Prayer at the Close of Day

When I was in college, there was an evening service in our chapel. It was at 10 pm on Wednesday nights. The first semester I was there, still trying to figure things out, our chaplain left. But before he did, he taught me how to set up the service and how to sing the chants. For the next three and a half years, in close connection with the college organist John Anthony, I led that weekly service.

It remains one of the most significant spiritual experiences of my life.

We were a small , extremely ecumenical group that met late on those Wednesday nights. There was me the Protestant, a handful of Catholics, a Greek Orthodox girl and an agnostic. Harkness Chapel was always airy and dark on those nights. I’d enter in the back door and light the candelabras. They made a pool of yellow light below the vaulted ceiling. We’d begin in silence with muffled greetings. Then song, chant, prayer, more silence, song and chant again. We’d end holding hands and singing, before scattering back to our homework and brightly lit dorm rooms.

In the four years I was at college, I believe I missed fewer than five of these Wednesday night services.

During that brief period of velvet night, I felt peace, fellowship, contentment. I made room for silence. I listened. I slowed down. There was room for the Spirit to move in me and to speak to me. There was space for me to slide back inside my own skin, and remember who I am. There was a tremendous connection with those few other pilgrims, coming to find the same thing.

I suspect many of us want to get back what we had in college. There were our collegiate figures, our somehow ample time for fun, the energy of youth, the proximity of all our friends… heck, just getting to sleep in and have someone else do all the cooking. But the thing I’d like to get back from college is that service — that peace.

Happily, unlike my youth, this may be something attainable. I can aspire to this connection to the Almighty. As my living is concentrated down to the most necessary, I find I need to stop taking away and start adding. This is something I will add.

So. Next Wednesday night at 9 pm (a nod to my now-elderly status), I will open the doors of Burlington Presbyterian Church and light candles. I will sing “The Spirit within us moves us to pray”. I will make room for silence. And if you would like to come, I will smile and worship with you.

Prayer at the Close of Day
Wednesday nights
9 – 9:30 pm
Burlington Presbyterian Church

May the spirit of the Lord remain with us throughout the night.

The archtype of the holiday

As my eldest son enters into the age of memory, I often wonder what he will recall in his adulthood, and what parts of our life will slip into the background of memory. Periodically, I hope he won’t remember some things — the times I lose my temper or fail to listen. But oh, I hope he remembers this Halloween. More, I hope that forever after, when he thinks of Halloween the imprint on his imagination will be from this Halloween. It was perfect. I can’t imagine a better one.

This is joy
This is joy

Halloween morning started wonderfully. It was an unusually warm and seasonable day, with fast-moving clouds and downright balmy temperatures. While his father and brother slept, Grey and I wandered around our neighborhood, chasing a wind-driven balloon through crunching autumn leaves and chatting with neighbors.
Eating to keep up their strength
Eating to keep up their strength

Once the eldest and youngest boys were up, we went to the Middlesex Fells Reservation to go on a hike. We hiked through the autumnal forest, stopping for a snack to reward our efforts, and finally (just past the Doleful Pond) found the playground. The boys laughed with joy on the swings, chased each other through the grass and showed great bravery at the slides.


We went home for lunch and I got a massage. Ok, maybe that wasn’t part of THEIR great day but it was part of MINE.

I made cookies in the kitchen, and when the time came, we woke both boys up from their naps, poured them into their costumes, put a bowl of candy on the front stoop, and headed to our neighbor’s house. We’re completely lucky to have really neat neighbors, with kids that all line up. There’s three boys in the older generation, and then three babies — Thane is the oldest of the babies. The older boys played with sounds that made it seem like at least two of them were in the processes of being killed, Thane bopped between groups, and the littler babies focussed their energies on looking adorable. The grownups had conversation and shared tips and discussed the goings-on of our neighborhood and our busy schedules. Candy was doled out.

The kids miraculously all together
The kids miraculously all together

Fast clouds crossed the full moon in the warm autumn night air when the boys headed out for their trick-or-treating. The swirl of leaves flickered across the warm glow of jack-o-lanterns and porch lights. As a group, they braved doorbells and held out bags and buckets to receive their chocolatey loot. They returned triumphant from their quests, and generous in their plenty — sharing the fine fruits of their labors with hungry parents. The littlest boy went to bed, and all the babies, and then those grownups of us left got together and played Rock Band while our older sons (can you believe it?) entertained themselves without injury in another room.

When we finally put our chocolate-smudged eldest child into his bed, he was happy to find sleep beneath his nightlights.

