Saturday, April 04, 2015

Vigils, again

In the early hours of Holy Thursday, 28 years ago, I sat vigil in a darkened hospital lounge.  My breviary and I had been separated early on, but I prayed the hours from memory, scraping the psalms from a battered Bible found on a table in the hallway.  I came back again and again to the scene in the garden, "take this cup" alternating with "I will drink it if you say so." I shook with the cold, or perhaps the shock of it all. The sounds of the hospital were muted, and I was aware of how helpless I was, though Tom was in surgery just a few yards away, there was nothing I could do. He surely did not know I was there.  But I could pray, I could keep watch.

This year, in those early hours, I was awake again, curled up on an air mattress in a dim hallway at a local shelter,  wrapped in a sleeping bag.  Cold. And keeping vigil — again.  The little ones were restless, many of them with colds.  A baby woke up every 30 to 40 minutes, the mothers' voices, hushed, exhausted and taut. And I woke, too.  There was nothing I could do, a stranger in the middle of the night is no comfort to a crying child when their mother is there.  But I could pray.  I could keep watch.

I have an icon of Christ in prison on my desk at the moment.  He slumps on a bench.  Alone, exhausted, pulled taut between heaven and earth. I wonder who was keeping watch at that moment, surely his mother was awake and praying. What were the women who would so faithfully remain with him the next day doing?  I imagine them awake, too.  Being present when there was nothing to be done. Except pray.  And keep watch.

To keep vigil is a powerful lesson in "being" rather than "doing."

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