Sunday began for me at 4:30 a.m., up early to pack and get ready for Church. The 6:30 service was Holy Mass in the National Cathedral's side chapel. It was a service at once simple and high, as a side chapel Cathedral service should be. I believe this is my favorite form of the Eucharist. Two young men in albs assisted an old white bearded priest, who presided at the liturgy of the table facing liturgical East – which is to say the altar was against the wall. He reminded me a bit of the Rev. Canon Edward West who was this sort of priest at my beloved Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. (Here I resist the urge to go on a long tangent about Canon West.) The liturgy was close to our Rite 2 Prayer A with a few variations in the ECP BCP. I loved it! It was just so Episcopal! I miss services like this so much – no personal idiosyncrasies, no egoistic surges of “creativity,” no attempt to mix other liturgical season into Advent, no carving on the liturgy to make it acceptable to someone’s theological sensitivities – just the ritual reverently prayed by two dozen early risers, with a solid competent Advent sermon by one of the young men in an alb. There are many wonderful ways to celebrate the Eucahrist. I respect them all and enjoy most of them, but this one is my favorite.
After Mass, the old priest, who turned out to be a seminary professor, invited me to breakfast at the student café. He talked at some length though I only understood some of it, for he mumbled a bit and seemed more interested in his ideas than he was in either me or himself. He was not so much communicating as pondering aloud. I did not even learn his name, only that he was an American from Maine but had spent most of his adult life in Asia and planned to be buried here under a tombstone which will say “I lie here in protest and hope for the resurrection.” He also quoted someone – was it Ramsey? – who said “A priest is someone who stands before God holding his people in his heart.”
Then it was on the road with my driver, Wilson. Having a sidekick named Wilson keeps me feeling as if I am in the movie Cast Away and that my experience of Wilson as the son of a miner, husband of a working wife, and father of three children, one of whom is autistic, might all be my own delirious projections onto a soccer ball. If you haven’t seen the movie, just disregard this paragraph.
The drive was long and wonderful. Once out of Manila, we drove through rice paddies and sugar cane plantations – the sky sunny with a few clouds, the weather warm and humid, coastal. The cd player brought us Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton “Islands In The Stream” -- Abba, “Dance With Me” – Elton John “Daniel” (personally significant because of my brother’s death in the 70’s) – The Carpenters “I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation . . . .” – Ann Murray – “Just one touch and then it happens. I fall in love again. . . .” Somehow you hear all that differently while driving through rice paddies.
Then it was up into the mountains, where lush tropical forests were interrupted by villages and more rice paddies – didn’t know rice grew so high up. Today I have seen my first water buffalo and my first ox carts. In fact, these may have been my first oxen. Where are the oxen in America? I know we used to have them. There were security checkpoints on the road. Wilson tells me they are looking for illegal logging and guerilla insurgents. I haven’t seen either – just water buffalo, oxen pulling carts, and the occasional goat.
We stopped for lunch at Angelina’s Eatery Ihaw Ihaw (which means the food is roasted over coals) in Turo Turo a village consisting of two, maybe three buildings. I had chunks of pork over rice. Wilson said it was a typical Philippine lunch. We ate al fresco under a thatched roof. As we left, the owners told Wilson I was the first “foreigner” who had ever eaten there. I hope I behaved well. Wilson said he would get flack from the National Church Office for taking a visiting bishop to lunch there. I’m glad he did.
As the sun was setting, we arrived in Santiago City, capital of Isabella Province – the last region to succumb to the American military in the 1920s. One of the diocesan clergy helped us find our way to the Gatian Hotel & Resort. I cannot figure out what sort of place this is. I have a simple suite in a compound that has lots of bright Christmas lights. Outside my window is a multi colored star of lights with more lights circling it in a progressive round flow of red. (Keeps me from being too homesick for the Fiesta Casino sign that flashes outside my window in Henderson. By the way I did put up last year’s Las Vegas style Christmas tree and ornaments before commencing this Asian odyssey.) Inside there are sticker signs. One is a sticker on the door to the bedroom saying “Jesus never fails” and one on the mirror says “Jesus Loves You. John 3:16” – which is not exactly what John 3:16 says, but the point is good anyway.
There is a Gideon Bible and towels so I am content. There is also an unplugged floor lamp. Remembering what happened to Thomas Merton, I plan to leave it unplugged.