I had to break off telling you the story of my rosary walk remembering the five Sorrowful Mysteries as I was due to go to a talk about a newly published book. The author, Adina Hoffman, was talking about her book, ‘Till we have built Jerusalem’, an examination of early 20th century architecture in Jerusalem through the work of three architects – Erich Mendelsohn, Austen Harrison and Spyro Houris. It was a fascinating talk about how these three outsiders to the city, a German Jew, a British official and a Greek, maybe of Arab decent, tried to bring the local vernacular into their architecture.
However, the author began by telling a most powerful story of an encounter with a member of staff at the main Post Office (the work of Harrison) who said ‘We don’t have time for aesthetics.’ It was a disturbing admission from a young Israeli, caught up in the politics and fears of the present time and ignoring the call to an aesthetic that might create a better city for all. As someone interested in the interplay of architecture and theology I found it really fascinating.
My rosary walk included, of course, a great deal of architecture and some contrasting aesthetics! I left off my account after the third mystery and a visit to the Austrian Hospice with its lovely coffee and, I’m told, Schnitzel. I finally left the Hospice to resume this prayer walk and went across the street to the church where the Third Station is commemorated. This is the First Fall of Jesus under the weight of the cross and as the fourth Sorrowful Mystery is ‘The Carrying of the Cross’ this seemed an appropriate place to offer the next decade.
What I hadn’t noticed in this little church is that the fresco on the inside above the door shows Jesus carrying his cross and behind him a crowd of people carrying theirs. Sometimes we need to look in another direction in a place to spot what really matters. It made me, of course, think about the cross that others carry, the burden, the strain that many people are under.
I left and joined the crowd of people walking along the Via Dolorosa. But as they stopped at the various stations along the route I carried on as there was only one Sorrowful Mystery left and it was obvious where I had to remember this. So I found my way into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and climbed the steep steps up to Golgotha where I could pray the final decade as I remembered the final mystery ‘The crucifixion’. I sat on the bench at the side and watched the people, queuing, jostling for their place in the line that moved slowly to the twelfth station, the place of the crucifixion to bow down and touch the spot under the altar. A few young men in a group by my side were having the significance of the place explained to them by a guide. It sounded as though it was all news to them and perhaps the behaviour of these Christians from all around the world was baffling.
I realised, as I sat there, that it is very important to feel and share the sorrow. These mysteries, like the traditional Stations, conclude with the death of Jesus. Resurrection comes later. It felt important and it feels important to stay with that and not race to the empty tomb, not to be always looking for Easter. The death was real and the pain was real and those who denied that that could be true for Jesus were guilty of a heresy that even (or perhaps especially) in our modern age we should be wary of.
Previously I had been in the Church of Our Lady of the Spasm, the spasm of her grief and there, to the right of Golgotha stands a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lady had heard Simeon say to her
‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2.34-35)
The statue shows her pierced through with grief and she stands there as a reminder to all of those in the queue that the spasm of grief is real, even to those with faith. Mary knows joys and sorrows and glory and that is what the rosary reminds us of – but each is important and that, at the end of the journey was what I was reminded of.
may I smile in moments of joy,
weep in moments of sorrow,
dance in moments of glory,
and know your mysterious presence
in each of those moments.