Monday, December 17, 2007

JOY at Vespers and Orthros

Somewhat recently, Fr. Peter and I were fortunate to participate in a Friday night JOY lock-in. Except I made us go home and sleep in a real bed, as this was soon after the GOYA retreat and trips to Romania and Texas.* We did come back early enough on Saturday morning to make (on his part) and eat (on our parts) chocolate-chip pancakes, which were a pretty big hit. I know that I'm used to my personal priest-cum-chef making me pancakes upon request, but I don't think the small fry had glimpsed such wonders, so I volunteered him. (And then volunteered him to make me my own batch the next day. He's really good with the Bisquick, yo.)

As part of the retreat, we had Vespers on Friday night, a rather informal affair as far as I was concerned. (Not counting us, two adults versus twenty-some kids equals "informal.") Our parish doesn't have Vespers as a matter of course, so while they were leaping along the hallways to the chapel, they were telling me how strange it was for them to be going to church "at night" and "in the dark." In the chapel, when it was time for the reading of the psalm, I invited to the chant stand "anyone who wanted to help read." I saw lots of hands up (they're pretty well trained with that), so I—rashly, as it turned out—said that whoever was interested should come up. I quickly noticed that I was up against the wall in a waist-high sea of children. I looked up and saw that only the two adults were still in the pews. I started one little girl reading, then stopped her after she'd read a good bit, and put another child up. I had faces turned to me like sunflowers, hungry, begging to participate, and it was difficult not to cry with the beauty of it. When we only had a little bit of the psalm to go, I had everyone read with me all together.

Except for the longer pieces, like the psalms, we had typed out the Vespers and Orthros services so that the children could follow along. They had to be coached through some of the parts, with big prompts of, "All together now," and I have the feeling that this was an introduction to things like the Trisagion prayers, although we did get a big boost at the familiar Our Father.

For the Saturday Orthros, we decided that of the six psalms read at the beginning, we'd do three instead of the one we had originally planned for. Most of the children had gone home the night before, but I still was scrambling: "You can read the epistle." "You can read the synaxarion." "You can read this psalm which comes later." Everyone wanted to read.

I don't know how to communicate this hunger. I do know that once they get to junior or senior high, they might not be as interested in participating. They don't know that there are so many interesting questions and answers, such beauty, such peace, such strength to draw on when the mean kids pick on you, or you drop your science project in mud, or you're just not understood by the rest of the world in your prickly adolescence. Fr. James was a bit skeptical about children this age (8 to 12, I think) being involved in Vespers and Orthros, saying that it would be too long for them. Well, if I'm not involved in a service, it gets boring quickly for me, too, especially in a language I don't understand.

Do their parents know how hungry their children are? I remember the shock on the children's faces: "We can read?" Yes, loves, you are forever and always welcome to the chant stand so long as I am there. I will always make room, I will always hold the book so you can see, I will always help you pronounce the tricky words. I want to relearn from you that hunger, I want to learn from you to keep going through a psalm with stumbling-blocks like "iniquity" and "leviathan," I want to learn from you that sense of fellow-ship and of going forward together with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

*Please keep mothers in your prayers: my nouna's mother recently passed away; my mother recently had surgery to remove a melanoma and a sentinel lymph node (she's up-and-at-'em again, but will have two cataract surgeries within the next two months); Fr. Peter's mother is struggling against metastasized cancer.



Blogger Mimi said...

Prayers for all mothers involved.

So sweet about Vespers.

Mon Dec 17, 02:59:00 PM CST  

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