Sunday, April 05, 2009

From Donkey to Temple...

Dear Salvador Dali,

I ran across your series of biblical art this week, and to be honest it captured my imagination far more than anything of yours I have seen. You took familiar stories that I have heard from birth and removed them from their typical construction and presentation, giving them movement, metaphor and still allowing the shape of them to remain recognizable (well for the most part).

And when I found out that these works were commissioned in an attempt by your patron to bring you to salvation (specifically to the Catholic Church--oh will we ever hold Christ above denomination?) I became even more interested. I wonder what you thought of your works when they were done? What did your wife (beyond hope, according to your patron) think of the works? Did the hope of Christ shine in?

I was searching particularly for a depiction of the cleansing of the temple, and this piece stood out on a web page full of artistic depictions of this scene. Now, how much lee way do you give us to read into your work? Everyone is a critic, they say, and the nature of your free form style lets us fill in the gaps as we stand and look. So if you disagree with anything I say here, please write back.

I was struck by the movement of the piece...people are clearly filing out. And Jesus does have a whip, and in the background there is what appears to be an evil presence. It could be the pharisees, who are really the other main characters of the story and the evil look is a representation of their intentions. Or it could be Satan depicted here as losing this battle, but hoping to win the bigger war. I don't know. Does the circle around the figure depict the whip, which seems to hang at Jesus' side but is really beginning to tighten around the devil as Victory for Jesus comes closer?

One thing that is clear and sets this picture apart from others I found. Jesus does not seem very angry. He is ushering them out, as if he is indicating to the people that "my fight is not with you, but those who stand on high, those who should be leading the flock, those in power who should know what is right and do not do it." And we know that even as he cleared away those who would use the temple for wrong purposes, he opened his arms to the weak and sick and brought healing to that place, literally and figuratively. Jesus showed us that there is no room in His dominion for the money changers and salesmen, but it is open to the weak and sick and lame and blind. (Matthew 21:14)

But back to your work, Sal. I do want to say, that I think the beauty of your work is that it gets us thinking about the familiar stories and about Jesus in a different way. And whether you intended it or not, this is exactly what Jesus was prescribing in this story. We cannot just continue life as it is, accepting the hard lines of reality and not choosing to question them. No, Jesus calls us to a complete phase shift--a new perspective. One where those who would act in greed are expelled and those who wield God as a tool for power are thrown down. And then the weak receive mercy, the broken and ill receive healing. Jesus cleanses both the building of the temple and the bodies of His Temple, the temple of our hearts where he desires to dwell eternally. The physical walls were thrown down, but that opened the new covenant written in Christ's blood providing for a salvation through the temple of His body.

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days ." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it up in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body. John 2:19

Jesus opens our eyes to a reality where a Lion comes in power to become a Lamb, slain, and then again becomes a Lion in Victory. Thank God for this new vision, this new reality. And I pray that this week will be a time for the cleansing of each of our temples in order to usher in God's glory and righteousness in our lives.

So Sal, thank you for helping me to think differently about Christ, and I hope that as you painted this series about Him that you, and your wife, found this revolutionary truth as well.

To turning over the tables of our lives,



cadh 8 said...

In looking again at one of my resources I saw that some of the Dali series were created using a kind of "gun" that shoots "bullets" of ink at the canvas. I wonder if this one was done this way, to create the heads in the picture. It was cool to imagine using this technique, such an unplanned way to begin a picture.

brd said...

I have four Dali paintings in my home, but I had never seen this series before. It is like a combination of the ones I have--the line drawings of Don Quixote and the Last Supper/Crucifixion. This painting is amazing, but even more, your thoughts about clearing out our old visions and replacing with new is so great!

brd said...

By the way, I love the lamb in the video staring at the camera and chewing. Too cute.