All Saint’s Nov 6, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
Ok, so my family and I just moved to Eugene two weeks ago. We moved from North of Boston, not too, too far from where Patti and Doug moved from. Today was my first day as the Priest in Charge at Church of the Resurrection down in South Eugene. So I am very new to town, but I have already figured out enough to know that the way to endear myself to Oregonians is probably not to preach on the wonders of Los Angeles, California. That’s accurate, right? I want to make sure I have the pulse of the community before I get started in my ministry here…
Has anyone here been to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in LA? I do not know anything about architecture; I generally prefer a meadow to a building any day; but some years ago I was at a conference down there and we were introduced to this cathedral. It opened in 2002, and replaced the former cathedral which was destroyed in the ’94 Northridge quake. From day one in the planning of this building, it was going to be different. The building, and all of the major systems and furnishings were to be designed to last for 500 years. I was amazed by that. What do we do now that could possibly last for 500 years? Have you ever thought in that kind of time frame? 500 years… The design of this building apparently pushed the envelope of seismic design, the whole building floats in some way over this 100 foot deep trench. It has passive air circulation that cools it with no moving parts, and instead of stained glass it has windows consisting of the largest amount of alabaster ever used in a construction project. And it is beautiful, it is a post-modern mission style, concrete instead of adobe… it is just fantastic.
It did not go with out controversy, primarily over the $189 million price tag that many said could have been used to feed the poor. (Judas said something like that once, too, no?) It is a fair critique, but then again, 500 years from now, it will be the only building still standing that was intended to still be standing. Who but the church could do this? Who but the church can think in terms of 500 years?
I bring up the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on this All Saint’s Day because of something I saw inside of that church when I visited. All along the side walls, maybe 20 feet tall and as long as the walls (the sanctuary is 333 feet long -1 foot longer that St. Patrick’s in New York) there are these tapestries made by John Nava. It is s cycle of 25 tapestries and is called “The Communion of Saints”. So first off, remember, these tapestries were commissioned to last 500 years. And to describe these tapestries, I need to describe the process, because this piece of art is the epitome of the process and the medium being the message, and the message is All Saints.
The over all effect of the work is that the walls of the church are lined with 200, maybe people, 20 foot tall people lining the walls, all looking directly toward the altar, all this energy in this crowd facing forward in this immense and amazing building in the heart of LA. So that is the effect, how it was arrived at is the magic.
So Nava started by taking photographs of 200ish of his friends’ faces. The weaving happened on these very special digital looms in Beligum, so the images are really from the photographs. Then he asked 200ish people how they prayed. Like, how they held their hands, what posture they were in. Hands folded. Arms out. Lotus position…how they prayed. So he portrayed the bodies in all of those various postures; then he costumed the figures in the dress of the period from an historical saint. Each figure represented an actual saint, and each figure had a label at the bottom. So the head and hands of his friend Bill became St. Thomas Aquinas and was clothed as Thomas would have been clothed. St. Matthew is there, a few of the Johns, I’ll assume that your John was there, folks from Springfield, you don’t leave out the guys that write the Apocalypses, Blood of the Lamb and all. Woe be it on the one who forgets the one who wrote about the Blood of the Lamb and the Beasts. Mary of course is there. And mixed in are some children and something like six anonymous saints. We all have met that kind of person before, the anonymous saints.
The process of making that art, this gorgeous tapestry that will hang for 500 years in a holy place. We are in it together. We are not alone. It takes a crowd to approach God. The message is the process and the medium.
I did not participate in a Mass there. But I sat in the pews for a good long time with the other conference goers, a collection of academics gathered for an annual meeting of the Society of Buddhist – Christian Studies. A pretty interesting group of folks to go to church with. It was not Mass, but I could imagine having Mass there. The effect was so deep. You really were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, a legion that went before us, that is still with us, that continues to lead us, that we are part of and will become part of…The Communion of Saints. How many times have we said that line, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints…” Everyone says that every morning when you say Morning Prayer, right? I had never gotten the meaning of that line from the Apostles Creed ‘til I sat there, really surrounded by that polyglot of saints from across time and space.
And look at us here. Our little slice of the communion of saints in this place at this time are gathered here’ we are from different parishes, from different cities, from different backgrounds, with different futures with different gifts and problems. But we are gathered here together, praying together, being a communion of saints. Now none of us have plans to be here in 500 years; at least not realistic plans of that, but here we are, Maybe this gathering will last 500 years. Not this actual gathering…