Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Hurried Pilgrimage and the Sacred Space Inside My Car

My oldest daughter and I went down to St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, NY today.  Our plan had been to go down and venerate the relics of  St. Vladimir (one of my spiritual heroes) which were going to be at St. Vlad's for the weekend.  It was a trip of about 3 1/2 hours one-way, and we were going to stop to see my old roommate in Poughkeepsie on the way back.  I was planning on spending a little more time than we actually did, but things didn't work out that way. As a consequence, I'm still dealing with what I can only term as "buyer's remorse."  I don't regret going, but I do wonder what part of it was worthwhile.

The website said that Divine Liturgy was going to begin at 9 in the morning.  No chance we were going to make it for that, so we took our time eating breakfast and making our way south along the Taconic.  When I got to Yonkers and finally found my way through the streets to the seminary I nearly drove by it twice.  (Not a lot of signage present for a major theological institution.)  We found parking easily and the chapel was dead straight in front of us.  My little girl and I got out, stretched our legs, gathered our supplies, and made our way up the hill to the small roundish building that is the Three Heirarchs Chapel.  I realized about half the way up the hill that the liturgy was still happening.  Oh well.  Probably communion.

I wasn't just wrong.   I was very wrong.  We arrived smack dab in the middle of the Great Entrance.  They weren't letting people all the way into the nave, obviously, but I got to watch the bishop process through followed by about eight priests and at least as many deacons and subdeacons.  A very friendly man in a white shirt and dark suit coat started beckoning for those of us waiting around to make our way in and to the front.  The relics were right there in their little blue box.  The people in front of me were making prostrations.  I could only cross myself and bow.  (Holding a little one makes for a rather clumsy prostration, and I figured St. Vladimir would forgive me if I didn't go all the way to the ground.)  No sooner do I realize that we're now in the building and that it's going to be hard to leave in order to make our lunch date, but then I realize that (given the Heirarchical nature of the Liturgy) we were in for at least another 45 minutes with all of these people taking communion!  We left.  Lord's Prayer and everything going on around us, we packed up and went.

During the drive up to Poughkeepsie I was asking myself, what was all of this for?  Was it worth all of the effort for a very short time to spend before the relics and in the presence of God during the Liturgy?  All of this for a paper icon and $3.05 for gas?  Or was there, maybe, something I was supposed to get out of this experience that I hadn't yet understood or grasped in all the hurry of the morning and afternoon.  To top it off, I came home and both girls went crazy for about an hour and Felicity and I just stared at each other.  What had all of this been about?

I checked facebook when I got home.  My old priest had requested that I remember his wife and son while in front of the relics.  I was supposed to remember people?  I just crossed myself, bowed, kissed the box, and then left.  I don't know that I had really remembered to pray for myself let alone anyone else.  Why was I so stupid?  Why was I so forgetful?  Did I do the whole thing wrong?

I'm coming to realize, now, the sacred nature of the whole day.  From the time the alarm went off and I decided to take my daughter out for the day so that her mother could stay home and finish her projects uninterrupted to the time we got home and I tried to debug my brain from all of the clutter, I had been in a truly sacramental moment in time.  We made a special trip for the purpose of venerating the relics of this beloved saint.  We had taken part, however brief, in the worship of heaven during the Liturgy.  And even though I hadn't thought to say more than a brief "Holy St. Vladimir, pray for us" while at the relics, I know that I don't have to be there in order for his intercessions to play a part in my life.  God knows that Fr. C. tried to get in touch with me and is at work in the lives of his wife and child.  God knows the prayers that went unspoken.  Through some mystical union that I have yet to understand, all of my failures to "get it right" are all taken up and made right in the presence of an all-knowing, all-loving God.

Our little Chevy became the sanctuary.  Our hours of driving, playing, singing, walking, eating, laughing, and enjoying each other's company became our liturgy.  God blesses us even when we don't understand how He can get through the baggage we bring to the table.  Maybe the next time we'll plan things better.  Maybe the next time I'll realize that it's not always about the destination so much as the journey.

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