Thursday, July 17, 2008

My final San Antonio Emmaus gathering

The Emmaus spiritual renewal movement, like all such renewal movements derived from the original Cursillo de Cristiandad, has as one of its "fourth day" features the monthly gathering together of folk who have been on a Walk to Emmaus, the initial three-day retreat. In the San Antonio area so many people have been Pilgrims that there are seven Fourth Day Groups, or local communities. Each has a monthly meeting, but twice a year we all gather together at some large church in whichever FDG is hosting that month. (The official local Emmaus community is the Southwest Texas Emmaus Community, co-extensive with the SWTX Conference of the UMC.)

Tuesday last (the 15th) we had our "July Joint FDG Gathering", hosted by the New Life FDG at Northern Hills UMC on the north side of Loop 1604. I got a ride there with Bill Clarke, who also had given me a ride to & from Men's Walk #1327.

The Gathering was wonderful, an almost overwhelming final blessing for yours truly! For one thing we turned out in droves -- over 300 attended, to be specific. And when the host Lay Director asked for indication of how many were from each of the constituent FDGs (plus visitors from other Emmaus communities), the number of folk who stood up at the mention of "Care Bexar" was simply exhilarating!

Instead of an actual "Fourth Day Talk" usually given during a monthly gathering, we saw a new film that the international office in Nashville is proposing to use as an alternative to the film "In Remembrance" that's probably been used since Emmaus got started in the Seventies (i.e., 1970s). The new film, "Dust", has a scholarly clergy fellow commenting about what it meant that Jesus the Nazarene was a Jewish rabbi with disciples. A Jewish blessing to be said to a disciple of such a roving rabbi in those days was, the narrator says, "May you be covered with the dust of your rabbi!" That is, the dust raised by a rabbi walking on the unpaved roads of rural Palestine would settle on the disciples who walked behind him. Interesting picture! Interesting film!

The songs we sang were fine; we sang using PowerPoint rather than the Emmaus songbooks, but I didn't mind. I didn't even mind the one song I didn't know. The prayer time was deep. Since there were so many, the Lay Director chose to simply pass the mike thru the crowd, first on his right and them on his left. When I had come to choosing a seat, I had wanted to sit with Rich and Joy Drady and others of Alamo Heights Christian Church, but there weren't any seats. Rich urged me to sit three rows up in the front row "because you're a front-row guy". And because I took the seat nearest the central aisle, I ended up being the final one to receive the mike.

Call this a "God thing". My final Emmaus meeting in S.A., and I get to be the last one to utter prayer praises and concerns! Thank you, gracious Lord!

Then, during the Lord's Supper distribution, when folk come forward to receive a piece of the loaf and dip it in the cup and partake (this method is called "intinction"), we sang "Here I Am to Worship" and two other songs.

. Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down,
. Here I am to say that You're my God
. You're altogether lovely Altogether worthy,
. Altogether wonderful to me

I remember that I sensed that things were getting intense deep inside my heart, and my head threatened to leak. I found myself praying, "Dear Lord, please don't let 'Here I Am, Lord' be our closing song!" This song, a call to discipleship and ministry, is usually what we sing as the closing song of a monthly gathering. It's also one of my favorites even tho' it always puts me on the verge of tears by the third and final verse, And I KNEW that were we to sing it this evening I'd end up bawling like a baby.

Well, God heard my prayer! The closing song was "They'll Know We Are Christians" and that one I can handle!

Following the worship we adjourned to the church lobby for food and drink. As always at any Emmaus event I've ever attended, the food was plentiful. Once I'd consumed a plateful of the main potluck offerings -- veggies & dip, sandwiches, casseroles, etc. -- I went back for a plateful of dessert -- cakes, pies, cookies.

One dessert was a cake heavily covered with creamy white icing and over most of the top cherries in a thick sauce or syrup. It looked yummy, and I wasn't about to pass it by! However, as I started to serve myself a slice, Pat Hoover, my "prayer partner" for Kairos Briscoe #1, sauntered over and remarked to me, "Now, you know that's not good for you!"

