Much in California makes me miss Italy -- actually, I'm always missing Italy, if only in the back of my mind. Here in the garden, where I sit in the dappled sunlight of a pergola, the olive tree takes advantage of the breeze to show me the silvery undersides of her blue-green leaves. The roses are the size of salad plates. Beyond this garden, rows of cypress trees punctuate the hilly landscape: here and there, the fingers of their male bottoms reach out for company, hoping for a receptive hostess in one of their neighbors' female tops.
Yes, these trees have male bottoms and female tops. The imaginative sexual lives of plants leave most of us in the dust. They are not as innocent as they appear. This, too, reminds me of Italy.
Just out the back of the garden, and startlingly nearby, stands a mountain. A mountain in the middle of a city! Not an Alp, maybe, but not nothing, either. It is a jumble of boulders; it looks as if it had been swept together by a giant broom and then just left on the floor by an absent-minded cleaning lady. It is Mt. Rubidoux, my hostess tells me, the site of the oldest non-denominational outdoor sunrise service in the United States, every Easter since 1909. Ah, yes, now I see the cross, a bare white one on the highest point. At its peak, there were special trains that went up there for the Easter service. In the 1920s, upwards of 30,000 people attended every year.
I don't suppose we'll have quite that many back at St. Luke's this year. We will be outside on Good Friday, though, making our way through town carrying a life-sized cross for our version of the Stations. Any town makes a good setting for this old devotion, in which we walk the Via Dolorosa, Jesus' last earthly journey, because every town holds the joys and sorrows of people's lives in its architecture, its places of business, in its monuments. I have walked the Via Dolorosa in New York City. I've walked it in Florence. I've walked it in San Vivaldo in Toscana, one of the santi monti created in the 15th-17th centuries, so that people who couldn't travel to Jerusalem could still experience the walk, closer to home.
Here is the courthouse, where Jesus is condemned to death. Here is the memorial to Martin Luther King, where he takes up his cross. Here is the day care center, where Jesus meets the weary women of Jerusalem. And the 9/11 memorial, where he falls to the ground under the weight he carries. Here is the firehouse, where Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross of a total stranger and expects nothing in return. I would like a station this year at the Jewish temple, where our group might hear a bit about why Good Friday filled generations of European Jews with dread for centuries. We shall see.
When you do Stations of the Cross, you travel. You don't just view them -- you walk them. Because you're on a journey throughout your life. On Good Friday, your journey is a sober one. On many days, it is a walk in the dark. And on one day, it will be a walk straight into glory.
You can join us on Good Friday for our Neighborhood Stations of the Cross. We leave from St. Luke's, Metuchen, NJ (17 Oak Avenue, 08840) at 9am, and return to the church at 12 noon. From 12-3pm, Barbara Crafton will offer meditations on the Seven Last Words from the Cross, with music by Karl Watson. For more information about the entire Real Time Passion, call St. Luke's at 732-548-4308 or visit us on Facebook at St. Luke's Metuchen.