De Profundis ~ from Georges Rouault’s series, ‘Miserere et Guerre’
In his fifty-eight print series titled Miserere et Guerre, the French Expressionist painter Georges Rouault struggled over a thirty-five year period with issues of faith, the suffering of Christ, and human cruelty.
A retrospective of Rouault’s work, “This Anguished World of Shadows,” was held in 2006 at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City. Writing about the exhibit, the Museum says:
The brutal, contemporary images of the series — which are, in part, a reaction to the almost unimaginable destruction in France during World War I — become even more poignant when one realizes that, by the time they were published, the artist had lived through World War II as well, and witnessed the almost total transformation of Europe and of French society.
Their ultimate message is a testament to Rouault’s overriding belief in the redemptive power of suffering.
The title of Plate 47, De Profundis, translates as “from the depths,” a phrase which serves to open Psalm 130, one of fifteen Songs of Ascents contained within the Old Testament. Ascension or pilgrimage songs (in Hebrew, Shirei ha Ma’alot) were sung on the occasion of the great feasts of pilgrimage: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. They first would have been sung on the way to Jerusalem: then, on the steps of the Temple. Today, The Psalm often is included in Christian Good Friday services.
As with so much in our national life, change has come to Memorial Day. Flags continue to fly, of course. Patriotic garlands still hang from porch railings and bunting flutters in the small-town breeze while veterans’ groups gather at cemeteries and march in parades. And yet, in ways both subtle and obnoxious, Memorial Day has become primarily a beginning-of-summer ritual, a time to focus on beaches and barbeque, mattress sales, movie-going and the first road trip of the season.
The meaning and history of Memorial Day is both more profound and more complex than most Americans realize. For several years after the end of the Civil War, commemorations spread across the South as mothers, wives and children of the Confederate dead decorated the graves of their fallen soldiers with flowers. Continue reading
Lisa Brunetti, an artist and friend who blogs from her home in Ecuador, stopped by The Task at Hand recently to share some Christmas memories. While visiting friends who live next to the Catholic church in her town, she noticed many people on their way to Christmas Eve Mass who were carrying the Christ-child from their families’ nativity scenes. The babies were placed on the altar and then, at midnight, each was carried back home and returned to its manger. Her friends’ manger, in front of their shop, was surrounded by chairs. Through the course of the evening, people took turns stopping by, sitting and singing songs until the Baby Jesus was safely home.
It’s a lovely tradition, echoed here in the United States by families and congregations who leave the manger empty until Christmas Day. Still, it’s worth considering that different contexts can help to transform one culture’s sincere expression of faith into something quite different. In the United States, we’re clearly tempted toward sentimentality. With Baby Jesus tucked away in his manger, we sigh over the loveliness of his mother, admire the steadfastness of his father, give a nod to his humble surroundings and go our way. What comes next isn’t our concern. Continue reading