Capturing the extraordinary

Our group with John August Swanson

Our group with John August Swanson

by Pastor Audrey

Extraordinary experiences can be really frustrating.  That is, it can be hard to put into words, to share with others who were not there, experiences that move and touch us in profound ways.  

I knew yesterday’s Willow Avenue field trip to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels would be such an experience.  We were going to see the art installation of John August Swanson, complete with a guided tour by the artist himself.  I met John several years ago in Atlanta, so I had an inkling of what to expect.  How to capture the experience?  Any attempt felt like trying to hold water in my cupped hands: it would only be momentary, but perhaps enough to drink from deeply.

I decided to practice the Examen– a prayer practice best known as a way to pray for discernment. Simply put, the Examen(pronounced “ex-AY-men”) focuses our attention on consolations and desolations. A consolation is when we experience an inner stirring toward an increase of faith, hope, or love; a desolation is when we experience a decrease of faith, hope, or love.  It’s important that this isn’t about feeling “happy” or “sad.” I can certainly feel happy about someone’s misfortune if I think they’re getting what they deserve – definitely NOT an increase of faith, hope, or love.  The idea behind paying attention to these movements in our spirits is so that when we notice a desolation as it is happening in the moment, we can take steps to act against it.  Likewise, when we notice a consolation in progress, we can really let ourselves open up to it and be filled by it.

Here are my consolations and desolations for the day:

Consolation: The pre-dawn moon, just a sliver, just enough.

Consolation: Listening to Jean Janzen share about their recent family reunion, most especially about the healing that is possible when we create space for others to share their pain.

Consolation: The looks on the faces of those on the field trip when John August Swanson began pulling out gifts for each of us – cards and posters of his artwork.  I thought my heart would just burst open.

Consolation: John taking my hand and putting it on his head when I thanked him and told him what a gift he is.  This is a man who knows how to receive a blessing.

Desolation: Los Angeles traffic at rush hour.  Our GPS kept finding alternate routes to avoid the worst traffic, taking us on the interstate through neighbors.  Those who know me best know that I get extremely anxious about time and feeling late to anything.  It was agonizing for me to feel like I hadn’t planned well enough to get our group back at a reasonable hour.

Consolation: The sunset colors: intense orange, soft purple, filling the sky and then fading.  The final exhalation of an extraordinary day.