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Monday, August 23, 2010

Fish Dance Prayer

Have you ever been so tired - or your mind so full of stuff - that you couldn't sleep?

That's the way I was last night.

My body felt like lead. My eyelids were heavy. But my mind was in such a whir, I couldn't turn it off, causing my body to toss and turn around in my bed like the so much flour and butter, sugar and eggs in my KitchenAid mixer.

Finally, a little after midnight, I got up, made a steaming hot cup of tea, and sat out on the deck in the delightfully cool night air.

It had rained on and off most of the evening. Bursts of gentle, warm rain that were sometimes preceded by loud claps of thunder and a few streaks of lightening.

Mostly, though, it sounded gentle. Soothing. Like a shower of blessings come down from heaven.

The storms rolled past Rehoboth Bay, one by one. At one point, the Internet service was knocked out for about four hours. I found myself slightly annoyed to be inconvenienced, but then found a sort of satisfied delight that a gentle rain had the strength to take down the power of communication in cyberspace.

I imagined the cosmos playing "Rock. Paper. Scissors," with Cybernerds. "My rain stops your electric waves." Or, whatever it is that carries messages in cyberspace.

There was a Waxing Gibbous Moon high in the sky, more than half-lighted but less than full. The word gibbous comes from a root word that means hump-backed, the thought of which always makes me giggle.

I love the phrase, 'waxing gibbous moon'. I also love 'waning gibbous moon' - when the moon is past full but still fully lit.

Sounds like poetry, doesn't it? 

No sense looking for The Summer Triangle — the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair — which highlights the eastern half of the sky in August. Too many clouds tonight.

There will be a full moon tonight, which, in August is known as the Grain Moon or Green Corn Moon. It's also the smallest full moon (say my Islamic friends - who are observing Ramadan, so it's important to know) and it will be 15% less brighter than the regular full moon.

The full moon will become a waning gibbous moon for our daughter's wedding this Saturday night, which, she tells me, should happen at "around 7:30-ish, whenever the sun sets". No, she's not Jewish. Neither is the groom. That's just the way they are.

"We were married at sunset by the light of a waning gibbous moon." Sounds positively romantic, doesn't it?

Did I mention that there's a wedding this coming weekend? Why, yes. Yes, in fact, there is. Our youngest daughter is getting married in just a few days.

These were a few of the things whirring around in my rapidly addling brain - that and things like, "Should I put the wine glasses on that shelf or the one closer to the wine rack?" And, "Is that really the best place for the Christmas Lenox?"

I tried to take some slow, deep, meditative breaths, but something kept disturbing my concentration.

I wasn't out on the deck more than five minutes when I first heard it.

"Bloop. . . . . Bloop. . . . .SPLASH!"


I looked up and down the pier to see if I might see someone doing a little fishing, but there was no one in sight.

"Bloop. . . . . Bloop. . . . .SPLASH!"


Curious, I got up from my deck chair and went over to the rail,  and was richly rewarded for my efforts by a magnificent sight.

The light of the waxing gibbous moon was dancing on the water when up popped a fish - probably a pike - maybe three, four inches long.

Before my throat could gasp in surprise, there popped up another. Then another.

It looked like a Summer Fish Dance out on the marsh, after midnight, in the cool, clean just-washed-by-the-rain air, and all by the light of a waxing gibbous moon.

As I watched them for awhile, I wondered what caused them to dance like that. Was it the light of the moon? The beautiful clean night air?

Perhaps they danced because it was now safe to do so - no birds flying about to pluck them out, mid-dance, from the water?

Was this their midnight prayer? Dancing in praise and joy and thanksgiving to the glory of the God of their creation?

Nah, probably just sea lice, all stirred up by the rain on the water. I'm told by some of the Bay men in the neighborhood that fish often jump to rid themselves of the bother and itch of them.

Still, it was a beautiful sight. I felt a bit like a voyeur, a very privileged spectator watching them in their unabashed display of whatever it was, just after midnight, distracting me from the myriad of mundane thoughts that had been whirring around in my head.

That's when I remembered something.

Entering into actual prayer while presiding at a Eucharistic Service can sometimes be an impossible task. There are so many details to which one has to attend. What are the acolytes doing? (The rule of the Adolescent Acolyte: "It's all fun until something goes wrong. And then, it's hysterical.")

