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« Re: An Unlikely Alliance on the Pro-Life Front | Main | Other people’s job »

January 19, 2007

Learning from Rembrandt

Crucifixion On Monday, I stopped by the National Gallery of Art with a friend to see one of their special exhibits going on through March. In celebration of 400 years since Rembrandt van Rijn's birth, the gallery is hosting a special collection of his drawings and etchings. The warm red, gold, and brown hues that we've grown accustomed to seeing in Rembrandt's paintings melt away here, leaving us the master in more elemental tones of black and white and copper. Walking through the exhibit is like taking a meditative walk through Scripture. As an artist, Rembrandt framed moments of profound significance: Jesus rousing a dead Lazarus, the father embracing his prodigal son, Joseph telling his dreams to his unbelieving brothers, Abraham and Isaac on a journey up Mt. Sinai. I'm inspired by Rembrandt's work to be still in front of the Word of God and concentrate on one particular moment, and let God open that moment in all its glory and heartache up to me.

I asked my friend as we left the gallery, if, by some miracle, he were allowed to take home just one of the drawings or etchings he'd seen, which one it would be. We both agreed we would take home the print of the crucifixion. There were actually four different renderings of this piece, with each version growing progressively darker in composition. In the first few you could clearly see the characters at the foot of the cross, their faces and their preoccupations. But by the final print almost all of the characters, save that of Jesus crucified, were immersed in total darkness, leaving the viewer alone to contemplate, as Jesus told Mary and Martha, "the one thing needful."

The progression itself reminds me of something true in our lives. As the darkness grows, so often does our ability, and in fact the necessity, to focus on the one face, the one person, that we so desperately need. Perhaps through pain our senses become more finely attuned. Lewis would say pain is God's megaphone.

A friend of mine has been walking through the valley lately. She asked me the other day to help her find those oft-repeated passages in the Bible that repeat the refrain, "How Long, O Lord." As I searched, I discovered something quite interesting. The question is asked not only by God's people, but by God Himself, who asks how long will He endure with these stiff-necked people or how long will we continue in our sin. Ah--the patience of God.

Certainly, if pain is a megaphone--it shouts both ways. In our pain, we cry out for God. But in Christ's pain--as so starkly brought into focus for me in Rembrandt's work---in His pain he shouts to us of His unrelenting, ferocious love, of His patience with us, and of His active work on our behalf not to leave us alone in the darkness. Oh God, give us ears to hear and eyes to see.

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Regis Nicoll

Catherine--"if pain is a megaphone--it shouts both ways." Oh, how true, how true. And the rest of your piece--sheer poetry! Thanks for sharing your sobering insight.

Diane Singer

I agree with Regis, Catherine. This is a truly lovely, thought-provoking piece. It reminded me of a painting I once saw in Moscow of Christ praying in Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. The picture was almost entirely black, but you could make out Christ's prostrate figure lying on His white and blue prayer shawl. I can never think of what He endured on that night without that painting coming to my mind.

Lee Hargrove

For all of my Christian life, I've wondered what it would have been like to be there - when the Abraham's knife was about to slay Isaac, when Moses parted the Red Sea, when Elijah rode to heaven in the chariot of fire, when Lazarus appeared in the entry way to his tomb wrapped in his grave clothes, when the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost... When time is no more, we will know! Maranantha!

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