The outer door was propped open with an ancient wooden wedge, the interior doors shut so as to keep the AC inside. Passing through the interior doors, the narrow entryway was bathed in sunlight from the overhead windows. Silence reigned throughout, like some great rapture had taken place and we were the last earthly inhabitants, entering hallowed places to scrounge for food. The sanctuary was walled with large glass windows, doors shut but not locked, entries flanked by great white shell stoups filled with holy water. Letting the doors fall shut behind us sounded like a space shuttle’s vacuum sealing. Ahead, a small red light burned intensely through a golden lamp, hanging near an ornate golden square set into the wall. Approaching uncertainly, we meandered through the empty pews until finding a place to sit within view of the lamp. We heard a door shut somewhere, but saw no one. Silence oppressive. Calm absolute.
On Saturday, I mentioned to R that the small Catholic church near our house had perpetual adoration. Now, unless you’re Catholic or know something about C-ism, which I had not until I married one, this is a practice whereby the Catholic goes to the church and spends time in adoration of the Eucharist, or the bread and wine. In all Catholic churches, there’s a box near the altar (“box” really doesn’t do it justice, it’s more of a coffer, usually gold) where the “monstrance” is kept. The monstrance is the place they keep the consecrated host, or the bread and wine after the priest has blessed it. In churches with perpetual adoration (there are only three in my large metro area), there is usually a schedule where volunteers can “attend” the host, usually for an hour at a time, and, in the church by my house, they’re called “guardians”. They light a candle or lantern, which hangs near the tabernacle (where the monstrance is kept), indicating the presence of consecrated host, or, Christ’s presence. Thus the church is left open, and the guardians are present though innocuous, and people come and spend time in prayer and reflection, in adoration of the presence of Christ.
Now, from the other end of the spectrum, (i.e., reformed Evangelical protestantism), the whole practice raises some major eyebrows. In fact, that’s exactly how my mother reacted, bemusement playing across her face in uncontrolled skepticism. I have to admit that my reaction was the same. For those of us on this end of the spectrum, the idea of going to pray to “God in a box” is theologically…shall we say…difficult. We conceive of God as being everywhere, that his presence is written in every leaf, on every line of every face. Not animism or pantheism, by any stretch of the imagination, but present nonetheless. Not confined to a box or jeweled coffer. God is not something we visit, not something we “accompany” for an hour or two. Going to pray before a “thing” smacks of idolatry, something definitely not kosher in Protestant circles (and one of our main beefs with C-ism).
And yet as I reflect on this practice since we went, I have to admit that it engenders some difficult questions for me, personally. How often am I “visiting” God? How often acknowledging his presence, spending time in silence at his feet? As I wrote in an earlier post, I am often so “busy” that I forget that, as well as being physical and emotional, I am a spiritual being, one who believes. What does this mean, practically? What evidence is there that I am spending time at the foot of the cross? And how much of it is public, noticeable to the silent guardians who watch me? While certainly my faith tradition doesn’t require acts of penitence and “works” (as in the Catholic tradition), I ask myself what fruit should be the evidence. My life itself is perpetual adoration- how does one live like that?
Reflecting on all this, the visit to the host was interesting. A part of R that I had not witnessed before. St. Adelaide the Righteous asked many questions (“What’s the light for? Where is everyone? What’s in the pretty box? Can I have one?”) which herald future discussions in our two-tradition journey. Hard? Yes. It would be a lot easier if we didn’t believe anything, or believed the same things. And essentially we do. It’s in the monstrances and stoups and Confessions that we differ. But you know what? It all has the same effect on me- making me think. And I am so up for that. Pretty gold boxes and all.