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This morning, two dreams stirred my psyche:

At 2:15 A.M. – A very old nun whose influence touched many lives has just died in her convent infirmary. It is midnight. Crews of professionals carrying their gear climb the stairs to her room and begin working on her remains. Others sit around her writing table and compose her obituary for the newspaper; another writes for literary journals. Bright fixtures cast a garish light upon this scene.

In the wake of this dream, pain crimped my breathing. The busyness of professionals fulfilling their respective roles angered me; their chatter screened feelings toward the deceased, a venerable old nun in my perception. The lighting seemed vulgar, obliterating shadows better served for viewing the deceased in her hospital bed. Yet, the dream’s noxious attitudes revealed deeper truth about my own passing. True, I’ve been blogging my hospice experience, now in its seventh month, seemingly open to the demise of my body—In my head, perhaps so; but in my body …?

And at 5 A.M. – I’m seated in a large classroom with other students, awaiting exams on the English poet we studied, our black folders stacked upon the professor’s desk. My folder, unlike the others, bulges with additional research on this poet’s striking images and meter. I had intended to remove my material before handing it in, but forgot. As the professor begins passing the exams, I leave my desk and retrieve my material.

The next dream suggests a time for testing. Unlike an examination for completed coursework, this one scrutinizes the mettle of our flawed humanness at life’s end. In biblical language, it’s called the last judgment. Somewhere lodged in the shadows of my psyche will be its unfolding. I dread the experience, given my sensitivity. But in the dream I’ve produced more material than was prescribed by the professor—perhaps a ploy to manipulate the outcome of the test.

To all of this, I cry “Mercy!”

 

Joy shimmers within the holy night of mystery.

 

Such occurs during the chanting of the Exultet before the newly blessed Paschal candle at the Easter Vigil. The energy swelling each word loosens sacred stories from their moorings: the necessary and happy fault of Adam’s sin, the Israelites’ Passover and deliverance from Egypt’s bondage, their subsequent guidance by the pillar of fire in the desert, and the Great Hallel Psalms 113 – 118 and 136; then, melds these stories within the crucifixion and redemptive death of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, rejoicing is more than fit as the Gregorian chant sustains these words, too fragile to hold what they communicate.

What also gives me pause is the Exultet’s composition. Textural analysis shows the mind of the fourth-century St. Ambrose, but the earliest extant manuscript of the hymn is found in the seventh-century Bobbio Missal Christian Liturgical Codex in France.

 And even more significant is the Exultet’s continuous use, despite modifications, among worshiping congregations in the Western world. Its vision still permeates, its joy gladdens, its hope grounded in the mystery of the Sacred-with-us.

Even this night, though streamlined this year, the deacon will again chant the Exultet in Christian churches, its mysticism uplifting the weary and anxious around the world.

Toward the end of the Exultet, we hear: O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human. Amen.

 

“By all means, we’ve got to stay happy! Whatever we can do to keep it going …” she gushed as another chimed in with a joke about hand washing. This morning’s talk show hosts chuckled as they described neighborhoods putting up Christmas lights and chalking driveways and sidewalks with pastel hearts and flowers.

In my perception, such attitudes miss the mark. Many experts also tout keeping busy with on-line work from home, home schooling, home-improvement projects, and keeping track of the pandemic’s swath of global mayhem. In between times, social media assuages social loneliness and fills empty time. Netflix and television dull the urgency of the questions: When will we return to normal, however construed? Will things be different? Will I lose out? How will I manage?

Such busyness frays the fabric of the global community, already dangerously thin with violence and addictive behaviors.

Glaringly absent from this scenario are silence and prayer, and the fact of death, ours included—just relegated to numbers of the stricken on graft charts in states, distant from our own. Such shudders get lodged within stress.

So how quell this inner turmoil and enter the silence of prayer? How let it speak to the grievous circumstances in which we find ourselves? It’s only important to want it, deeply, and to begin. Within our depths, a dear Friend wants our hearts, however scarred.

Psalm 56:11, 13 speaks to such a relationship: …in God I put my trust, fearing nothing…for you have rescued me from Death to walk in the presence of God in the light of the living.

 

 

 

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