Monday, 1 March 2021

Statues and images

Our Granddad used to have a picture that he always hung in the entryway of his home opposite the front door, Herbert Beecroft's The Lord Turned and Looked at Peter.

It is overwhelmingly unlikely that Jesus looked at all like that, and our Granddad wasn't stupid. He knew Jesus would have been different in his physical appearance, and that whoever sat for the painting wasn't Jesus. 

But somehow that image spoke to him of whatever Jesus meant to him. It brought the Jesus of his imagination into vivid reality that Granddad could hang in the exact place where it would be the first thing he (or anyone else) saw on coming in through the door.

It wasn't meant as a whitewashing culture appropriation marginalising people of colour. This representation of Jesus looked like the people of his own culture, and he would have known the image from his boyhood. It spoke to his heart. 

I'd imagine a person of African or Chinese or Maori descent might have a culturally and racially relevant representation of Jesus to speak to them in the same way, like this image by Bmike:

There's a website selling art that has an image of Jesus fused with one of a Lion (sorry I've closed the window and can't now find it to link it for you) — there are several similar online.

Someone commented on the site about disliking it because lions are lazy — I'm thinking maybe that person hadn't read The Chronicles of Narnia . . .

Four years ago on Facebook, George Takei shared a picture, adding the comment, "Looks like her images got crossed." 

I guess whoever originally posted it concluded her/his mother had mistaken the Jedi knight Luke Skywalker for Jesus because of his robe, and thought that was hilarious. I recall finding it similarly funny as a teenager when one of the elderly nuns in the place I worked happened to come in to the common room when we were watching Dave Allen in one of his skits where he was the Pope being carried in a papal chair on telly and crossed herself in reverence because she thought Dave Allen was the actual Pope, God's Vicar on earth.

But maybe the Facebook poster hadn't understood. Perhaps the mom who had the picture of Luke Skywalker knew what it was and where it came from, but liked it because, for her, it spoke of Jesus as she imagined him and could relate to him.

I have something similar. On Facebook there are two or three pages called either Jesus ben Yosef or Yeshua ben Yosef, and for a while one of them had as a profile picture this image.

I loved it. 

It's just how I always imagine Jesus would look, how I used to draw him when first I got to know him when I was fifteen. It's my idea of Jesus — the way Jesus looked in my mind when I wrote The Wilderness Within You and Into the Heart of Advent.

I took the image and had it made into a little photo cube thing for the altar in my bedroom.

I have it on my computer desktop too.

Now, I do know it isn't Jesus. I do understand that it's just a man from the twenty-first century who made a Facebook profile that also isn't actually Jesus. 

I also love this painting by Yongsung Kim, called The Hand of God (you can get it from all sorts of places including Amazon).

What I like best about The Hand of God and the Jesus on my little altar is that they look warm and friendly and kind, not mournful or stern and forbidding and sour and accusatory like so many depictions of Jesus including the Herbert Beechcroft one. They look like a Jesus I could relate to, that gives me hope. And that's why I have the little photo on my altar.

A while ago, in our Facebook church, when I was responsible for leading the meeting one morning, and it was a eucharist,  I added in an image of the Jesus on my altar. Now this time I really was naive because I imagined it would be received and understood as I saw and beheld it — as a representation of Jesus. End of. But no.

There followed a series of people saying, "Isn't that Jonathan Roumie from The Chosen?" (no) or "Who's that? It isn't anyone I know", etc. A number of women posted pictures of similar men. 

I was quite startled (thinking, like a child, "No! No! No! That's Jesus!"), and swapped out the picture for one of bread and wine. 

I have never been into the ogling beautiful poster men thing over which women bond, and I felt embarrassed by the reaction. In the course of the meeting when our sharing of bread and wine was concluded, I posted an image of the empty vessels and alongside them the little Jesus picture — but again it evoked the same reaction (I was surprised; a slow learner) so again I swapped it out.

