Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est

Where there is charity and love, God is there.

We were married on April 26, 2014 at All Saints Pasadena. Our procession was led by the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace. Later, after The Rev. Susan Russell accepted our declarations of consent and our rector, The Rev. Ed Bacon, accepted our solemn vows, we were blessed.

Blessed by the church, yes. But also and as importantly, we were blessed by the cloud of witnesses who were present around us, who enfolded us in their love, support, and encouragement. In the congregation were family, friends, and even more people of the cloth, including friends Rev. Wilma Jakobsen and Prof. H Adam Ackley. We were raised high by the Holy Spirit to unite our flames and create more Light to shine around us.

I didn't read Susan's blog post This is the Day the Lord Has Made until the next day. The next day happened to also be the day we held a celebration memorial for Stephen's brother -- my brother-in-law who passed on two weeks exactly before the wedding day. I read her blog that morning and it set my wheels turning.

We celebrate God and each other when love each other, when we give of ourselves. Our church, our friends, and our families gave their blessing to us. On our knees at the altar, we felt the gift of life and strength on our shoulders, in our hands, on our head. When we celebrated Tim's life, we accepted his gift of love, sensitivity, and personal commitment to honesty.

Giving and loving. What a blessing our world is when the Holy Spirit shines bright in all God's children. It makes no sense to restrict this to the few. Grace is there for us and we can't decide who gets it and who doesn't. We can only love. And give.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 14 - Jesus is laid in the tomb

When Jesus is finally placed in the tomb, he was dead. His mother, whom he handed over to John's care, most likely grieved for her son the carpenter. As in a funeral procession, we  walked through the stations of the cross following Jesus until he is placed in the tomb.

This Michaelangelo piece, one of my favorites, laments the broken body of Jesus. Yet it is the women, and possibly Mary, who are the first to find Jesus's body missing on the third day. On that Easter day, Mary and the women don't understand yet that Jesus has risen. They're still wracked in sorrow, as depicted in this statue. But from this limp body comes new life, new hope.

I lost my soon-to-be brother-in-law this past week. It's been a highly emotional affair, and we wept over his passing. We grieved like the women of Jerusalem. We wiped his brow like Veronica. But Easter approaches, and moreover, I have a wedding in a week. Timothy would have walked down the aisle in the procession, but though he won't be physically able to do so any more, in our hearts, like in Mary's, he lives on. In our tears, we await the coming dawn, when life blooms once more.

May your journey to Easter, possibly filled with hunger and pain, be awash in love and hope, for you, for your family, and for all who you love. God is love, and in love, Easter and new life become present among us.

"Pieta" St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Oct 2009

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 13 - Jesus is taken down from the cross

This statue is actually several pieces embedded into the ground. It suggests a much larger sculpture than is actually observable above ground.

When Jesus's body is taken down from the cross, do we really see everything there? Based on the Passion, not really. Not yet. We see his hands, his body, his face. But we don't really see the big picture yet.

I see this figure to represent the huge problem of bringing down the dead body of Jesus. We think we know what happened, but much is really not yet visible. And even when it becomes visible, we may play the part of Thomas and doubt what we are seeing.

As Good Friday rolls in, we may be in grief, but let's not forget that we are asked to always be alert, to always be on watch. For Jesus's body may be laid low, but more is yet to come.

"The Awakening" by J Seward Johnson Jr, at National Harbor, MD, April 2011.

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 12 - Jesus dies on the cross

This piece is called the "Tree of Life". I intentionally use it as a contrast to the title of this station, "Jesus dies on the cross". Life and death, love and hate, fear and faith - distinctly opposite concepts but highly interconnected.

A favorite hymn that I sing every Good Friday at my All Saints Pasadena Episcopal Church choir is "Were you there?" The words are:
Were you there when they crucified my Lord
Were you there when they crucified my Lord
Ohhhh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Were you there when they crucified my Lord
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree
Ohhhh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
Ohhhh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
It's highly emotional, highly charged. I am holding back tears every time I sing it. And yet, as Christ dies, hope lives. We may be distraught, but hope lives on. We know where the story goes and we look forward to Easter.

So I share this photo of the Tree of Life. For as Jesus died on a cross, on sweet wood or dulce lignum, we know that in his death, we will have life.

This Chihuly was at the San Francisco Legion of Honor (San Franisco, July 2003)

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 11 - Jesus is nailed to the cross

This Rodin statue is in front of the Norton Simon Museum here in Pasadena California. It depicts the amazing offer of martyrdom by the burgers (councilmen) of Calais, to save the citizens from invasion and slaughter. (Pasadena, December 1997)

Countless people have been martyred for the benefit of others. The burgers of Calais show their love of others by placing the lives of their fellow citizens first. Jesus's death benefited all, regardless of who we are, what we have, who we know, or where we came from. Christ was crucified for us all. He too stood heroically in the face of death.

Many people, myself included, wear crosses around our necks. I fear that for many, the symbol has been neutered of its power. Christ's crucifixion is a powerful example of heroism and sacrifice. I pray that we remember that always.

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 10 - Jesus is stripped of his garments

When "Jesus is stripped of his garments" it brings to my mind a loss of humanity, a dehumanizing, bestial treatment lacking in dignity. He was treated as an animal, as animals don't wear clothing.

The holocaust memorial in SF strikes me as rather similar in its depiction because it shows how truly awful we can be when we don't treat each other as children of God. When we forget that we are all humans, we cage and fence people, and ignore the rotting bodies lying around us. 

May we always find God in every person we meet.

