This Lent Rev. Dr. Roberta Morris reflects on Fr. Leo Joseph’s contributions to Kathrin Burleson’s book The Soul’s Journey. Leo was a member of ArtwalkInc’s Board until his passing on January 23, 2015.
Mostly all I know about this day I learned from T.S. Eliot’s grim poem “Ash Wednesday” that spoke so clearly to me when I was a young woman, and now not at all, or hardly at all. Mardi Gras makes sense to me still, Shrove Tuesday. Make pancakes and eat them with sweet syrup; time is short and we are still alive, so eat up, dance – dance! Forgot T.S. Eliot’s crabby life run dry.
Full on pancakes, I push the book that lies on my sofa away to spread out. Here on my sofa lies Kathrin Burleson’s The Soul’s Journey; an Artists Approach to the Stations of the Cross. It’s an awkward size, too large for my bookcase. It will always be set somewhere, moved here to there, and here it’s fine for now because I’ve decided to make this my Lent, to look at her art and read the text again and again, plunging in to the parts that Leo contributed to the book. Leo was just buried. Friar Leo. Leo Joseph. Buddy to my art walk, on the board of Artwalk Inc, a non-profit and isn’t everything really not profitable, eventually compost at best, or landfill. In the meantime, pass the pancakes.
I’ve the maker of pancakes and Leo is keeper of minutes. Motions. Passed. Carried. Leo was good at this, ordering the meeting, bringing me to order. Kathrin knew him far better and I knew him through her art. Because I liked her icons I wound up at a church where he was saying mass and where her icons hung on the walls with utter simplicity. Her book is not like those stark icons: the colors are all hot orange and yellow and even the green seems a warm green, with a great deal going on. Now it lies on my sofa, and he lies in a grave and here I lie on the sofa and begin again. Ash Wednesday.
Kathrin Burleson doesn’t start there. She starts with the first station, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and she calls it “Acceptance”.
“Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Jesus says that. Luke 22:39-46.
Ash Wednesday, 2015
Roberta’s posting on Lent is based a series based on the five contributions Friar Leo Joseph made to Kathrin Burleson’s The Soul’s Journey; an Artists Approach to the Stations of the Cross(Forward Movement, 2014). She dedicated this book to Leo, our go-to wise man and treasured member of Artwalk Inc’s board, who passed on January 23, 2015. His first entry refers to the eighth station of the cross, “Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.”
First Sunday of Lent - Witness
“A great number of people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:27)
Yesterday I cleared up the remains of the week, checking in at the studio to see that things were fine for an event that was to be held last evening. Art might have to be rearranged on the stage – check. Lecture notes available online – check. Follow up with that man who dropped in for mass and left his card – check. Take the compost to the community garden, spend some time puttering – check… That’s not really work.
This is my day off. Now I sit and look around my little apartment, and again tears start streaming down my face. Under the “Ellis Act” we’ve all been evicted. Where will I go? Oh, all this art people have given me, the books, what should I take? Here’s a sofa that is so dilapidated I was going to replace it or have it reupholstered; I’ll just leave it by the curb instead for some more ambitious scavenger. And this coffee table with its beveled glass top? Someone might like it; I always have. What do I really need to take? Think of the homeless folk at the corner who have grocery carts so full with what looks like garbage that it perplexes my other neighbors, those with homes.
Fr. Leo had much in common with my grandma. He did his dying with amazing grace, putting everything in order and even digging his own grave when he got the diagnosis: terminal cancer. My grandma Murphy taught me how to do this, getting rid of everything toward the end of her life so that it only took us a few hours to clear her place out and turn everything over, including her house, to the St. Vincent DePaul society, as her will had indicated. Grandma had stood witness to Christ’s dying and resurrection in her life. This last stretch was rather simple, it seems, for Grandma and Leo.
But I’m not dying, so I’ve got to make a plan. Maybe I’ll occupy my own home. I think about buying a van so I can just hang out in front here, and in front of our landlord’s other buildings, for years maybe. This is our home after all, our community garden. I could do this, drive the van to all his properties and drive the landlord crazy. He has so many properties, why evict all of us to make even more money? What could he possibly be thinking? He already has far more money and buildings than he can ever use, no matter how luxurious his life. This kind of greed we know about; it led the US economy to the brink just a few years ago, and here we go again. We need to develop a twelve-step program for overarching greed.
My go-to-for-Jewish-wisdom-friend, David Chack, sent me this from The Ethics of the Ancestors (Pirkei Avot 5:13)
“There are four character types among people:
a) One who says, ‘My property is mine, and yours is yours,’ is an average character type,
but some say this is characteristic of Sodom;
b) ‘Mine is yours and yours is mine,’ is an unlearned person;
c) ‘Mine is yours and yours is yours,’ is scrupulously pious;
d) ‘Yours is mine and mine is mine,’ is wicked.
This Lent, let me be with those women who didn’t run away in the sight of evil worse even than greed. Let me stand with the homeless in this city, the evicted who couldn’t keep it together, couldn’t find a housing plan. I want to occupy a place of hope and love with my neighbors as we work this through together. But evil is really ugly. There is no sugar coating it, when even the sugar coating is evil. This week I start with Fr. Leo’s reflection on the women who witness the crucifixion, and hear again Jesus’ own words as he carried his cross:
“… For if they do this when the wood is green, what will they do when it is dry?” Luke 23:31
Second Sunday in Lent – Jesus is nailed to thecrossbeam
This second week of Lent I’m reflecting on what Fr. Leo wrote about Jesus nailed to the cross, he reflecting also on the fact that these were to be in his own final days as he wrote:
“Now the crossbeam is hoisted in place on top of the upright post, and the final nail is quickly driven through your feet, securing your ultimate loss of physical freedom. Final loss of liberty comes to us all, O Jesus, whether sick bed or deathbed, imposed or chosen, the prison or the monastic cell, old age or youthful tragedy, when suddenly or gradually, we are deprived of our physical freedom and our material world, left only to exist in the interior realm.”
