Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hearing Voices

The last thing I wanted to share about the eucharistic prayer is what it's like to say it is as the presider. On the face of it, it looks pretty simple. The words are pretty much all right in front of you. You don't have to memorize them (although some do, and time helps). There aren't that many gestures. Plug and play, as they say.

I'll tell you, though, the first six months after my ordination, I was often a total wreck during the eucharistic prayer. Truly. As soon as I'd start, a little internal editor would say, quietly, "You're going a little fast." So I'd slow down, try to be more methodical in my pronunciation. Then the thought would come that everyone is looking at their watches and wondering why I'm speaking so incredibly slowly. Sometimes the editor "told" me no one could hear me; when I adjusted, it soon queried "WHY IN GOD'S NAME ARE YOU SHOUTING???" Seriously, I was like Sybil by way of Saturday Night Live, crazy and ridiculous.

As our anxieties often do, this struggle came from a good place, my desires to be true to the moment and not in any way a distraction. Today when I preside I have the same desires in mind. I try my best to speak the prayer as poetry. That is, I try to avoid rushing through the words unthinkingly or in some unconscious rhythm (all of which is really challenging after you've heard and then said the same things over and over again for so long).

And instead I try to let the words touch my heart, and say it accordingly. I probably read slower than other presiders do, and sometimes with more earnestness -- which can be good or bad. Sometimes I have to remind myself, this is not a revival you're doing here.

Chill, Father. Chill.

So you're always making adjustments. And I think as a presider you're always trying to let those words surprise you and let yourself discover new things -- words, ideas, feelings, questions -- buried in the text. These days I often wonder, when we say "Unite all your children wherever they may be," what do we mean by wherever? Are we talking spiritually -- i.e. whether they're doing well in their faith or not; physically; or something else? And the "vision of your glory" from the second to last line draws me, too. I wonder what that looks like. And those thoughts influence the way I say the prayer.

And sometimes in my imagination people I have known, living and dead, stand there just behind me, praying alongside. And I have this sense of us being in that prayer together.