Building a museum, brick by brick

A confession: I’m an AFOL—that’s internet shorthand for “Adult Fan of LEGO.”

As a kid, I spent many hours playing with my Classic Space sets. I’ve kept the bricks in an old green dishpan, occasionally getting them out for friends’ kids to play with or to cobble together something of my own. A few years back, my friend H. invited me on a trip to the LEGO store, where I built a couple of custom minifigs. I happened to pack one of those minifigs with me on a 2014 choir trip to Scotland. Along the way I started snapping pics of the minifig in various sites, resulting in the “The Adventures of Barry and Fitch.” (Tumblr displays the series in reverse chronological order, so you have to scroll down a ways to start at the beginning.)

Barry (a LEGO minifig) and Fitch (a mini cow) view a sweeping vista of the Scottish Highlands
Barry and Fitch take in the splendor of the Scottish Highlands

Later that year I came across a review of the LEGO “Museum Break-In” set by the head of security at the Getty Museum. I couldn’t resist going out and buying it as a Christmas present to myself—my first adult LEGO set purchase. It sits on a bookshelf in my museum office, with LEGO Bob Ross alongside painting a scholar stone.

LEGO Museum and Bob Ross
Bob Ross paints in plein air, oblivious to the shenanigans ensuing at the LEGO Museum.

More recently, I purchased a box of assorted LEGOs at IKEA to keep on my office desk (the lack of inscrutable building directions in the box seems like a missed branding opportunity). When I need a moment of decompression or creative spark, I pull out some bricks and start building. One of my first LEGO “doodles” was something that could pass for MOCRA’s building. Intrigued, I took my little model home and supplemented it with some of my dishpan bricks: LEGO MOCRA Mark I.


Before long I thought, surely I can improve the proportions. So, I went back to my trusty dishpan and cobbled together a patchwork LEGO MOCRA Mark II prototype. With the help of Bricklink, and some spare bricks from H., I procured the pieces to realize Mark II—only to discover that I still hadn’t quite got the proportions I was aiming for. Once again it was back to the dishpan and then Bricklink to arrive at LEGO MOCRA Mark III.

The essentials, the lines, the structure, were all there. Now I could focus on tweaking aspects of the build to achieve finer details. One more trip to Bricklink and finally: MOCRA Mark IV. You’ll note a certain Director welcoming visitors to the museum; the cat hairs on the slacks are an added element of verisimilitude.

For comparison, here are some shots of the actual building.

Maybe it’s fitting that I had the impulse to craft a LEGO MOCRA, as I’ve been involved with MOCRA almost since its inception, and thus had many opportunities to help shape a respected and vibrant small academic museum. Since creative play can provide inspiration and insights into the “real world,” here are some reflections on LEGO MOCRA and the actual museum.

The big picture and the details

Just as a good metaphor draws out the essence of the object of comparison, a model can help us see the clear outlines of a scenario by omitting extraneous detail. Models make projects or problems more manageable through generalization, or by focusing on one dimension in isolation. 

Building LEGO MOCRA provided an opportunity to visualize the museum’s physical plant in a new way, as I closely considered the proportions and interrelationships of the elements of the building. Working at microscale, I knew that there were certain details I could only allude to, like the narrow upper clerestory windows. LEGO MOCRA expresses the essence of the building.

Planning exhibitions and programming often begins with a degree of generalization, sketching ideas in broad strokes, followed by a period of refinement, of sharpening details and trimming away what is unnecessary. Hopefully the result is clear alignment with the museum’s mission, a focus on what is essential, and an efficient use of resources. On a larger scale, scenario planning uses narrative models to imagine possible futures, consider their implications for the museum, and explore possible paths forward to meet those futures.

Going back to the dishpan

As I developed LEGO MOCRA, I tried out a variety of approaches to modeling different features of the museum. Some worked, some didn’t. The process was akin to musical improvisation, where an underlying chordal structure or other rubric grounds a musician’s spontaneous expression. LEGO bricks have a certain logic and established ways of using them. But sometimes you turn a “headlight” around and suddenly you have a stained-glass window.

I bought a number of bricks I ended up not using. I had to be willing to recognize that what I thought would work, didn’t, and return to the drawing board. Yet my ventures to Bricklink weren’t wasted: going through the catalog of parts, I discovered bricks and colors that opened new possibilities.

This process reminds me of design thinking.  This methodology has gained traction in the museum field, with its process of identifying a problem, ideating and exploring possible solutions, iteratively prototyping and testing possible solutions, and implementing the final solution. Design thinking benefits from patience, humility, and a good sense of humor, and it entails a degree of risk by encouraging the involvement of end users (i.e., giving up a measure of control) and embracing failure.

Keeping up on inventory

I got some ribbing from friends whom I was updating on the progress of LEGO MOCRA, because I was drawing up parts lists and documenting each stage of the build.

And to be sure, it was sometimes a hassle, especially when I realized mid-build I could do something in a better way. I would disassemble back to a prior step, and start again, taking fresh pictures and updating the parts lists. 

My artist friend Con has sold me on the value of documentation and reflection when working on a project, especially a collaborative one. Arriving at the end of one problem-solving process is often the start of the next one, and it’s helpful when you can review where you’ve been, and why, before figuring out where you’re headed next. Documentation takes time and it’s tempting to gloss over it. But it’s invaluable for continuity at a museum from one generation of employees to the next, or even for long-time employees to pause and ask, why are we doing it this way again? What was the original reason for doing this, and do those conditions still exist, or is it time to reassess?

At MOCRA, this happened a couple of years ago when we changed our public schedule to add some evening hours. After twenty-some years with the same public hours, we realized that MOCRA wasn’t open at times students were likely able to visit. The public hours initially had been set to reflect a typical office work week, and weren’t that different from those offered at other area museums—and we had never re-examined them to see if they were working for the visiting public.

Reflection, revision and rebuilding are critical in the bigger picture. As was highlighted at the recent conferences of the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, COVID-19 has disrupted museum financial and operating models and exposed inequities and unexamined biases in staffing, collecting, and interpretation. It has brought to the fore questions about who is welcome at museums and the barriers that museums raise. (You can find some of my musings on this topic here.)

Scraping the bottom of the dishpan

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” it’s said, and scarcity can inspire creativity. To prototype LEGO MOCRA, I rummaged scuffed, faded bricks from my bin to combine with fresh bricks and even some off-brand ones (shhh). The result was charming, in a scruffy kind of way, but far from polished. As a “small-but-scrappy” museum, MOCRA operates on a modest budget with a minimal staff complement. As at many small museums, it’s sometimes a hand-to-mouth existence. But we’re adept at making the most of our resources and finding creative solutions with frugal means.

With both LEGOS and life, economic realities sometimes help clarify what is essential. I thought I’d try out the “headlight” piece in a few different colors to see what would best simulate the lower gallery windows . . until I discovered that one of those colors was extremely rare, and the only supplier who had the dozen I would need was charging $10.50 apiece for the part. $130 was not in the budget for an option I might or might not use. I only ordered the clear transparent version—and it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

Similarly, economics can sometimes rule out a course of action, freeing a museum to let go of an untenable option and invest resources in better ways. For instance, a members program could be a great way to build an engaged audience and raise financial support . . . until you realize the high upfront and sustained investment of staff time and budget needed for a successful program would compromise the museum’s primary work. And so you seek other ways to raise funds and to engage audiences.

However, sometimes the better choice is to invest the money and staff resources to accomplish the goal at hand. While the parti-colored LEGO MOCRA prototypes achieved the right dimensions and shapes, I needed to custom order parts in the correct colors to achieve the desired finish. The prototyping process allowed me to accurately determine what I actually needed, rather than spend in a scattershot way. This leads to a final observation.

Minding the gap

In any project or endeavor, there will be a gap between our intention and the realization, between the plan and the execution of the plan. Sometimes those gaps spur us to revisit and refine our plans, to make LEGO MOCRA Mark II and Mark III and Mark IV. And sometimes we realize that there’s no sense in letting perfect be the enemy of good. Or, as Seth Godin says pithily, “If it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t count.” 

The gap can be uncomfortable, especially for those of us with perfectionist tendencies. It might feed a lurking impostor syndrome, or stoke envy of museums with more robust staff rosters and budgets. But it’s also a helpful reality check, an opportunity to inventory your resources and prioritize what you’re going to do with them. And the gap leaves space to move, to adjust, rework, and improve. If there’s no gap, there’s no more to be done than maintain, and creative energy dissipates.

I’m pretty happy with LEGO MOCRA at the moment. This round of ideation, prototyping, and implementation is complete. Still, I’m sure eventually there will a Mark V (and perhaps the Director will get a pair of slacks without cat hair on them). Or maybe I should grab some bricks out of the box on my desk and start dreaming up an expansion to the museum with an experimental gallery and community gathering spaces . . . 

David Brinker
Director, MOCRA

Riding the spiral of history

On a recent sweltering day in St. Louis, as Saint Louis University observed Juneteenth as a university holiday for the first time, I read back over a blog post that I wrote a year ago. Reflecting on all the significant events of the past year, while recognizing the persistent injustice in the lives of so many people, I found myself pondering the ways we view the passage of time.

