Sunday, April 22, 2012

"You aren't messing up today!"

At 6:20 this morning, my alarm went off, and I uttered the requisite groan of exhaustion.  Why am I getting up right now?  Every Sunday, I have the same sluggish attitude, but I am almost always rewarded for my efforts, and today was no exception.

I arrived at the church, began setting up the projector, only to find that my limited tech knowledge, which had been sufficient, was no longer enough to get the slides to appear on the screen.

I spewed a few expletives, rebooted both the projector and the computer, and thus having exhausted my battery of tests, gave up.

How many parish workers and parishioners does it take to get a projector to work? At least six.  The whole system finally worked, with many adjustments, for the noon mass (unfortunately, not soon enough for 8 am mass), and I breathed a small sigh of relief.  The process had cost me precious rehearsal time, however, and I was skeptical of how the rest of the mass would go.

As we gathered to "All the Ends of the Earth," the children and the third grade teacher, Mrs. Martins, filed in to fill the rest of the choir, which was supplied by the parish's English Bible Study group, Quest, and a few regulars.  There were nineteen of us in total, a record number.  I can't even begin to emphasize how good that felt.

When it came time for our Easter psalm, Bobby Fisher's "This is the Day," I was nervous and excited.  It was only the second week we had done it, and I still wasn't sure that I had engaged the congregation as much as I had hoped on that first Easter Sunday.  I was, and am, convinced that if any hymn or psalm was going to engage this congregation, it would be that one.

We started off strong, and the kids joined in with me on the first verse.  In the middle of the following refrain, I heard someone clapping, and before I knew it, the entire congregation was clapping.

I couldn't stop smiling.  Finally, after eight months, I found a small measure of success.

The entire congregation was clapping.

During our rehearsal, I made a point of telling everyone that when we sang verse four, everything had to come to a quick stop on 'house': "the stone which the builders rejected has become the foundation of our HOUSE!"  Like that.  (In my own past, a drum solo would go there, but we were not prepared for a drum solo today.)

And it happened.  The tambourines stopped, the choir stopped, the clarinet stopped.  The clapping did not stop, and I take that as the St. Anthony's version of a "drum solo."  I couldn't believe it.  I couldn't stop smiling.

Eight months ago, if I had arrived here, and this had been my first mass, this is what would have happened:

1.  I would have pulled my hair out in frustration, realizing how far the music at this parish was from anything I had every known.

2.  I would have thrown my hands up at the "disorganization," which seems wholly organized relative to where I started, but certainly not organized relative to what I was accustomed.

I appreciated today SO MUCH.  The music sounded wonderful; there were so many voices, all working toward prayer.  It was phenomenal, and I also know that I couldn't have appreciated how phenomenal it was until now.  I needed to know what it was like to start from square one, I needed to build relationships, and I needed to learn who the people are that I am serving.  I am constantly daunted by and grateful for the learning curve that my job presents, and I know I am better for it.

The part of Thomas Merton that I am often guilty of quoting is the first paragraph of his Letter to a Young Activist, but the part that resonated with me today was later in the letter.  (I will reproduce it in its entirety, for completeness):

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion.

The real hope, then is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it before hand.

Enough of this…it is at least a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers.

All the best, in Christ,

"The real hope, then is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see."

After all of my attempts at "success," however narrowly and broadly defined, God made good of all of it.  When I really began to focus on the truth, the people, not the work, but it's implication, only then did I finally move toward that goodness.

And, then, the highest compliment of all.  Annaliah, one of the third graders, said to me in the middle of mass: "You aren't messing up today!"

See, I am making all things new...

Peace and all good,