The Emily N. And Merle J. Trees Memorial Gallery is fairly crowded.
People are milling about me as I gaze upon one of the most stunning paintings I've ever had the opportunity to behold in the flesh.
Francisco de Zurburan's "The Crucifixion of Christ" in the Art Institute of Chicago.
It's practically a miracle of painting in itself ... Christ depicted on the cross against a jet black background, arms outstretched and nails holding his palms against the rugged wood while his feet are joined with nails holding them in place at the bottom. White terry cloth material covers his waist and while Zurburan's creates this exquisite light that shines across the length of his body. His face is cast downward and the expression is blank yet anointed. I'm almost getting a feeling of completeness ... as if Christ himself and Zurburan are saying, "Mission accomplished."
The frame of the masterpiece is encrusted, wooden, old and baroque-like.
And so, here I sit, admiring and almost worshipping as the cavernous rooms carry echoes of museum-visiting voices and footsteps that are marching to and fro, here and there, hither and yon.
Yes, people are stopping to pay seconds of perhaps tribute to what I'm gazing upon, but only seconds. They've got plenty to see. The distractions are overwhelming just as they are in the world beyond these walls.
I can only wonder what it might have been like for young Francisco to paint this thing of beauty. Did he ever drink of the blood or eat of the body? Did such a meal lead to the creation that I'm witnessing? It seems unlikely that he would not have forged a relationship with Christ after creating this exquisite work of art.
As people mill about, I feel the utter aloneness of Christ in that moment and in this one. It's a lonely thing to know who you are, why you're here and what you've been put on this earth to do.
It would be so easy to get up and give in to the distractions, but I've come here specifically for this moment. Is it possible to be in communion with Christ through a painting?
I can certainly appreciate what Zurburan set out to do. He's speaking to me loud and clear through this ... his replication of the tragedy and triumph of Christ who redeems us all … if we choose Him.
I've take communion dozens of times in my life, but this time seems most real. It's a sublime moment of serenity encased by the reality of this contemporary day.
The elderly woman sitting next to me is busily and noisily unwrapping her cellophane covered candy, several other people near me are holding “your guide” recorders to their ears with the sounds spilling out for me to detect and yes, my cellphone just rang. Wrong number. It was a woman looking for Catherine. No Catherine here. Only Christ before me to behold.
This is how communion works. It's always a choice, but not without challenge or distraction. Still, I had my moment with divinity and certainly humanity here. It required stillness and acceptance. And then, I felt His grace unfold.
With that, I depart. I desperately want to take this painting with me. No one here at this moment understands it like I do, but it’s better that it’s here for everyone who feels His call.
As I look up, I realize it’s all in the eyes of those who choose to see. Precious time with Francisco, Christ and me …
It’s called, “Communion.” That’s how it should be.
"The Crucifixion of Christ" Francisco de Zurbaran - Art Institute of Chicago
Imitation of Christ