I’ve been chanting with the brothers in Taize pretty much every day, at 1:30. (It’s their evening prayer in France.) What I love about Taize is that only small portions of it are in English. There’s Latin, French, Spanish, and German. I sorta kinda understand the Latin, and I sorta understand the French. This doesn’t matter. Not being able to engage my thinking mind means I focus on the music, and singing.
And the fact that there are thousands of people also praying these prayers at the same time.
I love the music of Taize, and I love that it offers almost nothing for my monkey mind to play with. “The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.” I mean, what, is it not justice and peace? Definitely good things. Do I not want justice and peace opened? Let’s do it! I’ll get the corkscrew!
Another one that is poignant now is “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray.” That’s it. Just that, over and over and over maybe twenty or thirty times. Nothing to argue with there. Just the naked sentiment of wanting connection, presence, through fear and pain.
I don’t have a problem with “Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten, those who seek God shall never go wanting, God alone fills us.” And that’s mysterious, because I know I have been wanting, and I know I’ve been full of shit.
Taize doesn’t ever drag me into questions about what evil is, or if there is a heaven, or how the church treats [fill in social injustice here]. For now, it’s definitely what I need.
It’s Palm Sunday. I bet I have missed a Palm Sunday here or there. It’s a weird holiday, a weird service. You’re supposed to be happy Jesus is in town, but then hate the people who were happy he was in town, because they were full of shit. Jesus has come to town to get tortured and executed. Yay?
The palm branches are okay. I guess. I like free gifts.
What I am dreading is the coming week. Maundy Thursday, when we wash feet, and strip the altar. Good Friday, when we kiss the cross, and mourn together. I save up all my anger and grief from the whole year and bring it to Good Friday.
And then Easter vigil. I don’t go to Easter morning church anymore. Easter Vigil is the whole megilla, to mix religious traditions. You start outside, burn the palm leaves, sometimes burn other stuff (you know I love burning things), then go inside, in the dark. Pick up a candle for later.
Sit and listen to Bible stories. This part I like to go on almost forever, until I am like, dude, seriously.
Our candles are lit by the Christ candle. The glow is incredible. It’s sentimental-pretty at Christmas. At Easter, it shows the faces of people who will die, but who also, all other things aside, have hope, and love, and joy while they are still alive.
They turn on the overhead lights, people cheer. Then we do the whole service, which also takes forever, including baptizing some people, usually.
We get sprinkled with holy water.
We go to communion at the altar, with all of its fanciest fancytown decor, in contrast with the bare altar of Thursday and Friday.
I’m going to miss all of this a lot.
I did remote church this morning, with my church in Lawrence, and maybe I will join them for Holy Week services, too.
It won’t be the same.
What does our annual celebration of death and rebirth mean in this moment, this context? I don’t know. We are stuck in a long Lent for a while.
About 541 CE, a plague killed at least 25 million people.
In 1347, a plague killed around 50 million.
Bulbonic plague killed 15 million people, starting in1855 and going on for about a hundred years.
So it’s not like people haven’t done this before. We have.
“A plague on both your houses,” used to sound odd, coming from Mercutio. It now sounds like the angry, vengeful threat it was.
The other piece of Shakespeare that seems to address me right now is Portia in Merchant of Venice:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Part of this is carved into monument at a hospital near here. I loved seeing it every day when I worked near there.
Good Protestant that he is, he has Portia go on to say, “in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation.”
In the course of justice. That used to really bother me. Like, a month ago. Justice. The election of this president, and the way he and his enablers insulted and attacked everything I love about my country… like many of us, I am different now. I have much less faith in the goodness of people.
Now everything is so royally fucked up, I don’t even get upset about the president telling people he won’t wear a mask, or people telling us our tax money belongs to the federal government, as if there is some special program that is supported by The Federal Government, rather than, you know, the citizens of the United States. Ah, insanity.
For whatever reason, this virus and the tragedy of it make sense to me. It fits into my understanding of what humans can suffer from, and how we all have to go through, process, and hold that suffering.
For some reason, I do believe that “The quality of mercy is not strained.” And that “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.” I don’t know why I believe. Mercy just stands out more now, I guess. The same way when we dim the lights, the candles show their power.
Image: detail of “Scene with Misericordia and Veritas in a Circle at Center,” Theodor de Bry, 1580-1600, Metropolitan Museum of Art.