On Friday of this past week I had a chance to preside at a Lenten Reconciliation service at my parish. It was a most intriguing experience, actually. People asked afterward– how was it?? How did it go?? I can say this– People approached me afterward and spoke of how moving and meaningful they found it; people thanked me. So, the answer to the “public” side of how it went is “Apparently, pretty well.” The other question that interests me, however, is how it went with me.
I wore an alb with a Guatemalan stole as a sash around my middle for a bit of color. This choice was decided after I had a conversation with one of the priests on staff who is a liturgist. He and I had the most wonderful conversation about “mutual iconography.” There is a need for a presider of any liturgical ritual to necessarily stand out from among the many. The presider provides the focal point, the place from which the many draw what they need to draw to go where they need to go, led by the gentle hand of the Spirit. He and I spoke of my hesitation to wear simply a white alb because of how stark that seemed to me and how removed. Was there a way to add color? We went to the sacristy and looked around until hitting upon the idea of the sash. It did provide the color I wanted and also finished the alb in a way that distinguished it from either priesthood or the diaconate–something else I desired.
The inital ritual was not absolution, as I clarified for a woman who approached me, but rather the ritual was designed to help ready us for absolution. It included a laying on of hands.
As we prepare to seek God’s mercy
let us bless the goodness of our senses,
pathways by which we come to know
of God’s presence, care, and love.
Bless our vision, that we might behold the glory of God.
Bless our hearing, that we might respond to the cry of those in need.
Bless our smelling, that the perfume of grace may enfold us.
Bless our tasting, that we may delight in the sweetness of God’s mercy.
And bless our sense of touch, that through it may pass
the warmth and steadfast presence which reminds us
that we are never alone.
through your son Jesus Christ you forgive us our sins
and send us your healing mercy.
Hear us as we pray to you in faith.
Send your Holy Spirit upon us, who is our helper and friend.
May your blessing come upon all who are here gathered
to free us from sin and make us heralds of your mercy.
Then the congregation came forward to have hands laid briefly upon their heads. It was here that I began to let go. Here I was free from script, notebook, and the need to attend to anything save the person in front of me and the presence of God that lives in us and draws us together in moments like this.
It was an honor, a profound honor. To demonstrate and realize that we are never alone, to see the capacity in each one to be a herald of mercy, and to have a flicker of insight that I have that capacity as well.
Will I preside again, if asked? Yes, I think so. Eventually, I imagine that I will not have to pay quite so much attention to everything which will leave some interior space for me to feel the Spirit dance. When she’s dancing, she is the one who captivates. She is the one that lives and moves and has being in me. I want to be able to notice her with awe.