Last night, New Year’s Eve on December 31, 2017, I celebrated the festivities in an entirely new way: at church. While I am a regular church goer, and consider myself a devout Episcopalian, I never had really thought about celebrating such a holiday at church. But the opportunity presented itself for me to assist with the celebration in a small yet meaningful capacity, and so I accepted. My plans were set.
The church I attend, St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, has hosted a New Year’s Eve labyrinth walk for almost 20 years. They open the doors of the church to the community for anyone to come and meditate on one of several labyrinths. This year, the walk began at 6pm and ended at midnight, when Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the center of the large labyrinth, ringing in the new year and celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name (which celebrates the Christchild being brought to the temple 8 days after his birth and being named Jesus). Also, it so happened that the weekly Compline service (which has happened every Sunday evening at 9:30pm since 1957) occurred in the middle of the evening.
I attended this year’s celebration at first just to fulfill my duty I committed to (assisting with the set up of the altar for Holy Eucharist). I ensured to arrive early enough to be able to enjoy the Compline service as well. As i settled into one of the few remaining open seats in the cathedral, I was surrounded by people slowly walking around the cathedral, making their way from one labyrinth to another; finding a seat for the Compline service; or wandering without seeming to have a purpose at all…perhaps just absorbing the sacredness of the space, illuminated partly by candlelight and dim lamps.
Shortly after I settled into my seat, the Compline choir entered the cathedral, carefully making their way through the crowds of people to the corner where they perform the service. As the service began, I let the music and chant calm my soul and transport me to a place of sacred peace. If you’ve never heard the St. Mark’s Compline Choir, be sure and check out their website: http://www.complinechoir.org. Listen to one of their recordings. You’ll be glad you did.
After the Compline choir completed their singing, a moment of silence fell on the very full cathedral before another musical performer stepped up. (There were numerous different musicians who took turns providing calming/sacred music during the labyrinth walk). I stayed put in my chair, and connected with the faces of several other people sitting along the floor in front of me (there were so many people, there weren’t any seats left). I wasn’t the only one who had been transported that evening into a place of peace.
After doing a bit of reading and praying the rosary, I decided I would begin a walk of the labyrinth. I chose a smaller one that was close to where I was sitting in the rear corner of the cathedral. Not being that regular of a labyrinth walker, and someone who finds it difficult to focus my prayer without a rubric, I didn’t want to walk the larger labyrinth that was filled with people in the center.
I removed my shoes, walked to the entrance, and slowly began to walk. I found myself instead of praying simply meditating on all of the blessings of my life: my family, my friends, my fluffy puppy Fritz, this beautiful city that I now call home. My thoughts became flooded with gratitude. And the face of my mother, who died 2 years ago on Christmas Eve, continued to enter my mind. I thought about all that she went through in her life and what she taught me about faith and love. My heart was overflowing with gratitude. As I slowly approached the center, I began to have puddles of tears form in my eyes. Overwhelming gratitude and love. It’s a powerful and awe-inspiring thing.
I noticed as I walked that the outline of the labyrinth had been retraced. There were spots where the old line had been removed and replaced elsewhere, kind of like a ghost image. Like when you’re driving down the road and you can see someone has re-lined the road, but you still see the old lines. It was a bit disorienting in the dim light to be able to make sure I was following the right path. I found myself seeing this experience as a metaphor for life…how often do we think we are following the right path, but aren’t sure we’re following the right one?
Upon reaching the center of the labyrinth, I paused. The center was surrounded by small tea light candles. I felt myself being held in a place of peace and love. I imagined a photo of myself as a baby where my mom has me in her arms, perched on her shoulders. Gratitude.
When I completed my labyrinth walk, it was time to begin preparations for our midnight Holy Eucharist. I proceeded to the sacristy, where I prepared the bread and the wine (though we were using champagne since it was New Year’s), and performed the tasks that have become a part of my offering to God, where I in turn give gratitude for Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for redeeming our world. Preparing the holy gifts for the altar warms my heart each and every time. And this night, I was especially filled with gratitude. Gratitude that was perfectly summed up in the Prayer of Thanksgiving which we read during the service:
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.
As I write this post nearly 24 hours later, I still find my heart and mind overflowing with gratitude. It’s a beautiful way to begin the New Year!