Friday, April 14, 2006

Better to light one ...

This morning I am back to pondering the question of whether God intends to send us meaning through small events in our lives.

We had an overnight prayer vigil at the little Episcopal church I've been attending for the past year, and a series of us signed up to spend an hour in church across the time from the end of the Maundy Thursday service to Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at noon. I put my name down for 8 am.

I was glad to be there. From my seat inside I could see the rolling field that was one of the things that drew me to the church in the first place. I could see flowers, and trees just barely putting out their first pale green leaves. I could hear birds. I felt alone, and yet not alone. It was a chance to look around and experience being in this church in a way that isn't possible when other people are there.

There were instructions for an hour-long guided prayer experience, and suggestions for an unguided hour. Either way, you were supposed to start by lighting a candle. There were several still burning on a table at the entrance, left behind by earlier participants, with a few from the night before that had already burned down to nothing, and I was moved because I thought they really did convey the sense of a communal prayer in which we all left something behind even after our hour was up and we departed.

There was just one problem for me. There were no more candles to light.

I thought, well, this proves I'm not meant to be part of this community. There's no place for me here, I really don't belong. And I wept. I laughed, too, and my tears didn't last long, but I think if I'd chosen to I could have gathered all my church-related hurts and frustrations from the past two years into that moment and cried for the entire hour.

But I chose to laugh, because my response to this dilemma really was pretty funny. I kept looking for the damn candles. I mean, it was perfectly obvious that all of the candles on the table at the entrance were either burning or burned out. It was perfectly obvious that there were no other candles on the table, under the table, or anywhere near the table. There was no candle for me, but I must have spent a full five minutes looking and looking again to see if I couldn't find one. So typical. Jesus might have seek and ye shall find, but I mostly just seem to seek. I sat down and then got back up again after a few minutes to look one more time, but there were still no candles. Finally, I gave up and settled in to pray.

The hour went quickly, and it was a good hour. It felt right to be there.

I looked around, and after a while I got up and walked around. I needed to take a thorough look at the church, at all its nooks and crannies, to experience it fully as a physical place. At one point I was standing in the middle aisle facing the back of the church, which is to say facing the entrance doors, and I kept backing up to get a better look up into what in another church would be the choir loft, though this congregation uses it as a refuge for people with very small children or people who otherwise wish to sit away from the folks downstairs (for reasons I think I understand but not fully). As I backed up I realized I was getting closer to the altar, to the place where the priest might be standing and facing the congregation during a service, and just as I was beginning to feel like a real imposter I heard something start clicking--a motion detector on the back wall, I think. Properly warned, I sat back down in my seat, wondering if this was another message from heaven.

Finally, someone arrived to take the next hour. I looked back and saw her standing there with matches in hand, looking for a candle to light, and I whispered that there were no more. She said that was OK, she'd go find some back in the sacristy. I wanted to tell her to light one for me, but I didn't. I guess my presence will just have to speak for itself.

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