Category: Dialog

Triptych Chaplains, or, Some Parts of BCT Didn’t Suck

Two years is a long time.

Or, on the other hand, it can pass in the blink of an eye and you realize that you haven’t updated your blog with anything that resembles consistency. The latter is true for me, dear readers. There have been so many changes in my life recently and my wife and I are still getting ready for more. So many changes that change seems to be our new normal.

There are probably too many changes to describe in a single post. Probably too many changes to update you in a series of blog posts. So I’m not going to do that. The name of this blog is based on the story from the book of Ezekiel where the prophet watches the Lord reanimate his people. So the blog itself is supposed to be telling the story of resurrection that I witness. Therefor, I’m going to do my best with that by just jumping in.


In the middle of August, I graduated from Army Basic Combat Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri (for those among you, dear readers, who did not know, I joined the Minnesota Army National Guard). Spending my summer in Missouri was rough. Spending my summer in Missouri, getting yelled at constantly by a cadre of drill sergeants sucked. In fact, that reality of Army training is why this place is affectionately referred to as Ft. Lost in the Woods, in the state of Misery… however, one of the best phrases that I’ve encountered is that it sucks to do Basic, but it’s awesome to have it done. By any means, though, I graduated. I made it through.

And one of the chief reasons why I made it through was that I had a tight group of guys from my training company who went to church every Sunday. We’d each put on our best/cleanest/least annihilated set of ACUs (the modern version of camouflaged fatigues) and march off to church when our denomination or religion was called. Some guys ended up using church as a time to grab some shut-eye, some guys used it as a time to write some letters home.

On the one hand, church was difficult because we were in between full-time chaplains and we had a string of fill-in priests. Some of them were really engaging, some not so much. I must admit that I was in such a state of perpetual exhaustion that I may have nodded off a few times with the priests whose sermons were particularly dry. But by the end of the cycle, a couple of weeks before I graduated, we ended up with a chaplain named Fr. Yerba.

I wish I had had my phone with me and that I could have had a picture with this guy (actually, I wish that I had pictures on my phone from a lot of things I did and saw at Leonard Wood, but OPSEC). I guess I’m just lucky that the Ft. Leonard Wood Religious Support has a robust Facebook page:

Fr. Yerba is a wonderful Filipino guy, plenty of prior service experience, a very engaging speaker and very excited about certain things. He is excited about our service and he is excited about the Eucharist. And one day, as I was watching, it was as if this guy turned into a triptych icon.

Triptychs, good triptychs, are breathtaking. More than just taking sets of three art pieces and throwing them together, good triptychs are designed with three panels that interact in such a way to be more than the sum of their parts. They are truly elevating and beautiful. So you may imagine my surprise when I discovered a real-life triptych in front of me, at Fort Lost in the Woods, of all places.

Again, I am very grateful to the
  FLW Religious Support Facebook page. This picture is
from another blessing in the Soldier Memorial
Chapel on base. I was not at this liturgy, but they’re the same
banners that were used for Sunday mass. 

This felt like a transcendent moment, because I saw these three images, side by side, and they were all images of the same truth. It made me feel like I was witnessing the Transfiguration.

If you can see it clearly enough in the picture to the right, there were two banners on either side of the altar. One was the Agnus Dei, the image of the lamb of God, and the other was the kairo, the “p” looking thing superimposed on the “x” looking thing. Both of these had golden rays streaming down from them.

To explain the importance of these, let me say that the lamb of God image is what we reference when we talk about the sacrifice in the Eucharist; just like in the Hebrew Passover, there is a sacrificial lamb that is offered up. And meanwhile the kairo is actually two Greek letters, a chi and a rho, which together are the first two letters of the Greek word Christos. The kairo image thus indicated an anointed status, as well as indicating something about lordship.

You can see that these two banners are beautiful; they are simple and radiant, gold image on a white banner. And what I saw between them was the consecrated host, held aloft by Fr. Yerba, with a golden chalice beneath it. The circular images of the banners echoed the circular host, the Body of Christ broken for us, and the golden rays of the banners seemed a sorry imitation of the chalice, holding the precious Blood of Christ shed for us.

It only lasted a moment. I saw it, and then the mass moved on. But I felt like I should play the part of Peter from the Transfiguration, saying “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

No, there was no need for me to try to capture something so ethereal but so transcendent. Even if I had been allowed to have my phone, I would have been to slow to take a picture of when it happened. And even though I tried to write home and tell my wife about it, I failed miserably to compel her to understand what I saw. Hopefully this run at it helps you appreciate the vision I want to share.

~ ~ ~


Have you ever had these kinds of transcendent experiences at church? Do you owe something to an Army chaplain? Please tell me in the comments below! Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Twitter or Facebook! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!

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