I’ve been thinking how time layers us with its seconds, minutes, and hours. As we journey through this pilgrimage of time on earth we are layered with our choices, our loves, our sins, our virtues. Each one of us is unique and uniquely loved by God our creator. Each one of us is a fine painting, a charming concerto, a sculpture carved in the image of God. Each one of us is a one-of-a-kind work of art.
Much has been said about the nature of art, or even the art of nature. Many have opined on beauty and meaning and how truth is related or not, how we express through art our deepest longings and desires, or perhaps our angst and anger at our fallen world, our world falling about us, crashing to dust at our feet.
I finished watching the 9/11 series, 9/11: One Day in America. I saw footage I had not seen, in particular the fall of the third building, 7 World Trade Center. The clip showed it collapsing into rubble, “pancake” style, straight down, the huge billowing clouds of dust and debris swallowing the air and tunneling down the adjacent streets just as had happened with the North Tower and the South Tower. Fire had leveled the building to the ground.
Watching the mini-series and seeing the last building fall added a mournful layer to my life, to my own heart and soul. They are images I will not forget, nor should I, nor do I wish to. They are a layer of life, of reality, of truth.
And so I am a slightly different person each day, as another brushstroke has defined the texture of my canvas. I know more than I did, and this knowledge adds to my daily growth.
Other strokes refine and define the oil on my canvas, and so I choose to worship on Sunday with other Christians so that my painting is further perfected with the love of God.
In our Berkeley chapel I gazed at the carved crucifix above the altar, a humble corpus attached to a rugged wooden cross. It too has seen the layers of time since the thirteenth century, and it becomes one of the layers in this domed chancel, adding to the flaming candles, the white linen altar, the tented tabernacle lovingly prepared by our priest, reflecting the color of the Sunday and the Season. The tabernacle itself is a layer wrapped around the Host within, a womb holding life, holding the Real Presence of Christ. For us. For our own gazing and our own worship, our own feeding and sharing.
Layers. The layering of life. The many stories that make up each one of us, never to be told again, never to be lived again in exactly the same way. The Lord of Life living in the tabernacle reigns, raining his baptismal waters upon us like a fountain in the desert, washing us clean, saying, “Eat, drink, this is myself given to you.”
We confess our sins and are forgiven. They are removed from our canvas, no longer there, by a holy erasing. We repent, promising to try again to be good, to love one another, to layer upon one another the love of God, the love of creation.
We are reminded by St. Paul, in words that may be the most poetic in all of Holy Scripture, of the tender brush strokes upon our souls, forming the next layer of beauty in our temporal time:
“I bow my knees unto the Father… that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3.13+, BCP 212).
I want to be rooted and grounded in love. I want to comprehend the breadth, length, depth, height of the love of Christ, passing knowledge. I want to be filled with the fulness of God.
The Church opens a door to that journey of joy. It opens the door onto the porch outside, onto the sidewalk, saying, come and see, come and see… Come and be painted by the Master of Creation. The Church opens the door to the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, saying, come and be fed by the Master of Life. With these layers, these brush strokes upon our souls, we open our hearts to one another. We join together, layered by Christ, brothers and sisters, the parish family.
For a time the horror of 9/11 is eclipsed by the joy of a Sunday morning. But we must see with wide open eyes the darkness of man, his temptation to destroy. We must be layered by true history, accepting the past in order to understand the present, to step into the future as children of God. We must never forget the holocausts of life, personal and cultural and worldwide, so that we may embrace the holiness of life, sharing it with one another, layer by layer, rooted and grounded in God’s love.