The Week of Re-posting: Adoration – rising strength, mists and veils

Originally posted, Sept. 12, 2006

Originally posted on July 16, 2006


Went to adoration yesterday – not especially because of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 – simply because that’s my habit of a Monday afternoon. As I had planned to, I prayed the Office for the Dead, in remembrance of…well, of so many. Of my brothers and brother-in-law, of the victims of 9/11, our lost soldiers, the civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan – the families of all the dead. “All things are alive in the sight of their king…”

One of the readings was from 1 Corinthians, and this line struck me: Weakness is sown, strength rises up.

Part and parcel of the paradox: when I am weak, then I am strong.

Aside from praying for those lost and those who mourn, I prayed for all the folks in my “need prayers” book – so many of them, these days, seem to be young mothers with cancer, or children with cancer. I prayed for them, and for my own children, my sons, my elder son’s girlfriend, the teenagers who have come and gone over the past few years or who still frequent our house, my friends who are undertaking new jobs, my husband who could use a new one, people who do hard or dangerous jobs. I prayed for firefighters and cops and nurses and EMT responders and people without jobs, and people without family, and people without someone to love…and everyone. I prayed for the terrorists. I prayed for the people who hate our country, who hate our president. I prayed for the people who hate me (whose names are, seemingly, legion.)

Call me presumptuous; I brought the whole world with me, to prayer. I imaged it; cities and states, countries and continents, and prayed and prayed.

And none of this, of course, is because I am holy; far from it. Just as faith is a gift, so is prayer – it is jostled out of us (or first into us) via the Holy Spirit because, “we do not know how to pray as we ought…” So, don’t think too well of me, please. I was just looking for a bit of quiet – and quiet is where the Holy Spirit seductively, dangerously lurks – waiting to both soothe, then ravish, us. Why do you think the world is so very noisy?

The prayer was long because where I could, I prayed everyone by name – but even if I could not do that, I still brought it all forward. I felt so ragged and unworthy – like a slave, or the lowliest servant – escorting one person after another, one group after another into the presence of the King, each time introducing them thusly:

“Lord, the one you love is sick…”

“Lord, the one you love is weeping…”

“Lord, the ones you love are overworked and fretful…”

“Lord, the one you love is lonely…”

“Lord, the one you love is under siege…”

“Lord, the ones you love are oppressed…”

“Lord, the ones you love are over-burdened…”

“Lord, the ones you love are slaves to hate…”

I brought everyone in and then receded into the background, bowing low, imagining my own self nose-to-the-ground, almost prostrate and dared not look up, praying, “help them to comprehend the truth and strength and invoilability of your love, the generosity of your mercy – show to them the outpouring of your grace, gift them with your healing and let them recognise it and trust in it, for your gifts bestowed are never rescinded. You, Alpha and Omega, in whom we live and move and have our being, spread forth your peace like sweetest honey to refresh starving hearts and weary spirits. Let your light touch us like consoling balm to soothe and warm our chilled humanity, so that we might be opened to your justice and willing to be made whole. But I am no worthy intercessor, only a faulty and broken vessel trusting in your mercy. Consider not what I deserve in your sight but only the needs of these whom you love, these I bring before you, and for whom I, the lowest servant, plead. Let my evening prayer rise before you like incense, to carry these forward. Forgive my sins, especially my failures in love, my sins of omission (for you know those are vast and heavy) and cast them behind your back as your prophet Isaiah has promised, and with your grace may I do better. Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner, in your name I pray…”

That prayer wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I know. Some days it wouldn’t be mine, but yesterday it flowed and that’s the direction in which it meandered…and the meandering was good. It made me realize once again that prayer trumps everything.

There are things visible and invisible. A thought is a thing. A hateful thought is a thing, as is a loving one. A hateful thought offered up to an altar of the invisible is hate on a supernatural level, and it can only be confronted and overcome by love on a supernatural level.

Prayer is a force and it is real. I came away from Adoration convinced that we will not defeat the enemy (and on the most fundamental level, the enemy – both within and without – is hate) unless we are willing to use the weapon of real and loving prayer – faithfully, humbly, daily…and did I say humbly…we will not win.

And what is humble prayer? It is not the one that all-too-often tempts us, which runs along the lines of: “Destroy them O Lord, they maketh a blight…” Rather it is the one that seeks mercy and trusts God to handle the justice part – it is, “help us Lord, help us all, begin with me who am so broken and full of fault…” It is prayer that is a “sacrifice of joy” – even if the sacrifice is submitted in a groaning song of pain or illness or longing – for to suffer with purpose, if we must suffer, is real prayer, loving prayer, and it is an offering.

And who gets through life without suffering? Perhaps we all get to suffer, so that we might all make the greatest of prayers.

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

With that rejoicing, then, the gift freely given is nothing less than “the sacrifice of joy.” To make an offering of your pain is to empower it, as Christ’s own suffering has power; it is to render it into something victorious and undefeatable.

Weakness is sown; strength rises up. Think about that, pray on it. Consider it in the season.

3 Though an army encamp against me
my heart would not fear.
Though war break out against me
even then would I trust.

4 There is one thing I ask of the Lord,
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord,
all the days of my life,
to savor the sweetness of the Lord,
to behold his temple.

5 For there he keeps me safe in his tent
in the day of evil.
He hides me in the shelter of his tent,
on a rock he sets me safe.