What joy, my friends. What joy.

What Love Looks Like

I hear people say that there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship — that they don’t believe in the love stories. In general, I think they are wise. I think that the fairy-tale of love is far, far away from what life truly offers. And I don’t think people should wait until they meet the person who dribbles rose-petals on their path and makes their heart go ka-lump every time they’re around. (And I really, really, really don’t think that when you can talk to your beloved without feeling butterflies in your stomach, it means that you don’t love them anymore and should move on.)

One problem with that, my friends. I am in a relationship that is marvellous and wonderful in pretty much every way. And despite having waited for 8 years in the expectation that at some point the ka-lump of love might diminish, it hasn’t. I love my husband far more today than I did 8 years ago, when he was a dashing sophomore and I a sweet and innocent freshman.

My husband is concerned with my guilt and stress levels. He says that they are past healthy. (Which made me feel guilty about how much I was feeling guilty, quite possibly proving his point.) So yesterday he allowed me to do all the things I felt needed to be done — up to a point. At about five he gently but firmly steered me to the couch. He removed my shoes. He lit a fire in the fireplace, and lit up the candles. He put up with me while I considered which book I would like to read (“Acorna” by Anne McCaffrey). Then I made a comment on how I wished I’d gotten around to making Spritz cookies like I promised so that I could eat them. Then he went into the kitchen (which he had earlier swept and mopped) and made me spritz cookies in the shapes of Christmas trees and stars, with sprinkles on them just like I like. And he brought me water.

My friends, that is true love. You don’t know how much he does for me, or how kind he is to me, because it’s the fabric of my everyday life. If I told you every time he did something wonderful, I wouldn’t write about anything else. I hope I don’t take it for granted, but I am not surprised when my husband is thoughtful, kind and generous. He is also funny, charming, playful, patient and handsome. And a darn good GM.

I do not know if this kind of relationship is possible for everyone. I don’t know if we got really, really lucky in meeting each other and growing together. I don’t know if the desire for such a relationship is unrealistic… just because there are people who do win the lotto does not mean that everyone can win the lotto. But I do want those of you who think it is impossible to know… a loving, kind relationship full of joy is not a dream. It is not a Hollywood fabrication. It does exist — and it can be hoped for.

The Red Sock

Even the moon turned blood red in support.

My friends, the Red Sox have won the World Series. That bears repeating: THE RED SOX HAVE WON THE WORLD SERIES. They swept the World Series. They ended it with a shutout. The Red Sox have won the World Series.

And we rejoice! Boston wholly rejoices that the curse is lifted, that the grandfathers of the Red Sox nation who lived until this day will not go into the dark without knowing that sensation of victory! We do not yet truly believe it in our hearts, but with our minds we know that the thing which is both impossible and greatly desired is NOT impossible. That sometimes, your best hope instead of your worst fear comes to pass.
The Red Sox have won the 2004 World Series.

In the rejoicing, however, there is a sense of loss. I think it’s like watching your child get married. You are happy, so happy for them. But yet, you know your relationship to them will never be the same. And in the first and closest case, it means that you will not be with them while they are having a marvellous time on their honeymoon.

It is the best lonely period to be hoped for. I find it impossible to be glad that the baseball season is over. I find myself jealous for just another day or two of baseball, please. But it is over. Gone. I am left alone — gaily waving with tears in my eyes at the door of the church. Five months of happy memories, but no new ones.

Do you believe me that my life changes when there is no baseball on? The sound of it. The schedule. The way it slips easily into my ears and keeps me company as I work, rest, travel. Football is no replacement. NPR is too depressing. Music insufficiently engaging.

A sacrifice I am happier to make this year than ever. You bunch of Idiots, who have become my friends unbeknownst to you, enjoy your offseason. Many of you I will see again next year. Others will go to other teams, where I’ll secretly root for you as long as you pose no threat. And in spring, new faces will be on the field.

World Series winning Boston Red Sox, thank you. Thank you for 85 years of anxiety, and one of exultation. Thank you for 170 games of baseball, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes heart-dropping, sometimes boring. Thank you for getting into fights with the Yankees, saying dumb things in post game interviews, and growing some of the world’s worst-concieved hair styles. Thank you for a year of fun baseball.


When I pass a stand of erstwhile unnoticeable maples, and am caught by the color of the leaves, that’s the the word that comes to mind. Vermillion. Brighter than red. Deeper, more passionate than burgundy. There are showers of gold along some roads — early to color, already gone. There are trees tinged with red, orange as flame in their hearts. And some rare trees, stark in brilliance against the blue October sky, are vermillion.

