Friday, March 5, 2010
Who is Christ for Us?
One of my favorite places at the Jesuit Center is the main chapel. Above the altar is a radiantly beautiful mosaic of the scene of the crucifixion. I suppose that sounds a little inconsistent- radiant beauty/crucifixion.
This depiction of Christ has a duality to it- brilliance and praise, exuberant colors, but in the midst of these vivid hues, there is Christ on the cross, pale, dying and suffering.
I know that this mosaic like many depictions, in some way is an effort for us to beautify the horror of the factual act, to cover up the horror of what we, humanity have done. And yet, in the midst of this pale suffering one, there is a glow to Christ. Depicted as the Jesus we know and yet not just Jesus we know.
At different times of the day the chapel may be bathed in light streaming through the stained glass windows, or deep still darkness, almost like a tomb. For most of the time, the chapel mosaic is lit. In the midst of those deep darkness times, it almost leaps off of the wall. When it is dark and the mosaic is not lit, the space is somber yet compelling.
One of the other retreatants had shared with me that there is a tiny balcony on the third floor of the building. When you are there it seems as if you are floating above the chapel space. At the same level as the mosaic, but at opposite ends of the nave.
I looked at the mosaic the first time- there are the three crosses. On the left, the thief to whom Jesus has said, "Today you will be with me." Beneath him are onlookers who are walking away- though one has his head turned back toward Jesus. They have decided Jesus' death means nothing to them.
Beneath Jesus in the center are the Marys and John, and on the right, the other thief and the soldiers who have cast lots.
That first time I focused on the onlookers for whom this meant nothing worth sticking around for. Then I focused upon Christ.
What does it mean that Jesus died for you?
Who is Christ for us?
The second time, I returned when the chapel is in utter darkness- all I can see are layers of shadow. Places where nothing is clear and I am seemingly alone-places we have all felt in our lives. That proverbial shadow of the cross. Can I still sense Christ in that space?
Not by seeing, or by touching, or hearing. Not by anything overtly physical.
Yet still in this space, and maybe especially here, where I have stepped out of all that surrounds me- there is only God.
Henri Nouwen lifts up this experience -
Solitude "shows us the way to let our behavior be shaped not by the compulsions of the world, but by our new mind, the mind of Christ."
Silence "prevents us from being suffocated by our wordy world and teaches us to speak the Word of God that emerges from the silence."
Here in this space, where we can engage in unceasing prayer, such prayer gives solitude and silence "their real meaning... we descend with the mind into the heart-through our heart into the heart of God who embraces all of history with His eternally creative and re-creative love."
The third time I returned, after praying for awhile, focused upon Christ, I was drawn to the kneeling Mary Magdalene as I became aware that someone was in the chapel below who was crying. Mary is on her knees at the foot of Christ's cross, with her head in her hands, sobbing.
"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"
"Who was the guilty? ... I crucified Thee."
I looked back at Christ who though pale and dying has a rainbow of waves and gold rays emanating from behind him in the mosaic. Pale but powerful. Each wave or ray touching one of the others at the foot of the cross.
Now I look at the onlookers again- walking away- walking away from forgiveness.
Are there things I hold onto that exhibit walking away from, or refusing to accept forgiveness?
In Christ there is that radiant light. The sky around him of vivid blue and gold may seem lovely, like all that calls us away, but in the end, it is a dark sky. Christ is the light in that deceptive darkness. Calling us to live in the knowledge that we are given the ability to not be stuck on our knees, sobbing, but to be re-created in newness by that pale yet powerful, suffering yet triumphant One who touches us across time and space forever.