Monday, November 22, 2010

Pimp My Adoration Chapel.

So at some point I decided to go to adoration some days to make a holy hour before work. For those of you who don't know, adoration is a catholic tradition where mini-Jesus (the consecrated wafer) is displayed in a monstrance (pictured here). It's like kneeling before a king on his throne to ask for whatever it is people asked kings for back in the day--probably mostly mercy, like at adoration today. Now I don't want this story to sound disrespectful, because I love going to adoration in the morning and it's usually my favorite part of the day. But my first visit was a very strange experience.

Not all churches have perpetual adoration so I felt lucky to find one on my way to work. For perpetual adoration, members of the parish volunteer to guard Jesus and keep Him company, especially during the night when He would otherwise be alone. Leaving Jesus alone is deemed unacceptable--although I like to imagine the seemingly unprotected wafer-Jesus shooting laser beams from His monstrance at unsuspecting intruders. But at least part of the reason is that leaving mini-Jesus alone would be like inviting Him over for dinner and then leaving Him to eat by Himself. (Wow, that was a lot of capital H's, I think I'm going to give up on that.)

Anyway, the chapel I found is different. It would be better described as perpetual access to adoration. To get around the need for having volunteers guard the monstrance, this chapel has a tabernacle with a sort of monstrance aperture which can be opened to expose the wafer housed inside. (I've since learned that this is called an exposition tabernacle.) The chapel is locked and has an access code, and special people who have the code can go in and open the tabernacle doors (and wake up Jesus, I guess). Then when we're through with him we close the doors before leaving. It reminds me of covering a bird cage with a blanket to convince the birds that it's bedtime. At first I found this disturbing but after looking at the guest book I found that Jesus is usually entertaining visitors in the chapel for most of the day.

Entering the chapel for the first time, I was surprised when I stepped into what looked a little bit like a room from Pee-wee's Playhouse. I would NOT have been surprised to turn around and see Chairy in the corner. The tiny room is painted bright red and metallic gold with two cherubim 'sculptures' (in the style of lawn ornaments) flanking a highly pimped out representation of the Virgin of Czestochowa which is literally bejeweled with various rhinestones and fake pearls. Under the Virgin is the yellow-'gold' tabernacle with its saloon-style doors which only added to the Pee-wee-ness by reminding me of Jambi's box. Perhaps to scare away any potential intruders a giant creepy doll dressed in white (I think he's suppose to be a Pope.*) stands watch to the right hand side. Crammed in with stained glass windows, a picture of the Divine Mercy Jesus, an unused altar with two candles, and all 14 Stations of the Cross--let's just say this place feels busy. Not the calming serenity I'd been expecting.

I walked into this surreal worship space, genuflected, and knelt in the middle pew. Since then I've seen other people lay down on the floor in extreme submissiveness... so I'm guessing those people haven't come across the resident centipede! No surprise, other people at adoration were doing things that really annoy me--coughing, sneezing, sniffling, burping, scratching, knocking!, whispering, snoring!, plastic bag crinkling, key jingling, phone vibrating, phone ringing, and even phone answering! But one of the first things I noticed about adoration was that being there was calming. I heard people doing these things but wasn't actually annoyed, which struck me as weird. Even when I was intellectually pondering how annoying and disrespectful they were being (in the case of the cell phone) I didn't emotionally feel annoyed. The biggest test came when I first met Brother Centipede, as St. Francis of Assisi would have called him, as he scurried across the floor in front of my pew. I was surprised but hardly even flinched and mostly managed to ignore him as he went off hunting.

Still feeling somewhat skeptical about wafer-Jesus, I wasn't entirely pleased to find myself alone when I wanted to leave. This meant that I had to put Jesus to bed before leaving and I didn't feel ready to come face-to-face (or wafer-to-face) with God just yet! I walked up to the altar and around to the tabernacle genuflecting like crazy because I wasn't sure what to do and didn't want to be caught desecrating anything. But in the end, curiosity took over and I bent over and peaked into the little window, craning my neck to try and see around into the little room behind the wafer. Then I stared at the wafer thinking about how much it would ruin the moment to find mold on the consecrated host. I did not miraculously see a miniature version of the baby Jesus, or the crucified Jesus, or any Jesus, confirming that I am definitely NOT a mystic. All I saw was a wafer. But then I felt incredibly rude for staring at the wafer which must have been like staring at Jesus as though he has something in his teeth. I wondered how one looks a wafer in the eye when talking to him. I remembered all the benefits that are suppose to come with receiving the communion wafer--something I'm not allowed to do as a mere catechumen--and wondered if maybe I could get a weaker version of those benefits by breathing really deeply and maybe taking in some Jesus particles, sniff, sniff! Finally my neurotic thoughts died down, I said goodbye to Jesus, closed his doors and went on my way.

Amazingly, it did not take long to adjust to the crazy atmosphere and learn to ignore the various distractions. And the longer I've been making these holy hours the better the effect. I can't help but think that anyone could benefit from this sort of practice, while maybe forgoing the religious aspects if desired. Even a holy twenty minutes can be helpful--meditating on the interconnectedness of the world and the need for compassion, our own personal goals and hopes and dreams and how we might accomplish them, our weaknesses and regrets and feelings of guilt and how we might overcome them, letting go of feelings of bitterness and working toward forgiving those who have wronged us, and realizing that we have lots to be thankful for... what's not to like about reflection and self-awareness?? Five stars and two thumbs up! This sort of reflection is something that I never really bothered with before but I'm learning to make it a priority.

*By the way, I now know that the doll represents the child Jesus and the color of his outfit matches the liturgical season. It was probably actually green when I first saw him.