Favorite Things: Jesus Images

The Christian faith, especially in the Catholic Church, offers rich imagery for believers to assist in their worship.  After all, God created us with five physical senses and desires us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Some images, however, fall flat for me, or are too pink-and-blue pretty.  For example, I seriously doubt that Jesus had blond highlights.

Since they say that a picture is worth 1000 words, in this post I’m sharing some of my favorite images to keep me mindful of my Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus…

Sacred Heart of Jesus stained-glass

Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, Texas; photo by MaryLea

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Unknowing Worship

You have heard scientists extol the wonders of the cosmos, passionate about the laws of physics and discovered workings of bodies and the universe.  You have seen artists, brilliant in color, line, and texture, draw out the beauty of the natural world and the extraordinary in the ordinary.  You have watched dancers, and athletes, too, move in rhythm, strength, and agility with the fine mastery of muscle and nerve in the poetry of motion.

And, perhaps, none of these people ever speak about God.

But… don’t they?

They may be atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists, but their passion, brilliance, athleticism, and artistry are rooted in the Divine.  God is the Divine Maker, Shaper, and Mover… do they not participate in the divine life whenever they discover, express, and leap?

The Gospel, the Good News of God’s personal love and merciful gift, is written in words.  But, it is received, love, and lived in and through the heart.  Sometimes, the heart knows what the mind does not.

cross, night sky, wonder

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Different Women in 2 Works of Art

How connected are you to your background, how intimate with your landscape?

I love pretty things.  I’m very much of the “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes”[1] sensibility.  The turn of the twentieth century is my favorite time period with its lovely style of dress.  And that is probably one of the reasons why I love the art of Frank
Benson and have a copy of this painting, Summer, in my room:

New England, women, seashore, painting

Summer, Frank Benson

This New England scene of sun-bathed softness and breezy lightness pleasantly soothes me.  Even the colors match my summer decor.  But… in recently looking long at the print and studying it more closely, I found that I started to like it less.  There’s something about the expressions of the women in this impressionist painting that does not touch or move me at all.  I cannot imagine myself in that place with them because I don’t feel like they are really present in that place themselves. Continue reading

Cancer and Perspective

For my aunt’s cancer, angiosarcoma, to be removed from her body, her nose had to be removed.  After a year and a half of surgeries, nearly torturous radiation sessions, and more surgeries, her “new” nose is left permanently disfigured and dysfunctional.  At least, however, she had the knowledge that the cancer was gone and her life was safe.

But, the cancer has returned.

What looked like a bruise near her jaw is actually cancer.  And it, too, must be removed.  I imagine that more radiations… and uncertainty… will follow.

My poor aunt!  I feel awful for her and can’t even imagine what she must be feeling and thinking.  How will she get through this?  Where will she find the strength, the wisdom, the grace?  I find myself asking the same questions that I had when she first told me of her cancer on Christmas Day, 2014.  And my prayer for her now is the same as it was then.  Here is what I originally wrote – about my aunt the artist and about having divine perspective, even in the face of cancer:

Perspective   (click to read)

© 2016 Christina Chase

Before I Die

Before I die, I want to_____________________

How would you complete this sentence? It’s a good question to answer during this season of Lent, when we contemplate our own mortality and focus on what’s most important in life. Artist Candy Chang[1] invited people to fill in this blank in a public-participation art project, which revealed something very human…

 Before-I-Die-NOLA-wall-angled-1000x602

When we accept the fact that death is certain, then we think more about what it is to be alive.

This has been my own experience, knowing, since childhood, that my lifespan would be cut short by my motorneuron disease. Every spring, with its blooming daffodils and gurgling streams, was more beautiful and poignant because it could be my last. The love of my family surrounding me, upholding me, filled me with a deep sense of blessedness and gratitude. Of course, there were plenty of times when I took things for granted, became annoyed, impatient, and angrily dissatisfied. But, even in the shadow of death, or, perhaps, because of the shadow of death, I have always, always loved life.

So… How would I complete the sentence?

Before I die, I want to become the person that I was created to be.

Okay, now I know that some of you may be rolling your eyes thinking, mmph, that’s a highfalutin, easy out. But, it’s not. This quest is utterly difficult, the singular challenge of every human being. The whole of my existence, my reason for being, rests upon this sharp point. If life is pass or fail, then I don’t want to fail.

Who I Am Created to Be

I know that I was created. And I know that I was created by Someone, who knows and loves me intimately, for an infinite purpose that I can never see, so long as eyeballs are doing the looking. The truly big picture is beyond my limited understanding, but I want to take part in that picture exactly as my Creator intended. He is the Master and I am an extremely tiny but integral part of His Masterpiece. I am a masterwork in progress, if I let the Master work. Therein lies every decision of my life.

And, perhaps…. Perhaps, this is my answer because I don’t yet know what I have been created to specifically do….

