Sunday, April 24, 2011
Last night I attended the Great Vigil, which never fails to move me. The transition from darkness to light is beautiful. This is the first Great Vigil I've attended which used a cantor -- a young woman with a lovely voice -- and that added to the power of the service.
One of the things I loved about my old church was how much of the sanctuary had been handmade by parishioners or former clergy; the altar and roodbeam were carved by a former rector, and the stained glass windows were designed by a former parishioner and cut and assembled, under that parishioner's direction, by a group of people in the congregation who met once a week for many months to work on the project. That happened long before I arrived, but I always loved the story.
Many people in my old parish moved to our mini-cathedral downtown. This is a gorgeous building, but to me it's always seemed like an uncomfortable worship space: too formal and too large, not human-sized enough for me. The church I attend now is on a more comfortable scale (larger than my old church, but smaller than the fancy one), but won't win any awards for aesthetics. The walls are cinderblock with glass bricks scattered throughout to let in light; the floor's linoleum. And above the altar hangs -- may I be forgiven for saying this -- one of the most unappealing Christus Rex crucifixes I've ever seen. It's huge, shiny, and looks like ceramic; light emanates from behind it. To me, it's always looked like a particularly hideous nightlight someone bought at a yard sale. (Last night I was sitting next to our bishop's wife, and she giggled when I said that.) One of the advantages of Lent and Holy Week, from my point of view, was that this excrescence was veiled.
At the beginning of last night's service, I couldn't see it at all, because everything was dark. But part of the blaze of light preceding "He Is Risen!" -- the high point of the service -- came when someone flicked the switch to turn on the nightlight. We were in the dark with just candles, and more candles were being lit, but all of a sudden . . . there he was, the Savior, glowing from the wall in all his ceramic glory.
I got a lump in my throat, and acquired new and grudging respect for the nightlight.
After the service, I told the rector about this. Looking a bit pained, he said, "That piece was hand-carved by a parishioner. It's wood."
"It's wood? It looks like ceramic!"
"It needs to be stripped and refinished."
"Yes, please. Strip and refinish it so it actually looks like wood. I think that would help a lot."
Whether that ever happens or not, I'm now a lot fonder of the thing than I used to be: not just because of the Easter moment, but because the crucifix was a labor of love by someone who belonged to the church.
I didn't go to church this morning, since the pastel-and-Easter-egg scene always makes me itch. Instead, I pigged out on smoked salmon for breakfast, a special Easter treat, and then went to the hospital. It was a pretty good shift; at least one family was actively glad I was there, and I had nice conversations with several staff members. Also, I've discovered a pastoral rationale for going to Hawai'i: it's actually useful at the hospital. Today I had a patient going into surgery who was in pain and very frightened, but I noticed that her husband was wearing a Kaua'i cap, and we had a lively conversation about their trip to the island that distracted her from her pain for a few minutes, and gave me material for a guided visualization exercise later on, when her pain came back.
Let's hear it for tropical islands.