Pandemics and Wonder

Art can warm even a chilled and sunless soul to an exalted spiritual experience. Through art we occasionally receive – indistinctly, briefly – revelations the likes of which cannot be achieved by rational thought.

It is like the small mirror… You look into it but instead of yourself you glimpse for a moment the Inaccessible, a realm forever beyond reach. And your soul begins to ache…

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Have you ever seen a painting or photo that so completely grabbed your attention that it stopped you in your tracks and gave you ‘pause?’

I was in the Art Shop in Market Mall (in the old days when you could still go there!) when I saw a painting that absolutely caught my attention. I stood looking, transfixed... as though it had called my name.

It was whimsical. It depicted a crowd all dressed in white, delight etched on their faces, forging ahead...all except for one person. The artist had caught him as he paused, half turned back, a look of wonder on his face. His hands were raised as though to examine them, but his expression in particular captured my imagination.

What was going on that resulted in that look of wonder? What had made him stop even though it meant being left behind?

It wasn’t until later that I discovered the painting was a rendering of the biblical story found in Luke 17:11-19 of the Healing of the 10 Lepers. Painted by James Christensen, the scene suddenly had context and it was as though it came into focus!

This painting, for me, serves as an icon of sorts. As I ponder it, I am pointed to Jesus, who though not physically in the scene is very much part of this story! I am also led to consider my own life. If I were to place myself in this scene, where would I be? To be honest, I’d most likely be in the middle of that enthusiastic crowd, laughing and celebrating! Or more likely, I’d be out front, leading the celebration! Either way, if there is fun and joy to be had, you can be quite sure I’ll be in the middle of it!

But let’s return to the fellow at the back of the crowd. The one who’s stopped, half turned back. If I pause for just a moment and allow myself to sit with this scene, I note how it creates a deep longing in me. I look at his face, his posture, his amazement. I know his story, know why he stopped. But if I’m using this story, this art, as a catalyst to ponder my own life, it leads me to ask the question, ‘What has God done for me that has stopped me in amazement? What has turned me around and perhaps made me willing to be left behind by the crowd?”

As I continue to contemplate, it strikes me that this man has actually and literally ‘paused’, a difficult thing to pull off in the middle of whatever important or exciting thing is currently happening. Which leads me to wonder further; have I built times of deliberate ‘pause’ into my life, times or places where I might notice God-at-work? Would the practice of ‘pause’ move me from the middle of the noisy crowds that naturally draws me, and shift my gaze to look elsewhere?

The story of the 10 Lepers narrates for us life in our community now struck with sickness, suffering and death… an appropriate story for us in these moments of pandemic-angst, currently on all our minds. And though this story has a happy ending, it points us to a larger truth, a broader perspective, wrapped up here in the lives of these ten ordinary people.

10 people afflicted with a horrendous disease.

10 people suffering with no hope.

10 people who meet Jesus, and whose lives are completely turned around.

10 people who leave their encounter with Jesus, delighted and with great joy!

1 person (just 1) gazes beyond the sickness and the healing, to look for the One from whence that healing came.

1 person deliberately pauses, shifts focus - from what must have been central to his community’s story and conversation, leprosy (like Covid19 is to ours).

1 person wonders about something, Someone ‘larger’.

1 person has the courage and the tenacity to go against the flow and turn back to look for Jesus; having been stopped by a small inkling that maybe the more significant thing was not the healing (as important as that was) but the encounter with the Healer.

Each one of us, with our unique personalities influencing how we live into our stories, is on a journey to encounter Jesus. Sometimes our story is located in ‘the crowd’. Sometimes we simply live it alone. But always we live it with the intent that we would notice Jesus, wherever He shows up.

Might I invite you to pause with this painting and with this story? Ask yourself, “Where am I in this scene?” And pause long enough to ask, “Where are the moments of wonder in my following of Jesus where I should stop and pay closer attention? How has wonder captivated me? Does it propel me to turn and seek Jesus and to worship Him?”

Help me, oh God,

To have the humility to sit at the feet of great art,

whether it is a painting or a person on the street,

a scene from a movie or a score from a musical,

a sunset or a Psalm or a good story,

and to look and listen and to receive

what is being offered me there.

Give me the grace to submit to its scrutiny,

seeking not to do something to it,

but that it might do something to me;

seeking not in some way to judge it,

but that it might in some way judge me…


(From Windows of the Soul)

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