Friday, May 31, 2013

Spiritual Hunger

I could not believe it. During the winter and spring, the Jesuits collected magazine to read from different sources - with a couple paid subscriptions. Of course, many of the magazine contained excellent articles. After we read these magazines, we were ready to toss them out, but I asked if I could make them available to parishioners after Mass.  I placed them on a shelf at the entrance of the church, but it doesn't seem to be a culture that does a whole lot of reading. I decided that I would throw away any stray magazine that was left behind. I figured I might have to throw most of them in the trash.

To my amazement, as I was recessing out of the church every last single copy was gone. My first thought was that someone threw them in the trash, but the bins were empty. The church was cleaner than ever. Over the next few days, I was asked if I could find a better distribution route because many people want to read the magazines. Some were disappointed that they could not even get their hands on a copy of one single issue. I learned a good lesson and I am wholly pleased to know of their hunger for good intellectual content. I wish I had more to give them.

A Peaceful Easy Morning

The morning has barely begun, but I was awakened to the first chirps of the birds outside my window. Usually, I hear car horns blaring and loud peals of the Greek Orthodox Church, but this morning was silent enough to hear the birds. The day is its usual 90 degrees, sunny, and dry.

During Mass, I felt so calm and peaceful as if I was having my own private prayer. Nothing was rushed; nothing was performed; all seemed to be dialogue with God for me and the parishioners. I did not have to rush out for a meeting; my first appointment arrived on time, and all preparations seemed to start well for the day. Last night was a time of organizing some paperwork and all is in good shape.

I was reflecting upon last night's spirituality group and the ways the group discussed their faith life so gracefully. I was touched by one person who updated that two things in her life went very well based upon techniques she learned within the group. Slowly, God is changing around the lives of people. After a strenuous year, I feel like I can sit back a bit and admire how God has worked through them. I feel content and I know God is directing my efforts.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I guess I'm fitting in

Lately, I've had a number of Jordanians ask me for directions around certain parts of the city. I guess I'm getting to know the city fairly well. I've even told a few about some decent restaurants form which to choose. Last night, I hosted a friend from the States, a former novice classmate, in Amman. It was so very good to see him again. He liked Jordan and being in the Holy Land.

We ate a a restaurant called Canteloupe, which has a roof deck bar and outdoor seating. It sits on the lower end of al-Rainbow Street and has magnificent views of the Citadel - the Ummayid palace and the Temple of Heracles. It is quite a spectacular view.

Today, I chatted with some Syrian refugees who come for a meal and some basic instruction each week. The woman were dressed in black coats over their gowns and their head dressings. I was joking with them because it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit and they looked all bundled up. I also tried to let them know that they ought to try more vivid colors than the basic black they wore.

Their eyes were amazing. They wanted to connect and their smiles were very warm and friendly. They appreciated that I spent some time with them even though we don't know each other's language. They wanted to converse, but my acquisition of their language is too low at this point. Either that or we should learn sign language. It is mostly how we communicate.

There are a couple of sites that I would like to visit soon. One is down at the Dana Reserve, which was just nominated as one of the top places in the world to sleep in the wild. It is the area where Christians had their achilles tendons cut so that they could continue to work, but they could never run or escape. We certainly do terrible things to one another. I was recently told of the great nature reserve by a professor at a university in Rochester, Michigan. Time to make plans.

I also want to go to the Mujib reserve. Some friends tell me it is over the top in fun and adventure; others say the stagnant water is too rich with bacteria to remain healthy. I still might check it out.

I read an article in the paper last week that indicated that cigarette smoking is increasing. That is sad news. In contrast, I just read that some universities and buildings are making their entire campuses smoke-free to reduce the ill-health effects of second hand smoke. Cigarettes sell at one JOD, which is far too low a price to act as a deterrent.

I also read about the ways that sheep and goats are detrimental to the growth of vegetation. Arabia and the Sahara used to have lots more green grass and shrubs, but the over-population of sheep and goats are making the lands into deserts. Bedouins will go wherever they can graze and no one can stop them or would even try to stop them. Apparently, the teeth structure and the way the sheep/goats chew the vegetation prevents the grasses from growing back. They are unlike cows whose teeth tear the grass leaves, while the sheep/goats dead-end the chomped grass. Revegetation is unlikely to occur.