For all the pumpkins, it is red’s time of year to reign supreme. The trees are red. The sunsets, early, tinge the world with their crimson kisses. Noses, flesh-toned through the warm days of summer, reflect the season’s changes too. And the socks, even the socks are red as colored clothing faces winter birds in the World Series. And the blood of a sports hero tinges his sock with the team, the season color. A red darkening to brown with scoreless innings pitched.

Soon, we head into brown of pilgrim scenes. Then the dark pine green of Christmas. Finally, we settle into the long, bitter gray of ever-enduring winter, with only the faintest touches of purple at Lent, scarecly daring to believe that the light and misty greens of spring will ever arrive.

But for now, my friends, I am content to live in a world aflame with vermillion.

The hills are alive

In a week and a half, A. and I will be winging our way across the Pond to regions Tuetonic. 10 days and several hours from now, we will be listening to the tale of the Flying Dutchman and the woman who loved him, against all odds. We will travel to see medieval arms and armour. We will hike in the Alps, and I will think not a little of Heidi. We will travel by rail over high, historic mountains to a city founded on Friday, March 25 at noon in the year 421 on marshy islands. I will stand inside St. Marks and if God has truly blessed me, I might even hear the polypony I so often imagined. I’ll see too the poryphory statues of the tetrarchs, the mosaics, the four mysterious horses of St. Marks. I’ll see the winged-lion of the Most Serene Republic. And I’ll pay way too much to sit in a cafe and drink coffee — perhaps the same cafe frequented by Lord Byron and Dickens.

It seems more than a thousand miles distant from where I sit now. It is a world distant. It is a place I visited often in fancy, but where I have rarely travelled at all lately, even in the realm of the mind. I have become too focused — to concentrated on a small and arcane realm of the world. Granted it pays well, but I yearn for vistas again. And I shall see them. And that, friends, makes me a very lucky woman.

Fourth Anniversary

Four years ago today, my husband and I stood before friends, family, community, and God and made promises to each other. (Of course, *remembering* those promises is something else. I slipped the pastor a $20 to include “entertain” in the vows, but A. doesn’t quite remember that part.) Those promises have been kept — in thought, word and deed.

Marrying my husband was the best choice I have ever made. We have now been together for nearly 8 years. That’s roughly a third of my life. I cannot fathom adult life without him. My husband is handsome. I’d go on about all the features of his I like, but he’d probably end up embarrassed, and I’d have to fight people off him with a broom. He is kind. He will pick up a bug on a piece of paper and patiently walk to the door (trying not to drop it) and let it go. He is as kind (or kinder) to me than he is to bugs. My husband is smart. He can deal with complicated intellectual arguments, sythesize them, and deal with them accordingly. There is no word in my vocabulary I have to censor from him. There is no concept I understand I cannot explain to him. There is no discussion we cannot and do not have. My husband is generous. He gives of himself to me, to our church, to our friends and to our families. He doesn’t even realize how much he gives. Best of all, though, my husband is silly. The night before last we took an evening walk in the soft summer darkness. And we passed a playground. That had swings. We were up in them almost instantly, and he gave me good pushes before he got on himself. He’s never ashamed to do something he will enjoy, and never makes fun of me for doing what I enjoy. He always deals with me kindly, with amusement where someone else might be frustrated or annoyed.

I can spend 24 hours a day with my husband, and not have enough of him. I go through my daily life with the roots of my heart deep sunk into the firm earth of his love for me. I never tire of my husband. I love him more now than I did the day I married him — and as my friends can attest, I loved him a lot that day.

A. knows I like surprises. He, himself, hates most surprises, so this took a lot of getting used to. Yesterday, he was so thoughtful and kind as to surprise me. See, he told me he was going to the mall to get Doom III (a perfectly natural thing to do!). And he came back with two cards (one funny, one for real) and a gorgeous sapphire pendant that I absolutely love. I was surprised, and delighted.

These four years of marriage have been wonderful. I look forward to another 60 or so with him. He is my beloved husband. He is my dear lover. He is my best friend. He is my buddy. And I love him.

The 8 modes

I’ve sat down at the keyboard the last two nights to write one entry about music, and different ones keep coming out. Let’s see if I can get the one I intend out.

When my parents came to visit, we stopped by a store that sold sheet music. This is rarely a satisfying experience for me. My library usually knocks the tar out of their trumpet selection. But we stopped and I looked because I could tell Dad needed to sit.

