Sunday, April 24, 2011

Prayer before the Crucifix Collage

Prayer before the Crucifix [1]
Iconic image collage(2011) by Bro. Jeffrey Wilson, T.O.R.

Prayer before the Crucifix [2]
by St. Francis of Assisi

Most High,
glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
true faith,
certain hope,
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

This work takes the perspective of St. Francis kneeling and praying before a crucifix in an abandoned church that has fallen into ruin.

“Seeking out solitary places, he [Francis] used to go to deserted and abandoned churches to pray at night. [3] […] One day when he went out to meditate in the fields, he walked near the church of San Damiano, which was threatening to collapse because of age. Impelled by the Spirit, he went inside to pray. Prostrate before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with no little consolation as he prayed. When tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross he heard in a marvelous way with his bodily ears a voice coming from that cross, telling him three times: “Francis, go, rebuild my house which, as you see, is all being destroyed!” [4] […] The voice from the Cross, which repeated three times the command concerning the rebuilding of the house of God, stands out as a prophetic sign. We recognize now that it is fulfilled in the three Orders established by him.” [5]

Visually, this work is inspired by several works of Salvador Dali, particularly Christ of St John of the Cross, Corpus Hypercubus, and The Ascension of Christ. I was interested in the play between vertical and horizontal perspectives in Christ of St John of the Cross; the detachment of the body, or corpus, of Christ from the cross in Corpus Hypercubus; and the suspension of the body of Christ in The Ascension of Christ.

  • Christ: The image of the crucified Christ is taken from a picture of the Celtic crucifix in the Founders Chapel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. I took the picture kneeling before the crucifix to capture the vertical perspective of looking up at the crucified Christ. The body of Christ is washed in light; darker at the feet becoming brighter at the head.

    The image of the crucified Christ can be viewed from both a vertical and horizontal perspective. In relation to the wall and statues, the crucified Christ is viewed from a vertical perspective. This is the more literal and natural perspective. In relation to the Earth, sun, and nebula; the crucified Christ is viewed from a horizontal perspective. This is the metaphorical and supernatural perspective.

    In the traditional analogy for the natural and supernatural, horizontal represents the natural while vertical represents the supernatural. I do not intend to collapse the vertical into the horizontal or the immanent Trinity into the economic Trinity. [6] The inverting of the analogical vertical and horizontal perspectives symbolizes Francis’ insightful vision of the created world. The created order mirrors the Triune God. As the Most High God is perfect Trinity (diversity) and simple Unity (one), so too is God’s creation. [7] The created universe is diverse yet unified and ordered. [8]

    • Cross / lack of visible cross: As an image of the crucifix, one might ask, “Where is the cross?” After all, one of the widely used prayers among Franciscans is Francis’ prayer: “We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all Your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.” [9] I was tempted to title this work Prayer before the Crucified because of the explicit omission of a visible cross. And yet, there is the rub. The work omits a visible cross, but the cross of Christ is still present; it is etched into the hearts of the faithful. As Francis explained to Sultan Malik al-Kamil, “We possess the cross of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, and that cross we adore and surround with total devotion.” [10] So, the cross is present in the heart of Francis, who is in prayer before the crucified Christ, as well as the faithful observer of the work.

      • Wall: The ruined wall represents the wall of a one of the many abandoned and ruined churches that Francis visited and rebuilt during his life. “He [Francis] would spend the night alone praying in abandoned churches and in deserted places where, with the protection of divine grace, he overcame his soul’s many fears and anxieties” [11]

        • Statues of Mary and John: The statues of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the Apostle, contribute to the crucifixion scene since they were present at the foot of the cross.

          • Earth: The Earth represents both the literal Earth and the created universe as a whole. The original sin of Adam and Eve wounded the created order, both humanity and the rest of creation. Therefore, Christ’s salvation and restoration heals all creation; both humanity and the rest of creation. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ recreates all things. “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Rev 21:5). [12] “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21). Thus, the image of the crucified Christ is suspended over the image of the Earth.

            The sunlight reflecting off of the surface of the Earth symbolizes creation mirroring God. In addition, the sun’s reflection represents St. Clare’s theme of the mirror of contemplation. She instructs, “Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance and, through contemplation, transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead Itself, so that you may feel what friends feel in tasting the hidden sweetness that, from the beginning, God Himself has reserved for His lovers.” [13]

            • Sun / light: The sun/light represents God and the Beatific Vision. Jesus is placed in front of the light to represent that Jesus is the door to salvation. St. Bonaventure explains, “[One] cannot enter into himself to delight within himself in the Lord unless Christ be his mediator, who says: I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved; and he will go in and out and will find pastures. But we do not draw near to this door unless we believe in him, hope in him and love him. Therefore, if we wish to enter again into the enjoyment of Truth as into paradise, we must enter through faith in, hope in and love of Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and men, who is like the tree of life in the middle of paradise.” [14] Bonaventure’s insight is expressed in Francis’ Prayer before the Crucifix. In his prayer, Francis asks God for the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity/love. Francis has placed himself before the door the salvation, the crucified Christ, and humbly asks God for the gifts of faith, hope, and love, so that he may enter through the door into paradise.

              • Nebula: The nebula is an image of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293 or Caldwell 63). The image was copied and reduced several times to create a tunnel effect. The tunnel image reflects the analogy of the spiral for the spiritual life, contemplation, and greater union with God. At the far end of the tunnel is the light representing God and the Beatific Vision which is the ultimate goal of humanity. Through the door that is the crucified Christ, the soul is traveling, or spiraling, towards eternal union with the Triune God. The tunnel image also plays on the imagery of Jacob’s ladder with gradations/levels/steps moving from Earth to heaven. “And he [Jacob] dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place – and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” (Gen. 28:12; 16-17).

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                  [1] The Earth and space images are from NASA/courtesy of
                  [2] Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. 1 - The Saint. Eds. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellman, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. Short, O.F.M. (New York: New City Press, 1999), 40.
                  [3] St. Bonaventure, The Major Legend of Saint Francis, ch. 10, 3.
                  [4] St. Bonaventure, The Minor Legend of Saint Francis, ch. 1.5.
                  [5] Ibid., ch. 1.9.
                  [6] Karl Rahner explains, “The “economic” Trinity is the “immanent” Trinity and the “immanent” Trinity is the “economic” Trinity.” Karl Rahner, The Trinity, (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970), 22. Or in other words, as Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap. explains, “With regards to revelation […] the manner in which the Trinity reveals himself in the economy is in keeping with the manner it is in itself.” Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., Does God Suffer?, (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), 142.
                  [7] “Most High, Who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified God almighty, forever and ever.” St. Francis of Assisi, A Letter to the Entire Order, 52.
                  [8] Weinandy explains, “We clearly perceive now the awesome truth that because creatures, especially human persons, are in the act of creation related to the persons of the Trinity as they are in their own subsistent relations, and so are related to each person of the Trinity in a specific and proper manner, they are assumed in the very mystery of the Trinity itself. Thus, the act of creation mirrors, though imperfectly, the processions within the Trinity.” Does God Suffer?, 142.
                  [9] St. Francis of Assisi, The Testament, 5.
                  [10] A Book of Exemplary Stories, 98.
                  [11] Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis, 71.
                  [12] All scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation unless otherwise noted.
                  [13] St. Clare of Assisi, The Third Letter to Agnes of Prague.
                  [14] St. Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, ch. 4, 2.