Stations of the Cross

Easter Sunday is almost here. It is the culmination of Holy Week for Christians and the day of the year that fills church pews, brings out bonnets and chocolate bunnies and colorful spring flowers, organizes Easter egg hunts and feasts of food. But it is Good Friday which distinguishes itself in liturgy and worship. Good Friday is heavy. It’s solemn and mournful. In most Christian denominations, Good Friday services mean clergy and acolytes dressed in solid black vestments, plain wooden crosses, bare bones altars stripped of adornments, no uttered Hallelujahs or friendly glad-handing. Many people attend church to experience a day of joyful worship. Good Friday is not that day.

I’m aware that readers of this blog comprise various religious beliefs and lack of religious beliefs entirely. It’s all good. I would point out, however, that Good Friday presents timeless subjects that any thoughtful person might contemplate in their moments of deep reflection, awareness, and questioning; the execution of an innocent man, the corruption of political and religious authorities, the menace of a raging, bloodthirsty mob.

Good Friday service at my church, with our priest Father Laurence Byrne:

An integral part of Good Friday services is Stations of the Cross, in which worshippers follow Jesus’ harrowing path from his death decree ordered by Pontius Pilate, to his crucifixion, to his burial, and stop for prayer at each point. Churches display plaques, relief sculptures, paintings, crosses, or any artwork to mark each station. At my church, All Saints Episcopal Church in Queens, NY, our stations are marked by framed drawings created by our church’s children over the years. And they are superb. I thought I’d share some of them here for my Easter blog post. Sometimes I feel like I admire children’s artwork more than any Rembrandt or Degas.

I offer my warmest wishes for a blessed Easter, blessed Passover, and restorative spring season! May you all rejoice in new life, new birth, grace, and salvation.

Love one another …

Always,
Claudia

Becoming Found

Greetings friends. I hope this blog post finds you well, at peace, and still joyful from the holiday season. Monday night, I attended Christmas Eve services at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s east side. Ten years ago my presence at that church, or any church, would have been highly improbable. On several occasions on this blog and in my other writings, I have alluded to, even discussed a bit, the “dark” stage of my life; my struggles with depression and anxiety, my exasperating inability to find peace and personal fulfillment, and my difficulty coping with losses and emotional pain.

As I walked toward St. Bart’s on that chilly, rainy night, my mind, my soul – my entire being – became swelled with thoughts; thoughts of how my life’s journey has unfolded over my 44 years, where I’ve been, where I am now, and where I might be going. I thought also of the grave plight of my fellow Christians in the Middle East and how the Western world is willfully turning a blind eye to their persecution. I thought of people everywhere; the ambitious, the destitute, the brave, and the misguided.  My heart began to ache, and part of me wanted to fall to my knees and kiss the pavement of Park Avenue.

Inside St. Bart’s, a magnificent structure of Byzantine architecture, the pews were filled to capacity with New Yorkers who came to worship. Our voices and the voices of choir members rang out like heavenly bells as we sang “O Come All Ye Faithful”, and the Rev. Buddy Stallings delivered a poignant sermon about hope and eternal light, about being lost and becoming found, and how even though we don’t always seek God, he always seeks us.

I never paid much mind to the notion of being “found” after having been lost, certainly not in the religious Christian sense. But it came to me, gradually, over the past several years. In fact, it snuck up on me and wove its way into my life in the most quiet, discreet way imaginable until I finally became aware of its presence and decided to pay attention. Consider it the slowest, steadiest blindside to ever take place.

Gouache sketch of me by Jonathan, created at Spring Studio:

IMG_5538

For those who care to listen for a brief eleven minutes, here is Rev. Buddy Stallings’ Christmas Eve sermon, aptly titled “Forever Light”. And I invite all of you to share in the comments any creation – book excerpt, sermon, poem, article, work of art, piece of music – that holds for you the answers to your spiritual questions, gives you hope, or best reveals your understanding of life’s purpose. I’d be honored to read your contributions.

Abundant blessings to each and every one of you. Let’s meet here one more time before 2012 comes to an end. See you Monday, friends!

Just Call Me a Neo-Pagan, Theravada Buddhist, Liberal Quaker

There’s a quiz on the website BeliefNet called “What Religion Am I?“. I like taking quizzes, I admit it. So I took the religion quiz and my results were very interesting! The number one result is the closest match to your beliefs and then the list goes down to include 26 other faiths, the ones at the bottom being the least compatible with your answers.

