Preparing for a Vigil

by Josh Huber 

Do consider the lilies. Also, if time allows, the daisies, tulips, daffodils, azaleas, snow drops, and dandelions. Not necessarily in that order and welcoming additions or substitutions. Indeed, any flower will work just as long as you bring the considering. This can be done from an upright stance. However, you should not be shy of bending, bowing, squatting, kneeling, sitting, crouching, or prostrate postures as each particular floral array inspires. And do remember considerations beyond the visual. While I would not recommend the gustatory as a matter of course (unless you’ve, for example, discovered honeysuckle), the olfactory and tactile stand to greatly broaden your delight. Further, though perhaps unprofitable, the aural can’t hurt. 

Now about the birds of the air. To begin, I’d recommend finding at least a few swirling turkey vultures about their rounds of blue. You want to observe from afar, distant enough that their bald heads blend into the dark whole of their bodies’ dip and glide. Careful: you can strain your neck and eyes gazing up for too long. Take breaks. And be sure to avoid staring straight into the sun. Of course, you know this. But it is possible to mesmerize yourself to the point that, forgetting how extreme brightness hurts, you follow the rhythmic curl of the birds too far into the light. Also, crows, cardinals, robins, blue birds, sparrows, grackles, starlings, even little flitters and woodpeckers in a pinch–you get the picture–are perfectly suitable for contemplation. 

[Keep in mind geography to a large extent dictates the flora and fauna available for this part of the preparation. Adjust as necessary.]

Now you should know, or have a healthy suspicion about at least two things. First, whatever difference unnoticed observing makes upon the external world is rather impossible for the observer (sans elaborate laboratory equipment) to measure. But the internal shifts–the increased presence, a sense of opening, renewed possibility blooming alongside fresh humility–are (hopefully) apparent. Second, God’s glory lurks in all that is. 

At this point, you may be ready (though, if you’re not ready, that’s completely ok, it is possible to repeat the above as many times as you require) to begin collecting words, music, silence, action, stillness, or groans too deep for language. These will be the raw material of the vigil. If the sheer vastness of potential material feels overwhelming, I’d suggest starting with the Psalms. There is also the rest of scripture, some traditional canticles, hymns, poetry, etc. And, you might simply begin where, holding as much of life and death as you can bear, your pen on paper starts to etch a prayer. 

From here, the keeping watch, remaining wakeful, crying out through long hours, being with, chasing justice, seeking peace, listening, and listening again are all rather personal and communal matters unique to each vigil’s precipitating context. Naturally, the Spirit will guide you as you allow. 

Note: for more materials consider fire, water, ash, incense, dance, and perhaps a procession. 

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