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Archive for September, 2008

Antidotes

I have noticed, in the last year or two, that congregations in the Melkite and Romanian parishes we visit have started exchanging the Holy Howdy, aka the Kiss of Peace, a misnomer if ever there was one for the disruption introduced into the Roman rite in the 70s. I don’t know how widespread the practice is in the Eastern churches; I think I remember first seeing it in a Ukrainian parish, along with altar girls. Mercifully, it has not raised its gregarious head in the “Ruthenian” Byzantine Catholic Church, a parish of which our family usually attends.

When I asked the priest about it he said that it was an ancient practice that was being restored. Well, yes; at one time the Liturgy did have the Kiss of Peace, and you can be sure it had no resemblance to the glad-handing, backslapping and small talk that it occasions in the Roman rite shortly after the Consecration. At least the Eastern parishes who have introduced the social minute do it before, not after, the Consecration. The Kiss of Peace in the ancient Church was undoubtedly done with grace and reverence. When modern Americans, informalists that they are, try it the result is an interruption of the flow of the Liturgy, as if everyone broke into a hoedown in the middle of a minuet.

Indeed, the dance is a good illustration of the American Banality Principle. If you do a YouTube search on some variant of “Ethiopian sacred music” you will see exquisitely robed singers singing Ethiopian Orthodox chant, accompanied by drums, strings, and woodwinds. As they chant, they move in unison, swaying and stepping to the music. It is graceful and beautiful, and it is liturgical.

Then if you do a search with some term like “liturgical dance” you will see often aging women and men in leotards, prancing around altars and generally making fools of themselves. The dance is individualistic, sensual, and show-offy. There is nothing beautiful or liturgical about it.

When it comes to religion, American pop culture, informal, individualistic and dumbed down, poisons all it touches. That is why it is extremely unwise to turn over the liturgy to the likes of us. Think rock Masses, felt banners, and clown priests.

What we need, in our debasement, is the antidote of the undiluted ancient forms of our Faith, like pure springs from the rock, preserving for us what we have lost.

The Eastern Catholic Churches took away from the Second Vatican Council quite different marching orders than did their western brethren. They set about reclaiming their tradition, excising latinizations where they had crept in. They have largely succeeded, and the rites of the East have not endured the attack of the rough tribe of liturgists that the West has.

It would be a shame if after all that the silliest innovation of the Roman rite now found widespread acceptance in Byzantine worship.

Daniel Nichols

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I never got around to posting a link to the last two journals, September 14 and 21. I think I’m going to stop posting those links altogether, because I don’t think they get used all that often. Most likely anyone who’s interested will check on my blog, to which there’s a link in the sidebar, on Mondays or Tuesdays. But just to bring things up to date as of today, here are links to the last three entries:

September 28: Hope First

September 21:My Election Prediction

September 14: Ave Maris Stella

Maclin Horton

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Ungodly

I do not have much knowledge about finance, either on the personal or the international level. But I do have certain instincts, which time has proven to be trustworthy.

Thus, years ago, when we were shopping for a house, a realtor told us that we could buy a much bigger and spiffier home if we agreed to a variable rate mortgage. I’m pretty stupid about money, like I said, but my reaction to this was “Huh? Why in the world would I sign a contract when I ultimately don’t know the terms?” We bought an affordable home at a fixed rate, and time has proven us the wiser.

I am just as dense about international finance, and I have no idea what, if anything, the federal government should be doing about the ongoing financial crisis, though those instincts are going haywire.

I am, however, struck by a couple of things.

First, the incredible irony of this unprecedented bailout being touted by the very voices who for thirty years or so have been crowing about the magical market, the invisible hand, the amazing self-correcting perpetual motion economic miracle machine.

Second, I wonder about all those who became fabulously wealthy on the way to this debacle. You know, the CEOs and other executives who brought home (literally) ungodly amounts of mammon. If the government is going to rescue their corporations, ought it not on the way seize all savings, assets and properties of those who formed or tolerated the policies that brought about the disaster? Isn’t it only fair that those who have lectured us for all these years about personal responsibility suffer for their actions? Shouldn’t those who claimed that the pursuit of greed would contribute to the common good now forfeit their ill-gotten gains, now that that has proven to be a lie?