Is it linear, so that we may say, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”?

Or cyclical, with the same patterns repeating over and over? (King adapted his famous quote from an 1853 sermon by the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker, who said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”)

Personally, I favor the image of the spiral. It brings together the sense of forward motion and trajectory of the linear with the sense of repeating patterns of the cynical. Or put more directly, we may return to familiar ground again and again, but each time, we are different people. Our experiences give us opportunities to broaden and change our perspectives; we can make new choices about how to respond to the challenges of the moment. As MOCRA returns to actively organizing new exhibitions and programs, we aren’t the same museum, St. Louis isn’t the same community, the U.S. isn’t the same nation, as we were when we hit pause in March 2020.

A point raised frequently during recent conferences of the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries was that “museums are not neutral.” Museums don’t get to hold themselves above the fray wearing a guise of “objectivity”; we must engage all the complicated and difficult issues of our times. This includes examining and addressing blind spots and injustices in our past and present practices. For MOCRA, this includes being more intentional about how we build and diversify our collection; developing programming for our MOCRA Voices podcast that explores the interrelationship of between art, creativity, and racial and ethnic identity; and being an active participant in realizing Saint Louis University’s Clock Tower Accords commitments.

In the blog post from 2020, I quoted an op-ed from Usher:

“Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America. But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.”

A year later, we have that reminder. What will we do with it? Where do we hope to be when the spiral brings us to next Juneteenth?

David Brinker
Director, MOCRA

Finding a way back

At the end of May, I wrote:

Yesterday the U.S. officially marked 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. The clinical detachment of that number masks a staggering loss of individual lives, a cutting short of vibrant stories. It has also encouraged a conversation about communal grieving and acts of memorial, asking how our present moment is like, and unlike, previous collective experiences of loss from war, terrorism, and illness.

I didn’t anticipate that five months later, I would be writing, “Yesterday the U.S. officially marked 250,000 deaths from COVID-19.” And yet, here we are.

Bearing in mind that nearly incomprehensible statistic, a work in MOCRA’s current exhibition Surface to Source has taken on new layers of meaning since it went on display in January.

Robert Farber, Western Blot #11, 1992. Oil and gold leaf on wood panels, mouldings. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

Robert Farber (1948–1995) worked on his Western Blot Series between 1991 and 1994. These twenty-three painting-constructions emerged from Farber’s experience of living with HIV and AIDS (the title comes from a test used to diagnose HIV.) The works juxtapose the Black Death in the fourteenth century and AIDS in the late twentieth century. Farber noted, “I started reading Barbara Tuchman and found compelling parallels between medieval man’s experience of the Black Death and AIDS today. There were so many equivalents: sociologically, economically spiritually.”

One panel bears a quote from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, written between 1348 and 1351, which includes 100 tales recounted by a group of ten young women and men who are sheltering in a villa outside Florence to escape the bubonic plague ravaging the city. Farber linked the psychological trauma of the Black Death to the experiences of gay men in the early decades of the AIDS crisis.

Robert Farber, Western Blot #11 (detail), 1992. Oil and gold leaf on wood panels, mouldings. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

I uncovered the context of this passage in the Introduction to the First Day of the Decameron. I was struck by Boccaccio’s descriptions of the various ways people responded to the plague.

Some there were who conceived that to live moderately and keep oneself from all excess was the best defence against such a danger; wherefore, making up their company, they lived removed from every other and shut themselves up in those houses where none had been sick and where living was best; and there, using very temperately of the most delicate viands and the finest wines and eschewing all incontinence, they abode with music and such other diversions as they might have, never suffering themselves to speak with any nor choosing to hear any news from without of death or sick folk.

Others, inclining to the contrary opinion, maintained that to carouse and make merry and go about singing and frolicking and satisfy the appetite in everything possible and laugh and scoff at whatsoever befell was a very certain remedy for such an ill. That which they said they put in practice as best they might, going about day and night, now to this tavern, now to that, drinking without stint or measure . . .

COVID-19 has likewise elicited a range of responses, from those who take every precaution to those who live as if in denial of the existence of the coronavirus. The Introduction also illustrates the tensions between individualism and community-centeredness, the despair that lurks behind a studied nihilism, the disorientation of becoming unmoored from social customs, and the ways communities break down when bereft of effective leadership and reliable public services.

The clearly delineated components of Western Blot #11 suggest the compartmentalization happening on so many levels right now. Some are physical: social bubbles, remote education, stay-at-home orders. Others are psychological and emotional, especially for frontline workers under tremendous physical and mental strain. A single open frame juxtaposed with an eye calls to mind the heartbreaking situation of people dying in hospital beds or nursing homes, separated from loved ones who can only communicate with them through windows or smartphone screens.

Robert Farber, Western Blot #11 (detail), 1992. Oil and gold leaf on wood panels, mouldings. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

Sets of hash marks evoke the mounting number of people diagnosed with and dying from COVID-19. The strokes visually express the cumulative tedium of days spent confined at home, hours spent on video conferences, missed sports events and theater performances and concerts and religious services. They speak to the scarcity of hospital beds and berths in homeless shelters, to missed mortgage and rent payments that may result in foreclosure or eviction. And they are an indictment of the inaction (or perhaps intransigence) of government leaders unable or unwilling to make decisions in the interest of the common good.

Robert Farber, Western Blot #11 (detail), 1992. Oil and gold leaf on wood panels, mouldings. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

F. Regina Psaki notes that,

The Decameron provides a metanarrative on compassion . . . [the world of the storytellers] begins in collective pain, incomprehension, chaos, and cruelty and must find its way back to solace, understanding, order, and compassion. . . . Yet they do return. They have recovered the compassion that pushes them to accept the responsibility of consoling and assisting their fellows, a responsibility they had earlier shed under the pragmatic impetus of self-preservation. 

I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, Volume 22, Number 1, Spring 2019

Robert Farber created the Western Blot works in the midst of an epidemic that devastated gay communities and brought into sharp relief the fear, prejudice, and discrimination aimed at gay men and other marginalized people who were most at risk of contracting AIDS. He brought to his work a vision by turns painful, moving, compassionate, and courageous, causing art historian Michael Camille to write, “Farber’s work has less finality, and more hope in my view, representing not death at all, but the struggle of art to frame life while it can still be lived.”

Back in May, I also wrote,

We at MOCRA don’t pretend to have any great insights, but we do believe in the capacity for art to carry us past the limitations of speech in articulating our grief, fear, confusion, and anger, to remind us of the power of empathy, compassion, and solidarity. This can be especially true of art that emerges from an engagement with the spiritual and religious dimensions: art rooted in the fertile soil of wisdom found in the world’s faith traditions, or shaped by the discipline of ritual, spiritual, or artistic practices; art that taps into a treasury of images and themes that speak across time, geography, and culture.

Today I reaffirm those assertions. We must be clear-eyed about the consequences of the polarization in our civic life: the politicization of our response to the pandemic at both the community and national levels, resulting in unnecessary suffering and additional loss of life; the ongoing turmoil following the November election; and the turbulent reckoning with the systemic racism that poisons almost every aspect of life in our nation.

And yet, works of art, be they literary or musical or kinesthetic or visual, afford us an opportunity to step away from our preoccupations, adopt new perspectives, reflect, and receive inspiration—so that we may return to face life’s challenges with renewed vigor, equanimity, and solidarity.

David Brinker
Director, MOCRA

“However the image enters / its force remains within / my eyes”: A Juneteenth meditation

Frederick J. Brown, Descent into Hell from The Life of Christ Altarpiece, 1994–1995 (reverse, detail). MOCRA collection.

Juneteenth is on the consciousness of more Americans than ever before. Like the vast majority of white Americans, I didn’t really know much about Juneteenth (or New Year’s Eve Watch Night observances) beyond the fact that they celebrate the end of slavery in America. The reality was much more complicated, as first the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed slaves in states that had seceded (which was only made effective in Texas with the arrival of Union troops in Galveston Island on June 19, 1865), and then the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in all U.S. states and territories when it was ratified on December 6, 1865.

The National Archives recently located the original handwritten record of General Order No. 3, issued by U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865.

The present-day stark disparities in health, employment, and wealth between Black and white Americans remind us that slavery may have ended, but racial discrimination, violence, and injustice remain deeply and insidiously rooted in contemporary society. Musical artist Usher wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America. But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.”

While reading and reflecting this week on Juneteenth, a work of art by the late Frederick J. Brown (1945–2012) in the MOCRA collection kept coming to mind. Brown was one of America’s finest and most prolific expressionist artists. His paintings draw on many sources, including his African-American and Choctaw ancestry, his religious upbringing, and the folklore of the South. He referenced religious, historical, and urban themes in his work, but was especially noted for his numerous portraits of jazz and blues artists. In 1991 he told Eve M. Ferguson, “I think my heritage has a great significance to the images I produce, but you can limit people with a name or a title to only serve one group. When you see my work, you can tell it is done by someone who is Black. But, I want to provide as many beautiful things to the world as I possibly can.” (“Art Sings the Blues,” The Washington Afro-American, October 26, 1991)

Frederick J. Brown at MOCRA, December 1995.