I found this book: Plainchant for Trumpet. I was enchanted. The composer (W. Jonathan Gresham) took 22 chant lines from the Liber Usualis (Medieval Big Book o’ Chants) and wrote etudes on them. The etudes are quite nice. But my favorite part is that he highlights the medieval mode in which the music was written.

Medieval theoretical musicians (the best kind, according to my buddy Boethius who’s responsible for transmitting most of this stuff from the Greeks to the middle ages) thought there were 8 different modes of music. It gets all squishy in my brain, what goes where, because they stole this from Ancient Greece and didn’t completely understand it. The Greeks thought that the modes inspired different methods of action (here we’re getting into my thesis topic). For example, music in a Phrygian mode would cause someone to be warlike. A Lydian mode, on the contrary, tamed inflamed passions. I can’t remember which (the Dorian perhaps) the Greeks discouraged ever using because it made men timid and weak.

Medievals pulled across this idea of modes, but they sort of ignored the alchemical nature of the modes. There are 8 medieval modes (which act similarly to keys in modern music), four of which are authentic and four of which are plagal. They are the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian and Hypomixolydian. The very names to me are magical. They carried a significance, a meaning along with them.

I’m not really going anywhere with this. In some ways, I’m being nostalgic over my own past, when I was given the marvellous opportunity to delve into these mysteries and call it homework. I’m not sure I ever truly mastered my subject, but I was fortune enough at times to see glimpses of a whole and coherent picture.

If I won the lottery, and I had the time, energy and attention to devote to whatever I wished, I’m sure I could find more meaningful and more important things to do. But what I would like to do is delve even further, understand even better, and see clearly and laid in front of me that picture of the genesis of music that I made the barest pencil outlines of in college. I’m not sure what I would do then — if I could transform my understanding into a communication for others.

That day will probably never come. But that doesn’t stop me from rolling the words off my tongue and dreaming about how the obscured picture might look. Dorian. Lydian. Phrygian.

The inevitability of polyphony, and lack thereof

Music history is fascinating to me. I have a music history minor, except for Theory II which Paul Althouse insisted on holding at 8:30 in the morning Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After my experiences with Theory I at that time, I didn’t think my GPA was up to it. But I took all the requisite classes otherwise.

I’m transfixed by music before it’s fully formed. Consider, my friends, that a mere thousand years ago (or so) music had no standard pitch. It had very little in the way of rhythmic variation, and nothing in the way of tempo. Written music only dealt with one set of voices at a time — there were no parts and no polyphony. Music was not written for specific instruments. Chant notation, while it has it’s own beauties and complexities was basically relational: you hold this note for twice as long as this other note, and then you go a step up from the first note you started with. (Yes, my musical friends who have studied it far more than I, I’m simplifying. Bear with me.) From that, in only a half century, you get to music so complex (hocketing) it wasn’t rivaled for another five hundred years. First you give different voice parts different notes, even though all the voices move together. Then you start having one set of voices move at a different time than the other. You standardize rhythmic notation. You create clefs and keys and accidentals. You start specifying which instrument you want used. You say whether you want it loud or soft. Fast or slow. (They even created an entirely different way of notating music for keyboards and strings, but I won’t go there lest I display my ignorance further.)

In some ways, I think learning to write words was inevitable. Many cultures came up with different solutions to the same problem — letters, phonemes, hieroglyphics, characters representing words, etc. But when Western civilization came up with a way to accurately communicate music by means of writing… well, I consider that little short of a miracle. And without that miracle, there can be no Bach fugues. Or rather, there could have been, but they probably would have died with Bach. Can you imagine trying to communicate a Wagner Opera line by line to the musicians, and then have them memorize it and try to put it all together? It might not be impossible, but it would be close.

I love polyphony. I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of modern (and by modern, I mean 20th century) popular music bores me. It’s not truly polyphonic. Ok, granted the base line is doing one thing, and the singer is doing another, so it KIND of counts, but I love the complex interplay between voices and lines. My favorite “pop” music has a rich harmony in multiple voices — like the Beatles at their best. My favorite music of all — mostly to participate in — is a quintet or similarly sized ensemble. It’s small enough so that you can pick out each line as a separate individual, but rich enough that you have to really pay attention to do so. I love Gabrieli for this. He passes the lines back and forth in downright enchanting ways.

I wonder: is complicated polyphony unique to Western culture? Did any other society create a fully-fledged way of communicating music, other than rote teaching? Is it possible that Pachabel’s Canon in D represents a truly unique cultural achievement?