Every year for the past 10 years, Gilbert, Stephen and I have signed up for the Vigil at Trinity Episcopal in St. Louis. When we started out, we did it in the middle of the night, but as bones have grown creakier with age, we now try to be home by midnight. A couple of weeks before Easter, a signup sheet is put near the narthex with a list of hour-long time slots beginning right after the Maundy Thursday service and going through Good Friday noon. The reserved sacrament (bread and wine) left from the evening meal is placed on the altar in the chapel, which is decorated with flowers and lit candles. There are seats round the small space and there is a pre dieu where one of the two or three who are gathered at any time can kneel. Our church is an urban one, and this practice goes on all night, so the doors are locked after a certain time. As we arrive we are greeted by one or two of the people who have volunteered to stay at the church all night, but then we are left to perform our own devotions.
Traditionally, the practice of Christian vigil is based on the following passage in Mark 14 (and a similar one in Matthew)
 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?
 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Passing this quiet hour together in demonstration of our Christian commitment and resolve is a tradition that I cherish, although my understanding of what it means has evolved over the years. It really is a remarkable experience. There we are—three people not particularly known for keeping silence—keeping silence in remembrance of the last night of Christ’s life. Spending quiet time together is a most intimate activity under any circumstance, but in this context, one does it particularly mindfully. In the past, I have read or “sung in my head” from the prayer book or hymnal, read my Bible, prayed, just sat and looked at the flowers, the sacrament, and the candles, listened as the occasional emergency vehicle or crowd of rowdy kids first breaks open, disperses, and then merges back into the silent night, or just closed my eyes and half-dosed.
This time, however, something really different and significant happened to me. I don’t know whether or not I am able to communicate it to you, but it seems worth it to try. As a background to all of this, in addition to my over 20 years of participation at Trinity, I have regularly meditated using the practices of the Self-Realization Fellowship. In this practice, one learns gradually to quiet the busy, noisy mental dialog that usually fills ones mind, and focus rather on the divine presence which is “behind the silence.” Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of SRF, used to say that it is only after we are prepared to hear the answer that we can put out a sincere soul-call to God.
As I was sitting there to the side of the alter, candles flickering, scent of verbena wafting toward me, I somehow arrived at the idea of merging these two religious practices. I reflected on Jesus Christ and His life. Seemingly, Jesus went through His life with His mind singularly focused on God. Perhaps that was, above all else, what He was trying to show us how to do: how to single-mindedly focus on God through all of life’s slings and arrows. I looked toward the veil of silence in my own mind. What was there once all the guilt, the anger, the doubt, the business of my constant thinking was taken away? We are told that God is Love. Could I feel that love?
And then suddenly, it was as clear as a bell. Way down there beneath the surface of my awareness, far into the extra dimensions that must be there, at a different level of experience and reality, there was the force that created me. And I realized that God had wanted me to be here. God wants me to be here, just as I am. My life is a free gift, to do with what I will. Others may judge ill of me, but God wants Jim here. Beyond the static of my faulty receiver, there is just peace.
Now today my life is still just as difficult and challenging, rewarding and exciting, as it always was. I still have to live with moderate emphysema. I still have to live with the fact that I am a big dog, and nobody ever trained me properly. I still have to do the best I can with my family, friends, church and country, and how well I do varies dramatically from day to day. I still have to grieve for mom, and visit sick friends when I can. But, you know what? My owner, God, loves me, even when I knock over the Schefflera or chew the corner of the carpet. I can live with that, and love God back.
You probably thought that I forgot one thing. What about Jesus Christ? My fundamentalist cousins are long waiting to hear me say that I have confessed Him as my personal savior (and also repented from my sins, especially my homosexuality). Well, let’s put it this way. I have found God. I am still thinking about Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ and the Father really are one, then I have nothing to worry about, do I? And if He’s not, God forbid, well, I still have my faith in God.