I replied with a smile to her, "Well, I don't care! This is my final Emmaus event in Texas and I'm gonna celebrate!" We both laughed at my mock belligerence.

This Emmaus joint FDG gathering was only one of several farewell events that are and will occupy me during this month, before I move away. I've a lot of groups and individuals to whom I now must say «Adios. Que el Señor te (o les) bendiga hasta que nos vemos, o en esta jornada de la vida mortal o en la gloria del cielo». Or for you monolinguals, "Bye. May the Lord bless you 'til we meet again either in this mortal life or in Heaven." These include (but aren't limited to) my two church congregations, the "Mama's Men" Bible study that meets Wednesdays over breakfast at Mama's Café on Nacogdoches Road, Kairos and Emmaus bodies, my best friend in S.A., Joe Tovar. Etc.,etc. Whew! did I get involved in a bunch of spiritual relationships and friendships, or what?

Well, nevertheless, now I must say «Adios» to all of y'all in Texas. AND:

"Tennessee! Here I come, ready or not!"

Monday, July 07, 2008

Independence Day -- S.A. style!

Wow! We just celebrated the 232d anniversary of the declaration of independence of these United States! Here in San Antonio we partied in style!

Like many other citizens, my celebration began a bit early, that is, on Thursday nite. But NOT with fireworks or hot dogs or drinking! I went to prison. Getting a ride with Bill Havard (my "cellie" or roommate on the Team for Kairos Briscoe #2), I attended First Thursday Kairos Prayer & Share in the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley. Due to a "guard-power" shortage we were back in the chapel for this one, rather than the gym. This kept the attendance down, and I missed seeing my "homie" from the Westside, Kevin, and others. But Porfirio and Luis from St. Peter's Table family on #2 and Jeremy from St. Luke's Family on #1 were there.

It was such a joy to be with the brothers in white this evening! And then it was all I could do as Bill drove us away afterward, to keep from bawling like a baby. You see, dear reader, I knew that I'd probably not see any of these brother Christians again this side of Heaven. Nor will I again see the interior of the Briscoe Unit, with its portrait of its namesake Texas Governor.

Next day, the actual holiday, I put such intense feelings aside, at least while I was working at Fiesta Texas. And hallelujah! we got another rain storm, one of several during these first days of July! Nevertheless, plenty of folk were buying tickets to enter the park and enjoy a day which would end in its spectacular fireworks show in place of the usual "Lone Star Spectacular".

But the theme park's Independence Day observation isn't the sole party for the holiday in Bexar County! The other theme park, Sea World, has its celebration, as do our military posts: Lackland AFB. Randolph AFB, and the US Army's Fort Sam Houston.

And THE "Fourth of July" party for San Antonio is the one at Woodlawn Lake. It features a variety of activities in the park around the lake, northwest of downtown and east of St. Mary's University. There's a parade around the lake, families camp out (or at least set up for some serious picnicking), a carnival, etc. One of my first two years here (before I began working at Fiesta Texas) I attempted to go to that one for at least the fireworks. However, traffic destined for the same goal as me slowed down the bus, and I ended up watching the nocturnal aerial show from the bus near the intersection of Woodlawn Avenue and Zarzamora Street.

Not THIS year! Leaving work at the theme park I came to Woodlawn Park from another direction; when traffic slowed the public transit down I got out and walked. I reached the east side of the lake just in time for the show. This viewing point was high on the east bank of the lake, in front of a community center, now for recreation but earlier a branch library. We had a good view across the lake, to the far shore of trees and what appeared to be a well-lit county-fair style carnival. Occasionally above the trees we'd get glimpses of fireworks in the far distance. I believe these were probably the display going on out at Sea World, which is in that direction.

The Woodlawn Lake fireworks got set off from a barge out in the middle of the small lake. While they were going up and bursting above us, recorded patriotic music was being played. (I couldn't detect if the melodious accompaniment came out of a general p.a. system or someone's high-volume boom box, but I'm pretty sure it was the former.) One of the songs was Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless the U.S.A." It put a lump in my throat, as I stood there relishing the celestial displays in the company of a mostly chicano audience, mostly from the Westside.