Read a 2012 remembrance of Frederick J. Brown by MOCRA Founding Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J.

In 1992, Brown offered to execute a large, multi-paneled altarpiece for the soon-to-open MOCRA. The resulting Life of Christ Altarpiece was completed in 1995 and is comprised of a central triptych (BaptismDescent from the Cross, and Resurrection) and two side panels (Madonna and Child and Descent into Hell, which in the original the were placed at a 90° angle to the triptych). Through strong brushwork and brilliant coloration, Brown created a moving visual theological reflection on the life of Christ.

Frederick J. Brown, The Life of Christ Altarpiece, 1994–1995. Oil and mixed media on canvas. MOCRA collection, a gift of UMB Banks and the Crosby Kemper Foundations.

The work that has been on my mind is the final panel, Brown’s reflection on a subject rarely seen in modern western art—the Descent into Hell. Traditional depictions of this episode (more often seen in the art of the Eastern Churches) typically show the risen Christ astride the gates of the netherworld, now dashed asunder, as he draws the souls of Adam and Eve and matriarchs and patriarchs from death’s clutches.

14th-century Anastasis fresco in the Chora Church, Istanbul. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Brown’s version is distinguished by a return to the style of Abstract Expressionism that he used in the 1970s, the style which won the attention of the artist Willem de Kooning, who became an important mentor and friend for Brown.

Frederick J. Brown, Descent into Hell from The Life of Christ Altarpiece, 1994–1995. Oil and mixed media on canvas. MOCRA collection, a gift of UMB Banks and the Crosby Kemper Foundations.

The title of Brown’s version suggests we are in a moment before Christ’s triumph. There is no clear sense of scale, and the removal of figural elements heightens the sense of vast, even limitless despair. This is a descent into a hell with personal resonances, a deeply felt understanding of what it is to look into the abyss and be overwhelmed by the various struggles of life. (Brown intimated that this panel resulted from a dark moment in his own life.)

And yet there is such energy in this work! If it is a descent, it is the descent of the Tunguska meteorite smashing into the earth with a force that could level a city (or indeed, crack the gates of hell). But to me it also looks like an eruption, the energy of life unleashed and spirits triumphantly ascending. Death and life, despair and hope, held together in a single, infinite moment.

Now this energy speaks to me of the forces unleashed following the heartless killing of George Floyd. The pain, cruelty, and lack of human compassion compressed into eight minutes and forty-six seconds exploded, propelling protests and demonstrations—and darker moments of violence and looting. It is an unbridled energy, like the jets of paint that intertwine and race past each other on the canvas, with a momentum that has yet to expend itself (and, I hope, will not flag until substantial transformations of society are achieved).

Frederick J. Brown, Descent into Hell from The Life of Christ Altarpiece (detail), 1994–1995. MOCRA collection.
Frederick J. Brown, Descent into Hell from The Life of Christ Altarpiece (detail), 1994–1995. Oil and mixed media on canvas. MOCRA collection, a gift of UMB Banks and the Crosby Kemper Foundations.

If we let our focus shift behind the bright skeins and spumes, we begin to notice deep purples, blue-blacks, blacks tinged with yellow—the colors of bruising, of throbbing and tenderness, the evidence of trauma. Saturating the canvas, this background is both illumined by and indelibly linked to the energy of the foreground: Not unlike the deep pain of generations of unjust, accumulated and accustomed, but insufficiently acknowledged.

We might also notice the raw canvas at the upper corners and along the left side. These areas have caught some overspray, but they are largely blank, fresh pages offering the possibility of writing a different story.

One of the perks of working in an art museum is the opportunity to see works from perspectives not visible to the general public. In the case of Descent into Hell, seeing the reverse of the work is discovering another work of art.

I usually get the impression of an image from the Hubble Telescope of unbridled cosmic energies swept along in currents or gathering in whorls and eddies. But today I’m also seeing a roiling vortex sucking us down deep into cold waters, away from the light beckoning at the surface. And my imagination takes me to the horrors of the Middle Passage, to the dead and half-dead tossed overboard and consigned to oblivion.

As noted above, when first displayed, the Mother and Child panel faced the Descent into Hell.

Frederick J. Brown, Mother and Child from The Life of Christ Altarpiece, 1994–1995. Oil and mixed media on canvas. MOCRA collection, a gift of UMB Banks and the Crosby Kemper Foundations.

The hallmark piece of the work, Madonna and Child has an iconic and a monumental feel. Brown builds on the long tradition of this subject, but makes it clearly a work of the late twentieth century. Read in the context of Descent into Hell, the vaguely melancholy child Christ seems to sense his destiny. But the Madonna towers over us, her face bearing the influences of African, Egyptian, Byzantine, and Oceanic art. At first she seems severe, but then we notice that her closed eyelids are pronounced and glistening, as if she is tearing up in anticipation of her son’s trials to come.

Today, this interaction of mother and son reminds me of “the talk” that Black parents must have with their sons. As explained by filmmakers Geeta Gandbhir and Blair Foster:

For generations, parents of black boys across the United States have rehearsed, dreaded and postponed “The Conversation.” But when their boys become teenagers, parents must choose whether or not to expose their sons to what it means to be a black man here. To keep him safe, they may have to tell the child they love that he risks being targeted by the police, simply because of the color of his skin. How should parents impart this information, while maintaining their child’s pride and sense of self? How does one teach a child to face dangerous racism and ask him to emerge unscathed?

This Op-Doc video is our attempt to explore this quandary, by listening to a variety of parents and the different ways they handle these sensitive discussions. In bringing about more public awareness that these conversations exist, we hope that someday they won’t be necessary.

Out of the nearly three-hundred graduating seniors in my 1990 Jesuit high school class, three were Black. I’ve been thinking about Melvin and Charles and Kevin, about how limited my conversations with them were and how little I knew about their lives—about my own obliviousness. And yet, in the fragments of conversation I can recall, I glimpse the multiple worlds they were inhabiting, the outsize burdens they were carrying. I can guess now at “the talks” they received from their parents and elders.

The title of this post comes from the Audre Lorde poem “Afterimages,” a searing meditation on the murder of Emmett Till and its impact on Lorde’s psyche: “His broken body is the afterimage of my 21st year / when I walked through a northern summer / my eyes averted / from each corner’s photographies . . . ”

I think about my young niece and wonder what afterimages of this summer she will carry with her into adulthood. She has seen boarded up businesses in her Washington, D.C., neighborhood, but also the many messages and artworks that adorn them. She has walked by her father’s side at a peaceful demonstration alongside people of many races and all ages. She gives me great hope.

Descent into Hell reminds me also of that crescendo in grand fireworks displays when rocket trails on rocket, a riotous cacophony accompanying coruscating light. The afterimages persist well after the sparks wink out. This seems like a fitting metaphor on this Juneteenth of 2020. Today’s celebrations remind us that, even as we confront painful memories and mourn significant loss, we can harness our creative energies to live our way into a better future. As the juxtapositions of Frederick Brown’s Life of Christ Altarpiece suggest, sometimes that may require a powerful eruption that remakes the world; at other times we need a moment of quiet embrace and contemplation.

David Brinker
Director, MOCRA

Remembering Christo

Christo, the great international environmental installation artist, passed away on May 31, 2020, at the age of 84. I had the good fortune of knowing him and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009. They were impressive, generous people who viewed themselves as soulmates because they were both born in the same year (1935) and on the same day (June 13), Christo in Bulgaria and Jeanne-Claude in Casablanca.  

Christo and Jeanne-Claude.MARKUS WAECHTER/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK Source:

I first learned of their work in the early 1980s while I was studying at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California at Berkeley. I was taking a course on modern and contemporary sculpture taught by the late Dr. Peter Selz, and found myself particularly fascinated by two of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s projects that Peter presented to the class: Valley Curtain (1970–1972) and Running Fence (1972–1976). 

Typical of Christo’s works, these two works were monumental in size. The saffron-colored Valley Curtain was 1,250 feet wide and 365 feet high. The Smithsonian Institution called Running Fence (24.5 miles long and 18 feet high) the “single most important work of art in the latter half of the twentieth century,” and it was the first work of art that required an environmental impact statement. Peter was the project director of Running Fence, and he worked closely with Christo and Jeanne Claude. 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972–1976. Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © 1976 Christo.

Peter became one of my dissertation advisors and I had the privilege of working with him closely. In early 1988 Peter announced his retirement from Cal-Berkeley, and the university announced plans for a special program for him on April 18 featuring artists, colleagues, and students with whom Peter worked. I was invited to give a presentation at the conference. The participants read papers that focused on Peter as curator, museum director, scholar, and professor, but I wanted to do something different. 

