It is beautiful and silent—so silent that you might not believe the feed is live if not for the occasional flicker of a flame caused by one Benedictine nun of Tyburn convent moving in and bowing as she takes her place before the Blessed Sacrament, while another bows and takes her leave.
And then, of course, there is the perpetual movement of light and shadow as the day progresses—another reminder that the image on your monitor is not a static photograph, but something alive, being transmitted via “live feed” directly to where you are. To where each of us are. Whatever is happening within the mysterious waves and crackles of electricity—a live energetic force that few of us really understand—what it is being delivered to us in real time is access to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, adorned in a monstrance and situated in a monastic chapel in the busy (but not today) and noisy (but not this week) city of London, which is suddenly very near to New York.
God lives outside of time and space, and in these strange days of quarantine and isolation and limitation, it feels a little bit like we do too. Those unaccustomed to working from home have the disorienting sense of keeping silence when they would normally speak, of hours running into themselves without distinction until they become something streamlined and surprising. Some are working when they ordinarily would not, because they’ve lost track of time, or what day it is.
The reality that time is a construct has never felt more certain. It is noon and I am working in a home office, on Long Island; I am also in England, where it is six o’clock in the evening. I have suddenly transcended time and space and met Christ Jesus where he is at; where he has been waiting for me to show up and watch with him for the sake of so many, all around the world, who are currently inhabiting their own sort of Gethsemane.
Online Adoration is not a new thing. The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters have offered a sometimes choppy but continuous live stream of the Blessed Sacrament from their Philadelphia chapel for well over a decade, inviting the faithful, particularly those who are ill, housebound, stuck at work, or otherwise impeded from participating in a parish Holy Hour to avail themselves of the chance to see the Real Presence—and be moved to prayer and adoration—in the understanding that what is alive can travel along what is alive. In this case, an eternal force is borne upon an eternal force to bring us the closest thing to actually “being there.”
Watching Mass online or on television is no substitute for fully present participation, but it is not wholly without value either, as it helps us to find God in the midst of chaos and then enjoy the great consolation that is the fruit of prayerful worship and spiritual communion. It is the same with online Adoration; whatever it lacks in full physicality and presence, it is nevertheless able to pull our hearts toward prayer, toward loving Christ and our fellows with a singular sort of focus. It makes us grateful to have something in a time of almost nothing. It makes us yearn for the day when we might once again visit a church that is alight with both candles and the transcendent beam of power that radiates from the Eucharistic Host, that we might prostrate ourselves in humble adoration and supplication.
Until that time—and please, God, hasten the day—I am finding it tremendously helpful to keep my second monitor opened to the Tyburn convent feed, even as I work. There is something comforting about reading the terrible headlines we are all confronting—stories of illness or death, or fear, or shortages, or feckless sorts who would exploit such a tenuous time for their own gain—and being able to pause and gaze at Christ, over there in London, and take a minute to offer a prayer (and rest in his peaceful presence a bit) before turning again to read this or edit that.
Working before the Blessed Sacrament is by no means disrespectful, particularly not if one is inviting Christ into one’s work, asking him to open one’s eyes that we might read with wisdom, write with empathy and a heart attentive to his promptings. As I work I will glance to my left, sometimes so struck by the new placement of the shadows that I am brought back into time—sometimes so overwhelmed by beauty that I am sent completely out of it, recalling one of the vesper antiphons from the Liturgy of the Hours: Yours is more than mortal beauty; every word you speak is full of grace.
Pope Saint John Paul was famous for doing a great deal of his writing before the Blessed Sacrament in the papal chapel. In his 2002 message for the 36th World Communications Day, he recognized the internet’s capacity to “radically redefine a person’s psychological relationship to time and space.”
As I am writing this, I spy from the corner of my eye some movement over there, on the other side of the ocean, and pause to watch the hands of a nun as a candle flame is refreshed. In that moment we are connected over time and space, this anonymous nun and I. She doesn’t know I’m there, that I’ve been praying with her and her sisters throughout the course of this day. I have no idea who she is, either, or what she looks like, but we are strangely and truly united. She is voluntarily removed from the world—a grille separating her from others so that the powerhouse of prayer in which she has found her calling may operate without interruption, for the sake of her community and the whole world. I am involuntarily isolated as I practice social distancing for the sake of my community and the whole world. We are singularly together in our purpose of adoration and prayer as we work within our spheres, and I am so grateful to realize it, and to implore and adore and keep a prayerful watch with these silent, unseen women so faraway, yet so near.