Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Model for Altarpiece in St. Peter’s, Italy, Rome, 1625, oil on canvas 16 x 24 1/4 in. (40.64 x 61.6 cm). The Ciechanowiecki Collection, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
I. Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams:
I finished watching “Field of Dreams” last night, a film I had never seen before. Starring Kevin Costner, it is a good film about, one could say, the intersection of reality and fantasy on the American landscape—or simply the intersection of what are different realities. As Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears voices to build a baseball field on his low-income Iowa farm, he is promised that “If you build it, he will come.” In this case, the “he” is Kinsella’s own deceased father John who had played baseball as a young man, got old too quickly, and then died right after he and a teenage Ray had a falling out over the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox team. A late-1980’s Ray, now married with a family, still thinks about his relationship with his father that was cut short and the film asks whether it may be possible for John Kinsella to meet a grown-up Ray on his “field of dreams.” Ray never doubts his voices but is never sure what they mean except when he tries to connect the dots by traveling at times across long distances of place and season to meet strangers for whom the answers most matter. Ray’s efforts lead to surprising, mysterious and ultimately fulfilling encounters for those who come to play on his field of dreams—or are there simply to watch.
Pontormo (1494-1557), Visitation (detail), c. 1529, oil on panel, 20.2 x 15.6 cm, Church of San Francesco e Michele, Carmignano, Italy.
II. The Christian Ashram Movement:
Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), a Catholic English monk known as Swami Dayananda (bliss of compassion) dedicated his life’s work to the Christian Ashram Movement and its role in the development of dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. Swami Dayananda said in an interview: “I feel that in the Christian view, which I share, the body is of very great importance. There is a tendency in certain forms of Hinduism, certainly, to think that the purpose of spiritual exercises is to get beyond the body. But in my understanding, the human being is body, soul, spirit, and it is an integrated whole. Body and soul – the body is dependent upon and integrated with soul, and body and soul are dependent upon and integrated in spirit. The body is part of the wholeness of the human being. And that’s why incarnation is very important. God enters the psycho-physical realm and assumes it and doesn’t discard it. And at the resurrection the body is not discarded, it is assumed into the life with the soul and the spirit. I think the place of the body is a significant part of the Christian contribution. It is the total human being which is to enter into the life of the spirit.”
SOURCE: Marvin Barrett, “The Silent Guide,” Parabola, v.xi, no. 1.
Our Lady of the Pillar, 1508, Chartres Cathedral. In her right hand she holds a pear.
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Mystical Conversation, c. 1896. Oil on canvas, 65 x 46 cm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, Japan.
III. On Christmas Clothes:
There is a drive in today’s society to be singular, intimate, and well known in a society that is, paradoxically, vast and impersonal, as well as incredibly common and conventional. Seeking to be “authentic” in the public domain, at the same time we are insecure about the people we meet there. We don’t know our next door neighbor but presume intimacy with the wider world. To be intimate and authentic in a vast and alien society―and one needs to peruse the internet for five minutes for its revelations ― is the modern age’s new growth industry. Yet there remain less flashy moments of behavior regarding the private self in the public space. Such is, for instance, the thriving language of love—the raised eyebrow; dropped glove; the rush to light her cigarette. Each small and well-timed gesture and inflection of voice raises the romantic ante without loss of boundaries between a private self and the public space. These silent cues are found in many venues, although absconded by the tactical importance of self-image (interchangeable, often) striving for immediate intimacy—a glimpse of the inner self, the cult of personality—in the public square. Fashion changes clothes with the seasons in a modern-age attempt to convey private personality (“taste”) in the public arena. For this increasingly popular social model, it is important to take the world by storm—and each and every time so that the costumed yet exposed private self does not disintegrate before public scrutiny or is destroyed by it.
Clothing provides a rich metaphor for the dilemma of the private self in the public space. It serves those seeking to make hyperbole of their private personality and fluctuating nature thereof as well as those seeking to downplay and even hide it. In a world of omnipresent security cameras and airport pat downs, a traditional notion of clothing to exclude public encroachment on the private and (trustingly) sacred self appears to be increasingly gone with the wind. At Christmas the use of clothes in a sacred context is important. In the Gospel of Luke the angel tells the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Odilon Redon, Night, 1910-11, Distemper on canvas, 200 x 650 cm. Abbaye de Fontfroide.
In the Bible a major teaching tradition is that when one discovers the Divine Presence—for God makes every attempt to self-disclose—the moment of recognition is like putting on a new garment that is tailored to the individual’s exact measurements. The Divine garment endows a person with a specific sense of dignity and private self-awareness―a sacred and highly personal investiture that turns the modern notion of the private-as-public self upside down. The rule of clothes extends to John the Baptist—a figure who is important in both Christianity as saint and prophet and in Islam as a prophet. John is described as coming out of the wilderness wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3). When God “dresses” humanity in the divine image something is expected of them in ways other than the modern idea of a new image or appeal. It is an inner and private change which takes on a significantly different meaning than one more public role.
SOURCES: Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, W.W. Norton, 1976; Joseph Wolf, “Divine Clothing,” Parabola, v.xix, no. 3.
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), Adoration of the Magi, 1636-1639, Prado.
Parmigianino (1503-1540), Holy Family with the Infant Baptist, c. 1535-39, tempura on canvas, 65 5/8 x 52 in. (159 x 132 cm), Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.
IV. U.S. Children and Hunger:
Hunger is defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food as well as an exhausted condition caused by want of food.” While being homeless as an adult is a harsh test, to be homeless as a child is worse. Society’s striving to make it scarce or nonexistent is painfully incomplete. In this year’s presidential campaigns we hear rhetoric from candidates of the major parties about the safety and security of the American people and mainly in regard to terrorists who threaten bodily harm. But each night, including tonight, over 15 million American children go to bed hungry according to Feeding America. Where is the public and media outcry for their bodily safety and security? Proper nutrition is vital to the growth and development of children who are the country’s future. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, today there are 74 million children in the United States which is an all-time high. Yet 20% of these children are food-insecure and go to bed hungry at night. In a land of plenty, where more than 2 in 3 adult Americans are considered to be overweight or obese, food injustice is not confined to Christmastime but each day of the year.
Definition of hunger – Oxford English Dictionary, 1971.
(after) Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516) Nativity. c.1568-1600. oil on panel. 66 × 43 cm (26 × 16.9 in). Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany.
Parmigianino (Italy, Parma, 1503-1540), Madonna and Child, c. 1524-25, oil on panel, 23 1/4/ x 13 3/8 in. (59 x 34 cm). Galleria Doria, Rome.
Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370-1427), Adoration of the Magi (detail), 1423, tempura on panel, 283 x 300 cm, Uffizi, Florence.