Friday, March 29, 2024

For Me

When my oldest daughter Bethany was just about six years old and our 'only,' I had begun using the 'Picture Study' that is one of the many hallmarks of a Charlotte Mason education. Simply put, it's to show a child a print of a great work of art (usually doing around six works of the same artist, over several weeks), letting them see it silently for a minute or two, and then having them, without looking at it, tell back what they've seen. That process is called narration - and that's it. No lecture, no added biography or lessons, no big teaching, just that. The painting speaks to the child. Then the print is usually hung nearby for that next week or so. 

We were doing Rembrandt. I had gotten prints from a respected family-company, and there were some interesting notes that went with it that helped me understand a bit more about Rembrandt. So one day at lunch, which was when we always had Picture Study, I showed her the large print I had gotten of Rembrandt's "Raising of the Cross." 

It's not a happy picture - Christ's nearly naked body is lit up on a diagonal, as the cross is being raised upright. There aren't the usual gashes or streaks of blood, but it's intense, nonetheless. Surrounding the cross, in increasing darkness, there are people - most notable is a man helping to lift the wood in place. He's dressed in clothes that don't fit Bible times - he's got a blue beret, and it's easy to understand that it's a self-portrait. Rembrandt put himself at the scene of the cross as one of the very people who crucified Jesus. It's jarring, haunting, even disturbing, and I admit that I wondered if I was introducing something too intense to my little girl.

There's another dominant figure in the painting - though not as significant as Christ and the self-portrait of Rembrandt. It's a man on a horse - like a centurion - looking official and noble. He's looking directly at the viewer - which is very different, even troubling - and his hand is outstretched. He's got something in his hand - and it appears to be a sword. But - the sword is held backwards - he's extending it hilt side out - so that you, the viewer, would grab it as if to use it yourself. Rembrandt seems to be saying, "I was there, I'm the reason Christ died, my sin is what crucified him - and now take the sword because you're a part of it, too."

Several days after this Picture Study moment, Bethany asked if she could paint. I always felt reluctant to get out the paints - it seemed as though I'd set up the easel in the kitchen, find the paints and brushes, spread newspaper on the floor, and her art time would take less than the time it took me to put it up and clean it afterwards. But that day I didn't make an excuse or try to distract her, and instead I found something else to do (no doubt something I thought was so vital at the time, but probably was very insignificant) while she fussed with her own art time. 

After a little while, I saw her painting. On her own, with garish, bold colors and with stick figures, she painted a kind of narration of Rembrandt's Raising of the Cross. There was Christ, hanging on the tree, and beside him was a little girl, her long yellow braids evident, holding her own sword, with a tearful face. 

The 27-year-old Dutch master had spoken across three hundred and fifty years to help my little girl see her part in Christ's death on the cross. There is no junior Holy Spirit. God speaks to children, too - and uses means we often think are too hard, too difficult, too complicated. 

I've never forgotten that - and the power of the truth of Good Friday. I have sometimes struggled with Good Friday services that focus on intense medical analyses of the torture Christ suffered - but I know I need to hear it. So I sit through whatever is presented, whether the details of the crucifixion, a dramatic or choral portrayal (grateful - or wishing - I was in it), or even an afternoon of the seven last words from the cross (like when I was a kid) - to remember that this is what Jesus did for me. I was there, because I was on His mind. It's all for me

I know it from the Gospels, from Rembrandt, and I know it from my own child.