I want to see much better for Jordan. It has great potential.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Restful Day

Fridays, the sabbath day in Jordan, is a restful day for many people, but it is my busiest day. I awoke early this morning and cleaned up from last night's spirituality group dinner. To my surprise, Fr. Al wanted to say the Mass this morning giving me some free time. Lovely.

To repay him, I made a fresh pot of coffee, cooked some vegetables, poached a few eggs, and prepared breakfast for him. However, a parishioner paid him an unscheduled visit and he didn't come down for breakfast until an hour later. These are the demands of the ministry.

I was then ready for my regular Friday morning meeting, but she came by to say she could not stay because her embassy would not grant her request to leave the next day. She came by to say goodbye and to present me with a gift. She had a lovely year in Amman. I spent some extended time in prayer.

Suddenly, I had all this free time and I was given the grace to get tasks organized. I worked on three delinquent tasks that were minor, but I felt terrific completing them. They hold me in good stead for the time to come. My whole day was about getting organized and it gave a sense of release from these minor nagging tasks that I thought wouldn't get done for another four months, but here they are - complete! Check!

Mass was lovely and easy. I saw Abouna Bashir and gave him some Jesuit literature. We talked for a good while and had a lovely chat. He is a good friend and I like him. After mass, I went to the house where the choir meets. I had no afternoon meetings so I was free to go. It was lively and I'm sure there will be silly Facebook photos posted soon.

I came home and napped because it was 99 degrees today. Tomorrow is Independence Day in Jordan and it is a national holiday. The streets were vacant of cars and I was very happy for that, but it means the nights will be loud with drum playing, bagpipes, and fireworks. The Friday Souk will be taken down so aluminum pipes will be clanging into the wee hours.

But the moon is spectacular tonight.

The Filipino choir did not come for rehearsal, except for one sweet woman. We chatted and sang for a bit before I sent her home. The other choir members did not even call me to let me know they were not coming. They will keep their heads looking down at the floor when I walk into the church tomorrow.

I used the early evening hours to do a little drawing of still life - two pears and a bunch of purple grapes. I thought I would do it quickly, but it was much more sophisticated than I imagined. Drawing teaches me patience. I finally got it and now I can start painting it in class this week. I'll do a few sketches tomorrow, but I feel ahead of the curve in my scheduling. Usually I'm doing Just-In-Time management because I'm involved in so many tasks. I also started a new jigsaw puzzle. Tomorrow night is 3 of 5 of the Dozan workshops so the first half of the day will be relaxed, but the second half will be strenuous.

All in all, the day was relaxing and I've enjoyed a low key day. It has felt very restful. A short glass of wine with sitting on the roof deck while thanking God for many blessings is a fitting way to end a relaxing day.


Petra is a city to be seen. It in ancient, around the time that Jesus of Nazareth walked about on this earth, and it had to be an impressive city.

It is a city only recently discovered - around 1914 and it was nestled into a rocky walkway that must have been easy to defend against potential threats. The entrance to the Siq once had an archway that communicated you were entering into a stately area. Large cobblestones line the Siq that provide cool shade and a viable aqueduct to keep the inhabitants clean, full of clean water, and with irrigation for crops.

The Treasury building is the first ruin of a building you see. It is the image that advertises Petra and it is worth seeing. A good number of people will travel only to see this sight and not venture into the city center. They don't realize how much they lose out. 

Lots of activities are centered near the Treasury. Camel, donkey, and carriage rides are available. Side trips to see the locations of Indiana Jones, and side hikes are accessible. Music is often performed. During "Petra at Night", the Siq is illuminated by luminaries and when you reach the Treasury, the place is brightly lit because of the large presence of these candles. Tea is served and Arabic music is played.

The only annoying part was the incessant harassment of the Bedouins who would not take yes or no for an answer. I hope the park service does something about them. You just can't let them get to you to destroy your enjoyment of the place.

I enjoyed the trek to the City Center where the whole village opened up before our eyes. Tombs and burial caves, plus dwellings, a high place reserved for ritual sacrifices, the market area, caves of distinguished clans, and an amphitheater that housed 7,000 people showed the attention to civic details. We climbed to see the caves and looked in every nook and cranny.

