Monday, March 30, 2009

A Reflection on the Pageant of Easter

An open letter to anyone who has known me in the past: I present to you an historical inquest into the painting, A White Crucifixion, which was composed by the 20th century Jewish Russian/Belarusian painter Marc Chagall. The subject matter of this piece of historical interpretation of mine must be read with the painting, so look closely at it, for it concerns the age old Easter tradition of venting Lenten anger upon the hapless Jews imbedded in an otherwise Christian society throughout relatively recent history, the past 2000 or so years. This exploration I do, in remembrance of me, and of course the image from which I am building a framework to express something about the past- convey a single thought, a single snap shot of human existence- a picture on a single frame of a film reel frozen to a dull dusty haze.

On a Wintry Easter Massacre: Autocannibalistic Ideology

A cold tundra scene, you can almost see the scent of spring hiding in the colourless backdrop of this painting. It is in the brightness of the snow and darkness of the clouds. A new spring comes after the darkest winter. In this scene, instead of rejoicing with one another over the renewal of their nation, Passover, the poor Jewish villagers of the eastern European Shtetle are fleeing once again from a crowd of angry, red-flag waving Christians who are as excited about the solemnity of their most holy of days as they are about the drunken Jew-killing that it entails, and a day off work to boot, pogrom. These black-garbed followers of this supposed Christ charge from Yiddish household to Hebrew houshold painting the door frames with the red blood of innocence.

At the shadowy top-centre of the painting, the shocked-aghast faces of women and men, rabbis and laypeople are half covered with frightened hands as they run for safety to their Elder, to ask him to explain the grim scene they find themselves within. A Moses to whom they can grumble to as he stutters out instructions on how to live in this mess of grim life. The Mishnah to the Torah, ‘yes, but? Does it not also say?’ Hovering above the theatre of the past and present pantomimes of political interaction, the Elder, with outstretched hand to all the surrounding horrors, beckons his people to listen and listen well to the truth being whispered by a history – a vision of the past- that most people cannot see, blinded as they are by glittery idolatry. We see a backdrop of synagogues burning, houses in flames, a group praying in front of their massacred lives and communites. A dead body swirls among jetsam’d belongings and objects of adoration. Those who hope for survival are cast adrift upon a sail-less ship, futilely reaching with a single oar into the unresponsive black depths of an ocean too great for even their old god to part, make recede, so that they might one day be free. They will stumble blindly in this desert of snow and ice and mud, but will come out into the Promised Land strong, perhaps, not the ones who received the promise, no! but eventually. A bright beam also guides the boat on and up. Moses gazing into the land that he will never attain for himself, but for the next generation. Always chacing an elusive desire. A tragic race indeed.

Amidst all this chaos and loss of physical strife we see a man caught in a celestial stance- transcendent, hung out to dry, the saddest Jewish man, his tale blown into our ears by harsh Golgothic winds. From where? God? Our own rushing ears? This rushing torrent of a story isn’t coming from the little insignificant black leather-bound book at the foot of the page, but from a luminous scroll, a roll of ideas and symbols, sung before the people by the people, not muddled around in stuffy air-tight heads. The story that comes from this text first comes in the form of a ladder, Jacob’s ladder, reaching up towards heaven, always, perpetually, lost, fighting himself in the desert. But it isn’t Jacob we see, it is Jesus, another young Semite who wrestled with himself in the desert, and where did his struggling get him? Enraptured in the mind for the exquisite pain of the flesh, suspended from a ray of light from heaven, held aloft by a tree, grounded in the sky and in the earth, A White Crucifixion. And what is this image, this story told by unfurled scroll, what is it trying to convey? Why! That these stories are one in the same, that they aren’t real events, but mythical retellings of a particular aspect of the human mind as it develops its way through life towards the grave. A very mutable and rich symbol indeed, its repetition throughout pictorial representation and literature and music for many thousands of years is astounding. In the face of the figure upon the cross you can see your own face, just as you can see it in the flames of the Menorah which tells the same story, of redemption through destruction, of what? of something beautiful perhaps? Elegy? Oil cisterns ever being filled and emptied as if by a magical hand, keeping a flame alive though it wax and wane, continually providing bread to ever empty stomachs, sustaining life, by embracing transience. You see your face in the Menorah's multiple tongues of fire just as millions of Jews have for centuries done while gazing into the gaping flames of their burning homes and bodies, Abraham gazing at the stars with god as the ashes of Auschwitz collect like a vast multitude of sand grains at their feet. They look on with dejected terror as their tradition’s lustfully power grabbing spawn, Christianity, continues to miss the point that it itself exclaims with such intensity and lunacy, by ironically rejecting and destroying the very basis upon which their rhetoric is precariously perched! An autocannibalistic ideology!

