It’s so easy to assume the worst, at least if you’re anxious by nature. I think of the Pilgrims, who, for the sake of their children and love of God, surrendered their fear of the unknown. They embarked on a rigorous journey of sacrifice, to establish one nationunder God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Facing fast and furious seas, starvation, disease, and desolate wilderness, they pressed on. Then, in thanksgiving, joined hands in a symbolic feast of community. May we all be thankful, assume the best, and rest in God’s love this Thanksgiving!
We marched in a Memorial Day parade in Holden, MA Monday. We’ve marched it for a few years now and it’s a parade the whole band looks forward to. It’s almost more a liturgy than a parade – and rightly so – as we honor the men and women who have laid down their lives so that we have the freedom we have today.
For some reason I found this time especially moving. The parade route winds through the cemetery and we stop 5 times for a prayer, patriotic song by the Girl and Boy Scouts, a rifle salute and the playing of taps. When we got to our first stop, the honor guard called their men to attention and gave the salute and I happened to see a man on the sidelines. He was in shorts and a grey Army t-shirt, on a bike, wearing a black bike helmet. As soon as the men came to attention, he was off his bike and at attention, his hand to his forehead in a salute – and I think that’s what got me. This ordinary man, on a bike, had an internal response from whatever experience he’s had, that brought him to attention. And I wondered how many ordinary men and women on that street, maybe that we’d pass, had held the hands of a dying friend – or made it through boot camp with strangers who became brothers. Or, how many ordinary men and women in this town answered their phone (or their door) to the news they hoped they’d never hear. And I felt overcome with respect and gratitude and pride in our country that believes humanity is worth fighting for. God Bless America.
I drove home last night from a lesson. It was 6:30 PM, and I remarked to myself how light it still was. The first few miles my primary focus was my GPS, guiding me around small streets to find the highway. When I hit the highway I could breathe and relax — straight shot from here. And then I noticed the sunset. In my rear view mirror streaks of pink and orange lit up the road as I passed over it, and brought the trees out in stark contrast. I wanted to be facing the other way, I wanted to indulge in the beauty, which wasn’t an option. I passed a sudden opening in the trees — a window on to a small lake. The color seemed to come from within the water itself, ripples of gold and pink and yellow that merged the sky and the water together.
I think I may have even said out loud “I wish I could stop.” And the thought came to me — sometimes we have to leave beauty behind. Sometimes it’s just there for us to catch on the way to something else — a sudden splash of glory that inspires a smile and a deep breath and the knowledge that God is All Beautiful. How silly of me to think I’m going to catch it all, and save it in a frame. Within 15 minutes, the colors were gone, but not my reminder of what God is always doing whether I notice or not, and my gratitude that I was there for this one.
Sitting in a cold sports arena in northern Massachusetts during a high school winter percussion rehearsal is not exactly where I might be inclined to think about chant. But, as I was listening to the marimba and vibraphone warm-up, I was struck by the fact that the exercise was actually a modal exercise — Mode V in fact. The kids playing that exercise find performing a piece on a chant mode just as normal as a major or minor scale!
All of the members of this winter percussion group attend the service of Lauds every morning so, just like the percussion instruments they so enthusiastically play, the chant is something that has come to be a part of them and their everyday experience.
Listening to them play, you can tell that they have developed a sense of how to breathe and “speak” together and that has come at least, in part, from their daily attendance of the Divine Office. What an inspiration it is to hear and see the dedication of these teenagers as they work so diligently in preparation for their upcoming shows. Anyone who has been involved in the arts knows that much of what is required is consistent determination — daily working at the craft — just like our work as cantors. It makes me wonder if, the next time we are at Lauds, if I will see the faces of these young people and be reminded of that Mode V keyboard warm-up — one more great example of chant as part of everyday life!
We’ve all seen the crowd shots, a guy in face-paint and crazy hat, hoisting a beer and yelling “It’s the World Series, Baby!” And then there’s the tortured soul, white-knuckled hands clutched, face twisted in anxiety, awaiting the next calamity. I’m of the latter variety. I follow baseball with great enthusiasm from day-one of spring training to the final out of the regular season. But come October, I’m a recluse that spot-checks scores and turns the light out just before the grand slam. There are sisters — lovely people, really — who emerge only during the playoffs. They’re excited and full of positivity. One approached me asking, “Did you see the home run last night? Oh, we all just screeched!” Screeched. Her word. Glad I missed it. Glad for me, glad for them because — spoiler alert — I would have squelched their joy by informing them the Soxs wouldn’t hold a one-run lead.
I can’t quite figure out what happens to me. It isn’t just “gotta win.” Perhaps it’s not wanting to face disappointment, caring too much, or something else entirely. I am sure of one thing. On November 1st, I hope Wally the Green-Monster and my store-bought baseball remain on my desk for a week of celebration. If not, I’ll tuck them away and in a burst of renewed faith proclaim with conviction, “There’s always next year.”
On Sunday I marched in a festive parade honoring the 200th anniversary of a traditional textile mill and factory town in southeastern Massachusetts, fittingly named Millbury. For the hours I was in Millbury, it felt like a national holiday, bands, floats, kids playing, antique cars, lawn-chairs, balloons, grills, vendors and more….all the makings of a celebratory parade. In our increasingly hectic and instant-access 21st century lives, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have time to stop and celebrate – to rejoice and honor events big and small, past and present in our lives. We should plan to take time with our friends to celebrate important events like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or any other milestones. Daily we need to take time to thank God for His blessings to each of us; for as Psalm 118 says, This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It’s here. The holiday for eating turkey and pie and gathering with family you haven’t seen in a long time, and falling asleep after dinner in your chair. The first “unofficial” Thanksgiving feast was celebrated 391 years ago near what is now Plymouth, MA. A small gathering of men and women who had survived their first winter in the “New World” and successfully harvested their first corn, thanks to the Native Americans who taught them what they needed to survive. Only half of the original Mayflower crew survived — half. That’s roughly 50 people! They planted their feet here, and planted their corn….and here we are today. In a country, and particularly a state, with such a great legacy of perseverance and triumph and complete dependence on God. And amazingly, almost 400 years later, we continue to celebrate this day — this act — of giving thanks. I feel moved by that this year — perhaps on the heels of Hurricane Sandy, and the Presidential election, and the obvious need our country has right now for firm soil and trust in God. Or perhaps (with all due respect and love to my family) I’m old enough now that the turkey and pumpkin pie and laughter around the table doesn’t seem like the end of the story. My small gratitude’s of a warm home and friends to share with, are part of an eternal song of thanks. I’m adding my notes to the melody the Pilgrims added to, the song in the air that reminds us. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1Thessalonians 5:18 Happy Thanksgiving!