Monday, March 08, 2010

My Cursillo Weekend

There is a folk axiom to the effect that it takes three positives to outweigh one negative. For several years, I allowed three negative impressions to color my opinion of the Cursillo movement. Now, I have attended a Cursillo weekend. I've waited to write about it because the whole weekend could be colored by one large negative: a severe allergic reaction.

It is probable that I encountered the allergen early Sunday afternoon, in the wooded area of our camp grounds. The reaction occurred about 12 hours later: swollen eyes. Both eyelids swole - the left eyelid completely shut - and the left eyeball itself swole. Steroids were prescribed to reduce the swelling. One of the side-effects of steroids is sleep loss.

I was already sleep-deprived from the weekend — more on that in moment. But, I trust you understand why the allergic reaction would throw a pall over my impression of the overall weekend.

Cursillo, which roughly translates as "short course", originated in the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, in 1944. It was partially inspired by the traditional pilgrimages to Santiago de Compestela. The intent was to train lay leaders in the church. See Wikipedia for more information.

The most positive experience I took from the weekend was confession, which may say a lot. I gained much from taking the time to do what AA calls a "painstaking inventory", as well as the process of sharing that inventory with a priest.

The inventory was facilitated by St. Augustine's Prayerbook, which lists the Seven Deadly Sins, and breaks down the many different ways those sins might be manifested. The psalmist says "protect me from my hidden faults"; this process helped me be more aware of hidden faults.

Although I was a stranger to the priest, she offered valuable "advise and counsel" as the Book of Common Prayer calls it. She did not give me formal penance, but I did take away two goals: spend time each day intentionally giving thanks, and seeking a spiritual director.

Another positive was being with people, and adapting to the crowd (20-30 in all). This is a challenge for me, being an introvert, so I am grateful for the opportunity to face that challenge. I met some old friends, and made a few new ones.

The next point is both positive and negative: the music. I was acquainted with the person leading the music, and was aware his style was less than ideal. Hindsight suggests the primary reason I was asked to attend this Cursillo is because the leaders are seeking new blood by way of music directors. One may not be on the Cursillo team (of which the music director is a member) if one has not attended Cursillo.

I approached George shortly after I arrived, and offered my assistance. I think I may have briefly listed my vitae - I've lead music for church services off & on for over 10 years. He kindly turned down my offer, saying this was a time for the attendees to be fed. As we were talking, someone joined us, and George talked about how nervous he was to be leading music in my presence.

The downside of this was the fact that the music often fell short, and was a frequent distraction. The most frequent problem was the community losing the beat of the music. This was likely due to the fact that the music director played his guitar behind us while he was sitting down. If he had asked for my advise, I would have told him it was best to lead music from in front of the community while standing up. That simple measure would have helped everyone stay on the same beat.

But he never asked my advice. I suppose this was part of the "care-taking" - so I wouldn't expend any energy worrying about the music.

The positive side of this was it gave me an opportunity to work on my humility. I strove, while there, not to judge George. I strove not to let the quality of music affect my appreciation of the other aspects of the weekend. Friday night, a few musicians jammed. This experience alerted me that I was out of practice. So, definitely in no position to judge George one way or the other. Again, an opportunity for humility.

There were five lectures each day, with opportunities to reflect and respond. These lectures did not offer much in the way of new information for me, but did offer new slants or new ways of seeing old ideas. Also, on the whole, a positive.

There were really only two major negatives: one person who was a jerk, and lack of sleep. The latter was primarily due to a heating fan which ran constantly, and never shut off.

The person who was a jerk had impressed me as the type to be a jerk early on, so I was hardly surprised when it happened. His comment did sting, but I don't hold the Cursillo movement responsible for the fact that sometimes people can say insensitive or ill-advised things.

I think there are two bottom-line questions: 1)would I recommend Cursillo to another seeker; and (2) would I be willing to serve as music director in the future.

  1. I think whether Cursillo is right for someone depends a great deal on where they are in their journey. If a person has been attending church regularly for more than 3-5 years, and is ready for an additional step, then they would probably gain from Cursillo. For someone like me, who is an information gatherer, I think it might help to know the titles of those lectures - that would have eased my anxiety. There's so much more to the weekend than those lectures. But keeping so much about the weekend secret makes the Cursillo experience look suspiciously like cultish indoctrination.

  2. As for serving as music director, I don't have an answer right now. Given the caveats I mention above, I don't necessarily trust my immediate gut response to this question. I hope I'm not faced with the decision for at least three months — which I hope will be enough time for the positives to out-weigh the negatives.

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