I could write that I want to become a published author before I die. People would understand that and not accuse me of being too lofty or esoteric. It’s true that I would like to be published. But… I also want to become a daughter who honors her parents, a sister who sympathizes and encourages, and an aunt who inspires. For everyone that I encounter in the world, I want to be a witness to truth and love and an example of mercy and joy – whether I am a published author or not. I don’t know… maybe I am meant to be published posthumously – or maybe not….

Things to Do before Dying…?

Thinking about the rich beauty of the small wonders of life, I can say that I would quite like to taste Baked Alaska before I die… or listen to an exquisite string quartet in an intimate setting… or travel to see – no. You know, there really isn’t any place in the world that calls me strongly enough to make a bucket list. Especially not with all of the logistics involved in getting me anywhere – me, who is physically as weak as waste, bound to either wheelchair or bed, unable to even fly on a plane… I don’t want to travel to Rome, Nazareth, or Marrakesh strongly enough to try to meet that challenge. Besides, we could all make a list of things that we would like to enjoy – but my life doesn’t hinge upon those things.

People matter.

Yes, people matter so much more. And what matters is not seeing people, meeting people, or having people – like “having” a spouse or children or employees – but loving people. This, to me, is most pointedly revealed by the person who filled in the public art project with the desire to teach one particular person how to read.

Actively loving. That matter matters. For, though it is not exclusive of matter, it transcends.

Love never fails.

Beyond death, love endures and is the greatest. I have been loved into being. I am made by Love, for Love, in order to Love. I don’t want to let Love down. Before I die, I want to become the person that I was created to be.

That’s the point.

Life is pass or fail. Love is pass or fail.

I don’t want to fail Love.

… Hopefully, as I strive to live my life daily mindful of the Love that binds me, I will figure out what it is that I’m specifically supposed to do in order to become the person that I was created to be. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be any more specific than reaching out to others with all of the honesty/wisdom/forgiveness/truth/sympathy/guidance/protection/encouragement/love that I have to give.

So, now I invite you, dear reader, to try to complete the sentence for yourself by adding a comment:

Before I die, I want to_____________________.

© 2016 Christina Chase


 

More on ” life is pass or fail” in next week’s post.  If you liked this week’s post, you may also like When I Die

1] see more on this public art project at http://candychang.com/work/before-i-die-in-nola/

The Sacred Heart of Reality

 

The Treasures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Here is a re-presentation of an earlier post for June:

Catholic imagery can be beautiful… and also a bit terrifying. Gruesome even. The picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that I use in the header of my blog is a classic example: a red, pulpy, bleeding heart, gashed, burning on fire at the top, encircled with a barbed-wire-like crown of thorns. Its blood is dripping down to a smaller heart below that is blooming with flowers and fruit. The inscription reads: The Treasures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is, of course, highly symbolic – but also rather startling and seemingly disconnected from what we see and know in “real” life. It begs the question – What are we supposed to do with an image like this?

I am consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I am not consecrated to an image of a fleshy, bloody organ. I am consecrated to Christ, to the fullness of reality – which is terribly beautiful, after all. I have committed myself to more than the material, more than the reducible – I have committed myself to life in its entirety, the physical and the spiritual. I refuse to be one of the surface people, fearfully hiding my power and vulnerability behind a fig leaf, and deceiving myself into thinking that only my five natural senses can detect the fullness of reality. I want to be like Christ. To be like Christ is to be most fully human, to be fully alive as we are created to be. Exploring the Mysteries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to explore his inner life, the core of who he is – and that is the exploration of the Mysteries of truth, of what is really real. All I’ve ever wanted is the truth.

But, why, then, some may ask, do I not write of the Sacred Heart in all of my posts?

I started this blog when I began my consecrated devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in hopes of more deeply exploring the Mysteries of Christ’s heart – and of my own. This doesn’t mean that every post is going to be directly about my act of consecration, or Jesus, or even Catholicism. But, I do believe that every post that I write is about the Sacred Heart. Not always explicitly, but always. For, to put it as simply and plainly (though also, I understand, as complexly and mysteriously) as possible, Christ is Truth Incarnate. And his Sacred Heart is the heart of truth, the heart of reality. As long as I tell no lies and make no conceit in this blog, striving for the honesty of life and of my mind and soul – then here is Christ. I press my ear to the heart of the universe and listen…

To put it another way:

Christ Jesus presents and embodies the reason for and meaning of reality – because Christ Jesus is the reason for and meaning of reality: God loves Creation into existence, creating human beings with the capacity to naturally and supernaturally receive divine love and to transmit, to share, this love, agape, with others. This interplay of God’s love for humankind and humankind’s loving response to God is perfect in Jesus Christ. For he is fully divine and fully human. This interplay is his interior life, the core of his being – his heart. Therefore, to delve into the Mysteries of being, of life, to delve into the Mysteries of the Divine and the human, to delve into the Mysteries of love, suffering, and joy, is to delve into the Sacred Heart of Jesus – whether we use that term and imagery or not. For Christ is Universal. Every human quest on earth for beauty, justice, goodness, knowledge, wisdom, or peace is a quest for Christ. In every religion, and in no religion, whether spiritually intending or not, I believe that all honest quests for truth and love are seeking what is found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And it is the Holy Spirit that inspires, guides, and guards such seeking.

