I’ve been reading my old blog, for some inspiration and also to jolt my memory a bit. I am losing myself a bit here, in this space, in this season of life. There are mountains, mountains of snow and ice every where I go, the wind whipping my cheeks raw and red. I am turning 30 in a few short weeks. I have good intentions to read beautiful books and watch heartbreaking documentaries, but instead I laugh my way through Brooklyn 99 and find myself sobbing to 13 Going On 30. I am smack dab in the formative years, the rings of growth spreading outwards, painful, necessary, exhausting. I am bouncing between worlds, between people who argue on the internets and people who don’t have access to computers, between the haves and the have-nots, between all of us trying to love God as best as we can, most of us on the verge of burn-out.
I saw this picture in the middle of the art museum. I had run away from my life for a moment, was wandering the cavernous galleries with a journal in hand. This picture of Jesus, tucked into a corner, caught my eye. I read about the painting, and I was crying before I realized, the guard looking at me with alarm and compassion.
Based on one of my favorite passages of Scripture in luke 4, Ary Scheffer, a dutch painter, was inspired by the declarations of Jesus: Luke 4:18: “I have come to heal those who are brokenhearted and to announce to the prisoners their deliverance; to liberate those who are crushed by their chains.”
He painted Christ, in the center, and around him he filled in the broken-hearted. A woman kneeling with her dead baby clutched in her hands. A refugee with a walking stick. A man lost at sea, a man who killed himself with his own dagger. A poet imprisoned as a madman, three generations of women, all abused. The oppressed throughout the ages–a Polish independence fighter, a Greek warrior, a Roman slave, an African slave. A dying man, with Jesus taking off his shackles. Mary Magdalene, the famously forgiven, kneeling at his feet. Everyone is pleading, stretching, shackled, in agony–and everyone leaning into the Christ.
And he consoles them.
It’s what he came to do. like he always has done, throughout the centuries. He comforts the imprisoned, the sick, the sad, the dying, the lonely. The burnt-out, the lost at sea, those floating out ever farther from the land they staked their lives on, adrift and unmoored by the suffering and pain of the world.
And we who are lost are brought back by one person alone, and that person is the Christ. The one who suffered like us, with us, for us. Who promises to break all the chains, to bring his new kingdom here in this earth. Who hangs out with the outsiders, the ones the world forget. Who sees us for who we are, as the bringers of his kingdom.
We, the ones who most need the consolation: we are the insiders here. I scribble this down in my journal, and I walk back to my life. Every day a chance for my own shackles to be taken off, the ones I put there of my own accord. Every day a chance to tell someone else: there is a place where you are the insider, too.
Thanks to those who have already submitted ideas/essays about “Upside-Down Art“–keep them coming! I look forward to the conversations we will be having in regards to art and how it widens up our world. E-mail me your ideas/submissions at dlmmcsweeneys @ gmail . com.