Christian society is a lame hypocrisy to the ones that existed before it and from whence it sprang. The ever branching sect of Christianity has imbedded its underlying assumptions into humanity by its diffusion and dominion into such a hodgepodge of differing peoples and cultures and philosophies and religions that were then jammed together to service a Catholic, i.e. universal, farce of an over-conflated myth, confusing itself with historical fact, the sort of formlessly solid historical facts which are empty and devoid of motion, no chance for historical interpretation for they are but children’s puzzle of knowledge- static truth, being without time, crippled dialectical thinking for its perpetual spinning around the faulty fulcrom of the cross. This is not directed purely at religious Christians either, the Secular West and especially the so called wisenshaft, i.e. body of knowledge, of Science that claims to possess the ability to save the world in a far more spectacular way than the old religious-like Kirk, that is by creating synthetic life and also being willing to annihilate all life on earth by a hotter fire than one ever fanned into flame before. This body of knowledge is propped on the same clay foundations of thought as any Kirk in the world, affected by the same missionary zeal. That is, 'WE have the key to Knowledge!" Why not legalize abortion, we were already ready to nuke ourselves to smithereens a couple decades ago, and we still could? Our society as a whole autocannibalistic, my one remaining question to our politicians is whether we will cook ourselves before we really begin to dig our teeth into our own flesh. The question still remains, though, as to whether we as human will find a way out of our current human mess, but our cultural and social and spiritual catatonia has pushed man to the brink of a deep chasm blowing with winds which whisper threats of utter annihilation to those who are listening to the sadness of our time. A far sadder prospect still is of course the opposite fear, that this world of turmoil and strife will never end. I hear this more often than not as the rain rattles against the wide open face of my bedroom window and streaks its way down onto the rose bushes that grow underneath.

I cry out in exasperation amid all this, speaking as the still narrating old Moses who explicates the same scene as I am herein attempting to do, “Yeshua was a man, but the Christ is not.” The Christ is not a physical body, except in that it is all bodies! "Take this and eat, this is my body,” he said. We digest bread; it becomes a part of us. The Christ is an idea- not the only one mind you- to be imbibed, a holy Eucharist, Emmanuel, Christ within us. i stress the point though that this is just a simple idea, one particular mythology. Yet, Christianity continues to drag the memory of this fellow Yeshua before the same bloody cross every year, heaving and pulling their own sense of guilt before a trial in their minds, hoping that they might purge those aspects of themselves that they cannot accept or deal with. Cursing and stomping on those that are other than them, confusing object with subject. A trapped mindset that cannot cope with things such as the continuation of the Jewish faith even though Their Prophecies were supposedly fulfilled in a spooky incarnation, a weak phenomenology to be sure. Weak in comparison to the sort of understanding one could garner from gazing into this painting of Marc Chagall’s, another struggling Jewish artist that hasn’t forgotten the riddle of the tradition- fighting in the sand, the same riddle known by the sadly historically puppeted fellow from 2000 years ago in Palestine/former Israel/former desert with only lizards and whatnot- if you go far enough back with all this territorial bickering. This unemployed Jewish carpenter who couldn’t hack it in the wood business and decided to ask a few questions of everyone and ended up having a wild tale told about him while his real life has floated away with his disintegrated skull which is as part of all of us as everything else that has rotted and reverted back to the cycle of carbon. Including the bread of the Lord's Supper. We’re all worms’ feed, or is it star dust, like Hyperion’s brow? A well soliloquised question indeed. I need not get into it.

