Monday, October 8, 2007
Anawim: The poor of the earth.
"Blessed are the poor: they shall inherit the earth" (Oil on canvas. Collection of the author.)
Other signs lie hidden in this picture. Of the two foreground trees, one shimmers with light, the other is forbiddingly dark, seemingly dead. More shaded – perhaps by the branches of the ‘tree of life’ - that dark side was where the shepherd chose to sit. Without trying to find allusion to the two trees of ancient mythic truth (which the Genesis story includes too), we do see here the juxtaposing of light and dark, life and death, good and evil, shadow and sun. As with all human experience, this shepherd’s world is encircled by the two invariably opposing poles within which human life is acted out. The tranquil pose of this aged pastoral figure suggests that such conflicting dualities had somehow been resolved within him. Life’s struggle may not be over, but he seems to affirm that for him the outcome is assured.
Is this a depiction of the shepherding Jesus-figure? Not directly. Yet, those awakened to the living Christ will not find such overt identifying entirely artificial. For some years this picture was in the living room of the late Constance Millington who, among other forms of ‘missioning’, was for several years Principal of an outstanding girls’ school in Bangalore. Later, having close links to the Delhi Brotherhood (originating from Cambridge) she wrote up the history of this remarkable movement in which the life of meditation and service to the poor are seamlessly joined. Constance used to claim that every day of the closing years of her life in the Cathedral Close in Canterbury, she was assured of the presence of the Good Shepherd when she looked at this South Indian rural scene.
We note that the shepherd sits between the two trees as if in a doorway leading through to the world beyond. His sheep seem to be an extension of his upper body, his heart and head. And, strangely, the fields beyond have no limiting horizon, no skyline setting as it were a boundary to earth’s life. Far from meaning there is therefore no hope of heaven, we can see the gentle shepherd himself as embodying that hope of a future transfiguring glory. The fires of earth’s unjust ways are quenched in the pastoral constancy and care of this unassuming Shepherd.