At the time I was the curator of exhibitions at the Graduate Theological Union (a theological consortium located one block north of the Cal-Berkeley campus), and knowing of Peter’s role in Running Fence, I hit on the idea of mounting an exhibition in the GTU’s Flora Lamson Hewlett Library of the correspondence, designs, and legal issues involved in realizing the work. I obtained copies of the written correspondence between Christo and the property owners in Marin and Sonoma counties, as well as some of the key legal documents. I also displayed over fifty photographs of legal hearings and the construction process. With Peter’s help, I was able to borrow original drawings of the proposed work, including a major piece owned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 

The response was excellent as visitors filled the exhibition area of the Library on the April 15 opening night. Best of all, Christo and Jeanne-Claude flew from New York to attend the GTU reception and to participate in the Peter Selz tributes on the Cal-Berkeley campus. During the months-long process of planning the exhibition, I had many long-distance phone conversations with Jeanne-Claude, but I had never spoken with Christo until they arrived in Berkeley (Jeanne-Claude would run interference for Christo, managing all the business details while he focused on the creative process.) I was nervous about meeting them, but they were both pleased to be in attendance and they were charming guests. Accompanying them was Jeanne-Claude’s mother, the Countess de Guillebon. 

While planning their trip, Jeanne-Claude called me from New York to find out if there would be a post-opening dinner. I said yes, and that I planned on about six people for dinner at a fine East Bay Italian restaurant. That was not acceptable to Jeanne-Claude, who said that she and Christo could not possibly come to Berkeley without thanking the many people who helped them with Running Fence: I should plan for about thirty people at the dinner. I nearly panicked; this would be well beyond what my tight budget could support. I admitted this to Jeanne-Claude, who quickly reassured me. “Mon Pere,” she said, “I have a solution. You pay for your guests, and Christo and I will pay for our guests.” With this equitable and face-saving arrangement, I ended up paying for my six guests, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude paid for their twenty-four. 

At the restaurant, Jeanne-Claude asked if any of the guests spoke French. Several did, and she asked one of them to sit next to her mother, who did not speak English. Jeanne-Claude also noticed one young couple sitting by themselves, and she quickly did some furniture arranging so that the couple was included in the event. I was witnessing firsthand how important Jeanne-Claude was in her partnership with Christo. The food was delicious, the conversations were animated, and both Christo and Peter made remarks to the dinner guests.

The program for Peter took place the next day, April 16. Christo was among the participants seated on stage, and I sat next to Jeanne-Claude in one of the front rows of the auditorium. During the program, noticing my fatigue, she leaned over and, in a soft voice, said to me, “Mon Pere, just think how happy you will be tomorrow.” Startled, I asked her why I would be happy, and with a twinkle in her eye, she said, “Because we will be gone.”

Indeed, Jeanne-Claude, her mother, and Christo departed the next day. But two years later, I encountered them at a cocktail party held for them in New York, and they immediately came over to say hello to me. That was the last time I saw them.

Although I had curated an exhibition of one of Christo’s most famous works, I didn’t experience any of his works in person until February 2005, when The Gates opened to the public in New York’s Central Park. I told my good friend, artist Tobi Kahn, that I planned to come to New York to see the The Gates, scheduled to open on February 12. Tobi knew that February 10 would be my sixtieth birthday, and he and his wife Nessa prepared a wonderful birthday celebration for me. Two days later, I joined the throngs of people to walk through the 7,503 gates that comprised the installation, each approximately eleven feet wide and sixteen feet high. It was a beautiful mild winter day, with recently fallen snow resting on the tree branches, grass, and park benches and architecture. It was a breathtaking and peace-filled experience, as the saffron color nylon fabric panels hanging from the tops of the frames dramatically contrasted with the monochromatic winter landscape of Central Park. The colors of The Gates, reflected in the melted snow on the asphalt walkways, gave me the sensation of walking on liquid saffron. Although I did not walk the full twenty-three miles length of the installation, I did walk about eight miles; I can’t think of a more magnificent birthday experience.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude truly were a remarkable couple. Their environmental sculptures may have been temporary, but those works were so imaginative and impressive that they remained in our memories long after the works were taken down. Truly, these were artists who helped to change how we see the world.

Terrence Dempsey, S.J.
Founding Director Emeritus, MOCRA

“Let go of certainty and grab hold of creativity.”

Those are the words of Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, welcoming me and other “attendees” last week to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) virtual conference. The theme of “Radical Reimagining” seemed prescient in a moment when Americans are called to radically reimagine social structures, policies, and priorities.

Some people have been doing the risky work of challenging the status quo for years, rooted in painful personal experience. Some have given lip-service to the idea of reform, but have not felt the urgency to act. And some actively oppose any change to a system that, to them, seems to work just fine. I occupy that middle group, as a white cisgender male who has benefitted from systems of housing, education, and employment that favor folks who look like me. I am thankful that my privilege included a Jesuit education that cultivated critical reflective skills and emphasized the call to be women and men for others. But the murder of George Floyd and everything that has followed since, have made clear to me that my complacency and acts of omission far outweigh the actions I have taken to work for change.

There’s a yawning gap between letting go of certainty and grabbing hold of creativity—like a trapeze act working with no safety net—but it’s time to launch into that void.

For at least two decades, diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) have sounded a steady drumbeat in the museum field. Progress has been halting and uneven, from tentative steps like gearing exhibitions toward underserved communities, to more equitable relationships where museums involve those communities in decision-making. Museums are confronting difficult questions about their roots in, and role in perpetuating, the injustices of colonialism and racism. They must examine the makeup of their boards, the sources of their income, and inequities in their staffing and compensation.

MOCRA is a relatively young museum, but even so, we must undergo this same self-evaluation. Thus, we respectfully acknowledge that our building sits on the traditional, ancestral lands of the Osage Nation. The process of knowing and acknowledging the land we stand on is a way of honoring and expressing gratitude for the ancestral Osage people who were on this land before us.

In 2016 the Jesuits of the USA Central and Southern Province, and Saint Louis University created the Slavery History, Memory, and Reconciliation Committee, which shed light on the fact that SLU’s early Jesuit leaders brought six enslaved men and women from Maryland to St. Louis in 1823; eventually the Jesuits owned as many as thirty-five to forty slaves. We acknowledge that we, too, have benefitted from the forced labor of those men and women. 

Looking over MOCRA’s collection, exhibitions, and programs, I can point to times when we brought to the fore Black artists and artists from other marginalized identities, or confronted difficult and painful issues directly tied to America’s racist history. I also humbly admit, on my own part and the museum’s, to moments of presumption, naïveté, and missed opportunities to affirm that Black lives matter. 

Museums can no longer look away from their history of complicity in racist and white supremacist structures. Yet Lonnie Bunch (14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institutions and founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture) reminded us during an AAM keynote address that museums are a glue in our communities. At their best, museums highlight our common humanity, provide a space for healing, and help us envision a better future. Bunch exhorted us not to retreat from the uncertainties of the present moment, but to commit to the work of justice and equity.

On behalf of MOCRA, I join with my colleagues at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art and Samuel Cupples House, in affirming that the Museums and Galleries of Saint Louis University stand together with the SLU community in stark opposition to the systemic racism and structures in our society that oppress Black people and other people of marginalized identities. We must bring hateful rhetoric and dehumanizing violence to an end. Solidarity and community mean that we never have to face such evil alone. With a firm belief in the capacity for art to articulate grief, fear, and anger, to inspire empathy, compassion, and solidarity, we pledge our support and join with those working for justice and equity in our community. MOCRA’s mission prompts us in a particular way to bring to the fore, through art, the ways in which the religious and spiritual dimensions can be transformative positive forces, while never being blind to the ways religion can be twisted and perverted to sustain unjust structures and beliefs. 

Thank you for taking the time to read these thoughts, which I share as a way of holding myself accountable, and asking you to help hold MOCRA and me to account. I am aware that they may resonate with some people, provoke anger in others, and fall short of the mark for yet others. I welcome your responses, thoughts, and suggestions. You can e-mail me at david [dot] brinker [at] slu [dot] edu, or leave a message through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

May you and yours remain safe and healthy amid the ongoing pandemic, as we travel together through this uncertain terrain, seeking a better future.

David Brinker
MOCRA Director

What we see, and what we don’t

“What’s going on in this picture?”

This is a question that kicks off the practice of Visual Thinking Strategies, a method of critical observation of art that helps to develop analytical and communication skills and visual literacy. It is followed up with a second question, What do you see that makes you say that? and then, a third: What else can we find in this picture?

An artwork from the MOCRA collection has been on my mind this past week, and especially this weekend as protests have blossomed across America. It’s titled Crucifixion of Dountes and was made in 1988. I invite you to take a look at it with those VTS questions in mind. (What might not be apparent seeing it on a screen is that the work is on black velvet, which creates a deep impenetrable ground for the figure drawn on it in colored pastels. The figure is slightly larger than life size.)

So . . . What’s going on in this picture?

Eleanor Dickinson, Crucifixion of Dountes, 1988. Pastel on black velvet. MOCRA collection, a gift of Dr. Mark W. Dickinson, Katherine V. G. Dickinson, and Peter S. Dickinson.
Eleanor Dickinson, Crucifixion of Dountes, 1988. Pastel on black velvet. MOCRA collection, a gift of Dr. Mark W. Dickinson, Katherine V. G. Dickinson, and Peter S. Dickinson.

