As simple and unplanned and unadorned as it was, our quiet ‘liturgy of the hallway’ last night felt, for me at least, about as close as one can get to the idea of our earthly liturgy as a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy.
It was about 3:00 am. Already our town’s tornado sirens had shrieked their warning several times, and for hours angry lightning had been shouting in the sky. On radar images, each new line of storms looked like yet another fiery arrow hurled across the Southland. Some of us had been up, and then back to bed, and then up again checking the latest updates. Finally the news reported a “rotation” headed toward downtown Cullman. It was time to awaken everyone and move to the safety of the 1st floor hallway.
The word passed through the monastery, Sisters quietly awakening other Sisters, and we made our way to the 1st floor in a procession as solemn as that of any solemn liturgy and a silence as grand as any Grand Silence of the night. Simultaneously sleepy and wakeful, groggy and alert, we sat along both sides of the hallway as if we were two sides of a choir. Once gathered, no instructions or organization was needed. Our Prioress simply began a prayer, and all followed naturally in recitation, our quiet, grave voices flowing through somber lips.
As I gazed up and down the row opposite me, my own voice in quiet recitation, it was a beautiful and touching sight – each Sister like a bead on a rosary, each Sister a prayer, each Sister a luminous mystery in a stormy night, each Sister occupied, or maybe pre-occupied, with thought, with prayer, with wordless waiting even as her words formed a timeless path through time.
As liturgy goes, in its quiet and unadorned simplicity and in the tension of waiting out a storm, it could hardly pass for heavenly – just a group of sleepy people gathered for protection from danger and reciting some prayers together. But in its genuine faith, its sure devotion, its spontaneous and natural turn to common prayer, and its utter trust, it did one of the things that liturgy does – it joins us to something beyond ourselves. A practical gathering for safety was more that that – it was an assembly of God’s people, the Body of Christ, offering prayer and praise and intercession, and asking that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It lifted our earthbound efforts heavenward even as we prayed for the heavenly to be here on earth.
It seemed to me that the very spontaneity, the naturalness of our prayer, was part of its kinship with the liturgy of heaven. It was natural. Its what we do. We pray. We praise. We trust. We intercede. We adore. Like the saints in heaven. In that sense, our 3:00 am ‘liturgy of the hallway,’ in its simple and unadorned and quiet way, felt to me like a small foretaste of the heavenly liturgy…praising God’s name on earth, as it is in heaven.
Postscript: We were fine and safe from any damage here at the monastery. And while we were joined together in common prayer, I’m sure each Sister also held in her heart her own prayers and concerns and hopes. I’m sure many were thinking, like I was, of those in Tennessee who have lost so much in the fires, and those in danger elsewhere in the South last night, and all people everywhere who are in search of safety. We continue to hold in prayer those who have experienced so much loss in these recent days.