Yesterday I was wandering around L’viv, Ukraine and making the rounds of some of the historic churches here. Sometimes when I walk into a church I feel incredibly liberated, uplifted. It’s not easy to explain or understand exactly why, but it certainly happens. Today when walking through these churches I felt exhausted, down, sullened. As I felt into that feeling and looked around, I realized that all of the Jesus art, and Mary, and saints, and angels, etc., all looked tired, dejected, heavy, burdened. Not one of them had even a hint of a smile. It was really tiring being in these places. They felt like places of grieving, of suffering. It got me to thinking…… why isn’t Jesus ever portrayed as joyful? And I’m not just talking about in Russian churches, but have you ever seen an image of Jesus where he was truly Joyful? He’e generally either dying on the cross or somber. At the best, he’s serene. But Joyful…..? I think never.
And to me that is very strange. Having been rather Joyful lately, it’s hard to conceive that if I had God as my father that I wouldn’t have the capacity for vibrant Joy, ecstatic Joy, illuminating Joy. I know what a joyful face looks like. Here’s another look at me experiencing ravaging Joy.
So what’s going on here? Why isn’t Jesus ever expressing some form of life-brimming Joy? I imagine it would have something to do with the people who paint or portray him through art. Maybe it’s a reflection of the time the art was created, but have we always been so morose that we need a sullen (or again at best serene) savior?
A few weeks back, I went to a museum while in Budapest and it was thoroughly depressing. There must have been 100 Jesuses on the cross with about 25 of them having roman soldiers spearing his side. There were also perhaps 7 St. John’s heads on platters, and various other Saints in their own gruesome slide toward martyrdom. Thoroughly exhausting and depressing.
Tonight I ended up in a club underneath the opera house here and was turned down in asking someone to dance, so I just danced freely on my own. It was a Balkan dance mix and it was grooving and wonderful. I felt free and Joyful dancing. Did Jesus have the capacity for dancing with Abandon? Joyful abandon? Again, I would certainly expect that any full-on son of God would be so full of Joy from knowing and being the ultimate truth, but apparently I would be wrong, or so the classical painters and sculptors would have me believe. I like to think he’d be dancing on tables or floating in the air doing a manic Cossack dance balancing a frothing glass of Ukrainian Beer on his chin, daring us all to be as Joyful and Celebratory as he.