My guest decided he had seen enough and wanted to head back, but I persuaded him to circle around towards the tent and the village below. I'm glad we went. We saw a 2nd to 5th century church with well preserved mosaics. This was the highlight of my visit. From the church you could look at the Temple and see an elaborate worship space, event the place for the holy of holies. All the stuff in the Bible came to life. The biblical world had many different temples in it. You can see how there were competing gods and the primacy of the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the valley below, Crowne Plaza set up a nice restaurant for people to get refreshments before they trekked to the monastery. The walk would take an hour; a donkey ride would be half an hour. We saw the monastery but chose not to get closer this time around. I'll save something for a return trip. The road system there was impressive. I would have liked to seen this vast city in its glory. I'm sure it was a force with which to reckon.

I met many interesting people along the way. I wish the natives wouldn't be so assertive. It would have been nice to talk with them and learn about their lifestyle, but they only wanted to sell their rides. I saw one young man beat his braying donkey; another man captures a falcon and was proudly displaying it and trying to sell it; very young children were sent to tourists to get them to buy worthless artifacts; children played street games, but there was no evidence that they had a school to attend.

However, the city left a powerful impression on me and I'm told there is much more to excavate. I wish Jordan much success in reclaiming this valuable piece of history. May it be restored to glory.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I am finally painting in my art class. We spent some time mixing paints and putting on a dark background for a light, but color-complex image of a seaside European fortress town. In the foreground are some new fishing boats at a pier with some other boats lining the city shore. The time of day is dusk so there are complex colors that emerge when lights are turned on but darkness hasn't descended. Not all the lights have been turned on and dark shadows stretch across the canvass. Old square and rectangular mercantile buildings form the major features with some landscaped trees and a  faded image of a church. Atop the hill is a clock tower and to its left are some castle ruins. It is fairly complex for my first painting ever, but it is a thrill.

Today, I'm sketching a still life of a bowl of fruit. While it seems simple in comparison, the colors are edgy and I think it will be more difficult than I realize. However, I love the eggplant colored background.

As I begin, I'm learning techniques and I am not confident about how I should proceed. I was using far too much turpentine at the beginning. I guess I paint the way I live. I am frugal with money and expenses when it comes to myself, but much more generous to others; likewise when I paint, I need to  slab the paint on thicker because of my natural tendency not to overdo things. The canvass is a great mirror for the way I live.

I just hope beauty comes out of my efforts.

Karak to Petra

Karak was a city of surprises. It seemed exceeding clean and well-organized. I liked many of the smaller streets that allowed for one car at a time to pass. It regulated traffic well enough that people did not try to do all things possible to get in front of another car just for the sake of being in front of them.

I am pretty sure that drivers here do not use their rear-view mirrors. I don't think they want to acknowledge the angry faces of those whose lives they just endangered. If you don't look back, you can't feel badly about your actions.

Back to Karak, I wouldn't mind spending a few days there. It seems orderly, has a few nice historic sights to visit, and has a stunning landscape.

At we moved down towards the plains, I turned on the music to Messiah that we sang with Chorus North Shore in the Boston area. I love the part where the mountains would be laid low and the valleys lifted up providing a level, easy pathway for people to return from their exile. Messiah is a great piece of music to play when in this holy land.

We traveled along the Desert Highway and discussed that we could have been in Kansas or Oklahoma, minus the tornadoes. The Jesuits ought to buy a villa home in this region because it is peaceful and restful.

Once we got off the North-South highway, the evening mist picked up and we headed into the sunset. The yellow and soft peach rays highlighted the mist the made the valley seem mystical. All of a sudden, we were on that absolutely straight road that seemed to lead to Jerusalem. We marveled when we encountered a slight turn. The road was that straight. I expected to see ibexes and gazelle jumping across the valley.

We finally arrived in Petra, which was a welcome relief from the long hours of driving. The city is on a hill and we continued to descend to the village where the entrance of the ancient city was located. We settled into our rooms and headed out for a pizza. I ordered anchovy pizza and then wondered what I was doing as anchovy is a fish and we were nowhere near a place that would produce these tasty critters. I could only eat a few slices because it was quite heavy.

