Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Long Green Season

Trinity is called "the long green season"--both for the color of altar hanging and vestments and for the fact that in England and the Eastern US it's summer and the trees are green. In Northern California, where I live now, our green season is winter (also known as the rainy season). In Australia and New Zealand, Trinity actually is in winter, while Christmas is in summer. This is on my mind lately because I've been reading Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mystery series, which are set in Australia. I started with Cocaine Blues (free for Kindle) in mid-April and just finished The Green Mill Murder (book #5) so I still have another fourteen books to enjoy. (Occasionally I have to look something up; it turns out that ANZAC stand for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but I can usually get a pretty good idea of what a word means from its context.) I've read Kerry's Corinna Chapman series over and over (only six books so far, starting with Earthly Delights, and I hope she writes more), so it's nice to find another series of hers.

And next week, on June 4, one of my favorite authors, Nalini Singh, who lives in New Zealand, has a new Psi/Changling book coming out: Heart of Obsidian. Mercedes Lackey, another favorite author and longtime friend, has the new Elemental Masters book, Steadfast, out the same day, and I've promised myself those two books as a treat for getting Music of Darkover published on the 3rd. (This involves staying up until after midnight on the 2nd so I can go to three different sites to publish the book and have the publication date be the 3rd. It's the 13th Darkover® anthology, so I'm certainly spending a lot of time with series these days.

I love Trinity Sunday. "Holy, Holy, Holy" is one of my favorite hymns. Marion Zimmer Bradley loved it too; when she was a child she thought that they sang it in honor of her birthday, which was June 3. As childhood delusions go, I think that one is preferable to thinking that "Gladly the cross I'd bear" is "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear." I supposed that one could create a religion that worshiped a cross-eyed bear named Gladly. That might even make an interesting story. Come to think of it... (pause to scribble down idea for new story)

This year I was in Salt Lake City attending CONduit, so I went to the Episcopal Cathedral there. The Trinity is a very complex doctrine, so the sermons are always interesting. This one started with "One plus one plus one equals..." followed by several voices from the congregation slowly replying "One." I think it might be better to use multiplication instead of addition, because one times one times one equals one, both theologically and mathematically.

The sermon on Trinity almost invariably refers to the Athanasian creed. The Athanasian Creed starts out:
Whosoever will be saved,
before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled,
without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
That sounds ominous, but at least it doesn't say you have to understand the Catholic Faith. It then gets to the details:
And the Catholic Faith is this:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father,
another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,
is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible,
and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated,
but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
It's easy to see why this will never replace the Apostles or Nicene Creed in public worship. There's a lot more, but this is as far as most people get before joking, "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible--the whole thing incomprehensible."

This is true enough to be funny, but it's using two different definitions for the word "incomprehensible." The last instance uses the current meaning of "impossible to understand" while the rest of it is in Early New English where the word means "limitless; not limited or capable of being limited." (I love Dictionary.com; it's great to have a place where you can find both sets of meanings.)

I wish you a great summer or winter, depending on where you are.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dying Suddenly and Unprepared


"...from violence, battle, and murder;
and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us"
(The Great Litany, Book of Common Prayer)

I was talking to a friend the other day about a woman who had died unexpectedly. I mentioned that "dying suddenly and unprepared" was one of the things that members of my church prayed to be delivered from. He asked "how do you prepare for death?" and the first word out of my mouth was "Compline." This is what happens to a person whose favorite vacation destination is a Benedictine convent. When the day is broken into sections divided by the services from The Monastic Diurnal, it's really hard to forget God (a feat that is easily accomplished in today's secular world). Compline is the last service of the day, right before bedtime, and it starts with the general confession, so by the time I go to bed I'm at peace with God, even if I'm not precisely in a "state of grace" as defined by the medieval church. That would required the "last rites": the sacraments of confession, holy communion, and extreme unction (anointing a body at the point of death). When people believed that unbaptized babies went to Limbo, they baptized them within two days of birth, and when they believed that a person who did not die in a state of grace went to either Hell or Purgatory... that was practically its own industry: prayers for the dead, indulgences, pilgrimages.... I remember the first time I attended a Roman Catholic funeral; they started the Dies Irae and I turned to my mother and whispered in total bewilderment, "What are they talking about? Hugo was a good man!"

There is, of course, a secular definition of "dying suddenly and unprepared." I don't know what it does to your soul, but it can make life hellish for your survivors. Dying without a will is not a good idea. Dying without a will when you are legally separated but still married and have various children by different women, when the youngest child is both illegitimate and a minor...it gets messy. Then there was the writer who had five half-siblings. His father had three sons by his first marriage, and his mother had two more children by her second marriage. He died without a will, and the trust I work for is still paying royalties to his estate. We tracked down all the heirs, but the next challenge was convincing them that we weren't playing an elaborate joke.

So, in addition to prayer, to prepare for death: make a will (even if you don't think you have enough to need one); have an Advanced Directive/Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare; keep an inventory of your possessions, especially anything not located in your home; label your keys (especially safe deposit box keys--include bank name and address); have a list of your bills, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.; and, in this digital age, keep a list of the online accounts you have: e-mail accounts, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc. My list is currently 114 lines long, but at least it will tell whoever is handling my estate what they need to cancel. Directions for your funeral service and the disposal of your body (for mine: donate usable organs; cremate remains; and send the ashes to the cemetery where I already have a place for them) are helpful as well; the fewer decisions your loved ones have to make right after your death, the better.

Remember that, despite what the insurance companies say, it's "when you die" not "if you die." You are going to die. Prepare for it as best you can--and with regard to the people you love, tell them so. Every day. Sudden death is really hard on the survivors, but knowing that the last thing you said to the person was "I love you" does help.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Childhood Memories

My earliest memory is falling off the back porch. I was four years old at the time. Comparing notes with my friends tells me that four is about as far back as our memories go, and that our earliest memories tend to be things that break the flow of our daily lives. It would be fair to call many of them traumatic memories.

This week another child got an early traumatic memory. He is five years old, and he just killed his two-year-old sister. The rifle he used is called a Crickett. The news stories say it was given to him last year, which could mean last Christmas or when he was four. While crickett.com appears to be down for maintenance (or perhaps a comprehensive rewrite), one of the cached pages says: "The Crickett rifle is ideally sized for children four to ten years old..." Obviously the manufacturer does not feel that four is too young to possess a rifle. As for their claims that their products teach kids safe gun handling, in this case they demonstrably failed to teach either the child or his parents the first rule of gun safety: the gun is always loaded. When you shape your hand like a gun, point your finger at your sister, and say "Bang! You're dead!", she isn't. When you use a real gun... well, there's a reason they're called deadly weapons.

You can't buy liquor before you're twenty-one, vote or serve in the military before you're eighteen, or get a license to drive a car or pilot a plane before you're sixteen. Before age thirteen there are restrictions on what you can do on the Internet. We do not expect mature judgment from children, and our laws reflect that. But you can own a gun at age four, the age at which you are forming your earliest adult memories.

I am not against responsible gun ownership. We had cap pistols when we were children and real guns when we were old enough to understand that they were not toys. But in our household the guns are stored in locked boxes and the swords are on shelves above my head. We don't leave a weapon propped in the corner where a child can get at it. We feel that a child is not able to use a gun safely without very careful adult supervision.

In a few years this boy probably will not remember the person who was his sister. But shooting her will always be one of his earliest childhood memories.