Category: Culture


salvador-dali-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossSalvador Dali believed that Christ of St John of the Cross was his religious masterpiece. It is influenced by a sketch found in the spiritual diaries of the Spanish Mystic and Carmelite, Juan de Yepes y Álvarez who became known as John of the Cross.  A sketch in his spiritual John_of_the_Cross_crucifixion_sketchdiaries of a vision he had received, made a great impression on Dali – he described the image as being ‘like a Crucifix presented to the lips of a dying man’ .  When Dali came to paint the image he used a Hollywood Stuntman, Russel Saunders as the model for Christ – and actually strapped his body to a gantry to help Dali envisage the pull of gravity on the Human Body.

Historical Context

In 1948 Dali had returned to Spain after the war, he had rediscovered his Catholic Faith and visited Pope Pius XII in Rome where he sought and was given approval for his new religious themes.  He had studied Nuclear Physics and felt that the discovery of the atomic nature of the universe was proof of the existence of God. This mix of science and religion 2would lead to a new Nuclear Mysticism according to Dali and in 1951 he published his Mystical Manifesto stating his ambition to paint a new type of Crucifixion.  Paintings of the crucified Christ had focused on the pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion- however Dali said in his manifesto ‘ I want my next Christ to be the painting containing the most beauty and joy, more than anything that will have been painted up to the present.’  It is worth noting that unusually for paintings of Christ on the Cross – it is devoid of pain, blood and the crown of thorns.  Dali associated the nucleus of the atom with Christ and was influenced by the ideas of the mathematician Luca Pacioli – paying attention to the triangle formed by Christs arms and the cross.

Theology

The background to the Painting is Port Lligat – the area of the Catalonian coast were Dali lived for most of the latter part of his life.  This is a reference to the universal relevance the Crucifixion, its historical significance and supra-historical effects.  When we celebrate the mass we believe that we cut through time and space as we are united with the one eternal sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, we are not just remembering or ‘re-enacting’ his last supper.  So by placing Christ against the background of his home, Dali is performing what would be called in Jesuit spirituality a Composition of Place.  The crucifixion of Christ is as relevant here and now, in 1950’s Spain or in 21st Century Manchester as it was 2 millenia ago in Palestine.

It is also worth reflecting on the beauty of the male image. In Dali’s own words – The metaphysical Beauty of the Christ-God and make his Christ ‘as beautiful as the God that he is’.   Christian Theology has often been interested in the tension between the  ‘Theology of the Cross’ and the ‘Theology of Glory’ .  Christ on the Cross is one of the most powerful images in human culture, but for Christians it represents the wisdom of God and the self-abandoning love of Christ.  Seen through the eyes of faith the cross presents unique insight into who God is and how he chooses to save.  Seen through the eyes of the world the cross is a brutal, humiliating public form of torture or capital punishment.  Because of this St Paul talks of ‘the scandal of the cross’ – a stumbling block to the wise.  Usually Christian iconography – especially in Spain – focuses on Christs suffering in order to elicit feelings of devotion in the believer.  A danger of an exaggerated Theology of the Cross is to see creation as irrevocably fallen, The Theology of Glory on the other hand would see creation as essentially good and have an eschatological focus on the resurrection and ultimate victory of good.  Perhaps Dalis – new type of Crucifixion is an attempt to marry the two.

Paintings Reception & Impact

dali_and_honeymanWhen a Scottish Art Historian, Dr Honeyman, acquired the painting for the Glasgow Art Gallery – students at the Glasgow School of Art and members of the Church of Scotland vehemently protested its purchase.  For some it was a waste of money and should have been spent on contemporary Scottish painters, for others it was blasphemous and encouraged idol worship.  The public however flocked to it and it was observed how men would instinctively take their hats of viewing it and boisterous school groups fall silent in its presence.  It has recently been voted Scotland’s favourite painting and is now by far the most valuable painting in the collection – a wise investment!

There is a fascinating 28min documentary about in on the Radio  4 Website 

Pancakes & #Ashtags

AMDG

IMG_4420Its been a busy couple of days at the Manchester Chaplaincy. Traditionally we sell pancakes to fund the excellent work that our student SVP group do, particularly with the poor homeless (4 soup runs a week) and the breakfast club that they fund and run in Moss Side which ensures that the kids start the school day with a full stomach. Foolishly I challenged them to beat the record of 300 pancakes – with a meal on me promised as the prize …..  they sold 600 pancakes this year.  A great effort and busy day at the chaplaincy – we reckon with the foodbank open in the morning we possibly had close to 800 coming in and out of the building in one day …which is probably a record!

