Longer version of post called – Stillness

For some reason I am just now processing my internship of last year. Here is more about that Thursday in April.

It’s an unseasonably warm afternoon for April when I arrive at the tiny church. I quickly duck into the office and drop my overnight bag and windbreaker on a chair. It seems like I over packed for such a warm day. From the office I can hear chatter in the kitchen, and some of the kids are running in and out of the side door, laughing and shouting as they go.
I step out of the office and head into the parish hall. It’s set up for a big meal. The usual arrangement of rectangular tables with 8 or so tables around it has changed. All the tables are connected together so the form a large “U” shape around the parish hall. They are covered with white plastic table covers, making it hard to tell one table from another. Tonight we all eat at the same table. Centerpieces of ivy garland and dozens of small votive holders line the tables.
At the far end of the parish hall are 3 foot washing stations, each consisting of a pitcher of water, a wide shallow bowl, a folding chair, and a pile of towels. There are plastic tarps under the chairs, my first indication that foot washing in this place isn’t a neat and tidy solemn ceremony.
As I head toward the kitchen people greet me. Young acolytes who are on the schedule tonight ask me questions. Since I don’t know the answers (hey, I’m newer than they are!) we go talk with the deacon, dodging around people bringing in hot casseroles for the buffet table.

The room is full of conversation and the flickering of votive candles. At my end of the table there is laughter as favorite stories about this place are told. The food, as always, is homemade, plentiful, and delicious, and the wine is flowing.
Every now and then someone rings a bell, and the room is hushed. A psalm is read. Not a psalm of joy, but a psalm of despair, a cry to God for deliverance. After each psalm the conversation starts again more or less as before, but we know that dinner is not the only reason we are here tonight, and that the celebration of our fellowship will be cut short very soon.

The foot washing has begins, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Everyone is washing everyone else’s feet, and there are lots of smiles and trips back and forth to the sink for water. The tarp comes in handy as neatness is not the focus here. One might wonder if the meaning of this ritual is lost on this congregation. It is not. It is the very dedication of this group to service to the other that makes this ritual almost exuberant.

The rector asks me to round up the acolytes. It’s time for the Eucharist. We talk over last minute details of the liturgy as we vest. The stripping of the sanctuary and the altar is reviewed again. Finally, it is time. The thurifer leads the procession of parishioners into the nave as a psalm is chanted in a mournful plainsong.

I wait in my place as the every decorative item in the sanctuary is removed. After a task is completed the acolyte assigned to it leaves quickly and quietly down a side aisle.

Finally just the priest and the deacon are left in the sanctuary with me. They strip the altar, carefully folding each linen. They wash it with wine. Then they leave.

I am behind the altar, trying to calmly and reverently wipe it clean with a linen that is really too small for the task. A congregation of people watches as I pour water on the stripped altar, but I barely notice them. The time of fellowship with the community is over for tonight. The rest of this night is for solitude with God.

[This is the original post, about a night here at seminary when I recalled the rest of the night mentioned above]

The tall wrought iron gate slams shut behind me and suddenly all is quiet. Darkness dominates the still lawns and ancient trees. Nobody seems to be awake.

Quietly I walk to a place where I can sit and meditate and pray. The thoughts take no form and the questions and their answers merge in a silent presence. Over and over again in the deep silence I hear it, a barely audible whisper. I am with you, I am with you, I am with you.

Suddenly I am in another place at a different time, alone at 3 am in a tiny chapel full of candles and flowers and incense. The moon lights the stained glass windows in the memory, and I shiver a little thinking of how cold I was in just a light sweater thrown on over t-shirt and sweatpants. I remember my canvas sneakers being wet from the dew that night.

I remember the argument I raised out loud that night. Why am I doing this? How could this be the path for me? Why the burdens, the loneliness, the hurt, the pain, the lasting traumas? You can’t hide it from me, I said. I’ve seen what it’s like. Did you think I wouldn’t notice? Did you really think I could spend so much time here and not see the suffering, the brokeness, the sacrifices? You know, I could just quit this whole thing now. Really. I could do lots of other things. I could be normal again.

And I remember the response

You will do this. You can, and you will. It is your path. I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.

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~ by Sophia on October 10, 2006.

2 Responses to “Longer version of post called – Stillness”

  1. Lovely post.The Close is a wonderful place to be alone…or with others….

  2. praying for you as you do this that you are called to.

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