Bearing Witness: Curator Statement
You are witnesses of these things . . .
~ Luke 24:48
The Arts & Faith Ministry at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church has been privileged to exhibit during the Lenten season a number of widely varying artistic interpretations of the “Stations of the Cross,” a liturgical devotion to the Passion of Christ, known as “Way of the Cross” (Via Crucis) or “Way of Sorrows” (Via Dolorosa), which allows the faithful to experience visually and through readings, prayers and meditations, events at the end of Jesus’s life, from condemnation to crucifixion and death.
A centuries-old practice that traditionally has made use of sacred art and scriptural texts at each of 14 sites, we walk and pray the “Stations of the Cross” to bear witness to Christ’s earthly sorrows and suffering and to better understand the relationship of Jesus’s life to such contemporary issues as hate and persecution, discrimination and injustice, homelessness and placelessness, while recalling to ourselves the need to see others as Jesus did: with fully open hearts and open minds.
In past seasons, the ministry has presented “re-visualizations” by contemporary artists whose works ranged from paintings and photographs, to mixed media and textiles, to digital renderings, each a unique and highly creative depiction, often metaphorical or symbolic in approach. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when the parish could not hold indoor services or other activities, the ministry took the “Stations” outdoors, using in one instance Scott Erickson’s illustrative “Stations in the Street” and, in another, Melanie Twelves’s “Native American Stations of the Cross.” These more current conceptualizations in particular remind us that our Lenten observance is not limited to any one artistic form or narrative or faith.
This year, I am especially grateful for the opportunity to showcase yet another “Stations” series, the woodcut prints of Margaret (Peggy) Adams Parker, a sculptor, printmaker, author, and senior lecturer at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.
Parker’s figurative prints on paper, which hang in St. Michael’s Parish Hall until Easter and are displayed as well in an online exhibit for those unable to view the “Stations” in person, are remarkably profound and affective, each image “embody[ing] the experience of Jesus’s . . . relentless downward movement, physically and spiritually, from trial to tomb . . . .” (Praying the Stations, page 145)
Two feet high by eighteen inches wide, the graphically stark images, rendered in black and white, rarely including more than two historical figures, fix us in the moment that each “Station” represents. Light too quickly turns to darkness. The lines comprising the images of Christ thicken and fill in heavily with ink. His is a lonely and tortuous walk from initial condemnation to death. We imagine the weight of the cross Jesus is made to bear, find our own knees buckling when Christ stumbles and falls, not once but three times, hands bound and body on the ground, eyes reflecting the depth of exhaustion. We feel the tenderness with which Jesus holds his humble, grieving mother and then again, when Veronica attends to God’s scourged son, wiping his bleeding brow. We sympathize with Jesus stripped of his clothes, acknowledging his humiliation at being so exposed. We recoil at Christ’s nailing to the cross, feel the force of yet another blow to his held-down hands, the nail-driver’s features as grim as the task he’s assigned. We are brought to silence by the horror of Jesus’s death, and then to grief as he is laid in the tomb. We ask, as Jesus did in his suffering, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
As Parker notes in her book Praying the Stations, woodcuts best “suit the rawness” of emotions, the bleakness of events she must depict in her images. They are “the most apt form” with which to track not only Christ’s journey along the Via Dolorosa but also our own. That we know that journey of pain will give way to the joy of Easter Sunday is both our hope and our salvation.
Arts & Faith Ministry
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For gallery visiting hours, directions, or other information, please telephone: Parish Administrator, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 1132 N. Ivanhoe St., Arlington, VA 22205; (703) 241-2474.
PLEASE BE PREPARED TO OBSERVE ANY COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS THAT ARE IN PLACE WHILE VIEWING THE EXHIBITION.