I have this habit which very few people know about. Every time I enter a church, I make it a point to look at the facial expression of Jesus on the cross. I think this started when I read the book The Return of the Prodigal Son and I was enthralled with Henri Nouwen’s interpretation of Rembrandt’s painting of this biblical story. Since I’m not an artistic person, I never realized, until I read that book, how much an artist puts so much effort in detailing his work, especially if he’s creating an image of a holy person or a biblical scene. In a way, it’s like writing down his reflections the way writers do, but by using a different medium which, sadly, escapes the attention of many.
I’m writing this now because I went to mass today at this parish in Katipunan and was struck with this image:
I’ve seen a lot of crosses in my life but this has to be the most unique image of Christ I’ve ever seen on a cross. I’m used to seeing a suffering Christ (because after all, it’s definitely painful to be crucified) or a resurrected Christ like the one they have at the UP chapel, but this is the first time I’ve seen a crucified Christ that looks friendly. And in an inexplicable way, this image comforted me. It somehow sends the message that Christ died for me because I’m His friend, and everything’s all right now because He’s risen and we can hang out again for as long as I like. I like how the artist chose to make Christ’s face smiling and welcoming— exactly the kind of face you feel drawn to if you see Him in a party where no one notices you, which, as it happens, is the story of my life.
But going back to my point, I think what the artist wants to convey through this image, without making light of the passion of Christ, is that the man who chose to be crucified is not only our God but our friend. This reminds me of a book I read a few months ago (the title escapes me, so I’m sorry if there’s no proper attribution) where the author said that God did not send His son just to save us from our sins. Instead, he would rather think that God sent His son because He wanted us to believe that He is with us and is one of us, with or without sin in the picture.
To me, this image of Christ conveys the exact same message: that the Christ who chose to die for us was not just a God who saves; He is also a friend who cares.
Maybe I got my theology wrong so pardon me for that. And maybe it was impertinent of me to assume that I know how to interpret art considering how I loathed Humanities II in college. But this afternoon, as I stared at this cross, and as I was drawn to that friendly face of Christ, I experienced God in a powerful way again. I felt him smiling down at me and telling me, not in His capacity as my God, but in His capacity as my friend, that the worst is over and that better times are still ahead. I sensed him urging me to trust, not just in His power, but in His friendship. I heard him assuring me that whenever I find it hard to believe in a powerful God, I can opt to believe in a caring friend. And He will most certainly never take that against me.
So don’t mind my theology, and don’t mind my pretentious art appreciation. Instead, think of this as my way of expressing my new spirituality, which, in a few words, is about following a God who is compassionate and gentle, and who will choose to hang out with me even if I’m not anymore the girl who knows her doctrines and teachings by heart. For such is the God that I know now. And frankly, I’m loving Him now more than ever.
After all, it was Jesus himself who said:”No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”– John 15:15.
This afternoon, He made known to me what no one else has told me in my long years of searching: That He is my friend, period. And that pleasing Him does not have to be so much hard work.