Early in Lent I participated in the monthly Taize worship at the Hermitage, in Michigan. We gathered in the chapel with the chairs set up in two tiers circling a cross which hung in the middle of the room, over a center arrangement with trays of sand, a Christ candle, and small prayer candles.
We sang the simple Taize songs over and over, sometimes accompanied by piano, sometimes by cello or flute or harp, till they had sunk deep within, quieting and centering us. Some were familiar to me from other settings: “Come and pray in us,” “Bless the Lord.” We sang, and quieted our souls, and slowly people began going to the center, lighting a candle, praying for awhile and then placing the candle in the sand and returning to their seats.
For an intercession song, we sang #22 in the Taize song book:
By your cross and all the wounds you suffered,
grant us freedom in your love.
I found this echoing with my reading of Julian’s showings of Christ’s Passion, and of the deep message of love she felt. Our cross was empty, two branches stripped of their bark and roped together. But there was a discoloration on the side facing me that looked like the face of someone crying out or weeping, hand to cheek. And across the room, on the opposite wall, there was a crucifix, with Christ on the cross, and beside it, an icon of Christ the Light-Giver. I found my gaze going to the cross behind the head on the icon, to the crucifix, to the crying face on the cross of bare branches.
And in that space I held awareness of a number of people I know who are suffering – living with cancer or chronic disease, the loss of a loved one, depression, the breakdown of relationship. I went up to light my candle and to hold that in prayer at the foot of the cross.
We moved in to an extended time of silence before singing “When the night becomes dark, your love, O Lord, is a fire,” watching the flames of the candles flicker as others came forward to add another candle. And we sang “We adore you, Jesus Christ, and we bless your holy name, truly your cross and passion bring us life and healing.”
That one I will continue to ponder. The resurrection and its hope of healing and restoration, yes – but what of the cross and Christ’s Passion? How do I understand this gift of love? Understand, not in the sense of worrying about which theological interpretation of atonement I can assent to, but rather understand and receive at the heart level, as Julian so clearly did.
As I ponder, another visual memory stirs. Years ago I attended an Interplay workshop at Bethany Theological Seminary. In their lovely wood-floored chapel, we did hand dances, moved and played, told big body stories, sometimes all together, sometimes just a few of us. For one session, Cynthia Winton-Henry read the story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha, and then put on some lively music. I watched as Martha after Martha sprang up, energetically moving, stirring, dancing around.
Then one male dancer stretched out on the floor, on his side, with one hand reaching towards the cross on the wall across the room, and with intense focus, began pushing himself with his other arm, a slow, silent, straight route through all the lively dancers, to the foot of the cross, where he rested, hand open and outstretched.
Like the dancer, like Mary, like Julian, like those praying at the Taize service, on this Holy Saturday I can continue to bring my prayers to the foot of the cross, my own and my intercessory prayers.
And a different sort of flame lifted my prayers this morning, as I walked the Stations of the Cross at Pathways Retreat Center -- the flame of sunlight and new plant growth.
"Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
I've taken on a prayer practice of looking for the moments of light in each day, whether actual or metaphorical, and then writing or posting photos of what I find.