Fifteen years ago my wife Peggy and I had the incredible opportunity of spending two weeks with Dallas Willard and a community of brothers and sisters at the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California. As that week progressed we were given ample opportunity to wander the grounds and venture into the mountains culminating in the gift of 24 hours of silence in community. I remember those days with great fondness: the rich dialogue, the worship, the exposure to meditative approaches to Scripture and evening compline services, the amazing teaching, and the beauty of God’s creation. But interestingly the most lasting image of that time is the station of the cross pictured to the right.
The third day we spent outdoors taking in the beauty that surrounded us. The mountains rose behind us and before us was an extensive garden with beautiful sculptures depicting Jesus’s final days on earth. Most of us were Protestant by background so the concept of creating “stations of the cross”, visual images depicting Jesus’s trial and journey to his crucifixion on Golgotha, was unfamiliar. Dallas gently led us from image to image as we reflected on the mystery of Jesus’s love and suffering for each and every one of us.
During the day of silence I found myself lingering with these lifelike bronze depictions of Mary locking eyes with her son carrying his cross to his own death. I’m still struck by the tenderness in Jesus’s eyes and face as he looks fully into Mary’s eyes. He affirms and acknowledges her pain. And yet he is able to continue toward Golgotha. His body never deviates from the path set before Him by His loving Father. I was struck by the strength and tenderness of Jesus’s masculinity that could embrace the pain of his mother even as he persevered in the hard work that lay before Him. I sensed God tenderly assuring me that I did not have to deny or avoid the pain of those He would have me serve while remaining true to what obedience would mean for me. I would discover later that God would powerfully speak to Peggy through the same bronze figures affirming the value and sufficiency of her love as a mother for our three precious daughters.
As we embrace the gifts of this season, our Father’s invitation to come home and the opportunity to connect more intimately with Jesus in the concrete physicality of His love for us, may we each find the strength we need to walk the path of love that is set before each of us. Praise be to God!