Stormy Weather

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633, oil on canvas, 160 x 128 cm.  Whereabouts unknown since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery in 1990.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633, oil on canvas, 160 x 128 cm. Whereabouts unknown since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery in 1990.

“God, don’t you care?”

How often have we asked that question when we’re in the midst of suffering? The disappointment we feel when things don’t go as we had planned, the pernicious doubts that dog us, the inconsolable grief at the loss of a loved one, the primal fear that we’ve been abandoned, all these can lead us to question whether God actually cares about us. Continue reading

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Suzy Schultz’s Second Innocence

Today I’m sharing some of the work and words of the contemporary artist Suzy Schultz, who I just discovered through an interview with her on Joseph Futral’s blog, Nature of the Beat. I instantly was taken by her work, and reading her thoughts about the idea of Second Innocence resonated deeply for me:

“I heard that term in an interview in an article years ago. The guy quoted a French theologian, the theologian used that term Second Innocence. I don’t know what it is about that term, I have some ideas. It kind of goes with the whole theory of there being redemption, of things that are broken becoming whole. Or things that are scarred becoming beautiful, not because they lose their scars but the scars are part of the new beauty that they have. Even physical things like old walls that have years and years of stains on them and have all these different colors as a result of that. They have this patina of beauty that is much richer to me than if it was a freshly painted wall.”

Prayer by Suzy Schultz

Prayer by Suzy Schultz

“There’s a hope that the mistakes we’ve made, or the regrets that we have, or the imperfections we have, can all be a part of, don’t prevent us from, living life fully and beautifully. That can be a part of our going through the fire and having those things perfected into a new kind of beauty. As I get older I look to things that give me hope, that my own struggles can be a part of creating a new beauty.”

Spring Web by Suzy Schultz

Spring Web by Suzy Schultz

“One of the pieces that I recently did, I’ve been doing this whole warrior series. I did a piece in the last few years of a woman; she’s dressed as a warrior, she’s got a bow strapped across her, a quiver with arrows in it. She’s got what could be seen as wings behind her or a large bird of prey like an eagle that’s flying over her. In my mind what I wanted was she is someone who is very strong. She’s a warrior herself. And yet she, herself, needs protection and shelter. I was also inspired by Psalm 91, which I embedded in part of the painting, which talks about finding refuge and being under the shelter of protective wings. There is an aura of mystery to that, you aren’t sure if they’re wings, is she an angel, a bird flying over her. I like that the image is still powerful even though it’s not and maybe because it’s not so defined you know exactly what it is. There’s not a defined message necessarily there, but there is a symbology that gives a powerful image.”

Warrior by Suzy Schultz.

Warrior by Suzy Schultz

“There’s something so symbolic about eggs. I love the fact that only the eggs that are broken bring forth life. If the eggs are never broken apart the life inside them dies. There’s a lot of symbolism there. I couldn’t have put words to that before I started painting those. I just knew there was something about the eggs that I was drawn towards.”

Broken and Whole by Suzy Schultz

Broken and Whole by Suzy Schultz

“I guess my connection with the Christian faith tends to be finding these redemptive themes over and over and exploring those. Kind of like the broken and whole, the guy holding the birds nest, the empty chair, the warrior. I guess those themes keep drawing me back to the faith.”

Doorway by Suzy Schultz

Doorway by Suzy Schultz

“Every once in a while when I’m painting I’m able to be both a participant and a vessel. When that happens and things happen on the panel or paper that were other than what I intended, that end up being really powerful paintings, I feel like I experience something of a connection with God.”

Mustard Seeds

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

Today Jesus tells us that the faith planted in our hearts, though it starts as a tiny seed, can cause an enormous transformation within, enabling us to change our lives and manifest the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. The early church father, Peter Chrysologous (400-450 AD) wrote this about the mustard seed parable and Christ:

“Brothers and sisters, you have heard today how the kingdom of heaven, for all its vastness, can be compared to a mustard seed… Is that the sum of believers’ hopes? Is that what the faithful are longing for?… Is this the mystery no eye has seen, no ear heard, no human heart imagined; the mystery past telling that the Apostle Paul assures us God has prepared for all who love him? (1Cor 2,9). Let us not be too easily disappointed by our Lord’s words. If we remember that “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength, and God’s foolishness wiser than human wisdom,” (1Cor 1,25) we shall find that this smallest seed of God’s creation is greater than the whole wide world.

