Saturday, May 26, 2012


The day begins, a living, breathing cliche of summer. Birdsong, sputtering lawnmowers, sweat before 10 am, a grim reminder of the approaching season, whose highlight promises to be DK's July 2 installation of a bionic right knee.  The farm stand, where I went for altar flowers (right at the opening bell to avoid the throngs), was thronged. My fellow patrons, I'm sure of it, pegged me instantly as alien -- my look of rising panic in the jammed parking lot, my harrowed flight from bombadiering carts overladen with healthful organic produce, my look of utter relief as I cowered behind the glass door of the flower cooler. 

I had, I must admit, accomplished my main goal: scored some tall red flowers for the Pentecost Flame themed arrangement I was envisioning. You cannot imagine how ego dystonic this all is: me, at the farm stand, planning color-coordinated flower arrangements, saying things like, "I'll have four blocks of oasis, please." Before Church (BC ?) I would have told you an oasis was a palmy mirage in the desert of one's immanent demise. But now ? I am a quasi-cognoscenti of such things. Floral Foam. Actually pretty frackin' amazing stuff. Google it. May you never have occasion to need it. Amen.

(One perk of being in the Altar Guild is being included in the hilarious panoply of Churchgoing depicted in the work of the brilliant cartoonist  Dave Walker. )

Theologians will disagree, but I am convinced that being made Directrix of the Altar Guild, confers upon one an indelible ontological  change not unlike that which supposedly occurs at ordination.  Oh, there may be no specific liturgy involved (although there is probably a relevant all-purpose one in the Book of Occasional Services, whose entry on exorcism you gotta love: kick it upstairs to the Bishop), but there is a change, alright. Kneeling in the choir, at the most solemn point in the Eucharistic prayer, one's eye gets drawn to a wadded up sweets wrapper on the floor, no three of them !, and one recalls the mountain of wadded up sweets wrappers, plastic water bottles, juice boxes, straws, scrunchies, earrings, perfume bottles, HotWheel cars, smashed Cheerios, used Kleenex, worship leaflets, bottlecaps, pens and crayons that one has recently extracted from the underpews, from the hymn racks,  from between the pages of the hymnals themselves,  and the priest is intoning as we forgive those who trespass against us, but the Directrix is seized by the image of the blackened-banana-peel-wrapped-in-service-leaflet she once found in a hymn rack, and then recalls the mysterious proliferation of coat hangers that appears in the Narthex every week, and try as she might to maintain the requisite cool and irenic demeanour of a woman of her ecclesiastic station, in truth, she is in danger of needing to be kicked upstairs to the Bishop for the prescribed secret Rite.

Or maybe I'm just cranky. Summer's coming, some maniac is going to insert titanium into my husband, my workplace has decided (for reasons of "marketshare") to take my gig of the past 18 years and, come November, make it into something quite other than it's been, and likely not in a good way. So maybe I should consider banana peels and coat hangers welcome distractions from the upcoming menacing itinerary, little opportunities to practice patience and charity --

But, then, say one has just successfully deposited one's Pentecostal-Flame themed flower arrangements on the altar, and suddenly, unheralded, into the nave march parishioners of the renter church, with enormous  drumset and amplifiers, various banners and moveable pulpits,  about to have a four hour service (my pews ! my pews ! my immaculately cleaned pews !) demanding to know why the 4 PM wedding party was ALREADY setting up in their promised lower level hall by the kitchen which they had planned to use !! And for which they had paid extra !!

This is why God has given us Senior Wardens, and us, in particular, our truly and magnificently irenic Senior Warden, J., whose prominently posted phone number I immediately retrieved from the sacristy, then fled. He would know what to do. I certainly didn't.

But that enormous drum set. Those towering amplifiers. Hadn't I made a solemn vow to quit church the moment a drum set appeared ? Did it count that it was someone else's drum set ?

But wait -- what does the Book Of Occasional Services have to say about these matters.  On page 317 -- a liturgy for "Restoring of Things Profaned," specifically whatsoever in this church has been stained or defiled through the craft of Satan or by human malice -- it begins with a procession and then that which has been profaned

may be symbolically cleansed by the use of signs of purification, such as water or incense --

And now, Gosh Darn It,  (see ? I'm trying) I've got to scour the BOS index for a Solemn Litany To Restore A Soul Afflicted With Liturgical And Musical Snobbery -- or just go straight to the "thought word and deed" clause of the general confession, a clause where, if I were truly accomplished at this churchgoing business, I would spend more time than I do.

