This morning I arose early. My wife, Denise, was already in the kitchen downstairs...preparing to go to the nearby Hospice office. She is one of the RNs on call for this Saturday. This means that most all of this day will be just me and our dog, Duchess, at home.
Our townhome is quiet. It is officially a year old...receiving it's certificate of occupancy by the builder on 25 March 2012. We will officially be here one year on 4 April. Like all condominiums and homes built since 2006, our home is built like a fort...concrete block reinforced with iron rods and concrete...poured concrete between the first and second floor (rather than wood)...special trusses locked into place with tile shingles...shatter-proof windows and reinforced garage and main entry doors. In fact, the only wood in this construction are the roof trusses. This construction is called "Miami-Dade Code," which is being used by much of south coastal Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the severe hurricanes of 2005. The 28 buildings and 224 condos that comprise our community, "Stonehaven," are not going anywhere for a long time.
I share the above details to emphasize that, when I say it is quiet, it is seriously quiet. We can hear close-in machinery, or an occasional dog barking, or a close-in seagull calling. Other than that, I never even hear our neighbors. There's nine inches of concrete between each condo. Because both first and second floors are concrete, there is no creaking, squeaking or much ability to hear whoever is upstairs or downstairs. Often, Denise and I simply call each other on the cell phones...if I am in my study upstairs and she is somewhere downstairs. It is quiet...very quiet.
Today is known as Holy Saturday. It is really my first Holy Saturday since retirement. My chronological first was last year (2012), and, as I shared in yesterday's blog, we were moving into this townhome last Holy Week, and I was still drugged from major surgery at Mayo, Rochester, which had implanted a total joint in my right shoulder. I have little memory beyond extreme discomfort from surgery, travel and the movers (very good movers, by the way). Today, I have time to reflect. Today is different from any Holy Saturday in the past 38 years.
The ripping and tearing that makes Good Friday is done. The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday in my tradition (Anglicanism...Episcopal Church in the USA) is one of the most powerful of the liturgical year. The final collect (liturgical prayer) of that liturgy is, for me, like the launch of a small, rudderless boat onto an uncharted sea. The early Celtic monks in the British Isles used small, oval shaped, rudderless boats made usually of animal hide...called Coracles...setting out with only what was needed to land where God, wind and current would take them. This is how I feel at the close of the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy. It carries through Holy Saturday.
Many liturgical churches post that the precincts of the parish buildings remain in silence from Maundy Thursdy until the Great Vigil of Easter. That has always been fairly well accomplished in parishes I have led. Office doors stay closed to mask necessary parish work. There are quiet sounds of folks moving about making various preparations for the next time of worship...an occasional "stage whisper" conversation, as final details are discussed and clarified.
Holy Saturday is both a day of emptiness and one of preparation. Every Holy Saturday of my active parish work was spent at the church. The day began with a simple Office of Prayer with gathered staff and volunteers. The Altar Guild got busy quickly. The worship spaces that had been stripped bare since Maundy Thursday must be polished, cleaned and reset with the linens, vessels, icons and other furnishings.
Hiding in rooms for a few days had been a dazzling array of flowers, plants and greenery. I have always been blessed with women (and men) who can create the most magnificent floral displays for Easter worship. With deft efficiency, the cold and barren spaces would come to life with color, sweet odors and a kind of "electricity" of anticipation.
Meanwhile, I the priest had a particular series of preparations. At or near the entrance into the main worship area, a simple table had been placed, on which was a simple white linen. In the center of that table, I placed a triple layered aluminum foil base upon which an habachi-style grill rested. (Note: this is where being a guy and former Boy Scout gets to have fun). Having painstakingly gathered just the right small pieces of wood, I created a tipi-style assembly of those sticks in the grill base underneath of which I have placed a small piece of rolled cardboard soaked in paraffin. An SOG utility knife and a ferrocerium fire starting rod completed this part of the ensemble.