This artwork is The Holocaust Memorial by George Segal at the San Francisco Legion of Honor (San Franisco, July 2003)

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 9 - Jesus falls a third time

The fall of the angel, brought low by the serpent, isn't one that immediately made me think of this station. But it did strike me that Jesus, on his third fall, fell like a man and like a man was going to perish by the same evil that the serpent represents. Even an angel can be brought down. So went Jesus, down for the last time, a seeming fall from grace, but in doing so demonstrating his connection with humanity.

This statue of the fallen angel is in a park in Madrid (Spain, June 1986)

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 8 - Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

The women of Jerusalem station has always seemed intriguing. He met the women there on the streets, but what of it? What was the consequence? The description of the station does not say what happens. He just meets them.

I believe they showed support, love, devotion, and adoration. Like these women making offerings to the Buddha, the women of Jerusalem probably expressed their sadness at Jesus's plight but nonetheless loved him.

These statues are in front of the giant Buddha Tian Tan on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, the fog and impending rain creating a reverent and mystical air. (Hong Kong, April 2013)

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 7 - Jesus falls for the second time

Jesus falling down is not a passive event. It was quite active because his fall was part of an intended result.

He was sentenced to die. When he falls, it's because the system, the people, the world turned on him. Christ falls because he was brought down. In Chinese mythology, the lion represents the Emperor. In my mind when using this statue in this photoessay, the Empire brings down Jesus, tearing his flesh and meat.

This statue is in the Louvre Museum, Paris (October, 2003)

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 6 - Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

This nurse and soldier may be one of my favorite memorials for veterans. I found the overlap with "Veronica wipes the face of Jesus" to be quite stirring. It is the compassionate heart that reaches out to the person in distress and helps him. Veronica represents mercy and love incarnate. Here before the nurse is a soldier, possibly the enemy. It's unclear because the soldier is unclothed. That does not warrant the refusal of assistance.

Jesus wept and bled. He suffered from the pain and weight of the cross. Yet we are given an example of kindness and mercy. May we as a people show the same for those in we find in similar situations, whether they be friend or foe.

The statue is from ANZAC Square in Brisbane, Australia (October, 2004)

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 5 - Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross

Statue is the "He's not heavy, he's my brother" statue from Boy's Town in Omaha, Nebraska (August 2008) 

He's not heavy. He's my brother. Simon doesn't let the weight of the cross scare him away. Nor does he have a familiar relationship with Jesus. He helped Jesus without being asked. Likewise, these orphan boys in this statue may or may not be actual brothers. But they are brothers in heart, in spirit, in humanity. Like Simon, we can ignore the weight if we love each other as brothers.

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 4 - Jesus meets his mother

I doubt the Virgin Mary was this calm during the Passion. But I also feel that her love and devotion graced her with the light from the heavens. Whether she cried and felt weak or she stood strong beside Jesus in his final hours, we shall never know. But inside, I feel she wanted to be present for him in all her love.

Statue is of the Virgin Mary at St Eustache Church in Paris, taken on a trip in July 2009.

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 3 - Jesus falls for the first time

Statue is the head of the Pharaoh Ramses after it had fallen down at some point, in Abu Simbel, Egypt (January 2012). The photo was taken a week before the Eyptian revolution began. People were upset and in a mood for change. What nobody knew was that the entire Egyptian political system was about to collapse.

So we found that the pharoah head had fallen, just as Egypt's president (or head) was about to fall. And, as we progress from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we see this head laid low. This statue's head, however, is made of stone and dust, and from this dust it shall return. Jesus fell for the first time, but his glory returns and continues. Like Jesus, we get surprised by sudden falls and changes, but the promise that Jesus brings to us endures.

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 2 - Jesus carries his cross

The photo was taken in the garden of the Rodin Museum in Paris on a 2000 trip. This figure is actually an extract and enlargement from the astonishing Gates of Hell piece. He is one of the three spirits looking down, but set apart, it looks like he carries that invisible burden. 

To me, that burden looks like an invisible cross. As I walk the stations, I think about the crosses we all bear. Some are apparent and quite noticeable. Others are obscured, hidden, almost undetectable. Almost. What cannot be seen still distorts and causes us to misshapen over in agony. Jesus carried the cross for us so that we don't have to endure the trials on our own. Jesus carried the cross for us so that our burden would be lighter.

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 1 - Jesus is condemned to death

The noble class, whether in the West or the East, had the power to decide life and death. The absolute power may be moderated in some ways today, but the warrior mentality of holding down those who offer rebellious political stances remains: repress and condemn. But power weilded is often power siezed.

I show a statue from Japan in October 2012 that I found frightening. The samurai warrior clearly could dispose of life if it preserved the status quo.

Jesus posed a threat and was disposed. His judge and jury and people sentenced him to his tortured death.

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Stations of the Cross - Photoessay using Sculptures

As part of my Lenten prayers, I've been pondering the Stations of the Cross. Instead of using traditional art forms of the Passion itself, however, I chose to apply some of the artistic works that I've seen through the years.

So this year, I'm using sculptures and statues to convey the way the Stations of the Cross resonate with me. I invite you to join me on this photoessay adventure. And, I hope, the metaphor and emotional connections I'm making will find some place in your mind and heart.

The Stations of the Cross (or Way of the Cross, or Via Crucis, or Via Dolorosa) refers to a devotional depiction of the final hours of Christ. Though the statues I photographed aren't specifically of Jesus, I hope that the Passion that Christ endured will become apparent.

Stations of the Cross Photoessay - 1 - Jesus is condemned to death >