Second Wednesday in Advent

"The Holy Thing" by Bruce Manwaring
“The Holy Thing” by Bruce Manwaring

“Everyone should open their heart very wide to joy, should welcome it and let it be buried very deeply in them; and they should wait the flowering with patience. Of course, the first ecstasy will pass, but because in real joy Christ grows in us, the time will come when joy will put forth shoots and the richness and sweetness of the person who rejoiced will be Christ’s flowering.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”Luke 1:26-28

The eight-day Jewish “Festival of Lights” called Hanukkah starts next week. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in reclaiming the temple in Jerusalem’s from the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV. As the people prepared to dedicate the temple, they realized they only had enough purified oil to kindle the menorah for a single day. Miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. Each evening of Hanukkah one more menorah candle is lit with a special blessing. The candles are not to be “used” for light, but only for enjoyment, savoring their beauty.

“We will prevail through the dark night,” sings Rabbi Shefa Gold in her Hanukkah song from Zechariah, “but not by might, and not by power, but by Your Spirit. These are the words of God.”

Jewish midrash tells an interesting story on how the first menorah was made. Apparently, Moses had a difficulty remembering God’s instructions on menorah making. Every time Moses left the mountain he would forget the pattern, so God engraved the design into the flesh of Moses palm. Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg says that after this experience Moses’ hands took on new power. Later, when Moses instructs Joshua to lead the Israelite force against Amalek, Moses does not direct with his staff but only his open hands. “In this gesture, according to one midrash,” writes Zornberg, “ Moses models prayer to his people fighting below. In a surrealistic description, their involvement in battle is refigured as a miming of Moses’ prayerful gestures: ‘they saw Moses kneeling down, and they knelt down, falling upon his face and they fell upon their faces, spreading their hands to heaven.’” Whenever the people modeled Moses, they prevailed.

What a powerful image of nonviolent resistance! In the midst of a battle, all the Israelites knelt down to pray as Moses instructed them. “As long as the Israelites gazed upwards and submitted their hearts to God in heaven, they would prevail,” says the Mishna Rosh Hashana, “and if not, they would fail.”

What healing of the masculine to you need in your life?

Ad … vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Lucien Freud: This Is What Incarnation Looks Like

"Girl With Eyes Closed (detail)" by Lucien Freud

Painter Lucien Freud, grandson of Sigmund, died last week. I haven’t been familiar with his work — though when I saw his portrait of Queen Elizabeth I remembered seeing it before. My friend artist Brett Busang wrote an insightful tribute to Freud over at Painting is Dead and So Can I. Below is an excerpt:

Over the next fifty years, [Lucien Freud] amassed a body of work like no other – aoeuvre that fed on his reclusive energy, which addressed the conundrums and comforts of solitude.  Some might say he accumulated a freak’s gallery of people and personalities.  And, to an extent, they’re right.  His people are often scary-looking.  Who sits in a chair like that?  Somebody Freud summoned to his studio and said: “Don’t move!”  Unlike Diane Arbus, who wanted to photograph freaks, Freud took a pop eye or withered flesh and distilled their humanity.  He wasn’t afraid of what he might discover inside of a person as he or she sat and waited.  Or drifted off to sleep.  Or daydreamed audibly.

He managed to get at the soul’s captivity inside of a body that has grown out of proportion and become a smothering presence.  He presumed to suggest that people need each other in spite of how difficult relationships can be.  He looked deeply within, but was also able to create a dazzling color-scape that was not gratuitously postmodern.  The bumps, bruises, and sores of the flesh have, in Freud, a formal counterpart.  He pushes the paint into wavy channels that dive into the hollows and perch defiantly on the raised areas, which has a tactile presence even in reproduction.

Freud’s female nudes are glorious, fleshy. This is what incarnation looks like. Below is a poem by John Updike titled “Lucien Freud.” It pushes the way Freud viewed the body — gross and mysterious.

Lucien Freud
by John Updike

Yes, the body is a hideous thing,
the feet and genitals especially,
the human face not far behind. Blue veins
make snakes on the backs of hands, and mar
the marbled glassy massiveness of thighs.
Such clotted weight’s worth seeing after centuries
(Pygmalion to Canova) of the nude
as spirit’s outer form, a white flame: Psyche.

How wonderfully St. Gaudens’ slim Diana
stands balanced on one foot, in air, moon-cool,
forever! But no, flesh drags us down,
its mottled earth the painter’s avid ground,
earth innocently ugly, sound asleep,
poor nakedness, sunk angel, sack of phlegm.

Read Brett Busang’s full post.
See more of Lucien Freud’s work.