Friday, July 15, 2016

Easter Fire: In Which God has a Laugh

I notice things; maybe you do this, too. Maybe you always know where the fire exits are. Maybe you notice the elderly priest at Mass and think about what you would do if he fell or fainted. Maybe you notice the pregnant lady in the car next to you and think about what you would do if she got in an accident (maybe you even keep a scalpel in your car to do a stat C-section...).

Easter fire. (Stock photo, obviously not the situation I was in.)
I think it's neat that I can notice these things and be ready. But sometimes I think God makes fun of me for it, just to keep me humble.

I worked days this past Easter, but I had the nights off. So, after I got off on Holy Saturday I drove to an abbey not far from my city for their midnight Easter Vigil. It was going to be my rest: for just a few hours, I had no responsibilities. I didn't have to cantor, talk to people, or even stay awake! Thank God, I prayed.

This is the abbey where I made my week-long retreat before my consecration. It was an otherworldly week, partially because the abbey really lives the vow of poverty and the life of silence. Each member lives in a tiny (6x10ft) hermitage without heating or air conditioning. They also have foundations in Africa, and they live the same way on both continents. 

Given this spirit, I wasn't surprised to see a make-shift, but lovely credence table for the lighting of the paschal candle. In a broad stew pot were some coals, and this was placed on top of a cheap card table, covered with a white tablecloth.

I felt strange coming back after so many months in the world. I was then more than halfway through intern year: I was a competent, resident, I paid bills and bought stuff, and I was neck-deep in ethical questions, all far from ethereal prayer. That night, I re-entered the world of silence feeling like an outsider.

I slid in a few minutes early next to another woman. It was hot (remember: no air conditioning), and she had brought a water bottle. The plastic crackled in the monastic quiet before Mass. When the time came to light the candle, we all stood. Because I'd slid in the back, I was only a few feet away from the humble credence table. An acolyte poured some lighter fluid on the coals and clicked a lighter. My face and the faces of the whole back row were illuminated, and I felt even more exposed. Hide me, God. Please, just let me cower in the back and absorb the Mass.

All was well for a few minutes. Then the fire blew out of the pot and the tablecloth caught fire. The same sense of duty that makes me notice pregnant and elderly people was immediately awake: DO SOMETHING, it said.

What? I thought immediately. God, are you joking? 

The seraphic abbot and acolytes all stepped away in refined surprise. Inwardly, I groaned playfully at God, because it was as though He was nudging me lovingly. It had only been half a second since the fire started, and I grabbed my neighbor's water bottle, tore the cap off, and emptied it onto the table. There was just enough to put out the fire. I have residency to thank for the reflexes, and God to thank for His sense of humor.

No comments:

Post a Comment