Monday, November 2, 2009

A Smoke-filled Room

As the thurible waved back and forth behind me, while I processed into the the sanctuary carrying the cross, I could already smell it. The incense burned sending its smoke rising into the rafters. For some, this is a strong scent that might distract from worship. For me, it's an olfactory journey into the throne room of God. The fumes drift around and invade the atmosphere. Such elements can lead you, literally, by the nose into the images of worship conjured from Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4. When we had arrived at the front of the sanctuary and entered the area of the altar, the priest waved the incense over the altar, the sacramental instruments and toward us acolytes. It's a wondrous thing to worship Christ with "the prayers of the saints" wafting over and around you. In ideal conditions, the air conditioning can be disengaged so that the smoke develops stratigraphic layers of fog rising up to the ceiling (and symbolically up to heaven). Indeed Christian worship can, and should, be a multi-sensory enterprise.

The incense smoke activates a historic "trigger" in the brain that hopes the ancient saints would be pleased with how we have received their "baton" of worship rites. It also powers up a futuristic instinct regarding saints' collective worship of Christ in heaven. It agitates and quickens an awareness of the present-day participation in timeless worship that has been being conducted by angels since their creation. The incense, therefore, has the past-present-future aspects of all legitimate celebration. I have discussed before how this rubric measures the validity of all ceremony and celebration. The finest elements of church practice uphold this philosophy.

The lingering "scents of worship" stay with me throughout the week as I engage in morning and/or evening prayer. Prayers from the Book of Common Prayer contain such creedal truth and ancient language, that I sense I'm still engaged in "common prayer" with those saints I thought about when enveloped by incense smoke. My "smoke" mingles with theirs to waft up before Divine nostrils. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit take a big whiff and say to one another, "Do you smell that? I love it."

For this reason, there's nothing like worshiping in a smoke filled room. For us at the Church of the Holy Trinity, this happens on the first Sunday of the month. O that it was a weekly occurrence! For some in episcopal churches (albeit Reformed Episcopal - Anglican), some elements of worship simply smack too closely of Roman practices, and therefore must be introduced judiciously. Nevertheless, having chosen to "eat the whole buffalo," I've developed an 'appetite' for all that ancient liturgy and practice offers. Our wise and temperate priest is including new/ancient elements with measured incrementalism. My default response remains, "swing that burner at me again, father. Nothing aids an atmosphere of worship like atmospheric worship." The smoke-filled room is exactly the place where I want to pray with all the saints (past, present and future).

No comments: