It’s Wednesday, and time again for Art and Theology! Today’s submission comes from our familiar contributor, Rosanna Cartwright. If you’d like to submit artwork of your own, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll use it!
Rosanna explained this sketch as a response to the stimulus of the world, having overwhelming empathy for the trials people are undergoing. I think many of us experience this. We want badly for things to be OK. We don’t know how to start.
We should all take steps towards our goals; inaction is never the answer! However, when those overwhelming moments come, expressing our frustration and helplessness helps.
Here’s Rosanna’s depiction:
The first thing I notice about the central figure is that his face is hard to pin down. It appears to be a man. At first glance, you think you know him. But when you stop and really look at him, it’s difficult to tell for sure whether he’s old or young, or of a particular ethnicity. Markers are there, of course. It’s impossible to draw an all-encompassing face. But there’s enough room for interpretation that you can’t be 100% sure who he is. It could be almost anybody.
This is consistent with the message in the rest of the piece. “We all suffer” rises prominently from the bottom of the page. This is one of the bedrock things that unites us as human beings. None of our lives are perfect. We struggle.
Yet right by the prone figure at the bottom, the one dwarfed by suffering, is the word “compassion”, quietly underlying the scene. It’s not as prominent as the declaration of suffering, but it also provides a foundation, growing alongside as we scroll upward.
Next we meet our main figure, hands held aloft in a twin gesture: pleading to the heavens, also outreached towards us. Pain and companionship appear to mingle…an important assertion in a culture where we tend to avoid pain and isolate those who experience it.
Behind the main figure, in the middle section, we see a person walking, a person searching, a person bent over, seemingly unable to go further. A proclamation spills out: we are one in Christ. We’re not free to focus just on the man in the middle. Even the central figure himself isn’t doing that! Like him, we feel compelled to ask why and to reach out to the people we see in front of us.
Rising further, we find two new commands: spread justice and share hope. In the midst of hurt and confusion, we’re supposed to work to make things better. Even when we can’t find the way forward, we’re not to lose hope. So many people try to find the reason for suffering. That’s not what we’re invited to focus on. Rather we’re called to find the reasons to be together and work for goodness in the midst of suffering.
Finally we reach the top, where we see the words, “When one suffers…” This completes the loop, pulling us into the verse from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12. Though we started with the idea of suffering, we realize it wasn’t by, or for, itself. It isn’t measured by the individual either. If anyone in our community suffers, we all suffer together. We’re not free to abandon each other, retreating into castles of false safety. At one time or another, each one of us has been every figure in this sketch. We remember that and we assure each other that, even if we can’t stop suffering with a wave of our hand, nobody is alone.
If we could absorb this sketch into our daily lives, how much more peaceful and loving the world would be. Our fear would be less, our joy more. Suffering isn’t mean to last forever; love is.
Thank you to Rosanna for sharing this sketch! You can find her at www.facebook.com/rosanna.cartwright.3. Come back and join us next week for more Art and Theology!