The bell rings, signaling the start of Meditation, thirty minutes of silence in the chapel, the first thing on our daily schedule at the College of Transfiguration. It’s 6:45 AM, five minutes after sunrise.
The quiet is punctuated by a cough, the blowing of noses, the scrape of my jacket sleeve against my side as I dig into my pocket for the gloves I should have put on when I took my place in the pew. It’s cold here, winter, and I’m wearing all of my layers, my hiking boots, and thick socks. The winters I’m used to have far colder temperatures, but here the buildings are not heated and hold the cold, even when the sun warms the outside air. Perhaps I will rejoice in this building design when summer comes.
Other sounds intrude. Dogs start barking at the far end of the street, and others join in closer by. Are the donkeys or small group of cows that graze freely in town walking past? Birds twitter; some growl. I don’t know what bird makes that sound, but I imagine it’s a descendant of the pterodactyl. Another jacket sleeve swishes and I think, I miss corduroy. I try to let the thought pass, but not without first thinking, is this thought like a puppy running past or a cloud floating by or a helium balloon rising out of sight, like the apps I practiced with before we came here advised. I decide on puppy, and watch it scamper along, then I gently return to the awareness of the rise and fall of my breath.
I meditate best, if that’s what I’m doing, with my eyes closed. I get distracted with my eyes open. I see the book I brought with me and want to read it. I see the back of a student’s head in a pew in front of me and try to remember his name. So usually I keep my eyes closed; I breathe; I try to dwell in the presence of God, and let that be my prayer.
Today, though, my eyes are open. Today, I fasten my gaze on the large wooden crucifix on the wall behind the altar. Today, I need to see that Jesus too has his eyes open up there on the cross. I need to see that, being raised up, he can see the people I can’t just now, faraway people I love who also gaze up at the same Jesus. Can Jesus see my dear one who grieves, my dear who suffers from depression and fears the stigma and onset of full-on lunacy?
I think of the moon. The night sky here is very different from the sky I’ve been wandering around under for all of my life until now. The sky is brighter and clearer than the light-saturated sky in all of the places I’ve lived. But the stars are different too, of course. No north star, big dipper, little dipper; I’m told Orion appears in the summer sky, but upside down to me. Looking up I see different shapes, constellations telling stories I don’t yet know cast onto the night sky.
But the moon is the same.
I think of the moon as I look at Jesus who looks down from the cross. Same Jesus I’m staring up at. Same Jesus loved ones are looking to for help. I’m looking for help too. I want Jesus to see them. I’ve got my eyes wide open. I’m searching his face as he looks down, even as he experiences his own excruciating pain.
The bell rings again, signaling our shift to the Eucharist. We stand and the hymn begins. Blessed Assurance, we sing in Afrikaans. I mimic the sounds I hear others sing and try to remember the words I know: Jesus is mine—and yours too, I think quietly of my loved ones. Yours too, and he can see you too.
Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blessed
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
Our next hymn is What a friend we have in Jesus. This one I know by heart. I do my best at the Afrikaans, and think
All our sins and griefs to bear / what a privilege to carry / everything to God in prayer.
I imagine my dear ones now directly beneath the gaze of Jesus who says, I know. I know. Keep your eyes on me. We will walk through this together. You are not alone.
Our last hymn is Die liefde van Jesus is wonderbaar, and this one I can guess, at least the first verse: The love of Jesus is wonderful, Wonderful, praise his name. The love of Jesus is wonderful, Wonderful to me.
We say the dismissal. I bow my thanks to Jesus and head out into courtyard where the air is starting to warm with the sun.