Saturday, December 20, 2014

a monstrous weight

One of the great beauties of St. Patrick's Cathedral is that the back doors are usually left wide open.
It's an extravagant gesture (and not just because it must add significant figures to the heating bill), they are flung open like an embrace, welcoming the City into the arms of the Church. They are New York's answer to St. Peter's colonnade; but instead of stone pillars lined with saints, they are gold monoliths flanking the entrance of all the saints and sinners who stumble into their sanctuary.

Through the open entrance, one can hear the bustle of Fifth Avenue, and catch a glimpse of the bustle of Christmastime in New York City outside. Most importantly, you can see the colossal statue of Atlas that stands guard in front of the Rockefeller Center. It is an imposing and impressive sculpture. The bronze titan's brow is furrowed, yet his body seems unbreakable, capable of bearing a globe on his shoulders without breaking a sweat.

Indeed, if I were to worship a god, I would expect him to look like that. I would need him to look like that. If I were to lay aside all my own selfish interests and desires for another being, and declare that being not only Lord of My Heart, but Lord of All the Universe, I would want to imagine him vast, unconquerable, powerful. Powerful enough to beat all my enemies, strong enough to carry me on his shoulders, able enough to grant all of my requests.

Just opposite of Atlas, staring at him lovingly from the high altar of St. Patrick's, where He is gloriously ensconced, is a crucified Christ. Although the cross and corpus are gilded, the pathos of this image is not lost amid the glamor of the material, or the high beauty of its surroundings. The figure of Christ, so broken, so injured, so hurt. So very palpably, visibly wounded by His mission. He hangs on the cross, an image of failure, derided by the world. That is what love will do to you.
Fall in love, decide to stay in love, and you will endure more slings and arrows than just the bright agony of Cupid's dart, whispers the crucifix.

They stare at each other: one god a giant wrought in bronze, triumphantly bearing the globe on his shoulders, celebrating the success of man's industry. And then, this strange God that Christians worship: a broken man, bleeding to death on a cross, enduring all the evils that man's industry can create. Atlas' gaze is powerful, penetrating. He seems so sure of his success. He seems convinced of his destiny: to bear the weight of the world, without assistance, and offering none. He is untouched by the sorrow of the humans blundering about on the burden on his back and taking pictures by his pedestal. He is removed from them, and their lives--to him--mean nothing at all.

But stare at the crucifix, and you will find a face carved with sorrow, because the evils that harm us matter, our lives, touched with sorrow, with glory, with stumblings, with victories matter. They matter so much that a God more powerful, vast, and unconquerable than Atlas entered into them. He let Himself be beaten by the enemies, He allowed Himself to endure hardship and cold, and being born as the most vulnerable of creatures: a human baby. His body looks like mine: fragile--oh so fragile--and pitiable. And He endured all this to what end? That I would learn to love Him back? What a glorious, unspeakable insanity.

Indeed, if I were to craft an image of love, I would expect it to look just like that.  If I were to lay aside all my own selfish interests and desires for another being, and declare that being not only Lord of All the Universe, but Lord of My Heart, I would imagine Him just as Christ on that Crucifix. His arms would be fashioned in a posture that Atlas seems to mimic, but can never fully imitate: outstretched in an embrace, in an offering--an offering of Himself--not just an offering of His strength, but of His whole being.

When you are in love, you want to understand the other person's life: you want to hear about it through a phone call, but you have to actually experience it to understand it. If they like to knit, you want to know way the yarn feels slipping through your fingers; if they like riding horses, you want to know how it feels to gallop through woods, perched on a fiery animal; if they love their little apartment in their city, you want to know what the sunrise looks like from their window each morning. Love demands that we enter into the lives of those we love, not just admire them from a distance. It is messy, it is painful. Everything is clean and simple, like Atlas' strong, unmoved lines, if we just watch from a distance. But to enter into their lives: that is the leap of love that is our duty of desire.

So I stoop to kiss His feet, so close to me--so reachable--and I sit back on my heels to adore a broken God whose mission was to be failure, that my failures may be an avenue through which I can come to know Him.
And His posture is the grammar by which I form my stammering words of love.

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