I took the quiz twice because I had some difficulty with the first few questions and wanted to mull over those tough ones and try again. The later questions I found very easy, so I was able to answer them quickly and confidently, the exact same answers both times. My results from the two tests varied just slightly. The first test put me as a Neo-Pagan in the number one spot which actually surprised me. Then a Theravada Buddhist, then a Liberal Quaker. Now most of you probably don’t know this but I attend silent worship at a Quaker meeting house on Sundays. Not every week, mind you, but I show up often enough to feel like a regular participant. I am “Friend” Claudia 🙂

On the second test, Theravada Buddhist knocked Neo-Pagan out of the number one spot. Woo hoo! Then Unitarian Universalism came out of nowhere to occupy number two. Then Neo-Pagan again. And then Liberal Quaker at number four. The only results that didn’t change were the bottom three – the faiths least compatible with my spiritual beliefs. They were Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Jehovah’s Witness. Can’t say I’m shocked by any of those.

The middle section was pretty bizarre. Jainism ranked higher than Secular Humanism. Taosim beat out Hinduism. Judaism, both Reformed and Orthodox, didn’t fare too well generally. But here’s the kicker, something that literally caused me to burst into laughter. On a list of 27 total, Scientology came in at number 18!!!! WTF?????? 😯 That’s ahead of Baha’i, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventist, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, and Conservative Protestants. Look, I have no problem accepting my lack of spiritual compatibility with Mormons, or any of those others, but how am I closer to Scientologists?? Granted, the percentage difference was small, but still!

Whatever, it’s just a silly online quiz and it’s fun. Right now I’m enjoying the strong presence of Neo-Paganism on my test results. I knew a girl once who was a Wiccan and I could barely have a conversation with her. Strange chick. But I guess I shouldn’t let one individual warp my perception. Besides, she wasn’t a high priestess like me 😉

The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse:

Martyrdom

Happy All Saints Day, everyone!!!!!!

:silence:

Ahem. I SAID . . . Happy All Saints Day, everyone!!

:sigh:

Hello? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Okay, so I forgot to post something for Halloween and now I’m trying to compensate by drumming up excitement for All Saints Day. After all, today is November 1st, a sacred and spiritual day in western Christian tradition that most people overlook. Probably because there’s no candy involved.

But you know what? I don’t care. I’m gonna go ahead and acknowledge All Saints Day. Fuck Halloween. <— that's right, I said it. Halloween is nothing more than an opportunity for the neighborhood kids to throw eggs and shaving cream at peoples' houses and steal pumpkins off front stoops. The latter actually happened to me, can you believe it? I came home from work yesterday around 6:00 to discover that my big beautiful pumpkin had been snatched. Juvenile delinquents all of them 😆

Religion, especially Christianity, has inspired an enormous amount of great art. Too much to even comprehend. The canon of saints in particular has provided some truly stunning works, much of it created, not surprisingly, between the 15th and 17th centuries, when the Bible and religion was the dominant subject matter of many painters. I’ve selected just a few to showcase here but there are literally hundreds.

Saint Peter was one of Jesus’s earliest disciples and a major figure in Christian history. From the Greek painter El Greco, this is The Tears of Saint Peter from 1607:

elgreco-tears-stpeter

Saint Cecilia was the patron saint of musicians and church music. The female artist Artemisia Gentileschi painted a few versions of her. This one is titled St Cecilia Playing a Lute, 1616:

Gentileschi-cecilia

Even a non-devout person like myself has a “favorite” saint. Oh yes indeed. St. Francis of Assisi is my man because he was the patron saint of animals and spoke out for kindness and respect toward all our nonhuman friends on earth. His notable quote on the subject reads as follows:

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

My kind of guy 🙂 And based on this painting, he was pretty cute too! This excellent 1658 work is by Francisco Zurbarán:

Zurbaran-St_Francis_WGA

In a couple of weeks, on November 25th, Catholic churches will observe the Feast of Saint Catherine. A nice addition to the rituals and services of that day would be the inclusion of this magnificent painting by the great Caravaggio. Incredible values and composition, this is Saint Catherine:

Caravaggio_StCatherine

Paolo Veronese depicts a very intense scene here, one that really communicates the agony and suffering of a saint’s life. Year 1553, this is The Temptation of St Anthony:

veronese-stanthony

Auguste Rodin explored sainthood as well with his scuplture Saint John the Baptist Preaching:

rodin-preaching

I warmly invite my Catholic readers to comment and share the significance of the saints, a topic I’m certain you can all discuss much more articulately than me, as theology is not my strongest subject.

All Saints by Fra Angelico:

All-Saints

Peace and love to all . . . of all faiths and non-faiths.

Claudia
xo