Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Vigil, and My Annual Illness

I got exactly zero comments to last night's entry about Holy Week at St. Michael's. This doesn't surprise me at all. People who care about the religious side of Easter are busy celebrating it themselves, and people who don't believe in such things are probably turned off by the subject. I can't really blame anyone for that. I get antsy myself sometimes when people talk about religion, pro, con, or, especially, trying to get people to subscribe to a particular narrow view of The One True Religion. So don't think of tonight's entry as an attempt to turn everyone into Episcopalians. Think of it as a photo study of Easter Vigil customs at one particular church in Tucson, AZ. It'll be reasonably painless, I promise!
. Gathering around the fire that lights the Paschal Candle

The Mass on the evening of Holy Saturday is technically called The Great Vigil of Easter, The Service of Light, and The First High Mass of Easter. The service itself is every bit as long as the name of it is. It starts outside the church, with the lighting of a small fire. The fire is used to light the Pascal Candle. Father Ireland (it's always Father Ireland for ome reason) lights the candles of the "torches" (candle-bearers), who in turn light little candles carried by the congregation. We enter the church as Father Ireland intones, "The light of Christ." We reply, "Thanks be to God."

Inside there is relative darkness for the first prayer. Then some of the lights come on and we hear some Old Testament readings: Abraham and Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, something called Salvation Offered Freely to All, and the most unusual of the bunch, the Valley of Dry Bones. "We only did four of the eight readings we could have done," Father Smith joked at the end of Mass, nearly three hours later; but it was true.

...and each man's son was baptised as well, a newborn and a kid.

Back inside the church, we hear in the the Gospel of Jesus' resurrection. This marks the end of the Vigil. The church is brightly lit, including the candles on the altar. The organ plays a fanfare. Two things we've done without during Lent - the ringing of bells and the word Alleluia - make their triumphant return. Those of us who forgot to bring a bell is encouraged to shake our keys!

Ring those bells!

I was going to say a few more words about Good Friday. I'm always sick on that day. I'm not quite sure why, but I think it has to do with stress and guilt. I'm technically supposed to fast, but I get too sick to my stomach of I don't eat. Even the thought of fasting, and the guilt of knowing I won't manage to do it, gives me digestive inconvenience. Plus there's all the stuff I'm not getting done this week while I'mat church, and all the stuff I haven't gotten done at know, the usual.

But I was especially sick yesterday, particularly last night while serving as crucifer at the Good Friday service. I felt feverish, my gut hurt, my back hurt, and I was nauseous. But there I was, commemorating much worse suffering on my behalf. My discomfort seemed like a petty thing,so I did my best to ignore it and carry on.

I didn't feel that much better on Saturday, and in fact John didn't feel well today. Maybe we've got a bug. Plus I really think the diruetics and minerals contribute to the problem. I've been drinking "light" fruit juices and such all night. It seems to be helping a bit.

What about all this religion stuff? What does it mean to me? It means a lot of things - interesting rituals and people I like a lot, and the continual chance to try to connect with God. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that an important part of faith is just showing up. If you don't, there's nothing around to feed it. If you do, you may learn something or be inspired intellectually, even if you don't get some kind of emotional, transcendent experience, the kind I've always wanted but don't seriously believe in. Yet when I look inside for my mustard seed faith, it always turns out to be there after all.

I did have a moment in front of the cross on Good Friday that came close to having a major impact. It was that bloody wooden crucifix I showed you last night. As the crucifer, I happened to be lined up directly in front of it, just a couple of feet away, nobody between me and the wooden Jesus. I took the time to really look at it, and tried to imagine the real person, and what happened so long ago.

And maybe, just maybe, I started to feel a little better.


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P.S. It's time for me to do some kind of new fiction over on Messages from Mâvarin. But it's very late, and I don't have the time or inspiration. So I'm giving you the first scene of the third book, The Mâvarin Revolutions. It's not at all Eastery, but it's already written. By next week, I hope to have something new for you.


Paul said...

OK Karen, you drew me out. I have this to say. If your religion is causing you to physically get ill due to stress caused by guilt, then there is something very, very wrong.

Also, the picture of the child having water poured on his head bothered me. The very definition of indoctrination. The standard policy of the church (or any religion in general): get 'em young, before they can think for themselves.

DesLily said...

I too avoid religion and politics to talk about..

Regardless.. I hope you have a great Easter!

Bea said...

I think you are right, Karen. The important part of faith is showing up. God does the rest! A person cannot change without the Holy Spirit coming inside and making that change. We don't choose.. we are chosen. I believe that. The Good News is that we are all chosen! So, if one shows up, eventually one will begin to see and understand the difference between darkness and light. And when one begins to see the Light, one can begin to grow in the Lord. Hope your Easter Sunday was restful. Don't worry about fasting. I don't think it weighs as important as finding time to be still and silent as you wait upon the Lord. Bea

Judith HeartSong said...

thanks for sharing with us and feel better. judi

Sarah said...

Karen, Happy Easter!

I just read both of your excellent religious-themed entries on Sunday night. (Yes, earlier I was celebrating myself, and then I was rehearsing for my fast-approaching performances in Chna). While I realize I may be in a minority here, I love reading peoples'
religious/theological ponderings, especially at this time of year. And I especially appreciate your religious bloggings becaue your outlook on the subject and way of integrating your faith in your life appear to be very similar to mine.

I tend to treat my Christianity as a very private and personal thing, and it really does me a great good that you come out and share your experiences with us here, so that I realize that my kind of faith and my idea of relating to God are really actually things that can and should be shared with other. Not in a shoving-it-down-their-throat kind of way, but in a "here's who I am and how I feel about God and Christ is a big huge part of that," kind of way.

In other words, good for you. :)

JessN said...

Happy Easter, Karen (even if it is really Holy Monday now). I loved all the pictures of your services. It's always interesting to see how others worship.

As far as your illness--I doubt that it has much to do with guilt, and if it does, well, perhaps you need to remember that God doesn't demand many of the rituals we go through to worship Him. The only thing he wants is for us to love him. Perhaps fasting, and taking lenten vows just aren't for you. There are many other ways to show you love for God, and you already accomplish many of them from what I can tell. You use the gift that God has given you to share His love with others. I doubt very seriously that God wants you to suffer with illness over Him. If you really think that guilt is the problem, however, go talk to the priests. They might be able to help you.

Otherwise,like you said, it could just be a bug you get every year.

I love your church's baptismal area. It's beautiful. Thank you for sharing St. Michael's lovely service.

Thanks for you kind comments in my journal. It would seem that we have been thinking in a similar vein.