Sunday, September 8, 2019

Jeremiah 8.18 - 9.1: Wounds

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician? God's people are inBlogger: Art & Faith Matters - Overview stats need of healing, but none seems to be found. (Jeremiah 8:18-9:1) Having just these verses of scripture - no context other than the word "slain" - I wondered about the extent of the wounds. Could they be cured with a balm? Did  the physician need to be in general practice or a surgeon? How else does scripture talk about wounds? Isaiah's suffering servant is wounded for our transgressions. The man beaten by robbers has his wounds bound up and cared for by the good Samaritan.

Probably the most recognizable are the wounds of Christ and within that broad story, the images of Thomas regarding the wound in Jesus' side is among the most common. Caravaggio's version above is typical. In Caravaggio's depiction, Thomas does actually put his finger into the wound in Jesus' side. The wound itself became the object of regard and an avenue to closeness with Jesus as early Christians claimed Thomas' privilege for themselves. They sought to touch the wounds of Jesus. The sought to be on the same intimate terms with Jesus as were the disciples.

As the wound grew in popularity as an object of devotion, it was inserted into a mandorla (an almond-shaped frame) and depicted on jewelry and tombs and fonts as well as in medieval manuscripts. Christ's wounds were celebrated, reminding the faithful that Christ had indeed been embodied on this year. But no earthly, medicinal balm could cure those wounds. In fact, the wounds were the balm that could cure the ills of the world.

But the ills of the world remain.

Mark Rothko's paintings are among those most open to interpretation (just ask my high school students!). There seems to be no subject matter implied or specified by the painting. No trees or houses. No portraits. No words or symbols. It's just color. Blocks of color. And yet.

Rothko, though not associated with a particular school or movement, painted in the time following two world wars when a  number of artists moved away from identifiable subject matter. Rather than replicating reality, those artists used their work to ask bigger questions about humanity, about what it means to be human, about how we find meaning in this world.

I'm sure it is helped along by the color reference of reds, but the painting here seems to me to speak of open wounds and depths and unknowns. It would be easy to stand in front of the painting and visually fall into it  (it is about 8.5 feet by 10 feet). There seems to be no escape, the only option to move deeper and deeper. This was, essentially, what Caravaggio's Thomas and the followers of the Cult of the Side Wound wanted to do: move into closer contact with the wound of Christ. Perhaps it is only through moving closer that we can come to understand and heal the wounds of humanity.

Of course, that is what Jesus did in becoming human. Move closer to the wounds of the world, bringing healing with him. Is there a balm in Gilead? Who or what is that balm? Or will a balm just not do the work...and do we need a surgeon?

(Top) Caravaggio. The Incredulity of St. Thomas. 1603. Sanssouci Picture Gallery. Potsdam, Germany. (Middle) The Side Wound of Christ. Book of Hours. France, perhaps Verdun and Paris, ca. 1375. MS M.90 fol. 130r. NY: Morgan Library and Museum. (Bottom) Mark Rothko. Four Darks in Red. 1958. NY: Whitney Museum of American Art.

What does Abraham Lincoln have to do with this? See Art&Faith Matters on Facebook.

For thoughts on Mammon in Luke 16:1-13, click here.

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