ART: Window Eight — Palm Sunday, by Michael Sullivan

A Lenten Journey of Stories and Art

Palm Sunday Michael Sullivan

From: Windows Into the Light

Almighty and ever-living God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer)

We travel through life unaware of the twists and turns that will come our way.  Places of celebration and parade become places of difficulty in a moment, and plans for the future are sometimes shattered quickly.  But you are always with us, God, providing a pathway back to light and life.  If we get stuck along the journey, move us along.  Push us and show us a new way when we have lost our direction. Amen.

Mark 11:1-11

(Jesus arrives in Jerusalem)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.  If anyone says to you, Why are you doing this?, just say this, The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.  They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street.  As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, What are you doing, untying the colt?  They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.  Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest Heaven!  Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.


Several years ago I took a group on pilgrimage to Ireland.  We were ready to spend a week together walking and exploring early Celtic sites along the southwestern coast.  The Rings of Kerry and Dingle were to provide the canvas for our souls’ exploration of this ancient land of changing landscapes, standing stones, ring forts, oratories, and amazing people.  We’d prepared for the pilgrimage with prayer and study, meeting several times to celebrate, get to know each other, and talk about why this pilgrimage was so central to our faith’s journey.

So when we set out, we were incredibly excited.  Even the seasoned travelers who had literally touched every continent knew that this trip would be different.  It was to be a pilgrimage in the best sense of the word – an adventure into our souls’ delight and into God’s love for us.  We said our prayers, passed out the journals, and embarked upon the first leg of the journey.  Just one short flight would take us to our gateway city of Baltimore and we’d be off to the Land of IRE, full of promise.

But as soon as we set out, the journey changed.  We departed on the short flight to our gateway, and then about twenty minutes before we were to land, the pilot informed us of a storm ahead.  Ladies and gentlemen: We’re encountering turbulence and we’ll have to circle a few minutes before we’re clear to land, was his first remark.  But of course circling didn’t do it, and in just a few more minutes, the pilot informed us we’d been advised by the control tower to land at Richmond’s airport and wait out the storm there.  Apparently, the storm appeared to be gaining strength, possibly containing a tornado.  When we landed in a city we hadn’t planned to visit, I realized we had a good two hours until our next flight so I didn’t worry too much.  But the short minutes became longer periods of time, and by the time the storm cleared, we were all worried.  We’d be able to land at our gateway, but would all eighteen of us make the flight to Ireland?

As soon as we landed, we faced the unbelievable answer: no way.  Because it was an international flight, we hadn’t arrived in time to board; no ifs, ands, or buts.  We’d missed the flight to Ireland and the airline wasn’t budging.

The eighteen of us just looked at each other, and all at once, I knew that I had a major job before me.  A group of pilgrims on the way to a holy isle was depending upon me.  They could sense this formative time they’d anticipated for months slipping away as each minute ticked upon the clock.  As their leader, I just had to get them there no matter what the obstacle.  I remember standing in the airport thinking that what had started as a grand and glorious parade had all of a sudden become a tragedy.  What had started as a loud, Hosanna, was more like a cross to bear.

Thus began hours of working with the airline travel desk.  Hours.  No one wanted to deal with eighteen stranded travelers at ten o’clock at night.  No other flights to Ireland were available until the next day and seats on those planes were looking very slim.  Overbooked even.  I recall thinking we wouldn’t make it.  We’d just be flying back home.  And then, out of nowhere, a man from the airline walked up to the desk, took over the situation, and began looking at all the options.  We couldn’t fly out of Baltimore like we’d planned.  But what about Washington?  New York?  Other possibilities?  He worked furiously, looking up each flight.  Somehow, we all remained patient and just let him do his job.  After almost three hours, he filled out vouchers for a hotel, called taxis, and told us that the next day we’d be traveling by car all the way to Philadelphia to catch a flight there.  I was stunned.  Amazed.  We would make it after all.

Many times the grand parade turns into a horrible traffic jam.  Something that starts so wonderfully takes a wrong turn, and before we know it, we seem stranded in the midst of a barren desert.  It can happen in a relationship, job, marriage, vacation, or anything else in life.  Something that has so much promise can at once become total disaster with all its disappointment.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, all was wall.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest! was all that he could hear.  Can you see it?  The palm branches swaying in people’s hands, the fronds thrown at his feet, almost like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for our Lord’s arrival in the Holy City.  And then, out of nowhere, the cheers fall silent, the crowd disperses, and the people of judgment appear on the scene.

