Monday, April 22, 2013

The News and Nothing but the News

“I object, Mother! I strenuously object!  The news is bad enough these days without the frenetic added excitement of some under-clad female reporter.  From the very tone of her voice you can tell that she’s enjoying herself immensely.  How will she ever be able to keep that excitement up when the news is served up cold?  And as for that Matt Lauer, if he asks one more person how his second cousin’s nephew’s dog feels about what’s happening I’m going to give up watching the news forever.”

“Quite right, Alfred,” said Mother indignantly, “Gone are the days of Edward R. Murrow, Charles Collingwood, and Walter Cronkite.  There was a reason why Walter Cronkite was referred to as the most trusted man in America.”

“Absolutely, Mother,” said I, barreling right along, “and he was trusted because he reported the news with dignity and restraint instead of getting emotionally involved in it.  As difficult as some of things were that he reported, one was left with the knowledge that if Walter Cronkite was unflappable, all would be right with the world.”

We had just turned off the evening news and we were sitting in the solarium looking out over our garden and thinking about the events of the recent past; those murders in Kaufman, the disaster in West, and the horrible events surrounding the Boston Marathon.  Mother is particularly affected by what happened in Boston.   Mother comes from one of the oldest and finest families in New England.  Her grandfather Antonio Talliaferro emigrated from Palermo to England and thence to Boston, Massachusetts, where he changed his name to Anthony Toliver.  Mother would often remark that in her grandfather’s day his family had an effective way of dealing with people like terrorists.

In an odd way it was a relief for Mother and I to have something on which we could both agree.  At least she wasn’t focused on my faith adventure!  I hadn’t realized that my encounter with Christ would be like throwing a mill stone in the pond.  The ripples were still spreading and little uncomfortable waves were lapping on the shore.

“Alfred,” said Mother changing the subject, “I am very uncomfortable with that invitation from Grace Whittington!”

“Yes,” said I, waiting patiently for the real issue to emerge.

“Well, it’s tomorrow night, Alfred, and we are supposed to bring our Bibles.  I don’t have a Bible; at least not one that makes sense to me.  There is that old one that belonged to grandmother Talliaferro.  It has funny name; the Douay-Rheims Bible, and it is hard to understand.  Grandfather wasn’t very religious, but grandmother used to attend mass every day. Anyway, bringing a big black Bible would be just too gauche.” 

Mother often had a hidden agenda, a sub-theme that lay behind her frowsing, and I had an idea what it might be.  “Mother,” said I, “I was browsing in the book store the other day and I saw one a lovely red leather bound New Jerusalem Bible that just might do; and red is so much more cheerful than black.  Why it hardly looks like a Bible.”

“Well, I don’t know, Alfred,” said Mother hesitantly. “I suppose so,” but knowing Mother as I do I could tell she was pleased. After all, quality is ever foremost in her mind.

“The Scriptures are Gods Voyce; The Church is His eccho.” – John Donne 17th C

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Come My Love and Live with Me

I must confess that it’s been a difficult week, and difficult on two fronts.  Mother has not responded well to my new adventure in faith; but it has occurred to me that I should neither back down, nor make a pest of myself.  The result is that I have resolved just to stick to my normal pattern as best as I can. I usually rise and hour or two before Mother, make myself a cup of tea, and retire to my study with my Bible.

The second front of course is the frou-frou dog. Mother has named it Pippa. I thought it ought to be named Puddles, but I wisely kept my mouth shut. As it says in Proverbs, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.”

This morning Mother was out puttering around in the garden trimming the dead buds off the Dublin rose bushes that she had planted last fall, and I have taken advantage of the moment by going into the drawing room and sitting down at our Seiler 168 Virtuoso piano.  Admittedly I’m a little rusty, but an old Bill Kenney number from The Ink Spots had come to mind and I began to sing softly,

Come my love and live with me
Beside the ever chanting sea
We’ll live beneath the open sky
And share the simple things, that life as one.
I’ll bring you the gold of the dusk and dawn
We’ll speak of love eternally
For nothing else could sweeter be
As endless as the sky, our love shall never die
O come my love and live with me.

            I suddenly became aware that Mother had entered the room and had begun to sing along in harmony.  I was appreciative, after all she has been a little sensitive lately.

            “Alfred,” said Mother. “I’ve noticed that Pippa seems to have taken a shine to you.”

            “Well, harrumph!” said I, not knowing what else to say.  I didn’t want to point out that Pippa had fallen in with my morning routine and usually followed me into the kitchen for a morning biscuit and then settled down in the study with me.  It probably helped that I have stopped referring to it as the frou-frou dog.

            Just then the phone rang¸ and Mother picked it up and I heard her saying, “Grace, good morning.” Then, “Dinner at your house on Wednesday evening, how lovely, thank you, of course we’d like to come.”  There was a pause and then she continued, “It’s the same group we had dinner with at the Bistro?”

            Then a distinct note of coolness crept into Mother’s voice, and I heard her say, “You want us to bring our bibles?”  Mother’s face had that set iron lady expression that she had copied from Margaret Thatcher. 

Finally she put down the phone and stared at me, “Alfred, did you put Grace up to this?”

“Up to what? Mother,” said I¸ for in truth I hadn’t the faintest idea what she was talking about.

“Alfred,” said Mother, “Grace says it’s called a Care Group.  They get together once a week for dinner and a bible study and they pray together.  If it weren’t Grace Whittington, I would have said ‘No!’.  Whatever will I do?  I don’t like the idea of praying out loud at all.  That would be most uncomfortable. I like to keep my prayers between myself and God.”

