Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stations of the Cross

We have stations of the cross every day in New York City, most notably during rush hour. There's always someone cranky on the platform, trying to shove their way into a crowded train when they're already late for work. And people running pell-mell down the stairs and sprinting up to the closing doors, which then slam in their face as the train pulls away.

But this is Holy Week, so let's talk about stations of the Cross. This is a little different. The path from Pilate to the crucifixion itself has been broken down into XII steps, set up as XII separate stations for people to stop and engage their sense of touch as they meditate and pray on the sins, suffering, and grace on that path.

You start at Station I, with a bowl of water and a small towel to give a sense of Pilate washing his hands of the matter as he handed an innocent man over to suffering and death. Later, you touch rough sand and stones as Jesus falls for the first time when carrying the heavy load. At another point, you can hold (and take as a souvenir) a small metallic cross which is quite light -- no comparison with the real thing -- but is a trigger for the mantra "May I carry your cross?" At alternative stations, we are to pray the Lord's prayer. Station XII is a picture of Jesus dying on the cross, and we are asked to think again about the sacrifice.

I went through the stations rather quickly and quietly so that I would be done before the hordes came in. Even so, I was able to get a sense of how powerful this experience is. Next year I'll just go as a worshiper and take my time on each station. I almost want to create my own stations - there should be wood and thorns as well, I think.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Very Own Indoor Wading Pool

Yesterday I awoke at 3 a.m. to the sound of an intense rainfall seemingly all around me. From the sound of it, it was raining on my ceiling and in my walls. I got to the lightswitch just in time to see water streaming out of the electrical outlet in one of my internal walls. It eventually stopped, and it dried quickly, so I went back to bed.

An hour later, the adventure repeated. This time, I thought to take pictures and video with sound. I wanted the plumbers (or whoever) to understand what had happened. Now there was also water seeping through the top of the wall at the ceiling in three locations.

When it seemed to be slowing or even stopping, I grabbed some bedding and went to snooze on the couch in the wonderfully dry and quiet living room. Instead, there was a knock on my door. My downstair neighbor wanted me to come look at the water streaming down her walls. I told her it wasn't necessary; I had my own interior rainstorm, thank you very much. So she came in and looked at mine.

I let my upstairs neighbor sleep in until 8:15 a.m., then I went up to make sure he knew about this (his bedroom is on the opposite side, so he might not be aware until he went in to make coffee). I imagined the worst - skylights broken, buckets around to catch the drips, pools - but his apartment was A-OK. Great.

All day at work, I waited to hear when the contractor could be there. Finally heard at 5 pm that he'd be here today at 8 am. I worried that maybe I'd made a big deal over nothing -- it could have been a one-time thing due to the unusually intense rainfall.

This morning at 4 am, it sounded like water was simply pouring through my interior wall. I got up and checked the floor - just a small stream, like yesterday. No biggie. Tried to go back to sleep. Around 5:30 or so, I got up and checked the guest room. Uh oh. I had my very own wading pool.

Since then: Mop and bail. Throw down old sheets and towels until they are supersaturated. Despair as the rain shows no signs of letting up, and the water keeps gushing through. Talk to neighbors. Repeat.

Around 7:30, however, although the rain continued, the gushing stopped. Hallelujah! I was able to remove the pool, and start draining my sheets and towels in the bathtub. Turns out my ground-floor neighbor's room was flooded, and he thought of a clever stop-gap solution. Literally: he stopped up the gap.

Now we are just waiting for the contractor. If he can fix this quickly and permanently, he will be the most popular person in the building.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

I was genuinely moved by the anthem that preceded the litany of parting at today's service: "Hosanna to Our Savior King," by Sondra Tucker. We had a combined choir of children and grownups; the grownups were able to sing in counterparts, which I love. The adults did one stanza a cappella, which was lovely, and the children did a good job on their stanza as well. Then, toward the end of the piece, a handful of the soprano voices suddenly soared up with full power -- a genuinely thrilling moment. Then they did it again. I almost gasped, it was so beautiful. In general, I prefer not to applaud during a worship service (it's not entertainment), but it's nice to make an exception for the kids -- and even more so when I'm moved nearly to tears.