We went out for a walk and this happy-go-lucky bitch (female dog) that was nursing came and walked beside us. The expression on her face seemed so jolly and she walked with us as if she belonged to us. She seemed well-fed and docile. We gave her a slice of pizza and she stuck her nose up at it and asked for something else. After a while, she left us, but she appeared often as if she was wearing a grin.

Many, many dogs were around and all seemed content.

To see photos of our trip, click on the link below:

1. Pics of the Road to Karak

Photos: The Art of Amman

To see photos of art around Amman, click on the link below:

Photos: Churches in Abdali

To see photos of our trip, click on the link below:

Photos: Mount Nebo

To see photos of Mount Nebo in the Spring, click on the link below:

1. Pics of animals around Mount Nebo
2. Pics of Mount Nebo in the Spring

3. Pics of springtime gardens

Photos: The Baptismal Site

To see photos of the Baptismal site, click on the link below:

Summer with Dozan wa Awtar

Since our concert in mid-April, Dozan has kept busy. The children's chorus is performing a two-night concert on May 22nd and 23rd while the adults are busy with a workshop discussing its identity and mission.

The five-day workshop is led by a Lebanese-American woman who is guiding us in performance routines that help express who we are and where we want to go. The workshop is a lot like Virtue Ethics. It asks: 1. Who are you? Where do you want to go? How do you get there?

Right now, everything is an open book, which is great. We are learning how to explore uncharted waters together.

This summer the concert season will feature a pre-Ramadan performance, an early trip to Ramallah, and a late-summer trip to Ramallah. We are keeping busy.

The photos below are of our recent Dozan Day celebration and of our conductor, Shireen.

To see photos of our trip, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Dozan Days at Mercedes' Villa
2. Pics of the many faces of Shireen Abu Khader

Miscellaneous Photos

To see photos of various events in Jordan, click on the link below:

1. Pics of a few Spring Colors
2. Pics of Members of the Spirituality Group

3. Pics of the Roman Amphitheater
4. Pics of Artwork by Elmer Dumlao

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Towards Karak...

Finally, I had my opportunity to visit Petra. I knew it would come so I did not rush to get down there. Many people told me that I'll go half a dozen times in a year and I'll not be so inclined to go again. Well, I can't wait to go back and spend more time there. Even though I spent sufficient time visiting most of the ruins, I want to take time to soak in this phenomenal once-cosmopolitan city.

A friend from the States was visiting and I knew this would be my chance to visit. The temperatures were predicted to be cool and the weather did not disappoint. The temperatures and the clouds were absolutely perfect for the day.

We began the trip by heading towards Mount Nebo and Madaba. I casually mentioned the places and my guest did not seem terribly interested so we headed straight down for the Dead Sea. I wanted to go the length of the Sea and then take the scenic route to Karak and then down to Petra.

As we neared the Sea, I pointed out the fruitful Jordan Valley, the river, the Sea, Jericho, Qumran, and pointed in the direction of holy Jerusalem. My guest was content and mostly silent, as introverts are. After minutes of delay, he piped up, "What are all these signs about the Baptismal Site? Just who was baptized in the River Jordan?" Taken aback, I realized I needed to give more fundamental biblical history.

After pointing out Qumran and Masada on the opposite side of the Sea several times, the car fell silent again. My guest asked, "Are we now in Qumran?" I asked, "Did we cross a bridge to the other side of the Sea?" He answered, "no" and I realized I still had to give more information about the area to him.

As we traveled south, I kept my eyes open for Lot's Cave because signs indicated it was present though I did not see any close reference to the spot. I was absolutely fascinated with the extent of the Sea and how much it is shrinking. One meter evaporates each year. That is a lot of evaporation. The southern extent of the sea seemed very dry and desolate. I felt so bad for the people who live there.

An ambitious project to fill in the Dead Sea with waters from the Red Sea is in planning phases. It will raise the water levels dramatically and will lessen the saline content. The big concern is the government has to choose between the water pipeline feed or protecting the many ancient remains that dot the land between the two bodies of water. I have to imagine this does not have to be "either or" but a "both and" solution. One does not have to preclude the other.

I had a sickening feeling that the land and towns would be very desolate because of the very harsh climate. It is clear that Bedouins continue to live on the land in small communities. The villages reminded me of the Native American reservation lands that I was in the Great Plains and the Southwest.

