Augeries of Innocence, celebrate, chants, Christianity, cross, crucifixion, eternity, Good Friday, Great Vigil of Easter, Jesus, resolve, Sacred Scripture, silence, suffering, surrender, taize, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, transformation, William Blake, willingness
I had never read the entirety of William Blake’s poem, Augeries of Innocence, until just now but the first lines, so familiar, came to me as I sat to write about my experience of last evening – the second step on my Triduum journey. I chose to participate in a service that comes from the monks of Taize, an ecumenical community in a tiny village in France. The prayer is steeped in silence, punctuated by repetitive chants and occasional readings from Sacred Scripture or the writings of early Christianity. Having experienced and led many services in the manner of Taize, it was an easy decision for me to make that my formal prayer for Good Friday.
Blake’s poem begins: To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in your hand and eternity in an hour. Entering into a darkened church with two Sisters from my community, having greeted the music director at the door, was a fitting beginning to this hour of prayer. When I see Jan, the organist, I am always thrown back to images of him, a seven-year-old boy, practicing at the piano in his home while a group of us rolled meatballs with his Italian mother for a school fundraiser. How has he become such a virtuoso, now a man with his own grown children, in the proverbial “blink of an eye?”
We sing a repeated refrain: All you who pass this way, look at me, while Jan describes in verse the sufferings of Jesus on the cross. The music rises and falls while I alternately close my eyes and open to the images of the large wooden cross at the foot of the sanctuary and the painting of the crucifixion scene over the altar, the only lighted spot in the church. After more emotionally stunning music and a long period of silence, I watch my 82-year old friend of 45 years pull herself up out of her seat next to me to join the procession of people on their way to kiss or touch the cross. Seeing it as holy, they bend in gratitude for the willingness of Jesus to take on the sins of the world. Watching my friend struggle up the aisle, I see that same willingness. After falling three times over the past year, sustaining permanent injury to her back, she is now a witness to the power of her resolve not to give up on life. I weep for the loss of her younger self, all the while knowing that now is her inner reward.
All of the elements of this service come together in reflection on the power of what is happening to Jesus as we sing the hymn that recognizes the transformation that is afoot. O Christe Domine Jesu, O Christe Domine Jesu…we chant. My eyes travel up to the archway above the crucifixion scene where the Christ is seated in the glory of heaven, having passed through death to resurrection. “He was known to be of human estate,” Paul writes, “and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross. Because of this, God highly exalted him…” As that quotation flashed into my mind, I knew something that I had never seen as clearly, something I can only describe as the efficacy and transforming power of willingness to surrender everything for the life of the world. And in that moment, that surrender, the Jesus of history – the suffering servant – was also the Christ of my faith. Time was erased. Jan was both that young boy struggling with his musical scales and this accomplished musician, playing for God. Florence was both the dynamic high school biology teacher loved by her students and the struggling octogenarian determined to live as fully as possible in praise of God’s goodness to her.
Today is the waiting day, a day to hold the eternity of last night in my hand, reflecting on how willing I am to be transformed in response to what I now know, so that when I go tonight to re-enact the Great Vigil of Easter, I will truly be able to celebrate – with all my companion travelers – the joy and mystery of resurrection.