For many years, MOCRA’s didactic materials have explained how this work is from a series called “Crucifixion” by the late Eleanor Dickinson (1931–2017). She drew on her upbringing in the Baptist church, her familiarity with communities in rural Appalachia, and her ability to identify and engage with people who somehow identified with Jesus hung on the Cross.

In the commentary we note that art on black velvet is often dismissed as “kitsch,” and trace the work’s dramatic contrasts of dark and light to the Baroque tradition and the school of Caravaggio. We point out the simultaneous vulnerability and elevation of the figure. (We also marvel at Eleanor’s ability to draw feet.)

Eventually we draw attention to the lack of nails or a wound in the side, to the facial features, and to the hair, whose dreadlocks casual viewers might mistake for a crown of thorns. And that leads us to a discussion about the subject of the portrait, a fellow named Dountes Diggs from Oakland.

Twenty-some years after this work was made, Eleanor ran into Dountes again and he agreed to model for another portrait (I wish we had an image of that work). She asked him about his religious  beliefs and he told her:

I’m very spiritual—though I stopped going to church at seven years old.
My Grandmother told me there was good and bad in each heart.
I chose to be good.
Life is hard: you do the best you can.
Grandmother worked in the cotton fields in Louisiana in the ‘30s;
they moved to California later for better opportunities.
They were all Methodists.
I’m very spiritual—just who I am.
I’m comfortable with that.

Take a moment and look at the work again. What’s going in the picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What else can we find?

“What do you see that makes you say that?”

A few years ago, a Saint Louis University undergraduate theology class was visiting MOCRA and we were talking about this work. As usual, I didn’t tell them anything about the work before we began looking at it. What did they see?

They saw a black/brown body. They saw it in agony, suffering and punished unjustly. They saw “hands up, don’t shoot.”

This was a couple of years after Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown. After the deaths of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. A few years after protestors with the Occupy SLU movement had encamped around the nearby campus Clock Tower, not far from MOCRA’s entrance. 

The students had been studying the work of James Cone and other Black liberation theologians. Through those writings and experiences, the students’ eyes were opened. And through their eyes, my eyes were opened to Eleanor’s work in a whole new way. 


“What else can we find in this picture?”

As the news unfolds following the senseless murder of George Floyd, I find myself asking, What’s going on in these images? Or more fundamentally, What do I see? What do I see in the videos of a cop kneeling on a man’s neck minute after excruciating minute? What do I see in social media posts of large crowds gathered to speak up for justice? What do I see in news footage of looting and clashes between protestors and police? What do I see/hear when politicians and civic leaders speak or Tweet about what is happening?

What am I not seeing? What am I blind to?

And then I have to face the harder question: Now that I have seen, what am I going to do about it?

Art cannot answer these questions, but it can help raise them, frame, them, focus our reflection, and inspire us to respond. Dountes told Eleanor, “My Grandmother told me there was good and bad in each heart. I chose to be good. Life is hard: you do the best you can.”

What are we going to choose? What is the best we can do?

David Brinker
MOCRA Director

More than just numbers

Yesterday the U.S. officially marked 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. The clinical detachment of that number masks a staggering loss of individual lives, a cutting short of vibrant stories. It has also encouraged a conversation about communal grieving and acts of memorial, asking how our present moment is like, and unlike, previous collective experiences of loss from war, terrorism, and illness.

We at MOCRA don’t pretend to have any great insights, but we do believe in the capacity for art to carry us past the limitations of speech in articulating our grief, fear, confusion, and anger, to remind us of the power of empathy, compassion, and solidarity. This can be especially true of art that emerges from an engagement with the spiritual and religious dimensions: art rooted in the fertile soil of wisdom found in the world’s faith traditions, or shaped by the discipline of ritual, spiritual, or artistic practices; art that taps into a treasury of images and themes that speak across time, geography, and culture.

Juan González, Don’t Mourn, Consecrate, 1987. Installation at Grey Art Gallery.
Juan González, Don’t Mourn, Consecrate, 1987. Installation at Grey Art Gallery.

Don’t Mourn, Consecrate, by Juan González (1942–1993), was likely the first work of public art to deal with AIDS when it was displayed in the street-front windows of the Grey Art Gallery at New York University in 1987. Quoting Hans Holbein’s sixteenth-century painting ”The Dead Christ in the Tomb,” González invites us to confront the frailty and vulnerability of our bodies. Then, as now gathering clouds evoke the looming, still unfolding impacts of a deadly virus.

In its original installation, the work was accompanied by a scroll on which the cumulative tally of AIDS deaths was updated weekly. Photos from 1987 show the numbers growing by tens and hundreds. When MOCRA displayed the work in 2009, the numbers were growing annually by the millions.

Juan González, Don’t Mourn, Consecrate, 1987. Photo-collage with mixed media. MOCRA collection. Installation at MOCRA, 2009. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Juan González, Don’t Mourn, Consecrate, 1987. Photo-collage with mixed media. MOCRA collection. Installation at MOCRA, 2009. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

González was no stranger to the ravages of AIDS, and ultimately died from complications related to the disease. Yet his artwork might encourage us to transmute our present mourning into something more profound, to consecrate our losses by recognizing the humanity behind each one of those 100,000 deaths, then rededicating ourselves to compassionate and tangible care for our fellow humans, to solidarity and community beyond partisan or national divides.

David Brinker
Director, MOCRA

Remembering Thomas Sokolowski

Thomas Sokolowski

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Thomas Sokolowski on May 4, 2020. Tom was an important presence in the American art world:  Curator and then Director at the Chrysler Museum of Art In Norfolk, Virginia in the early 1980s; Director of the Grey Art Gallery and Study Center at New York University, 1984–1996; Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, 1996–2010; and Director of the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University from 2017 until his untimely death. Where many museum directors are guarded and reserved, Tom took chances and was exceptionally generous in helping others who were just cutting their teeth in the museum world. I am one of the people who experienced Tom’s warm support.

Our paths intersected several times over the years. Each time, my life was enriched and I was redirected on an exciting new trajectory. In the 1980s, I was undertaking doctoral studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. I was researching the emerging phenomenon of contemporary American artists addressing the spiritual and religious dimensions in their art. My former student, sculptor Michael MacLeod, introduced me to Tom in 1985. Michael knew that Tom also had an interest in this topic, expressed in his group exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery, Precious: An American Cottage Industry of the Eighties.

In the summer of 1985, Tom generously opened the door for me to meet some of the artists in the show whose explorations of the spiritual and religious dimensions were not satirical or ironic. He literally opened his door to me—he was under the weather and invited me to come to his apartment near Washington Square. He was gracious and witty, and gave me contact information for ten New York artists who he thought would be good candidates for my dissertation research. By the time my research was completed, I had located over 100 artists across the country who were addressing the religious and spiritual dimensions in their art, but it was Tom who opened that all-important first door.

I completed my dissertation in 1990 and joined the art history faculty at Saint Louis University that fall. Within two years, I had secured support from the University to transform a former Jesuit chapel into MOCRA, the world’s first museum of contemporary art addressing the religious and spiritual dimensions. When MOCRA opened in February 1993, the inaugural exhibition, Sanctuaries: Recovering the Holy in Contemporary Art, included a number of the artists Tom had referred me to.

In addition to his recommendations for Sanctuaries, Tom played an important role in two key exhibitions that brought MOCRA national attention and had a deep effect on audiences. In 1994, I curated the group exhibition Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS, bringing together work by twenty-eight artists representing the broad spectrum of the visual arts community. I turned to Tom, one of the four founders of Visual AIDS, for advice, and again he provided invaluable recommendations. He also graciously came to MOCRA to deliver a well-attended lecture on “The Changing Face of AIDS.”

From left: Tom Sokolowski, Patrick O’Connell, and Jimmy Morrow wear Visual AIDS’ Day Without Art t-shirts featuring artwork by Barbara Kruger, 1994. Source: Visual AIDS.

Tom also played an indispensable role in MOCRA’s most popular exhibition to date, Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds. I attended an event at the Andy Warhol Museum in the late 1990s and experienced in person the Silver Clouds, large, pillow-shaped silver mylar balloons that drift through the gallery. I was enchanted. I approached Tom, who by then was Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, to ask if we might display the Clouds in MOCRA. He was dubious, concerned that MOCRA’s large nave gallery space would be too big. I assured him that we could make it work. He put his trust in me, and he made all the arrangements to make the exhibition possible at MOCRA.

Living St. Louis visited the Silver Clouds at MOCRA.

At that time (in 2001), it was the largest installation of the Silver Clouds anywhere, and it proved so appealing to visitors that we presented it again in 2002 and 2006. Anecdotes of this exhibition are numerous, but my favorite memory is something an older man said to me as we watched his 5-year-old grandson reveling in the Clouds: “Look at my grandson. Look at his smile. This is his first experience of an art museum, and it will be a joyous memory that he will take with him the rest of his life. Thank you for bringing this exhibition here.”  And I thank Tom for making that memory and many others possible. 