I soon discovered that the people were living in a fascinating terrain. I was mesmerized by the rapidly changing landscape I saw and the heavily traveled roads. It went from sand dunes to valley to beehives to switchbacks in a matter of a few minutes of driving. The roads were all switchbacks and hairpin turns, which raises one of my irrational fear of voids, but the roads were well engineered so I had no fear at all. I just wanted to glance out at the terrain as I drove. My curiosity exceeded my fear.

We kept ascending up the sloping foothills and mountains towards Karak. I told my guest about the importance of Karak to Christians because it was the furthest fortress in the east of the Holy Lands. Over 1,000 people lived in the castle at its height. Its magnificence remains. A French commander decided, against the will of every adviser, to attack Mecca, the holiest place within Islam. You can imagine the castle was decimated because of the folly of the commander and the Christian outpost stood no longer. If only people would listen.....

Then, after beginning our descent from Karak to Petra, my guest asks, "Is there any Chrsitian significance to Karak? Did Christians ever make it out this far?" I was puzzled. I took consolation in the fact that my friend was enjoying the scenery, which probably took his attention away from the history lesson I was providing.

More to come. On towards Petra.

To see photos of our trip, click on the link below:

1. Pics of our Journey to Petra through Karak

Candlelight Procession

On Tuesday, May 21st, I participated in a candlelight procession for the kidnapped vicars and priests in Damascus. (Though it was too light outside to have the effect of lit candles.) Recently, several members of the clergy have been abducted without much information being shed on the motives or the persons or organizations who did it. The clergy are from the Orthodox churches because the Latin clergy is much smaller in number.

All churches gathered outside of the Roman Orthodox Vicariate for a statement by the religious leaders. A procession then moved by the Latin Vicariate and then to the Syrian Orthodox vicariate also in Sweifieh. Perhaps forty clergy member processed, including priests, bishops and patriarchs, and a large number of the Catholic faithful joined it. 

I was moved to see the good number of people who participated in the prayer at the Syrian Cathedral following the procession. The churches came together in solidarity, not for any political purpose, but as a show of unity and compassion for those who have been abducted. Bishop Maroun Lahham read a joint statement on behalf of all the Catholic churches in the area who stand in solidarity with the kidnapped religious leaders.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I should do this more often

Walking up to evening mass is always a treat because the sun is setting for the day, the number of cars passing by slows down, and people are outside their homes and businesses enjoying day's end. To me it feels like a very mellow close to the weekend, but for most it is the close of the first day of the week. Every seems happy to greet the passerby and exchange pleasantries. I do so in limited fashion.

I always stop in to say hello to my Syrian barber. Sometimes he is sprawled out in his barber's chair catching a few winks, but with an eye always towards the potential customer standing at his door. He always gets up and greets me. He speaks to me loquaciously in Arabic and I understand two words at best and I greet him with my American English gibberish, but we laugh as he always invites me in for a conversation. His eyes are light blue, but always vivid. I wonder if he has a wife and children. He has been in Amman for a number of years - way before the troubles in Syria. He is a most pleasant chap, doesn't shave often, doesn't keep the cleanest shop, but is good at his craft.

I saw a man washing his blue van with a trail of blue water running down the street. I wondered if he was trying to revive the color or wash it away, but it seemed odd all the same.

On my way back from church, I watch the many people traffic themselves by me. Four men were pushing a stalled car up the road. I thought about helping, but it seemed like the car would start in any minute. Two minutes later, the four men were still pushing the car, but in the other direction. Traffic was backed up terribly, but no one was honking their horns - a real miracle.

I passed by a middle-age couple sitting on a cement railing and they seemed to be in easy conversation. We said hello as I walked towards home. I passed by the customary shopkeepers who waved their hands vigorously as I shouted "Marhaba" to them. (Hello.)

A couple of tourists were out for a stroll as their eyes and ears were inquisitive to everything happening around them. Then a second car glided by me pushed by three different men.

A religious sister, who speaks Italian and Arabic, and I chatted about which type of ice cream bar she would buy for her sisters. She exclaimed they were all too big for the little sister in the house. I helped her select, but she bought six of the largest chocolate bars and one black raspberry Italian ice. She had a wide grin as she made her purchase. I guess it was recreation for the Sabbath.