Next day the Independence Day party continued for me. Yeah, dear reader, it's true I was also back at work at Fiesta Texas. But on Saturday after clocking out from work I returned into the park as a Guest, just specifically for the park's fireworks show. (The theme park does it two consecutive nites annually.)

With a couple of hours before it would get dark en'uf for fireworks, I had time on my hands. So I attended a new show being offered in Zaragoza Theatre. It's called "Blast Fever" and features percussion and brass -- also copious choreography. Since the show opened its run, cart vendors have been selling tee-shirts and other souvenirs near Texas State Square, past the Zaragoza and toward the rear of the "Los Festivales" Mexican-theme area of the park. One of the tees features a dictionary-style definition of the word "blast". Number Two in the definition is "a party, particularly a wild party." The first time I read this I laughed and remarked, «¡una pachanga!» For you monolinguals, a pachanga is defined in Spanish-English dictionaries as "a rowdy or wild party".

"Blast Fever" commenced with a solo snare drummer on stage, giving the opening beat of Ravel's "Bolero". Instruments kept coming onstage and adding to the sound and the volume of the piece, just as it's supposed to be performed. And just as I heard it somewhere close to twenty times the evening I got initiated into Lambda Chi Alpha. I'm sure that for most folk my age "Bolero" sparks memories of the movie "Ten" and Bo Derek striding up out of the surf to that music. Not for me. Or probably any other Brother who was initiated in the Epsilon-Gamma Zeta house at 720 Deakin Ave. in Moscow, Idaho. I won't go into why "Bolero" was such a crucial part of our initiation ceremony; suffice it to say that the music is etched into our memories -- indelibly! What followed "Bolero" in "Blast Fever" was a drum solo, followed by a duet, both forgettable. But then there was a more "orchestral piece", a beautiful instrumental piece in which some of the artists came out and played in the audience area. Since it was a danceable number, I considered that if anybody else in the audience got up to dance I too would be cuttin' the rug in the aisles! The finale was a rather spectacular number with spectacular choreography. All in all, "Blast Fever" turned out to be a terrific show!

However, my chief purpose for returning into Fiesta Texas was for the "Lights of Liberty" fireworks show. It's preceded by a country-rock show on the stage of Lone Star Lil's Amphitheatre in the center of the park. And don't you know? One of the songs sung was "God Bless the U.S.A."! (Most of the numbers were simply popular country-rock, rock and country hits of recent years.)

When the country-rock show was finished I left the Amphitheatre. You see, my preferred viewing locale for the "Lights of Liberty" is on Texas State Square, just outside the former Mi Pueblito restaurant building. One gets a fine view of the blasts from there, backlighting the Boomerang ride. (And, strangely, folk are still riding that thing during the fireworks!)

This year I noticed that the park's pyro guys were using a new technique in their fireworks. I cannot accurately describe this, just that it sort of looks like an invisible paintbrush were making quick, short swipes with "spark paint" across the sky! And many of the more traditional bursts were of the "'Oohs!' and 'ahhs!'" quality. It was a great show, as always, and well worth the sticking around to see, even one day after the actual holiday!

Sunday the Sixth the party concluded with church observances. Actually, when I was at Alamo Heights Christian Church last Sunday (27 June) they were sort of observing the holiday THAT Sunday. Sort of jumping the gun, if you ask me.

Anyhow, I chose to wear the red-white-and-blue necktie that somewhat resembles Old Glory, that my best friend Joe had given me. And then when I got to Mexican Christian Church I found out that the pastor wanted me to be worship leader! And for that reason Sister Liz Sanchez was delighted I had worn a patriotic tie! I also chose to sing, solo and a capella, the Lee Greenwood song I'd heard so many times over the course of the holiday weekend. I invited everybody to join me in singing the final repeat of the chorus.

. And I'm proud to be an American,
. where at least I know I'm free!
. And I won't forget the ones who died,
. who gave that right to me.
. And I'd proudly stand up
. next to you and defend her still today.
. "Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land!
. God bless the U. S. A.!