Light into Light Background

It all started in 2006, when our minister, the Rev. Elizabeth Macdonald, read a book called Stations of the Light by Mary Ford-Grabowski.  This work discussed the Catholic tradition of the 14 Stations of the Cross, and proposed a newer concept of stations of the light for the period after Easter.  Elizabeth was inspired to see if we could develop this idea at Sydenham Street United Church, and she gathered a team consisting of Norm Esdon, Rosemary Robinson, Beth Robinson, Lucinda Bray, and Barb Carr. We decided that the eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost would be our focus. We selected eight gospel stories of encounters with the risen Christ, and engaged in a process of group reflection and discussion, which also involved a lot of tea and cookies. The aim was to produce eight “stations” incorporating image, word, and action, for each of these Sundays.  

After the group discussions, Norm and Barb went off and created prayer-poems and mixed media art works, independently of each other, trusting that they would relate to each other somehow since they were based on the same discussions. 

At the same time, Beth Robinson created an “Easter action” for each Sunday. When the 2007 Easter season was approaching, Elizabeth asked musician Ashley Vanstone to provide some quiet piano music during a contemplation time in the service. Ashley was inspired by the art and psalms to create eight original piano compositions. On Easter Sunday 2007, the first image, psalm, action, and music were the focus of the service, and the others followed on subsequent weeks, ending with Pentecost Sunday, when an evening dedication service was held. The eight images and psalms were installed around the sanctuary, and the music was recorded and made available as part of a devotional package with reproductions of the images and psalms. Those images still grace the sanctuary. For years, we have used the images, psalms and music to walk the Easter Road to Pentecost. In 2008, our creative team presented a session on Light into Light at a United Church of Canada conference in Toronto. In 2010, an article about the project was published in the United Church’s Mandate magazine. Also in 2010, the mixed media art received a BENE Award for Sacred Art from the Ministry and Liturgy journal (California). Over the years, we have had visits from members of other congregations who had used the devotional package and wanted to see the work in place and talk with our team.

Personal Reflections from the creators of Light into Light

Barb Carr, the visual artist As a visual artist, I am not used to creating art by committee, so this was a really good creative challenge for me!  After discussing and reflecting on the eight selected scripture passages with the group, I was then flying solo in actually creating the art, as was Norm in creating his psalms. When I had the first two pieces done, The Angel and The Garden, I presented them, with some anxiety, to the group.  I had no idea what they were expecting, and the medium I had chosen (collage) is somewhat unusual for sacred art. Fortunately, the group’s reaction was very positive!  Maybe it was all the cookies and tea I served them.  The Angel in particular seemed to be a very powerful piece, since it fell (took flight?) off my mantlepiece while still at home,  and executed a similar manoeuvre while being installed in the church. No harm was done, however.  After I had completed the other six pieces, I presented them to the group, and the reviews were favourable, so we moved on to the photography and the framing.  One of the factors that led to the success of the series, I think, was the use of the underlying themes of light, the circle, the primary and secondary colours, and the references to local landscapes.  These served to unify the images, and to make them relevant to viewers. It also helped me when designing each piece to have that foundation to work from.   Overall, it was a remarkable project, and one that I was very proud to have been a part of.

Norm Esdon, the poet and retired clergy member When Rev. Elizabeth Macdonald asked me if I’d participate in her “Stations of the Light” project, I had no idea how much my “Yes” would affect me. I had been wallowing in “retirement doldrums,” not having successfully transitioned from pulpit to pew. Having to coordinate the pieces I wrote with the scriptures of the eight Sundays of Easter, Barb’s images, and the insights our discussion of them unearthed all got my creativity blowing again. The positive reaction of the group-made me realize my poems still had something relevant to say, something people could resonate with, that I could still contribute to worship and unpacking “the Word.”I began to stir out of my doldrums. Seven years later I wrote a poem about this called “A Word with You,” much in the same theme as another poem I had written nine years before this one called “Who Am I When I’m Not Working.

