Sunday, June 21, 2020

Romans 7.15-25a: Two People

We should have no problems understanding polarities: the extremes of...well...almost anything. The north and south poles are as far apart as anything can be on the earth. We can be sleeping, or at the other extremity, awake. Optimism and pessimism. A full inhale and a complete exhale. The things I want to do and the things I don't want to do. Or, as Paul says it: the good things I want to do and the evil things I do instead (Romans 7:15-25a).

Paul's cry is probably universal. We've all probably found ourselves doing things that we knew were wrong (and not really what we wanted to do), but somehow we just couldn't stop ourselves. An angry word. An unkind response. A decidedly un-Christlike judgment. It's as if there were two people in us: one who lives to be faithful to Jesus, and the other who looks out only for Number One. One part of us that is spirit. One part of us that is flesh. Polarities.
Frida Kahlo. The Two Fridas. 1939. Mexico City: Museo de Arte Moderno.
Frida Kahlo's painting called "The Two Fridas" puts two self-portraits side by side. One portrait shows the artist in European clothes; the other shows the artist in Tehuana garments. Both figures have visible hearts: one is broken and damaged, the other whole and beating. The figure on the right holds a childhood portrait of Diego Rivera, the artist from whom Kahlo had been recently divorced. An external vein connects the portrait to the object in the other Frida's hand - a hemostat that clamps the flow of blood that has soaked spots on the white dress. Two Fridas sitting in front of a stormy sky.

Anyone trying to reconcile different versions of themselves or diverse elements within themselves can feel the tension in the painting and understand the significance of the stormy sky. The differences between the two portraits are many, but each figure's inside hand clasps the other's, securely connecting them despite the differences.

Kahlo's struggles were not the same as Paul's, but both artist and apostle knew the effort required to manage opposing expressions/forces/wills/inclinations within themselves. Many of us also know the effort required. Paul's conclusion is this: I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:24-25, The Message).

In this time of polarities, may we remember that the answer, thank God, is Jesus Christ.

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook, another way to see two views of a person in one portrait. 

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