The Veil

I’ve just started reading a collection of essays in the journal, Oneing, a biannual publication through the Center of Action and Contemplation. The Contributors for Oneing always come from varied backgrounds in ethnicity, religion, upbringing, occupation, etc. The theme of this issue is ‘Unveiled’. Fr. Richard Rohr writes in the introduction,

“Today, ‘apocalyptic’ means catastrophic, huge, disastrous, of Biblical significance, etc. It is never something good. However, this is different than how I understand the word from my own scriptural education.

The Greek word apocalypsis literally means to unveil something and thus to reveal its true form and colors. … One classic image of being unveiled occurs in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s dog, Toto, pulls back the curtain on the poor old Wizard, showing Dorothy and the others what is really going on behind the scenes. Toto reveals nothing sinister or menacing at all, just a big, “Oh!”’

Kim here again. Each essayist in Oneing writes of a time when they experienced an apocalyptic moment, an unveiling that revealed something deeper. One, Timothy Shriver-yes, of that Shriver family-writes of his unveiling on the subject of bullying and how his eyes were opened. Another writes of waiting, and waiting … and waiting literally for days on a bird-watching trek and what deeper truth he experienced when the elusive bird never did show up.

As I read the essays the word ‘veil’ kept tweaking my ear. Those in my critique groups know when I say something tweaks my ear it means the word or phrase catches my attention and bears further scrutiny. I’ve been intrigued by Rohr’s definition of apocalypse and unveiling since I first read it several years ago, but this week, as we enter Lent, the image of a veil led me down rabbit holes and to experience my own ‘Oh!’ moment.

From little up I’ve heard and read of the veil or curtain in the Temple tearing at the death of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each reference it in their gospels. I knew the Temple curtain separated the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, from the rest of the Temple. As one resource said, it formed a barrier between those who were deemed worthy to enter the inner chamber from those who were deemed unworthy. And I understood the meaning of the tearing of the veil, that the barrier no longer existed. It was as if God was saying, ‘Come to me!’

So, while I was familiar with the spiritual and symbolic understanding, what I never really knew or maybe paid much attention to was the physical description of the curtain. I hear the word ‘veil’ and I think of something gauzy, light, flowy-like a wedding veil or the tulle or netting of a woman’s hat. That wasn’t the case at all. It was about 60 feet long, from top to bottom, and some references say it was 4” thick, or a man’s hand-breadth thick. Most other references dispute that thickness, but the length is consistent. It was woven with fine linen and either threads of blue, scarlet, and purple, or blue and scarlet to give the appearance of purple. ‘And it shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim.’ By all accounts the veil was beautiful, impressive, luxuriant and heavy. I imagine sitting in front of that curtain and I see the large heavy stage curtains in my old high school auditorium or those that hang in the Belk or Ohio Theaters. They aren’t light and gauzy! Having been on the ‘outside’ of those curtains during performances, I get an idea of how much of a barrier the curtain must have been in the Temple. Did it block out sounds as well as the sight of the Ark of the Covenant?

How shocking and apocalyptic it must have felt on seeing that curtain torn, and everything behind it revealed. I wonder what I would have thought, after being excluded from the inner sanctum all my life, to suddenly-instantaneously-be beckoned and welcomed into that chamber. Scared? Hesitant? Unbelieving? Excited? Definitely in awe.

When I was in elementary school and received ashes on Ash Wednesday there was the admonishment not to rub them off once they were on; I was to let them wear off on their own. In my young mind there was a real dilemma about washing my face the next day – was I allowed to wash the ashes off if they’d not rubbed off on my pillow during the night? Should I have slept on my back all night so they didn’t rub off? Now that I’m older I don’t think so much about those kinds of things. This Lent I’ll keep in mind the image of the Temple veil, its real and symbolic weight, and be more attentive to moments of unveiling.

Spring is arriving in the Carolinas! I hope in your area too.

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2 Responses to The Veil

  1. The wonder of words. Hmmm…I typo’d works.

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