Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost and on

So here we are at the feast of Pentecost - the Coming of the Holy Spirit. For the past week I've had a sense of this feast that is fresher than I can ever remember. Since Ascension the liturgy has been longing for the coming of the Spirit, and I seem to have caught some of that longing, and I have a feeling of understanding, in a really fresh and new way, that this celebration really is the crown and culmination of the whole Easter season: it's the point towards which we have been moving since Easter Day.

So it's about 11 o'clock on Pentecost morning and we've had our liturgy, and it was grand. Towards the beginning of our celebration we read the account of the first Pentecost 2,000 years ago, and hear again of the mighty wind and the different "tongues" of fire and of the tongues of speech that the Apostles found themselves uttering and while that reading was going on, several of us created a murmuring babble of different languages to accompany it.

When that was finished we blessed oil for anointing - one of the oldest symbolic actions that the church has. And then the whole congregation anointed each other with the oil we had just blessed. As with the Foot Washing on Maundy Thursday and the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, it is always really moving to see the faces of people as they come forward. On Pentecost there are always smiles and looks of anticipation, as well as some anxiety from people who have never done this before. But it's easy to see that they are touched (physically, of course, as well as emotionally) as they receive anointing and then turn to mark the forehead of the person behind them with oil while they say "May the Spirit of God live in you." Many people have never done this sort of thing in Church, and it expands their experience both of their faith and of themselves.

Then we floated seven candles in the oil we had just blessed and used for anointing, and we brought the fire from the Paschal Candle and as we lit the candles we named the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. While we were doing that the Paschal Candle was put out, marking the beginning of the end of Easter for another year.

Of course the rest of the day will still be full of the Pentecost celebration. There will still be the antiphons at the Offices and the reading of the various Scriptural accounts. And those seven lights in the oil burn until the end of the day, and that's really nice, especially for a candle freak like myself. But it also has the sense of something winding down, the end of a significant time, and the turning to face in another direction.

Now all of the Alleluias stop. I'm not one of those people who feels tired of so many alleluias by the time the Easter season comes to an end. They stir up joy in me every time we sing or say them. Those alleluias touch something down at my core and ignite a little spark of joy each time they go by in one of our services. But it's been 50 days after all, and a change is due. It feels right to be finished with the Easter season and turning in that different direction.

When we start our next week, everything will feel different. There a sparseness to the ordinary time, compared to the rich symbolism and liturgical action of the past several months since Lent began - and really since Advent and Christmas. Now it really will be . . . . . ordinary, for a long time. And I really do love the feeling of the transition into the ordinariness of the coming season. Pentecost has been here to teach us the depth and reality of ordinary time, and now its time to learn to live that out once again.

I am a person who lives by the liturgy. It's just as well, since I'm a Benedictine monk, and we've sure got plenty of liturgy. But I'm one of those people for whom liturgy is always unfolding something new and in whom it stirs up unexpected things. This morning at Communion, I lifted the chalice to my lips and felt an enormous, well, something. A Presence, a Force, a (yes) Communion. For an instant a world beyond this one touched and held me. And then I was back in our church and the liturgy was continuing. But it was a lovely gift and one that will stay with me.

My days, my months, my years are marked by the flow of our liturgy. It's energizing sometimes, and boring sometimes, and revealing sometimes and surprising sometimes, and there are times when it's beautiful and times when it's not. And it's my life and where I turn for my nourishment and the place where I finally understand the meaning of my faith and my existence.

That's why I'm a monk, and why being a monk has been such a wonderful gift to me.

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