Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Hazards of Incense or How Not to be a Sick Christian

I love incense. It's one of the greatest parts of the Roman liturgy. The symbol of the cloud and smoke as the presence of God is tangible. It gives the liturgy mystery. It clouds the holy of holies like the type of heaven, the Temple, letting the whole congregation know God is present.

It is also a symbol of prayers rising to God. "Let our prayers rise like incense," a psalm says, "like an evening oblation." Such beauty, such majesty dwells in the scented smoke pregnant with such symbols.

Unfortunately, on Christmas Eve, my ideals of smoke where sent crashing to the ground. During the gospel, I was so surrounded by incense, sight became difficult. Tears streamed from my eyes. Nausea set it. I used every bit of control I had of my body to not interrupt the liturgy. All turned out okay from a liturgical standpoint. I however was rendered sick.

This is the thurible in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I felt like the guy in red.
You see, dear reader, I'm allergic to every tree and grass pollen in the US, dust mites, mold spores, and, yes, smoke, even the kind with great symbolism. The heavenly cloud brought me close to earth. Over the last week my schedule didn't let up and neither did my sinuses. The build-up of sickness and weariness came to a head Friday. Saturday morning I woke up incapacitated. Three days I have been laid up finally "resting", for the first time, since ... well, I can't remember.

Instead of taking advantage of the infinite possibilities of redemptive suffering, I wasted my weekend away in half-rest. Never fully resting in the sense Pieper speaks of, I distracted myself from the pain and suffering through various media, film, football, video games. Not spending time in thought, prayer, preparation for blogs, or even for the two retreats I'm working the next two weekends.

Part of resting is contemplation and meditation. Escape is not rest because all you're doing is running away. Encountering Him who is rest, contemplating His mysteries eases the soul. When the animating principle of the body is at ease, the body itself is set at ease. We've all been witness to the sick person or dying person who contemplates. They seem to rest easy; they share their inner life with greater clarity.

So, dear reader, next time you're sick, contemplate, meditate, on the divine Passion, on the Sacred Heart, on the Immaculate Heart of Mary, don't escape to media, books, whatever, to keep your mind off the sickness. (I'm not saying don't read, but rather, don't read to the neglect of the great opportunity of meditation you have at that moment) Instead, turn and face Christ in the clouded mystery of your heart, because it is there that He dwells. It is there that we will meet Him. It is there the healing will commence.

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