Saturday, August 11, 2012

A curious handling...

"...a curious handling of Psalm 22, the Good Shepherd. A stunning landscape..."

                Bernie, Marty, and John followed the priest to the other side of the main entrance of the church. This picture showed a gruff man walking through a dreary background with a young lad on his shoulder; with one hand he supported the child, and with the other he wielded a heavy walking staff. By deft use of color, the figures were illuminated against the dark surroundings; one would hesitate to call it an aura. It was rather the reverse: the humans were seen in natural light, and the encroaching darkness was the unnatural. Bernie took it in – the artistry was stunning – but when he turned to see the others, he was shocked to see the look on John's face: a look he read as startled recognition.

                Marty snapped a shot and said, "Bernie, that rocky waterfall – we've seen it before." (He meant it looked like the background to the painting of Christ and St. Peter at Caesarea Philippi, in the chapel of Old Main.)

                The priest nodded. "I'm not surprised that you recognize it. That waterfall is well-known in the area – ah – perhaps not as well-known as it once was. But my friends and I often hiked out there in our younger days..." He sighed. "Out to the gorge, back in the hills past St. Michael's – as I'm sure you know."

                "St. Michael's – you mean the orphanage?"

                "That's right. It is called the Peter-falls."

                Bernie had turned back to examine it more carefully. "It sure looks eerie. What's that thing off to the side, something smoking? Is there a hot spring near that waterfall?"

                The priest shook his head. "No; I always took it to represent the burnt sacrifices of the pagans." He sighed. "It's all the more terrifying to me as I think of Carthage, both ancient and modern – but I won't say more on that topic, not in this consecrated place. There's other threats lurking if you look carefully: a crevice in the rocks, and snakes, and there's a lion almost hidden in the trees."

                "A lion!" Bernie said anxiously, trying to locate it.

                "Yes; there were lions in Israel in the days when David was a shepherd boy..." He paused, lost in thought.

                As the priest remained silent, Marty asked, "Did you read what it says, Bernie? 'Though I walk in the Dark Valley, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me'." But he turned when he heard John moan, and asked, "What's wrong, John?"

                "Nothing. But just look at that child's face. Is that supposed to be Jesus in the arms of St. Joseph?"

                "Huh. There does seem to be a kind of glow around their heads, doesn't there? What do you say, Father?

         He nodded, smiling. "I think it's like other things, intentionally left open so we can see more. Like St. John always speaking of 'the disciple who Jesus loved', or St. Luke writing to 'Theophilus' – which merely means 'Friend of God'. I find it very comforting, even though many times I am the one who must carry others and guard them against the terrors of darkness. What you must not forget is that there are other sheep not shown here – ones which have fled from the shepherd, into that forest..." He shivered. "If one has doubts about his vocation, this picture provides a healthy stimulus."

[PJF, From Darkness Into Light]

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