Saturday, March 31, 2018

Stay here

I stood on the altar, wrapped in a veil of incense,  facing God made flesh in a church grown dark.  Flames flickered and people slowly gathered from the corners of the church. A procession formed, as the choir sang Tantum Ergo.  As the last light vanished down the center aisle, I led the way off the altar.

The cloud of unknowing. The cloud moving at night through the desert.  The puffs of smoke floating up before me to briefly flare in the light pouring out from the vestibule, and part before me. The measured pace of the music and the presider behind me, Christ's body cradled in his hands, guarded by this incense which surrounds us.

We reach the altar, passing through the silent crowd.  The presider incenses the altar and the blessed Sacrament. He kneels, and without thinking, I fall to one knee.

The choir shifts to a Taize refrain, "Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray." I'm thinking of Tom, of staying with him through the early hours of a Holy Thursday; of those who stayed with me; of staying with my mother in her last moments.  I hear the call stay with each other, to remain present to the person we really don't want to listen to, to the person who talks over and over us, to the ones who make us uncomfortable, or frighten us.  Stay here, with me.  Remain here with me. The music ebbs and flows around us. The church itself seems to breathe. Stay. Here.

This is surely liturgy as summit, we have gathered and done what we were asked to do with serene grace, with incense and music, and beauty all around. But this is also liturgy as the font of holiness, as discipline, as training ground.  Kneel here, so that you might know how to kneel before Christ in less recognizable or acceptable guises. Let your feet be washed, that you might know how to accept help, not just give it.

Fr. John leans over and murmurs, "Can you get up?"  My kneeling had not been in the plan, as we weren't sure my ankle would let me get up again without help.  But prayer is sometimes entirely in the body, and in this case it surely was, all those years of praying on my knees in front of the tabernacle and my body decided before my conscious mind had time to weigh in.  "Yes," I assured him. And gratefully, I had no trouble getting up.

The church gradually emptied, I headed out to the parking lot to go home and change and re-splint my ankle before returning for Compline at 10:30.  I get outside to find cars jamming the parking lot, caught in a tangle with traffic from the grocery store across the street and couldn't help but hum...stay with me.

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