I shall miss this fine man. He was sassy and irreverent, a person of great imagination, and a generous colleague. He had vision that enabled him to see the possible, however improbable. I retired from Saint Louis University and from MOCRA last June. Tom sent a note of congratulations, characteristically witty but heartfelt. I quote part of his message here, by way of offering his sentiments back to him:

Who would have thought that after our first meeting in the Summer of 1985 we would become colleagues and friends for lo over some thirty-four years! Rarely does one have the pleasure of intellectual maturation of like minds while, concomitantly, physical decrepitude sets in for both of us. Oh, for when we were both young and beautiful. As the ancient Greeks would have put it to be kalos kagathos (to be handsome and well-thought of). The imagination and zeal that you have put into various projects throughout the years have been amazing. . . . You proved again and again, spirituality and modern art were not binaries. . . . Remember, we first met over my eighties show Precious, and you are definitively one precious man. I am so proud and thankful that you are my friend.

Tom Sokolowski made a profound difference in my life and, by extension, in the lives of thousands of visitors to MOCRA since 1993. Thank you, dear friend. You broadened my life and my imagination in being able to see what is possible.

Terrence Dempsey, S.J.
Founding Director Emeritus, MOCRA

Learn more:

“No place looks like itself”: Stations of the Cross in a Time of Pandemic

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.

John O’Donohue

from “For the Interim Time,” in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

The Stations of the Cross are a deep-rooted Christian tradition, mapping out in one’s own particular locale the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows that Jesus followed through the streets of Jerusalem to his death on Golgotha. The Stations respond to deep instincts for making pilgrimage, for symbolically entering into places and events that are much larger than us.

Over the years at MOCRA, we have shown work by artists from various backgrounds who have been drawn to the Stations of the Cross, reinterpreting them through the lenses of social justice, or the AIDS crisis, or other personal experiences. And many visitors come to the museum during the Christian Holy Week to spend time with the art on display, finding it a threshold through which to cross into a space of prayer and meditation.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended all of our accustomed routines. MOCRA is closed to the public; millions of people will not be able to celebrate their holiest days in the traditional ways. In response, we have prepared this set of Stations of the Cross. For each Station, we provide an artwork from the MOCRA collection, paired with a reflection from a member of the Saint Louis University community. Some of the artworks and reflections are devotional in familiar ways, while others take a more oblique approach. Even if you are not Christian, we hope that these Stations and their deeper themes may provide inspiration, comfort, and hope in these fraught and disturbing times.

Station 1: Jesus Is Condemned to Death

Douglas DePice, Jesus in Central America: First Station of the Cross, 1988. Oil pastel on paper. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Douglas DePice, Jesus in Central America – The First Station of the Cross, 1987. Oil pastel on paper. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood . . . ” (Matthew 27:24)

Hand washing is a complex metaphor at the moment. Pilate’s dramatic ritual abdication of responsibility for his actions invites scrutiny, but we can only speculate. Unlike with Lady Macbeth, we are not given insight into his state of mind, no deeper motivations other than fear for his job security. Meanwhile, hand washing is more present in our consciousness than ever before, and our motivations are clear: thorough, consistent cleansing of our hands may save our lives and the lives of those around us. (Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, as it happens, is enjoying a moment in the spotlight as a unit of measure for proper hand washing.)

We may be dismayed that some leaders seem to be washing their hands of responsibility for the response to the pandemic, deflecting blame, seeking to change the topic. They stand in contrast to those on the front lines of the pandemic, noble women and men who wash and sanitize their hands countless time during each shift saving lives.

It’s easy to get caught up in assigning blame or casting people in the role of hero or villain. People should be held accountable, yes. But we shouldn’t lose track of the fact that an innocent man stood nearby, condemned to death. And that people are in precarious and life-threatening situations all around us. May we have wisdom and clarity of vision to see to the core of each situation, and respond with generous, compassionate hearts.

David Brinker is Director of MOCRA

Station 2: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

If you’ve never visited MOCRA, you should know that the museum is housed in a former chapel, and great care was taken during the renovation process to honor its more than three decades of service to the Jesuits and others who worshiped there. So much of my work life involves being in that space, interacting with visitors, contemplating the artwork. And now I work from home, and the museum galleries are empty.

Craig Antrim’s Icon Wall currently occupies one of the twelve side chapel galleries, its 64 paintings carefully arranged in an immersive environment, its central cross motif repeating in multiple permutations. It can make an almost overwhelming impression. But, when I spend time in it, allow my eyes begin to settle down, I begin to focus on one or another painting. On the last day before I closed up the museum for the foreseeable future, I found myself drawn to one work in particular: monochromatic in whites and grays, taupes and light blues, except for heavy black gashes that outline basic geometric forms. On that particular day, they looked like blank buildings lining empty streets, no signs of inhabitants anywhere. Eerily silent. Like the SLU campus. Like the city of St. Louis.

We’ve been forced to take up crosses of isolation and physical distancing, except for those among us who are called to threatening intimacy in the service of saving lives, crosses of a different sort. May we find sources of hope—gaps and openings like the narrow blue passageway in the painting—that relieve the anxiety of confinement and strengthen our resolve for one more day, for the journey that lies ahead. Or as Jeremiah said long ago in another moment of communal crisis,

In this place of which you say, “It is a waste without human beings or animals,” in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without inhabitants, human or animal, there shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing . . . (Jeremiah 33:10–11)

David Brinker is Director of MOCRA

Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time

Gary Logan, Dark Matter, 2014. Acrylic and paper on canvas. MOCRA collection.
Gary Logan, Dark Matter, 2014. Acrylic and paper on canvas. MOCRA collection.

Coronavirus. Does anyone else feel like there’s a crown of thorns twisting around their head? Does anyone else feel like the weight of these days is bearing down across their shoulders like a heavy cross?

Is anyone else as fatigued by it all as I am? Is anyone else disgusted by much of it? Is anyone else worried that they’re going to falter under the weight of it all? (Is anyone else worried that maybe they already HAVE faltered, and possibly damaged countless others in the process?)

How fatigued by it all must Jesus have felt. Was he disgusted by much of it? What was he thinking when he faltered under the weight of it all? He knew it was coming, right? (We knew it was coming, right?) When Jesus faltered the first time, as the thorns dug in and the cross bore down, I wonder if he also could feel the other thing he knew – that the resurrection would come.

Gracious and loving God, God who, like so much Dark Matter, I too often fail to see but who nonetheless keeps me from flying apart . . . as fatigue sets in, when I falter, I pray that I might also feel and remember that Great is Thy Faithfulness. That my falters and sins are forgiven. That this too shall pass, and that the resurrection is coming.

Text: Thomas O. Chisholm (1923); Tune: FAITHFULNESS (Runyan)
Recorded using a sample of the oldest preserved and playable organ in the Czech Republic, built around the year 1587 and housed in the Holy Trinity church in Smecno.

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided –
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Reflection and organ performance by Dr. Bonnie Wilson, Associate Professor of Economics, Saint Louis University

Station 4: Jesus Meets His Mother

Steven Heilmer, Nativity Stone: Mother’s Milk, 1992. Carrara marble, wood. MOCRA collection, a gift of Dr. Albert Gnägi, Zürich. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Steven Heilmer, Nativity Stone: Mother’s Milk, 1992. Carrara marble, wood. MOCRA collection, a gift of Dr. Albert Gnägi, Zürich. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

To me, this first of three encounters with women along the road to Calvary must have been the most emotional for Jesus. This sculpture evokes the serene protection of a mother for her child: the small stone surrounded, though not buried, in the smooth milk of tenderness. The liquid caught short at rock’s edge at Jesus’ birth now spills over as Mary’s eyes meet those of her son. If Jesus could spare his mother this grief, surely he would. As her sorrow pours out, Jesus’s own sorrow deepens. Who does not shudder to see one’s mother cry? At the end of this journey, nailed to the wood that upended the rock, Jesus entrusts to the beloved disciple—indeed, to us!— the woman who, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, not only 

Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, Milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race.

Rev. Phil Steele, S.J., is Rector of the Jesuit Hall Community, Saint Louis University

Station 5: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry His Cross

Adrian Kellard, The Promise, 1989. Latex on wood. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian Kellard. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Adrian Kellard, The Promise, 1989. Latex on wood. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian Kellard. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

Jesus didn’t ask for help. It doesn’t appear that Simon offered to help. Scripture tells us that Simon was “pressed into service” (Matthew 27:32) in order to help Jesus carry the cross to Calvary. Death was only steps and moments away. When Simon the Cyrenean shows up to be of assistance, the question arises in my mind, “Who is helping whom?” On the physical plane, clearly Simon was the helper. But in the spiritual realm, what Jesus provided to Simon that day was the opportunity to serve the Suffering Servant. Imagine the gratitude Jesus felt toward Simon—the gratitude of Redeemer for the redeemed! And the gratitude of Jesus finds expression in his promise, to Simon and to us all:  “I will never leave you.”

