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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The face of the Virgin Mary after attack in 1972


*** John 20:17, “Noli me tangere” (touch me not).

Another of my poems for lent.  The subject is Michelangelo’s Pieta, one of my favorite sculptures.  Unfortunately, after many assaults over the years one has to view this masterpiece from a distance and through protective glass (which may be the way we prefer to encounter Jesus).


The authorities in Rome
Erected a barrier of bullet-proof glass
Around Michelangelo’s Pieta
Still today some become so enraged
At this dead and pierced through little Jew
They try to smash him with hammers and bullets
Even as he lay in his mother’s arms
He can never be be dead enough
To please his enemies, and
Many of his friends

***  Lazlo Toth, a Hungarian living in Australia, is the name of the hammer wielding assailant who attacked the sculpture during Whitsunday Mass in 1972 while yelling out, "I am Jesus Christ risen from the dead.”  After several blows, Toth bashed off the Virgin's arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids.

His roommate in Rome, American Danny Bloom, said of him, “He didn't strike me as a Jesus Christ impersonator, and he never talked to me of such things. We spent much of our days drinking coffee, going to parties at night and drinking beer and wine, and Lazlo often played his guitar. He told me was from Hungary, that he was a geologist and that he had spent a long time out in the outback of Australia for his job.  He had a goatee, and he looked like a Hungarian poet. Nice guy. Longish hair, as was the style in those days, but not a hippy at all.  One thing I remember about Lazlo is that he always carried the Bible with him. We didn't talk about religion very much, other than as people often do, is there a God, what is the meaning of life, stuff like that, late at night, drinking wine at outdoor cafes in Trastevere. I liked him. He was friendly, intelligent, articulate.” 

Toth was apprehended and charged with crimes that would have brought a nine-year prison sentence, had he been convicted. In the end the court found him insane.  Italian psychiatrists claimed that Toth had the IQ of a genius.  His treatment included being subjected to 12 rounds of electro-shock treatment. After two years Toth was deported back to Australia.

*** Jesus:  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another”  (John 13:34).

These are some of the most distressing words Jesus ever spoke.  Because we just can’t do this thing, love as God loves (except, possibly, for Mother T and Dorothy D).  We can sell everything we own, we can turn the other cheek, we can hug lepers (or pay others to hug them for us) all of which may leave our egos in tact, but we can not love as God loves, and sometimes when I read this ‘commandment’ it makes me frustrated or depressed.  And sometimes a bit pissed off.  Maybe if Jesus would have put it like one of my other teachers, the highly esteemed Kabbalist Baal HaSulam:  “Love one another as much as you can, as much as you love yourselves. Sympathize with your friend’s adversity, and rejoice in his joy as much as you can” (Baal HaSulam, Pri Hacham, A Sage’s Fruit, Letters, p. 54.).  This is a challenging teaching form HaSulam, but it’s doable. If only Jesus would have been a bit more realistic about our capabilities and cut us some slack.  

‘Take up your own much as you can.’ 

But no.  Jesus sounds a bit like CIA chief Russell Crowe admonishing his agent Leonardo DiCaprio in the middle-east spy thriller “Body of Lies.”  DiCaprio seems to be losing focus on the big picture (securing the power of the american empire) and starts allowing his concern for actual human beings to compromise his mission (killing suspected ‘terrorists’ or whoever).  

DiCaprio:  When they find him, they are gonna torture him and they are gonna kill him.
Crowe:      You gotta decide which side of the cross you're on. I need nailers, not hangers.
DiCaprio:  Decision's already done. I'm bringing him in.
Crowe:      Ain't nobody innocent in this shit. Okay?

Nailers or hangers?  Surely there are more options available than that?

***  A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music. People crowd around the poet and say to him: "Sing for us soon again;" that is as much to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul.”  Kierkegaard (?).

Woman of Many Sorrows
Above is a simple, small (12" X 20") Icon of Mary Magdalene I call “The Woman of Many Sorrows,” that I just completed.  It depicts Mary as she weeps at the foot of the cross.  Below is perhaps my last lenten poem:

Noli Me Tangere

I.  Chorus of Women:  

From Eden to Gethsemane we have borne unjust shame
But this time there was no woman in the garden to blame
The serpent silently coiled around the minds of weaker men
The serpents enemies were Mary and Mary from Magdalene

II. Mary Magdalene:  

I had tarried on the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem
Got lost on the far side of the valley of tombs
When I was told, when I knew what I had always known
I ran the length from the gate of lions to the place of skulls
But when I found you, you were already spiked to the sky
Where were your brothers, uncles, and sons
Where were your two fathers?

Had I been there in the garden
I would not have slept
I would not have left you alone
I would not have ‘put up’ my sword
I would have destroyed the temple to save you
I would have screamed at those cowards and fools
I would have fought the emperor and his soldiers 
I would have blasphemed the fraudulent priests of Hashem
I would have torn down the city of Jerusalem stone by stone 
I would have rent the veil and left the sacred places desolate
I would have answered your prayers
I would have have held your bruised face in my hands
I would have wiped the blood and tears from your eyes
I would have given my life for you

But I was not there in the garden that night
There were no mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers,
There were no women in the garden that night

And still only the only doubters may touch you  


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