March 31, 2013

Vigil

 

Last night was lovely.

I’m also functioning [sic] on about four hours’ sleep, so if I degenerate into blah gurgle griggle frud bloob zoofan dorg, please avert your eyes politely and try again (cautiously) tomorrow.*

. . . Um.  What was I saying?  Oh.  Yes.  Monks.  I did not leave quite as early as I prefer to so I was concentrating on the video game that is driving on little twisty back country lanes as fast as is reasonable and not too hard on the tyres, and it took me a few minutes to register that the funny pale flickers against the windscreen were not very small owls but . . . snow.  SNOW.  NOOOOOOOOOO.

I drove on.  There may have been some imprecations.

When I arrived—this was nine p.m. so full dark—the little abbey was blacked out and there was a bonfire in front of the chapel with dark shapes milling around it.**  Not all of them were monks.  Having asked one of the monks tending the fire what was going to happen, and receiving the unhelpful response that he wasn’t sure himself†, I sidled up to a woman in an ordinary coat††, ie no dog collar, and asked her.  She looked at me with what I am pretty sure, despite the fact that I could barely see her, was sympathy, and explained . . . that the monks’ paschal vigil is more or less straightforwardly to the Anglican pattern, just a little more elaborate.†††  And finished by saying that she was the wife of one of the oblates, that she would never have had the nerve to come by herself at first, but the monks really were welcoming‡, to follow her if I liked and don’t worry.

So the abbot emerged eventually with satellite monks with [electric] torches, and read some stuff‡‡ and then we all trooped into the church, had our individual candles lit, and went and stood in the pews . . . if you’ve ever stood in a group of people all holding candles in the dark, you’ll know how magical this is.  And I’m telling you, it’s worth being a Christian for the moment when the abbot throws up his hands, says, Alleluia!  He is risen!  —and all the lights come on.

There were a lot of readings‡‡‡ and a lot of hymns§ and a lot of prayers and a lot of Pauses for Silent Reflection.  And a ‘homily’ which in my generic-Protestant ignorance I would have called a sermon.  And the first communion of Easter, which happened at about 11:30 Saturday night but my informant says that anything after six p.m. counts as Easter.  Oh.§§  And when the abbot raised his hands for the final blessing he began by saying that while it was not merely the middle of the night but worse than that because of the clock change, we were all invited to the common room for tea and coffee.

So I went, I and my blanket, and my new friend, Corey, whom I genuinely liked a lot, and it’s a ratbag that I won’t see her often because they live too far away.§§§  I haven’t hung out with monks in a long time, and several of them made a point of coming up to me and saying they were glad to see me every week (usually) at Saturday night prayer—I and my blanketAll right with the blanket.

The funny thing is . . . after all the high drama, I’m longing for a simple little prayer service again.  I may try to go tomorrow since all my usual Monday distractions are cancelled for the Bank Holiday.#

But first I need SLEEP.

* * *

* Whose bloody stupid idea was it to allow the frelling clocks to go forward on Easter Sunday when the Christian-church-going wodge of the population may be going to late service Saturday night??  I assumed it was some bureaucratic idiocy, and I suppose it is, but it’s a passive rather than an active one:  clocks go forward the last Sunday in March, and Easter occasionally happens this early.  I think this blasted hopeless government could do something genuinely useful for the first time and pass a mini-bill that on years that Easter is the last Sunday in March the clocks go forward some OTHER Sunday.

** What is it that is automatically scary about monks?  Is it just the black robes?  But nuns aren’t as scary (unless possibly you went to Catholic school)?  Or was reading M G Lewis’ THE MONK in high school a mistake?

† He was a visitor.  I couldn’t see any of our monks.  They were probably in some chancel closet, hastily banging out the last few lines of the script, and swearing at their printer.

†† Who complimented me on my blanket.  I should have brought one, she said.  News flash:  I have made a breakthrough in living with attending services at Chilblain Abbey.  I wore my sheepskin house slippers last night.  They aren’t, in fact, house slippers, they’re sort of Ugg boots before there were Ugg boots, or at least before Ugg boots became a major fashion icon a while ago.  But they’re sheepskin, the leg is six or so inches high so well over your ankle and the draft-leaky cuffs of your jeans, and they have proper rubber boot-tread soles, so you don’t look like you’re wearing your house slippers.  If I weren’t thick as a post I’d have thought of them before, but . . . I’m used to thinking of them as house slippers.  I still needed my blanket.  Further news flash:  there was someone else there with a blanket.  Only one that I saw but still . . . ANOTHER PERSON WITH A BLANKET.  Another woman, furthermore, with long hair^, although she didn’t stick around afterward so I could rush up and embrace her as a sister.  Which is maybe just as well.

^ Yes, I need to change my thumbnail photo.  My hair grew back out again years ago.

†††  She also uttered the disconcerting phrase ‘Anglo Catholic’.  Well.  Hmm.  Whatever.  My monks support women priests and that’s my bottom line.  I was just saying to a (real) Catholic friend that I may respond to the bells and smells approach because I find the additional three-dimensional stuff very grounding.  Getting walloped off your donkey on the road to Damascus is disturbing and religion has an awful lot of la-la-la stuff in it by definition.  Getting hit in the face with holy water is reassuring.  There, you’re real, it says, and therefore, by extension, so is this.  Whatever it is.

‡ It is in the Rule, but this lot do give the impression they mean it.

‡‡ Before electric torches, what?  Was the celebrant’s assistant allowed to light a candle early?  Did the celebrant have to have everything he said off by heart?  Did they redesign the liturgy after the advent of battery-operated lighting?

‡‡‡ I realise this is normal, but the Bible frelling baffles me.  But . . .  but . . . but . . . but . . . ?

§ And the woman on my other side from my new friend carries a tune even less successfully than my husband.  I didn’t realise this was humanly possible.  The people sitting in front of us turned around a couple of times and I just barely prevented myself saying, It’s not me!  It’s not me!

§§ I’m all in favour of keeping the dead part as brief as possible but that makes the ‘three days’ about thirty-six hours.  Okay.  Fine.

§§§ I’ll see him more, and I liked him too, but sometimes you want another girl.  Sue me.

# Unless it starts snowing again.  After freaking out those of us who were driving last night, it stopped.  But Corey says that the monks often have snow when no one else does.  As miracles go, I can think of preferable ones.  How about a warm floor-level draft in the chapel?

comments

Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.