ART: Window Seven — Fifth Sunday In Lent, by Michael Sullivan

A Lenten Journey of Stories and Art

Fifth Sunday In Lent Michael Sullivan

From: Windows Into the Light

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer)

At times, I feel lost and abandoned, not really knowing where to turn or how to seek you.  When the darkness of life seems too great to bear, enfold me in your arms and let me feel your love surround me, that where you are, there I will be also. Amen.

John 12:20-23

(Those who lose their lives will save them)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, Sir, we wish to see Jesus.  Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  Jesus answered them, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whosoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  Now my soul is troubled.  And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”?  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”  Then a voice came from Heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”  The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder.  Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.  Jesus answered, This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.  Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to himself.  He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.


The after-school enrichment program at the inner city middle school brought many of us together week after week.  Lawyers who came to teach drama.  Doctors who left the office early to come teach tennis.  The retired teacher who helped students get that extra push for English or science.  We all came together on Thursdays with anywhere from 70 to 120 students, and for an hour and a half, dozens of people from the best addresses in town became the friends of those whose addresses only knew police and locked doors after sunset amid drug deals.

The sixth- through eighth-graders were really quite amazing.  Many of them had younger brothers and sisters who depended upon them for supper, the nightly bath, and bedtime stories.  Faced with all the demands of such a life, study was next to impossible when all the daily chores were completed.  Our tutoring on Thursdays was a huge help to those who came, and because of the relationships that emerged, I sometimes wondered whether we were going to help them or learn from them.  Luckily, both often happened.

Many of these young men and women lived in the reality of a one-parent home – just like the rest of middle America.  But instead of living in a picture-perfect neighborhood where neighbors watched out for neighbors, they lived in an inner city area that was beset with many problems.  Unlike the stereotypical scenarios we hear, the great majority of people just wanted a good life, a good future, and a community supporting them all the way.  But because of a handful of people who were responsible for much of the violence, drugs, and gangs, the dreams of the families were often thwarted by the nightmares imposed upon them by those with power.  It always seemed that the nightmare came out of nowhere in this neighborhood.  Week after week the students told us of gunshots, drug deals, prostitution – the darkness of life seemed to live on every street corner.  No wonder most of the children went inside at dark, locking the doors and windows behind them.  It was just a way of life.

I’m not certain when I met Trudy.  Perhaps it was during a cooking demonstration or an art class I was teaching for one of the enrichment activities.  Or during math tutoring – fractions, decimals, and percents.  That was always a major topic after school.  But the first image I recall of her was in the math tutoring session.  I remember thinking she was amazing.  Trudy had not only finished doing her math homework, she had moved on to helping everyone around her.  I must have heard her explain fractions at least three different ways as she adjusted her words to fit each person’s understanding.  She understood the problems so well that she was able to move from her own comprehension to the learning pattern of another.  She was on top of her game and pushing herself hard.  After talking with me for several minutes, she giggled as she told me that she was going to make all A’s on her report card for the year, a huge smile crossing her face.  She wasn’t really looking to me for approval, instead announcing her goal as a matter of fact.  I remember wondering what within pushed her so, made her so desire to do well.  From my own world, I had no idea how she felt living in her world.  It seemed so foreign that I thought I’d probably do nothing if I were she.  I had always been motivated by the prosperity around me; she had a deeper desire, something within her.  I planned to keep up with her for years to come.

The very next week, I missed the tutoring program for a meeting at the parish.  As I walked into my office around 4:30, the phone rang.  A teacher was on the other end of the line that connected our two worlds.  I immediately heard the hesitation in her voice, the pain in her soul not wanting to sound forth into the world.  And then, in three short words, the pain hit me in the chest  Trudy is dead, she said.  A gang member had mistaken her brother for another young man in the neighborhood, and while Trudy and her brother studied on the front porch of their home, basking in the afternoon sun, preparing for all A’s, college, medical school, a good life, Trudy’s life ended.  A life of promise was cut short when she jumped up and the shot intended fro her brother killed her instantly.

Days later, this white, privileged minister walked into an African-American Baptist church, was given a seat of honor, and was asked to read a lesson.  I stood there, in the church filled beyond capacity, and the words of Christ began to roll off my tongue with new meaning, new power.  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  A huge part of me, a huge part of every person in that room was thinking, If it dies it bears much fruit?  You must be kidding.  This little girl with so much promise, this little girl with so much life, this little girl gone because a gang member didn’t care about human life.  You must be kidding.