The Soul’s Journey; an artist’s approach to the Stations of the Cross by Kathrin Burleson.
There have been Lenten seasons that I sailed through, not really paying much heed to the violence of the crucifixion. This year, though, with Fr. Leo’s death and then this week Malcolm Boyd’s, and with the possible demise of my community through an “Ellis Act” eviction, that also feels like a kind of death, the pain that so often comes with our lessons of impermanence is in my face, breaking my heart.
Leo jumbles the inevitable suffering with suffering a great injustice. He draws a parallel between a monk choosing deep solitude – Leo himself was a Franciscan monk — with the prisoner’s loss of liberty. This troubles me. Again, I compare it with this eviction: I’ve chosen to move before, and looked forward to change, even though it entails some loss. This feels totally different, our community being destroyed. Injustice and cruelty create a different quality of pain than does chosen change, challenge and effort. Birth pains can’t to be equated, are not comparable, to the death rattle.
Yet Leo’s point is well taken, and poignant as he himself was deprived of physical freedom when he took to his death bed in those last days, to exist in the interior realm he describes. It is always there, always waiting for us to enter, not as a retreat nor as an escape but as a challenge to live fully. Let us not suffer our suffering, and instead embrace this solitude Leo points to, and pray with him, “Jesus, in spite of loss of movement, enable me to love and to know that love’s labor continues until the last heartbeat.”
Third Sunday in Lent – Standing at the foot of the cross
It was offered as a joke: “Jesus promised us the kingdom of God and what we got was the church.” But thinking about this small group standing at the foot of the cross, it is too poignant to ever laugh. Jesus in his dying moments and hanging from a cross, concerns himself with his mother’s well being. He is reconstituting his family here, passing on his responsibility for the care of his mother to the beloved disciple, the one who didn’t run away.
We live as church in light of the resurrection, but here at the foot of the cross, we see what it means to be church – to go the distance, to witness injustice, even such gross injustice and not to flinch. To be there with the suffering, as well as attending the banquettes.
This Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, coincides with International Women’s Day, when we’re all invited to celebrate the wonderful women in our lives, past and present and internationally. We’re also asked to stand at the foot of the cross with those women who are fighting sometimes subtle, sometimes fierce oppression. The reflector on this station in Kathrin Burleson’s book, The Soul’s Journey, refers to the moment in the Eucharist celebration where people are invited to add their own intentions: “At hat moment, you can witness the Christian community at the ‘Foot of the Cross’, gazing upon the crucified and the suffering they have encountered in their lives and relationships. It is a powerful moment of prayer, for we realize that we are all connected and united, that a spiritual family of sisters and brothers has been brought together at the ‘Foot of the Cross’ of our humanity.” (Fr. Alberto R Cutie)
Today let’s remember particularly our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, and the generations of women around the world who teach us strength and compassion. The theme of this year’s IWD is “Make it happen.” Standing at the foot of the cross.
Fourth Sunday in Lent – Death
Fr. Leo’s entry in The Soul’s Journey on “Death” reflects today’s Gospel, as Jesus speaks about how he will be lifted up:
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
In post-resurrection times we think of both how he he was risen up onto the cross, and then again rose from the dead.
Today, how does is “rising up” up occur in a world stricken but seemingly endless war? In voices from the Middle East it might be in song. Here is a report and the reponse:
“The human losses are devastating: At least 210,000 people have died in the ongoing battle between the Assad regime and the Syrian rebels. ISIS has joined the violence and exploited the instability in the country, taking control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria.
And now, in the unofficial war over Syria’s cultural heritage, art is the main casualty. As of September 2014, five out of six of Syria’s Word Heritage sites had been destroyed including Aleppo’s 12th century Umayyad mosque...
“But war hasn’t been able to destroy Syria’s sacred music. Before the war began, punk rocker and photographer Jason Hamacher recorded some of the world’s oldest spiritual music for the first time, preserving it for antiquity. To learn more about how this drummer became an art preservationist in Aleppo, read Kimberly Burge’s: “Songs Before the Cataclysm” (Sojourners April 2015).”http://sojo.net/magazine/2015/03-0/how-we-fight-terrorism-saving-syrias-sacred-music
For keep focused on the artist’s response I’ve contracted the report by Sojurners but encourage us all to study this, ponder our involvement in this war, and prayer for God’s mercy and an end to all war.
Fifth Sunday in Lent – Love
How perfect, that this last Sunday in Lent I’m contemplating Leo’s last entry in Kathrin Burleson’s book, and that it’s about love.
We live as church in light of the resurrection, but here at the foot of the cross, we see what it means to be church – to go the distance together.
Leo went the distance with Christ. He’s contemplating the ultimate horror, even as he was facing his own immanent death, with breathtaking courage and dignity.
In this last reflection Leo recalls the mothers: “the mother kneeling on a trash-strewn ghetto street, weeping over the corpse of her child shot in a senseless gang shooting; the mother kneeling beside a hospital bed, cradling the body of her young son who had just died of AIDS; the mother throwing herself over the casket delivered from the belly of a military transport plane.”
Evicted this winter from my apartment, along with everyone in this building and this beloved community, and evicted from Spirit Studio, I’m going toward the last week of Lent holding Fr. Leo in my heart, and all these temporal and therefore temporary communities we call family. I’ll shut up now, my own concerns seem so petty.
We go on with love and the words of Rachel, a seven-year-old consoling the others as they watched a passion play, horribly vivid: “But he rises again in three days! He rises again in three days!”