Since a very generous vendor gave me some bread, some new fangled unsalted chips, and some chicken stuffed dough, I decided to give it to the barber since I don't know if he eats well at all. He can't make that much money for cutting hair at 4 JOD a piece, but he is always busy. His face lit up brightly as I gave him some food and he promptly offered to share it with the customer whose hair he was cutting. I like giving away food and other items. It really makes me feel good.

I had the best time just being out for a stroll and I realized I have to get out and talk with people more. They are good hearted and most people just want someone to say something nice to them.

Afterwards I went to dinner with a couple of friends. I ordered "Vintage Marsala from Ramallah." What a name. I knew what I was ordering, but the marsala that we order for chicken in the States (marsala wine), is not the same marsala used in Jordan. Theirs is much more like spicy Indian food. It was very tasty and I enjoyed being with good company tonight. It was quite an evening to finish off the beginning of a rocky weekend when I was waylaid by a hard-hitting virus, but I have good memories of the weekend.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

It just keeps moving

First Communion services were held today at our Sweifeih Church for 18 young people. They were adorable and handsome. The girls were elegant white dresses while the boys dressed in stately black suits. They were very excited to be more fully incorporated into the church. I was happy to meet their parents - some of whom I met for the first time.

It seemed like it was the place to be in Amman. Everyone was there and the church was overflowing with proud visitors. The liturgy had its share of surprises as it is a challenge to get 18 young people to do many things in unison, but they pulled it off nicely. Many thanks to Sana and Clara for their help in getting things done smoothly.

The reception was well planned. I don't know where all the food came from but it mysteriously appears. The cake was extraordinary and the reception hall was full. I was hoping to meet all the parents and grandparents, but my job turned out to pose as George Clooney for the paparazzi or to bless the heads of many parishioners.

I rushed home late to collect my guest who was arriving from Maine. Fr. Michael went to pick him up at the airport, but he was not there. We waited and waited until I went upstairs to my office and behold - there was John. He made it in a little early and was settling in just fine.

We've had a lot of guests lately. Janet visited before Easter and the Dozan concerts. Then Fr. Paul came for two week for his Easter vacation. At the same time, friends from St. Paul in Cambridge arrived for their pre-tour of Amman before the went to Jerusalem and the West Bank. I caught up with them at the end as well. Then the tour group from St. Paul arrived the same time Soohwan did. John arrived today and then Fr. Al returns on Friday. It has been a whirlwind.

I decided that rather than planning out their details, I would try to integrate them into a celebration. It was a great success. We ate and drank at Crumz the other night in a happy hour setting. The sun was setting but the evening sky remained warm with a very forgiving breeze. It was a terrific way of letting my friends come to meet each other. One friend said to me about my friends that they were very nice and I just said, "That is why they are my friends."

Yesterday as I was scheduled to go to our Dozan Day, I just told my guests they were coming with me. I find that it is enriching for them to actually see my life in Jordan and they are pleased with what they see. In years past, I would have segregated them, but now I ask myself, "why would I do that?" It works out better this way.

The Dozan Day was filled with singing and dancing in the hills just past Marj Al Harmmam, Field of the Pigeons, where we ate lots of grilled kebabs and sweet desserts. My chocolate buttercream frosting melted in the hot sun giving me new appreciation for Arabic sweets. We were all given individually framed photos of our dancing with a professionally recorded DVD of our performance. Shireen, the conductor, was very sweet in writing a special statement for each performer and signing it for us.

Dozan singers are special people. They are the new Jordan and I like what I experience. They offer our world a unique way of celebrating contemporary life. They are very gracious.

I know that I am settling in because many Jordanians are asking me for directions, for travel tips, or for places to bring guests to the country. Though it is perplexing, it generates interesting conversations.

One thing I still have to discover is how to grown desert plants. I've been given a few houseplants that deteriorate quickly though there are signs that they are coming back. I suspect the soil is poor and needs to be mixed with peat moss and other products because the roots choke in the hard, caked soil. I plan to get some soil this week and continue my experiment.

On the road Thursday and Friday, I saw pockets of people who have gathered to represent their causes. Since I can't yet read the signs, I'm not sure of their positions, but they don't exceed more than twenty people. I sense some are disgruntled over wages and governmental positions and it is good that their voices are heard.

