Sunday, November 20, 2011

I think I joined a choir

I think I just joined the choir at church. I’m not certain exactly how it happened, but my meds are making me “dizzy” at the moment, so maybe it will make more sense later. What I remember is this:

I recently went though a retreat call Christ Renews His Parish and I am currently going through formation. I can’t say anything more about it, and I might have already said too much. My point is that I was looking through the list of ministries in my church last night and there are apparently over 70 of them. I went through the ones listed in the bullet points of the main page of the Saint Thomas More website. The one that appealed to me most was St. Vincent de Paul. However, the list of contacts was just a list of names; it gave no indication how a person was actually supposed to contact those people. I didn’t write it off, but I felt the need to do something so I continued to look at the other options. This was Saturday night and I was looking around for a ministry to join because even though I’m going through formation I’m still feeling a little lonely in the parish.

Let me back up just a little bit. I don’t think I’ve introduced myself to anybody who might not know me, so there are probably some things that would be important to know before much of this could make sense. First and foremost; I’m single. That speaks volumes in the way my family interacts with me, and the church as well. (I didn’t write The Church because I don’t mean the entire entity which is The Roman Catholic Church. I’m speaking directly about the church to which I currently belong, and the church before that and the church before that. All of them Roman Catholic and all of them very family-oriented and I don’t have a family except for my cats and I haven’t found the official stance of The Roman Catholic Church regarding cats, or pets in general, though I’m certain that it would be a very charitable one. The Right to Life and all. I mean; I don’t think they would picket a veterinary clinic for fixing animals, even if those animals happened to be pregnant at the moment, but I’m sure that they would require the humane treatment of animals in general and pets especially.) So, the church where I have landed is very, very family-oriented and I feel somewhat more isolated here than I did before. I felt alone at St. Ignatius, Martyr; I felt very alone at Sacred Heart in Elgin, but that was mostly because all of the people who would stop and talk to my roommate – and me when I happened to be with him – didn’t look at me twice when I was by myself. An interesting thing about Saint Thomas More is that they have an organization for adult parishioners who are single. However, you have to be 45 years old in order to belong and I haven’t reached that landmark yet. So, instead of waiting around, lonely and wondering why nobody loved me every week when I went to mass I decided to do something, which in my experience produces 23% fewer results than doing nothing. Yes, I wrote the word ‘fewer’. Perhaps it’s because I make bad decision – and I do – or perhaps it’s because I should let Providence have its way, but I’ve discovered that for the most part doing nothing works out better for me than doing something when it comes to personal matters. Professional matters are different, as are charitable ones. As I mentioned earlier, I’m single, and it hasn’t always been that way and it’s better this way than how things were when I did something instead of nothing and made my own decisions about who I would be with. So, when I moved into my present apartment and joined Saint Thomas More I did nothing for a while and then I was invited to attend a CRHP retreat and I did. That was a great experience and if you have the opportunity to attend one I highly recommend it. It’s also another example of my doing nothing and good things happening because this fell in my lap; I didn’t go looking for it.

So now I move on and look for something and it’s getting outside of my comfort zone a little bit. As I said I was up on Saturday evening looking for a ministry in my church (which says a lot in and of itself) and I made a mental note of several that seemed interesting to me. The page for the Music Ministry was subtle about its acceptance of new members. It read something like this. “WE NEED MUSICIAN! OMG WE ALWAYS NEED MUSICIANS. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED COME JOIN US.” Of course, it didn’t have the acronym ‘omg’ because that stands for something that would not be appropriate on a church web site, but you get the idea.

I thought that maybe I should put those years of voice lessons that I paid for in my youth to work. Of course, I need to warm up the vocal chords again, but that’s okay because it’s almost December and I’m certain that the choir is preparing for Midnight Mass and I can join in January. Not so. Yes, the choir has just begun to prepare for Midnight Mass, but I receive an answer to my email this morning (Sunday morning?) that there will be a hymnal and a STM Music Ministry tote bag waiting for me in 2 weeks when the traditional choir meets again for rehearsal on Tuesday evening at 6:30 in the music room which is opposite the main RE office just down from the Family Center and Gift shop in the building south of the
Church. I’m not saying that they are desperate because the choir makes beautiful music and obviously they have their stuff together. But, he didn’t seem to be taking any taking any chances when it comes to my joining – the date, time and location were crystal clear.

So, now I’m going to go warm up these vocal cords and stretch my range out like it used to be. That will take time; weeks. I won’t be there by Christmas, but I’ll do my best. I feel better already. Fortunately, I’m sitting at a wooden table so I was able to knock on wood because I shouldn’t really make any pronouncements about this new experience until it has actually begun.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

From Side to Side

Why do I love Miss Marple?