What a welcome promise this is to hear today as we continue this walk through these days of COVID-19. We need so much help—and yet don’t quite know how to ask for it. We need help with discouragement, fear, fatigue. We need help with sickness, death, worry. We need help with quick tempers and hurt feelings and sharp words. We need help. Let us keep our eyes open for the Simons along the way, who shoulder part of our burdens and lighten our loads. And let us rely heavily on the promise from the One who cares for us deeply: “I will never leave you.”

Sr. Virginia Herbers, ASCJ, is Director of Spiritual Formation in the Office of Mission and Identity at Saint Louis University

Station 6: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Daniel Goldstein, Icarian XI/Leg Extension, 1993. Leather, sweat, wood, copper, felt and plexiglass. MOCRA collection. Photo by Kevin Lowder.
Daniel Goldstein, Icarian XI/Leg Extension, 1993. Leather, sweat, wood, copper, felt and plexiglass. MOCRA collection. Photo by Kevin Lowder.

I can’t imagine that Veronica was happy with the circumstances on the day that she watched Jesus on his slow march to Golgotha. The scene reeked of suffering, of an innocent life being taken. So much was out of her control, but Veronica took back a small moment of that violent day and marked it with love.

Today, the world feels out of control, ravaged by indiscriminate and cruel suffering and death. And yet, we are still in control of our compassion. Of the love that we extend to housemates. Of the self-discipline we practice when we stay home so that someone else will get the chance to see their loved ones again. I look at this piece of art and see a face that I can’t make out, one that could be of a loved one, a stranger, or Jesus himself. It is a reminder to me of the bond we all share in this moment. Even if we don’t know each other’s faces, we can recognize each other’s struggles. Like Veronica, let us embrace these unwanted circumstances as a challenge to extend compassion and mercy to one another. Let us reclaim small moments of love and shoulder the challenge of these hard times with the same grace that Veronica did.

Claire McNamara is a Junior majoring in Psychology at Saint Louis University. She is also a student worker at MOCRA.

Station 7: Jesus Falls a Second Time

Christopher Schulte, Lead Me, 2008. Etched and hammered copper relief on board. MOCRA collection.
Christopher Schulte, Lead Me, 2008. Etched and hammered copper relief on board. MOCRA collection.

Patient Trust
A prayer of Teilhard de Chardin

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

When my mother died in October 2012 I was lost. I could not imagine life without her. In the depths of my grief, I found Teilhard de Chardin’s “Patient Trust,” his words a beacon as I struggled to make sense of a world where everything had changed. Each day as I persevered through the unknown of how and when I would emerge to living life fully again—I held especially close this phrase: 

Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow

In the midst of this unprecedented pandemic we long for a return to known worlds and an end to instability. Living with so much uncertainty it is normal to seek swift passage through this intermediate stage—but it seems that it is taking, a very long time. On the journey to our collective “something new” may this be a prayer for perseverance, a reminder that we cannot always force but can trust that grace and circumstances acting on our own good will make our tomorrow.

Dr. Karla D. Scott is Professor of Communication, Saint Louis University

Station 8: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Sr. Helen David Brancato, IHM, Crucifixion – Haiti, 1997. Acrylic and collage on wood. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Sr. Helen David Brancato, IHM, Crucifixion – Haiti, 1997. Acrylic and collage on wood. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

“Weep not for me but for your children.” I’ve always wondered at the meaning behind these words of Jesus, but this year, in the midst of our global reality, I understand a little better that the worry and fear and uncertainty that is our human reality can sometimes lead me to weep for the mere consistency of it. The women of Jerusalem wept for Jesus—for the pain he was enduring, the injustice he was experiencing, the loss they were encountering. But he turned their attention away from himself and onto the pain, injustice, and loss that would continue to be the reality of the human race. This reality—the harshness of human judgment, the cruelty of human hate, the ugliness of human greed—this reality is what ought make us weep.

The war we now fight is a war against an enemy that can’t escape culpability but also is unaffected by it. The coronavirus has no moral code, has no sense of guilt in claiming its victims. Let us weep—please, Lord, let us weep for those who are suffering, those who are fighting, those who are on the front lines of this war. Yes, Lord, we weep.  But let us not weep alone.

Sr. Virginia Herbers, ASCJ, is Director of Spiritual Formation in the Office of Mission and Identity at Saint Louis University

Station 9: Jesus Falls a Third Time

DoDo Jin Ming, Free Element – Plate XXXI, 2002. Digital C-print. MOCRA collection.
DoDo Jin Ming, Free Element – Plate XXXI, 2002. Digital C-print. MOCRA collection.

He was extremely weak and the cruelty of His executioners was excessive; they tried to hasten His steps though He hardly had strength to move. 

As we walk into our own passion with Christ, and as we accompany him in these next days, where have you seen him? Where have you walked with him? Where have you fallen? Where has he walked with you? Where has he stooped to lift us from where we have been?  

O’ mocking darkness, where, where is your light? 
            your rays are but wisps, greyed in folly
In me, the fleeting memories of normalcy, Allures. 
            yet, they are not enough for sight
Scourge-stricken, eyes of night sought solely this,
            His lonely lot
Standing, Straining, Stumbling, He fell for the third time
            The one who made all, save the fall. Stumbles.
Yet, His foot trod, it trod, it trod.
Toward what? To despair? To melancholy, Surely!
            To tree of death, this path unholy

Yet it was not devouring despair
            But joy that dwelt in Him,
For He walks to the Cross, yes, our tormented victim,
            But also, toward our salvation, our anointed king
He did not forsake His humility, nor forget His humanity
            Nor did he loosen these last strands of man.
He did not call myriads of angels,
            but fell, and fell, and fell again 
One shouts “Look at the Father, who abandoned His Son.” 
            No!—No, He forbade my sin, but I rejected Him

How much less in this week shall we untangle our lives from Christ’s
             Though the cross’s path, tormented, taunted, and torn. 
Raving with fiercer thoughts, and fury burning, 
            For one cry, and He who e’re hung there, turns
This virus will not bear our defeat. Though it may seethe in our lungs, and devastate our bodies, 
            It need not captivate our heart entirely
for if it casts fear in coughs, anxiety through sneeze, loneliness with isolation 
            We are done. For we forgot, we are not abandoned here 
He did not leave the just man graceless
            Thrice he was made low, to yet be raised up on high.
For beauty does not break so easily, or grace falter so quickly, nor love wear out so readily.


(Note: This reflection is inspired by poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Sunita Chand is a second-year Masters Student in Biology at Saint Louis University

Station 10: Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments

Gryphon Blackswan, Untitled (Burial Shrouds), 1992. Linen. MOCRA collection. Photo by Kevin Lowder.
Gryphon Blackswan, Untitled (Burial Shrouds), 1992. Linen. MOCRA collection. Photo by Kevin Lowder.

Talking about death is ultimately talking about life — about who and what matters to us, and how we can live well even when we are dying. Rather than being motivated by fear and anxiety, we can open these discussions from a place of care and concern . . .
—Dr. Sunita Puri, M.D., The New York Times, March 27, 2020

The works pictured above were made by fiber artist and LGBT social activist, Gryphon Blackswan (1951–1996). Gryphon made them as burial shrouds for people who died from AIDS-related causes. For me, they stand in exact opposition to what is taking place in the Tenth Station, in which Jesus is being publicly humiliated by the Roman soldiers who violently strip him of his robe. On the contrary, Gryphon’s shrouds were intended to confer honor and respect on people who very likely endured humiliation and scorn in their lifetimes. 

When I saw these work back in the early 1990s, Gryphon told me, “Most men are buried in traditional suits, like they are going to the office. This is the big transition! You have to dress for the occasion!” No two of Gryphon’s shrouds are alike, though they all suggest the clothing worn by nobility in ancient Western and Eastern cultures.  

Six months ago, the novel coronavirus was unknown. Today, the entire planet is aware of this silent, invisible virus that is killing people not just halfway around the world, but down the street from us as well. We have been made painfully aware not only of our own mortality but also of the universality of mortality. The distressing images of the bodies of deceased lying in makeshift morgues or out in the street, of mass graves, strike palpably at our sensibilities about the respect due to the bodies of our departed loved ones.

Gryphon himself died from AIDS-related causes. He himself knew the pain of alienation and shaming. And yet out of that pain came these tangible expressions of love and dignity. These garments acknowledge that mortality is an inescapable reality, yet their beauty conveys a desire by the artist to allay our fears of death, to remind us of the value of respect, and to encourage us to trust in God. 

Like Dr. Sunita Puri, Gryphon was not afraid to demonstrate “who and what matters,” and his burial shrouds are a manifestation of living “from a place of care and concern.”

Rev. Terrence Dempsey, S.J., is Founding Director Emeritus of MOCRA

Station 11: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

Eleanor Dickinson, Crucifixion of Dountes, 1988. Pastel on black velvet. MOCRA collection, a gift of Dr. Mark W. Dickinson, Katherine V. G. Dickinson, and Peter S. Dickinson.
Eleanor Dickinson, Crucifixion of Dountes, 1988. Pastel on black velvet. MOCRA collection, a gift of Dr. Mark W. Dickinson, Katherine V. G. Dickinson, and Peter S. Dickinson.