What I just described existed to light and bless the New Fire of Easter. Along side that ensemble was the four foot Paschal Candle with the elements that were put in place and blessed at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. All of this took about an hour or so. I had been able to use my hatchet to splinter sticks of wood. I had tested the ferrocerium stick by vigorously thrusting the edge of the utility knife blade down the edge of the stick to create a shower of sparks. I had used the same knife to trim the Paschal Candle so the brass follower will sit securely. I had used a hammer and nail to insure that the holes were prepared on the candle to receive the wax ornamental nails on the cross that decorates the candle. The Paschal Candle is the symbol of "Resurrection Light"... the "Light of Christ." It burns at every liturgy during the coming Great Fifty Days of Easter.
When all of this was accomplished, and I had rehearsed with staff and parishioners involved in the coming liturgies, and walked, with clergy staff and Altar Guild leaders, through final elements of preparing our worship spaces...seeing that all things were in place, and insuring that the paperwork for those being baptized at the Vigil was complete and at hand......When all that was done, it would be early afternoon of Holy Saturday. Everyone was either gone or had repaired to other places for their own preparations.
It was then...in the quiet of the church...that I could hear it...Nothing.
For many, nothing is a scary space. I did, one time, sit in a sensory deprivation chamber as an experiment. Deprived of all sound, light and ability for voice reverberation, one can quickly get the idea of "nothing." The scientist and philosopher in me doesn't accept "nothing" as a state of being. If you can describe "nothing," then it is something. "Nothing" is an integral part of being. It is part of the tapestry of existence. The simple truth is that it is "nothing" because we have no data to describe what that is. Well, we do, but it makes our brains hurt to deal with it.
During the time between late 1987 and through most of 1988, I went through something very profound. I have few words for it. The narrative for the experience would not make sense out of context or on "paper." Suffice it to say, I came upon a black hole...deep, pitch black, wide and frightening. I could not run from it or avoid it. Wherever I went, it was there. I tried to convince myself I was going insane...but I didn't have time for that. I had a congregation to lead and care for....a wife and two young daughters...a diocesan school to administrate. I don't have time for this!!!! I yelled one evening. "Yes you do," came a soft reply...like a mother teaching a child to walk.
Two moments of awareness let me know that the "nothing"... the black hole...was, indeed something. The soft voice gave me the name....I AM.
Without ponderous storytelling, I will simply say that being in that "Nothing" was the greatest comfort ever. But, I began running from it...hard...around 1991. Why? Because, this nothing-that-was-something asked of me what I feared the most: Vulnerability and the risk of rejection. My ego was not able to embrace that. I have described the effects of that in a January 2013 blog.
Today is Holy Saturday. The disciples were dazed, confused, lost and feeling like all they believed had become Nothing. They found their way back to that familiar upper room and gave each other what encouragement and comfort they could. "What has happened to us...what is to become of us?!" was no doubt the topic of conversation. Practical Peter even talked about going back home to go fishing again...maybe after this Passover Day is complete.
In the churches I worked, I would sit in the spaces of worship for two or three hours each Holy Saturday...my upper room. The emptiness was palpable. The cynic in me would argue with my soul about snitty things like, 'parishioners don't care...they won't come.' Then, 'those whose hearts are open will be here.' The cynic: 'I need a beer.' My soul, 'that's self medication...you know you don't drink during Holy Week.' Cynic: 'Is all this we have done too much or not enough?' Soul: 'You have always worried too much...just get quiet and listen.' This would go on for a time. Then, suddenly, it would stop. Folks were here, but I could not see them or hear them. I just knew it somehow. "Nothing?" Not really.
Today is 30 March 2013. It is Holy Saturday. I have no need for hatchet, knife, ferrocerium stick or other materials. My basic vestment...my cassock-alb...is in the vesting room at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key...five miles away. It is where I worship in retirement. It is where I have walked Holy Week. Tonight, I will watch the Rector of St. Boniface light the New Fire and bless the Paschal Candle. My former bishop in West Missouri...now retired and living in St. Petersburg...will preside at the Vigil Liturgy. He was the Assistant at St. Boniface in the early 1970s. Tomorrow, I will assist the Rector at the 9am Easter Day liturgy. I have no script. I need none.
Today...outside of writing this...I am in silence. Silence. Almost. Nothing. Never. A while back, I turned and faced the black hole from which I spent some years running. We are friends. It is part of me. Nothing? No, something....I AM. I AM is with me. Holy Saturday...Holy Silence.