my audition, anyone’s interested) and “Come Unto Him.” The airs are a gentle, serene legato (smooth and connected); the chorus completes the passage with a light, airy series of melismas — a single syllable sung over multiple notes (think how the word “Gloria” is expanded over many notes in “Angels We Have Heard on High”) — “His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light.”

The joke is, the piece isn’t easy! In fact, my section leader sent us the notes on this chorus in an email entitled “His Yoke Is Easy — but this piece isn’t!” It’s hard work perfecting those 16th-note melismas so they sound light-hearted and airy and even playful, rather than heavy, thumping and downright pedestrian.

It occurs to me, practicing at the piano last week and this, that this chorus is a great metaphor for being a Christian. His yoke is easy, His burden is light… but to train ourselves to take it up and joyfully to fling ourselves into His life of grace is a hard lesson to achieve. But look! I spend minutes each day at the piano, working out these runs in very slow and plodding steps so that, when December 11 rolls around and we’re performing this cantata before an audience, I’ll be able to trip those 16th notes as lightly as a feather floating through the air, or a child skipping a rope in unself-conscious joy. I practice similar exercises in prayer, spiritual discipline and attempted obedience so that in the really crucial hours of need I can lightly, gracefully perform that service for which God is preparing me.

It’s all about preparation, practice.

Reflections on a Mission

I began this blog in April with the intention of sharing pithy reflections and insights on the Christian life but it quickly deteriorated to the general sort of “oh look isn’t this cute” sort of outlet. Well, I needed the practice and the warm-up, I suppose; I certainly wasn’t experiencing the pithy sorts of thoughts and insights I had wanted!

I think the direction of this blog is about to change — I hope for the better. My parish, St. Anthony of Padua, had a Mission this week. For my non-Catholic friends, Mission is kind of the Catholic equivalent of Revival services, with a very important twist: it seems that in the evangelical circles where I hung out for more than 20 years, revival was a strong emotional stirring-up. It took my introduction to Keith Green’s Last Days Ministries to introduce me to the revival literature of the 19th century, particularly that of Charles G. Finney to point me to a direction of the deepest meanings of revival. The Catholic Mission goes even deeper than that.

The first Mission I attended was at this same parish, back in ’97, given by the Redemptorist Fathers. One of the Fathers with us that week — when I was very much drawn to the Church but not ready to dive headlong into converting — gave a homily (sermon) on the Crucifixion that was the most powerful I had ever heard. I’d been told the Catholics don’t get preaching like that. They most certainly do! And some of us are blessed to be able to get high-quality preaching every day.

Well, this Mission was also an answer to prayer for me. Fr. David Wilton of the Fathers of Mercy was our Mission speaker. Over the course of five days and six talks, he led those of us in attendance into a deeper union with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — beginning with the promise that “God has a plan” to the effects of sin and the importance of Confession, the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of Faith, morality and love, and finally “The Importance of Prayer.”

I didn’t feel my emotions stirred up and manipulated. There was no hollering or dancing about on the altar or raising of hands or any of the outward and superficial signs of religious fervor — but everywhere around me, I felt people bending their heads forward and saying “yes” to a deeper life of faith and fidelity to Christ.

I certainly said “Yes” several times over this week. I went to Confession on Wednesday night and laid before my spiritual director and friend, God’s representative to me, my most grievous and recurring sins, found forgiveness and the strenght to begin anew… again (for the umpteenth time).

I hope that from this point on my blog will be both a celebration of Faith and an encouragement in Faith. I’ll probably be posting more about things that resonate with my own needs as I strive to be “remade in the image of Christ” — about being “born again,” Confession, the Eucharist, vocation, exploring a possible call to religious life… The most intimate details of our lives are also the most universal, so I can only hope that my thoughts and reflections will have some effect of helping me and my new friends grow closer to the One Who calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Pray for me.

Messiah rehearsals begin

Okay, for those of you who haven’t been able to view the entire page of Randy’s website (and I can’t on this laptop) — what I was trying to send you to was his charming and touchingly loyal announcement that I have been accepted to sing in the North Carolina Master Chorale during this new season.

Rehearsals began a week ago, and we’ve begun the season by taking a flying (and I do mean flying! dizzying! overpowering!) overview of Handel’s Messiah, which will be our Christmas concert on December 11.

Messiah is an amazing work. If you’re not familiar with it you’re missing a right treat. Georg Frideric Handel was a German-born composer who settled in London. In 1741, he undertook to write an oratorio on the life of Christ; tradition holds that he completed the entire oratorio — some 53 chorases, arias and recitatives — in exactly one month. Of course, he was using the text of Scripture as his libretto (words), and I suppose music just doesn’t have a better starting place!

Even our rehearsals are proving to be a religious experience — and I’m saying that based on two very fast-paced fly-throughs. I’m sure it will become far more intense as we address the choruses in intricate detail in coming weeks.

Last night we looked at the dramatic chorus, No. 28, “He Trusted in God.” Since the very nature of an oratorio is to present a dramatic work through music alone, without the aid of actors or scenery (which would make the production an opera, which was prohibited during Lent in those days), the choruses have to carry the audience forward in imagining the drama represented by the music. “He Trusted in God” is the mob scene at Jesus’ trial, and it starts out with one angry voice, the baritone section: “He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, if he delight in him.” The tenor picks up the theme, then the altos, finally the sopranos — one voice, one section, a riot ensues. Over and over, round and round, the mob scene intensifies; only the one sentence is repeated over and over without interruption by other ideas: He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him if he delight in him!

