A turbulent sea

The “stations” here are not carvings like the pictures I saw online. All but the last one, which is a life-size crucifix, is a sheet of paper with illustrations and words, laminated and taped on the walls at various intervals. The course starts on one side of the altar and takes us around the perimeter of the sanctuary until we end up on the other side of the altar. When I join the group members, they are standing at the first station: Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. The minister reads a short paragraph about the brief respite that Jesus and three of his disciples take as they are walking into Jerusalem.

In the garden, Jesus is suddenly overcome with grief, realizing he will die soon. Until this moment, he had been stoic about it. Now he tells his companions, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.” He asks them to stay with him while he prays for one hour. When he looks up, his friends have fallen asleep and, for the first time, Jesus seems deeply hurt. In this personal moment, he expresses his disappoint to his friends. “Sleepest thou?” he says to them, “couldest not thou watch one hour?” The minister finishes reading and our little group stands quietly, letting the words sink in. I think about the complexities in this simple event: Jesus wanting companionship as he struggles to accept his fate, and his friends, despite all good intentions, encountering their own human frailties.

Over the next several stations Jesus is arrested, betrayed, judged, and condemned. It occurs to me as we’re going through these steps that the real crime here—the reason Jesus faced such a harsh consequence—were the beliefs others had about him. Anyone can claim to be divine and simply be dismissed as a lunatic. What set Jesus apart—what made him a threat in the eyes of the leaders of his day—were not the claims he may or may not have made, but what existed in the hearts and minds of those whose lives he touched.

My little group is now facing the grim descent. I offer my companions a wan smile. If I were alone, I would race through these last stations and make a beeline for the exit, but I’m forced to slow my pace to that of the group’s. I recall a statement made by a preacher at an Episcopal church I visited a few weeks back who talked about how she understood why some people didn’t want to focus on Jesus’ death. She said, “But if you’re willing to look directly at it, you’ll find it creates spaciousness in your heart.” What a strange and mysterious thing to say, I thought. What did she mean by it?

Then, like a motley crew on a turbulent sea, we forge ahead: Jesus is scourged, crowned with thorns, forced to carry his own crucifix, and, finally, is crucified. From the other side of death, Jesus says, “Be not afraid.” It is the same message he has offered on many occasions over the course of his ministry. Here he offers it one last time. I feel a knot of anxiety in my belly. Is this what religion is about: soothing the fear? Ultimately, aren’t we all in need comfort?

The last station is a huge wooden cross, made from two pieces of tree trunk, placed in the middle of the altar. The accompanying printout, taped to the cross, explains that this represents the part of the story in which Jesus is laid in his tomb, which is why the cross is draped in a black sash. I stand directly in front of this make-believe crucifix. “I am the door,” Jesus said. I smiled when I read that statement in the Bible because it seemed like funny thing to say. The door to what? The cross is about the size of a doorway. I close my eyes and imagine the cross as something I can open. What’s on the other side? Is it as expansive as the Episcopalian preacher suggested? I picture my hand on a knob as I twist and push.

24 thoughts on “A turbulent sea

  1. Can this ritual be used as a metaphor for your own life “stations”…….Those times when you might have been faced with a grim descent…The wish to run away from it but forging ahead anyway in spite of the “turbulent emotional sea”. Those times when you, too, sought comfort from friends and felt betrayed. In the end we usually survive and understand the saying: “When one door closes another opens.”

  2. I liked the comment about spaciousness in our hearts when we let Jesus in. Not only does it free us from anxiety to know that God is in control, but also it enables us to let go of anger, bitterness and judgmental attitudes. If Jesus could say “Father, forgive them”, why can’t I say the same for much smaller offenses?

    • This is so refreshing to find, especially the BLOG itself and the last comment by Ms. Friesz. I wasn’t sure what I’d find after I read the column The None’s tale: Faith Exploration. I’ll contribute a quote from Phillipians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Thank you for this blog,

  3. For the past few years, my wife, son, and I have been leading the Stations on the first Friday of every month at our Episcopal church. Until we started, I hadn’t done the Stations since I was in Catholic school many years ago. They have much more power and meaning to me now. Sometimes, I’m overcome by how Jesus must have felt, knowing what was in store for him, yet he persevered. Its a great lesson in life and faith, and doing it monthly keeps things in perspective.

    • That is very interesting Tim, as I had never been Catholic before but I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming Episcopalian. It’s as if aspects of the methodology and ritualism of Catholicism fascinates me, but my liberalism feels more connected to Episcopalian faith. Right now I am testing out the fit of a United Church of Christ congregation, and I continue to remain open to whatever Christ is opening up for me.
      I would just like to find a place where Jesus feels real to me. A work in progress….

        • Thank you Frank for your recommendations. In fact, I visit a local Unity church for healing circles and have been active with metaphysical groups for many years. Right now is a period of reflection on healing my relationship with Christian religion, and I happily stumble my way along the journey.

