“When the mind has been dulled,” Marius Kociejowski writes, “and everything in everyday life conspires to keep it so, all it can ever apprehend are surface values. Sometimes, though, when the brain is shorn of its prosaic growth, and the soul of its scar tissue, what one gets is an epiphany or revelation – one sees through a work of art.”
Several weeks ago, my post looked at a man and woman in the cloister garden of England’s Chester Cathedral. For them, Stephen Broadbent’s sculpture “The Water of Life” was not an epiphany, not a revelation – their brains had prosaic growth, their souls had scar tissue.
What I see, when I look through Broadbent’s sculpture, is an irregular circle composed of a woman and a man – a circle that is, perhaps, about to be closed by a kiss. Certainly, their eyes are linked, their lips poised.
Who is the woman? the man? She is the woman of Samaria in the Gospel of John (4:1-30); he is Jesus, who has just told her, without condemnation, the story of her life.
She is a woman with whom Jesus should not speak – according to the beliefs of his day, she is fenced out from the community of God’s people. But he asks her for a drink of water, and is receiving it – an overflowing bowl in her hands.
She is wrapped in cloth from just beneath her shoulders to an anatomically ambiguous area where her figure is linked to that of Jesus, whose wrappings begin at his waist.
Are these wrappings the swaddling clothes of a newborn, symbolizing that in this moment of sharing, the woman of Samaria and Jesus are each giving the other new life?
Or are the wrappings grave clothes, symbolizing the linkage of Jesus and the woman in death as well as in life? For Jesus has just said, or will say: “The water that I shall give will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life” (John 4:14).
No matter how we see the swaddling bands, it is clear that the woman of Samaria and Jesus form a circle that may be completed by a kiss.
I see something revelatory in Broadbent’s sculpture – an epiphany of the humanness of Jesus: I see the lips of the woman of Samaria and the lips of Jesus moving closer and closer together until the circle is closed.
Why is it that the one who shows us God, who helps us understand God, is protected by all sorts of doctrines from the merest suggestion that he shared the joy of one of God’s greatest gifts? The gift of romantic love – the unbelievable joy, the sudden overcoming of loneliness, felt by persons who find themselves in love. Their experiences tell us something about the love of God, which is unexpected and unmerited . . . freely given and freely received . . . liberating and rejuvenating.
Quote in today’s post:
“When the mind has been dulled” –Marius Kociejowski, God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners (2014), 261.