But then it struck me.  With each word read, the congregation responded.  A, Yes, Lord, or another’s, Help us, Jesus, rang forth as the scripture became a living vessel of the community’s grief.  A woman in the choir wearing all white with a large, beautiful hat began to hum early in the reading, and before long, the choir was also responding to the words of Jesus.  The organ chimed in.  I continued reading.  The whole community of the faithful was giving voice, the whole community letting God know the pain, the anguish, and the disappointment.

But likewise the hope.  A little girl was no longer with us.  A life had ended.  But the single grain of wheat was sprouting forth before our eyes.  The community was not letting this single grain fall upon arid soil.  This community was making sure that Trudy’s life would spring forth in newness, in resurrected light.  This community was not letting darkness overcome it.  And in the darkest hour, they proclaimed a light like no other.  Eternal light sprang forth.


 EXERCISE

Losing and Finding Life

Trudy was just beginning to live her beautiful life when it was taken in a single gunshot.  But the community found new life in the midst of her death when it became willing to hear the Good News proclaimed in the midst of their deep hurt.  This exercise helps us find the words of Christ in our own lives and looks for the light possibly missed among the darkness.

Materials

  • Photographs selected from the Preparing for the Journey exercise.
  • Poster board, preferably about 12 x 12 inches.
  • Rubber cement or glue stick.
  • Scissors.
  • A computer and printer.

Method

What Bible verses speak to your life?  Is there a favorite story or a verse that has helped you through dark days in the past?  Select one or more short passages or verses, type them  on the computer, and then print them on cardstock or other paper.  If you like, use decorative papers and fonts to make the words appear more creative.  You can either trim the verses in preparation for the exercise or wait to trim them as a part of the meditation itself.

If you don’t have a favorite story or selection of scripture, take the time to find some that appeal to you.  If you are new to the faith or just exploring what the Bible means in your life, consider asking a friend to help you find passages that address where you are in life.  Suggestions for possible reading and selection might include Psalms 23, 90, or 121, or perhaps John 1:1-5.  Any of these passages might contain possibilities as they address the theme of light and darkness in our lives.

When you have selected some verses, place all the materials in your workspace and prepare for the exercise in quiet and prayer.  You might use the verse or story selected as a way to form your prayer for several minutes before you begin working.

Our method is collage, and by now, you’re practically a professional at it.  Your task in this exercise is to arrange images of your life with the verse or story that you’ve selected.  You’re attempting to see how life relates directly to the Biblical narrative that has meant so very much to you.  Just like the congregation at Trudy’s funeral, you are looking for the deep and abiding presence of God’s voice speaking into the darkness of your life.  Let the photos tell the real story of your life, the very essence of who you are, and allow the scripture to speak to your inner self.  As you place scripture among the photos, paste the entire story in the middle of the pictures or weave individual verses, phrases, or words among them, using the previously cut selections or customizing as you go.  By seeing how your life relates to the verses, you tie yourself back to the ancient narrative of God’s love and the light of Christ can begin to shine anew with you.

Soul Questions

  • If you selected scripture that has been important in your spiritual journey thus far, do you recall when it emerged in your path?  Why did it speak to you then?  How does it speak to you now?
  • If you selected a new verse or narrative, why do you believe it spoke to you today?
  • What characters in scripture do you identify with from time to time?  Do you know the Biblical narratives well enough to refer back to them with regularity?  Can you find your life within the story of God’s love throughout history?
  • What is it like to see images of your life directly related to scripture?  How did seeing the words of sacred story with you affect your understanding of the texts?

Thoughts for the Journey

  • Do you read the Bible daily?  Have you ever considered Daily Office readings (from resources such as the Book of Common Prayer) or a study Bible?
  • How do you react to the Bible?  Is it a comforting part of your journey?  Or are there aspects of its study that you don’t like?
  • Many people no longer understand the basic Biblical narratives.  Take the time to read and study the charter narratives of our faith, such as Genesis chapters 1-11.  Notice the themes of God’s faithfulness and redemption despite humanity’s mistakes.  Reflect upon God’s love and mercy in your own life.

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