Michael Dodd was kind enough to provide the following devotional today. I was so glad that Michael agreed to send a devotional which comes from a book of devotionals that he wrote. Michael always provides the perfect words for encouragement, and I always value his advice tremendously. When Michael sent this devotional, he wrote “Attached is an excerpt from my book for your consideration. This passage refers to a drawing of Christ crucified done by St. John of the Cross [left], later made much more famous by the Salvador Dali painting it inspired [right].” When he sent this, he also said that he “realize[d] that this passage may hit very close to the bone for you at the moment and might not be one you want to use.” Here is what Michael sent me:
In his profound teaching on the experience that has come to be called the dark night of the soul, John of the Cross helps the person experiencing spiritual dryness see the experience from a different perspective. He helps me see that God has not abandoned me, despite my feelings or my confusion, but that God is perhaps being present to me in a new way. This may be unfamiliar to me and seem to be regression, whereas, properly understood, it is in fact a sign of spiritual progress. It is a matter of changing my perspective so that I begin to see things from God’s point of view.
A wonderful example of this can be seen in a famous painting of Salvador Dali, based on a drawing of the crucified Christ by John of the Cross. The original drawing, preserved in the museum at the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, intrigues the viewer because of the angle from which it is drawn. Most familiar views of the crucifixion are head-on or perhaps looking up at the figure of Jesus on the cross. John’s drawing looks at the body from the side and a bit from above. It is such an unusual angle that the viewer’s first impulse is to shift position or even to reach out and turn the drawing, trying to make it fit into the expected perspective. Dali’s beautiful painting emphasizes this view from above, so that one is looking down, as it were, from heaven on the scene of Christ’s death. At first, it may look like a bird’s-eye view, but then the thought come: It is perhaps a God’s-eye view.
If you read the accounts of the Passion in the four gospels, you cannot help being struck by the way the perspective in John differs from the perspective in the first three gospels. The story is the same, and we tend to merge details from each version into one continuous storyline in our imagination. Yet the Jesus in John seems to be moving in a different atmosphere than the same Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke. I would contend that it is not the story that is different, but the perspective. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story very much from the human point of view; John gives us a mystical glimpse into the same events with the eyes of God.
In the Dali painting, the bloody brutality that marks our ordinary perception of Calvary is missing, and instead there is an air of timelessness and even serenity. Instead of the walls of Jerusalem in the background, we see a boat beside a body of water, and nearby stands a figure in the uniform of the papal Swiss Guard. The mind is directed not to the past but to the future, to the action of God that will flow from this supreme act of love on the part of Jesus: the establishment of the church as the sacrament of his body and the instrument of the invitation to universal salvation.
When you and I stand on different sides of an image and look at it, we see the same object, but what we see is not the same. My view – and yours – is always partial. That is why we move around from side to side, walk around behind a statue or peer at a painting from different angles. Our view remains partial, but we seek to see more so that we may see more fully. We sometimes mistakenly think we have seen all there is to see. Dali’s painting, like the original drawing of John of the Cross, is a reminder that there is more.
Dryness, therefore, can call us to change our way of seeing things, our way of seeing the world and ourselves so as to open out hearts and minds up to what Jesus calls “God’s work.” Dryness, tragedy and sorrow can be seen as an opportunity for grace more than as a sign of divine anger.
I’m not sure Michael expected my response. I had been talking earlier with my friend John, who will most likely also be providing some devotionals until I can get back on a firmer spiritual footing. After reading the above devotional, a few things kind of clicked and I wrote Michael back saying: “It did hit close to home, but not in a bad way. John and I had a long discussion this afternoon about our relationship with God. He said that God is always with us, but sometimes he is silent and allows us to work through things on our own, especially when it is a time of great pain. We also discussed heaven. I was always taught that you did not enter heaven until the Day of Judgement, but he said that he’s always believed we go straight to heaven. He allowed me to realize…that for God, time is meaningless. So even if we do go to heaven on the Day of Judgement, time is meaningless once we are there, so those who have gone on before are able to enjoy the greatness of heaven and look down upon us even now before the Judgement because for them it has already happened. Maybe I’m making a stretch here, but when we look at things from God’s perspective as it is done in the two paintings and in the Gospel of John, then we can take greater comfort in the passing of loved ones. They are already in a better place.”
Michael Dodd has written and lectured about Carmelite spirituality and history for over twenty years. His work has appeared in publications in the United States, Europe and Africa. He is the author of The Dark Night Murders: A Fray John of the Cross Mystery and Jerome Gratian: Treatise on Melancholy. The above devotional is from his book Elijah and the Ravens of Carith: A Twenty-First Century Reflection in a Medieval Carmelite Mode, which can be purchased on Amazon.com in paperback for $9.95.
By the way, Michael did not ask that I mention his books, but I think anyone who reads this blog and also reads the comments know that Michael is a very special person, wise beyond words, and we all love him.