Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gray Day

It's cold and gray here today, with snow and rain and heavy clouds, and I've been feeling gray and heavy in consequence. The weather was like this the day after Dad died, and I think that memory is making me sad. Can weather be a grief trigger? (Why not? Anything can be a grief trigger.)

One of my students makes a point of checking in to see how I'm doing at the beginning of every class. Yesterday she asked me how I was, and I told her that I'm more behind on grading and other work for school than I've ever been.

She said gently, "You've never been through this before."

You're right. I haven't. Good point.

Meanwhile, today my sister called to say that she had to have one of their cats euthanized. That's sad enough, but worse, it turns out that this kitty had not only diabetes, but also FIP, which is contagious and incurable and may, therefore, have infected the other six cats in the household, including one my sister's been keeping for my nephew during a housing transition.

The upside to my mother not caring much about cats anymore is that she isn't devastated by this situation, as she would have been until a few months ago. My sister says her dementia's getting worse; on the other hand, she's on an appetite stimulant that's been very effective, and all her lab values are a lot better than they were, probably because she's eating well. Mom's doctor even called to congratulate her on the results.

Given the dementia, improved physical health may be a mixed blessing: one of my nightmares would be mental deterioration within a strong body, but I guess we have to take what we can get.

On a slightly less dire note, the liturgical types at my church are trying to figure out how to get more people to attend Holy Week services. There are suggestions afoot that would shorten Good Friday, or move it to the evening -- although Maundy Thursday and the Great Vigil are shorter evening services, and they're equally sparsely attended -- or try to educate parishioners about why Holy Week's so important. We've done a lot of education, though. My theory is that people avoid those services because they're gloomy and because it's just too much church in one week (I disagree, obviously, and so do the other diehards), and we can't change any of that without gutting Holy Week completely.

Last year, I preached on Maundy Thursday about how the foot-washing isn't optional. Our congregation is very foot-phobic -- hardly anyone comes up for the washing -- and I wanted to try to change that. People said the homily made them think, that maybe they'd participate this year.

This year, fewer people participated than usual. Sigh.

There's part of me that's tempted to suggest a really hardball tactic: "Jesus said that if we don't let him wash our feet, we have no share in him, so if you don't get your feet washed, you can't take communion tonight." But that would probably only drive away the people who do come to the service, but who refuse to take their socks off.

Anyway, are any of you in a parish where Holy Week services are mobbed? Do you have any suggestions for us?


  1. Anonymous6:25 AM

    I would start by putting a short paragraph in the bulletin every single week explaining part of the day's liturgy. Maybe if people knew it was from the Bible (i.e. not a randomly made up collection of prayers and chants) and part of a long tradition of prayer going back to before Jesus it would seem more meaningful. I think Good Friday is the saddest day and none of us like to be sad or moved to tears so we avoid it (or force ourselves into the church anyway kleenex at the ready). That avoidance is of a part with how we avoid the sick and dying in our midst today. We cannot wait with Jesus even an hour.


  2. I think better explanation of Holy Week would help, not the year before but during Lent. And I think next year I'm going to feckin' take Bright Monday off, I'm still trying to recover energy from Holy Week!

    I don't do the footwashing. You can't make me. It's a trust thing and I just don't trust anyone that close up in my personal space.

  3. What is really known about FIP you could fit on the head of a pin. Trust me. Titers and all that it simply voodoo, not science.

    I'll keep your Sis, the kitties and the rest of your family in my prayers, as always.

  4. Berni2:38 PM

    Our Holy Week services are quite well attended. The church is pretty full on Holy Thursday and the foot washing is popular. We have four stations set up around the church. (Sanity check: you do have warm water for the foot washing, don't you?)

    We have two Good Friday services, one at noon and the other in the evening for those who can't get away during the day. I go to the day time one and it's well-attended, but the church is not as full as on Holy Thursday. (But with kids in school and people at work, that could be the explanation.)

  5. Prayers for the kitties... I dunno about the Holy Week services. I'm betting it depends on a number of factors: demographics of the parish, sense of community in the parish, availability of child care, preparation which would have to be intensive and intentional throughout Lent at least. Check out www.sarcasticlutheran.com for an example of a church with a young, edgy urban demographic and a high sense of community. What they do is very cool but you can't just transplant into another community. The "sense of community" thing is huge; when that's high, people will go to church because that's a high value to their friends as well and the journey is being shared. When it's "just on Sunday" and the focus is on individual spirituality it MAY be different. And, if the demographic is hard-working folks with little discretionary time, it won't matter much, they may genuinely not be able to do the extra services the way we would wish. I think that you're right about the death-denying piece being a part of it, but also we religious types haven't helped, I don't think, by trying to focus so hard on all the positives. Sometimes I think we make God out to be such a warm loving teddy bear of a God that the whole Holy Week observance almost seems to be irrelevant. Sorry for the rant...

  6. Maundy Thursday was my favorite service, always. It became better-attended at my church when they started some new traditions, along with highly publicizing it. The choir sang verses of the same songs every year (such as "Go to Dark Gethsemane") in between readings from the stories leading up to the crucifixion. After each reading some of the lights in the church would be turned out. Everyone had a candle, and after all the lights were out the "bells" (the midi-organ, but obviously real bells would be effective, ours were broken) were tolled -- I don't know how many times. Enough that you stopped counting and it became very meditative. Then there was a brief silence, then the candles started being lit, row by row, until the whole church was lit -- a symbol of the light in the darkness, the light to come, the hope still present in the darkest hour. Then the benediction, then everyone was instructed to leave in contemplative silence, without the mingling or talking that generally happens after services. It was solemn, but beautiful, and generally very well attended. It was an evening service, around 6 or 7pm, only around 1 hour. I don't know much about Episcopalian traditions, so pieces of this may or may not fit, but it was nice to recall it.

  7. Also, just my perspective but hard-lining it can be very alienating. Some of us are in a very difficult place with church; we've been hurt, we're having a hard time trusting. Something gentle that acknowledged this fact but still encouraged me to take a risk would probably make me feel more likely to try than withholding communion, which I can see being very upsetting for some.

  8. Denubbler: I'd never actually do that (Jesus served Judas at the Last Supper, after all, which is a very compelling argument for never excluding anyone from the table), but given that Gospel passage, the logic does present itself.

    Thanks for your comments! And thanks for everybody else's comments, too. We've already tried many of the suggested approaches, especially building up Holy Week during Lent. Maybe we just have to be resigned to small services.


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