Monday, December 26, 2005

The Face of Jesus

I know I am not alone on this one.

How many of you wonder what did Jesus REALLY look like?

How do I have an intense intimately spiritual relationship with Christ when I am totally clueless regarding how he appeared in His human form?

My earliest childhood memories are filled with the predominant image of Jesus in our home.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus:

My father had painted a portrait of the sacred heart of Jesus that was placed above our fireplace mantle. Everytime I played in front of the hearth, I just had to look up to see Christ with His exposed heart looking down on me.

My father's painting was much warmer in tones than the traditional rendition.

But, the face was neutral.

Was Jesus happy?

Was He sad?

As a child, I rather found the painting unsettling.

I mean... think about it. I gazed daily on the portrait of a healthy young man, with an expression on His face that was completely unrecognizable to me as a child. And most confusing of all was His heart just sitting there outside of His chest covered in thorns and glowing.

If my heart was hanging there outside my chest, I would be screaming.

I loved my Dad's paintings, but the whole effect was very intimidating to my young mind.

My other representation of Jesus appeared daily in the front of my classrooms. The crucifix. Christ on an instrument of torture. Defeated and dying... well, that's how it looked to me when I was a little girl.

There is a really old joke about Catholic school and the crucifix. It goes something like this:

A mother and father were completely dismayed because their son would not behave in public school. No matter what the teachers did and the threats laid out to him by his ever frustrated parents... the child would not behave.

So his parents decided to send him to the more disciplined neighborhood Catholic school.

And their son promptly obeyed his teachers.

Surprised by the overnight change in behavior, the parents asked their son why he decided now to behave.

And he explained: " They have this guy up on a cross in my classroom. They say His name is Jesus, He was a sinless man and that He is God's son. And I thought if God was willing to do that to His perfect son... what on earth will they do to me if I misbehave!!!???"

And I think... yeah... it was sort of like that when I was a kid too.

I was pretty much afraid of Jesus.

Images designed to inspire us, to help us connect with Jesus through knowing He had suffered ... well, that just frightened me as a kid.

And the whole thought of so much scariness put a big chasm between me and God.

God scared me.

Any compliance that God got from me was totally out of fear, not from a loving heart.

Many, many years later, while teaching third grade in a Catholic school, I happened upon an image of Christ that finally opened my mind to the reality that Jesus was loving.

There is this painting of Jesus coming upon the crest of a hill. The sun is shining on His back, he has a shepherd's staff in His one hand, and grasped closely to His chest in His other arm is a little lamb. Jesus has this look of joy on His face as he begins the journey down the hill to return the lost lamb to the flock.

That was a great year in my teaching career.

We had a little girl in the class who actually raised a lamb.

I posted the picture of Jesus in a little corner set aside for the children for quiet time and prayer. They could go there any time they felt the need to just be quiet, or to pray. I left that image for the children so that (unlike me) they could establish a relationship with Jesus that was not born of fear.

Getting back to the lamb.

We talked a lot about that picture and what the symbolism of a lost lamb meant for all of us.

I asked the little girl to tell us about lambs.

She said that her lamb followed her everywhere. And it would cry out whenever she was not near. It would not cross a path or go to the barn without her. It would immediately feel lost. It would wag its little tail whenever she returned.

She told this story much better than I can.

That is the eloquence of a child.

And to this day, I am grateful for a little 8 year old who introduced me to the face of Christ.

A lost lamb.

I can relate to that.

And having someone who loves you so much that they will look everywhere for you and hoist you into their strong arms to carry you back to safety... yes, that is what I have always wanted Jesus to be.

That is when I actually started to feel the connection.

I needed an image in my mind to build the bridge to Jesus.

But, there is more.

After more years passed, and I became more aware of the diversity of God's children... I realized that EVERY image that I have seen of Christ is caucasian.

I mean... what is up with that?

When the notion first hit me, I felt angry, cheated. How egocentric to paint Jesus as a white European guy.

But, then I finally realized that the artists (like myself) were trying to conjure up an image that they could connect to.

They were caucasian, so they made Jesus look caucasian.

That works for artists who were insulated from seeing peoples from all over the world, but what is the excuse for today's artists?

Here is an interesting composite from the BBC.

Computer Generated Jesus:

The artist utilized the skull of a man of the same region as Jesus from about 2,000 years ago.

This is what the guys from Jesus' hometown and era looked like.

You know what?

I can truly relate to this picture, more than any other to date.

I mean, I can imagine sitting down with him at a meal and listening. He looks approachable. He looks like everybody else. He doesn't glow in the dark, He has a face that looks capable of every human emotion. And the appearance is humble... it is 100% human.

Wasn't that God's intention?

That Jesus experience the complete human experience, so that God could connect with us and so that we could learn to connect with God?

I look at this computer generated picture and think... life may not have been easy for this fellow. He probably had all the triumphs and challenges that we all face in life.

And THAT more than anything else helps me to truly understand how magnificent the work of Jesus is.

Sure, if you know you are God's son and everybody is seeing you glow with haloes, and your clothes are always shiny white and pristine, and you look well fed, and your sandals fit, and you never look tired... well isn't that a bit too easy?

Knowing that Jesus was a guy, that he had to endure the human condition for real... NOW I feel a relationship with Jesus.


The Sacred Heart of Jesus -
Computer Generated Jesus -

No comments: