The electricity still wasn’t back on when I woke up— I tried both lamps before I lit a candle. I heard someone down the hall flick a switch one too many times. Nope. Even with five video conferences scheduled for the day, the internet down and no promise of resolution, I felt a strange calm. I watched the candle kick light onto the walls.
I read the first reading with a tactical flashlight hoisted onto my shoulder—you know, the five-pound cold metal one that takes four D-batteries and looks like a billy club. I’m not sure Brother Mike, our sacristan, even uses electricity he’s so old-school, so I wasn’t surprised to find the chapel set and warmly lit when I got there. Candles on the altar and in the Advent wreath flickered soft light on the walls. But they weren’t quite bright enough for reading.
No heat, no lights, but all the regulars, the chapel was a rare and special sort of quiet.
No humming, no whirring, no heavy rumbling of attendant machines, we were together, instead, with every sniffle, shuffle, cough and rustle.
Joe is clearing his throat, again; he’s been sick since October, I think.
Sister Barb’s singing voice is high and melodious, a wonderful balance to our scratchy, male morning voices.
Brother B’s smokers cough.
Each unique voice praying the Our Father.
And the Sign of Peace was just a little bit different. We moved a little more. We bent over seats. We stretched long arms across aisles to greet one another when usually a little peace sign sufficed.
Father George said as much of the Mass as he could from memory, and I lit the rest by flashlight.
It takes a whole lot more than a wrecked transformer to keep these Jesuits, sisters and friends from praying together.
Sometimes, I wonder if the Silent Night was a Holy Night at least partially because it was silent. I wonder if God is especially present when the sounds of town quiet for a moment, or we get away from them for something special– a simple prayer, a candlelit space, an intimate conversation.
…or maybe these are just the cynical things I think about when the lights come back on, the internet comes back on, and as a result, I spend the rest of the soft-start day in front of the computer screen. Dang.
Between calls, I fell into an old daydream, wishing I was born before this time.
Glass not plastic, analog not digital, fires not fluorescents, euchre not Netflix… I have this thing where I wished I lived in a kitschy, Charles-Dickens-nostalgia. Mass this morning only made the feeling stronger.
Likewise, with thirty Christmases under my belt, I feel like my last 15 have been hunting the magic of my first 15. It’s easy to blame the internet and technology and every distraction that they bring, but the fault is also mine. I choose most of the distractions they offer, even when home with family, even when out with friends… even sometimes at Mass.
I’m not sure if any New Year’s resolution will come out of this, nor do I have elaborate plans to sabotage the campus’ electricity for a glorious repeat. But later that evening I powered down a little earlier. I turned the lights off and lit the morning’s candle. Prayer always seems easier by quiet candlelight.