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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Viri Galilaei (part two)

Yesterday morning, I felt myself spiraling downward. Spectacularly unmotivated, I could barely get through a morning of paper-pushing in my home office. A de rigueur wet and blustery faux autumn day. Of course, a funeral. Afterwards, made lethargic by this cocktail of bad juju, I settle into my office chair. A Facebook message posted 25 minutes earlier: check-in for lunch - with me - at McGonagill's, across the street. Only I wasn't there. Who was trying to rouse me from this torpor?
 ...You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
 and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
 throughout Judea and Samaria,
 and to the ends of the earth.”
 When he had said this, as they were looking on,
 he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
 suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
 They said, “Men of Galilee,
 why are you standing there looking up at the sky?
Waiting over at McGonagill's was Terri Lenz, a musician whom I'd met on Facebook. She is a Notre Dame grad (liturgy) and a former choir member at Old St. Pat's in Chicago, where my old friend Bill Fraher is director. She herself works at St. Emeric's in Country Club Hills, and is also a choral director at Marist high school in Chicago. Somehow she decided to ask me to write a song for the 50th anniversary of the school next September. The song was finished, made better by a stunning band arrangement (yes, as in high school concert band!) by no one less than the awesome Bob Moore, a fellow composer and real musician from Jacksonville, Florida. To my mere seven staves of music Bob added an astounding twenty more or so, creating a score with more notes than most of my albums in the past. She came from the south side, bearing checks, and buying lunch, with plenty of cheery and affirming conversation on her lips. 

Back at the shop, my delightful assistant G had the usual behind-the-scenes tales of the funeral to tell, and questions and strategies for the weekend and up and coming confirmation liturgies. A bride calls. Books of music need to be assembled for Sunday. Set lists arranged for iPad for wedding and weekend liturgies. No time for self-pity even if I had deserved it. A couple of friends mentioned reading this dumb blog, and in a very supportive way, which really got me to thinking about my lethargy, and how much of this self-doubt was self-induced and really just pessimistic narcissism. And it’s not just them, either, some of my friends in the choir and at the parish are very consistent about their support for me, my music, and my writing here. Exactly what else was I expecting? What is it exactly that I do? 
Why stand staring at what has gone before?
Don’t get lost in things of the past!
I, says he, will begin something new.
It’s beginning already. Haven’t you heard? (Huub Oosterhuis, “Why Stand Staring”)
In the same hour I received an email from the North American Forum on the Catechumenate reminding me to calendar (again) my webinar next Thursday, as if I'd stopped thinking about it for a second, since I'm nervous as hell about it. I guess if I’m supposed to be preaching eucharistic life, I ought to keep trying to live it. If I’m going to be asking people to stop staring into heaven and get busy with the work of the reign of God in their church and neighborhood, I ought to be doing it myself and not feeling sorry for myself. Do what you can do, I tell myself, and try not to let what you can’t do, and what you do poorly or counterproductively, oppress you. I sat here, in this chair, tearfully writing down those words of Oosterhuis yesterday afternoon. It just struck me so hard that we’re at the end of the Easter season, in the home stretch at least, and that the feast of the Ascension is just days away, and here I am staring up into the heavens like the viri Galilaei of Acts, those first disciples waiting for, what? A quick fix? A happier, more permanent ending to the story? Some kind of sign, I guess. I wondered whether the phrase "men of Galilee" might even be a mildly, even humorously,  pejorative address, you know? Galilee was considered the hinterlands, the bush, hicksville, to the Jerusalem elite. Maybe the "men in white" were trying to get them to see themselves with a wider vision. "Hey, Hoosiers, what do you think you're gonna see up there?" Hey, townies! Hey, hillbillies! Hey, Cubs fans! No, God would not allow his angels to stoop that low.

And strangers in white garments (angels? neophytes? it doesn’t matter - strangers are just other people who are not looking at us the way we see ourselves) are at the next desk, on Facebook, waiting in a pub, telling me, WTF (in so many words) are you sitting around whining about? You’re surrounded by friends, you’re the recipient of great and powerful gifts, among which is the great gift of faith, so
Why stand staring at what has gone before?
Don’t get lost in things of the past!
I am a believer in signs from God. I’m not looking for whispers in my ear, or voices in my sleep. But this conjunction of friends, the confluence of their affirmation of my past, support for me in the present, and hope for my future, and the call from scripture and song to pay attention to these white-robed “strangers” and their alarm-clock voices, they were a breakthrough for me. I’m not saying I’m going to write a great song now, or that it’ll suddenly be easy to sit through mass again. I’m just saying that I’m resolved now to do what I do again, as well as I can do it, and not be consumed by self-pity and regret for alternative futures. My life isn't fixed, but God is waiting in the brokenness.

I have made a mess of a lot of things in my life, and still by grace have managed intervals of beauty and personal and musical collaborations of wondrous depth. The weight of ennui, the press of spring's parade of events, the impossible distance between the place I'm standing and the desire I have reach a place of being good news instead of being an obstacle and stumbling block, these all seem from day to day like insurmountable problems. Christ disappears from sight. The world as I know it seems to crumble apart, who I thought I was seems like a stranger to me. From the next desk, the pub, a college in Massachusetts, a publisher in Ohio, Forum "angels" in Toronto, that patient, laughing, scolding voice falls into my spirit's ear:
Viri Galilei...Hey, old man of Lake Zurich,
 why are you standing there looking up at the sky?