6 And now my head shall be raised
above my foes who surround me
and I shall offer within his tent
a sacrifice of joy.

Psalm 27


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Last night I had the tremendous opportunity to participate in Adoration with the Nocturnal Adoration Society, which is different from merely going to an hour of silent Adoration.

The NAS promotes Adoration and specifically works to organize whole nights of prayer, with hourly teams getting together to chant the psalms, read scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers and to simply pray – it is all prayer, really – before the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer goes essentially from sundown (the end of the Saturday Vigil anticipating Sunday Mass) to sunrise (the first mass of Sunday), nonstop, and it is remarkable to be in the middle of all of that. Although it is very “busy” prayer, it is also very focused and intense and at the quiet parts – during which we silently meditate and offer prayers of praise or supplication – the silence is…astoundingly rich.

It is silence that is not emptiness, but rather fullness. It is silence that is vibrant, as in vibrational and resonant. It is silence that is utterly alive, and enormously instructive. It is a chunky silence; it builds and feeds. Ristoro e robusto.

It is a Milk and Honey silence.

Because the scheduling folks in the Society had asked me to (I’m not a member – it won’t surprise you to learn I’m not much for “officially joining” things, but they know I participate) I agreed to take the 1-2 AM hour last night, along with 6 other people.

I didn’t really want to be there – I was pleasantly distracted by my secret project and didn’t want to have to stop playing with it to pray and think about God. That happens sometimes, doesn’t it? But I have lots of folks on my prayer list, and the world certainly needs prayer, right now, so I went. I schlepped into the church yawning and splashing holy water on myself, chased a phrase from The Marriage of Figaro out of my head and slid into my pew. Kneeling, I looked up at the altar and found myself immediately enclosed in the mist.

I calls it the mist. Some might call it “the veil,” except I’ve never actually talked to anyone about it, so I’m just assuming that other folks see this thing, and perhaps they know what it is. It is like a white, glistening cloud that comes down and surrounds a person, obliterating everything else from view. Like…well…a mist.

First time I saw it was the day I met my husband. He walked through a gate and I saw him surrounded by this cloud, and I knew at that moment that I would not be heading into a monastery, but would instead be spending my life with him. (And I’m grateful, because he’s a swell egg!)

The next time I saw the mist was when I was – very unexpectedly – helping a man re a suicide situation. Again this mist fell, and I could see nothing but this fellow, and I know – I know most emphatically – that the help he was rendered was wholly unconnected to me and came from somewhere else. I know this because I know who and what I am, and that helpful creature was not me.

Again the cloud came as I watched an incredible woman generously, disinterestedly and most helpfully console another woman who was in major emotional distress. And that time, when I saw the mist, I also thought…here is Christ, poured forth like a libation.

The cloud came again last night, and I was surprised to see it – so immediate and vast – because nothing seemed extraordinary or different, and I certainly wasn’t feeling “holy.” Because I was tired, it seemed to me God was being a smart-ass: “Heh. So, you made it, eh? Didn’t feel like coming, did you? Well, I’ve been waiting and you’re welcome. Look at what your fellow-adorers have done!”

As I said, Nocturnal Adoration is unusual. The only other time I’ve ever seen the mist while there was when I’d volunteered to take the 5-6AM hour and found that the whole church seemed to be engulfed in this mist – as though the 10 hours of unceasing prayer and praise, together with the Power of the Blessed Sacrament, had suffused the room, bathed it in this light, or that perhaps the worship space was simply packed with the rising of prayers and the coming and going of our angels moving in and out with us, or up and down as with Jacob’s ladder.

It is fanciful of me, yes. I know it, but when that hour ended, and the priest came out to respose the Host, I watched him cleanse the area with incense (“like burning incense, Lord, let my prayer rise up to you…) and sort of understood why incense has been used for thousands of years, in every culture. The air had become heavy – cluttered, perhaps, with the human concerns we bring with us and leave at the altar – and the space had to be cleared of that heaviness.

Incense is used at the beginning and end of a funeral, perhaps to cleanse away all of the heaviness of emotion that comes with it. Perhaps heaviness must give way to lightness, before things can be renewed, or begun again. Perhaps an overnight cycle of prayer becomes heavy, indeed.

I have no idea why I’m writing this, either. I didn’t come away from Adoration with any particular wisdom. I came away from it, precisely as I went in – chubby, mildly distracted, dyslexic, tired and arthritic. And yet…I was so happy I had gone and Adored. And yes, I had felt so welcomed, so warmly welcomed in the mist.

I heard a nun once say that an hour of Adoration was like an hour of sitting in the sun; you don’t feel any different, but later you realize you got burned. Perhaps today I am pleasantly singed, a little toasty! :-)

SERIOUSNESS is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice, It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally, but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity. Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

UPDATE! Oh, now I remember why I wrote this! Because of this post at Brutally Honest on the idea that Christianity is Evil. Following a few links I came to one wherein the writer declared “No one has ever known, seen, heard, felt, anything tangible that can be considered “God”. [sic] If you say you have, you’re lying.”

Not so. The Milk and Honey…it is there. And the Holy Eucharist is quite tangible. Christ who promised to be with us “even to the ends of the world” – is Present, throughout the world, from time-zone-to-time-zone, in every obscure corner. What was it I said? Oh, yeah…vibrant, resonant…alive.

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