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Oración del Vía Crucis, San Juan 1763

Updated: Feb 20

<<by Melinda Creech (guest blogger for Lent!)>>


A few years ago, I wrote a poem called “Oración del Vía Crucis, San Juan 1763.” The poem tries to represents the encounter between two cultures—the Spanish Franciscan monks at the San Juan Mission in the eighteenth century and the indigenous people of Texas living around the mission at that time.


Although the missions only flourished for a few decades, most of them still provide a place for the community to gather and worship. They hold the heartbeat of their small community made up of the descendants of the people who once inhabited the missions of San Antonio. I feel distanced from the native peoples and the Franciscan fathers, although they lived very close to where the San Antonio Mennonite Church building stands today. The native people lived a life in tune with the land and its provisions. The priests were committed to the spiritual formation offered from the gospel of Christ. This poem is an attempt to hold those two ideas in tension, imagining some of the daily activities of a native person juxtaposed upon the Franciscans father’s lessons on the Stations of the Cross.


The form of the poem reflects this struggle. It’s complicated. “Oracion del Via Crucis, San Juan 1763” (“A Prayer for the Way of the Cross, San Juan 1763”) is an interlocking rubiayat with an imbedded sonnet. An interlocking rubaiyat is a quatrain in which the first, second, and fourth lines rhyme. The third line becomes the predominant rhyme for the next stanza. In this way each stanza connects to the next stanza. (Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” is an interlocking rubaiyat.) The rubiayat rings with the sensitive voice of a native farmer, following him through a day in his life, holding his simple reflections on the stations of the cross. The stations of the cross were predominant symbols in the mission church and on the steps in the courtyard of the church.


Oración del Vía Crucis

San Juan 1763


I

The cottonwoods enveloping

My path to hear the river sing

You held the guilt that Pilate washed away

I hold the river’s offering


II

No words compel the breaking day

Creation loves the quiet way

With no defense you shouldered all the blame

With silence I will work today


III

Around me I see sick and lame

Strength and weakness bear no shame

When powerless to stand, your strength gave way

To love them blindly is my aim


IV

I watch the little children play

Their eyes hold on to me the way

Your eyes caressed the one who gave your name

Compassion, fill my face I pray


V

With crucifix and book they came

They want our gods to be the same

You watched a stranger free you from your chain

I let the stranger know my name


VI

Youth and innocence are slain

Their blood, it leaves a stubborn stain

Another wiped the blood that hid your face

I need a cloth to ease my pain


VII

The work is hard, the weary pace

The discipline within this place

You felt your body conquered by the strain

Your weakness is my hiding place


VIII

No thought for others; I complain

Demanding shares of all the grain

And still you spoke with selflessness and grace

I trust your power to sustain


IX

Others work a slower pace

Their weakness signifies disgrace

A final time you fell beneath the weight

Pride with tolerance replace


X

My loom and shuttle swift create

Colors bold and perfect weight

The soldiers’ hands ripped cloth and dignity

My weaving cannot mend the hate

XI

The bells of San Juan set us free

And bind us in community

A hammer’s blow consigned you to your fate

The ringing resonates in me


XII

Daylight fades, the hour is late

I leave the fields and close the gate

The dark stole day and held you to the tree

Wrapped in darkness there we wait


XIII

The doors are opened quietly

I feel the stones beneath my knee

Those who remained took all that they could save

This praying gives tranquility


XIV

The fever took my child from me

I buried her beneath a tree

They laid your bones inside a borrowed grave

Where hesitating hope stands silently


Melinda Creech

February 2009

There are fourteen stanzas in the poem, representing the traditional fourteen stations of the cross. A sonnet is embedded in interlocking rubiayat. The sonnet is formed by lifting out the third line of each quatrain and putting those lines together into a sonnet.



Stations of the Cross Sonnet


You held the guilt that Pilate washed away

With no defense you shouldered all the blame

Then powerless to stand, your strength gave way

Your eyes caressed the one who gave your name


You watched a stranger free you from your chain

Another wiped the blood that hid your face

You felt your body conquered by the strain

And still you spoke with selflessness and grace


A final time you fell beneath the weight

The soldiers’ hands ripped cloth and dignity

A hammer blow consigned you to your fate

Dark stole day and held you to the tree


Those who remained took all that they could save

And laid your bones inside a borrowed grave


The design of the papercut banner was inspired by the stained glass windows along the sides of the San Antonio Mennonite Church building. I have added four more panes, two at the top and two at the bottom, to accommodate the fourteen stations of the cross.


The logo of the San Antonio Mennonite Church is embedded in the diamond at the center of the cross. The logo is a simplified replica of the round stained glass window at the front of the church.


The fourteen panes around the edges of the banner represent the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross have traditionally been used by the church to focus our worship on Jesus’ path to the cross.


Emanating from the center of the cross outward are small triangles and quadrilaterals forming a stained glass cross. This design is intended to remind us that we are all little broken pieces, but the cross holds us all together.


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