Spreading the light

Liturgies with ancient roots extend the Easter celebration
May 9, 2008

While the 40 days of Lent seem to linger on interminably, Easter for many people seems to come and pass all too quickly.

In an effort to extend the celebration of the Resurrection, Episcopalians are beginning to reintroduce the ancient custom of observing Stations of the Light, or Stations of the Resurrection.

"These great archetypal moments in the Christian story have been known and cherished since the first century, but as far as we know were never gathered into a precise devotional practice until the present time," writes Mary Ford-Grabowsky, author of Stations of the Light: Renewing the Ancient Christian Practice of the Via Lucis as a Spiritual Tool for Today.

Although this form of devotion is commonly used in Roman Catholic churches, it seems now to be used by more and more Episcopal parishes. The Rev. Clay Morris, liturgical officer at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, says he has no statistics to support this premise, but states that clergy are unrestricted if they want to develop liturgies marking the days leading to, or following, Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.

There are no liturgies to mark either period in the prayer book. In fact, Morris says, the only places in The Book of Common Prayer where liturgical texts are restrictive are the wedding vows and the Eucharistic prayer.

"The writers of our prayer book seemed to want to stay away from proscribing liturgical style," Morris says. "We have a lot of freedom to play around with." His advice: "Use whatever resources you are attracted to."

The Rev. Elizabeth J. Roles, assistant to the rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Dalton, Ga., did just that. With a concept in mind, she scoured the Internet and found that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit offered what she sought.

"The Via Lucis is particularly suited for Easter Sunday, for the weekdays of the Easter Octave (known as "Bright Week" among the Eastern churches) and throughout the Fifty Days of the Easter Season," an article on that site states. "In a fashion similar to the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) and the four passion narratives, the Via Lucis reflects upon the final chapters of each of the four gospels, which narrate the appearances of the Risen Lord from Easter to Pentecost."

Roles adapted the liturgy from one she found on the site, found a listing of the 14 Stations and related scriptural references.

"The Stations of the Light liturgy offers us a way to unite with the resurrected One who brings forgiveness, new life and the power of the Holy Spirit," said Roles, who drew artists and collaborators for her project from the church's congregations of about 400.

"We have some exceptionally talented people and a wonderful slice of our congregation has participated," Roles said. "Three of our youth have done pieces of art and one of our college students."

She said one of the artists worked with second to fifth grade Sunday School class [children aged 7 to 11 years], on the 11th Station -- The Risen Lord Sends the Disciples into the World. This group created a collage of photos and illustrations they found in magazines and fixed them to a picture of the earth and painted the sky.

In addition, she said, older, accomplished and experienced adults have created impressions of the stations. "I have just been overwhelmed by the art that has been created in response to it."

Roles said artists were invited by word of mouth and by an invitation placed in the parish in the parish bulletin. "In the end we had more artists than we had stations."

Offered to community
Cindy Michaels said she was inspired by the idea. "I knew we had many talented people in the church and felt it would be a great gift to the community," she said. "I also love art and scared art.

"When I was in San Francisco I visited the cathedral there and really enjoyed the icons, which had candles below with a prayer to say. It was a very powerful experience. So the idea to make a liturgy and place it in the church with candles was developed."

Michaels created the 14th Station, depicting the coming of the Holy Spirit, using a combination of fabric, photography and printing. "I wanted a transparent look so I used red sheer fabric on a frame. I love birds and sewed a nest of flames with different sheer fabric, with the Earth as an egg." Below she placed four white feathers in the shape of a cross and above she placed a red scarf that was decorated with a block print of gold, with seven doves in flight, photographed and then silk-screened onto fabric.

"I think my piece is how the Holy Spirit works in may daily life," she said. "The meditation is about sending the disciples into the world.

Elizabeth Mosley, a high school sophomore, said she was invited to the first meetings for "brainstorming" ideas for the art last summer. "One thing that was agreed upon was that the art would be displayed for the community and not just for parishioners. This would give visitors a chance to pray and reflect during the 50 days of Easter," she said.

It wasn't difficult for me to decide what type of art to create; I love figure drawing and my hands are especially at home working with charcoal."

After reading the scriptures for the 14 stations, Mosley settled upon the 13th: Mary and the Disciples Keep Vigil in the Upper Room for the Spirit's Advent. "Nearly immediately I decided I just had to draw the face of Mary. She decided to focus on the face of Mary, invoke feelings of grief, uncertainty, despair, as well as anticipation. "I decided that her shroud must be simplistic in nature, so that the true focus could be on her face and her expression. I decided most important of all would be her communicative eyes; I wanted them to look like they were watery, but there would be no tears staining her cheeks. I felt like Mary had already shed most of her tears at this point," Mosley said.

Varied presentations
Roles said that many kinds of arts have been employed to create the stations including copper tooling; pastels on paper; quilting, embroidery stitching, mixed media collages, a watercolor, oil on wood, three dimensional objects and photography.

Ron Arnold, president of the Carpet Capital Camera Club, used his photographic skill to create digital images for the 5th Station: The Risen Lord is Recognized in the Breaking of Bread. "I chose to create a cross with photos showing how Christ feed us in our church," he said.

Employing both black and white and color photography, Arnold shows St. Mark's rector, the Rev. Dean Taylor, reading the consecration prayer at Eucharist, images of the bread and wine, and photos of girls at Sunday School and at a healing service.

"The more I prayed about this project the more I could see Christ working to feed us and touching the world through his love and wisdom," Arnold said. "Asking him
to guide me with my photography I found the photos appeared and things began to fall in place. I hope visitors to Saint Marks will be touched by God speaking to them through the photographs and other art."

Volunteers at St. Mark's worked Saturday before Easter Sunday to display the art, strategically placed under the church's stained glass windows. The youth presented a Passion play at 10 p.m. Parishioners who entered the nave with candles and were the first to actually view the art. They heard the scripture stories depicted by the art surrounding them, they prayed, sang, and then gathered at the altar to give communion to one other as the clock neared midnight.

"I don't know that I have ever felt as safe and peaceful as I was that night.," said Mosley. "The smell and sight of all those white Easter lilies by candlelight was beautiful. ‘The Light' depicted in art form gave a complete story of hope.

"Somehow, I would like to think that all of these creations will touch the hearts of those that come to watch and pray. Like my depiction of Mary, my own heart is heavy with passion, but also gladness."