My guess was that Mother seldom prayed, if at all.  It just wasn’t her type of thing. I considered the problem for a moment, then answered, “I’m sure that you won’t be pressured to praying aloud if you don’t want to.  After all prayer is a rather individual thing, and after all, it is the Whittingtons and we do like the Whittingtons.”

“Yes, well, Alfred, I suppose so,” said Mother. “We’ll just have to see.”

“In that day, says the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree" (Zechariah 3:10).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Frou-Frou Dog

What a horrible morning.  One would think that after one has surrendered one’s life to Christ Jesus last Sunday that things would be a little easier.  I was almost prepared for Mother’s negative reaction; surrender is not something for which she has natural empathy.  What I wasn’t prepared for was her next move.  Yesterday she went to Grace Whittington’s and came back with the threatened frou-frou dog, a Bichon Frisé. 

Well, the dog is not house trained, and Mother let it roam around freely last night.  Usually, in the morning, I swing my feet out of bed and slip on my red velvet Albert Slippers.  This morning was different than all other mornings.  I rolled out of bed and put my foot in a puddle of something wet on the Kermin carpet in our bedroom.  I looked around for my Albert Slippers.  One was a sodden well chewed mess across the room by my Louis XVI Armoire, the other was under the bed.  I could have wept in frustration. 

As was my early morning custom I went to the kitchen and took down the Brown Betty teapot from the cabinet, filled it a quarter full of hot water from the electric kettle, swished it around, and placed several teaspoons of Irish Breakfast tea in the pot.  Then I looked around the kitchen and noticed an odiferous pile of something brown under the breakfast table.  By then I was fuming.  Of course I did the noble thing.  I got down on my knees and cleaned up the mess under the table; but I also resolved to have a firm word with Mother about the dog. 

After I calmed down I went to get a Royal Staffordshire mug from the cabinet.  Just as I lifted the mug, the dog waddled into the kitchen and tugged forcefully on my silk damask pajama leg and I dropped the mug on the floor and it shattered.  I am ashamed to admit that at that point I gave vent to a few choice gutter phrases.  I had quite enough of the frou-frou dog, and if the dog hadn’t fled at my outburst, I swear I would have kicked it.

The problem is not really the language, but the feeling of having lost control.  I felt terrible!  I was on my knees cleaning up shards of shattered china when it occurred to me that this was the second time this morning that I had been on my knees, and neither time had I been praying.  It was with mixed resentment and embarrassment that I pondered over the situation but it seemed clear, at the very least, that I was looking at an unlovely side of my nature that was of interest to my God.  It seems that I do not like to be thwarted or inconvenienced.  Ouch!

Becoming a Christian has some demands that I wasn’t prepared for.  Guilt over stupid stuff has a way of hammering at the inner man.  Oh, well, I knew the remedy, I just didn’t want to co-operate with the extended grace.  When I figured that out, I got down on my knees, right there in the kitchen, and prayed.  Having done that I felt better, but now the question arises, just how am I going to adjust to the frou-frou dog?

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16].  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Alfred’s Easter Celebration

Mother and I have always enjoyed sitting in our solarium.  On a mild afternoon like this it is particularly pleasant, and we had retired there for an afternoon rest with a small glass of Guffens Aux Tourettes "Syrose.”   Even though I find the quiet beauty of this spot restful, this afternoon I was a little uneasy. 

“Mother,” said I, “This has been a rather heady Easter Celebration,” I paused, waiting for a response, but Mother merely looked at me archly.  So I continued, “I’m so glad that our Jeremy and his Winifred were able to come to our Holy Week Messiah presentation on Wednesday evening.”

Mother pursed her lips and remained silent.  I know her well enough to know when a storm is brewing, and I had a feel for just what it might be.  Nonetheless I continued.  Sometimes a man just has to say what a man has to say.

“Mother,” said I, “Singing those words in my tenor solo made a deep impression on me.  ‘Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.  He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of Thy people was He stricken.’  Why I felt like I was being personally addressed by God my Father.”

Mother heaved big sigh and shrugged her shoulders dismissively.  “Alfred, said she, “When I encouraged you to go to Church I didn’t expect you to go overboard.  After all the real point is all the new friends that we have met.”

“I know, Mother, that you feel that way, I know, but I do want to tell you what has happened to me.”

Mother set her jaw and her frown deepened.  Not to be deterred I continued, “Last Sunday when I offered to Father Goodfellow a case of Taylors 20 Year Old Tawny, his answer disturbed me.  You might even say that I found his words rather piercing.  ‘Just remember,’ he said, that this port wine of yours will convey the reality of the Blood of Christ.’”

Mother slammed the copy of the Atlantic Monthly that she was reading down on the table and stared at me.

“Well, Mother,” said I, “When I came to the communion service at our Maundy Thursday service I could hardly drink the port, excellent though it is.  I was deeply unnerved.  The final blow came at the very end of the service with the Solemn Stripping of the Altar.  I had never seen anything quite like that.  It left me devastated, and I knew that Christ had died for me.”

“Alfred!” barked Mother, looking shocked.

“That’s not all, Mother,” said I, “This morning we were singing that beautiful Palestrina hymn, ‘When the Strife is O’er, the Battle Done.  When we came to the fourth verse, ‘He closed the yawning gates of hell, the bars from heaven’s high portals fell,’ I knew in my heart of hearts that he had died for me.  Mother, I have surrendered my life to him.”

Mother looked at me with utter distress, “Alfred, you should talk to Jeremy and Winifred, they’re religious, they should be able to shed the light of pure reason on this.”

“I did, Mother, I did,” said I, “and do you know what Jeremy said?  He said, ‘Dad! How wonderful, I have been praying for you ever since I accepted Jesus as my Saviour last fall.  How wonderful!”

Mother looked at me wryly and said, “Well,” Alfred, “you’ll get over it, I’m sure.”

“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38)