Monday, March 31, 2008

an experience for which there are no adjectives

When titling this post I encountered the difficulty I have been facing since yesterday morning: How do I describe my first experience with Eastern Orthodoxy? I could tell you about all of the individual moments that stand out most, or the people I met, or that I felt something different about that service than I've rarely encountered in my life. I might say that it was "profound" or "moving" or "spiritual," but none of those words are truly appropriate.

In an attempt to describe what I'm feeling, I shall begin by sharing three of the most memorable experiences. Having never been to an Orthodox service of any kind, my Orthodox friends will please excuse any ignorant comments that I unwittingly make. I will do my best to be as accurate as possible in my description of the events.

I entered the church, walked up a few steps, and was immediately faced with an empty room. I realized rather quickly that there were chairs to the side and at the back, but everyone was standing. Though I had expected this, I was still not prepared for the small space and had thought that I might be able to sink into the background unnoticed. Not so!! I hadn't been in the place two minutes before a very sweet woman with her head covered approached me with the most sincerely welcoming smile I've seen in a long time and asked, "Is this your very first Eastern Orthodox service?" "Umm, yes. Yes, it is." She told me not to feel self-conscious and comforted me by telling me that almost everyone in the room had at one point been completely new to Orthodoxy as well. I was a little sad that I had been that obviously new, but considering the size and intimacy of the parish it is hardly surprising that I was spotted so quickly. This woman (I intend to learn her name next week) approached me at least once more during the service to ask how I was doing and to tell me that I could sit down if I needed to and that I shouldn't be embarassed about it.

Later in the service I recieved a blessing from Father Patrick. I had no idea how that would effect me, but it left me feeling...blessed, I suppose. I don't really know. He bent toward me a little and said, "And what is your name, precious?" I just about cried. It was the sweetest thing, and in that moment I understood why priests are celibate--they really are the "fathers" of their parishes and ought to have the time and emotional energy to care for all of their "children." I think the closest I could come to describing my emotion after that particular experience is to say that I felt joy in a way that I rarely do. It was peaceful, yet tenacious, and I feel it now as I remember that blessing!

The Veneration of the Cross is the last experience I will share with you before I finish. It occurred at the beginning and end of our time there, but I only participated the second time. The first time I felt it was prudent, knowing that there would be another chance, to observe and make mental note of the process and have some time to think about it before actually participating. Helpfully, Father Pat discussed the reason behind the practice in his homily, so I was given further motivation. This aspect of the service is simple to explain--the people line up and prostrate themselves before a small brass cross several times before kissing it and bowing again. The whole time, a chant is going that is repeated again and again. This is another moment that I'm having trouble explaining, but I think I could give it a shot! It felt...right. Like it was finally not about me or us or them...okay, well, I guess I can't really explain as well as I would like, but you get the idea. Transformational might be a good word. I don't know.

These are just a few of the things that I remember from yesterday. As I've been thinking about this as I write, some things came to mind. First, despite the discomfort accompanying an entirely new experience, I never once felt that anyone thought anything of my presence. Which brings me to my second point--the entire service was SO about GOD! It was not about me, it was not about the group that I came with, and it wasn't about the priest or the deacons or the parish or the building or the music or any of that. It was all about God. Everything. In that stretch of time our focus was directed toward the worship of our Creator, Master, Saviour, and Judge. I felt God's prescence yesterday in a way that I normally only do when I'm alone with him, and I am actually waiting in expectation for next Sunday. I don't think that this evaluation could ever possibly express what happened to me yesterday, but I'm glad I tried. =)


Sunday, March 30, 2008

california part four

Oh, goodness. That first day was a doozy! But, I have to say, the next day was even more taxing.

So, Saturday (03/08) we flew in to California. Sunday, we sang three services and sat through the sermon twice. That was a rather uneventful but still exhausting part of the day. Then we had four gloriously free hours after lunch to spend on the church's campus. This particular church (Peninsula Covenant) had a HUGE campus, complete with "community center" which contained an outdoor pool! YAY! So I went swimming for the first time in forever and then sat on a lounge chair for a good two hours doing NOTHING. Note this--it doesn't happen often and is a cause for celebration. Not only did I do nothing, but I wasn't even thinking about what I should have been doing. I just sat. *sigh*

That night we sang our first concert to a very small, sad audience. Our audiences would be very similar to that throughout the week, but that really didn't bother me all that much. Having more people just makes me more tired!