Daniel Nichols

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Prayer Request

[note: I just saw this in the comments on a previous post and am giving it its own post for obvious reasons. –mh]

Kev Hall, whom some of you may know of as an orthodox Catholic active on behalf of peace, asked for urgent prayers for his daughter who was injured in a car accident. His message follows:

My wife Maggie and our 13-year-old twins were in a car accident Wednesday night. Maggie and Ethan are fine but our red-headed daughter Natalia (”Tally”) is in a coma (critical condition) at the pediatric intensive care unit at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL. She has numerous injuries but, thank God, is stable with many many positive signs.

Please please please PRAY for our precious daughter Tally. With all my heart I thank you for your prayers.

Thomas Storck

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John and Sarah and Juli

I know I said, the last time I wrote about politics, that “barring some unexpected development” I probably wouldn’t have much more to say on the subject.

Well, there have been two unexpected developments.

The first of these is the nomination of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate. The second is the surprising enthusiasm for her candidacy from several of my non-Righty Catholic friends, beginning with an email from my old pal Juli Loesch Wiley, urging me to contribute money to McCain’s campaign (?!).

I have known Juli for a quarter of a century; she is on my short list of most admired people. This is the first time in our long friendship that I recall a substantive disagreement.

But sorry, Juli. McCain is still McCain. I would not vote for him if he chose Wendell Berry as a running mate. Or Bill Kauffman. Or Juli Loesch Wiley.

I understand to a certain degree the enthusiasm Governor Palin has sparked. She certainly seems more like a real person than any politician in recent memory. And the loathsome attacks on her and her family inspire sympathy. But once you get past the novelty of a homeschooling hockey mom, one with apparently sincere antiabortion sentiments, what do you have? A pretty conventional Republican. She is for the war. She is pro-death penalty. Pro-empire. Apparently pro-torture (how else to understand her mockery of those who object to the mistreatment of alleged terrorists?) It is a little unnerving to see a personality cult rise around Ms Palin, especially as so many of her enthusiasts decried the same thing when Obama was its object.

Four years of a McCain presidency? It would be Bush’s foreign policy on steroids. Granted, we’d have the cutest vice president in history, instead of the brooding creep who currently occupies the office, but that would hardly undo the damage. Or are you ready for American bombers over Tehran? Troops in Georgia? A hair-trigger kind of guy with a notorious temper taking that mythical 3 am phone call?

I’m sitting this one out. Obama has decided, in what is a bewilderingly bad move, to make his unequivocal support for abortion an issue in Ohio, running ads that claim that McCain is going to outlaw abortion. If only. I had assumed that Obama would downplay the issue, perhaps try and make some common ground. Glad he showed his hand so early, though his record speaks for itself.

I’m ordering an absentee ballot and writing in Wendell Berry.

Lord have mercy.

Daniel Nichols

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Daniel Joseph

Well, it is over. After a difficult and worrisome nine months and a delivery that was nothing short of surreal we are home, with a beautiful perfect baby. He spends most of his time sleeping and nursing, but I’m not falling for it, not after telling everyone that Michael, at two weeks, was a quiet and calm baby. He went on, of course, to be nicknamed “Fussy Fussmore, the Horrible Adorable Baby”. Happily, Michael is now a thoroughly delightful 3 year old.

When Michelle developed gestational diabetes and was told she would have to have a physician deliver the baby and had to be monitored the whole time her initial reaction was one of defiance. She wanted to just stay home and have the baby on her own. A clinical birth, hooked up to machines, ran counter to her every instinct. She began to have bad dreams and a sense of foreboding.

