First Friday Reflections
Through the centuries, the Christian community has consistently tried to capture its developing understanding of Jesus Christ in word and image. This is a never ending challenge – to portray the Mystery of the love of God made visible in the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who went about doing good and eventually laid down his life for us. Each First Friday of the month, the Society of the Sacred Heart sends an email prepared by an RSCJ, colleague or friend of the Society, with a reflection on the meaning of the Sacred Heart in our lives today. To sign up to receive the First Friday emails, click on the words Sign up for e-news here or at the bottom of any page on this site.
Imagine my surprise walking into the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health and seeing this piece of art on display. Of course I was immediately drawn to the Sacred Heart, particularly this rendition showing both the strength of the flame resting on metal and the vulnerability of the vein-crossed heart formed from fragile glass (at least that’s how I interpret it). When you go to a research institution like NIH, either for yourself or with someone you love, you are embarking on an uncharted path, often as the pioneer for a new treatment that may or may not work.
The image of Christ crucified amid a bleak urban landscape reminds us that wherever there is any human suffering, God is also suffering. The smoke stacks poisoning the environment, the tall towers that depersonalize a sense of neighborhood, and the lack of any human presence save that of Jesus Himself are underscored by the color palate of deep russet, black, and gray. One is reminded of William Blake’s “Jerusalem” – one interpretation of which suggests that the mills and factories of the Industrial Revolution dehumanized society and enslaved millions.
Prior to the noviceship, I certainly did not anticipate that the interior work of the noviceship would bring me into such acutely vulnerable places of my heart. In no way did I ever surmise how visceral it would be to face my naked self in those places into which God draws me. The soreness of encountering my shadow, however, is not all that I did not know about the noviceship. I also did not imagine the impact of grace—how deeply it touches my heart and urges me to connect to God’s beauty in people.
At a particularly difficult moment in the noviceship, I found myself at the botanical garden in Encinitas, California, where I was surrounded by desert flora and could see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. The internal work of being a novice at that moment felt too big for me – whatever it was I had discovered in myself could no longer be contained by prayer in my room. It needed instead the openness of ocean and desert.
In Exodus 35:35 we read that God has filled artists with skill to do every kind of work done by an artisan, designer, or embroiderer in blue, purple and crimson yarns, and in fine linen. They are able to do work of all kinds and with such originality. This piece of Scripture reflects something of the skill of this fabric artist. I do not know the artist but the gift that this person offers is a talent, a light, offering compassion, hope and joy to a suffering world.
When I first saw the icon above by Soeur Marie-Paul Farran, OSB, and studied it closely, I was drawn to the six water jars in the lower right hand corner. They are reminiscent of the jugs at the wedding feast of Cana. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the waiters to fill six jugs with water, and then he changes the water into wine for the wedding guests. But before that, his Mother, Mary, tells the waiters, "Do whatever he tells you."
Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.
Unbind him and let him go.
My Own Stone