Monday, October 8, 2007
"Unless the seed dies"
b. SEED: (Oil on Canvas. Part of the series on the Sermon on the Mount.1985. In the collection of the Missions Prokura sj Nurenbeberg.)
John’s gospel likens Jesus to a seed. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains…. But if it dies, it bears a rich harvest. Who loves himself is lost’ (John 12:24). Seeds thrown to the ground would seem doomed to die and rot where they fall. The very opposite is what actually happens. Enfolded in earth that is enlivened by moisture and sun’s rays, an amazing rebirth into new life takes place. The seed breaks out from the dark soil. It bursts into bud and leaf, dancing its way upwards to the light, until eventually there is blossom and fruit. Earth’s seasonal resurrection anticipates Easter glory.
The limbs of Jesus here have a sinuous strength; grounded on one foot, the toes of which still pierce the earth like a root’s tendrils. The left foot and arms are raised like a dancer’s, with the hands and face lifted up to the light in adoration - in rapturous anticipation too of the transfigured life already emerging.
Here again, then, we have a dancing figure. There are suggestions of the Indian ‘Lord of Dance’ (Nataraj: note the crescent moon, another symbol linked with the most famous dancing God). The dancing movements of nature are most clearly replicated in South India’s Mohini Atam dance-form, much of which directly mirrors the movements of trees and other natural phenomena. Mohini Atam is closer to original folk-forms of dance than most other classical styles.
Finally, we should note the Mandorla shape of the Jesus-figure, the Seed and its sprouting; in other pictures later too: the Resurrected Lord for instance. This shape, with its intersecting of circles, sometimes may point to the eye, and may be fish-related too (‘Fish-eye’ is the name of an important female deity in South India) as well as pointing to female sexuality and so to the creative life-force. It even - as Jyoti puts it - represents the ‘interpenetration of heaven and earth, spirit and matter’. The Mandorla and its correlates are all potent images in Indian culture at different times and contexts.
Jyoti also refers to this special shape in Byzantine and Russian icons:
It encloses the figure of Christ in glory…(being) a narrow gap in the fabric of this world, through which the Saviour is emerging, and behind him is the light of eternity. Most frequently, it is the Christ of the Transfiguration who is so framed, but sometimes it is the Pantocrator, or the Risen Christ’ (The Child & the Serpent, p. 209)