1503833_10152641314431048_3035044841266490689_nNext day, Ash Weds, it  was the church’s turn to be full – with 400 at each mass.  as well as welcoming all who came – I challenged the irregular mass-goers to make it a regular habit during Lent.  I also asked them to do something I never thought I would find myself doing …..  to take a ‘selfie’ of them wearing there ashes with pride…. and to post them on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram etc….  as a way of witnessing.  We even had #ashtag trending, albeit it briefly, in Manchester…. here is our collage below.  Sorry for all those we have left out ……

 

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And one of my favourite Tweets!

Equilibrium & Stephen Fry

AMDG

This is an edited Version of the Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester on Feb 9th 2015

saving-face-behind-the-scene-1We all know the Genre of documentary where we get to follow 24hrs in the life of a celebrity … A day in the life of Paris Hilton – or Steven Gerard….. Well today’s gospel (Mark 1 29-37) gives us, without the cameras and the irritating commentary, A day in the life of Jesus Christ ….. It is at the beginning of Marks Gospel and is unusually full – the Healing of Peters Mother-in- Law, and then the healing of the crowds after sunset- and then the key –  Jesus’s pre-dawn prayer in a lonely place – and then his journey preaching and casting out devils.

If you were the producer of this programme – in the midst of all the demands being placed on Jesus – you would make that Prayer before the dawn the hinge moment of the documentary – that is the key scene. Sure all the miracles and his teaching would be very telegenic, but that period of prayer in a lonely place, on his own, before dawn is the key to understanding Jesus. It is here we see his union with the Father – it here we understand where he gets his power from, his energy and compassion…. And perhaps most interestingly it is here where we see how he keeps his equilibrium amongst so many demands and so many expectations.

JobWe all lead busy lives, and we know how easy it is to lose our balance and sense of perspective – Listen to Job in the first reading ‘Months of Delusion I have assigned for me – Nothing for my own but nights of grief’ It is easy for us to get sucked into the business of our lives and start thinking like this – St Ignatius refers to it as Spiritual Desolation. Someone who seems to have lost that sense of balance, that equilibrium this week is the famous atheist Stephen Fry. On Irish TV he was asked what he would say to God if he went to heaven. Fry responded, “I would say, ‘How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. The God who created this universe, if he created this universe, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

While Stephen Fry’s complaint reveals more about Stephen Fry than Almighty God (as this comment piece suggests it may be difficult to distinguish sometimes) , it is still a very a common complaint made, maybe in a less strident tone, and a question worth asking. If your friends know about your faith – It might well come up again and again in conversations in the pub, in the lecture theatre, in the lab, in the gym ….. You are a Christian Why does God Allow Evil? Isn’t Steven Fry right? In my response I might want to point talk of free will. We may do what we like. God, as a loving father, does not force us to do anything, but allows us to learn and grow. When we get it wrong unless we regret and try and change our life then evil proliferates. In ways we cannot comprehend the vast majority of the suffering and evil in the world comes from this basic reality. However as Christians we also have this great hope – the resurrection. God is no stranger to suffering as we see in the cross of Jesus but the darkness of the Cross and Good Friday becomes the new hope of Easter.  So matter how bleak it appears, despite the greatest evil, all that is beautiful, good and true will triumph.

So these challenges – made to us in pubs or in friends houses – actually become a wonderful opportunity to witness to our faith and give account of our hope… and why faith filled people often live joyful lives….. as someone once said it is better to light a candle that curse the darkness…..

whirlwindToday’s readings give us a lot to ponder about. In the book of Job we have the most powerful exploration of this problem of pain and suffering – I haven’t come across another text in literature from any culture that looks this problem in the eye and tries explores it so bravely and honestly – It is at the beginning of Chapter 38 that God answers Job from the whirlwind and gives him a tour of the cosmos…. Where you there Job when I created the heavens and the earth – He shows Job the Plan of Salvation that spans all of space and time.. So if you want to answer your sceptical friends questions immerse yourself in the book of Job .. and then remember that in the Gospel we see how Jesus keeps his equilibrium in the face of so much suffering and brings his healing power to all those people who come to him …….

But the best way to answer this critique of faith – actions rather than words – how you live your life – do we try and imitate Jesus – do we try and bring healing to peoples lives – do we put our faith into action? Here at the chaplaincy there are many ways to respond to suffering – the foodbank of course – our great SVP group who made three homeless runs this week and volunteer in many other ways – and at the end of mass tonight you will get a great chance to meet Clara who organises volunteering placements in some of the poorest parts of the world for Jesuit Missions… So its better to light a candle than curse the darkness and you can inspire you sceptical friends by putting your faith into action

Jesus will ask you at the end of time – What have you done for the sick, naked, hungry, for the poor…….

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