Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ashes and incense

Fragment of press for making bread for Eucharist. Byzantine.
There are little flecks of ash on my alb, from where I brushed up too close to the censer.  Ashes to ashes. I walk the church through a cloud of incense.  A shroud, a veil, for the Sacrament behind me.  A pillar of cloud in the night.

I fall on my knees in the chapel.  The smoke that curls around me smells of incense and oh, so faintly of ashes.  Of prayer and of destruction. The chant pours over the two of us kneeling before the altar, piles up and spills out the door like a wave, there is a moment where all is still, and song washes back in.  We remain until the music is spent and I step into the clear cool air on the other side of the wall to let the embers die.

For whom shall we pray? For Mother Church.  For public officials. For those who believe and those who don't.  For pilgrims, return, and salvation for the dying.  I kneel and I stand until I wonder if I can stand again with this weight on my shoulders, or whether like Jesus I will stumble and fall.

I watch the choir recoil at the stark news.  Ecce lignum Crucis.  A member has been suddenly widowed, can we lean on you? Now? Today? Behold the wood of the cross. It's 9:00 pm and part of me is in an office outside a hospital waiting room 30 years and 3000 feet away, as a nurse offers to call someone for me.  All I can see are her hands, poised over the dial.

A psalm in the darkness, I can see nothing beyond the pool of light on the text. Have mercy on me, O God.

Black silk pants, black silk shirt. A white pall flows over the coffin. The alb slides over my head. "See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity." Water from the aspersorium splashes against my hand, and arcs overhead.  Renew me.

The sacrament of salvation lies broken in my hand, and I breathe in Easter.

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