Incense is a large part of Catholic ritual. Two years ago at my Holy Thursday Mass I was standing in the back of the church waiting for the procession. I was to carry the oil of catechumen. I had spent the previous two years looking for signs and when I looked toward the front, I watched the incense rise and rise and then as it fell again in twisting spirals of smoke, its wisps joined into the shape of a Star of David. And then it was gone. I had received my sign.
Breathing in the incense at not only last night’s Holy Thursday Mass, but nearly every time I have seems to transport me to the ancient times and lands of my people. I haven’t gone anywhere but it’s drier, it’s sandy and my mind can’t help but wonder how these rituals and beliefs got started. History is an amazing thing. FAith is also. There is something about the scent of the incense traveling through my nose, reminding me of a place I’ve never been, but will always belong to.
(These photos were taken on my most recent visit to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Auriesville. This is the spot or near the spot in the Mohawk village where the Jesuit martyrs were tortured and martyred. It is called the torture platform and it was covered up for repairs on the previous visit. I think this is the reminder that Jesus travels with us regardless of everything else. These were a few of my journal entries and thoughts while I was sitting there in contemplation.)
The air is cool, crisp, not cold but damp. It is just as quiet as the first time. I’ve come today for two things – to see the museums and the wayside crucifix. Unfortunately, the museums are closed for the season and the crucifix is gone – it came down last year and needs replacing.
I’m still content.
The torture platform is out in the open this time. Easily enough sad and imposing – again, I describe this place as idyllic and pastoral but Father Jogues and LaLande, his companion were tortured there for days. We think of our parents and teachers as tortuous and unfeeling. We cannot imagine what it means to be tortured for anything, let alone our belief in Jesus.
It’s more than a duality, more than two sides of the same coin. How do I describe something so at odds with the other? Even the trees dying are filled with burning, blazing colors and that is under a cloud-filled sky; overcast, wanting to burst with rain.
You know how people say music and singing is like praying twice? What is writing then if not the same thing? Writing is often my prayer; my hug, my comfort. All things can be done with a little prayer; however it is that we pray.