The Transfiguration

Mt. Tabor in Galilee

Mt. Tabor in Galilee

The transfiguration is one of those Bible scenes that has been painted so many times we have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. The event traditionally takes place on Mt. Tabor, a 575 m. high mountain located at a strategic junction in Galilee that is first mentioned in the book of Joshua. The summit has been occupied successively by a fifth c. Byzantine church, a twelfth c. Crusader church, and currently by a Franciscan church built in the early twentieth c. next to a monastery and a modest Orthodox church.

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Woman with the Alabaster Jar

St Mary Magdalen and St Catherine of Alexandria, Simone Martini,1320-25 Fresco, 215 x 185 cm Cappella di San Martino, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi.

St Mary Magdalen and St Catherine of Alexandria, Simone Martini,1320-25
Fresco, 215 x 185 cm
Cappella di San Martino, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi.

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Mark 14:3-9

I am currently taking part in a weekly women’s retreat series based upon the book, Do What You Have the Power to Do by Helen Bruch Pearson. The book contains six studies of women from the New Testament who are nameless but who take some action that involves Jesus. This week we read and meditated on the woman with the alabaster jar. Her story is told in varying ways in all four of the Gospels, but there is some confusion surrounding her identity. She has been conflated with Mary Magdalene, who has also become confused with the “woman of ill repute” in Luke’s version. Our task for the retreat was to read Mark’s account at least three times, each time noting what words or phrases stood out to us, and then praying and journaling further on them. Continue reading

Ash Wednesday

Mosaic from Pompeii
30 B.C. — 14 A.D.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

I have a deep appreciation for the significance of Ash Wednesday. As the celebrant marks my forehead with the sign of the cross, he intones, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” reminding me of my mortality. These are the same words said by God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:19 as part of their punishment for disobeying Him. Our disobedience blocks us from the eternal life that God intends for us. What God desires from us is repentance and transformation to heal our relationship with Him. Ash Wednesday dates from at least the eighth century and is the beginning of Lent, a time of fasting, prayer, and good works that are meant to prepare us for the glory of the Easter resurrection. Continue reading

Announcing the Monthly Masterpiece Challenge!

Infinite Windows is a blog about connecting art and faith, so tell us what visual arts Rothkosmasterpiece speaks to you in a spiritual way and why. Does Rothko make you ruminate on God? Does the Pantheon cause you to ponder the heavens? Does Michelangelo leave you musing over biblical stories? Or maybe Tibetan mandalas lead you to thoughts of mortality? Whichever masterpiece gives you a window into the infinite, share it with us! Continue reading

The Goodness of Creation

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh; 1889, oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh; 1889, oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In The Starry Night, perhaps Van Gogh’s most famous and beloved painting, he has poured out his feelings of awe and wonder at God’s creation. He depicts The Starry Night as a swirling mass of deep blue space punctuated by blazing stars. This violent energy erupts above a peaceful, idyllic village with the cypress tree at left twisting upwards to connect the earthly and heavenly realms. Be sure to click on the painting to look closely at the larger version. You can see the details of Van Gogh’s brush strokes heavily loaded with pigment, his delicate yet confident outlines of the buildings, and the harmonious half circles of the trees that both echo and yet contrast with the drama of the whirling sky. By placing the cypress tree in the left foreground Vincent has drawn us into the scene, giving it an immediacy that it might lack otherwise. This picture gives us a sense of eternity and of our smallness in the vast infinitude of creation.

I thought of this painting today when I read the lectionary, which includes a lengthy passage from the opening verses of the book of Genesis. Continue reading

The Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

(Click on images for larger view)

Does your idea of Jesus include the image of the Good Shepherd? Paintings and sculpture of this figure date to ancient times and the Catacombs of Rome contain about 150 such images, showing that this was certainly a popular portrayal of Jesus for early Christians.

I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:14, 27

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:34

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