My former colleague and Professor of New Testament at RTS Orlando, Reggie Kidd, introduced me to the work of Georges Rouault when I was his student in the mid-90’s. Rouault may be the finest religious artist of the 20th century, portraying the sufferings of Christ for people like you and me – posers and pretenders who “believe ourselves kings” (see the image below). Rouault’s context was war-torn Europe in the early 20th century, but his images transcend place and time, connecting us back to reality when our tendency is to sanitize the pain of the world. Lent, of course, brings us back to this reality, inviting Christians to consider what Jung called the “shadow self,” our darker nature. Another one of Rouault’s images is that of a masked circus clown as he asks, “Do we not all wear masks?” Lent invites us to look behind the mask, and to consider our humanity – the ways in which we hide, the insecurities we fail to voice, the secrets that don’t get told. Rouault’s images of the suffering Christ, however, remind us that God knows our human plight, and enters into it unreservedly in order to redeem it. Somehow through the darkness of Lent, we see Easter approaching from the distance like a Father to a prodigal. Its light reminds us that our secrets need not be hid forever. Its hope is that though we go about clowning around with our masks, believing ourselves to be kings, it’s safe to come out and show our true selves, because Jesus has walked the way before us. The journey of Lent, therefore, is a journey toward honesty, toward a recognition of the silly games we play and the tiny kingdoms we build. If for no other reason, glancing again at Rouault’s works remind me of the futility of playing god, and invite me to take myself a little less seriously…relaxing into the limitless grace and boundless Kingdom of Jesus.
Published by Chuck DeGroat
Chuck is Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality at Western Theological Seminary, Holland MI, and Senior Fellow at Newbigin House of Studies, San Francisco. View all posts by Chuck DeGroat