I guess this is just a mismatch of social currency — which relies on shared assumptions. It made me realise (I don't really know why I didn't see it before) that how we visualise the face of Jesus, whose presence is so strong and clear even though it is invisible, has to remain a very private thing — it's not something one can share; it goes wrong.

I have another little altar in my room, with Our Lady on it. Here she is.

I love it because she is dear and beautiful and Hebe made her for me, and I like to have something honouring Our Lady in my room. Uh-oh — I see the little shelf needs dusting.

But I think, while I will always keep the statue of Our Lady, I might not keep the picture of Jesus, because I feel a bit ashamed of the connotation it has now acquired to do with pin-ups and actors — Jonathan Roumie and Mark Hamil and so forth. Maybe the face of Jesus can only live inside my heart, and that's how it has to stay.

Because these devotional things are very personal, aren't they?


The Rev. Susan Creighton said...

Lovely post, Pen. And I love both your smiling Jesus (on your computer screen)and your father's picture of different, but each powerful and holy in their own way. This winter a young man came to service my furnace. When he entered my study, and saw my altar with a copy of the large icon of Christ Pantocrator, from St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, along with my multitude of other icons, he said, "Oh! This is a beautiful room!" He attends a small Bible church with his child, hoping she will learn about Jesus. His wife is not a Christian, and refuses to go with them. I wish I had thought to find a way to send him a copy of the icon. For your readers, here is a link to it: May we all find the face of Christ in all whom we meet, for we are all created in the image of God. Blessings!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello! How lovely to hear from you. I hope all is well with you, and that your health is holding up. xx

Judy Olson said...

Thank you thank you thank you!! This is the first picture of Jesus that I can relate to. I am 68 years old, so have seen more than a few representations in my time. When I meet Jesus, if he looks anything like this, I will just blurt out "Oh my God!" and sink to the ground at his feet and stay there. And He will laugh like crazy, because He'll know what I mean about the holy cards and the statues!

Thank you again, this is priceless and I'm going to put it up on my computer screen.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, I searched a long time, too. Which one did you like? The same one as me?

Judy Olson said...

Yes! The same one!

Pen Wilcock said...



viv said...

I love the shroud picture of Jesus. It was a tough time with flash backs, and I needed a Father figure God to relate to. And I did not want a picture of person, nor actor, or any physical features, I could associate to. So I searched the websites asking for pencil drawings of Jesus with children. And thankfully I found one smiling Jesus, with a child , and I loved the gentleness of it. Its one of my favorite because I feel the essence of Jesus' gentleness.

This is what I needed from my Jesus, You are right Pen, it is a private matter between myself and Jesus. He knows my whys and where it comes from.

The pencil drawing is called ; Come onto me, by Jean Keaton, if you would like to see it. She has other pencil drawings of Jesus comforting different age groups. Smiling or otherwise.
I am grateful to be here, and thank you for sharing this with me. Sending love and prayers....Viv

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Viv — nice to see you here.

I find it interesting that so many of us do seem to feel this need for concrete form to relate to — as evidenced by religious statues venerated in holy places — and yet it is such an individual matter, which specific face or form sparks a response.

Buzzfloyd said...

It occurs to me that the pictures of Jesus are doing the same thing as Jesus himself, aren't they? It's God in a form you can actually relate to.

(By the way, that's Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), not Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)!)

Pen Wilcock said...

Is it? Oh, FFS! No wonder she thought it was Jesus! The interchangeability of noble men with beards. A spiritual army. The Force is with them. Thank you! I won't correct it, that's funny!

Suzan said...

As you have noted everyone will see Jesus through their experiences. I personally are not comfortable with pictures and statues as part of my religious practice. Thought having said that I have a cross that my father bought for me. It isn18 carat and has six beautiful aquamarines. When I wear it I am very aware of how much it cost and that would not be a Jesus thing...then I remember Mary anointing Jesus' feet.

But like you have said and I said to the priest that married my Bethany and Marc that my choices on that day were between me and God.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi, Suzan! Waving! xx