Return to Small

Whenever I first arrive in France, it’s impossible for me to practice small. In the tiny medieval village where we stay I encounter so much beauty and joy, I cannot slow down and concentrate. Whenever I arrive, I have to give myself permission to take a short vacation from small while I settle in and come down to earth. This time, it was a raconteur de France, or French storyteller who returned to me the gift of small.

Monday was Pentecost, a national holiday in France, and my friend Christine and I spent the day on a guided tour of the frescoes in three local churches, the first in Bias, just down the hill from our village. In 2012 Francois Peltier painted his modern interpretation of the Stations of the Cross on the walls of this church, his red-haired Jesus, along with the white of Jesus’s dress and the gold of his cross repeating 14 times along the walls of this small church, built over a period of hundreds of years.

Following Jesus’s large, oval eyes as they droop more at each station, his mouth increasingly pinched with suffering, the viewer cannot help but be drawn into the drama of Jesus’s journey to his death. Although I knew about the Stations of the Cross and had seen many renderings in Europe, I had never paid particular attention to the emotion/s they evoked. But on Monday, I found myself increasingly moved by the suffering of Jesus and his followers.

Before we began the visit, the guide had suggested we each select one station in particular to return to after the tour. “That way, the next time you visit this church, you will already have an intimate relationship with an important moment.”

And there it was: small. Hearing the guide’s words, I understood immediately that he had returned small to me. Not only was he a kindred spirit, but he was guiding me back to my practice. And it was time!

When the guided visit was over, I made my way back to the first station, which depicted three judges condemning Jesus to death, and gazed for several moments at the judges and at Jesus, whose still-wide-open eyes seemed to be looking straight at me. The Roman judges’ eyes, by contrast, are partially covered by their hats. The golden cross, which will become more and more prominent as the stations progress, peeks out from behind Jesus’s left shoulder.

Why this station, I wondered, when others are so much more emotionally intense. And then I understood: this is where the story begins, where events might move in either direction. Where tragedy might be averted. Where the history of Christianity might have taken a dramatic turn. Even though I knew the outcome, knew how the story did end, I wanted to leave the church with a sense of possibility. I wanted to take with me that one moment, just before the big bang, when everything is still undecided, and life can proceed in any number of directions.

For J.T.

Moment in a Road Sign


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