It’s like the end of summer, when you start waking up early to get ready for the start of a new school year. Only, in this case, it’s more like the beginning of summer. I woke up at 7 today, only the second time I’ve been out of bed before 9 probably since coming back to Xiamen. There was something going at at church, possibly a retreat-like something, and I decided to check it out.
When I got there, they were halfway through the Stations of the Cross, so I joined in. Much to my delight, it was in 普通话 (Mandarin); the last time I prayed the Stations was in Shanghai and we used 闽南话, the local dialect that I don’t speak or understand. Even better, they sang the Stabat Mater (the song of Mary’s sorrows) between stations, or at least something to the same tune.
When we had finished the Way of the Cross, we went upstairs to a sort of conference room. Father He, a priest from Taiwan who has visited before, had come back to lead the day’s event. He began with the story of the resurrection of Lazarus and then began talking. I understood a good part of the Gospel but then my sleepiness set in and I struggled in and out of sleep. Between that and the fact that my Chinese isn’t incredible even when fully conscious, I didn’t catch a whole lot of the several hours of lecture that followed. He explained why Catholics keep the corpus on the crucifix, pointed out that Jesus’ entire life was a progression towards Jerusalem, and remarked on the Chinese belief that names and numbers can control destiny, but I couldn’t figure out the overarching theme of it all.
This got harder when he put on a video called “+/- 2°C”, which was a look at natural disasters since last June and their cause, global warming. As far as I can tell, it came out of nowhere, and immediately after the video ended, the lecture part was over. That’s kind of too bad, as I think there’s a lot to be said about environmental stewardship in a church setting. The humanitarian and social effects of pollution, energy dependence, and climate change are what attracted me to sustainable energy in the first place, and this year more than ever, Church leaders (including Pope Benedict and a Filipino cardinal) are speaking up about the same thing. But, as it was, I was just mainly confused.
I was also confused by the after-lunch activity we had. (Incidentally, lunch consisted of fried rice with green vegetables. My Chinese New Year Mom excitedly asked if I wanted worms with my fried rice, but I tried to protest politely by asking if worms might possibly be considered meat, which we can’t eat on Fridays in Lent. I guess it worked!)
Anyway, back to the after-lunch activity. Fr. He passed out songsheets, pulled up a Youku video, and had us all sing – AND DANCE – along to a Chinese praise-and-worship song. First of all, it was weird doing these juvenile hand motions and movements in a room full of old Chinese women (and a few men). Some of them were out of breath afterwards. Secondly, half of the words in the song were ‘alleluia’, which we don’t use (and basically aren’t supposed to say) in church during the season of Lent. Everywhere in the liturgy where we usually say ‘Alleluia!” is omitted or changed for the duration of Lent; the Gloria, whose joyfulness don’t really fit with the mood of the season, is also left out. It’s kind of a bummer, but the self-denial makes Easter even more special and joy-filled. So, I know that we aren’t supposed to say ‘Alleluia’ during lent, but maybe 阿肋路亚 doesn’t count?
After all this, though, things settled down into something more recognizable to me. We moved downstairs to the church and they rearranged some pews. I never know what’s going on until it’s too late, but as soon as I figured out they were setting up a second confessional, my heart started racing. I don’t go to confession often enough, but I always go during Advent, Lent, and before leaving the country. I never got around to it during Advent for multiple reasons, but had promised myself I would go sometime during Lent. And, there you go – the perfect opportunity!
The set-up was not ideal, and I found myself – possibly for the first time – grateful that my Chinese is not so great, because listening to others confess is really uncomfortable. I’m not going to lie; I also found some comfort in the knowledge that no one else would understand my confession either. While the Church makes allowances for those without recourse to a priest with a common language, I was lucky enough that Fr. He could meet me half way. I spoke in English and he responded in Chinese, and it worked out – at least enough for him to offer some pertinent counsel and for me to somewhat understand.
After everyone had gone to confession, we had Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament and said the Divine Praises. It was great, really just what I had needed. I read a really amazing blog post a few months ago in which the author described the way she feels taken care of in church, and was reminded of that today. From the loving concern exhibited by my church friends, to the welcome sound of the familiar Stabat Mater, to the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation without me having to seek it out, to the language skills of my priest that were just enough to communicate, to the perfect ending of adoration, it was all just what I had needed but far more than I would have thought to ask for.
When I got back to XiaDa, I checked the class lists and schedules. I’m in 二年下, the second semester of 2nd year, just as I thought. The schedule looks pretty miserable, with 7 class periods somehow completely taking up the entire week, but maybe we’ll be able to change it. Just have to buy my books before classes start on Monday!
Today was Diederik’s birthday, so we went out in a large group for dinner.
Dinner included, among other things, amazing shrimp and delicious snap peas, plus we had a rooftop view of the ocean, framed by Xiamen’s illuminated highways. Gefeliciteerd, Diederik!
I have two updates on current conditions in Xiamen. First, weather: The humidity here is INSANE. We’re currently at 100%, and it probably hasn’t dropped below 85% in days. Everything is wet with no hope of drying. Floors that were cleaned three days ago have turned into slick muddy paths. Every slick surface – windows, mirrors, clocks, handrails, pews – is sweating. It’s very weird and kind of uncomfortable. The worst is that I have to do laundry really soon . . . it probably won’t dry for a week.
I mentioned once that the internet situation sometimes changes as swiftly as the weather. I think a front of internet freedom has moved into the area, but it’s hard to tell how long those conditions will linger. It looks like the weekend is going to be great for WordPress, Blogspot, and Picasa Web Albums (all unblocked), so get out there and enjoy!