Favorites

(Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth, 1948, Tempera on gessoed panel, 81.9 cm × 121.3 cm or 32¼ in × 47¾ in)

For today’s reflection, two favorites.  The first is the painting you see above.  The second is a verse from the Gospel of Mark.  First, the painting.  It’s called “Christina’s World” and it was painted by American artist Andrew Wyeth in 1948.  While it debuted to relatively little fanfare it has become one of the most recognizable pieces of art from the middle twentieth century.  It depicts a woman lying on the ground in a treeless, russet field looking up at an aging farmhouse on the horizon.  The woman’s name is Christina Olson and she suffered from polio, a condition of muscular degeneration that incapacitated her legs.  Wyeth knew Olson personally and on one occasion had witnessed her crawling across the field, a moment which inspired this piece of art currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

I was introduced to this painting in seminary.  It hung above the fireplace of the on-campus housing I called home from 2001-2003.  It captivated me the first time I laid eyes on it and it has been a favorite of mine ever since (I own a print which I hope to have framed someday).   Until I decided to write this brief entry I’ve never been confronted with the task of articulating my reasons for being so drawn to it.  I’ll give it a shot…

First, I simply find it beautiful.  Wyeth’s use of color and texture are masterful.  Though it is done in a realist style, something about it strikes me as nonsensical.

Also, it makes me sad.

Yet, I find it triumphant, as well.  Christina’s dress seems to subtly protest the indignity of her actions.  The scene is serene but the dishevelment of her hair and the strained grope of her left hand suggest desperation.  We cannot see her face, only the lonely vestiges of decaying buildings (home, presumably).

“Christina’s World” gives me pause.  I imagine the patience, determination, and perspective required to drag oneself through an uncut field.  I can almost feel the discomfort and brokenness of that act.  It reminds me of my sin.

It may just be my favorite painting.

Another favorite of mine involves one of Jesus’ miracles.  In the Gospel of Mark a demon-possessed boy is brought to Jesus for healing (9:14-29).  The father of the boy implores Jesus saying, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  Jesus replied, “‘If you can’!  All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately upon hearing this, the father of the boy cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  With that, Jesus cast out the evil spirit and healed the boy.

Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  This is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture.  If I ever get a tattoo, this will be it.  (Mom, I’m speaking hypothetically.)  Though its words are sparse, it says so much.  Like Wyeth’s painting, its raw and simple beauty provides so much upon which to reflect and ruminate.

My faith in Jesus is so imperfect; so fragmented at times.  Sometimes I believe boldly.  Other times I tuck-tail and run, hiding away in the futility of my own self-sufficiency.  I believe.  I believe not.  I am a conundrum.

Blaise Pascal described humanity well when he declared the following: “What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe.

So what do “Christina’s World” and Mark 9:24 have in common?  And why would I bother to publish these reflections on a thread of posts related to a Chronological Bible Reading Plan?

Well, to be honest, here’s my train of thought: the Wyeth painting makes me think of my own brokenness, how it incapacitates me, isolates me, and causes pain.  When I consider my sin I am reminded of my unbelief.  And when I contemplate unbelief, I think of Mark 9 and how the wonderful grace of Jesus makes up for my incomplete, fragmented, broken-down faith.  And there I take hope.

Perhaps you’re bogged down in the middle of reading through Ezekiel at the moment and you’re struggling to understand how any of it pertains to the here and now.   Maybe the frenetic pace of life creates anxiousness and unrest within you.  Maybe you’re the parent of a young child or children and the unpredictability of moods, tantrums, and breakdowns sends you over the proverbial edge.  Perhaps you’re unsure of Christianity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ strikes you as either too good to be true or a downright sham.

Whatever the case may be, in our lives there are a thousand places in which belief and unbelief wage war.  That’s just the way it is.  Don’t run from it.  Embrace it.  God does.  And like the father in Mark 9, He tells us to take hope in Jesus.  There is sufficiency in His grace.  In other words, He meets us where we are.  Divine condescension – the doctrine of accommodation in real time.  Even though we may feel as lonely and incapacitated as Christina depicted in that wonderful painting above, God is near.  He is an ever-present help and refuge in trouble.

As always, please feel free to ask questions.  You can either email me directly (mike@citychurchstl.org) or, if you’d like to start a broader conversation, you can post a public comment/question here on the blog.  Thanks for reading.

 

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3 responses to “Favorites

  • Anonymous

    That just happens to be one of my favorite scriptures as well, Mike. I have prayed it, oh, so many times. Thanks for the parenthetic reassurance, though. ;-}

    Today I had lunch with a couple of friends, one of whom is desperately trying to figure out where God is in her life right now, yet she feels guilt that she is struggling with her faith. Your reflection couldn’t have come at a better time.

    Thanks,

    Mom

  • Cammie

    Mike,

    I am forever amazed by…and somehow surprised at the insights you have. Surprised only because it just doesn’t “fit” with the kid I knew growing up. I marvel at the kinds of interests and passions that make you tick. And I love how you are constantly evaluating and enjoying them through the lens if the Gospel. Really enjoyed your post today. Thanks for writing it.

  • Lisa

    This was one of the first paintings I studied in 9th grade art class. I enjoyed this post.

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