For the most part I want to discuss a window, a work of art, and a philosophical problem. Despite the fact that most, if not all, denominations of Christiandom will gladly declare my Soul condemned to an eternity of burning in the fires of Hell for my beliefs, there remains a shard of Christianity in my corroded Soul. There are certain aspects of Christian theology that for some reason resonate with me. One of those is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his betrayal and arrest. I am not knowledgeable enough to sift through the fine details of the meaning of Gethsemane, so take my comments with a grain of salt.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."Hmmmm! Biblical quote! Not something you will find often in my writing. In fact I am really uncomfortable doing so. As a reader, a quote from the Bible usually sets off an alarm klaxon in my mind: “BONG…BONG…BONG! Incoming religious propaganda! SHIELDS UP!” So please read on. Again I am not trying to evangelize.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Matthew 26: 36-39 (NIV)
If you take Christianity at face value—which I seldom do, because which face value would you take--there is for me a Divine Contradiction to the prayers of Jesus at Gethsemane. Jesus is the Son of God. He has recognized his Divinity. He also fully understands the prophecies. He must drink from this cup of suffering. Yet Jesus is also a human being and knows fear and doubt. On the one hand he is Divine and should be above fear, and yet to truly suffer for the sins of man, he must suffer as a man and know true fear, doubt, and a sense of abandonment. He must suffer the temptation to walk away from all this. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus suffers these agonies to the point of sweating drops of blood. He asks his Father to be spared this cup, not by my will but by Yours.
Not to undermine the passion of Jesus on the cross, for his suffering had to be immense—beyond imagination, but I believe that Gethsemane may have been worse. At Gethsemane, Jesus had a choice. He could walk away from this and there had to be a grand temptation to do so.
One of the joys in my life is to get in the car and ride aimlessly about in the country. I find a great comfort in the asphalt of a lonely country road sliding under my ass at 45 mph with nothing in front of me and nothing behind. In one such journey one evening, I came across an old church in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania that has a beautiful stained glass window. As stained glass windows go, this one is quite simple. Yet I believe it is the simplicity of the image that is the source of its poignancy to my Soul.
The first time I noticed this window, I was stunned…it seemed to speak directly to my Soul. I went around the block and came back, parked the car and just stared at this window. When I returned home I did an image search on the Internet and found a piece simply titled Tableau Gethsemane. No artist, no explanation. Over the years, I found other similar images and came to find out that the window and Tableau Gethsemane are a variation of Heinrich Hofmann's painting Christ In Gethsemane. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most copied paintings in the world. John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the painting and it resides in the Riverside Church in New York City. There is another variation of the painting by E. Goodman.
In the telling of this story, I have not been perhaps totally honest. The layout of my post would suggest that my interest in Gethsemane fired the passion for the window and painting. Yet truth be told, it was quite the opposite, the window fired my interest in the agony of Gethsemane. I of course knew of the story of Gethsemane, but until I experienced that window, it was for most part another Biblical story. The window inspired my interest, which then inspired the contemplation. The contemplation has not been an entirely happy one for me. I am often faced with Gethsemane’s of my own. In relative magnitude, small potatoes, the agony of death does not await me. But far too often, I am faced with minor moral quandaries, nothing Earthshaking, but something where there is a clear correct path…and the easy path. The correct path usually requires some modicum of courage. The easy path? Simply walk away. I find more often than I would like to admit, that I take the easy path. Ignore the racist or sexist comment. Laugh at a cruel gay joke. Participate in the innuendo against another person. Choose not to defend that person.
I have mentioned in the past the bell curve of goodness. That sounds dumb, let’s call it the bell curve of morality. I place myself on this curve roughly at slightly better than average, mirroring IQ, I would like to think I am a 101 to 105, with 100 being the average. IQ? Let’s call this bell curve the morality quotient. MQ!
When I think of all my moral failings, I am not sure I can maintain that lofty albeit somewhat average 101 to 105. I feel below average, perhaps a 90. Whoa! A 90! That can’t be right. At 90 shouldn’t I be conducting breaches of the law on a regular basis? Shouldn’t I be in front of a magistrate at something more than the average rate? The fact that I have never been in front of a magistrate would indicate that I can’t be at 90 (or that I am very lucky—which I am not). So how can I justify placing myself at a 90?
By knowing better. Good God, I feel an arrogance oozing from me just by saying that. Much too often I do not challenge a lapse in morality. I may not participate directly, but I don’t protest it, and I know better. How do I know this? I feel the cowardice at the moment. My conscience sounds a protest, but I remain mute. So you see it is failures of omission for which I am guilty. It is easier to go along with crowd than to take a moral stance. In the best of times, the lack of moral courage results in a slur being ignored—a tacit approval, in the worst of times it allows a nation to commit genocide. Same principle, different magnitudes.
So I find Gethsemane to be an iconic reminder of my moral failings. Jesus chose to face death on the cross, and I choose not to piss off someone who is saying something ignorant. I believe that God speaks to us in many ways. I usually do not listen. But one evening God spoke to me through a window, nothing but colored glass, and my Soul has been somewhat troubled since.
IMAGES Note, click on the image to see full size.
1. Memorial United Presbyterian Church, Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. Forgive me for the quality.
2. The Window, Memorial United Presbyterian Church, Saxonburg, Pennsylvania
3. St-Takla-org, Jesus-Praying-in-Gethsemane-Garden
4. Wikipedia, Christ in Gethsemane, Henrich Hoffman.jpg