Church-Filled Day

March 21, 2008

I was at church (St. Andrew’s Episcopal church) from about 5:15 PM to 3:15 AM tonight. Ten hours. Ten of them.

Overall feeling about the evening: I love holy week!!!

Today was Maundy Thursday. A day that sounds like three different days of the week, if you’re really a nerd about it. (Maundy sounds like Monday. There was a Seder… and Seder Day clearly sounds like Saturday. And, of course… we have Thursday. Which sounds remarkably like… Thursday.)

The evening of much churchness kicked off with a Seder. I had never been to a Seder before. Talk about some interesting tastes. Mmm… bitter herbs. The dinner they served was really good, though. You should ask Aaron Swanger about the french toast carrots and the trident lamb. Speaking of lamb… I really love lamb.

After the Seder, we headed upstairs for the Maundy Thursday liturgy. Unlike the Palm Sunday service, tonight’s liturgy was back to the three-books-and-a-piece-of-paper juggling game. When they don’t kill 50 trees to put everything in the program for each service, it’s a little tricky to keep up. (Of course, I usually just skip the Bible for the scripture readings. They are, in fact, READING said scriptures out loud, so there isn’t much point to my staring at the words as they go along. Especially since I only have two hands … and three other very important materials to navigate.)

They put a little music and a general outline of the service on the program, giving page numbers for everything that you will need to turn to in the book of common prayer, references for the scripture readings, and song numbers for the hymnal. I always feel like I am missing some layer of whatever is happening in the moment as I flip ahead in the books to ensure that I don’t ACTUALLY miss something later. One of these days, I’ll just have most of the every-day stuff memorized. Of course, today was tricky, because we were doing Rite II… and we do Rite I in the early-morning services that we attend. Or it’s the other way around? Oh I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m barely keeping up with this stuff!

The highlight of the Maundy Thursday liturgy, if you ask me, was the foot-washing. Not that I get excited about touching the feet of a stranger… or having a stranger’s fingers between my toes… or walking back to my seat (and my shoes) on a somewhat dusty floor with slightly damp, bare feet. But foot-washings always kind of mess with me… in a good way. While washing someone’s feel almost feels natural, I have a hard time letting someone else wash my feet (never mind the fingers-between-the-toes part). Seriously… I usually find myself on the verge of tears every time my feet are washed (excluding daily self-washings of the feet, obviously). Tonight, of course, was no exception. I seriously need to learn to receive. (He’s getting me there… gradually.)

I ended up washing Father Mann’s feet tonight. The thing that’s funny about it is… it’s Father Mann. He’s like the Senior Priest and Chief Executive Something-or-other of the church. I see the man up front every Sunday (so some degree of unreal familiarity) and really don’t know him personally at all. (I’ve at least had conversations with Father Spicer and Mother Hutchinson.) But Father Mann’s feet and I… we’re actually fairly well acquainted, at this point.

(For the record, that no one was keeping and no one wanted to keep, his left foot was much more thoroughly cleaned than his right. About half-way through the first foot, I was like… Wow… should have done that differently. More water, Christine… more water. I may have overcompensated on the other foot. Who knows. It’s not like his feet were actually dirty, anyway!)

The Maundy Thursday liturgy ended in silence. Talk about an awkward dismissal. Actually, it was really good. It just seemed like it should be really awkward. (You know you’re writing a great blog when you immediately contradict your own statements. Go, Christine, go!)

The silence was the beginning of the Maundy Thursday Vigil… and continues until noon today (Good Friday).

To cover the vigil, they had a board where people could sign up for hour-long shifts to come and pray. Since we do that kind of thing every night… we decided it would be a good idea to stay all night. Well… Richard decided… and I started to get really excited about the idea of it. Hours upon hours of silence and solitude. It’s something I really don’t do that much of, but I knew would probably be very (challenging and) good for me. Sadly, Richard and I were the only ones (in our group) who stayed.

Lesson learned: Next time I decide to do something like that… I might need to bring my own chair or something. Those wooden pews are not very conducive to six hours of sitting. Not at all.

I actually really enjoyed the hours of silence. OK… so I had my moments of boredom and restlessness. But those mostly took place every time I had to get up to go to the bathroom. Seriously, I’d be having a great time in the room, I’d get up to avoid wetting myself… and I’d suddenly have a hard time getting myself to go back into the room. Part of it was the simple pleasure of walking around and getting my butt off of that wooden torture-bench. It felt great to stand and walk. Huh… maybe I should have just done that in the chappel. OK… new strategy for next time! (Although, I think that someone standing or pacing around might make some people a little uncomfortable. Everyone pretty much… sits and kneels.)

When you have more than 6 hours of near-silence, it’s nice to get to dive into the word for some of that. I spent a lot of time in the book of Exodus. Wow. And Psalm 22. Wow again. I took Psalm 22 especially slow. It made me cry. Fortunately, I did not cross into the heaving sobbing weepiness of the night before (when I was sitting on the FRONT row in the prayer room). I just had the moisture spilling out of the eyes bit… while my nose reached a point of manageable runniness. (No snot gushing uncontrollably out of the center of my face.) I ventured briefly into other areas of the Bible… but those were the parts I loved the most and gave the most time to.

We actually ended up leaving early. Around 3am, I guess Richard got the brilliant idea of coming back to church at noon. So… he needed to get home and sleep. The trip home was slightly delayed by Richard’s kind offer to buy a massive energy drink for the officer who was stuck watching the church from 8 PM to 8 AM. We went in search of a gas station that Richard had accidentally found with his GPS earlier in the night… and didn’t find it. So we had to go with a gas station that was probably closer and definitely easier to find (and that we had known the location of from the very beginning of our journey to get the drink).

When I came home, there was a very active (and, lets be honest, loud) gathering of friends at my house from the usual Thursday night hangout. Aaron said I looked like I was experiencing serious culture shock when I first entered the scene. It was a HUGE contrast from the blissful silence of the last several hours. (Richard did spend about an hour singing and chanting. It was the one hour of the night when we were the only ones in the room. To be completely honest, it was actually a really good hour. I enjoyed the generally unobtrusive interruption to the silence. And his voice carried nicely through the large, empty space. And… some of the stuff he was singing… oy.)

Oh… by the way… the little “Resurrection Chapel” (sign on the door) where they had the altar of repose, was super cute. Lots of wood. Each section in the ceiling had 20.5 boards. (Yeah, counted those right after one of my boredom-inducing bathroom runs.) It kind of reminds me of a log cabin… the same kind of feel. OK… so the whole church is absolutely beautiful. I love it. But… I really enjoyed that little area tonight.

I’m still recovering from the 2-2.5 hours at home after all of that… but I feel really good. I like prayer. I like God. I actually like silence, too. I wish I could have more nights like that.


One comment

  1. This was beautiful. I feel like I got to experience at least some of this with you.

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