A Jesus-Loves-You tow truck, Five-Buck Palmistry, Club Events, Let's Eat,  a teal blue stairway to gas tank heaven -- until now I had not realized how out recent motor tour of Revere, Massachusetts, had provided a Pilgrim's-Progress-like commentary on my recent religious life and times.  If I cared to (and I don't, having blasphemed enough today) I could probably arrange the photos so they would follow the structure of the Mass.

Instead I shall humbly resign myself to a late-night trip back to the God-joint to restore the pews (and to make sure my red, Pentecost-flame-mimetic  Gladioli are not in need some kind of restorative botanical Viagra about which, come to think of it,  I have no knowledge whatsoever.)

And while I am in ranting-at-everything mode, let me post one final photograph -- in homage to W.,  a narcissistically self-righteous, militant, atheist acquaintance: by his account, all Christians believe the Earth (created in 7 days by God)  is --

He (who really should know better) rests his usually ill-made, uninformed, straw-man laden and rabidly bigoted case.

And with that bilious non-sequitur, my all-too-mortal flesh shall melt, thaw and resolve itself into the dew of silence.

Amen, indeed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Do I know what the plant looks like, asked my Dad, after I'd bemoaned my recent self-diagnosed case of poison ivy. 

Does weed woman know her Rhus Toxicodendron ? Hell yes. I know its tender red shoots, its classic trifoliate leaves, its trunk-ascending, dendrite-covered vines, its dull ivory clustered fruits. Rhus has been a faithful companion on most of my photographic excursions. And yes, I confess, I have not given Rhus its due. I have engaged in hubris; I have considered myself immune to its powers. I have plunged across fields of it in search of the perfect shot. I have leaned against infested tree trunks and fallen to my knees in blithely uninspected meadows.  

Oh, I will admit, few summers ago there was this itchy patch that lasted weeks. Eczema, I thought, fool-for-a-physician that I was.  But now there is no denying it. I have poison ivy. At first it was a mystery rash -- right inner thigh and outer knee -- pimply, crazy itchy. Two weeks into it, in a meadow in fact, I had a revelation: as I crashed down onto my -- right knee -- going for a shot, I realized that pimply itchy rash was exactly where genuflecting leg meets meadowgrass.

But, alas, it was too late. Within the week neck, back, arm and hand had all blossomed with new crazy itchy pimply spots. Clearly Rhus was getting in its final lick.

There is a theological metaphor hidden in here. There has to be.  This is, after all, Paula's House Of Toast, where everything gets half baked into some species of metaphysical g√Ęteau. The angry, vengeful God reading is just too obvious. I am, dermatologically speaking, tempted to go the Job route with its excellent denouement, that theodicy-busting out-of-the-whirlwind voice that puts humankind in its place once and for all.  But, ho-hum, I am so jaded lately that even Job fails to charm.

But, speaking of jaded,  what about Qohelet,  Ecclesiates the Preacher ?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Yes, yes, of course, a time to itch and a time to scratch yada yada yada, but that's not quite it. We're talking, as we usually do here, of matters of theological life and death, not just steroid-responsive dermatoses.

When you get right down to it, it has always been a matter of semantics. What's a convenient shorthand for the old that there is something rather than nothing ?

God ?  OK. So far so good. Say Ground of Being or Buddha Nature if you prefer. Same gesture.  And if you want to go out on an analogical limb and say that this, our "Ground," in grounding us, "loves" us, well then knock yourself out. I mean we're all about the stories, right ? Bedtime stories, horror stories, police procedurals, Harlequin romances, creation myths -- every word is a small story. But before you know it, the Ground not only loves us, but is absolutely crazy about us,  then it whelps a Son, and a Ghost, not necessarily in that order, and there's more doting, not to mention heavy circumincessioning, and the story gets splattered on every philosophical wall imaginable in more and more Byzantine permutations and before you know it pedophile-protecting Bishops are investigating the Girl Scouts ! 

Lately, it feels like my complicated religious "season" is giving way to a new and permanently wintry one.  

And I am, for the time being, proceeding with caution in ecclesia etiam in silvis.