Gifts, we have gifts, we ALL have gifts. I bet you have heard that one and might have said to yourself: “I haven’t got a single gift.” I speculate that we have all done or said that at least once in our lifetime. Just because we think it true, though, does not always make something a reality. We all have gifts!
“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (I Peter 4:10)
You see, gifts are part of God’s plan, they are His tools for the evangelization of the world. You have gifts. If you are still looking, it’s O.K. Look forward to your joy when you unwrap the present.
On to darkness. On the feast of the Annunciation a friend posted a great piece of art by the painter Caravaggio. It reminded me of how much I love Caravaggio. If you have never really studied art you are probably not familiar with him. If you know even a slight bit about Renaissance art, though, you know that he was a more than competent late contemporary of Michelangelo and painting in the same space, Renaissance Rome. As I perused her post (The Annunciation by Caravaggio) I took in all of the lush details that make me so fond of his work. He paints “real” people, normal, not idealized figures, rumpled clothes, dirty hands, imperfect skin, sweat, real animals, true colors.
The picture that made me fall in love with him, I first viewed in Rome. It was the Madonna dei Pellegrini in the Church of St. Augustine. The Madonna of the Pilgrims is a huge painting, the details jump off the canvas even after six-hundred years. The kneeling pilgrim is dirty, grubby, obviously poor but the Madonna’s gaze on him is serene, respectful. The image is so defined that you can almost touch the bottom of his grubby unshod feet with all their filth. That’s the part of the paining that caused such scandal that is was almost never hung in the Cavalletti Chapel. His finished piece was considered too insulting to the courtly family that commissioned the painting. He dared to show the ordinary, poor, unshod, adoring the virgin and not those who were more like the people paying the bill. That Caravaggio, his specialty was painting it “like it is” in a raw depiction of real life. He was blatantly out of the norm just like the way he lived his life, gifts and all.
Even at best, Caravaggio is a confusion of curiosities. His gift was elegant and skilled in a way that no artist had ever displayed before. He was as good as Michelangelo but more self-destructive. Caravaggio was extreme. His models came from the common folk. After he arrived in Rome around the age of twenty he was constantly involved in civil actions according to record. It seems he had a fondness for walking around Rome wearing a sword despite the fact that Roman law forbade it. In a fit of temper he later murdered a man over the results of a tennis game. He was then on the run for several years until he died.
But his gift far eclipses the negative. In a closer look, thought, we can see some things that raise the question of what gift is about for any of us. After he became famous his commissions exclusively involved work for the Church ; altar pieces, chapel pieces, religious commissions. We can see those in Rome and the great museums of the world. The details are always lush and jumping off the canvas prompting us to think in a new way: The Conversion of St. Paul, The Calling of St. Matthew, The Madonna dei Pellegrini, St. Mathew and the Angel, Judith Beheading Holofernes, St. John the Baptist, the Death of the Virgin and many more. There is one additional thing, though, despite the miracle of talent displayed in each one. It struck me as I reviewed the Annunciation. No matter the subject each piece of his shows a prominent background that is very dark, usually black. Not just a dab of black, but a substantial portion of the painting is always prominently black. Even with the elegant images at the fore there’s always that black.
How is it possible to be “the one” to create images that change the world and the Church with your own two hands and still be surrounded by all that darkness? Andrew Graham-Dixon one of his biographers says this:
“He had this terribly, terribly difficult life. He was a troubled man. He was a violent man. He had a sense of abandonment that I think went with him wherever he went. I think he has problems in his relationship with God . . . he paints on the edge of doubt.”
So what is the truth about “gift”. Gift is a tool, it is not meant to set you apart and declare you or I as better than others. Gift is to be used and the more it is used the more it multiplies. Just because you have a wounded/dark past or present does not excuse you from using your gift. When you are sure that you are surrounded by darkness it does not mean that your gift has disappeared or was never there in the first place. Your gift is not for you, it is for creation. God wants it used that way. Even if you are teetering on the “cliff” of doubt!
“Take up thy [gift] the savior said,
If thou would my disciple be …..”
Copyright© 2017, Kathryn M. Cunningham