The Easter Fire

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I didn’t know what to expect at my first Easter fire. It was nine years ago, and I still remember it as if it was this morning. I had decided on Tuesday of Holy Week to attend my first mass (thank you Tim for suggesting it), and then my second mass on Wednesday. I thought I was just getting into the groove of daily mass when I turned up on Thursday to what was a prayer service and not a mass. Holy Thursday Mass was at night. The same occurred Friday and Saturday mornings.

But Saturday morning was different. When I arrived there were already several people outside preparing the firewood, the kindling and the tall stone brazier for the lighting of the Easter fire. I didn’t know at the time that the fire is lit in the morning after the prayer service and tended to for the rest of the day by parishioners. This is done regardless to weather and I’ve seen some years in the rain, in the cold, in the wind; sometimes all three simultaneously.

At sundown, after burning all day, the fire is used to light the Paschal candle (this candle represents the light of Christ coming into the world), which is then carried into the church and is used to light all of the individual handheld tapered candles inside the church for the Easter Vigil. As an aside, the entire church is in darkness and as the candles are lit and the people in the pews are illuminated, it is a magnificent visual as well as spiritual to have the darkness overcome in the manifestation of the engulfing light, filling the entire church with the warm glow of hundreds of candles and the quiet singing (three times during the procession) of the light of Christ with the congregation responding, thanks be to G-d. After that, the Exsultet (the Easter Proclamation) is read or rather chanted.

Before any of that happens though, hours before, the priest lights the Easter fire in the presence of parishioners.

I was a few people back from the stone container that first year. I couldn’t see very well. I was wrapped up in a large scarf, trying to brace myself against the wind. It wasn’t strong enough to push anyone over, but it was just enough to be annoying to the priest and his assistants who were attempting to light the fire. It was also very, very cold. I still wasn’t sure if I belonged here.

I knew the moment the fire was lit. I felt something touch me inside. I couldn’t see it, and it was a split second or more before the exclamation of the crowd in the front let the rest of us all know it was lit. I heard the flint and stone, that sharp scraping that has to be done in just such a way to spark, and it took more than once or twice.

When the spark caught the paper and dry sticks I heard a whoosh sound, but it hadn’t come from the fire, and I felt that whoosh inside me. I was startled by it, I was chilled, and not by the cold. Something in me had changed or pulled me one metaphorical step forward. It wasn’t this moment that drew me to conversion, but this moment stands out as one of those unexplainable, miraculous openings to a wellspring of new emotions. Tears came involuntarily to my eyes.

It was deeply moving and as everyone moved back inside to the gathering space sharing coffee, bagels, and donuts, I was lost in my thoughts wondering what I had witnessed, what I was feeling emotionally, savoring the continuing shiver in my soul.

Inspire. March.

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“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

— John Milton, English philosopher

Original. (c)2021
Inspired by the following art:
Ruth the Gleaner, Suzanne Moore, Copyright 2010, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. 

I was too sick last week to publish this month’s Inspire post. I didn’t have anything come to me for inspiration, which to be honest, is usually how it goes. Either a quotation or a picture – something starts the post off in my mind, but not this time.

As I kept staring at the continually postponed space in the planner, nothing came, and as I recovered a few days later, I spent time catching up on everything I’d missed.

And still, the idea of gratefulness kept returning to mind. Lent has a way of turning thoughts inward. More praying, more meditating, more contemplation, and yes, more gratitude. It is a quieter few weeks as we think on the journey to Easter and the Resurrection, and in the quiet, we are able to be with our thoughts and see the blessings and the gratitude that we often miss along the way in our cluttered minds.

Was it not doom-scrolling on Twitter, checking each morning that the world was still intact? I was certainly grateful for that.

Was it the covid relief money that our family received this weekend? I am very grateful for that. I paid all of my bills on Sunday. We’re even considering a home improvement, although that will take more discussion.

Was it teacher friends getting their vaccines?

Was it new Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, a brilliant, direct, honest representative of the Biden Admnistration? Watch her daily briefings and see what I mean.

Was it just the very idea of the Biden Administration being in charge? Waking up this morning to a quiet Twitter, the President visiting with his grandchildren at his family home and attending Sunday Mass? It’s certainly different.

This week, I’m filled with gratitude. For the researchers, the scientists, the doctors, the ongoing competence with the vaccine roll-out, and on a personal note for everyone I will encounter tomorrow at the vaccine site where I will be receiving my first dose!

With credit to the gratitude I feel to those who have gone before me, I will publish pictures and a listing of side effects (if any) that I encounter.

I feel very strongly that everyone who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated, and I also feel that everyone should have all of the information available to them. Side effects are individual and not everyone gets them. Knowing what you may expect before you go is the first step in moving past the pandemic year. It may sound cliche, but knowledge is power. I hope to add to your knowledge and I’d be grateful for your good thoughts and prayers.

