Lent and Christmas entwined

NOTE:  I first wrote this post several years ago.  It has become my tradition to re-post it for Holy Week each year.  I hope you enjoy it!

The feast of the Annunciation fell on a Sunday this year.  (March 25)  In the Catholic church, its a Holy Day regardless of the day of the week it falls on.  But my family, being Lutheran, weren’t so familiar with this feast day as I am.  So we had some discussion about holidays and Holy Days of the church year.

My pastor’s sermon that day focused on the ironic juxtaposition of the anticipation of the Savior’s birth during the time of Lent.  We are in a period of repentance and remorse as we follow along Christ’s last days and his journey to the cross.  Yet the Church’s attention is suddenly shifted back to the beginning, to Mary, a virgin simply saying, “may it be according to God’s will.”

As I sat in the pew that morning, I was taken back to another time in my artistic life when I experienced this juxtaposition.  I told this story several years ago, but I’ve revised it to share here again.

Six years ago, for Christmas, I sculpted crucifixes from polymer clay for each of my 3 kids.  For about 2 weeks, I worked on them a few hours each day while they were in school.  I made sure to put them away by 3:00 to keep them secret.

I had made one several years before that hangs in my foyer, and my younger son touched my heart when he looked at it one morning and asked if he could have one in his room.

{That first cross was a story in itself…  let’s just say my husband expected a Protestant, pretty cross when we talked on the phone that afternoon and I told him what I was making.  What I really meant was a crucifix –a cross with the corpus or body on it (former Catholic, you see…).   I took him by surprise when he got home from work and was admiring the finished base and I said, “But, it’s not finished!  Jesus’ body is still in the oven.”}

Anyway, making the three together and spending so much time on them was a very moving experience for me.   I felt disoriented about the time of year I was in.  It was Advent, anticipating Christmas, I was shopping and baking, and all the usual.  But for several hours each day, I was spending my time meditating on Christ’s passion.

I recalled everything I’d ever heard about the physical and medical horror in understanding of what happened to a crucified human body.  As I was working, I would think about the weight of a suffocating torso straining  against the tendons of the arms as I tried to sculpt that.  I looked at illustrations of muscles on line, held my own arm at odd angles and looked at it in the mirror, etc.

I remember somewhere hearing that there’s debate about where the nails actually would be placed–in the palm or the wrist… and if his arms were tied to the cross with ropes as is sometimes described…  The hands are delicate and the bones and tendons would tear from the pressure and the weight.  My hands are important to me, they are my livelihood.  My fingers involuntarily clench into fists at just the thought of the pain.

I looked at many examples in painting and sculpture before I began.  I decided that at age 30, a carpenter wouldn’t be a skinny, wimpy guy.  So I gave my Jesus well-muscled shoulders and chest.  His legs are sturdy because he walked miles everyday.  And I tried to sculpt a face that might be convincingly Hebrew,  rather than a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus.

But I struggled with all the questions and issues I imagine all artists have struggled with as we’ve dared to present the crucifixion.  The consensus about many of those issues have become artistic conventions, not reality.  For instance, we know Christ was stripped and the Roman’s didn’t make concessions to modesty or dignity.  But we wrap his waist with a cloth.  We know he was beaten and bruised, but we sculpt a smooth, whole body.  I’m sure he was covered in dirt and blood everywhere, but we clean him up.

Even as I followed those conventions in the sculptures I made, the reality was brought home to me.  As I dabbed a little red paint here and there and smudged some gray for dirt, I knew better.  I knew there should be cuts and blood and bruises all over his body.  Of course, I didn’t want to make something gruesome and shocking to give my kids.  But isn’t the reality of our God becoming human and dying on a cross for us gruesome and shocking?  It should be.

Even today, as I look on any of those four crosses, I recall the experience of confronting the  “cleaned up” conventions about Christ’s passion and trying to imagine the true reality.  It was and still is humbling to recognize the depth of his pain and the breadth of his love that made him accept it.

My wish is that you remember the depth and breadth of Our Lord’s love for you this week.  Have a blessed Holy Week.


Posted in artistic life, spiritual life

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April 2014
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