Last night my oldest daughter (who is almost 18) and I drove up to church. It was about 10PM, and we were going up to participate in reading through the whole Bible out loud.
Oh, and did I mention that a young man also went with us?
I drove, and Christine and he got in the back. Nothing unusual there, as whenever the kids ride with friends (male or female) they generally sit in the back while I serve as chauffer up in front. They got in from opposite sides of the car and each sat by their respective door--all well and good.
But then as I pulled out and drove down the street, I heard movement and the position of my daughter's voice changed. Out of reflex I glanced in the rear view mirror to see she had slid over next to the young man.
I like this guy a lot. In sliding over next to him, my daughter was simply doing what young ladies have been doing for a long, long time--what I would have done had I been in her spot. I'm not saying that I objected or even that I was anything but happy for her.
But it still felt...funny... like it was one of those instants where one's whole world shifts. I couldn't help but wonder, if even just for a moment, "Am I really ready for this?"
One of the very nice Christmas presents I received this year was a CD from my father.On it are family pictures that go back several generations.Here, for instance, is a picture of my Grandfather Merola holding a nice grouper he caught down in Florida.I guess that’s where my love of fishing comes from; I only wish he had passed down his “tall and slender” genes as well!
I was only 3 when my Grandfather Merola died, so I never really knew him.But I look at these old pictures, where he is holding a fish (there are several of those) or with him standing out in his garden, and I feel a sense of kinship.
On this same CD is a 15 page “History of the Carl R. Merola side of the Merola Family” that my father has written.This is the kind of gift that I think every child dreams of getting.We all carry the past within us, more than we often know.So in my experience, at least, to understand something of the past which has brought me into being is to better understand something of myself as well.
And then, sometimes there are stories in our past that have good reason to be kept alive into the future.Of course, there is much of our past which will not survive us (most of it actually), and somewhere along the line that is one of the things with which we all need to make our peace.But maybe there are at least a few things that it would nice for people to know, good for people to hear, long after they have happened, long after we are gone.
For me, at least, this is a story that falls into this category:
When WWII ended I can remember people dancing in the streets.We lived at 912 Coal Street and in the downstairs hall we had an upright piano.My brother-in-law, Gordon Ellwood, could play the piano by ear.He couldn’t read music but could duplicate a song just by hearing it.We pushed the piano out on the front porch and Gordon played while everyone celebrated.The main street in Wilkinsburg was Penn Avenue. Penn Avenue was Route 22 and Route 30, the two main routes in Western Pennsylvania, so if you were traveling across western PA you went through Wilkinsburg.But of course there wasn’t nearly the traffic then that we have now.–Carl Merola, Sr.
This is the time of year where we (St. Matthew's) read through the entire Bible out loud. We also stream the reading live over the internet (you can find the link at our website if you are interested).
I generally have the audio streaming through my laptop while I work, listening to people read. I just heard this: "Say to them, 'My little finger is thicker than your father's loins.'"
I've read the whole Bible through before, but I sure never remember reading that. On doing a little research, I found that the versions I've read have translated the verse (2 Chronicles 10:10) as "My little finger is thicker than your father's waist."
Somehow I don't think that really captures the gist of this particular taunt! Everytime I read the Bible I am struck over and over again by how earthy, real, and very human it can be.
That is not meant to take anything away from its ability to speak Truth with authority. Far from it, it makes the Truth it speaks that much more profound, and relevant to life as you and I know it.
One of the things I remember from my childhood was going out to see the Christmas lights.My parents would bundle everybody up (in western PA the nights were cold and there was usually snow on the ground) and we’d all pile into the family station wagon.Then we’d drive up and down the neighborhood streets, looking at all the pretty Christmas lights.
Driving home from night meetings this past month and seeing all the beautiful lights in this area—there seem to be more than ever this year!—has reminded me of how much I enjoyed that as a kid, and of how every year I’d look forward to that particular night almost as much as Christmas morning.It was the repetition of that tradition that both drove it deep into my memory and built anticipation of going out and doing it again.
We live in a culture that sometimes distrusts repetition—and the rituals it produces-- as boring, meaningless, or insincere.That’s too bad.Yes, when repetition becomes mindless, it can be all these things to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, repetition can be the vehicle for deep connections that would not be possible to access any other way-- deep and profound connections with our past, with others, and with what we most enjoy.Think of the childhood stories we remember to this day, the games we’ve played (and still play!) over and over again, the enduring power of our favorite songs no matter how many times we hear them.
That’s part of why I so love the seasons of Advent and Christmas in a church with a history that stretches back thousands and thousands of years.The repetition and rituals of our worship connect me more deeply to a God who is more than the just the product of our current culture, to others, to the richness of our past, and to the people we love but see no longer who thought these rituals so important that they have bequeathed them to us.
Although we put our tree up on Saturday, the family schedule didn’t actually leave us enough time to decorate it that day as well.That had to wait for early Monday evening, when we carved out some time in everyone’s schedule to adorn the tree before we went our separate ways again for the night’s meetings and activities.
Decorating the tree was a trip down memory lane.Many of our ornaments are home made or have sentimental value.Putting them up gave us occasion to recall stories from years gone by.It brought special people and occasions to mind.And in produced a lot of smiles and sometimes even laughter.
Mary, my youngest daughter, said, “It’s like seeing your children’s life right before your eyes.Only Christine and I are the children!”
Today we continued a long standing family tradition of going to a tree farm out in the country to find a Christmas tree for our home.Unlike this time last year, there is no snow on the ground.Still, it was seasonably cold, with the morning dawning a brisk 14 degrees.
Not that we went out then.I had meetings at church from 7AM to noon, so we didn’t actually get on our way until about 1PM.I found a beautiful little blue spruce I liked, but I was overruled by my daughters who wanted a “green” tree.
The tree the picked out was our biggest yet.Tying it to the car was something of a challenge, and we weren’t entirely sure it would fit in our living room without further trimming.
Before leaving, we drank hot chocolate and feed the horse apples.Well, the horses didn’t eat the apples because apparently kids were feeding them candy canes earlier.So we fed the ponies apples, and they eagerly devoured them.
We made it home without incident, though the car veered strong to the right when we went by a Cold Stone Creamery.Naturally I had to stop.I tried their pumpkin ice cream with chocolate chips mixed in and caramel on top.
As it turned out, the tree does fit, if only just barely.All in all, a very fun day!
Sunday my church threw a surprise party for me in honor of the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
Generally my wife and my parents are the only ones who remember the occasion.To me it’s a pretty big deal, but I don’t really expect it to be a big deal to anyone else.
My actual anniversary was Dec 1st, and sure enough my wife said “Happy Anniversary” and my dad left a nice message on our phone.I spent some time reflecting on the significance of the day, and I thought that would be about it.
After our last service on Sunday, a parishioner said they needed me for a moment and so I followed them to our parish hall (social hall, if you will).It was packed with people who yelled “Surprise”, and I genuinely was.I had no idea.
A nice letter from my Bishop (Bishop Lee) was read, as was a very touching letter from Canon Ernie Bennett, the priest who was my very first boss and who continues to be one of my truest fathers in Christ.The parish (church) presented with me an embarrassingly large check, which if I understand correctly is to be used for…fishing (!!!).People wrote comments on several large poster boards, and said some very kind things in person as well.We ate lots of food including two delicious cakes.
What a privilege it is to serve with such dear people, to embark with them on the next 20 years as together, by God’s grace and with Help, we seek to be the faithful people He has called us to be.