I think that's really it for Sunday. Oh, and my host "mom" had her grandson over and he was fixing all of her stuff for her. He spent the whole weekend at his parents' house down the street (he's college-aged) and sacrificed all of his time to work on his grandmother's house. Anywho, this considerate young man also happened to be georgous...too bad his lives two thousand miles away!!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

california part three

Where were we? Ahh, yes. That first afternoon in California. Well, we began by taking a short bus tour of various areas of the city including Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf, which we found out is the third most popular tourist attraction in the United States after Disney World and Disney Land. Cool! Also, that was the most beautiful Chinatown I have ever seen and I wish I'd had the time to visit it. Some folks did later in the week, but that was the day I went to Alcatraz, which is an entirely different story.

After the speedy tour we were dropped off for lunch and my friends Bethany, Tim, Johanna and I went to this cute place called Lori's Diner. We returned to our meeting place, the rehearsal hall for Chanticleer. If you don't know about Chanticleer, let me tell ya. They are THE premier men's a capella group in the country, if not the world. They are currently on a tour of the states, but are also popular in other areas of the globe. Made of twelve members, the group cycles men in and out but the men do generally stay for a while--the touring and rehearsal schedule is demanding, but to have that beautiful glowing time in Chanticleer dancing about on one's resume is well worth the effort.

Back to the rehearsal hall. We were here for one purpose and one purpose only--to have a master class with Joe Jennings!! AHHH! He is the music director for Chanticleer and he agreed to give us a master class because he is friends with Rollo Dilworth (our beloved and fantastic choir director). This was more awesome to the men in the group--as I cannot be in Chanticleer, I am automatically less excited---but it was still a great experience.

The rest of the evening was relatively uneventful--we had exactly twenty minutes to run out of the bus to the nearest eatery and grab whatever we could for dinner and run back to the bus!! Upon our arrival at Peninsula Covenant Church that evening, we were all mightily exhausted and quite whiny (at least I was!). It was nice to get to bed at our host family's houses that night. My roommates and I had especially nice beds, too...

There was morning, and there was evening, the first day. =)


Monday, March 24, 2008

california part two

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

So, after packing rather obsessively as I always do, planning outfits for every day in advance to minimize packing and hunting around for the smallest of everything, I went to sleep the night before the trip at around 1:30am. It was about two hours too late, but I survived. I had been spending some last-minute chill time with friends so I don't regret one lost moment of sleep.

Early the next morning, though not too early (6am), I woke and readied myself for the plane ride. We all met in the chapel at 6:45 and after dropping off our things a few of us ran quickly to McDonald's for McGriddles (which make me McSick but I keep McEating them). We waited for the bus. And waited. And waited..."Rollo's been on the phone for a good twenty minutes now. I wonder what's goin' on?"
"Well, it looks like the bus is late."
"Ohhhhh...he just looks so calm I didn't know anything was wrong."
Yep, the bus scheduled to take us to the airport was late because the bus driver never showed up to work. We got a replacement bus and arrived at the airport exactly one hour before our flight's departure time. Rollo worked some of his Rollorific magic with United Airlines and they expedited our check-in process by forming a line just for us, pre-printing our boarding passes, and shuffling us through security as fast as possible.

We made it to the terminal in plenty of time and boarded the plane when they called us. It was a beautiful 777, the biggest plane I've ever been on, and I was seated between my good friend Stina and a mystery woman. Mystery woman's name turned out to be Kelly, as we found out after some awkward introductions and those rather uncomfortable moments at the beginning of a relationship between people who apparently only have one thing in common--the destination. After chatting for a good while with Kelly, we found that we have a lot in common and learned a lot about ourselves and each other. Pretty good for a fraction of a plane ride, no?

That's about all of the excitement from the plane. After exiting the airport we boarded a bus in 75-degrees California and met Jim, who would be our bus driver, friend, and confidant for the week. More about him later.

Well, this day was quite a packed one, so I'll leave the rest for later.


Friday, March 21, 2008

california part one

I suppose I should start talking about my trip now that it's four days past when I said I would talk about it. This post will be a brief overview, with later posts covering in detail specific episodes.

