Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Miscellaneous

A couple of things about this past week:

On Thursday, New Year's Eve, Br Bernard became a United States citizen. He is from Belgium and has been in this country for a long time. Now that he has made his vows for life, he thought it was time to declare his Stability politically as well as religiously.

The ceremony was in New York City and several of us went to be with him for the occasion. I'd never witnessed a "Swearing In" as the Bailiffs referred to it, and I have been really looking forward to it. It turned out to be a combination of a number of things, including a lot of empty time.

We were to be there by 9:00(a.m.) and we were there quite early, mostly by design. We didn't know what the traffic might be like, and it can easily take an hour or more after you get to Manhattan to negotiate the streets of the lower part of the Island, so we left plenty of time. As it turned out, no one was around Lower Manhattan on New Year's Eve Morning, so even though we got lost in a minor way in the twisting streets of that part of the City, we arrived at the Daniel Patrick Moinahan Court House about 45 minutes early. Bernard, who had been in New York for a day already, got there a while after the rest of us.

It took a little while to discover what the shape of the morning would be like and that it was mostly going to consist of waiting. The first two hours were for registering the 52 people who were being made citizens. This was done individually, and each person was closely questioned and signed lots of papers. Bernard had to swear, among other things, that he hadn't become "A Habitual Drunkard" since his last interview 2 weeks ago. The rest of us sat. And sat. And sat. Luckily Bernard was in the first group of people to be processed, so when he was done we did some of our sitting in the cafeteria and had a snack. And sat some more.

We got back to the Court Room at 10:45, when we had been told to arrive. The judge entered at 11:00. The ceremony was pretty informal, complete with a sort of Mutt and Jeff routine by the two Bailiffs which was pretty funny at times. But when the judge entered I found myself suddenly very moved as the Bailiff called out the words you have heard in movies so many times: "All rise. Hear ye, hear ye. The Court of the Southern District of New York is now in session, The Honorable ________ ______ presiding. Draw near and be heard."

All of the candidates stood and swore their oath of citizenship and then we all stood and pledged allegiance to the Flag. I can't remember the last time I did that, but it may have been in Junior High School. I still know all the words. Then the judge gave a short speech in which he congratulated the candidates, who came from all over the earth - from, as he said, Albania to Yugoslavia. He then talked about the duties of citizenship - voting, paying taxes, serving their country when there is need - and urged them to not discriminate against any of their fellow citizens. He was direct and personable. He obviously liked doing this.

Then each of the 52 candidates was called forward by name and received their certificate and a copy of the Constitution and it was over. There wasn't a whole lot to it, but it was quite obviously important and made quite an impact. There was lots of picture taking afterward and people were clearly going off to celebrate.

As were we. We had lunch in one of the nice restaurants that New York supplies in profusion. We toasted the new citizen and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I'm so glad I was there to share those moments and to be part of this transition. It was very good. Then we drove home and arrived about 2 minutes before the bell rang for the First Vespers of the Feast of the Holy Name (New Year's Day).

The other thing I'm musing about is evidence that was handed to me this week that at my advanced age, I apparently am still shockable. Hard to believe, I know, but it happened. It was in a conversation with a guy I've known for a while and have recently been getting to know better. We were sitting together one morning and had been sharing some personal stuff, as people do when they are deepening a friendship, when quite unexpectedly and with just about no preparation, he said (as well as I can recall): "I might as well say this now: I've been praying for you for quite a while. I just figured that someone who upholds a lot of people should have someone upholding him."

I stammered my thanks. I wonder what my face looked like. I was truly shocked. It probably isn't any exaggeration at all to say that I was stunned. Of course it was a good kind of shock/stun. A really wonderful one, actually. What a great gift. But shock/stun just the same.

Why? I had to puzzle with it and run it around and the answer is embarrassing, but it's the same old thing. I had a "Christian" upbringing. I was told, over and over, beginning at an age where it wasn't even appropriate: "You shouldn't think about yourself. You should think about other people." We know by now that, whatever truths are hidden in a phrase like that, it's simply no way to deal with the problems of narcissism, much less a way to teach Christian ethics. But the result is that like so many other people, I'm thrown out of balance when someone actually attempts to give me some support. Sigh!

All of that aside, there's also another level of stuff here that has been percolating in me since this happened. To have someone say they had undertaken not just to pray for me but to have that prayer be a support for me, and to do it without needing to tell me about it, and to keep at it for a considerable time just because he thought I would need it, was a surprise gift of considerable magnitude to me. I just hope I managed to react appropriately. I can't, in fact, remember anything I said. Sometimes relationships produce things that are a total surprise, and this was one of them. I have no idea whether I managed to express how much this meant.

It is also one of the things that I think life, and our faith, are all about.

It has made me spend a lot of time reflecting on the truth of human connection. So much of the fabric of life is about the things we do for each other just because we think other people are important. At its best, it's an imperative, not something that we do to be recognized or thanked. We depend, very deeply, on people we may not know and on actions and kindnesses that we never hear about, but which support and strengthen us anyway. This is truly what Intercession is about, and why it is so important. In the end, the major importance of Intercessory Prayer isn't what we can get God to do for other people. It's just about weaving the fabric of life with the threads that are us and God and others. It's about standing as a support for others, as a force for kindness and healing in their lives, and as a concern for their well-being, if they know of our concern or if they don't. That's a lot more important for all of us in the end.

I think about the people across the river in Hyde Park for whom I have prayed every night for years, and for whom I will pray for as many years as I have left. It's important to me to be involved with them like that. When I do it, I'm not particularly asking for anything for them. I'm just expressing my bond with them and doing what I can to call down Grace on us all. Who knows what importance it has to them; most of them will never know about it. But is it important? Oh yes, it is very important that people do this. We really do depend on it, whether we know it or not. So it was breathtaking (literally) to me to discover that I was sitting across from someone who shares this belief and this little private part of me and was giving the same gift to me. Humanity depends on this sort of exchange.

Little things often move me more that big ones. This is a very happy New Year.

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