We, the chorus, momentarily become the angry mob demanding the crucifixion of the Lord who was utterly and completely without Guilt. By our voices, we rage in utter contempt of Him who was blameless, demanding His Blood.

It’s a passionate chorus, and for a moment I feel a little too much identification with the rabble; it will be better in a few minutes when we become the Voice of the Psalmist, lightly invoking “Lift up your heads, o ye gates… that the King of Glory may come in!”

An ancient lesson for Modern Ears

Once upon a time, there was a fellow named, of all things, Amnon. I say, “of all things,” because, ironically, Amnon means “faithful.” hmmm… Well, Amnon had a half-sister, and her name was Tamar (Tamar means “palm tree,” but this has no bearing on my story). Amnon got it into his head that Tamar was the only woman in all the wide world for him. His longing for her was so bad, he couldn’t eat, he just lay around mooning over Tamar. And a friend of his (with friends like this, who needs enemies?) helped Amnon lay a trap. He called for his sister Tamar to come bring him some supper and to feed him… and when she came to help him in his hour of need, he grabbed her and… he raped her.

And the Bible says, in 2 Samuel 13:15 — because this is a Bible story, in case you didn’t recognize our cast of characters — that after he had his way with Tamar, after he had used her to gratify his own selfish impulses, “Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.”

Do you know anyone who ever wanted anything so badly that they just couldn’t think of anything else, except how to get that very particular thing? Think of kids, how they get fixated on a toy they just “gotta have!”… and they save their money and they whine and fuss and pitch temper tantrums until they get that toy… and two days later you’re walking through the living room and there sits that super-fantastic-terrific-totally-awesome-gottahave toy… abandoned. Forgotten. Nope! it wasn’t what the build-up made it out to be; time to move on to newer, brighter, bigger, better, more in-fashion, more explicitly guaranteed to make us happy, popular, cool…

What’s worse is that even adults can treat one another as Amnon treated Tamar. We can cozy up to someone, win their trust, their affection, then exploit them and abandon them in a fit of self-righteous contempt.

“The hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” There’s a lesson in that for a lot of us, I think.

You won’t hear about this from Sharpton or Jackson

Cheers and God’s blessings on the Catholic people of Louisiana and Texas!

It is being reported that the dioceses hit by Katrina have been adopted by other dioceses in the region: the Archdiocese of New Orleans has moved to Baton Rouge, where the Archbishop is opening a chancery (offices) in an unused school. The Diocese of Jackson has adopted the Diocese of Biloxi; and the Diocese of Lafayette the Diocese of Homa-Thibodaux.

Schools in these dioceses have been warned to expect double enrollment next week as area Catholics provide refugee centers and take families into their own homes.

A Vietnamese Catholic convent in Houston, Texas, has also opened its doors to refugees, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Sister Hang Pham teased, “But don’t worry, we are not asking [the non-Catholics] to convert!”

A Lament for NOLA

New Orleans has been in my prayers all week long, and so have been some of the outlying communities, especially those in St. Charles Parish, where I lived for a few months in 2001. I see on the internet tonight that St. Charles has no power but little flooding and property damage and are letting residents return with the caveat that there are no stores open and little fuel.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, the federal government and particularly President Bush have taken some hard hits by loud-mouthed incompetents who are not up to thinking clearly or owning responsibility for their own mess. The fact is that NOLA administration has been revealed for the incompetent and corrupt mess I’ve often heard it locally joked about. Local law enforcement have walked off the job en masse this past week, some have participated in looting and been incredibly rude to locals trying to get help to leave the city or for sick family members. These shameful things have been abundantly reported by every major and minor news source I’ve looked at this week.

Moreover, the NOLA mayor and the state’s governor, unlike their Mississippi counterparts, delayed turning over management of the city until situation was out of hand. Louisiana National Guard troops were not requested in a timely manner, and many of the NG — now replaced by military units — have made statements that they were either not given clear orders as to what their responsibility was supposed to be, or that they were given instructions limiting their involvement to search and rescue in the City, effectively having their hands tied behind their backs and actively hindered from helping to bring about law and order so desparately needed.

Even more infuriating is the new upchucking rhetoric, led by the ubiquitous team of Sharpton and Jackson, that NOLA is being neglected by Washington (read: President Bush) because it is a city with an extremely large black population. They’ve conveniently ignored the fact that Mayor Nagin has been calling the shots that has led to this fiasco, and he is black! How many of you have seen the photos of NOLA school buses partially submerged in water in school parking lots? Why didn’t Nagin order those buses used to evac the city over last week-end? He could have saved lives and the city the money it’s going to cost to replace or repair those water-logged school buses. Instead of being pro-active and responsible, he’s letting Jackson and Sharpton set the tone of blaming the Bush administration for not bailing him out of his humiliation sooner.

President Bush is going to be blamed for everything in this one — from not sending federal troops in before they were asked for, for those troops applying force if necessary to restore order to the city, even for the fact that Katrina existed if the rhetoric can be made palpable enough. He needs our ongoing prayers, along with the residents of the city of New Orleans.