The Catholic Church offers the month of June for special consideration of the Sacred Heart. Therefore,  let us consider this  image of The Treasures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the image, we can see that God’s love pours forth from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to bring our hearts into full flower and fruition. May it serve to remind me, not only of God’s love, but also of the human dimension of that love – and of my own responsibility. Divine incarnate.

Prayer:

– Lord, God, you so love us that you have become one of us, opening your heart for us in all ways. Help me open my heart to you so that you can transform me into a rich garden of blossoming, yielding fruitfulness of body and soul in all my thoughts, words, and actions – all for you, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!

 unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

Perspective

My aunt is an artist and she has cancer. It’s a rare and aggressive kind. I know neither the specific details of her treatment nor what will happen. But it’s cancer. And cancer is always scary. I was thinking about something that I didn’t want to do this week, something that I was dreading, and then I thought – but it’s nothing, nothing compared to what my aunt is going through. Everything else seems easy from the standpoint of cancer.

What is it like when you have cancer? Does your whole world go flat? What happens when you lose that “it could be worse” perspective that used to bring life into relief? Does everything in your life seem like it’s not where it’s supposed to be – what is distant is too immediately close, while what is truly near to you seems too far away?

I learned about the cancer straight from my aunt when I saw her on Christmas Day. I didn’t know what to say. She seemed her usual self, even though she had only just found out. Later, she began talking about a book that she had read, called Being Mortal, and about how we are so afraid of dying that we do the whole thing wrong. And I was impressed that she could talk about such serious things calmly and deeply while facing, perhaps, her own impending death. I saw the truth in her eyes as she said to me that she believed that God was giving her grace and that she was at peace.

So many questions have I… Would I be so peaceful if I had cancer? Although I am curious about what it’s like to have cancer, this is one subject about which I never want to satisfy my curiosity. But… Will I be so peaceful when my end nears from whatever cause? For, of course, we all will die, some time, of some thing, some how. Is anyone ever really ready to accept death – or… even worse, I think, sometimes… to face the process of dying?

Like most of my father’s family, my aunt is Christian, but not Catholic. A couple of days before Christmas, she had asked my father on the telephone why I call myself a Catholic Writer and not a Christian Writer. If she had asked me, I would’ve said that Christian and Catholic are the same, but that, because I understand the importance of words, I did debate between the two. I might have told her that the main reason I chose “Catholic Writer” was in order to give a heads up to those Christians who don’t like Catholicism, so that they would know to expect writings about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Assumption of Mary, the Eucharist, the Catechism, and so on in my work. When I saw her at Christmas, however, my aunt didn’t ask me that question. What she did say to me was that she has been reading my blog and that she believes in the same things that I have written about. I wasn’t surprised, although my guess is that she didn’t get to the part about the Assumption of Mary – but maybe she did. We are all Christian, after all, believing in the Mystery and power of God – believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and striving to live our lives in imitation of him.

I know that it is with a Christian perspective that my aunt will face her cancer, whatever may come. When she suffers, I pray that she stands at the foot of the Cross and sees the proximity of her suffering and Christ’s. And when she fears, I pray that she sees and feels the infinite nearness of God’s love, trusting the whole layout of His plan. With this Christian perspective, she will not become deflated or flattened, she will not lose herself out of proportion. The light of Christ is what brings her life into high relief, making all of her days and nights round and full, giving clear relationship to everything around her, based on who she is.

Many of my favorite pieces in this blog are the ones that I write about being human, about our true identities as human beings. We are made for the divine. We are not made merely for the fulfillment of our own self-centered and finite desires. We are not made for comfort or convenience. We are made for love, true love, the fullness of love – and the fullness of true love is the receiving and giving of God’s love. We are not alone, we are never alone, for God loves us into being, intimately and infinitely, and gives us the ability to love in return… forever. It is this relationship that puts everything else into the right place. And nothing can cause us to become unloved – nothing. And nothing can force us to become unloving, to lose ourselves, to lose our reason for being, to lose our joy – nothing. Not even cancer.

And if you are reading this, my dear artistic aunt, my prayer to God is that He will set you in the right place and help you to never lose divine perspective.

This is also my prayer for all of you, dear readers, for this new year, 2015!

© 2015 Christina Chase