Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Real and Virtual Thin Place on a Festival Day

Christos anesti!  Alleluya!

It's Easter morning and I've just "attended" my second service of the day, the second live broadcast from the National Cathedral, a place I know and love so deeply. This morning's services were, as usual, Episcopal to the core-- great liturgy, great music, great images and very much like a rich banquet where one doesn't know what to taste or smell or sample first.

Several images stick out in my mind, like the presentation of the offering baskets at both services, not ushers with baskets of money but children from toddlerhood to perhaps mid-elementary school age bringing baskets of flowers and other "stuff". One little girl had on bunny ears and several small ones seemed to want to stay and look at all the people looking back at them. They were adorable. Who couldn't smile and be happy to see them? 

Another impression was the strength and beauty of the pipe organ, an instrument of which I'm inordinately fond. How marvelous it must be to be able to command that power and range of sound and to hear it reverberate through the open spaces and bounce from stone vaults and pillars and walls. It's a power and a majesty that bring out feelings too deep for me to be able to describe. 

My voice might be silenced but my heart and my mind sang the traditional hymns with the choir and the assembly at the Cathedral this morning. "He Is Risen" affected me in a way I haven't  felt in a very long time. Maybe it was the organ, maybe the sound of all the voices singing --- I don't know. It just felt like a song to truly celebrate the greatest event in the world.

What brought tears to my eyes, though, was seeing the crucifer and torch bearers in perfect harmony leading the processions and acolytes with their long poles topped with white streamers making those ribbons dart and dance above the heads of the crowd like great white birds. It reminded me of the presence of the Spirit moving through the world, going where it will and rejoicing in the joy of flight and freedom, praising the Creator who made it possible in the first place. Why did that affect me so much?  I don't know, but me, stoic that I am, I got tears in my eyes.

Ok, so I sat there and watched two Easter services on the computer instead of going to a "real" church and participating in a "real" service. Had I gone to a "real" church, we probably would have sung the same hymns, the readings would have been the same, the sermon would have perhaps been in different words and expression but the message would have been nearly identical. The nave would have been as full, the children as cute, the choirs as rehearsed and the flowers as colorful and fragrant. So why not just go to a "real" church instead of sitting in my pajamas in front of a monitor watching something take place 2000 or so miles away? 

The answer is simple -- for me, anyway. I want to be in a place where my heart is not just touched but torn open, where my eyes and ears are full of sound and pageantry, and where I always feel a thin place between heaven and earth, a tabernacle where God is present and glorified with all the beauty, all the ritual, all the textures and mystery that the Cathedral has exemplified for me for decades, ever since the first day I walked into it. I wanted an Easter in that place, an Easter that didn't just celebrate the resurrection but shouted it to the vaults and rang from the bell tower extravagantly and exuberantly,  a place where the Spirit danced like the fluttering ribbons and blossomed like the great baskets and garlands of flowers, and a place where small children with Easter baskets (and bunny ears) and dignified vergers met together to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.

I found it today on my computer, but it makes me long for more like that. I long to be involved in such a place, not as one of the visible, important people but as one of those who serve in humble ways. Sure, I'd love to be able to preach, but it would be enough to polish the brass and silver. I'd love to wave the Spirit pole but I'd also love to be a catechist, sharing my love of God, the church, the practices and beliefs and the preparation for a ceremony of commitment to the covenant. I'd love to be a singer in a large choir with an extensive repertoire spanning the many centuries of inspired church music, but I'd love to sit and listen to them as they practice. There's so much --

So why not bite the bullet, be part of the local parish and do those things there?  It's complicated, but the answer is that I don't want to be a small fish in a small pond. I want to be a small fish in a very large one, where I have room to grow, like goldfish when taken out of a glass bowl and put into a large tank. I want to be surrounded by stone and stained glass and state trumpets. I'm sure I could find those things in other places, but for me, there will only be one National Cathedral. Just being part of it on this festival day, even from a distance, makes the thin place present even here where I live and where the darting and swooping of wings are those of hummingbirds outside.

I celebrate Easter and the reason for Easter and feel blessed. Tomorrow will be business as usual, but today, I can join in the response "He is risen indeed, Alleluia!" with all the feeling and emotion within me.

Christos anesti!  Alithos anesti!  Alleluya.

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