We talked. I told her that six years ago, when I was told I needed heart bypass surgery, I was horrified. I had spent my adult life avoiding physicians and I felt like now I had fallen into their clutches, that they were now plotting something unnatural and invasive. And scary. At first I wanted to blow them off: What do they know anyway? But then I realized that if I was wrong and left my children fatherless I would have a lot to answer for. So I resolved to do whatever they said, to passively endure whatever came my way. You know, the old “lamb to the slaughter” thing. And I did so, even when I was pretty sure I was going to die as the nurse prepared me for surgery, just before the anesthesiologist knocked me out. But to my surprise, in what seemed like the next moment, I was waking up in the intensive care unit. It was over, and everything got better.

I suggested that this was a similar situation. If she dismissed the doctor’s opinion and went her own way and something happened to the baby she would never forgive herself.

So Michelle surrendered.

And we entered a foreign world. Our previous birthing experience consisted of a quiet room, dimly lit, with a midwife and maybe a nurse present. Michelle walked a lot, took showers, and changed position frequently. She spent a lot of time laboring on her hands and knees, rocking back and forth.

In complete contrast to this, we were in a bright room, with Michelle literally under a spotlight once hard labor began. There were three physicians and five nurses surrounding her, barking instructions. A line from somewhere- Firesign Theater?- came to me: “These geeks a’ gawkin’ at me”. She had an oxygen monitor on her finger, a blood pressure monitor on her arm, an IV in her other arm, and a band around her belly to watch the baby’s vital signs. When they also slapped an oxygen mask on her face she said “I feel like I am giving birth on the Starship Enterprise”.

The whole thing was as unnatural as can be. Delivery was induced, as her diabetes had swelled her placenta. The drug used for this was called Pitosin, which the nurses called “The Pit”. All I could think of was “Pit ‘O Sin”, and wondered that the usually savvy drug companies could not have come up with a better name. When the drug was administered at 8:30 am the nurse confidently predicted that the baby was going to be born by noon. Michelle resisted for a long while the repeated entreaties to submit to an epidural, which numbs the body from the waist down, but after hours of nothing much happening she realized that her body was simply not going to cooperate and she gave in. Even when she closed her eyes and rested her face was tense.

The one singular grace in this was that the picture window in her room looked out on St Joseph’s church, perhaps 300 yards away. St Joseph’s was the Italian parish in Canton, and indeed looks like it was miraculously translated from Tuscany. On the facade, just under the rose window, was a large statue of St Joseph, offering his blessing to us. And so I turned again and again to St Joseph as my bride looked more and more desperate. Every labor is a type of Passion, but in this one Michelle looked confused instead of focused, as if she was tasting not only life-giving suffering but Christ’s cry of forsakeness.

And then, at 5pm it suddenly was over. We had been hoping for a girl, but I looked down and saw what appeared to be and alien with a penis.

You must understand that the first birth I witnessed, that of my son Patric, was unlike any other. I had braced myself for a red faced newborn, but he was pink, with no blood or slime on him at all. I caught him and he gave two little cries: “Waah. Waah.” Then he opened his eyes and studied my face. Then he started looking around the room. He looked like he was a month old when he was born. Subsequent babies were more typical, red and wrinkled and wailing, but this one was a bloody mess: greenish purple, mucous pouring out of his nose, with what looked like a coating of cheese. I quipped that we could name him Stilton.

Within moments he had been wiped off and looked not only human but beautiful and most importantly, healthy. And Michelle underwent her usual Transfiguration/Resurrection, from bedraggled to radiant. She had done what had to be done- “Not my will, but Thine be done” – and emerged on the other side.

And this little baby: he is very sweet and very blonde, unlike the others, even the three who eventually turned blonde. This one’s hair is a light as mine was when I was born.

Hence his name is Daniel.

And his middle name is Joseph, for at a most desperate moment I had turned to St Joseph, blessing us from across the way, and told him that if we could have a safe delivery of a healthy baby I would name him or her some variant of Joseph in gratitude. A couple of people have objected that we already have a Joseph Francis, but I don’t see the problem. Rather, our family is now even more under the patronage of St Joseph.

Surely there is nothing wrong with that.

Daniel Nichols

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