I go to church in Detroit. That's a bit of a ways from Ann Arbor, and because I don't have a car sometimes I can't get there (I ride with my Godfather when I can--always Sunday mornings). I'll generally stay at home when I can't get a ride, but on ocassion I like to visit other churches.
I really had a hankering to go to church on (Western) Good Friday, but because of my ride situation, and because Good Friday isn't until next Friday in the Orthodox Church (not that I'd have a ride on a weekday, anyway), I went to a local Episcopalian church, St. Clare of Assisi's.
Now, I really like St. Clare, the woman. Named my baby girl after her when she was baptized. How can I go wrong at a church that uses her as their patron saint? I figured I'd enjoy going to an Episcopalian church. I like the Book of Common Prayer--I have Phyllis Tickle to thank for that. I'd never been to an Episcopalian church, but I was up for the adventure. This was after one of my insomniac nights. I didn't go to sleep until 5 am. But I forced myself up anyway. I knew St. Clare's was going to do something I'd always wanted to do. They were going to walk the stations of the cross.
I had read about the stations of the cross for the first time in The Ragamuffin Gospel. I didn't know much about Catholic practices prior to that. In my youth I was steeped in some rather hysterical anti-Catholic propaganda--thanks a lot Jack Chick! I'm afraid I was quite the Catholic basher, to my horror now. Sometimes I wonder why God didn't just lead me to convert to being Catholic instead of Orthodox. Honestly, it would have served me right, and I would have deserved every erroneous thought (and statement!)that my Protestant friends have thought (said) about me not being "saved" anymore, and/or worshipping Mary. But, back to the stations.
So, I go in and SURPRISE! I'm the only black person. There are a few other folks of color, Asian, and Hispanic, but the numbers are dismally small. So, I'm at this unfamiliar church to walk the stations of the cross--something unfamiliar. I'm twenty minutes late because not only did I rouse myself only after my sister called at 11 am, but I also had to catch a bus. I got there hot (temps were in the seventies) and looking crazy (it was a real bad hair day). And I missed a whopping five stations. I just jumped right in at station six, hovering somewhat cautiously in the back, though.
Station six: A woman wipes the face of Jesus.
Images of Jesus and his mother projected on a wall flicker in front of me. A boy--just a kid--is holding a burdensome cross made out of a tree. This thing was big, but no doubt, smaller than the one Jesus bore. There are readings at each station. In this one Jesus asks:Are you brave enough, beloved children, to wipe my face of pain? Where is my face you ask? At home when eyes fill with tears, on your street, and in the streets of the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed peoples of the world. My face is there, and there I look for you to care--to reach out and wipe away the signs of suffering.
Tears spring to my eyes. All of this--the quiet room. The faces of Jesus in each face gathered here. The solemn, beautiful ceremony... I want to weep, loudly and freely, but uh, this is not a Pentecostal church. I can't just start wailing just because I'm inclined to. So, I choke back my tears, and press a little closer to the cross.The seventh station: Jesus falls a second time, beckons. I amble closer to the crowd and something wondrous occurs. These lily white people begin to sing a Negro spiritual so comfortable and familiar that I feel the barrier that says YOU ARE OTHER! YOU DON'T BELONG! disappear in the deep blues of the melody. They sing in the tune of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord," the words: "Were you there when she soothed his tortured face." And suddenly we were one people, united by a cross. Man! I want to really weep!
We move slowly over to the seventh station, and the thought of Jesus falling under the burden is too much for me. I choke through the reading and response, wrestling with my need to lie prostrate on the floor and I hear the priest say something about us being welcome to take a piece of the cross with us. As bad as I need a piece of the cross! I take a kleenex from my purse and try to pull myself together a bit. I don't want to go get a piece of the cross with tears and snot pouring out. Having tried to right myself, I went toward the front to get a piece.
