At the Methodist church where I walked the temporary Stations of the Cross, other demonstrations of meaningful items used by Christians throughout the centuries had been set out for display. The first is an Eastern Orthodox icon presented along with station two (in which Jesus is arrested). The small painting of a saint is rendered in rich hues of gold and red; I recognize the style immediately from the icons belonging to my Greek grandmother. To my eyes, it’s almost cartoonish in its simplicity with the big dark eyes and fingers pointing up. These are described in the accompanying text as “windows to glimpse the eternal in the present moment.” I never would have imagined they were meant to have such power. My grandmother kept one on a shelf in her walk-in closet. Was it her private portal to another world?
A few stations down, the minister has laid out a labyrinth, a replica from a medieval Cathedral. It’s painted on canvas and spread on the floor. I’ve seen these before; I’m thinking of one in particular that is embedded in the concrete in front of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Out of curiosity, I walked it one afternoon. I remember the city bustling around me as I tried to stay focused on my footsteps along the thin, twisty path. The text explains something I knew, that labyrinths are used for meditation and reflection, but adds a tidbit I had never considered: they encourage a “journey to one’s own center.”
Next, I encounter a couple of varieties of prayer beads. The text explains that these are “Anglican,” although other traditions use similar beads. A specific prayer is said while holding each bead and a person is meant to go around the strand several times. It reads, “Allow repetition to become a sort of lullaby of love and praise that enables your mind and heart to become quiet.”
I sense a common purpose among these items: to help a person step away from the ordinary way of looking at and experiencing life. The regular world fades; something everlasting emerges.
At station 11, when Jesus is crucified but not yet dead, I find the most peculiar demonstration. The minister has placed three chairs around the station, inviting to take a respite. A short tutorial explaining “How to talk to God” hangs on the wall. I take a seat because I’ve been curious about this exact thing. How does one talk to God? Is it just a matter of the little voice in my head having a conversation? (I think of my favorite Judy Blume title: “Are you there God, it’s me Margaret”). The instructions don’t advise anything like this; they say, “Listen to God’s presence in the events of our lives.” The text elaborates, but only slightly: “We experience Christ reaching to us through our memories. Our own personal story becomes salvation history.” Can this be true? Is God hiding in my memories? If I sift through my past, will I find Christ beckoning from the shadows? If this is what it means to talk to God, I decide sift through my memories in search of divine evidence. How far back would I need to go?