I would have a word with you:
Tell me, where is your still small voice
that summons me to be
your word with you;
that calls me to create,
to breathe new life with you?
Where is your mighty rushing wind?
Why have you left me rudderless,
marooned in the doldrums;
abandoned in this airless desert,
straining to sing your song
with cracked lips
and a parched throat?
Who would want to listen
to such an arid song?
Why do you hide from me?
Or do you hide
from something about me?
Have I embarrassed you,
denied or betrayed you?
Or have I betrayed myself —
not lived up to your expectation;
not realized my potential;
not believed in the me
you created me to be?
I would have a word with you — but still
no word from you —
no breath of air
to freshen my arid spirit’s
empty pointless questions.
Empty? Pointless?
Empty of answers, yes;
But pointless?
Don’t my questions point
to you — to my trust
that there is a listener,
an audience of at least one?
My questions are my word with you!
They create a little stir —
the rustle
of canvas inhaling;
the shudder
of a rudder responding.
Who am I, Holy One,
when I'm not working —
when another's "Thank God it's Friday"
mocks my inability
to tell Friday from Sunday;
when a stranger's "What do you do"
unnames me?
Who am I, Holy One,
when who I am is peeled away
with my "Earner-Provider" label;
when I have no paycheck to say
"You count this much"?
O Holy One! Who was I
when I was working —
created in your image,
or fabricated by image-makers;
your visionary innovator,
or their policy implementor?
Now that I am not
labelled, fabricated,
and checked once a week,
I see
I am who I am —
not what my work
made me be;
Now, O Holy One,
I can become

This project sparked my writing many more poem-psalms which I collected and published in two books. I owe this project, which we ultimately named “Light Into Light — The Easter Road to Pentecost, ”for getting my creative sails unbecalmed. It also showed me how critical it is to be creative in retirement, to share the best of who we are with others, to discover we still have something to offer. Note: the Rev. Norm Esdon died on New Year’s Eve 2020 at the age of 76. 

Beth Robinson, the animator Each springtime at Sydenham Street United Church, the Sunday morning service follows the Easter road to Pentecost along with images created by Barbara Carr, prayer- poems by Norm Esdon and music by Ashley Vanstone.  For eight Sundays the congregation journeys from ‘Light into Light.’ In the planning days for these services, the committee imagined that each Sunday there would be an action suggested for the coming week that would carry the spirit of the ‘Light into Light’ scriptures. We started with encouraging people to “Bring a surprise to an elder shut-in,” “Change one daily pattern,” “Connect with someone significantly younger” and five more suggestions followed through the eight weeks. In the coming year, the pandemic will be still shaping our lives.  Now to imagine the actions that will be appropriate for our strange and demanding days.

Elizabeth Macdonald, the Minister Over decades in ministry, I’ve been privileged to work with wonderfully talented, skilled and committed lay people and ministry colleagues in dreaming, planning, and launching a wide range of church initiatives. The most compelling and transformative project for me was “The Easter Road to Pentecost: From Light into Light”. From beginning to end I was opened up to experiencing the Easter Mystery and Resurrection Love in new and deeper ways and moved to preach the Easter Story in our 21st Century context with renewed conviction and urgency. What an honour and blessing to work and be creative with Beth, Barb, Norm, Rosemary and Lucinda . . . and then to share perspectives of our faith and fruit of our labours with SSUC folk, the people of Kingston and the world beyond!

The project known as “The Easter Road to Pentecost – From Light into Light” grew out of four different forces at work within Sydenham Street United Church in the first decade of the new millennium.

SSUC, which had long been a centre for church and community music, was nurturing and celebrating art created by church and local individuals in and through the SSUC Springtime Salon. Several SSUC folk were committed to incorporating poetry, visual art, drama, dance as well as music into the worship and life of the congregation. The congregation had embraced and was expanding its Small Group Ministries through which like-minded people with a shared interest or cause were encouraged to come together and launch new initiatives. The Rev. Elizabeth Macdonald, called in 2002, was wrestling with how to preach about Easter and Resurrection as more and more people within and beyond the Church had dismissed the notion of bodily resurrection and given up on Easter being anything more than bulbs, butterflies and Easter Bunnies.  Then, in 2005 American writer, professor and scholar of mysticism, Mary Ford-Grabowsky published “Stations of the Light – Renewing the Ancient Christian Practice of the Via Lucis as a Spiritual Tool for Today.”  Ford-Grabowsky documents how, in the early days of the Church, Christians created Stations of the Cross for Holy Week and parallel Stations of the Light for the Season of Easter. These were visual art, prayers and practices, inspired by Gospel stories of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. While Stations of the Cross have continued to be significant in Roman Catholic and many Anglican churches, Stations of the Light were lost about a thousand years ago, and only rediscovered and re-appropriated in the early days of the 21st Century as contemporary Christians, seeking to revitalize their spiritual practices, explore and embrace ancient approaches to Easter.

