by lefever on August 16, 2011
The pierced feet of Jesus, His hands, His side, the punctures to the crown of his head, the lacerations and bruises on His body, the swelling, the tears and rips, and the dried blood.
A quote from Beauty Will Save the World, (Gregory Wolfe) p.12 :
“…what ultimately drew me to the church [Catholicism] was another facet, one about which too little is spoken. It’s what the great Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno called “the tragic sense of life.” At the center of this sensibility is a profound awareness of the ambiguities and divisions within the human heart, along with a stress on the importance of suffering and contemplation. I came to understand why Catholics venerate the crucifix, not the empty cross…”
Many would disagree with me, claiming we praise a risen Lord and have taken Him off the cross, or stating that the crucifixion is not the saving grace but the resurrection; with out the resurrection there is no salvation. I have also heard to display Jesus crucified is to re-crucify Him over and over again.
Perhaps it is just I who is moved by the tragic. The resurrection has little meaning with out the crucifixion. Had Jesus just fallen asleep for our sin, and then rose from the dead, then the pain he endured for our sake is minimized. Seeing the wounds reminds me of the price that was paid on our behalf. A statue or painting of the crucifix are not Jesus, nor a Pieta, but are reminders to me and to others – to all of us corporately – of the “tragic sense of life” and the “profound awareness of the ambiguities and divisions within the human heart,” the “importance of suffering and contemplation.”
What happens for me is my intellectual awareness from academic and practical study, drops from head knowledge to my heart through my imagination: I am united body and soul with the notion of culpability and love.
Nor is it a blame that is scornful or diminishing, rather it is a blame that conjoins me with the Love that pays my way. It is beyond words or description, and that is precisely the place where the Holy Spirit works.
It all works together.
I like the wounds we depict in the arts to remember the suffering, my suffering, and the suffering servant, who yes, is no longer on the cross.
And THAT is another subject of art for contemplation.
“There have been times when critics have confused the tragic sense with mere fatalism. I suspect that is because Americans still suffer from the illusion that they can escape tragedy and remake themselves in the process. The truth as I come to see it is that the tragic sense of life is the ultimate antidote to religious arrogance and sentimentality as well as to the ideological triumphalisms of Right and Left“
~Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save The World
by lefever on April 18, 2011
Outside, it is snowing.
Inside, St Mary’s is dark, or shall I say, dimly lit. But then what is light with out darkness upon which to show it?
My eyes adjust.
I see many homeless in the pews. Some are sleeping upright. They are in the safety of St. Mary’s church.
I feel as though He looks down upon me. This is not something I think about on any regular basis. But here, now, with this woodcarving, I imagine the Christ and he is looking down upon me. And because this sculpture is not Him, I can look back and consider His gaze.
In between mass and worship, it is the art in this church, as in others, that tells me this is a church, and expresses to me The Story. In this quiet time the art captures my imagination from where it was wandering just minutes before outside in the snow and the hustle of life.
Not just the crucified Yeshua holds my mind, weighing heavily on my conscience with all we have attached to this image in study and understanding, but also the hope of the resurrection and all that implies and promises, for on the other side of the crucifixion carving is a wall painting of Christ in Majesty. Christ encircled by His heavenly hosts, sits on the throne marked Alpha and Omega, a reminder to us of Love and Grace and Divine Justice, Divine Mercy.
It is here in this little chapel with its theological décor that I am given a peak to consider what resurrection life might mean and from here, how this relates to my/our perception of daily reality in the city, in the snow.
On one side is the pain of the sacrifice to consider in all its profound depth and meaning; symbolically, historically, continually “once and for all.” On the other side is the joy of the promise…
Art does this. It captures our imagination in a way that is set and unchanging for us to consider. Slowing us down into a moment so that we can “hear” the Spirit “speak”–our minds can reflect, our souls can expand.
Just sitting in these visuals has an effect, as sitting in the visuals of commercial media has its effect. This is church as alchemy, converting earthly lead to heavenly gold.
Here I can rest and re-member myself as being made in His image, to be perfected in His likeness, to more accurately bear the image of God and to consider the things unseen but no less transformative.
St. Mary The Virgin, Times Square, NYC.
by lefever on November 12, 2010
Prague is different than Paris in that the church style is predominantly Baroque in Prague (and most of Czech) rather than Gothic. Gothic started in France with Abbot Suger at his hybrid style church, St. Denis. From there, the Gothic Style spread throughout France as the “new” style, eventually being adopted elsewhere in Europe and finally evolving into what was called International Gothic. The Italian Style replaced Gothic as the fashion and eventually the zealously decorative Baroque was the rage.
Where France tended to be a bit more elegant, Czech seemed more aware of the physical and material aspects of Christian thought. Congregant culpability felt in response to the crucifix is here at a peak.
The crucifixion was painted and sculpted and not always with graceful Messiah, but a battered Jesus, his flesh and blood more obvious, his body palpable and soft, his suffering considerable.
Not to say there are not various styles in the Czech Republic. It is varied. The older churches reflect the fashion of the time. St. Vitus in Prague, St. Vaclav in Olomouc, St. Barbara in Kutna Hora, Sts. Peter and Paul in both Prague and Brno are all Gothic (or neo-Gothic in the case of Brno, remodel from a Romanesque origin). These were also the Cathedrals and the royal church of the kings or regents of the area.
But, death is not hidden away in Czech. The reminder of it is present.
Being alone in Czech in Winter, I was reminded of this in subtle ways, from hardship carved in the faces of the elderly, the quality of the thick gray air and muddled light, the rain filtering through leafless trees splatting the cold stone, the plague of graffiti defacing properties, the unrelenting smokers, so many buildings in disrepair, the economic times, my empty pockets…
In Sedlec, Kutna Hora, is the “Bone Church.” The very small, All Saints Church, is filled by the dead, decorated within with bones exhumed from the cemetery grounds without. Death is present (and in this case a tourist attraction).
The bones that were removed from the ground to make room for victims of the plague were arranged in 1511 by a half blind Cistercian monk within the ossuary of All Saints Church. In two piles, skulls of the dead rest beneath large crowns that hang from aged blue vaulted ceilings, a promise of Heavenly freedom.
Other bones were meticulously arranged in 1870 by a wood carver and form a macabre decorum of Catholic Liturgical objects, royal coats of arms, a chandelier… all in all, an estimated 40,000 dead are crafted into an experience in which to contemplate the mystery of our lives.
The mystery of our deaths.
“ ‘ONLY MYSTERY enables us to live,’ Lorca wrote at the bottom of one of his drawings he did in Buenos Aires: ‘only mystery.’ “
~ Edward Hirsch quoting the poet, Lorca, from his book,
“the demon and the angel” (searching for the source of artistic inspiration)