The books in which she resides are older; some of the books were written between the two World Wars. Agatha Christie didn’t have to recreate a past; she didn’t have to study English history to see how things were. She was writing about her own time. Miss Marple’s quaint village of St. Mary Mead is loveable and Christie had the resources to be true to life. It’s a lovely world where people live in old houses and have gardens instead of back yards; where people have sitting rooms and visitors and for some reason the kitchens have doors just like bedrooms. There is actually a meal called Tea, though where it fits in with the rest of the eating schedule I never did pin down.

I’ve read a little bit about the series and about Christie (though I haven’t read her autobiography) and nothing of what I read mentions that she had any particularly strong agenda. I think I might have to read her autobiography, just to see if it does go into more detail. I did read that an elderly lady character appeared in a novel, which was then written for stage and that in doing so they changed the character to a young woman. This appears to be the reason for the birth of Miss Marple: to give a voice to elderly spinsters.

That is what I mean by agenda. There was a reason for writing this type of character. In her novels there are many young, middle-aged and older single women. It seems to me that the First World War caused a distinct lack in eligible bachelors and many women had to cope with the fact that there weren’t enough men to go around. Women’s liberation got a boost after the Second World War; that’s when the sentiment really took root that women didn’t exactly nee a man in order to survive. But, before that, and after the First, women were in rather a different situation. This seems to be evident in the novels, and it makes me wonder if somebody in the year 2010 reading them would understand this. It makes me wonder if Christie wrote so that people 50 to 100 years later would get an idea what life was like in England and in general during that time, would get an idea of some of the residual consequences of war.

There is also the issue of maids and servants. It is an issue written about directly in the novel, The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, but it is addressed more subtly in the Miss Marple books. Early in the series she has a maid, as does every household it seems. Many had several servants, depending on the size of the property and the ability of the estate to afford it. In The Mirror Crack’d (from Side to Side), a later novel, they talk casually about how things used to be when one had a parlor maid. Something had shifted and that wasn’t the norm any more. Was it because the people who had been in those positions had new opportunities for lives of their own? Was it because WWII consumed the money from the estates and people couldn’t afford those luxuries any more? Or because it had consumed the lives of those who would have been in those positions? A common complain in the later novels is the difficulty in finding a reliable gardener. In The Mirror Crack’d Miss Marple considers a woman who is hired to help clean for her. She contemplates that this new class of woman was educated, but that she lacked the skills that her previous maids had had – how to wash a delicate tea set and how to scrub a floor. She doesn’t, as far as I can tell, lament this change; she simply notices it.

But, that’s not why I read them on the weekends sitting in a coffee shop when I should be cleaning my home. No. First of all, the avoidance of cleaning is an end unto itself. But, aside from that it makes me feel good to read these novels and stories. Of course murder is not a nice topic, but Christie approaches it in such a delicate way. One is not overwhelmed by graphic detail of decaying corpses and blood splatter. Miss Marple’s expertise is human nature and it seems to me that we could all use a lesson in that. America’s love affair with sociopaths should only strengthen that point of view. And, I just love to read about an older, Victorian lady, people drinking tea and all of those quaint things that I should probably be rolling my eyes at. I have faith that Christie knew what she was talking about and described them accurately. Of course it’s more of the privileged class that we read about and it might not be quite as nice if one were to consider the “other classes” who live at the periphery of the plots. I, myself, certainly would not be on par socially with Miss Marple. But, maybe that’s why I’m so in love with her; it’s so very different to me. I don’t really need to read about struggling with finances and the frustration of working with people that one would rather not work with; I live that every day. Miss Marple provides a nice escape from that reality. When I finished the series I felt the same way as I did when I finished the novel The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Though the ending is obviously why we read novels, I was very sad to have come to it.

By the end of the series the irony of a fluffy old lady being such a shrewd, unshakable sleuth gets a little tired, but a writer can never assume that the reader of the tenth novel in a series has read the other nine. Reading them in order was especially nice. Of course, I had read most of them previously when I was much younger, but many of them I truly did not remember that well and reading them in the suggested order I was able to see how an older lady who loved to work in her garden adapted to not being able to do so and to the shifting social paradigm. It’s definitely worth the effort to do so, but don’t rely on the publication dates. At least one of the novels written during WWII was published in the 70’s and would be noticeably out of sequence if it were read at the end of the series.

Now I can watch the movies. Many actresses have played the part of Miss Marple, but I seem to be drawn to Joan Hickson. And Julia McKenzie did a very good job as well, though I don’t feel that she came off as scattered or fluffy as she should have.

If you are interested in reading these mystery novels in the officially suggested reading order I would direct you to an Agatha Christie web site:, or you could go straight here ( and save a pdf. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

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