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Nocturnal Adoration: Where the Milk and Honey Flows

October 3, 2019


This is Part 1 of a 4-part series on Eucharistic Adoration.

I had stopped participating for a while, because I can be lazy, but recently I had the opportunity to participate in Adoration with the Nocturnal Adoration Society of a local parish, taking on one of the wee, small hours that are difficult, sometimes, for the group to cover.

Nocturnal Adoration is quite different from making a Holy Hour in silence. The NAS promotes Adoration and specifically works to organize whole nights of liturgical prayer, with hourly teams getting together to chant the Psalms, read Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, and to simply pray—it is all prayer, of course—before the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer goes essentially from sundown (the end of the Saturday Vigil anticipating Sunday Mass) to sunrise (the first Mass of Sunday), nonstop, and it is remarkable to be in the middle of all of that. Although this can seem a very “busy” way to pray, it is also very focused and intense, and at the quiet parts—during which we silently meditate and offer prayers of praise or supplication—the silence is astoundingly rich.

It is silence that is not emptiness, but rather fullness.

It is silence that is vibrant, as in vibrational and resonant.

It is silence that is utterly alive, and enormously instructive.

It is a chunky silence; it builds and feeds. Ristoro e robusto.

It is a silence full of milk and honey.

Part of me didn’t actually want to be there. I’ve been pleasantly distracted by a personal project and didn’t want to have to stop playing with it to pray and think about God. That happens sometimes, doesn’t it? But I have lots of folks on my prayer list, and the world certainly needs prayer, right now, so I went. I schlepped into the church yawning and splashing holy water on myself, and slid into my pew. Kneeling, I looked up at the altar and found myself immediately enclosed in the mist.

I call it the mist. Some might call it “the veil.” Some even call it the Shekinah, but I’m not that bold. I just assume others have seen this thing; it is like a white, glistening cloud that comes down and surrounds something or someone, obliterating everything else from view. Like, well . . . a mist.

The first time I saw it was the day I met my husband. He walked through a gate and I saw him surrounded by this cloud, and I knew at that moment that I would not be heading into a monastery, but would instead be spending my life with him. (And I’m grateful, because he’s a swell egg!)

The next time I saw the mist was when I was—very unexpectedly—helping a man regarding a suicide situation. Again, this mist fell, and I could see nothing but this fellow, and I know—I know most emphatically—that the help he was rendered was wholly unconnected to me and came from somewhere else. I know this because I know who and what I am, and so I know that helpful creature was not me.

Again, the cloud came as I watched an incredible woman generously, disinterestedly, and most helpfully console another woman who was in major emotional distress. And that time, when I saw the mist, I thought, Here is Christ, poured forth like a libation.

The cloud came again during my early morning turn at Adoration, and I was surprised to see it—so immediate and vast—because nothing seemed extraordinary or different, and I certainly wasn’t feeling “holy.” Because I was tired, it seemed to me God was teasing me: “Heh. So, you made it, eh? Didn’t feel like coming, did you? Well, I’ve been waiting and you’re welcome. Look at what your fellow adorers have done!”

As I said, Nocturnal Adoration is unusual. The only other time I’ve ever seen the mist while there was when I’d volunteered to take the 5-6 a.m. hour and discovered that the whole church seemed to be engulfed in this mist—as though the ten hours of unceasing prayer and praise, together with the power of the Blessed Sacrament, had suffused the whole space, bathed it in this light—as though the church was simply packed with the rising of prayers, and the coming and going of our angels moving in and out with us, or up and down as with Jacob’s ladder.

That’s fanciful, I know. But when that hour ended, and the priest came out to repose the Host, I watched him cleanse the area with incense (“Like burning incense, Lord, let my prayer rise up to you . . .”) and once again considered how incense has been used for thousands of years, in every culture. The air and the atmosphere had become heavy—cluttered, even, with the human concerns we bring with us and leave at the altar—and it felt like the sanctuary needed to be cleared of that heaviness, for the tremendous light of the Mass.

Incense is used at the beginning and end of a funeral, and it carries our prayers, yes, but perhaps it also helps to clear the heaviness of emotion we bring with us. Perhaps heaviness must give way to lightness, before things can be renewed, or begun again. Perhaps an overnight cycle of prayer, the deliverance of anxieties, fears, worries, needs unto the Lord, becomes a heavy thing indeed.

I didn’t come away from Adoration with any particular wisdom. I came away from it precisely as I went in: fat, selfish, dyslexic, tired, and arthritic. And yet I was so happy I had gone, and adored. And yes, I had felt so welcomed, so warmly welcomed, within that mist.

I once heard a nun say that an hour of Adoration was like an hour of sitting in the sun; you don’t feel any different, but later you realize you got burned. Perhaps this week I am pleasantly singed, a little toasty in the Lord.

Reading comments on an internet forum recently, I came to one wherein the writer declared, “No one has ever known, seen, heard, felt, anything tangible that can be considered ‘God.’ [sic] If you say you have, you’re lying.”

Not so. The milk and honey, it flows at Adoration. It is there. And the Holy Eucharist is quite tangible. Christ who promised to be with us “even to the ends of the world” is present throughout the world, from time zone to time zone, in every obscure corner. What was it I said? Oh, yeah . . . vibrant. And resonant. And utterly alive.