And yet, Christ continues upon the journey, never looking back, and never asking why him – why not another parade, another party, another celebration.  With patience, endurance, and devotion, Jesus the Christ walks forward even in the darkest hour, and in so doing, provides the icon we all need to see more often in our own lives.  Jesus teaches us that the journey changes.

Our pilgrimage group ended up going to three cities we hadn’t originally planned to visit.  We stopped en route, we departed from a different gateway, and we even landed at a different destination – still in Ireland, but a different place.  We lost a whole day in the land of green.  When we arrived, we were tired, hungry, and dazed.  And yet we had made it, we realized, as we stood on the southwest coast looking out at the Three Sisters, a peninsula of three peaks rising from the sea.  With the setting sun gently warming our faces, it struck us all: we were indeed pilgrims.  Not on vacation.  Not just traveling.  But seeking and discovering the light in midst of darkness.

And as we stood there, looking out over the ocean, the broken Hosanna sang forth from our lips.


 EXERCISE

Finding Hope in Disappointment

Disappointment can thwart what we think is our journey.  Just when the parade has begun, something upsets the whole plan and what we had looked forward to comes crashing down around us in an instant.  Sometimes, we don’t pause to discover the true journey before us.  We get so wrapped up in the disappointment, we fail to see that God has already cast light on a new pathway, a new place, a new promise.  In this simple word collage, we find new hope in a disappointment from our past.

Materials

  • A sheet of paper, preferably card stock or construction paper, 11 x 17 inches.
  • Two markers of different colors.

Method

This exercise is similar to the one in Window Five, Cleaning Our Temple, but requires more preparation.  Before you begin the actual exercise, you’ll need to identify a major disappointment in your life.  A failed marriage, the loss of a job, a miscarriage, a soured friendship, or some other unresolved time when the great Hosanna turned into a cross to bear should be your aim.  If you have trouble singling out just one, the exercise can be repeated again and again with each disappointment you identify.  Whether you focus upon one or select several, take time to journal or reflect upon each event.  Consider who was involved and why you were so disappointed.  Be sure to identify the feelings you have today about what happened and see if those feelings differ from the time when it occurred.  Once you’ve considered the who, what, when, where, and why of the situation, you’re ready to begin.

Start by saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the time that God has given you and claim the time by removing all distractions from your workspace.  Because this exercise is so simple, you could do it outside or in a sacred space such as church or chapel.  When working with disappointments, sacred spaces can sometimes liberate our feelings and allow for more expression.  If you think that might be the case for you, seek out a favorite holy spot – anything from a rock by a stream to a side chapel in a great cathedral.

The exercise itself is straightforward and builds upon the Cleaning Our Temple technique from Window Five.  Take one color of marker and begin writing words and phrases that relate to the disappointment haphazardly all over the page.  Work as quickly as possible, allowing all the preparation to come out in a stream-of-consciousness approach.  Don’t write paragraphs or even sentences.  Work with one word at a time, if possible, and try to limit the number of phrases.  The aim of working so quickly is to let the subconscious take control.  If you’ve done your work beforehand, the real issues of the disappointment will emerge as you work quickly.  Once the answers stop coming, say when you haven’t written anything for ten to fifteen seconds, stop, put down the marker, and close your eyes.  Breathe deeply three times, pausing for a couple of seconds between your inhalation and your exhalation.

After you’ve cleared your mind, open your eyes and take the other pen.  Using this different color marker, answer each word and phrase with something that would bring transformation to each part of the disappointment.  What would transform the brokenness from cross to Hosanna?  What would redeem the qualities that still bring sadness, anger, or frustration?  How might God bring light into a place of darkness?  As answers come, write them.  And again, don’t pause to reflect.  Look at what you have written previously and write the first response that comes to you.  It’s fine if the response is silly.  Laughter and comedy often contain redemption.  Just work quickly and let the transformation take place in the words on the page.

Soul Questions

  • What feelings did you have when you identified the disappointment in your life?
  • Did reflecting upon the event in advance of the exercise help you as compared with earlier collage exercises that didn’t include preparation?  Why or why not?
  • Did the exercise reveal the need for more soul-searching in order to find transformation?

Thoughts for the Journey

  • If you can, work on other disappointments with this same exercise.  Are there common themes in what you feel no matter what the actual disappointment?  Are there common responses?  What could you learn for the future from what you have discovered?  Is there a way to find redemption more readily in other disappointments because of what you’ve discovered?
  • Did you learn how to cope with disappointment as a child?  Who taught you how to approach the feelings that come with failure?  Was this person a good role model?  If he or she is still alive, could you talk with him or her about what you’ve learned?
  • What sacred stories capture disappointment?  How might these stories inform your understanding of your own failures?

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