Where is the lector for the second reading? So-and-so looks distressed - I wonder if s/he got downsized? Has her husband's condition gotten worse? Didn't she have some tests this week? Is the surgery this week or next? Make sure to connect with him . . her . . . them . . . after the service.

One must also be ever-mindful of one's 'audience'. I mean, my task is to lead the people of God in prayer. It's what a 'presider' does. That's difficult to do when one looks like one is distracted and not actually in prayer.

I remember Ms. Conroy saying to me once, years ago, "You know, we see you. You may be fooling yourself, but you're not fooling us. We see you counting us. Stop that. Let the ushers do it. You just lead us in prayer."

Sometimes, the only time I can really pray is during the hymns. I know many of them by heart. Yes, after 24 years of singing them, it's not hard. Sing a hymn that many times over the years and memorization is not a difficult task. It just happens.

The truth is that sometimes, when I'm on retreat, or when I'm going through spiritual dry spells, singing hymns is the only way I can pray.

Little bits of verses, memorized by heart, will float up through the cracks in my broken heart, soothing and surrounding my weary soul.
"Come my Joy, my Love, my Heart. . . such a joy as none can move. . . such a love that none can part. Such a heart as joys in love. "

"Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee. In my heart though not it heaven, I can raise thee. Small it is in this poor sort to enroll thee. E'en eternity's too short to extol thee."

"Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love He sought me, and on His shoulder gently laid and home rejoicing brought me."

"Each newborn servant of the Crucified bears on the brow the seal of Him who died."

"Oh day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams . . . Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, nor shall the fierce devour the small. As beasts and cattle calmly graze, a little child shall lead them all. . . ."

"And, when from death I'm free, I'll sing on, I'll sing on . . . . . And through eternity, I'll sing on . . ."
There are many, many others, but those are among my favorites.

Sometimes, right there in the middle of the service, I'll close my eyes and sing the words that have inscribed themselves on the walls of my heart and come as close as I ever do to really praying in the midst of the very public practice of presiding.

Every now and again, I'll open my eyes and look out over the congregation. Ninety-nine percent of the congregation will have their noses buried in the Hymnal. Every now and again, some will lift their eyes from the page, tilt their heads toward heaven, close their eyes and, like me, sing from the words written on their hearts.

I always loved to see parents with children who were just beginning to read words and/or music singing together from the hymnal.

Some parents juggle a babe in one arm, holding the hymnal in the other, while trying to fish out a toddler from under the pews.

But there are always the same small handful of people, staring at me. The same ones who have been my sharpest critics. Every Sunday. Without fail.

There were some really mean-spirited people in some churches. Not many. Enough to make it really difficult. Predators. Like pike. With bland tasting white flesh. So filled with tiny, prickly bones that fishermen often throw them back into the water. Definitely not a good catch.

I remember one man who always looked at me with a sort of cynical bemusement. The expression on his face was always, "Hmm . . .Look at that. . . she seems to know all the words . . .nice trick."

One or two others were clearly disgusted, the expression on their faces clearing communicating their thoughts: "Harumph! Show off!"

But the other four or so were clearly curious, "What is she doing? Looks like she's . . . hmmm . . .what is that?. How odd! Father 'Whatshisface" never did THAT! Whatever IS she doing? Why is she doing that? How does she remember the words?"

At least, as I read their expressions every Sunday and heard their gossip, that's what I thought they might be thinking. A few of them in one church eventually stopped coming into church for the Service of the Word. They would hang out in the glass Narthex, having animated conversations. You know. So I could actually see they weren't paying attention. Popping in just for the announcements and for communion.

Maybe I confused them by actually praying in public.

Nah. Probably just thought I had a bad case of sea lice.

Besides, while most people in churches are wonderful, the few who make it difficult are also among those in the community who disdained of any PDAs = Public Displays of Affection. And prayer for me is often a sublime act of love. Ms. Conroy and I would be scrupulous to avoid PDAs in church. Don't want to scare the horses with even a hint of 'the ick-factor'.

Interestingly enough, I would find myself being embarrassed. Like I had been caught with all my clothes off in public. Public prayer - like preaching - is often times the most naked thing I do.

The term, "resident alien" comes to mind.

Never mind, I would tell myself. Lead by example. Show them what real prayer can be like. Maybe they'll actually try it sometime in the not-too-distant future.

"Bloop. . . . . Bloop. . . . .SPLASH!"

