Art of My Heart: The Annunciation

Perhaps you, like I, have looked upon many artistic depictions of biblical scenes and have been left wanting.  Jesus’s hair is way too long and pretty, everyone’s garments are far too pink and blue, the buildings and courtyards are inordinately clean, etc., etc.  I’ve written on this subject before.  Loving beauty and truth, I want to be both aesthetically pleased and spiritually impacted.  Good religious art should cause me to be powerfully moved by the beauty and meaning of the piece, powerfully taken back to the moment depicted.  In other words, I want to be spiritually transported by the aesthetic image to feel myself present at a moment when Heaven touched Earth.

And so much art just doesn’t get that done for me.

There are exceptions, of course, and I have reflected on them from time to time in this blog.  One exceptional work of art has recently been purchased by me (in the form of a print bought through AllPosters.com) to hang on my bedroom wall.  (My awesome parents are helping me to mount and secure it as I write this.  So many blessings for which to be thankful!)

It’s a depiction of the Annunciation by Henry O. Tanner.

Before I show it to you, if you aren’t familiar with it already, a little on the traditional depictions of the Annunciation.  I do appreciate them, typically with symbolic touches, usually with the winged angel kneeling before the Virgin Mary, who looks humble, pious, and open to what she is hearing.  The work of Fra Angelico comes to mind:

Annunciation, Fra Angelico

(Check out a wonderfully informative video on this work and other frescoes by clicking HERE.)

But, the angel, Gabriel, is as usual, lavishly and heavily garbed and Mary is so very calm and serene.  And, for some reason, this doesn’t strike my heart.  In Fra Angelico’s work, the pair look like they are in some Italian portico, in others,, young Mary has a greatly receding hairline.  I am willing to look beyond the contemporary “fashion” details that an artist will add in keeping with his time – if, and only if, I am taken in by a look in the face, a gesture of a hand, a radiant light….  Too often, however, details not contemporary to Scripture get in the way of the heart of the matter.  And, so, the works don’t find their way to my heart.

The 1898 work by Henry Ossawa Tanner is the exception.  In it, Mary is real, vibrant in her attentiveness, in what seems a lively curiosity, as well as serenely open and willing.  She is on the edge of something, almost vibrating, yet perfectly still.  The Angel Gabriel is, well… alive, aflame, pure light, marvelously and wondrously a powerful messenger from God.  Now, that is an angel!

Without further ado, then, I present to you the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and told her that she was to conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit…

Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

This man-made painting of the moment when the Divine pierced the temporal veil and awaited a young woman’s full acceptance and embrace of faith, embrace of God’s salvation… Well, this work of art does find my heart, deep within, striking the chord of truth and beauty that only a sublime and subtle glimpse of the Divine can.

Yes.

I say with Mary, Yes.

Read my  depiction of the Annunciation in words by reading my posts: A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread  and In the Cloud of Glory a Portal Opens

© 2017 Christina Chase

 

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