A stronger Christmas message #2

December 25, 2011

Continuing on with the theme of last week and how one learns compassion — whether towards others, or just as importantly, towards oneself — I gifted myself with an oil painting by friend and colleague Jerzy Michalski (shown sitting). It now hangs where an aboriginal dot painting once hung; this newer painting seeming more appropriate as it is a clearer, cleaner reference to my western cultural background: that part of me that needs recognition and understanding despite my rejection of current mainstream Judaeo/Christian power structures with their insistence on literal interpretations of the Bible and a heavy emphasis on the masculine.

Appropriately titled “Past Glory” the painting depicts a cathedral whose ruined interior is portrayed with peeling plaster walls, missing pews and an overall sense of “no longer useful”.

I agree that the old church edifices are no longer sufficient to contain the burgeoning needs of this world. In a way, the Church must be larger now. It has to move out beyond human constructed walls of conceit and enclosures that lock out the natural world.

Lest we forget: It is the trees that inform us of the shape of a cathedral’s pillars; it is the trees that we need to humbly come back to to create a hugely bigger church where our animal, earthly nature can reside more easily with our spirited selves and remain in balance.

That is one meaning. The power in this painting, though, and why I choose to hang it in my home, is that it conveys the message of what Christianity, even Buddhism, is about: Scarred by struggle, transformed by hope.

Descending Theology: The Nativity

She bore no more than other women bore,
but in her belly’s globe that desert night the earth’s
full burden swayed.
Maybe she held it in her clasped hands as expecting women often do
or monks in prayer. Maybe at the womb’s first clutch
. she briefly felt that star shine

as a blade point, but uttered no curses.
Then in the stable she writhed and heard
beasts stomp in their stalls,
their tails sweeping side to side
and between contractions, her skin flinched
with the thousand animal itches that plague
. a standing beast’s sleep.

But in the muted womb-world with its glutinous liquid,
the child knew nothing
of its own fire. (No one ever does, though our names
are said to be writ down before
we come to be.) He came out a sticky grub, flailing
. the load of his own limbs

and was bound in cloth, his cheek brushed
with fingertip touch
so his lolling head lurched, and the sloppy mouth
found that first fullness — her milk
spilled along his throat, while his pure being
flooded her. (Each

feeds the other.) Then he was left
in the grain bin. Some animal muzzle against his swaddling perhaps breathed him warm
till sleep came pouring that first draught
of death, the one he’d wake from
. (as we all do) screaming.

Mary Karr

After reading Karr’s poem about the birth of Jesus, looking again at the painting “Past Glory” a new interpretation presents itself. The crumbling cathedral actually looks like a stable; an ancient medieval ruin turned into a farm yard stable. Throw in a mix of dirt, dung, hay and animals and baby Jesus would feel right at home.

Click here for larger image of painting

The hope in this painting is found in the far niche where a soft glow of radiant light streams into and throughout this struggling, well worn, humble cathedral; a cathedral where flesh and spirit can be worshiped together; where there is a direct connection between debris, decay, crumbling walls, rat shit and the divine.

James Hillman throughout his life argued that artists need to create art that helps heal the social ills and environmental problems of the world. Jerry’s painting “Past Glory” not only does this, but it is a daily reminder to me of what I should be concerned with.

Through the more feminine portal of earth’s arching branches, the fire light of spirit can stream through to warm up the moist ground below.

Lest we forget: It doesn’t matter whether or not we believe in Jesus as a fairly savvy social activist (as I do) or, indeed, as the “son of God”. The honest truth is that his first life experience — and no doubt first pleasurable moment — was at the breast of a woman.

Even the virgin Mary cannot escape the all too human/mammal condition of birth: for her just born baby to survive she must offer her own milk.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

tess December 29, 2011 at 9:56 am

Touch, love, eye contact at birth…the milk does not come in for a day or two…nutrition is not the first need…touch and love are the roots and muscle of survival, milk supports them. The heartbeat lies just under the breast. So often the babes only want the left breast, their familiar, the beating of their mother’s heart. Then they suckle.

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