Morning Prayer at San Buenaventura Mission

I had a great time at the Pepperdine lectures last week. It was humbling getting to meet so many of you who read the blog. It was an honor to talk and visit with you.

While at the lectures I had some free time on Wednesday morning, so I took the recommendation of Dana (offered in one of her comments here) to drive north from Malibu to Ventura to check out the San Buenaventura Mission. I love old churches and have never visited a Spanish mission. So that's what I did with my free time at Pepperdine. While most people went to the beach or hiked in the hills and canyons, I drove north to visit a historic mission.

I arrived around 9:30 in the morning. The gate to the garden was open so I went in. I was alone, had the place to myself.

It was a beautiful little Moorish garden with a fountain in the middle. Sitting there listening to the birds and the water I noted that the door to the church was also open. So I wandered in to look around.

The chapel was empty. It was dark, with the morning sunlight cutting paths through the air. I could still smell the incense from the morning Mass. I went down to the front where there was a large crucifix on the wall.

After lighting a candle for a friend, I sat on the front row.

The old kneeler creaked loudly in the silent space, with a big echoing knock when it hit the floor. I knelt and took out my prayer book for morning prayers.

As I prayed--moving through the psalms, the collects, the readings, the Lord's Prayer--I kept looking up at the figure of Jesus looking down at me.

I noticed his knees, a distinctive feature of the chapel crucifix of San Buenaventura Mission. You expect to see blood associated with the Five Sacred Wounds, the wounds to Jesus' hands, feet and side. Those along with the blood from the Crown of Thorns. But the body of Christ on the cross at San Buenaventura Mission has two more distinctive wounds--bloodied knees. These would be the wounds associated with Jesus' three falls, three of the Stations of the Cross.

I finished the prayers in the prayer book, but didn't want to leave. I was alone in the chapel and wanted to linger. Wanted to keep smelling the incense and watch the morning sunlight come through the windows. I wanted to keep looking up at the crucifix. So I keep kneeling.

I took out my prayer beads. I used the beads to repeatedly pray the ancient prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

As I kept coming back to the word "mercy" I started to weep. I wasn't sure where the tears were coming from. Maybe I was tired. Maybe it was the place. Maybe I'm a sentimental fool.

But what slowly welled up inside of me was this acute sense of my sin. My vanity, selfishness, rivalries, envies, judgments, insecurities, impatience, pride. It all got pulled to the surface. This vision of who I am and how this isn't who I want to be.

And so I wept, and prayed for mercy. While the figure with the bloodied knees looked down upon me.

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9 thoughts on “Morning Prayer at San Buenaventura Mission”

  1. Richard,
    It was great meeting you at PBL. I loved the class and learned some new things. I hope the missions will lure you back to California again. The Santa Barbara Mission is incredible and there is a Benedictine Retreat Center (St. Mary's) next door that I like to frequent.

  2. Dr. Beck, having now met you (you came to OKC a few months back, we were the only church of Christers in the Nazarene audience) and seeing your face when you speak, the emotion that you have, I really appreciate your "emotional" posts more. It is funny how the Spirit works, because I found myself starting at the picture you posted, and the one you created with your imagery, and I felt transported there. When you got the part with the beads, and the prayer, I was already crying. (Talk about the the sentimental fool!) I really appreciate that no matter how "heady" we get sometimes in our pursuit of knowledge, or how wise we think we are in our grasp of theological knowledge, the Spirit still breaks through our rugged exterior and mercy falls. And the thought of weeping in front of this statue of the lord and his bloody knees all alone makes this even more beautiful. Thank you. I am glad you skipped out on the beach and the cliffs. I needed to have more mercy dispensed upon me, even if it is second hand, virtual mercy. Thanks.

  3. This is perhaps the single most compelling reason that I am an artist. Reflecting about the possibility that long after I am dead people might weep, pray, rejoice, before a painting of mine allows me a sense of purpose and satisfaction that I don’t often feel when I am sacrificing a diminishing measure of time before canvases or plaster walls that maybe I should be investing more wisely elsewhere. And of course, Jesus’ “knees.” All the bloody hands, wounds, and scars, I’v painted all these years and I never really thought about his knees! Blessings and very much obliged.

    (p.s. perhaps this post is not the time to address the many post-colonial questions of the ‘mission industrial complex’ and it’s native victims. Nevertheless, many Native americans and other victims of my church would readily identify with those bloody knees as well).

  4. Well stated about the Native perspective. It certainly is important to feel that mercy upon oneself in that church, and when we start to think of what happened to the Native people, or the Jewish people or the Catholic people or the protestant people, or the Muslim people, or the poor people, etc, it doesn't make the mercy "sweeter" but it does make it more necessary. Thanks Daniel.

  5. Beauty, solitude, silence, prayer, an honest heart... Glad you met the Lord there.


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