#George

One Hour Vacations

My friend, Dave, is a seven-string guitar player. Yes, I know. Six strings are more than enough,  but I’ve never been able to disabuse him of his particular heresy. Dave spends much of his time driving the highways to his next gig, then to his students, and maybe another venue, in another town,  late in the evening.  I guess this is why he says, “I take my vacations one hour at a time.” On this morning I drive north on El Toro road toward my twice weekly art festival gig. Verdant grass, still plush from spring rains, and wild trees line the old country road. Bright sumptuous morning! A Mozart trio for piano, clarinet, and viola blasts from my radio. Yo-Yo Ma plays viola on his cello. I make a hard left onto Laguna Canyon Road. Traffic slows to crawl. Road narrows. Walls of the gorge extend dramatically into an azure sky. A perfect Chinese landscape painting. I turn in to park. Mini-vacation is over. Time to play.

by Nathaniel

Holy Puttering

I have been puttering in our new garden. The American definition of puttering is: to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden.  An “ineffective manner”. Sounds so relaxing. Our new house has a sunny spacious courtyard containing our favorite potted plants, a few statues, and my wife’s enormous concrete fountain that she insisted on lugging from our old address. It’s a good thing because the fountain has attracted numerous hummingbirds, a pair of wild canaries, an odd looking red juvenile bird and a kestrel hawk we keep hearing but have not yet seen. I mixed new soil from horticultural sand and rich potting soil that I am adding to our old bonsai trees. My wife and I are engaged in a battle over where our statue of Mary will ultimately rest. I nestle it near the hedges and she drags it to another spot and adds accessory plants. We have down sized our living space, but the Divine Creator continues to gift us with astounding generosity.

by Nathaniel

Leaving and Staying

On a recent weekday morning, as I have thousands of times, I take a half-mile walk from my house, to Saint Edward Church. Mass is over so I say my prayers and walk out to the garden to meditate. The spectacular harbor view is obscured by fog rolling inland from the sea. An electronic fog horn sings out it’s warning– a sad rhythmic alto moan. It suits my melancholy mood. My wife and I have sold our family home. We will leave this beautiful hilltop after twenty years. I sit on a bench near the statue of Guadalupe and reflect on the spiritual journey that started for me on this spot, many years ago.  In this place, in this church, I have made deep and lasting friendships. My faith has been nurtured by generous peers and mentors.  A few of these kind teachers have passed on.  Perhaps we will be reunited one day. But I will come home to this hilltop church, every Sunday, by car instead of on foot. Gratitude fills my heart.

by Nathaniel

Holy (Secular) Books

My Dad was a reporter, a newspaper man, when I was a kid. He was an avid (maybe obsessive) aficionado of the printed word. He loved newspapers and magazines. He loved stories. Especially he loved books. In our house books were sacred objects. My six year old brother, Daniel, counted the books in our living room. About 700. Occasionally on Saturdays (all the stores were closed on Sundays) my Dad and Mom would herd us to the car. At first three kids, then four kids, then five. We would cruise the highways in search of used book stores. They were everywhere back then. My dad was a collector of Western Americana. He trained us to keep an eye out for it. We would drive around for hours until my Mom said, “That’s enough, the kids are hungry!”  After he had checked interminable restaurant menus we would stop and eat. Our favorite place was Philippe’s in L.A.  We arrived home exhausted.  And we all carried to bed a new (used) book.

by Nathaniel

Holy Hi-Fi

 

I teach several middle school guitar classes. Most weeks I ask the kids, one by one, “Did you hear any good music last week? Blank stare from kid. Did you hear any bad music? There are always some music fanatics, but more and more my students say they are too busy. They all seem to have two hours of homework nightly, multiple sports teams, karate, Mandarin lessons, on and on. As an experiment, I asked them to lounge in a sofa or lie on the floor at home and just listen to music. No texting. No video games. No homework. Just listen. A few of them tried it and loved it. I hadn’t done this in a long time, myself.  The best musicians create entire new universes, a new consciousness that one can inhabit, with a little leisurely effort.  Let Mozart, Duke Ellington, Green Day, Alison Balsom, Sister Rosa Thorpe or the Beatles inhabit your mind and heart. It is a holy thing to sit and listen. Yeah!, Yeah! Yeah!

by Nathaniel

Fiesta of Joy

Summer’s coming. I can feel it, see it vividly all around. Spring rains brought a plethora of bluebirds, swallows  and bunnies. Coyotes skulk stealthily in the evening dusk.  In addition to those natural wonders, it’s time for our church fiesta.  Last week giant candy colored steel machines rolled into the church parking lot. For days, local kids and a few awestruck dads, made pilgrimages to the grassy field to monitor the construction of a temporary megalopolis. Murmurs of electric excitement run through the neighborhood, crescendoing into cacophonies of laughter, shouts and songs.  As night falls on Friday, children careen through a flashing world of carousels and cakes.  “Vertigo,” “The Zipper,”  huge spinning contraptions, thrill and nauseate. (I hear this can be mitigated with a taco, funnel cake or cotton candy.)  Young couples promenade holding hands and kids experience a first small taste of unsupervised freedom.  A band blasts from the stage. Our human capacity for joy is a divine grace, a gift of the Spirit. Also, maybe skip “the Zipper.”

by Nathaniel

A Joyful Noise on Eighty-Eight

 

I remember sitting on the rug by my mother’s Baldwin baby grand. She practiced Beethoven and Chopin while I pounded on our toy piano.  It played more or less in tune. Although I could not duplicate her music, she made a joyful noise and so did I. On one of the best days of my life, my kindergarten teacher walked our entire class down the sidewalk to our house, several blocks from school, to hear my mom play her piano. Then Mom gave us fresh baked oatmeal cookies and presented the class with a  squirming, mewing box of six week old kittens. Many a joyful noise ensued. One might wonder why the notes in a hymn fit together so perfectly, why the harmonies meld together like they where meant to be. Every fixed pitch generates harmonic overtones, one on top of the other,  into infinity, a gift from the Ancient One.  Music fits together like Lego blocks because of the Great Musician.  Sing out. Make a joyful noise. Even if your kids roll their eyes.

by Nathaniel

Something Extraordinary

I came into the church sixteen years ago during a deep personal crisis. I had been an atheist my entire life. My mother says that at the age of five, after playing all day with my little friend who was learning the catechism, I marched into the kitchen and announced, “I don’t believe in God. He is mean!”  Then, I found myself attending daily Mass, spending time in church praying and reading Scripture.  The Liturgy of the Mass, the calm and focused rituals, and my growing awareness of the Divine Presence became a new home for me. I prayed for God’s mercy and found it in abundance. I longed to receive the Eucharist with all my heart. I ached for it. But, I had never been baptized.  A visiting priest, Father Gabriel, intervened and steered me into RCIA. I was baptized, confirmed and received Holy Communion at Easter Vigil. Since that time I have become an EM– Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Every time I exercise this humbling privilege I am filled with extraordinary gratitude.

by Nathaniel