The kids went first. The pieces of the cross were glued to a big board. They were little colored crosses, and c'mon, how can a kid resist a little foam, colored cross. I waited until everyone who wanted a cross was served, and then, as everyone moved to station eight, I and a few other pilgrims were left to contemplate which little cross we would choose. It was then that I noticed that each cross had a different word for each color. There were "sin" crosses--I think those were red. "Anger" crosses. All kinds of stuff. I wondered which cross I should take--sin being the most reasonable choice, but then one captured my attention. Sorrow. Of course. My cross would be sorrow.
He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. I understood this if I knew nothing else about the Lord. I'm a woman of sorrows. I wish that I weren't, but I am, just as sure as I'm black, woman, and sinner, trying hard not to primal scream in a room full of restrained Episcopalians.
I make it to the eighth station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. Now these women, according to the reading, bewailed and lamented him. Man, I really wanted to do some bewailing and lamenting. I mean, bewailing and lamenting is about ready to break out of me like I were Jeremiah the prophet. How ironic. Anyway, I survive this without imploding, or exploding only because I suddenly hear my favorite song in the Divine Liturgy: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal One, Have mercy upon us. Of course, this familiar refrain doesn't only comfort me deeply, and make me feel at home just as the Negro Spiritual did (God is so kind, isn't He?) But it makes me want to cry as it always does at my own church. Honest to God, I'm about to burst! But I clutch my little white cross, and I follow, and sing, and cry--quietly and dignified. And way in the back.
We go through 14 stations, one in which Jesus is nailed to the cross. And we are offered a piece of black paper to write on and nail whatever we want to the cross. Well, you know what I nailed, or rather who; the lone, black, queen of sorrows in the gathering, not only acquainted with grief, but grief's constant companion.
And did I ever want to cry!!! Not that dainty, nose and eye dabbing little... I don't even know what to call it. I wanted sackcloth and ashes.
Finally, we made it into the church, and absolutely nobody is crying--though I did hear one woman's voice crack dramatically during the last reading at station fourteen. In fact, now everybody looks pretty good. I'm encouraged, and I even put my kleenex away and try to enjoy this other part of the service with some decorum. That stations of the cross thing was rough!
I sat on the back pew, my little white cross beside me, and listened to the sermon. Soon, I slipped out. Glad to have experienced it, even if I couldn't cry like I wanted to. I looked forward to taking my little "sorrow" cross home and putting it with the other crosses I seem to be collecting. But when I got to the bus stop, I couldn't find it anywhere. It had disappeared. I was bummed, but I didn't think much of it. I'm a pretty big dofus. I lose everything. Once I lost a meal I was eating. I never found it.
But in the next few days, these words from Isa. 53:4-5 kept coming back to me.
"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
The words, "surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows," resonated in me. Echoed. Seeped in corners. Pooled in quiet nooks. Watered parched places in my soul. I haven't cried since Friday. And His sweet Holy Spirit told me something: "Surely He has borne my grief. He has carried my sorrow."
A lifetime of depression is indeed a cross to bear, but it is not bigger than His cross. And while He has not removed this cross--this cup from my life, He does give me sweet respite, and the assurance of His presence, always. I think He sent me to that church where I couldn't cry freely to let me know I didn't have to be overcome with grief just because it's there. And I don't think He wanted me to take my little white sorrow cross home. I think He wanted to remind me that it was okay, to have it--to own it, even to choose it as I had when I picked it out of the crowd of other crosses on the board. But ultimately, He would be the one to carry my sorrows. He would be the one to carry all of our sorrows. All of our griefs.
Whether we are poor, or minority, or sinner, or lost, or addict, or tired frazzled mother, abusive man, upstanding church person wearing the thinnest mask of contentment to cover the most violent self-hatred and rage. Whatever it is that ails, He took with Him to the cross.
He took EVERYTHING to the cross.
Every big and little thing.
Happy Easter (all you Western Christians),
Check out this blog (thanks, renee!) to do a virtual walk of the stations of the cross (you'll have to scroll down to start at the beginning):