It is up to us to sow this mustard seed in our minds and let it grow within us into a great tree of understanding reaching up to heaven and elevating all our faculties; then it will spread out branches of knowledge, the pungent savor of its fruit will make our mouths burn, its fiery kernel will kindle a blaze within us inflaming our hearts, and the taste of it will dispel our unenlightened repugnance. Yes, it is true: a mustard seed is indeed an image of the kingdom of God. Christ is the kingdom of heaven. Sown like a mustard seed in the garden of the virgin’s womb, he grew up into the tree of the cross whose branches stretch across the world. Crushed in the mortar of the passion, its fruit has produced seasoning enough for the flavoring and preservation of every living creature with which it comes in contact. As long as a mustard seed remains intact, its properties lie dormant; but when it is crushed they are exceedingly evident. So it was with Christ; he chose to have his body crushed, because he would not have his power concealed….

Christ became all things in order to restore all of us in himself. The man Christ received the mustard seed which represents the kingdom of God; as man he received it, though as God he had always possessed it. He sowed it in his garden, that is in his bride, the Church. The Church is a garden extending over the whole world, tilled by the plough of the gospel, fenced in by stakes of doctrine and discipline, cleared of every harmful weed by the labor of the apostles, fragrant and lovely with perennial flowers: virgins’ lilies and martyrs’ roses set amid the pleasant verdure of all who bear witness to Christ and the tender plants of all who have faith in him. Such then is the mustard seed which Christ sowed in his garden. When he promised a kingdom to the patriarchs, the seed took root in them; with the prophets it sprang up; with the apostles it grew tall; in the Church it became a great tree putting forth innumerable branches laden with gifts. And now you too must take the wings of the psalmist’s dove, gleaming gold in the rays of divine sunlight, and fly to rest for ever among those sturdy, fruitful branches. No snares are set to trap you there; fly off, then, with confidence and dwell securely in its shelter. (SERMON 98)”

Detail of apse in Basilica of San Clemente, Rome.

Detail of apse in Basilica of San Clemente, Rome.

Today’s image is the same as we saw for Jesus as the true vine, which you may read about here. Click on it for a larger image to see all the details included in this intricate mosaic.

 

Are you allowing the seed of Christ’s love and the Word of God to be implanted in you? Are you being transformed into a mighty tree that bears fruit for Christ? Pray now that God will fill you with the Holy Spirit and give you the desire to live to his glory, so you may put forth branches that will help shelter others under the tree of the Kingdom.

 

The New Law

Many (most?) of us would probably have to admit that our natural inclinations often lead us to harsh judgments of our fellows rather than merciful love. In the Sistine Chapel we can experience the tension between these poles as we stand between two works of Cosimo Rosselli, a Florentine artist of the fourteenth century. Long before Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the chapel, Rosselli was hired to decorate the walls of the chapel along with Botticelli, Perugino, and Ghirlandaio. Rosselli painted parts of a cycle on the north wall depicting scenes from the life of Christ (the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper) and the life of Moses on the south wall (the Crossing of the Red Sea and the Tablets of the Law with the Golden Calf). For this post we will look at the Sermon on the Mount and Tablets of the Law.

The Tablets of the Law with the Golden Calf by Cosimo Rosselli, 1481-82, Fresco, 350 x 572 cm Sistine Chapel, Vatican

The Tablets of the Law with the Golden Calf by Cosimo Rosselli, 1481-82, Fresco, 350 x 572 cm
Sistine Chapel, Vatican

In The Tablets of the Law with Golden Calf, we several scenes juxtaposed. At the top, Moses appears on Mount Sinai as he converses with God, who appears in a fiery cloud surrounded by angels, while Joshua sleeps below. At the left, we see Moses bringing the tablets containing the ten commandments to the Israelites, whose camp can be seen in the background. In the center, Moses is about to smash the tablets when he sees the altar with the golden calf that the people have built and worshipped in his absence. Finally, at the right in the small inset scene, we see the idolatrous people being punished.

 

Sermon on the Mount by Cosimo Rosselli, 1481-82, Fresco, 349 x 570 cm Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

Sermon on the Mount by Cosimo Rosselli, 1481-82, Fresco, 349 x 570 cm Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, placed directly opposite the Moses painting, Rosselli used a similar compositional arrangement to emphasize the comparison between the two scenes from scripture. The mountain scene at the center top is now occupied by the Church, the place where God can now be found and from which see the figure of Christ coming down towards us. At the center of the painting, Christ delivers the Sermon on the Mount to a large crowd at left, while the Apostles huddle behind him. At the right we see Jesus curing a leper.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:1-12

 

Standing between these two works in the Sistine Chapel, you are meant to be reminded that you are standing in the Church that carries the continuity between the Old Law given by Moses and the New Law as represented by Jesus. But it is also a challenge to us. We are caught in the middle between the old law of harsh judgment, which is our natural inclination as fallen human beings, and the new law of love and mercy. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ makes it clear which path we are to choose if we seek the Kingdom of Heaven. In Rosselli’s paintings we see that the old law leads to punishment while the new law brings healing by Christ. Which path will you choose?

