By Ellen Sims
Text: Mark 8: 33-37
On third Sundays at Open Table, our worship experience is marked by various forms of contemplative prayer. Yesterday’s service included lectio divina, body prayers, sung prayers, and culminated in the opportunity to visit one or more prayer stations set up around the perimeter of our chapel.
At one of four prayer stations, worshipers could contemplate a replica of a 1910 oil on canvas by Emil Nolde. Titled Christ Among the Children, this work of art prompted a range of comments from those who chose later to share from that experience with the congregation. One woman, a physician staying home for now with her young children and sometimes missing her professional identity, felt affirmed in her choice. One man noticed that the men in the painting seem shut off from the children and lamented the way men in our culture are sometimes cut off from the vitality that children bring.
In searching for a link to the painting to share, I found a site called Acting Out Politics that offers a challenging analysis. Follow the link to the painting first; then read the commentary, which I excerpt below:
“Nolde in his Christ and Children. . . shockingly paints Christ with his back toward the viewers. We can see only the very margin of his profile as we can see only the margin of the moon when Earth’s shadow blocks the Sun’s light on the moon’s surface.
Why does Nolde’s painting block Christ’s face? Why does Nolde take away Christ’s face from us? Why does he deprive us of Christ‘s gaze upon us? And why Christ’s robe is of a dense blue color that is darker than the sky’s? Perhaps it’s because our belief in Christ is too conventional, too artificial, too “painted”, enveloped in the sky as in a vast blanket?
Christ prefers children to us, adults, who are only capable of believing in Him because egoistically we want to be protected and supported by Him in our social strife and international conflicts while children turn to Him as a sunflower turns to the sun. Children reaching out to Him disinterestedly – as to the carrier of love which is the sun of their world. While we, adults, believe in Christ because our authorities and traditions tell us to, children are with Christ because He is theirs and they are His. Children need love while adults need power. They need the genuine Christ, not Christ whom adults have transformed into the origin of power and into the banner of the Crusades. Only children see Icon without the banner connotation.
According to the logic of Nolde’s imagery in ‘Christ and Children’ we, adults, don’t deserve Christ’s attention; we don’t deserve to see His face which belongs to the children. After twenty centuries of Christian history which is full of ferocious and righteous sinfulness and cruelty in His name, Nolde understood why Christ taught adults to be as children. Of course, Christ is merciful and compassionate toward us, the sinful adults, but he loves children because we – with our sweaty dreams about self-enrichment, with our proneness to self-aggrandizement and scapegoating of other people and our love for military adventures – are too conformist in front of the Evil.
Little children are not calculating their self-advantage until they will be seduced by adults and today’s value system into consumption and possession of toys and into violent games and sports. They live in a positive spontaneity. Nolde is showing us how they want to be taken/picked up by Christ, to be closer to His iconic face of love. They want to be uplifted and elevated by Him. With Him they don’t feel the power of the adults. They feel mutuality and responsiveness. With Him they discovered that there are adults without power and bossiness.
The message of Nolde’s Christ to us, the viewers, is – “Don’t worship my face; the real icon is the faces of your children. Love children and help them in their growth, don’t sacrifice them by abuse, neglect and in your wars”. The very composition of the painting, including the posture of Christ who is bending towards (bowing in front of) the children, shows us the spiritual way.”
PRAYER: May the children lead us. Amen