Jesus may be dead, but His Spirit abounds with us and in us. His teachings become revelations and paradigms for humans to orient their lives and passions. The pandemic and the news are forcing humanity to give ourselves to change and transformation. It is not comfortable, clear or easy for us to change. Looking into the icon, the spirit of death can not contain and the story is not over. Surrender is the answer. Give up your life as you know it and give your soul back to God, the creator. Is Jesus dead in the Icons of the Lamentation, or does the situation remind that us our lives are temporary and spirit is eternal?
Icons of the Lamentation
Jesus has risen from the dead, leaving only His grave clothes behind. Three faithful women stand looking into the coffin. If you have ever looked into a coffin, I suggest you do it. The women are not afraid of what they might see or understand! Two angels are flanking the coffin. They sit on lopsided cosmic orbs, each perched on their own cosmic domain. I painted the icon in response to the US involving itself with war and destruction against the middle east and Muslim population after 911. The aggression and verbal rhetoric deeply troubled me. Painting this icon image was therapy. The composition illustrated clearly there are many perspectives and deductions humans make about one specific event. Death is a consequence of change, sometimes unavoidable and sometimes not.
This icon of lamentation was difficult to paint. I have known plenty of death, dead parents at 12, and losing two siblings. War and aggression was all over the news, in the icon the folded cloth was all that remained from the life of a brilliant teacher. At some point I heard the words: I AM “beyond flesh and spirit”. I used those words as the title.
We are Mystery; we have come from and go to Mystery.
The grave cloth that remains is inefficient evidence after the monumental life of Jesus. Jesus tried to get us to understand the impermanence of one’s life verses eternal love. Spirit is eternal, our bodies and all we create is not. I wanted the violence to stop and let peace prevail. But in God’s plan perhaps there is room for violence. What we leave after one life is a folded cloth. Humanity loves the lies it believes and creates for our own preservation. We cannot tolerate our mortality and invent ways to think of ourselves as immortal. We take nothing with us at the moment of death, regardless of its beauty or hideousness. It became clear: this is not my world; I do not own it or sustain it.
It must have perplexed these three women to look and not find the lifeless body of their teacher. They do not turn away; they come in service and peace. The angels attend them by pointing to the empty coffin. I could feel myself looking intently toward folded cloths and thinking, I will not turn away, I will stand here in peace. Rule # 9 for iconographers; never forget the joy of painting the divine image.
Jesus is Dead
The second icon of lamentation has six figures and no angels to help them figure out what has happened. It looks like Jesus is dead, wrapped up like a mummy. The icon’s composition illustrates the moment of entombment, it filled the witnesses lamenting with grief. Mother Mary reaches out to touch her son’s cheek and places hers against him. The only other time you see them cheek to cheek is at His birth. Jesus and Mary distort time and space with this incredibly tender archetypal moment between mother and child. The moment highlights the tender and extravagant love all humans feel at birth and death. Icons remind us of being fully human without logic or words. The viewer immediately grabs the essence, and then, looking into the icon, comprehends the details within the narrative.
When the palms are exposed to the viewer, it shows a state of prayer and surrender. Mary Magdalene raises her hands and turns her palms to the viewer. I was recently talking with a friend about her dead father. She said his death pulled up the same feelings she had about a twin brother and five years ago the death of her husband. She asked why do we have to keep feeling such grief? I said till it becomes sweet enough to learn from. Grief can release some of the deepest love our souls can experience. The depth and intensity of loss is there for a lifetime. It forces us to surrender to unexpected emotions, unfinished business, and unspoken questions. In this icon of the Lamentation, emotions are raw. Anyone can relate to someone dying.
Is Jesus dead?
After two thousand years thinking Jesus is dead is no less sorrowful. Death is the greatest testament of love. There are never enough years to love someone or be loved by them. However, the quality of that love never gets diminished by time. So, love with abandon, it will end one day and something other will take its place. Peace be with you.
For more information about Mary Jane Miller’s meditations in Mexico and her wonderful ministry, visit San Miguel icons. F ind out about her books on lulu. You can follow Mary Jane on Facebook. Mary Jane’s workshops have been suspended due to Covid. Stay tuned at Sacred Icon Retreats. I am offering Thursdays in the studio again.