Monday, February 18, 2008

Carry On

I remember stumbling onto the works of Hieronymus Bosch, a 16th century painter, for the first time when I was studying art. I thought he was nuts. It was his famous painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights." Like a flash forward to a Tim Burton film or a Dr. Suess story gone bad, it was filled with bizarre contraptions, creepy creatures, and disfigured figures; surreal and completely unlike anything of his own era.

Then I found his painting pictured here; Christ carrying the Cross. Some of the same Boschian faces are back, but now they are juxtaposed with the serene face of Christ. His eyes are closed, He leans forward on His via dolorosa, His way of sorrows. Anger and rage swell around his peaceful, almost contemplative face. Screaming, laughing, conniving faces swirl in a sea of torment around Him. But He presses on. It is captivating. And in this cauldron of humanity, only one other face seems to mark the gravity of the moment, to be awake and aware of the redemption so near at hand. A woman, modest, pure, who has placed herself in the eye of the storm with Him Who walks towards the Hill of Calvary. She too has eyes closed in meditation and holds open for all to see (who dare to look) the veil that captured His Face.

In the film The Passion of the Christ, the scene of Jesus carrying His Cross becomes, in a sense, the climax of the entire story. It's here where a verse from Revelation comes tumbling in, seemingly out of place and enigmatic to the core. Jesus meets a Woman, His Mother, on the way. Only they seem to feel the full weight of this moment, where the problem of evil, of suffering, of injustice, and all the sorrows of humanity are met head on. This is what God does in Jesus: looks Death square in the eye. Did you think He came to tell us to be nice to everybody?

In this one moment the only One Who could give an answer to the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of evil, is the God Who became Man, and He says to the Woman: "Behold, I make all things new."

Now that's power. He doesn't come to erase our mistakes, or eradicate humanity's gift of freedom, or even to pat us on the back and say it's OK now. He comes to redeem our sins, to redirect our passions by His Passion, to remake the mold of what a Man should be and what a Woman should be in the face of sorrow and sin. The image, the posture, the position is.... cruciform. Arms outstretched, leaving the center wide-open, the heart vulnerable to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." We can take down Suffering by suffering, destroy Death with the death to self. If we let sorrow bite us and break us and then get up again and carry on, then Death, where is your sting?

Can we do this today? Can we look our suffering in the eye (and we know exactly where it is) and pick it up? Walk with it? Take it through the crowded streets of our life and bear it peacefully? Some see Christians as escapists, looking for a way out of meaninglessness and clutching at a crutch for comfort. Please look at a crucifix. Christians are the real realists. We are the ones called to name it, claim it and meet it head on. To take life in all its manifold complexity into the heart and there let His grace transform it.

So let's carry on... Victory awaits beyond this Hill of Sorrows!
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