Monday, February 23, 2009

The Light Air of Lent Meets the Heavy Hand

As we approach the light air of Lent we encounter a hand hewn likeness of Christ's Crucifixion. This dramatic display seems to have been carved out of tree which fell at this spot. We are at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist Monastery in Berkeley County, S.C. The Abbey, once a prosperous plantation, is a pastoral retreat from the chaos of a declining civilization. The Monks within have retreated from that secular world and so have we for the moment.

While the Abbey is a reservation clearly dedicated to the practice of a Christian faith, one need not embrace the Sacraments to enjoy the peace which settles upon the visitor. The magnificent view of the upper reaches of the Cooper River is seen past a series of sacred statuary which blend smoothly with natural surroundings. The panorama presents a calming sense of grace. Most of the icons of faith are weathered and have taken on a patina which blends them with the land. They present no conflict and demand nothing of the viewer.

The Crucifixion in wood, however, is rendered in hard, sharply edged features which is unsettling and a bit difficult to view. It seems glossy and still new. It blends with nothing and stands decidedly apart from the placid surroundings. The discomfort one feels is no accident and the suffering it portrays is its message. Perhaps it speaks to both the child of faith and the secular citizen. It more than suggests that nothing of value comes easily nor without sacrifice.


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