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25 April 2011

A Lenten Journey on the Road

This year I walked the way of the cross a long way from home. I found it easier to keep my Lenten commitments so far from my ordinary life. It's not that there were not temptations in my journeying-place. Perhaps it was that they were different temptations, ones that did not call me from my practices in the same ways as did the old familiar temptations.
I did struggle with the austerity of Lent in a place bursting with life and color and sun for which winter was only a brief series of passing rainstorms. I did not know how much I associated my North American winter with Lent.
On Palm Sunday I found myself in a place that could have supplied its own palms for that first Palm Sunday. I imagined the children and young men skinnying up those palm trees and pulling down branches, throwing them to the rest of us. In fact we walked on them on our way into the church. That moved me in a way none of my winter-turned-spring Palm Sundays at home ever have.
Then came the dark days of Triduum. Yet the days were not dark. The sun shone and the flowers bloomed and the birds sang. And the skies were blue. And the ocean lapped softly (and not so softly as the waves crashed on the rocks). I burned bundles of frankincense to remind myself of the sacrifice I was commemorating. I dressed in black. I entered the most austere phase of my Lenten fast. And still felt the joy of this beautiful place and I felt guilt for feeling that joy.
I remember walking the Way of Sorrows last year in Jerusalem. We walked through a busy market place, buying and selling, people everywhere, children running, men drinking coffee, women shopping - it was an outdoor mall. Stopping to touch the stones pray and remember while all around us life went on - very much as I imagine it had on that Friday two thousand years ago - was dizzying and somber. I felt like a spectacle and a tourist and a pilgrim. (I took the photo of the cross on top of the Golgotha church from the place where it is said Jesus would have first seen the place of his execution with the cross-stake implanted in the ground.) I draw on that experience for these days.
Here we walked around the church and on the holy ground of the burying place, finishing our prayers in the columbarium chapel among the cremains of the faithful. The walls were draped with living-and-dying flowers, witnesses to and promises of the Resurrection that will be located partially in that holy space, the footstep of heaven. There was something so powerful about proclaiming the death of Jesus while surrounded by the holy dead.
The life and death of Jesus took place in the midst of a world of living and dying, rejoicing and suffering. The world went on after his death and still it goes on...

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