Monday, February 23, 2015

Keeping vigil

This Lent I’m writing a series of reflections on the readings for the Easter Vigil for CatholicPhilly, selfishly wanting to spend more than a few minutes with each of these long and rich readings. The rubrics for the Easter Vigil note that a community need not use all of the nine readings laid out for the celebration, but may omit one or more if that seems pastorally necessary. Enough readings must be used that the celebration on Holy Saturday night “retains the character of a vigil.” Which has me thinking about what exactly constitutes a vigil - is it length or time or?

The word vigil comes from the Latin vigil, meaning “awake.” Two weeks ago, even before Lent began, I was keeping vigil. The Egg got more than a bit sick, infected with a nasty toxin-producing bacteria and ending up in the hospital. When he first went to the ER, I spent the night up with him, texting him and talking to him on the phone, praying and keep watch. (For the record, there are no flights to California to be had at 11 pm at night from Philadelphia.) The sun had already risen here when I crawled upstairs to bed at 7 am, knowing that he was safe and resting comfortably, at least for the moment.

When Tom died I spent a night in vigil, waiting for each report from the OR, wondering what it meant when the flow of information became a trickle, when the steady stream of lab techs ceased going by with blood samples, shaking with the shock of what my body understood was happening, long before my mind managed to grasp it. Here again I waited for word in the darkness, worried excessively when the texts paused, shivering in the cold of a house where the heat goes off at night. I was awake, not just in the sense of not sleeping, but awake to the fears that batter at hearts in those moments, imagining the demons the desert fathers encountered at night fluttering outside the sunroom windows.

My sense of vigil encompasses more than a length of time, more even than a willingness to stay awake through the hours most sleep. It means to be awake to the possibility that we will be pushed into spaces we would not willingly go.

The readings for the Vigils are not easy, despite our long familiarity with the stories. We sit in darkened churches, the scent of candles lingering in the air, dressed in Easter finery, our ears are already attuned to glory and grace as we race through millenia of salvation history. But I tell you, as I sat this week with the story of Isaac and Abraham, contemplating a son in mortal danger, I was not wrapped in the warmth of a shared history, sure in the knowlege that soon Glorias would ring out, but instead sitting vigil with a wracked Abraham in the desert. Aware he was walking a path he would not have chosen, attuned not to some expected heavenly chorus, but ears stretched to the limit, hoping to hear God’s merciful word.

We wait in hope. This is the vigil I am keeping this Lent, wracked on the edge of hope.

I am immeasurably grateful to report that The Egg is now well on the mend, thanks to antibiotics and a very alert student health service, though it will be a few weeks until all the damage wrought by the toxins is repaired. #youth

You can read the first and second installments of the reflections at CatholicPhilly.

1 comment:

  1. Michelle, your vigil with Abraham, Isaac and the Egg is such an illustration of the applicability of the Scripture narratives to our lives today. These narratives carry within them the story of our own journey here and now. Thank you so much for this post which reminds me that all of our lives are written in the Word. Glad to hear that the Egg is on the mend!