I'm tired from all the recent activities. On Easter Monday, I went to mass and thought that I would have an easy time afterwards. At the close, there was a man who wanted to obtain money from me and plead his cause. The next day, a similar thing happened. All I want to do is pray, but sometimes someone comes and wants something and from their perspective, it has to be done right away. They hover and impose their will and they later apologize for their aggressive behavior.

One morning, a man asked for absolution - for the 22nd time - and I reminded him there is no absolution without confession. He reckoned that since he came in at 8:29 I would not have time to hear his confession before the 8:30 mass. The next day another man comes in at 8:29 and asks to go to confession. When they want something, their entire energies are driven to get what they want in the present moment. And of course, when he is done there is a line of others who want and need something.

This morning, I really wanted to sit outdoors for a few minutes and breathe in the cool, fresh breeze that was passing by. The moment I sat down, two people came running up to the gated veranda asking a bunch of questions. It reminded me of the scene in Jesus Christ Superstar when all he wants to do is sit down and drink a cup of water, but the people kept coming to him. They pressed on and on him.

After engaging them in conversation because I could not answer their questions, I simply stood up and went back to my room for some quiet.

It is time for bed now.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Catching Up on Rest

The morning was silent and lazy and I had no urgency to arise. I turned back over and just let myself breathe so easily and naturally. A million things to do washed over my mind but I simply dismissed them to enjoy a gentle waking. I had nearly eight hours of interrupted sleep as a cool morning breeze greeted me.

After a hot decaffeinated coffee helped me stir to life, I went to the refrigerator to collect two eggs, corn on the cob, roasted onions, grilled garlic and chicken. I made myself a tasty omelette and declined on adding any cheese to weigh it down. I felt ready for the day.

The phone rang, emails piled up, visitors knocked, but this is my day off.

I looked again at my artwork from class last night and I became excited that I will begin painting next week. I thought about my work in framing these images and I realize how difficult it is going to be, but I love the color palette of the busy city street that I have to sketch. For a moment I felt lonely that I can't really share my excitement with others, but then I poured myself a cappuccino and shared it with the Lord. That felt meaningful.

This weekend will be very busy with people coming in and out of my life. A former spiritual directee is visiting Amman this weekend, a friend from Maine is also coming, the visiting priest who filled in until a year ago is returning to Chicago, and three friends from my former parish in Cambridge are stopping in Amman as their pilgrimage concludes. Then I have First Communion preparation this weekend and Confirmation next weekend.

But today, I need to be gentle with myself as I recover from Holy Week and Easter services. I imagine Jesus needed time to recover from what he went through as well.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Finally Easter!

Easter has finally come and I am well satisfied with the liturgies. There's always room for improvement, but most of it has to deal with the host churches. It is difficult to lug everything from place to place all the time and one of the pastors really would prefer we not even use his church, but we deal with that as best we can.

Mostly I am proud of two individuals who were received into the church. They are excellent people who are fun to be with. I enjoy my weekly meetings with them and I am so proud of the way they reached deep into their faith and found enjoyment in it.

Many parishioners told me that these were the most beautiful services they've experienced in Amman. Above all, they were edified by seeing these two new Neophytes enter the faith. It gives them hope and they are happy to see new Catholics added to the community. They also realized that this process took them a long while to enter and that they devoted study. It is great to build upon these rites and we already have others who are interested in joining the faith in the future.

I feel like I have been through a whole year's worth of activities and now I can move away from the essentials and get things organized in different ways. Just like a first year teacher, it takes time to build upon a new foundation.

The choir did a great job. After they walk out of mass, they cannot keep singing. They do get excited to learn new songs and they simply cannot stop singing. That tells me they like it a whole lot. I've also had visitors to the parish who sing the traditional songs we are learning and they feel very welcome. Liturgies are not done so well in Amman and when it is carried off well, people feel at home. I want to specialize in that because it is the only chance I'll be able to see some people and I want them to have a good experience. I also want many of the parishioners who have difficult lives to have something meaningful to celebrate.

Today was lovely as I had a chance to rest, celebrate, and begin to work on First Communion and Confirmation celebrations. Oh, yes, and then there are all the calls about infant baptisms.