The Roman soldiers pounded nails into Christ’s feet and hands. His human flesh opened and bled. His physical pain was real. That reality of human suffering has been captured and intensified in Eleanor Dickinson’s depiction of the Crucifixion of Dountes. With the artist’s chosen medium of pastels on black velvet, she selected a medium tied to her roots in the lower Appalachian Mountains. (Eleanor spent significant periods of time documenting the religious practices of congregations of fundamentalist Christians; she discovered that some of them had the impression that all artists painted on black velvet.)

This work is a portrait of Dountes Diggs, a resident of Oakland, CA. Eleanor’s chosen viewpoint is at the foot of the cross, similar to the experience of Mary Magdalen at the foot of Christ’s cross in Christian depictions. We look upwards. We see the body of a man—first his legs, then his genitals, his chest, his face, and his hands. We are reminded of Christ Incarnate who suffered and died on the cross. In the painting, the golden tones and deep shadows are intensified by the background of the black velvet. Dountes’ dreadlocks surround his head reminding us of Christ’s own crown of thorns. Dountes suffers as Christ suffered.

In today’s world of living with the outrageous power of COVID-19, all of us are suffering. We may know a family member or friend who has died or is currently fighting this disease. Many of us are fighting battles of loneliness and isolation. May we all come together this Lenten season and prayer for an end to this modern plague. Let us meditate on the suffering of Christ, as Dountes must have done when he posed for the artist. We pray for the gift of strength, the kind of strength that Christ displayed when he was nailed to the cross.

Dr. Cynthia Stollhans is Professor of Art History at Saint Louis University

Station 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross

Michael Tracy, Triptych: Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Stations of the Cross for Latin America – La Pasión, 1981–1988. Acrylic on tarpaulin mounted on wood with glass, pottery and mixed media, with tin corona. MOCRA collection, a gift of the artist.
Michael Tracy, Triptych: Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Stations of the Cross for Latin America – La Pasión, 1981–1988. Acrylic on tarpaulin mounted on wood with glass, pottery and mixed media, with tin corona. MOCRA collection, a gift of the artist.

Michael Tracy’s Triptych is a monumental artwork, approximately 20 feet in height and 30 feet wide. It is located in the most sacred part of this former chapel space—the sanctuary where the sacrifice of the Mass took place for Jesuit scholastics, brothers, and priests for nearly 35 years. The Triptych has been in MOCRA almost from the beginning of the museum, some 27 years ago, but I am still moved by its power to draw me and other viewers into its themes of suffering, injustice,  redemption, and love.     

The Triptych is not so much a work of art but an environment of violence, sacrifice, loss, grief, and unconditional love. It is an acknowledgement that bad things do happen to people, and although this work was dedicated to the poor of Central America, it speaks also to the suffering in many other parts of the world. We see no images of people being brutally treated or suffering, but the broken glass, human hair, nails, dirt and other objects embedded in the canvases suggest the many sufferings in Central America and elsewhere in the world. Indeed, in a way that we could not have imagined four months ago, we are sharing in the suffering of many people from around the world in the reality of the novel coronavirus in our lives.

At the center of this suffering, whether caused by humanity or forces beyond us, is the crucified Christ who demonstrated his unconditional love for us through his brutal torture and crucifixion. Although the Triptych is a violent work, it is also a hope-filled work as Christ’s presence is suggested by the gold paint (often seen as a symbol of divinity) that suffuses all three panels of work. Michael Tracy provided two chairs for this environmental  installation, inviting us to spend time with the triptych, not to rush to the next thing, but to sit and enter this grand artwork in a focused and contemplative way.

Over the years, the Triptych has become a pilgrimage work of art; visitors from within and beyond SLU have come to MOCRA to sit in the chairs and contemplate the many sufferings in the world, including our own personal losses, sorrows, and failings, and to realize that people both near and far are our brothers and sisters. And finally, to embrace the realization that Christ is telling us, “There is nothing you can do that can keep me from loving you,” and “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And that is truly Good News.

Rev. Terrence Dempsey, S.J., is Founding Director Emeritus of MOCRA

Station 13: Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross

Thomas Skomski, Pietà, 1992. Wood, wax, steel, and dried blood. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Thomas SkomskiPietà, 1992. Wood, wax, steel, and dried blood. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Cheryl Ungar.

The Pietà, the motif of a mother with her dead child draped across her lap, isn’t explicitly described in the Gospels. But it isn’t hard to imagine. It’s harder, in fact, to imagine that it didn’t happen. The helplessness. The impulses to hold, caress, deny, plead, rage, before finally releasing. Equally poignant now the plight of those who cannot be with their loved ones at the moment of death, who are robbed of the solace of touch and presence.

Thomas Skomki’s interpretation of the Pietà does not yield easily to piety, no more than grief yields to superficial words of comfort. But it has been a source of reflection and hope for some visitors over the years. I share here one person’s meditation on Skomski’s work:

Reflection on Pietà
Leisa Anslinger

A lattice-work box composed of self-imposed bindings
Within the box, the inner self
A box member can be built of many things:
fear, desolation, grief, despair, expectations, limits, darkness
Criss-crossed together, each member blocks a little more of the

Beyond the box a figure glimmers
Reaching out in life lived beyond the box,
A beacon shining, symbol,
Calling the trapped self forth
Bathed in Light, the figure beckons
spotLight, sunLight, stained-glass window Light

From the box, one can only reach the figure by jumping
A leap of abandon, of faith, of trust, relinquishing control
The box first must be loosened; trapped Light 
meeting Light
Translucent transparence meeting shimmering hope
Possible, Probable, Always, Forever

Rising figure meeting transparent transcendence
Encircling waves of Light
sunLight, spotLight, stained-glass window Light
The box now glows, birth completed
Hope abounding, soaring, shouting


David Brinker is Director of MOCRA

Station 14: Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Horatio Hung-Yan Law, Meditations on the Way of the Cross in the Time of AIDS, Station 14: Remnant, 1992. Blueprint on 12 shop-cloth panels. MOCRA Collection.
Horatio Hung-Yan Law, Meditations on the Way of the Cross in the Time of AIDS, Station 14: Remnants, 1992. Cyanotype on cloth. MOCRA Collection.

These days, more often than not, we might picture ourselves lying in the tomb with Jesus.  Feeling the cold hard floor; smelling the mold and dust; adjusting our eyes to the darkness; witnessing the red and black of the flowing blood, as in this work by Horatio Law.  Witnessing the death within the tomb and all around us. Perhaps the tomb is our house, or our room. We long for the open spaces. We long to piece together the remnants of our lives that have been disturbed, upset, turned around and upside down. We long for our companions:  friends, family, co-workers that we are unable to be with – but we are here with our Divine Companion, Jesus. And really that is all we need. 

As we lay within the tomb of the pandemic, we must accept where we are right now, as Jesus did. As we lay within the tomb of the pandemic, we must have hope – because in the glorious days ahead, this hope brings with us the Resurrection of the Christ. It is a Resurrection that we share in. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5) Joyful in this hope, we know that all of the blood-stained remnants of our lives will soon flow together and be united.

Dr. Sue Chawszczewski is Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Louis University

Station 15: The Resurrection

Charlotte Lichtblau, Resurrection (The Other Shore II), 1985. Oil on canvas. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Charlotte Lichtblau, Resurrection (The Other Shore II), 1985. Oil on canvas. MOCRA collection. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

The Stations of the Cross traditionally end with Jesus in the tomb. It’s disconcerting, yet there’s a wisdom in it. It acknowledges the reality of death and doesn’t seek to rush us through the process of grief. It stands in solidarity with those struggling with loss. The dark tomb is a place we can speak and lay out our deepest fears.

The key, of course, is faith. For Christians, faith in the Resurrection of Jesus makes the tomb bearable. It doesn’t make sense of it, but it offers a way through and beyond it. Many of us are seeking assurance that we will make our way through and beyond the pandemic. We will be changed, scarred, and already we sense that our lives will not be the same. But then, the Gospels report that Jesus carried the wounds of the crucifixion after his resurrection: suffering transformed, but not denied and not forgotten.

Some churches now add a Fifteenth Station, the Resurrection, making explicit what is held in faith in the traditional fourteen Stations. We echo that practice here with Charlotte Lichtblau’s intensely enigmatic depiction of souls crossing the great veil and entering into the embrace of God. When we are overwhelmed by the soaring numbers of the sick and the dead, when we long for physical contact and intimacy with our loved ones, may Lichtblau’s vision stir our hope that those who have suffered are at peace, and that we who remain will see our lives renewed.

Regina Caeli is an ancient Easter hymn that calls on Mary to rejoice, for her Son is risen. The dark hour of the Pietà gives way to the bright light of morning. I’m pleased to be able to share this arrangement by composer and flutist Kathleen Basi, and I leave you with words of John O’Donohue from “For the Interim Time” in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings.

What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.

Regina Caeli (arr. Kathleen Basi) from the recording, This Joyful Eastertide, copyright © 2017, World Library Publications, a division of GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

David Brinker is Director of MOCRA