Friday, April 13, 2012

great and holy (photo) friday: bright sadness

the brown church,
 Amber Schley Iragui © 2007

Amber Schley Iragui © 2008

Amber Schley Iragui © 2009

T H E   R E T U R N
Ruth L. Schwartz

This is what life does, as an act of great
though often misunderstood kindness—it brings us
over and over again to the same sorrows.
For instance, the same emergency room
where I crouch beside the gurney on which lies
someone I love whose face is dulled by pain. And life
says, Here you are again, and gently
pulls the outer leaves away,
like I do with the woolly plants called lamb's ear,
the thickest, softest, gray-green petals I can find,
so I can touch the dew held at the hidden center.
Or I could be the one on the gurney; it doesn't matter.
Of course the dew at the center is love,
though it is also grief.
Of course it is only by touching it, not just with a finger
but with the entire self, exhausted, despairing, and willing,
that we can know they are the same thing,
ceaselessly making and remaking us
in every form that life would have us take,
so it can know itself through us, so we can know
a single thing—just one.

Published in The Sun Magazine, April 2012, Issue 436

It's Friday—Good Friday, Great and Holy Friday. Despite 14 years in the Orthodox Church, this day still brings to mind a sermon I heard on the radio as a child. Since there was no TV in our home, what I heard on the radio formed much of what I knew of life beyond the small circle of our life. The radio sat atop the refrigerator in my parent's kitchen, and it was pretty much always tuned to the local Christian radio station, KPDQ. One year, when I was perhaps 12, Tony Campolo's well-known sermon It's Friday, but Sunday's a-comin'! aired, and goosebumps rose on my pale pre-teen arms as I listened to his voice thunder "It's Friiiiiday! But Sunday's a-coooomin'!" (Unfortunately, my exhaustive Google searches did not unearth a decent video or audio of the sermon as I remember it, although the text can be found here).The contrast between despair and triumph, the faith that Sunday would bring not only Christ's Resurrection but a general resurrection of all that seemed hopeless and pointless in life was not lost on me.

The inner geography of these last few days before Pascha holds both the hot-blooded power of Campolo's sermon and the solemnity of Orthodox Holy Week—culminating in the Vespers of Good Friday. I first witnessed this beautiful service the day before I was chrismated into the Orthodox Church. The dark, cool sanctuary was a somber tomb, and smelled faintly of incense and beeswax. Shafts of afternoon sunlight fell upon an icon of Christ attached to an upright wooden cross, white lilies gathered in vases at its foot. As the service progressed, two parishioners stepped forward and helped the priest remove Christ from the cross. He was then wrapped in a white linen shroud and was proceeded into the alter. I felt as though I was there, or he was here, or somehow this was all happening quite literally before me, and through me. The glory of Orthodoxy, for me, is the earthy physicality of the liturgy itself—one is moved by something that includes the intellect and emotions, but is not limited to them. Later in the service, Christ (via the plashchanitsa), was carried out of the alter and placed on a bier in the nave of the church. At the close of the service we moved forward, one by one, in silence to prostrate before him, and to kiss him. There were tears on my cheeks as I knelt before his crucified body.

And so this day returns to me, again, repeating the story—my story—and bringing with it the added weight of days, days filled now with home and children. Because of children this year I will not be able to attend the afternoon vespers service, and instead I write my memories of the bright sadness of this day. And post these photos, all taken in years past, of bright sadness. It's Friday, but Sunday is coming.

For next week's photo Friday theme I suggest orange. Orange in honor Bright Week, and all that is warm and glowing and full of life.


Manuela said...

This pictures are incredible. I think they are so far my favorite set of the entire "photo friday" series.
Where was the first one taken?

I wish you a blessed Holy Week. Sunday is coming very soon.

I am all for orange next week.

A M B E R said...

Thanks, Manuela. I loved your bright sadness photos quite a bit myself! The first photo was taken inside of a church on the high prairie of Colorado, near Calhan. There are two church buildings that are part of the parish, with a long and complicated history. When I visited in 2007 I took this photo inside the partially burned "church on the the hill." I'm not clear on when this fire happened, in 1927 or more recently. The history of this church can be found here:

Julia said...

It is so interesting that they just left the church standing like that. That could only happen out west, where they have so much land and space. It also reminds me of our magical excursion to Bethlehem Steel and your amazing photos from that day.

I hope you have a wonderful and bright Pascha, Amber. I miss you...