      • Hi Jill–
        Well now, there’s a coincidence–we used to be Roman Catholic, until 2004! There are a number of reasons we went over to the Episcopal Church, most of which are personal and not relevant to this blog. But I will say what drew us to the church and has kept us here, among other things, is the broad range of the way faith expresses itself, from traditional Anglo-Catholic parishes to more informal “low church” congregations. I think the Episcopal/Anglican Church has done its best to accept the idea that people of true faith might have different way of expressing and manifesting their beliefs. Its certainly had its share of problems, but at least it doesn’t lay claim to being the sole path to salvation.

        • Tim, I am happy that you found solace in the Episcopal church, but I wanted to clarify that the Roman Catholic Church no longer believes that it has the sole path to salvation. It made its revised declaration in the documents of Vatican II in 1965. The Catholic Church still believes it is the original Christian church, however, and traces its lineage from Jesus to Simon Peter, (“Upon this rock, I will build my church”), the first Pope. In other words, the Church doesn’t condemn sincerely held beliefs and doesn’t know how God will deal with each and every other individual in the end. My present journey has led me to question the singular divinity of Christ. I’m tending to believe that we are all divine and that Jesus was exceptionally gifted and exhibited great wisdom.

  4. I am–still–a Roman Catholic who recently left in the second year of a five year program to become an ordained deacon. I left because my intensive studies led me to doubt the exclusivity of my Church to the greater diversity this world offers. In my search for better–and inclusive–answers to a new faith in God, I serendipitously came across a recently published book by an apostate Catholic entitled “Faith Beyond Belief–stories of good people who left their church behind” by Margaret Placentra Johnston. http://www.faithbeyondbelief-book.com/
    this book addresses your quest in many ways: the quest for finding meaning in life through spirituality beyond religion and skepticism. You and I are on similar journeys–yours from a “none” position, and mine from religious tradition. You might also want to check out a very spiritual–and non-religious– book written 74 years ago by Bill Wilson, Bob Smith, MD, and others–“Alcoholics Anonymous.” From it over 300 diverse 12 Step groups have flowered.

    • Christopher, If you haven’t already read them you might enjoy the book by Joseph Dispenza titled: “God On Your Own ~ Finding A Spiritual Path Outside Religion” and several books by Thomas Moore an ex Catholic monk, “The Soul’s Religion.”

      • Frank, thanks for your recommendations. I have just finished “God on your own” and am starting Moore’s “Writing in the Sand.” Very thoughtful authors from my RC tradition. The journey continues…

        • Christopher, Glad to know you enjoyed reading my book recommendations. Perhaps some of us searchers never complete the journey. Maybe we find our pleasure in the journeying. I began to think about this some time ago when I read a book, now old, by Jess Lair titled, “I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got.” In it his wife talked about Jess’s ability to simply move around here and there without a place to settle in and how it made her feel too unsettled.” Eventually they bought a place in Montana and she said she then felt she had her “setting”. She was glad to travel and speak or whatever with Jesse but anytime she wanted she could return to her setting. I’m kind of like that. I have found the philosophy of New Thought to settle in to but feel perfectly comfortable reading or participating in a variety of religious or spiritual experiences. I no longer think of myself as a seeker but an observer.

  5. I have been a life long (albeit lapsed in adulthood) Catholic and for the first time since I was 7 years old and accepted without question as only an innocent child can, the total belief and peace in what Jesus meant to me, I was moved by this post. I want to urge Corinne, if she can, to visit either St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC or if that isn’t possible, any Catholic cathedral (rather than church) (I grew up in Santa Monica, CA and St. Monics’s cathedral there is magnificent!) to get the real sense of the Stations of the Cross. Like the carvings online, they are lifelike, in relief, and can so much more touch you than simple pictures. Thank you Corinne for this moving oddessy.

    • I smiled as I read your comment because it reminded me of someone else who tried to tell me a Bible story about Queen Jezebel: “And”, he said, “they threw her down, and they threw her down again until they had thrown her down seventy times seven and the fragments they picked up filled twelve baskets.”

      • Corrinna, I have another book to recommend regarding the formation of Christianity in the 4th century AD. The Nicene Creed of 381 AD enumerates the basic beliefs that Christians share. An excellent explanation of this is: “The Creed” by Berard I. Marthaler in which he explains both the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. For an excellent explanation of how the Gospels and New Testament came to be is: “Who Wrote the New Testament?” by Biblical scholar Burton L. Mack. In his book he explains the myths which comprise the early Christian or Jesus movements and how the “Christian Bible” was decided upon and its anonymous writers created psuedonyms for the Gospel writers.

  6. I am staying on top of reading all comments in the series and it dawns on me that everyone seems to have found something that has pulled them to their current belief even if they no longer attend a particular church. There are a couple of “nones” here and there but even with them there seems to be a dedication to exploration in the midst of confusion. I don’t see much room here for conversion. Each seems comfortable and content with what they have found for themselves and seem to be making a statement to the world to that effect. It makes me all the more intrigued by Corrina’s journey: Will she finally pick something out of the myriad of thoughts she is exposing herself to or will she find comfort in remaining in the “none” category with a few modifications of a spiritual nature. We shall see.

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