Praying the Stations of the Cross

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I committed to praying the Stations of the Cross every Friday. during Lent I have a few different ones that I’ve found and wanted to share today’s with you.

This was originally presented last year, early in the pandemic and parts of the talk reflect that. It is my friend Brother Mickey, and in the video he shares three different versions of the Stations.

The first version is the art from his book, A Light for My Path: Praying the Psalms on the Way to the Cross.

The second version is based on his trip to Kenya, and the third is a set of stained glass windows in a Vienna, Virginia church. There are also other pieces of art that he relates to the Stations.

Between each station, there is a momentary prayer that can be prayed along with him:

LORD, BY YOUR CROSS
AND RESURRECTION,
YOU HAVE SET US FREE.....

YOU ARE THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris

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Welcome and Congratulations to the new President and Vice President.

It is a bright, sunshiney day where I am, and I’m looking forward to a morning of prayer and taking my kids out of school to witness the swearing in and the Inaugural Address of President Biden.

Pictures to begin your day as we begin a new era, with hope, optimism, and determination.

Art interpretation by me of then Pres.Elect Biden’s words from November after the election was officially called for him. (c)2021
Outside my house last night. This morning, It’s covered in snow, but still shining bright. (c)2021

Inspire 2021. January.

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Gratitude Art. (c)2021

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

– – Melody Beattie

What can we look forward to in this new year?

Beginning tomorrow, everything.

I’m optimistic. A new President and Vice President will be sworn in at noon tomorrow, and thus begins 100 days.

100 Days of mask wearing.

100 Days of vaccinations.

100 Days of returning to ourselves and becoming better.

A new year to set goals, to take chances, to create.

I’m looking forward.

Instead of publishing Election Connection today, I will publish the last one (unless times require updates) next week with ways we can continue to be civic minded every day, not only every four years. Persist, Stand up, Speak out, Rise up. Together, we can make things better.

Rightness

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There are times when things don’t work that should and you more or less know that they don’t work even though you also know they should, but you can’t figure out why or what the problem is. Or how to make it better.

We know the opposite too.

This holds true for many things, both tangible and un- , but for me this week, it was a pair of pictures, both Mary, both by the same artist, my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath.

I had attended a weekend retreat under his direction in 2019. His retreats always include his artwork related to the weekend subject.

One of the pictures that I was drawn to was Mary, Queen of the Prophets. It was blue and yellow-gold and swirly and I was perfectly captivated by it.

Mary, Queen of the Prophets
(c)2020 Bro. Mickey McGrath
Trinity Stores
Link attached to picture.

I ordered a print, framed it and hung it in its place.

Every time I looked at it I got a twinge of unease. Nothing specific. Nothing sinister. Just something not quite right.

The feelings I was getting made no sense.

I had wanted the picture for some time. I knew exactly where it would go when it came. But I don’t know. There was something undefined and uncomfortable when I looked at it despite its beauty.

And I lived with it even though I considered trading it back with the picture that originally hung in that space. I think I thought I would eventually change it.

Recently, Brother Mickey created a new Mary art. This one was Mary, Untier of Knots. Our Lady, Untier of Knots is my personal favorite of Marian devotions. I feel an overwhelming devotion to her. I have cards, coins, and medals of this devotion.

Mary, Our Lady, Untier of Knots
(c)2020 Bro. Mickey McGrath
Trinity Stores
Link attached to picture.

For Christmas, I decided ot use a little of my gift money to order the print. I bought a frame and it arrived very quickly. Having nothing to do with the Queen of Prophets in particular, that spot was where it would hang – behind the chair in my corner office. It was time for change and Mary, Untier of Knots was *my* Mary.

As soon as it came I hung it on the wall.

The first time I looked at it from across the room, I felt a calmness wash over me.

There was serenity and feelings from deep within me.

I brought the other picture up to my bedroom. The walls are yellow and I thought it would fit with the blues and the yellow-gold and the swirls of the print. I propped it up against the wall on the floor beside my bed, intending to leave it until I could figure out where in the room exactly it would go.

Then something happened.

I looked at it – Mary’s face, Mary’s hands, the swirling of the background.

Even resting on the floor, it was home. I was full of emotion seeing it in this temporary place, but still…its place.

Wherever I would hang it in my bedroom it would fit; it would be perfect.

Things have a place and when they’re in the wrong one, you know it. Even if you don’t actively know it or the reasons for the discomfort, you feel something real, and eventually with a little nudge, these things can be righted.

They find a way.

Even a random switching of two unrelated things.

And when they are righted, you know that too.