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.