All is good. I'm very pleased.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Friday called Good

As the day winds down, I look back on a very satisfactory day. My room is sparkling clean and ready for the Resurrection. The windows and drapes are washed, the room re-arranged, the rugs lifted up, and the floors are shiny. All the winter dust is gone.

The Good Friday service was very fine. I was able to pray during the service. It also helped to have two priests who could participate in the duties so that I am able to do the principal functions of a presider. I liked that dignity and reverence was brought to the service and that we did not feel rushed.

Last night, during the process to transfer the Blessed Sacrament, I was reminiscing on my studies of Catholic Medieval history when the concept of Transubstantiation was posited by Thomas Aquinas. Corpus Christi became a huge feast with a lengthy civic procession past banks, government offices, farms and fields, and homes for the influential. The Sacrament was raised and to bless the buildings and lands with the sign of the Cross. Christians reached out to touch the Sacrament and to be blessed by it - almost superstitiously. Many parishioners last night also reached out to touch the ciboria, which even the priest guards against touching, or to be blessed by its powerful presence. It shows that with the passage of centuries, we simply remain the same people.

The Arabic custom of having a coffin with the corpus of Jesus is an unusual one to me, but they really like it. It is as if the people are waking Jesus. I'm sure this depiction of the dead Jesus is helpful to many. As I see these customs, I begin to see what feeds people.

The real treat for the day was walking the streets of Jebel Hussein. I still can't communicate with people well, but I do try to engage as best I can. An elderly man was walking down the street with a cane behind his back and I told him it works better if his cane touches the ground. He wailed about the great pain in his back. I'm sure he hasn't enough money to see the chiropractor or a back specialist to ease his pain.

I saw a few older couples out for strolls where the husband and wife looked lovingly at each other and shared soft conversations. I passed by my barber as well. He is always chatty and I have no idea what he is saying. I speak through sign language and he continues to smile and laugh and chatter on. Teenage boys come up to me and say something in English. When I engage with them, their eyes light up. Life goes on here just as in any inner city. People seemed peaceful today because it is the weekend and they celebrated Labor Day yesterday. Therefore, they had time to relax. (We'll pay for it again in a few days when we want mail service. It takes a while for them to get back to normal levels of productivity.) However, it is nice to see people take their leisure and stay out of their cars.

Now, I have to plan for tomorrow night's liturgy. We have choir rehearsal today, but I still have to put together the program and color eggs for the coloring event for kids from 1 to 92. It is a peaceful day.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Graced Days

We took a dignitary out for dinner last night and I punted on a restaurant. I knew it might be the right one, but I had never been there before. It is called Canteloupe and it sits on the lower section of Jebel Amman's Rainbow Street's arts district. It has a roof-top view of the City Centre and the illuminated Citadel. The restaurant was just right. I felt like I was eating at one of Portland, Maine's restaurants or one of the trendy bistros in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The food was superb, the service good, excellent views, and tasteful decor. My guests said that this was the best meal they had in Amman. 

Today's Chrism Mass was quite nice. The Patriarch, Apostolic Nuncio, his assistant, and the bishop was there, plus around 45 priests of the diocese. I was glad to meet many of them and I was remarking to myself, "A congregation of priests is the same wherever you go." The gathering could have been in Newark or Indianapolis and you would be able to tell the various characteristics of the priests. 

Getting to the Chrism Mass was an ordeal. For some reason, no matter how I change the settings on the GPS, I am led to the most congested part of town. I know that this place is right off the airport road and that it is a quick commute, however, the dirt roads my GPS took me on had me stopped three times to allow goats and their shepherd to pass from field to field. Those guard dogs do not like cars getting near to their flock at all. I even had to stop to let a lumbering horse decide to cross the road. I was surprise he was untethered and not in a gate. 

The Mass of the Lord's Supper was quite an event, with pockets of humor. The Arab organizers showed up two hours early. It is not possible for them to close the sacristy door; Nor is it possible for them to whisper. Their darting back and forth made more buzz despite their attempts to be silent. The Arab parishioners came an hour and a half early to take their seats. Would they wait outside until mass was over? Of course not. Their silent body movements are very loud and imposing. They walk just like they drive.

I looked out into the congregation and said to myself, "God must really love us."

Despite all the drama, I remember the words of a wise mentor priest, "Nothing that is done wrong at Mass can invalidate the resurrection."