Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Picturing a Scary Love

Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit works tricks on me, because She likes to throw coincidences at me that catch me by surprise, leaving me to wonder what I'm supposed to make of things. Two different sets of coincidences in two days make me think, "ok, someone's trying to get me to think about this."

The first coincidence was on Sunday afternoon. Kristen Johannesen, an artist friend, had an exhibition going on at the Avenue 50 gallery in now trendy Highland Park, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. She and I were very close in high school and so I wanted to see her latest work. And, for some reason, perhaps because I knew he lived near there, I invited another high school friend, Glenn. Now, it wasn't planned, but Glenn and Kristen were influential in getting me to see photography as something as other than poorly cropped, overly posed family photos. They were particularly skilled in black and white photos and I learned much from them through the years.

I would have gone into the gallery but there was a poetry reading going on so I thought I'd wait outside. I paced a little. I watched the Gold Line metro go by a couple times. Then I decided to stand at the doorway and listen to the poetry. And I was stunned.

In the main gallery, there was a sign that said "Viva Las Fotos - A Memorial for Laura Aguilar", along with a photo of Laura. Laura's a friend from All Saints Pasadena, a brilliant photographer who died earlier this year. Her memorial in church was just one month ago.

I had first met her years ago, when she and I would set up the Taize service. She never talked about her profession. She would set the candles on the table and sat with us as we prayed, sang, and worshiped together. And one time, when I was taking photos of the candles, she adjusted them for me so that I would have a better shot. And another she asked if I could help her get the candles in just the right positions for her perfect photos. And they were beautiful. They were beautiful because she's a gifted photographer who until that day was just my friend Laura. Since then, I learned from others that her work has been shown in famous galleries and the tips she had been giving me were like private lessons from a master.

The main room of Avenue 50 Studio was filled with homages to Laura, created by other artists. And another room held some of her work from 1990 that had been filed away and forgotten. And there was a beautiful Dia de los Muertos ofrenda for her.

As I walked through the gallery with Kristen and Glenn, it occurred to me that perhaps the three who gave me the most guidance on photography were in the same space. The veil between the physically present and the spiritually present was remarkably sheer that afternoon. Laura was smiling at us from another level and it was a soothing balm to the grief.

Then yesterday, I was working away and popped a couple videos to play in the background. One was "Addams Family Values", one of many of my regular flicks we watch as Halloween approaches. It's a movie that juxtaposes unconventional (ok, amusingly scary) love and affection against what's expected from us. It's subversive, ironic, and a great way to celebrate the different faces of love.

After I finished working, I sat down to watch "Coco". This Dia de los Muertos movie came out last year, a celebration of family, love, and the timelessness of unity. My face was awash in tears, which happens whenever I watch it. I mean, the abuela look just like my own grandmothers!

Then before I walked over to an evening meeting, I took a look at this week's lectionary. It happened to be from the Gospel of John - the story of Lazarus and Jesus raising him from the "stink of death".

I couldn't help but reflect on this second set of coincidences. I just watched two movies, ostensibly about Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, but were about unifying love that goes beyond the living, lies outside the pace of the regular world, explores family and death. And now I'm thinking of Lazarus, his family, and the love that brought Lazarus back to life. It was a quiet, pensive walk that made me think of the concept of contrasts. And I found myself taking photos of images that made me think about juxtaposed, jarring contrasts.

There was a time when I'd laugh off a coincidence or two. But the ones from the past couple days, well, I think I was meant to reflect on them instead. Love, friends, and family eventually confront death. Death can be scary. Death can push away. Death can cause denial.

But death can also just be one scary moment, a blip in an endless timeline. We fear the loss, but that loss is effectively illusory. In love, in believing in love, in giving in to love, we can salve the hurts and walk out of our dark caves, into a timeless unity.

May your Halloween give way to a celebration of the love and spirits of all the souls and saints in your life. May that celebration be a picture that you can place in the ofrenda within you.

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