The Feast of Corpus Christi

The feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ) is the day that Catholics celebrate the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (which means ‘thanksgiving’). The scriptural basis for this belief is taken from the words of Jesus at the Last Supper:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26-28)

These words are repeated by the priest during the Mass. By an “inexhaustible mystery” that cannot be fully explained, Christ then becomes present under the appearance of bread and wine, a mystery known as transubstantiation. He becomes spiritual nourishment for the faithful, uniting them with his humanity and also with his divinity. Through Baptism, we become adopted sons and daughters of God, and through Communion that bond is strengthened as “by his indwelling we are made holy by the gift of sanctifying grace.”

The Last Supper by Dieric Bouts 1464-1467 oil on panel 180 x 150 cm., St. Peter's Church, Leuven, Belgium.

The Last Supper by Dieric Bouts 1464-1467 oil on panel 180 x 150 cm., St. Peter’s Church, Leuven, Belgium.

 

The Last Supper by Dieric Bouts, an artist we’ve looked at before, is part of the Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament created for the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament in Leuven and is considered to be Bouts’s greatest masterpiece. In it, we see the Flemish love of pattern and fabrics and Bouts’s distinctive attenuated figures. The painting depicts one of the earliest uses of single point perspective, seen in the orthogonal lines of the floor and ceiling. Christ is at the center, as in most Last Supper scenes, and he is presented here as a priestly figure, presenting the Eucharist and making a gesture of blessing and consecration. As an altarpiece, this painting expresses the Real Presence of Christ in a powerful way to us as the viewers; we see Jesus offering himself as the Bread of Life as he gazes directly out at us (be sure to click on the images to see enlarged details).

The Feast of Corpus Christi was added to the Church calendar due to the efforts of a medieval nun, Juliana of Liège in Belgium (1193-1252), who had visions in which Christ told her the Blessed Sacrament needed a feast of its own. In August of 1264, Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi for the universal Church.

Juliana of Liege holding a monstrance, Peter Paul Metz 1896, polychrome wooden sculpture, church of St. Gordian and Epimachus, Merazhofen, Germany.

Juliana of Liege holding a monstrance, Peter Paul Metz 1896, polychrome wooden sculpture, church of St. Gordian and Epimachus, Merazhofen, Germany.

 

Part of the celebration of Corpus Christi is the exposition and procession of the Blessed Sacrament, when the Eucharist is publicly displayed in a monstrance carried by the priest and often protected beneath a canopy. Medieval images of such processions exist in illuminated manuscripts.

Corpus Christi procession, illustration from folio 13 of the Lovell Lectionary (Harley 7026), illuminated manuscript, British Library.

Corpus Christi procession, illustration from folio 13 of the Lovell Lectionary (Harley 7026), illuminated manuscript, British Library.

This image is a detail from a page in the Lovell Lectionary, a manuscript given by John, Lord Lovell of Titchmarsh, to Salisbury Cathedral in about 1408. It was signed by  John Siferwas, a Dominican friar and known artist. In this miniature image, every millimeter has been covered in colorful, intricate patterns, from the ground to the canopy to the priestly vestments, each one unique. Even the background has been dotted with large flower designs. The man in the center wears a bishop’s mitre and carries the monstrance, which pales in comparison to the splendid vestments of the priests!

Most monstrances (which means “to show” in Latin)  are in the traditional sunburst design topped with a cross, as we can see Pope Francis carrying in this image.

Pope Francis with monstrance containing  Blessed Sacrament

Pope Francis with monstrance containing Blessed Sacrament

In some places, though, the monstrance has become a spectacular object, such as the one in the cathedral at Toledo, Spain.

 

Monstrance, silver-gilt, 1517, Cathedral of Toledo, Spain

Monstrance, silver-gilt, 1517, Cathedral of Toledo, Spain

 

Corpus Christi processions through the centuries have often become colorful spectacles, as depicted in a series of paintings from the seventeenth century in Cuzco, Peru.

Cuzco Corpus Christi procession

Parish of San Sebastián, detail from the Procession of Corpus Christi series, c. 1680, oil on canvas (Museo del Arzobispado, Cuzco, Peru)

 

Parish of San Sebastian Corpus Christi Procession

Parish of San Sebastián, detail from the Procession of Corpus Christi series, c. 1680, oil on canvas (Museo del Arzobispado, Cuzco, Peru)

 

"Bishop Manuel de Mollinedo Ending Procession and Entering the Cathedral Again, Corpus Christi series"

“Bishop Manuel de Mollinedo Ending Procession and Entering the Cathedral Again, Corpus Christi series”

In these very large paintings we can see a mixture of Spaniards and indigenous people, musical instruments, costumes, and elaborate carts included in the parades. Such elaborate Corpus Christi processions may still be seen today, particularly in Spain and Latin America.

Corpus Christi feast in modern Cuzco, Peru

Corpus Christi feast in modern Cuzco, Peru