Healing and Renewed Hope
Imagine this scene: the church with lights dimmed, votive candles placed in front of icons on the windowsills, two beautiful images at the altar, one of Jesus the Teacher and the other of the Madonna and Child, lit by paschal candles from years gone by, the altar draped in seasonal purple. Now, add an oboe, a flute, a cello and a violin, mix in our choir and stir with Gregory Norbet and his music, and you have the recipe for an evening to remember.This past Sunday evening, this was the scene in our church, but words cannot adequately convey the experience. This is where the religious imagination comes in, which takes the above ingredients and gives rise to a new creation, that of an environment which is somehow greater than the sum of its constitutive parts, one that invites an encounter with the divine.
One of the ways a church building functions is to provide a place where we can meet the transcendent, where we can ponder the immortal element in our lives. Sacraments, in particular, are vehicles for the divine presence to become more tangible. But there are other ways of creating an atmosphere wherein the use of our Christian symbols can transport us to an deeper understanding of the realities those symbols represent,i.e., bread and wine in an Agape service, or the use of holy water or oil in a prayer service. These elements, and others, can be said to be sacramental, in that they aid in the retrieval of our spiritual core.
On Sunday, the music, the icons, the candles and Gregory’s words—all in our beautiful church— set the stage for an anointing ceremony during which people were invited to come forward for a blessing for whatever it was they needed in their lives….be it healing or strength, or employment…a simple prayer and the tracing of the Sign of the Cross with fragrant oil on each hand … a simple gesture, to be sure, but one with profound effect. How do I know? It was in the eyes. As gazing at an icon can invoke a sense of the sacred, so can gazing into the eyes of one being anointed provide a glimpse into the soul. The eyes tell the story…of pain or sorrow or confusion, sometimes, but also of reconnection, of healing, of renewed hope. And that is what I saw in those eyes on Sunday evening…renewed hope, a recognition that we are not alone, and that God loves each of us just as we are. The sense of the sacred was palpable. The hunger for a few moments of quiet reflection, of being in the presence of God and among others on the same journey, had been satisfied. The church fulfilled its function…the environment had been created…and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding had descended upon us all.
In thinking about the experience of Sunday evening, I was reminded that the preaching of the Good News, as St. Francis might say, isn’t restricted to using words, but happens so often through gestures and images and beauty…may the remainder of your Advent Season bring you much Good News.