rituals spring

Keeping vigil. How Mary, mother of Jesus, showed me the way.

3 Apr 2021

Through the years, on this night, I have often kept vigil. In a sanctuary, praying + meditating through the entire night. Or in my bedroom, for just a few moments of solitude + silent reflection in the dark. It’s Holy Saturday. The day that Christians recognize as a waiting day, between the remembrance of the death of Jesus on Friday to the jubilant resurrection of Christ on Easter morning on Sunday.

It’s often seen as a nothing day. And why wouldn’t it? It is the day, if you follow the story, of no hope. Of nothingness. The most empty, dark, depressive day that is. Jesus is dead. Dreams are shattered. The grief feels unbearable. Those who experienced the death ofJesus had no idea of Easter morning + how love would win, defeating even death itself. No, the women + men close to Jesus only had their deep sorrow + crushed, confused hearts.

I’ve always thought of this day as something that we miss out on. Christians attend services to recognize the death of Jesus and then go right to Easter Sunday morning festivities, hopping over Saturday by mostly just doing all of the regular things that you’d do on a Saturday. And, that’s fine, I suppose. But, if we really want to understand the spiritual meaning of Holy Week, then we might just set aside our regular Saturday activities for this one weekend, so we can spend the day keeping vigil.

This day, Holy Saturday, is a mysterious, luminal space. It is the gateway, the portal that takes us from death to resurrection. And, to really feel alive with the hope of spring on Easter Sunday, I believe that we must sit with the pain + grief + sorrow + death + nothingness of Saturday.

Besides, we can’t really skip over the tough times in our lives can we? I mean, we can avoid and ignore them, but they never go away unless we face them, sit with them, and deal with them. In the same wya, why don’t we dare to keep vigil and sit with the mystery + darkness + utter silence of Holy Saturday? Perhaps we just might experience Easter Sunday, and life, in a whole new way.

Back in the States, when I was a minister in a church, I arranged for a 24 hour vigil that went from 6am on Holy Saturday until 6am on Easter Sunday. The idea was to invite people to meditate and pray for 24 hours in 1 hour shifts. I opened up the sanctuary at 6am and sat there until 6am on Easter Sunday. As the night went on, people came in, one hour at a time, for the 24 whole hours. To simply sit in the silence and the emptiness. To contemplate life, death, mystery, meaning, or whatever rose from their souls. There’s no way to really describe the mystical experience of sitting in a candlelit sanctuary at 2 am, meeting the next person who will join me for the next hour, and then seeing them leave after an hour of silent presence together, only to have another one show up at 3 am. It was always a deeply humbling day for me. Uncomfortable + unsettling, too. Perhaps the most meaningful of the entire year.

Most recently, I have held vigil in my own home. And, not for 24 hours. I’ve often set aside some time at night to sit, write, meditate, and just soak in the somber, silent, empty mood of this day. While it is quite different than my previous vigils in the sanctuary, it is nevertheless just as meaningful for me. And, for the past 6 years or so, it is exactly how it was meant to be. A solitary, deep inward vigil.

The thing about keeping vigil is that is based on the action of being. It is done out of pure love, out of a desire to simply be present. And, being present, is literally the most important thing that we can ever do.

With this Holy Saturday evening, I close out my Holy Week meditations and prepare for the question of how to fully live in this new season, this new path, this new era that I know that is ahead of me. This past week, I have connected deeply with Mary, the mother of Jesus. I think it has been a mystical connection through the grief of a mother. I, too, am experiencing a whole new grief this Holy Saturday. The grief of a mother, of saying goodbye to our tiny 16 week old child . Something in that grief binds me to Mary this season, more than ever before.

As Jesus surrendered to his self- sacrifice, Mary could do nothing but grieve. Yet, she remained by his side at all times. Present. She fully accompanies Jesus on his journey to his death. Never leaving his side. Surrendering to her sorrow. Willing to dive deep into her grief so that she could simply be present.

For Mary , in the empty space of Saturday, there’s nothing for her to hold onto. Her love and pain and loss are all she has. Jesus lies in a tomb. And she sits in silence. Keeping vigil. Letting her love and pain and loss simply be. Knowing that all that she needs is to sit in it all. Sometimes that’s all we can do. I know that keeping vigil in my own grief has literally been the only thing I can do sometimes.

But, it is in this deep grief that the mystery of love is revealed. Somehow even here in this dark grief, I learn what it means to be alive. 

This is why I keep vigil on Holy Saturday. I need to be reminded of the connection between grief and love. I need a mystical day, once a year, to surrender to my own grief and just sit with it. Because it is in darkness of my own willingness to surrender to my grief and pain and suffering, to my humanness, that I learn how to be with others who are lost in the darkness of grief and pain and suffering.

Holy Saturday teaches me to not only keep vigil in the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but how to keep vigil with myself + others. All year long. Holy Saturday provides a pause of silent spaciousness for me to not only be present in my own grief, as I connect with Mary, But to begin to understand how my idea of keeping vigil, of being present is shifting… even as I type this.

Up until now, my focus has always been on being present. Just being. In the moment. Calm, grounded, anchored. I have been on a long journey of discovering my own inner peace. Along the way, however, I have stumbled upon my own medicine. That which I have to offer to others + to this world. And it flows from my sense of inner peace, of being present.

With this Easter, this holy week, this season, this year… I am shifting to a deeper sense of presence. One that is not centered on me being present to myself, though that will always be the starting point, the anchoring place. A shift is being made, as I enter this new era in my life, to be present in the world. It is time for me to return from the depths of my soul + to bring with me all that I have learned. And this is my offering: the presence of who i am, simply being with others, offering my stories, my grief, my thoughts, my life for the sake of others.

This is how we help to shift the world. Without anything except our being. Living our truest, most authentic lives. And by simply being present with ourselves + with others.

So tonight, I am keeping vigil. As I always try to do on Holy Saturday. I embrace the silence + emptiness of this most sacred moment. And I surrender to the mood of nothingness of this night. I am willing to face and feel the grief of the day and my own personal grief, and in doing so, I meet you in whatever grief you are carrying with you.

In order to get to the transformation of new life, rebirth, and the season of spring… we must encounter and experience the season of death, grief, sorrow, and darkness. And after we keep vigil during the winter days, we shall emerge in a light + love that we’ve never imagined. And, in that light + love, we bring the gift of our presence to the world.

Blessed day of emptiness, loves. xoxo.

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