very few things survive the stretch of Bonifacio High Street, save for tents selling real estate. after all there’s “public art” here, ones that don’t change and are mostly closely guarded: a two dimensional mickey mouse here, an unconventional slide there, an inverted fountain further down. in this context, art of any form, installations of any other kind, would just seem out of place.
but the way of the cross as reconsidered and reconfigured by Church Simplified succeeds in this space, both as art installations, and as a popularization of what is a ritual that has ceased to be simple, with Catholicism that’s everything and difficult to deal with given our own human rights and the Church’s insistence on moral authority. but i digress.
on the path of the conventional Visita Iglesia with the Nanay, we were both only surprised. she had done it countless times as a Catholic school girl, and i had done it with Lola Nena and Lolo Ding one holyweek, when I was the easiest teenage girl to drag around the city. this was the first time mother (her) and daughter (me) were out there, combing the nearby churches, and finding that for most of them the Stations of the Cross within the Church were covered up: the more important ritual was the adoration of the altar of repose, and the stations were relegated to a makeshift set-up in the courtyard or parking lot. it made for a less solemn time at prayer and meditation in front of each station, it made for a feeling that we were being discouraged to go through this Maundy Thursday ritual.
meanwhile at BoniHighStreet, and via Church Simplified, the stations of the cross are freed from the structures and new rituals of the conventional church, and surprisingly can work in the midst of commercial establishments — high end ones at that. don’t worry, the irony isn’t lost on me, though this time it does seem overrated.
no, this isn’t quite a modern take on the way or stations of the cross, as it is a popularization of it. Walkway: Reflections on the Stations of the Cross begins with step one: put it elsewhere other than a church. then moves on to step two: talk about it in words that are easy to understand, in a way that’s also about an amount of reflection, in a manner that is a conversation between equals, paraphrasing — quite well, I might add — from original texts that tell the story of Jesus Christ’s journey to death and resurrection. what is more laudable is the fact of tone: each of the 12 stations are spoken of comfortably, forcing a sense of familiarity even on the non-religious (i.e., ME).
that is to say that the re-imagination that this way of the cross allows the spectator is one that is almost beyond religion and religiosity, and is about the gift of a story, one that’s told so well, it becomes believable and real, no matter if you are believer or not. this is a wonderful gift really, one that happens in stark contrast to the way in which the conventional Church talks about the death and suffering of Christ as always frighteningly about our sins, period.
the more powerful stations I thought were ones that forced spectator to deal with some quiet, if not reflection. station #5 which is the scourging, is re-titled “the whip” and talks about the process of scourging and the weapon that’s used to inflict pain on its victim. the rendering of the whip, hanging lengthwise against bloodied black walls, actually works not just as reminder, but as art installation: there is restraint here, a sense of someone taking control and seeing the value of what in the end is a quiet violence, more powerful than any of the installations on this stretch of BoniHighStreet.
the quiet of charity was in that lone statue of a kid on a platform for station #4 entitled “the verdict”, a retelling of Jesus being judged by Pilate. the statue was made clearly into a street kid given the huge tattered shirt he was wearing, which was also ultimately about the same kind of control and restraint that’s in “the whip” and in art installation, both.
the power of restraint in creating just the right amount of drama meanwhile is in station #6 re-titled “the curse” from the conventional Jesus is crowned with thorns station. here, a crown is put on a pedestal of sorts, surrounded by thorns and encased in glass. the light that shines from within the casing, would be too much given the gold of the crown, were it not a well chosen deep red light, one that doesn’t shine through the glass but stays within it. this provides just the right amount of drama, highlighting the difference of this station from the rest of the installations and stations that are mostly in black.
equally wonderful about Church Simplified’s ways of the cross is its requirement of involvement: you read about “the two simons” and are told to think of someone who has helped you in a time of dire need, and to pick other people’s prayers from a bowl and say the prayer for them, as you leave your own wishes in the same bowl. you are Simon of Cyrene as the next person will be for you.
then there are the acts of carrying a cross in station #8, or of nailing one’s sins as represented by black cloth from station #6 onto station #9 “the crucifixion”, or of lifting an old black telephone and listening to people talking about and prejudging somebody else. there are the acts of walking through darkness inside a tent to signify the “seeming” darkness of Good Friday in station #12, or of writing down the name of a person you wish to thank by saying a little prayer for her in station #13 “the cloth”, about the story of Easter.
what these stations required of me as spectator were surprisingly easy to get into, on the one hand as a meditation, on the other as a way of dealing with this story of one man whose story is also that of a society. one that’s so familiar, one that’s exactly where we’re at still, the one we continue to (re-)create.
what is striking though in the process of walking through Church Simplified’s stations of the cross is its ability at reconfiguring this story into one that’s current and relevant, complete with really cool Christian rock music (that i’m now hunting down), and activities that don’t fall into the trap of making things fun-without-a-point. instead what’s here is a story told and reconfigured into hope, and possibility, and light. plenty of it. and in the face of a conventional Catholic Church that’s in the throes of losing plenty of its believers, in the midst of arguing with our own Catholic selves about the contradictions between this Church and our own real lives, this popularization is exactly what local Catholicism needs. less of the preaching and instilling fear, more of the talking to us all as equals, yes? there is hope for Catholic religiosity in this country yet.
Tagged: Bonifacio Global City, Bonifacio High Street, Church Simplified, death, Holy Week 2011, Jesus Christ, popular religion, popularizing Catholicism, religion, religiosity, resurrection, stations of the cross, visita iglesia, Walkway: Reflections on the Stations of the Cross, way of the cross