Saturday, April 13, 2013

White Crucifixion

Painted in 1938, Marc Chagall's White Crucifixion reportedly is one of Pope Francis's favorite paintings. It's one of mine, too.

I remember reading about Marc Chagall in a "Reading" textbook back when I was in the 2nd grade...about 25 years ago. The cover of the book depicted, as I recall, a sort of subterranean vehicle in a magma-filled chamber. I seem to recall the story of Pecos Bill being in the book but the section on Marc Chagall - how he used to draw on any surface available to him - particularly captivated my mind. An artist, he could not not express himself at every opportunity.

My appreciation for Chagall arises, I believe, from his willingness to think non-linearly. He tickles the imagination, forcing the viewer to do some work to look at the various figures depicted, to think on why they are where they are and how the various parts - each part telling a bit of a story - works together to tell the whole story. Chagall is not a 30-second news spot. Rather, he seems more akin to James Joyce who, in the Dubliners, portrayed various short-stories gathered around a common experience of epiphany. Chagall cannot simply be looked at...he needs to be entered into.

Images swirl around Jesus, the crucified Jew. No one stands upon the ladder to remove him, no angels trapse to-and-fro upon it from heaven to earth (Genesis 28; the tradition's 'ladder' is more accurately rendered 'stairway'). Jesus in an observant jew, his waist wrapped in a prayer shawl. All around him, atrocities agains the chosen people are committed. The cry of Jesus on the Cross - "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" - gathers together all of the voices around him, preserving each one individually. The nimbus of light surrounding the candles is insufficient to dispel the darkness of human violence.

Meditatively, the candle sticks capture my attention most. Note the one on the far right is extinguished. Would the lighting of the sixth candle be enough to vanquish darkness from the pictures or would its light only create more shadows? Does Chagall invite, or challenge, the witness to enter into the scene and ignite the candle, to enter into the chaos of human violence and stand with God's Chosen People?

Welcome to my "Scripture" for today: praying with Marc Chagall. A rich text written, not with words, but with brush strokes; a painted text telling a story reaching from the time of Jesus to our present day. Will we remain outside the frame, supposedly "neutral" bystanders, or will we find the courage to enter the fray, to stand with the world's crucified people, and to light the sixth candle standing at the foot of the Chagall's cross? 

1 comment:

owen swain said...

A wonderful reflection. I've loved this work for years but must admit I had never made the connection to the unlit candle. Great thought.