Monday, April 24, 2017

Dancing to Abba: A Swedish Spa

On my way to the Royal Gardens on the back side of the Skansen Open Air museum, I noticed a museum dedicated to Abba. I nearly forgot about this 1970's band with peppy tunes. Mamma Mia is still playing in theatres in town.

I was invited to attend a workout session, which was a riot. An animated woman in her 70's, who wanted everyone to smile, was our cheerleader coach as she began class. She was very happy to let me know that George Foreman, the boxer, and a few others from the States will be visiting her in June to watch the way she conducts classes. The show will be broadcast on NBC shortly afterwards.

In class we did a lot of dancing aerobic routines with lots of jumping up and down. I was one of four men in the class of perhaps 40. She played some music and I had a faint recollection of the song from a long time ago and then I realized it was Abba. For nearly an hour we danced to Abba music. It was like a time warp with music, but it fit the beat of the steps. The instructor wanted everyone to be happy.

When that class finished, some of us went into the heater pool for water exercise. I enjoyed this. My hip arthritis got a workout, but without any stress. I loved it. We exercised with tension via floating devices for an hour.

The people at the club were lovely and generous in spirit. They were solicitous of my well being and were happy to ask me about the States, most especially about the POTUS. They can't figure out what Americans did during the election.

It turns out that this club is for the wealthy elite of Sweden and that it is the most highly regarded spa in the country. Everything was tastefully detailed.

It came time for my Swedish massage and it was pure relaxation. Afterwards, I ate oranges and pears as I reclined next to the pool and spent time in the aroma room. I had never given myself over to such treatment.

Well, I had to be off to the next event so I stopped by a cafe for a coffee and pastry. My eye kept being directed to this chocolate covered orb. I bought one. I could not wait to sink my teeth into a tasty chocolate cake ball wrapped in dark chocolate and coconut. I took a healthy bite only to find out it was a marshmallow. Sometimes it is good to know the language. However, it was a tasty marshmallow, so I was disappointed in my choice, but not in the product.

Swedish coffee is strong and tasty. Mmm. Their desserts go very well with the strong coffee. I especially like their almond pastries. Life is good.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Marielund Retreat

The Ignatian Retreat successfully came to an end. The retreatants left the retreat house refreshed and energized and they seemed to profit from their time with the Lord quite abundantly. They were a fun group of people - all seeking the Lord in a new depth.

The group seemed to enjoy, alongside the spirituality talks, the many crafts and ways to express themselves artistically - through coloring, zen-tangles, origami, scratching black pads of paper to reveal glitter, aquarelle, and other endeavors. We did stretching and breathing exercises, an imaginative journey, a guided scriptural meditation, faith sharing, some singing and listening to music to go along with the poems and prose.

Some of the best parts were the sharing of stories and the time to listen to each person's quest for God.

The food was spectacularly Sweden. I enjoyed the almond marzipan treats, the chocolate toffee pie, the many breads and crackers to be covered in cheese, the well- baked meats, the simple breakfasts with its assortment of herrings, and the constant teas. We were always eating. This type of food does not normally make it to my palate. I'm glad I can get some steps in while in Stockholm because I was attached to a chair while at the retreat center.

I left the retreat center feeling so pleased with the time with the retreatants. It gave me great hope and comfort to spend just a little bit of time with them. God provides. Always has. Always will.

Catholic mass in Sweden

I concelebrated Divine Sunday mass today at St. Eugenia Church, run by the Jesuit community, in the center of Stockholm. Eleven Jesuits serve Sweden, and there are about 100,000 Catholics in the country. The English language community is diverse, much like that of the expat community in Amman. I would imagine it is a challenge to balance the various constituencies of the parish.

After mass, a woman ran up to me to thank me for speaking with a Boston accent. She is from Braintree. She said she felt right at home.

Another woman said, "Thanks for smiling. You smiled a lot. We don't see that here at mass. Besides, your words were powerful for me."

A man in Spanish spoke up and said, "Pray for my country of Venezuela. We are having a difficult time." I was happy to reply a little bit in Spanish.

Mass was fascinating because it was all the smells and bells of a high solemn mass. Church spaces are quite noticeable for their expansive ceilings. Two very blonde American-Swedish girls were the thurifers for the incense while two Indians were the light bearers and an African teen was the main acolyte and cross bearer. They performed their ministries with great precision.

Musicians go all out for the services. Six or seven verses are rather standard; we even had ten verses of one song at this morning's mass. Organ is the instrument of choice and it makes sense in these Baroque buildings.

After mass I met with a dozen university students were are dedicated to their faith. We talked about prayer techniques, Ignatian discernment, and why there is unnecessary suffering in the world. One and a half hours passed in a heartbeat and it was time to end, but we concluded with prayer and kept talking. The students, who are international visitors to Sweden, are fired by their faith. It is exciting to be with people who share such passion.

We stayed talking too long that I did not make it to the Photographic Museum, which is top-rated as an attraction. I guess I'll have to return.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Jordan Waters: Preservation for Sustainable Living

This is an article I wrote for Center of Concern, posted on Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

First Impressions

Stockholm is an elegant city, a regal city, that incorporates space well into this urban planning. Buildings are strong and resilient and are brightly colored. The building have endured many snowy seasons and they will last into the future because of their noble features. The tops of many buildings have domes, crosses, or steeples. Height and space is worked into buildings and urban spaces deliberately.

Stockholm is clean and tidy with well-mannered people. It is situated on a series of islands that acts as a natural fortress and it enjoys a healthy relationship to the surrounding waterways. Statues within the city speak to the people's need for spiritual uplifting rather than having any need to tell visitors something about the people's spirits.

The King and Queen are a prominent part of city life. On the island nearby the Jesuit community, the Royal Castle, still houses the Royal Family. The flag is displayed so we know the King is in residence. The noble court people mingle with the common folks, but they are set apart by custom suits and fancy hats. Most of the people try to blend into the urban life; it is against their custom to stand out in particular ways.

Sweden has a proud history and I'm ashamed to say that I know so little about the nations. In the ninth grade, I wrote a paper on Norway, but that was certainly superficial. People talk about their historical monarchs and the royal family very easily, but I have no idea their significance yet. For instance, when I asked about Saint Erick, they queried, "Which one?"

It is light by 5:00 a.m. and it is bright until 8:30 p.m. In June, daylight will be present for all but three hours. Conversely, it is very dark in the winter.

People are polite. I have not been bumped into once. Few people smoke cigarettes, just a handful of young women and the new immigrants. Society is wrestling with the changes these new immigrants bring. They smoke without regard for laws, their child-raising techniques differ from other Western Standards, and they have a two year waiting period before they know if they are incorporated into the civil society. They have basic funding, but they do not have jobs.

I passed by the shopping mall, Ahlens, where the recent terrorist attack occurred. Apparently, it was not intended to harm Swedes because it was in the heavily touristed area. Piles of flowers stand in memorial to the deaths and injuries.

With a foreign language and little ability to communicate, I feel comfortable and relaxed in an amazing country. I will have to learn more about this people's history.

Easter Sunday Flight to Stockholm

After a busy Holy Week, it was time to get on the flight to Stockholm where I could direct a retreat on deepening one's spirituality through creativity. Having said the 10:00 a.m. Spanish Resurrection mass, I made one last trip to visit my sister, the family home, for a quick Easter meal. I am keeping true to Just-In-Time management techniques because as soon as I finished packing, my ride was downstairs to meet me. My bags were heavy, but the retreat will be light.

The plane to Paris was full save for one seat that separated me from a young Parisian woman who was terrified of flying. She is a Ph.D. student in linguistics and is ready to defend her dissertation. She asked that I continuously talk to her so she would be distracted. As the plane advanced towards the runway, it was time to fully engage.

I told her that the first thing we would need to do is to breathe deeply. She gasped a shallow gulp of air and then I instructed her on a more helpful way to breathe. I talked her through it, but the poor dear was absolutely terrified. A woman once broke through the skin on my hand when she clinched what she thought was the armrest, but was actually the top of my hand. This woman was even more frightened.

I thought we would be good after taking three deep breaths and then exhaling them slowly, but we have to keep going. Finally after twelve slow and deliberate breaths, we were airborne and she thanked me for walking her through it. The people in the seats in front of us also thanked me because they said they breathed along with us.

This woman said she needed to be in control of most things. I guess I'm more cavalier about flying. If the plane crashes, I die, and the life of others on the ground continues on.

I helped her through the landing as well, but she was less anxious because she knew the goal was to be on terra firma. I felt like I completed my Easter duty of mercy. So, then it was time to watch "Moonlight," a challenging film to watch, and "A Hologram for the King," a feel-good movie starring Tom Hanks.

The next leg was Paris to Stockholm was less enjoyable. Two young boys with colds were coughing and sneezing to my left. Behind me, a mother and her two very young children were continuously coughing and jostling for a better seat position. Across the row from me were the two brothers of the boys next to me and their dad, with all the kids sneezing. It will be a miracle if I don't catch their colds.

An interesting fact that I learned about Stockholm is that it is the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. When I deboarded, light snow welcomed me to this Nordic nation.

Friday, April 14, 2017


Today's Good Friday service and yesterday's Holy Thursday mass were quite moving. I have been praying over my current image of God, which is communion, and I have been shown it abundantly. At the liturgies, the following people came forward to venerate the cross: Vietnamese, Dominicans, Salvadoran, Brazilian, African-American, Irish, and other Caucasians. Liturgies were Tri-lingual with occasional Latin interspersed. People approached the sanctuary with canes, limps from gimpy knees, with mental disabilities, with advanced age or the blessings on youth, with families or single, and with many other characteristics, but they came with a common purpose - because we need a Savior. I think of those who cannot come to the church: those in nursing homes, those near death, those without anyone to bring them, those who feel like they do not belong or are welcome, or any other reason. Still, we have to bring more people to the Lord. God is communion and communion is not complete when even one of us is not present.

I had a beautiful Good Friday visit with my mother in St. Camillus Nursing home. We had some chocolates together and talked for a while. I then asked her if she wanted to be anointed with the oil of the sick and to receive communion and she broke down in tears. She said, "Yes, I remember all my prayers. I say them nightly. I like being close to the church." She used so many tissues to wipe away her tears. I've never seen her cry so many flowing tears.

Monday, April 10, 2017

My Lenten Penance

Lent has run its course and my suggested penance had been interrupted by other invitations. For instance, I set out to donate blood plasma and platelets throughout Lent and Easter, which I am doing, and to abstain from meat to be in solidarity with the environment, which I have done well.

However, I was invited to a more personal penitential practice on the First Monday of Lent, and now I get to complete it during the Monday of Holy Week.

I was asked to be the house tenor for the piano and orchestra rehearsals. My first time in singing solo will be tonight. Of course, it is a great honor, which I do not deserve, because there are more accomplished singers surrounding me, but it is an honor to have this opportunity. The fearful part is that I do not want to disappoint the choral conductor or the pianist or to even make major blunders in front of the 140 member chorus, of which many have sung professionally. I am only a choral singer who blends into the unity of voices.

But here it is. This time is now. The timing seems very fitting, but it does not erase my timidity. I have to trust in the conductor and myself, the latter is not easy to do.

Thanks for your prayers.