Poor Old Yeshua, he painted a picture with his life and somehow made a lot of people do a lot of really crazy things, Re: the past 1, 976 years of historical cycling, because they thought that how he lived his life and what he said was so amazing. His illiteracy; however, enslaves him to the tides of history- his being trapped and rent to shreds in the hearts and minds, brushes and pens of many billions of people who had never looked in his eyes while having a conversation about the price of fish with him, simple mundane things. A shaky handed carpenter who couldn’t ever grip anyone else’ because his were always covered in glue and sawdust and rusty blood soldered cuts. Despite his dedication to his craft he would never be understood- he carved wood, and no one could see the shapes he was constructing, so he tried to tell them with words...or so they say, perhaps the words left kicking around are not the ones spoken by him at all. Chagall may have known the same trick of getting his perspective and tone of life noticed that this Jesus fellow may have known. The rapture evoked from his painting leads me to believe that he did- know the song and dance of the fact that the kingdom is actually here, life is here, in the physical world, not in some shiny hall of heroes upon our death. “Everything the same as before, just, You Know, Brighter! Bigger!” – what a return to infancy this dream of heaven be! Those who miss This point certainly will be consumed by flames when they die, they will burn with the same agonizing intensity as their own hate for heresy lodged in the flesh of others does. Intently staring at the specks in the eyes of others, not seeing the ocean of themselves for all their fervour, “many will say ‘Lord, Lord!’ but few will enter the kingdom.” Just as they scorch the skin of those who refuse to bend to the might of their institutionalized insanity, so will they receive their reward in full.

Church buildings are naught but padded ideological rooms to guard the evangelical fervour from bursting forth with dogmatism so violent that it causes people to even kill those who do not conform. This is not to say that this is the only characterization of the church there is to make, or western Christian influenced society at large, but at its core, this is the disposition it holds and enacts towards anything different than the particular brand of groupthink in the particular congregation. Ideology is violent. Those who are not crushed or burned by the forcefulness of dogmatism upon their personal contours are forced to pick up their bagged belongings, vestments and holy books and run, run as fast and as far as their shaken legs can take them- like the figures who in the bottom of the scene issue away from the centre of the painting, that is, a twisted Jesus adorned in prayer shawl and phylacteries of blazing Hebrew script, crucified by the ones who claim to be his first love, not the Jews, but the Christians. Jesus himself no longer a Christian icon but a Jewish symbol of grief and irony. Laminations and Ecclesiastes! His body a letter of Hebrew script spilled from the Torah upon whose path a heavy ledan snow traveller also travials.

Marc Chagall begs the question, if you love him then why do you nail in that spike instead of carrying the cross up the hill? Simon from the countryside, a mysterious interaction of empathy enacted within the throng of eager crucifixion spectators, to watch a death that was not their own. Likewise, my question on this Easter of 2009 is whether people will continue their futile pew sitting, guilt ridden, sobbing ceremony of a poor historical and metaphysical interpretation of a powerful myth that could be used for so much more positive a function in society, or perhaps try to think of it all in a very different sense? If we got out of the crowd and onto the cross. Will you sit in your pews, heavy feet crushing a road of roses, and burn the synagogues of the past, trample the Torah scrolls of understanding and laugh with smug assurance that you own in your mind and soul and body the image or memory of a man who you believe died for you? but did not, he died merely for himself! Your attending the execution does not make you the poor shlob on the gibbet. You have to die for yourself. No one can do it for you.

Thus spoke the Jewish Elder to his frozen congregation as they will eventually be overtaken by red-flag waving. This also say I unto you. This has been an exercise of historical inquest. Explicitly stated intuitive impressions of connections or points of contact in meaning between historical voices through the medium of words, that of the subject or voice grappling with something other than itself and that of the object or image being read and grappled with. This is dialectics. I wonder how others will read my work of historical art? The dialectic must continue.