Reflection – 2nd Sunday in March
P. Isaac Quelly
Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral
March 10th, 2019, 5:00 PM
Randall Jarrell, 1914 – 1965
What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
“Since you’re up . . .” Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.
1. When have you gone searching, like Isaac searching for the Holy Water? What was that like? What did you find?
2. How could you ask God to be present with you in “the dailiness of life” this Lent?
3. What makes something holy? What makes something sacred?
I am what many folks call a “Cradle Episcopalian”. I’ve been worshiping in the Episcopal Tradition as far back as I can remember. At age 10 or 11, I was recruited to be a junior acolyte. As my spiritual awareness grew, so too did my responsibilities. Around the age of 12 or 13, I began to help prepare the altar table for communion. I would receive the elements from the ushers, bring the deacon the cruet of holy water to add to the wine, and would wash the celebrant’s hands before she would begin the Eucharist - you better believe how seriously I took to my new role.
As you can imagine, not everything always goes according to plan. This one Sunday I remember the alter guild had forgotten to fill the water cruet. I went into a minor panic spiral. What was I going to do? I had about 90 seconds before I was up. I had no choice but to go searching. I tore through the sacristy, looking in drawers, opening cabinets, you name it. Alas, I was unable to find the “Holy Water” reserves.
Having come back fruitless. I did what any kid would’ve done, I found an adult. A member of the altar guild was conveniently sitting in the front row. I frantically explained my quest to her. She patiently took the empty cruet, walked over to the sink, filled it up, and handed it back to me. This whole time I thought that the water in the cruet was bona fide holy water. But was just plain ol’ tap water.
And then I think about the poem we read just a few moments ago. Randall Jarrell presents us with the character of this girl that I imagine to be around the same age as I was in my story. The narrator makes note of the triviality of the task of getting water from this well; as if it were just another item on her to do list. I imagine the girl, standing there with her pump, sometimes struggling to find water, thinking about all the extra-ordinary things she would rather be doing.
Now fast forward ten years to the present day. I’ve noticed that many folks cross themselves with a splash of holy water from the font as they enter a sacred space. I’ve adapted a version of this for my own. Recalling the times that I have helped the presider to wash their hands before the Eucharist, I rinse my own hands with water from the font. It is both a form spiritual cleansing, and a reminder of how God acts though me, and I have a responsibility to all people.
But as we move into lent, we alter our practices and traditions in order to draw nearer to God. We restrict our movements to acknowledge our restlessness, we incorporate moments of deliberate silence to make room for the Spirit, and we drain the font to deepen our thirst for God. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that experiencing the barren, rough-hune stone of the font is be jarring; especially for me, as I am confronted by the fact, I can no longer rinse hands in the font. As the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder”. For when the font is refilled, the “rusted squirrel-wheel” turns again, we will “gulp” from the waters of the spirit, and our thirst will be quenched.
Part of me wishes I could go back and have a conversation with my 12 or 13 year-old-self. What if the water in the cruet was holy water after all? Not because a priest said some blessing out of the prayer book, but because of the deliberate preparations and intentions that went into creating that moment where we were all in communion with one another. By laying out the chalice and paten, gathering the linens, filling the cruet, bringing it to the celebrant, washing their hands before the Eucharistic prayer, and adding a few drops into the wine, everyday objects and materials are elevated to be something mystical, something otherworldly.
Let it be so…Amen