Easter arrived early for me this year.
4:30 AM to be exact. It was the appointed time for the Easter Vigil to begin.
It was on an Easter Vigil some 45 years ago that I first experienced the power of sacramental worship as the new fire of Easter was lit by the Abbot of the monastery, using that flame to light the Paschal Candle. We followed the new Paschal Candle from the field to the darkened abbey church, which looked to me like a tomb. The Abbot knocked on the door three times, and then slowly opened the creaking doors. The single candle was processed into the utter darkness, providing an arcade of flickering shadows on the walls. Each person had a candle that was lit from the Paschal Candle, which brought a progressive flood of warm candlelight. The liturgy proceeds with readings from Scripture, but explodes as the lights are suddenly turned on in the Church, as the Easter tidings of Good News is proclaimed by the Abbot who is serving as the Celebrant: Alleluia, Christ is Risen! And the people respond joyfully: The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
This experiential worship was new to me, having been raised listening to erudite sermons from learned biblical scholars. I was fortunate that I did not have to endure lengthy guilt trips sermons, threatening with hell fire. But, my experience was mainly in my head, an intellectual journey. This Easter Vigil engaged my whole self: mind, heart, and soul. I knew that first night of my experience of the Paschal Mystery that I had to have this in my life. I tried finding it within my Baptist heritage with “high” churches, but it felt thin to me. I looked longingly at the Roman tradition but the authoritarian pieces proved problematic for me. Finally, I discovered the Episcopal Church in the form of a vibrant parish on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, that satisfied my hunger for a sacramental form of worship.
It was good to reexperience those feelings, those connections again this year. It felt right to be in the middle of this community celebrating the Risen Lord, even if it was early in the morning.
Back to my triptych dream that happened here at the monastery the night before my ordination to the priesthood thirty eight years ago. To recount from my most recent two articles, the first dream sequence was of my processing in a line of robed monks into a natural worship space set in a maritime forest, simply being present. The second scene was set in Six Flags, an amusement park, with a show being presented in a geodesic dome on the oceanic experience. The ironic joke in the dream was that instead of the advertised lecturer, the expert Jacques Cousteau, we found that the speaker was the building maintenance manager at my Cathedral. And when I looked carefully, I found a mechanized production of cogs and gears…a machine. When I observed what I was seeing, I exclaimed that it was not real. Jacques Cousteau quickly cautioned me to not tell anyone. A comedic segment, but one that proved deeply disturbing.
The third and final segment is relatively brief. I am in my current vehicle, a green CJ 5 Jeep, with the top down. In the Jeep is my companion from the second segment, David Fikes, sitting in the back. Riding shotgun is the Dean’s Administrative Assistant, Woodie Patrick, a close colleague and friend, part of the staff community who celebrated the end of the work week at The Piper’s Roost, or Churchill Arms. The three of us are riding across a ridge in a place that looks like Ellijay in mountainous North Georgia, where my family had a cabin. In the dream, I see a cabin in the valley below, with the typical Jungian features of the lights on inside and smoke coming out of the chimney, indicating life inside. As I look, I turn towards Woodie and comment that it reminds me of my own cabin. Woodie looks back at me, with profound seriousness and says “Don’t ever lose that!” End of dream.
I admit that this final section seemed simple to me, a reminder to pay attention to the warmth and relationality of life. I now see it as a clue that I missed. It was not just about holding on, of maintenance, but rather, an exhortation to lean into this part of my life, my relationships, my marriage, my family, my friends, my faith. This time away at this holy monastery has brought to mind how I allowed career and projects to siphon off energy from these vital dimensions of my life, not attending to them like one does a garden, anything that you want to grow and be healthy.
A serious, intentional retreat affords one the time and space to reflect deeply on how one is being spent and how one is investing time and energy. It is a good time to express repentance for wrongs and mistakes, and then take action to amend one’s life, to resolve to do better. I have been blessed during these weeks to have my long-time spiritual director at my side, as well as my friend and fellow traveler as we have taken this long, strange trip together for the past forty-five years. And, also to meet the godly new Abbot and receive his spiritual care.
My final surprise of Holy Week was to be invited to have Easter Lunch with the community of monks in the Refractory. This was a special celebratory meal, with a convivial time prior to lunch being served. I was able to visit with my old friend, Methodius, the stained glass master, who is now 95 years old. An artist whose work greets me each day and night in the spectacularly meaningful glass windows in the Abbey. It was a gift to renew our friendship.
I was lovingly greeted by the Abbot at his beginning remarks to the community. I was seated next to Tom Francis, Francis Michael, and the Abbot. The lively conversation, hilarious stories, deep musings, reflection on the early morning’s Easter Vigil made for a fine time. But the main thing for me was the grace and love that I experienced in this remarkable community. I am grateful for this rare opportunity to spend this Holy Week with these holy people.
My hope is that you experienced a joyful Easter and will continue to sense the wonder of this season of rebirth and renewal. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a bell to go ring. Easter blessings.
2 thoughts on “Leaning Into Easter”
MICHAEL MURRAY email@example.com (512) 971-0677
Thanks Mike. I appreciate your prayers. And the trinity you added. Blessaings.