It’s not inside, it’s….. all around.
Maybe not only people of my generation will remember the famous Cremora line, “it’s not inside, it’s on top.” When I first looked at the Resurrection painting by Chinese painter Priscilla Sun, now hanging in its designated place in St Catherine’s, a small historical Anglican church in Bramley, Johannesburg, I was confused. Why have you painted him from the back? I kept asking myself and so I had to ask her. Traditionally our image of the Resurrection, depicted in hundreds of paintings over the centuries, shows Jesus in triumph emerging forth from the tomb facing outwards, bathed in light, his face serene, triumphant and glorious.
This very unusual painting shows Jesus, his body surrounded by a very simple halo of light, emerging from a dark tomb into the bright light of a new morn, into a glorious new world, newly reborn. It could not but make me reflect how, in religious experience and elsewhere, our expectations rule, but also cloud, our understanding and perception.
I happen to know the artist. She created this very large painting from an image suggested to her by her local priest but on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the death of her husband. She is a committed Christian and believes implicitly in God’s goodness and mercy. This is how she imagines it.
We all have different likes and dislikes when it comes to religious art, a subject apparently of some interest at the moment. Raymond Perrier comments in the Southern Cross on what “does it for him”. The Comboni World Wide Magazine focuses on art and beauty with a variety of articles and pictures of various works of art, created for the glory of God but for our edification too. In daily facebook postings and in the latest FAMILY MATTERS magazine there are also references to art, religious Biblical art in particular, that is used to illustrate so many bible stories. Some of it “does it” for me, but not all and the same will apply to everyone. On doing a little research on the topic I found an intriguing observation. We tend to believe that the thousands of works of art, sculpture and architecture created mainly in the last millennium were created to give glory to God. Another writer commented that they were created in order to convert people even at times towards a particular school of thought, ideology, or political agenda. And undoubtedly religion is used to manipulate people today, it still is in many ways “the opium of the masses” and is too easily abused.
I, for one, still hope to believe that the God of surprises, our God of mercy, speaks to us in his own way, through the gifts he has given us, into our own form of spirituality. It can be music. It can be art or writing. To borrow a sentence attributed to St Ignatius, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”
There is much so much in our world of today that needs us, ideally in our families too, to pray. Whether Jesus came forth in light or came out of a dark tomb into the light, the message is there. Christ, our light has come into the world. He is everywhere around us. God in his mercy has saved his people. Our calling is to respond with mercy. TR