Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


Back in the day, before there was garbage pickup, we used to burn the "burnables" in a metal barrel. My grandpa used to say about me, "That child's the only kid I know that you can entertain for hours by burning the trash." I used to love to get the task of burning the trash. I almost burned it literally one piece at a time, which certainly amused my relatives.

In preparation for a baptism last Sunday, it was discovered that a couple of old bottles of chrism had "turned" and were smelling a little funky. Since it had been blessed by our Bishop, it needed to be disposed of in a way fitting for consecrated objects. Luckily for me, both of our clergy recognize me as the undisputed "parish pyro." If there's something to be burned, they know I'll do it gleefully--burning the palms every year at Ash Wednesday, for instance.

I was instructed to soak the oil onto cotton balls and burn the cotton balls. "We already had this image that you would sit by your chiminea and do it," I was told.

Well, rather than use little cotton balls, I swung by the office and got a pile of gauze 4x4's, figuring I could soak it all up a little quicker. So late last Sunday night, as I started to build a little fire in my chiminea, I sat with the little vials of chrism and pondered them before I started to soak the 4x4's.

Pondering consecrated objects is actually a very ancient practice in Christianity, and almost every major religion finds room to ponder physical things that are deemed holy. I've always been fascinated with some of the ancient monstrances--how these ornate, elaborate holders were designed to hold something so simple as a blessed communion wafer. But I also realize at times, the elegance of the monstrance obscures the fact that the object of spiritual importance is that little plain circle of bread in the center.

As I sat there and let whatever bubble up, bubble up, what came to mind was how when this chrism was put in the bottle, it was full of potential for healing and blessing, but those moments of healing were passed by; those moments of potential blessing went unblessed. It just sat. As it sat, it simply spoiled. Not from an overt or conscious or malicious spoiling, but just simply from neglect.

I really don't think evil is the enemy of the holy--hoarding is. To hoard holy things up and not give them away in abundance, to me, is a message that one is coming from the theology of poverty, not the theology of abundance. God, I believe, gives an endless supply of "holy." But I don't think he refills the stock until the present batch has been distributed down to the last bit.

There they were. Hoarded blessings in a bottle, now turned into a smelly, unattractive object.

But....

In burning them, I don't see that as destroying them. I see that as transforming them. To burn the chrism is to rend it down to a pure state again. Just as we use incense in "high church" rites and services--the smoke and the pleasant aroma rising into the sky to symbolize our prayers rising upward--so the smoke from the burning chrism is once again turned into prayers for distribution.

As I burned the oil-soaked 4x4 gauze squares, I thought about how now the holy in the old chrism was being released to travel on the wind, to do what it will do and go where it may. I will not know where those molecules will end up--my blessing is in releasing them, to say they were never mine to control to begin with. In other words, to admit what was in there was God's all along, and not something belonging to "my parish" and temporarily to me.

I offered them to the fire prayerfully, and with some incense burning beside the chiminea.

It reminded me that everything spoiled, everything broken, everything imperfect about me and my life, had the potential to be made holy again. It had the power to move beyond "me." It had a purity within its own molecular structure.

But that only happens if we let it go. It only happens if we place it on the altar. It only happens if we are willing to let it be transformed into something we may not recognize and be spread beyond where our hands can reach it.

3 comments:

Ok, now there is no theory behind this one... my family is one pyro after another and we are certain it comes from having to burn the trash. My brother is definitely the most affected and like you, would burn the trash one piece at a time whenever he could.

I need to meet your relatives! We could sit around and burn stuff and be happy!

I love this, Maria. Thanks.

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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