Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vespers at Home

Over the years, the rooms in my house have become so familiar that I feel they're almost part of my skin.  Day after day I've cared for them, chatted and dreamed and prayed in them, memorized the view from almost every window.  

Today I had a thought that took me aback.  What if one of the rooms in my home was a chapel?  What if, after a hard day of work, the people in my household sat down to relax not on sofas and easy chairs, but in choir stalls and pews?

I suppose what struck me most about this thought was that a cloistered nun doesn't just visit her chapel.  She lives with it.  She lives IN it.  She spends at least as much time there as I do in my living room.  It's where she gathers with the rest of her monastic family:  morning, noon and night.  When she's tired from a day of work in garden or kitchen or sewing room, the chapel is where she begins her quiet evening at home.  

The quiet evening is ushered in with the Office of Vespers, which is technically (normally) in late afternoon.  Again Sisters slip noiselessly into choir stalls.  It is time to blend their voices into graceful hymns of praise.

The chant is back and forth, as always.  In most monastic settings, one row of choir stalls faces another.  Side one sings the first part in unison; side two calls out a response....

God, come to my assistance. 
Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. 
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.  Alleluia....

The chant gives praise to God.  It soothes the souls of its singers as well. How could it help but do so?  Its notes are even, practiced, measured, calming.  The surroundings are like a balm to those to whom they've become so familiar.

After all, this is home.

"Within us there is a palace of immense magnificence.  The entire edifice is built of gold and precious stones.... Truly there is no building of such great beauty as a pure soul, filled with virtues, and the greater these virtues, the brighter these stones sparkle... In this palace the great King lodges, Who has been pleased to become your Guest, and.. He sits there on a throne of tremendous value: your heart."  (St. Teresa of Avila)

Text not in quotes

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