My wandering, whirring thoughts wound their way back into the beautiful night on my deck over looking the marshes off Rehoboth Bay.

Suddenly, it was I who felt embarrassed, watching their naked dance.

Just then, a cloud moved away from the moon and I felt its light bathe my face, melting my embarrassment and pulling at my feet. Suddenly, I found myself dancing with the fish by the light of the waxing gibbious moon.

I felt healed of some ancient, unknown wound. I felt release and freedom. I felt joy and peace.

I heard myself begin to sing one of my favorite hymns as prayer,
"The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife clothed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing, the marvelous peace of God."
I finished my tea, came in the house, and slept, as they say in Ghana, "like a foolish man."

Prayer will do that for you.


Jeffri Harre said...

Lovely post, Elizabeth. While I dont' have a back deck/porch, I still could have sat with the moon during my sleepless night. Next time I'll remember this.

By the way. I hear there's a wedding coming up next weekend... ;-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oye, Jeffri. You had to go and remind me! ;~)

Muthah+ said...

Having been a life-long piscatorial peruser, your fish are most likely feeding on some bugs that are rising in the water column. In the fishing nominclature this is called "a hatch" and it is what all fisherfolk who fish by fly, wait for. It usually happens at night or just at dusk or dawn. I doubt if they were pike as pike are a freshwater species that are really more carnivores rather than bug-eaters. But if they were 4 or 5 inches long they may have been a kind of breem or porgies. I haven't studied the DE coast well enough to know what is common there.

I am convinced that fish play. I have watched carp in the Susquehanna play on a hot afternoon jumping and slapping the water. It is what gives us fisherfolk hope.

Also "Ponder anew, what the Almighty can do"

Cindy said...

Thank you for this post. Many nights I find myself unable to sleep - my mind going on and on. The hymns of my heart are my comfort and strength on those nights. After 25 years of singing them they are engraved and I find they can drown out the still painful memories of parish ministry. Seems we all have a few folks who look at us a certain way or say certain things...sometimes the greatest enemy of the church is the church. Now that I am away from parish ministry I am hoping to sleep again. Thank you for reminding me that life goes on and healing comes. Though I know this, re-enforcement is necessary to a battered soul.

kitty said...

Thank you. The words and the pictures they evoke are a balm and an invitation.

The one who sings prays twice.

(my word verification is "thwarm" --- like a thwarm of dancing fish?)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. I am a former Roman Catholic who inexplicably fell in love with the Hymnal. I've noticed that my spirit begins to prepare for the various liturgical seasons musically. Over the past few years, some time during the long Thanksgiving weekend, Sleepers Wake begins to play in my head unbidden. Sacred music has a power I can't hope to understand.

Lou Poulain, in Sunnyvale.
PS Congrats on your successful move!

it's margaret said...

....and God bless you in all your acts of public prayer and affection --God knows there is little enough of that.... and I lift my glass to you at the thought --keep up your midnight reveries dear sister.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mediacom, my ISP, has been down since noon so I'm limited to "thumbing" on my iPhone. Not exactly conducive to individual responses. Here's what I remember - I checked with the folks at Perrys Bait and Tackle up the road. They said ''suppose mating is possible but in LSD it's sea lice." And they are probably "Tommy Pike"
I saw, Lauren. At least. That's what the Bay Men said.

Thanks to the rest of you for your kind words. They make me want to dance - fish or no fish

John D said...

Love that you love some hymns I love. When I hold my hour(s) before the altar of repose on Maundy Thursday, usually the hard early morning, dark hours, I sing the lovely eucharistic hymns around #330 in the hymnal. I'm all for musical adventure in the mass, but we have great integrity in the 1982 book, and I pray we have a way, not just to preserve, but to promote its use.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Elizabeth, do you ever remember as a kid being pushed and prodded to stay awake so you would not miss something?

I think about when I was nine years old and was so excited about the Apollo 11 moon walk. My grandparents knew I wanted to see it more than anything, but at times it was obvious I was waning. They sent me outside to walk around and play in the moonlight. They had me getting up from the couch. And somehow, I stayed awake for it...then could not bring myself to go to sleep.

Your experience is one I have myself every now and then. Can't sleep, so I capitulate and go outside. Then I see something marvelous and it all feels very very personal.

I realize that, like my grandparents prodding me to stay awake, God pokes at us to stay awake because he knows something is outside you need to see.