Some weeks hold more than others. For me, this has been one of them. I realized that this morning when I thought back to the past Sunday and felt as if it had happened a month ago. This thing called time can play mighty tricks on a person. Some days seems endless out of a sense of boredom. Others have that same sense of longevity because they are so full. As someone who tries vigilantly to live in the present moment, this can be befuddling.
Last Sunday I had one of those rich experiences that can only be offered by an encounter with others who have walked the earth in different ways, who are from different places and have folded into their living, experiences that are foreign from your own. In our worship we were blessed to have guests from Ireland who shared not only their music but a ritual that was new to me. Their music had already worked its way into our spirits when we were invited into a blessing of throats. That’s right, throats.
This blessing happens on the Feast Day of St. Blaise. Living in the 4th century, it seems that a physician named Blaise was approached by a frantic mother whose young son was choking on a chicken bone. The mother begged the physician who was also a bishop to save her child as she watched him struggle for his life. St. Blaise did something that caused the bone to dislodge and the child lived. In Ireland, February 3rd is a favorite celebration day of this one who became sainted and the protector of throats. Given the gifts of music and storytelling that graces the people of this island nation, throats are not to be taken lightly.
During this week that has seemed like month, I have been reflecting on the willingness of my community to embrace this ritual which clearly meant so much to our Irish visitors. Those who showed up expecting business as usual at church found themselves offered an opportunity they did not know existed. As the two young Irishmen stood holding lit candles through which people passed, a sign of walking through the fire that purifies us, each person who chose to do so approached for a blessing in both Irish and English. The first few did so with a look of surprise and curiosity on their faces. But as the blessings continued an energy began to fill the room, an energy that was woven with the Sacred.
Throats. This home of voice and speech. This vehicle of words and song. This avenue that brings both kindness and harm into any day, any moment. Particularly at this time of year in Minnesota, throats are to be protected from germs and viruses that land us in bed and mute. Being one of those who was blessed to bless these throats, I encountered an amazing experiences: Not one throat felt the same. As I cupped my hand on the throats of those I knew well and those I had never met, each throat was a unique experience for my touch. I now carry the gift of those throats in the palm on my hand. It seems almost too much of the Sacred to carry.
I have thought about the blessed throats this week. Did the people who offered themselves for blessing carry the gift of this into their week? Were their words dripping in some honey they found surprising? Did the harsh phrase they wanted to say stop some place mid-exit remembering that something unexpected had happened to this avenue of speech? Or did most simply experience this ritual as ‘different’, something to be easily forgotten?
Sacraments have been sanctioned by the church for centuries: outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. We come to receive them with all the baggage of our lives which opens us or closes us to their gifts. Sometimes amazing experiences result and other times we walk away and time moves on unchanged. This day I carry the imprint of throats on the palm of my hand and I can never be the same.