Where did we go, exactly? Well, we flew into San Francisco International Airport, spent some time in the city, then drove to Redwood City. We sang three services and a concert on Sunday (Peninsula Covenant), stayed in Redwood City for the night again, and packed up and went to Mission Springs Covenant Camp and Conference Center in Scots Valley. We stopped in Santa Cruz on the way and this was my first experience with the Pacific Ocean and it was COLD. The next day we packed up and left for Santa Barbara (5hr drive) after some very cool experiences which I will cover in detail later. In Santa Barbara we sang at Montecito Covenant Church and I stayed with a professor from Westmont College--we visited the school the next day and it was georgous!

From Sata Barbara we drove back up to Pleasant Hill (6hr drive) and sang at Hope Center Covenant Church. We left for Turlock the next morning (this is Friday, for those keeping track) and visited the Hilmar Cheese Factory and one of the associated dairy farms. That was our largest concert, and also our last. Three churches combined to host us so the crowd was much bigger that night than it had been all week. Saturday we were supposed to go to Yosemite, but a giant boulder fell on the path to get in, so we went to Monterey Bay instead. That was by far the best day--we had five hours to ourselves, so I went kayacking with a bunch of other people and I LOVED it! I was all salty and sore afterward--best day ever!! The next day we flew home and arrived back at school a little after one o'clock in the morning. I went to class at 8:15.

I also forgot to mention that I went to Alcatraz, drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, hiked to see the sunrise, got sunburned (with the shape of two keys on my chest...that was not one of my more brilliant moments), did less homework than I meant to and was okay with it, ate way too much food, and spent more time on a coach bus in one week than I ever had in my life! So, you can imagine that this will likely take a while--put on your seatbelts!


Monday, March 17, 2008

i'm back!

Howdy y'all. I returned from sunny California last night (this morning?) at 1:00am and did not get to sleep until around 3:00am. It was fantastic! I can't wait to share all of my wonderful experiences with you, but that will need to wait until later this evening as I have class and tons of work to do today! But it is nice to be home and everyone got back safely, though a few people were quite ill with bronchitis and flu and whatnot. Anyway, I will share more later!


Friday, March 7, 2008

a spring break blessing

While I'm thinking about it, since I likely will not have time this evening, I want to wish everyone a happy and safe spring break. Especially to all those who are travelling, may God grant you safety on your journey and rest in your destination. I pray that we all enjoy a change of pace and a moment to step back and take a nice deep breath!


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

marching ahead...

I'm still pluggin' along, now with a more positive attitude which, incidentally, is easier to maintain with three of my five mid-terms finished. I had a Baroque music history listening mid-term yesterday consisting of ten snippets of music, all around one minute long, which I had to identify by ear and give title, composer, decade of composition, and five "points of interest." Our professor handed out sheets of loose leaf notebook paper at the beginning of the exam. I had been incredibly worried about that exam all weekend and it was (of course) not quite as bad as I thought it would be, but nearly so! I'm glad that I studied!

Today I had two mid-term exams for the same class. Actually, the Baroque mid-term that I just described was only one of two that I will have for that class as well. Anyway, the mid-terms were for Aural Skills, which is one of my least favorite classes. I love my professor--he is seriously one of the sweetest men I know and so honest it hurts (he'll fail you and actually be sorry about it and want to help you be better...for REAL). However, a good professor does not always redeem a tedious class, and I believe that no matter how fantastic the professor is, Aural Skills is just not meant to be enjoyable. So anyway, we had our "written" final today in which he played two melodies for us to dictate, four harmonic progressions, ten harmonic intervals (ACH!), and five chord quality identifications (double ACH!). That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be either, but it's in my nature to worry too much. I really think that it's just how I am and I either need to embrace it or ignore it or something because it's driving me insane.

Anywho, my remaining mid-terms are: Baroque multiple-choice (yay!) and Lyric Diction II German IPA transcriptions with open reference sheet (piece of cake) and performed diction exam based on our chosen art song/aria. No big deal!

What is a big deal is my Departmental Degree Approval Jury this Thursday. It's at 2:30pm and my mom is coming!! I'm so excited to see her and to have her there--it just makes everything so rosy to know that I have someone in the audience who will love me no matter what happens. I expect to do well, but having her there makes all the difference. And I know some of my friends are coming, which is also incredibly helpful. I'm actually looking forward to this!

Peace y'all