Stations of the Light” moved Elizabeth to consider using the arts as a way to invite the congregation to move outside rational, logical, intellectual approaches to scripture and instead to experience the Mystery of Easter and power of Resurrection Love in and through the arts. In the Spring of 2006, she invited Beth Robinson, Barb Carr, Norm Esdon, Rosemary Robinson and Lucinda Bray – each passionate, in their own unique way, about the arts and spirituality – to read and discuss the book.  At the first gathering an idea began to take shape. Over many cups of tea and much animated discussion at several more gatherings, the group imagined Stations of Light around the SSUC sanctuary – 8 in total for each Sunday from Easter to Pentecost; an image and a prayer/poem inspired by a particular gospel story for each station.

The group was shocked to discover there is not just one story of Easter or Pentecost in the Bible – there are in fact over a dozen.  Using the spiritual tool of Lectio Divina, the group spent time with each Easter, Ascension and Pentecost story and eventually chose 8 Gospel passages – 6 about Easter, 1 about the Ascension and 1 about Pentecost.  At this point the group dispersed. Artist Barb Carr headed off to create 8 images. Poet, the Reverend Norm Esdon headed off to compose 8 poem/prayers. Beth Robinson headed off to work on 8 “Easter Action for This Week”. In due course, the group reconvened. Barb unveiled her images. Norm shared his poetry. Beth described her Easter Actions. Everyone marvelled at the beautiful and creative interpretation; the big picture and the detail; the shade and tone; the unplanned, unforeseen connection between word and image. Clearly the Spirit had been at work in and through efforts of each and all of the team, doing far more than any one had ever imagined.The title that emerged, “The Easter Road to Pentecost: From Light into Light” draws from Voices United Hymn #242, Let All Things Now Living by Katherine Davis.

By Easter, 2007 the project was ready! Sunday by Sunday a new image was displayed in the Chancel; the appropriate Gospel story read; the prayer poem spoken in unison; and the Easter Action for the Week outlined. Then Queens student, Ashley Vanstone, was invited to play meditative music while the congregation contemplated that Sunday’s image. Ashley was moved to compose an original piece each Sunday, culminating with a powerful piano-organ duet with SSUC Music Director, Charlie Walker on Pentecost Sunday. Ashley’s compositions were later recorded into a CD which was distributed as part of a devotional package that included Barb’s Images, Norm’s prayer poems and Beth’s Easter Action for The Week.The Easter Road to Pentecost: From Light Into Light was formally dedicated during worship on Pentecost, 2007 and celebrated by the wider community that evening. As writer and United Church minister, barb janes, noted in her book on the relationship between the Arts & the Church, Inviting Wonder, “From the outset, the Light into Light team’s hospitable vision included the congregation and beyond – people from the wider church and the Kingston community, particularly those who came into the sanctuary to attend a wide range of concerts, performances and other events.The hope is to offer spiritual nurture through image and word to anyone who comes into the sanctuary for whatever reason regardless of whether they have any religious affiliation.”

Lucinda Bray I was involved in the initial meetings in Barb Carr’s living room, where we brainstormed ideas, themes, and images, based on the scripture passages Elizabeth had selected.  We filled page after page of flipchart paper, and I found the whole process exciting and inspiring.  So many ideas, so many connections, so many word associations.  We had no idea what Barb and Norm would do with it all.  So when Barb unveiled the first piece of her art, The Angel, we were stunned. The Angel jumped out of the frame, both awe inspiring and terrifying, and its eyes followed us around the room.  We knew, right then, that our project had created something amazing, that the vision and energy of the original idea had been transformed beyond anything we could have imagined.  We were the women standing at the entrance to the empty tomb and trying to comprehend the miracle that had happened.    

Updated 2021 03 23