We had a nicely secular Easter party at the church yesterday for about 25 kids from the Bronx (ages 4-13 or so), culminating in an Easter egg hunt in the sanctuary. The bouncing castle was a big hit, of course, but the sleeper hit was a bunny-themed hopscotch game. The kids got such a kick out of doing it; or at least they did while I was there to call out the jumps as they made them and praise them for their various techniques. I'm inclined to think that the greatest gift we gave these kids was not the free trip to Manhattan, or the abundant fresh fruit (they LOVED the grapes, but left the apples), or even the crafts and games, candy, chicken nuggets, etc., but rather the opportunity for one-on-one attention and praise that they may or may not get on a regular basis in their daily lives.

This is also the secret, I think, behind the PowerLunch reading program. My reading buddy is so happy when I rearrange my schedule so that we don't have to miss a week. Or when I take a taxi to get there after missing the bus. These things say to her, more clearly than any words, that she is important. Which she is. She's a smart, sweet kid, not perfect, but she's still finding her way. Aren't we all?

One more thing that's been on my mind this week: I was unfortunately right about Z. If our friendship is not dead, it's at least unconscious and bleeding. I need to listen to those small misgivings rather than subjecting them to rational analysis. Most people just aren't that rational; we're massive bundles of sensitivity wrapped in a thin veneer of self-confidence.

The bad news is that I find it difficult to keep more than 2 or 3 people in my prayers, but the good news is that I mostly have been keeping them in my prayers. Always the same 2 or 3, for the last few weeks. In all honesty, my prayer muscles (like my physical muscles) are flabby from under-use. None of this is easy. I feel like if I start exercising more - and praying more - and getting rid of a lot of extra unneeded stuff - I will regain a lot of energy. It's the small daily disciplines, perhaps, that make life worth living. (Quadrant II for you Steven Covey buffs.) So why are they so hard?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Skiing

It was 8 hours from Manhattan by bus & car to a ski resort in New England this weekend. (Not really the fastest way to get there, but I didn't want to drive the whole way.) I was open to the possibility of skiing, but wasn't really expecting to ski -- I brought ski clothes & goggles just in case the conditions were super-tempting, but did not bring my skis or ski boots. It turns out there was plenty of mud and grainy snow, but the grooming machines were working hard to redistribute huge mounds of snow across the slopes. My dad felt they were pretty successful.

My nieces went skiing on Saturday and Sunday. Lee apparently is confident on her favorite green slope, but is not taking any chances on the blue slopes. (I think my dad is kicking himself for teaching her the color scheme.) They both had fun scrambling around in the snow on the edges of the ski slope before their second tour de ski.

Clara climbing up:

Lee sliding down:

The one day that really would have been nice was Saturday, with spectacular sunshine and temps in the 60s, but we arrived too late to take a run. Sunday and Monday were much cooler and overcast -- that didn't really make me want to rent skis or buy a lift ticket.

Lee posing:

It was good to get away from the city and relax a bit. I'd have liked to do a bit more hiking, but it was good at least to lose a few games of Scrabble and Mille Bornes, enjoy some delicious home-cooked food and nice conversation. I also managed to buy a pair of snow pants -- after 10+ years of not finding any snow pants that fit me, I found 2 pairs that fit. I bought the cheaper pair (on sale for $70) although it was a bit looser than the other.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Weekend at Killington

I went with about 14 NEXT Ministries folks to Killington, VT for the weekend. We had spectacular sunshine, decent snow (except for the spring slush at the bottom of slopes on certain faces of the mountain) and good company. It was a high-spirited group, with many different skill levels represented. We played games, enjoyed delicious baked ziti and lots of junk food, and were very merry. One of the ringleaders somehow dragooned us all into going out dancing Saturday night; my theory is that his in-house karaoke/dance performance didn't offer him a sufficient audience. Although the outbound trip involved an inauspicious encounter with an obnoxious BMW driver and stop-and-go traffic all the way to the GW Bridge, the return trip was enlivened only by a stop at P.F. Chang's - the curried lamb was really good - and I was home by 10:30. Calves sore, but happy.