When Bella was quite little she made a series of pictures of Jesus in the tomb and of the crucifixion. (I wrote about it previously here.)
The first was painted when she was maybe four or five? We didn’t caption it at the time she painted it; but I remember that she went back through them some time later, asking me to write in titles for all the pictures in her sketchbook. And when we got to a painting of two green parallel lines she had me write: “Lines for the tomb.” Her first attempt to illustrate a story of any kind, and it was the empty tomb.
About that time she revisited the theme and again drew two parallel lines, but this time with a stick figure between them. Jesus in the tomb. Then she seemed to graduate to drawing crucifixion scenes. Jesus dripping blood, Mary and John at the foot of the cross, the soldier piercing his side with the lance.
And then Bella and Sophie used to play a game about being “in the tomb with Jesus”. They’d giggle and chant, “I’m in the tomb with Jesus. I’m in the tomb with Jesus.” They’d begin at the step stool in the kitchen where Pilate would sit in judgment and condemn Jesus to death. From there they would run to a crucifix to witness the crucifixion and his death, then to the “tomb”, the space underneath the prie-dieu where they would chant about being in the tomb, and from there to a picture of the resurrection by Fra Angelico. And Bella would narrate the whole story, the condemnation, death, burial, and resurrection, gleaned from hearing the Bible stories repeatedly (she’d make my dad read her the children’s Bible from cover to cover every time he came. It was a child-made version of the stations of the cross, spontaneous and from the heart. But the most dramatic part to me was always her being in the tomb with Jesus.
I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit this week. I found a couple old blog posts where I wrote about Bella’s art and the game and I reread them, relishing the way she just absorbed those stories and then lived them, and passed them on. I’ve always been in awe of how close she is to Jesus, since she was a toddler.
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And then several of my friends have shared a story about an image of Jesus based on mathematical modeling of the Shroud of Turin made by Italian sculptor, Sergio Rodella.
This sculpture of Jesus is different from the bronze image in Jerusalem that I was struck by some years ago when I saw pictures of it from our friend George who accompanied Cardinal Sean on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But it is based on the same measurements and computer modeling done by professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua and other scientists. (I previously used a photo of that statue in this blog post.) The bronze sculpture is by Luigi Mattei and I think is even more beautiful than Rodella’s, which I think it marble, but my Italian is rusty and none of the English language pieces I could find specified. (See the Italian article about Rodella’s sculpture with more pictures here. And a video here.)
Both sculptures turn the flat image from the shroud into three dimensions. Frankly I have a hard time being moved emotionally by the photographs of the Shroud, though I have been touched in an intellectual way. But they require a lot of work to really discern the face. But these sculptures are immediate, visceral: This is about as close as we can get to gazing on the face of Our Lord. Each image has a different effect. The marble feels colder to me, more like a Greek or Roman statue, though the red wounds are dramatic. The bronze is warmer, rougher, and feels more human to me. And that face is so calm, so peaceful, so beautiful.
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And last night at dinner before Holy Thursday Mass Dom and I were telling the children about the sculptures, about the shroud, about the fascinating scientific research done on the shroud. Jesus’s resurrected body passing through the shroud. And burning an image into it as it passed through the cloth with all the energy our sun has ever had. This is discussed, for example, in this paper: Role of Radiation in the Formation of the Shroud of Turin
Many Shroud researchers have concluded that the characteristics of the front and back images on the Shroud are so bizarre that they must have been encoded onto the Shroud by radiation emitted from the dead body as it was wrapped in the Shroud. Under normal conditions, the quantity and characteristics of the radiation that could be emitted from a dead body by the decay of naturally occurring isotopes could not form such an image, and never have. Thus, the process or mechanism by which the dead body within the Shroud emitted the radiation required to form the images must be outside of our current understanding of science.
The Gospels tell us that after the resurrection Jesus could walk through walls. Is it such a stretch to also believe that he could pass through a linen covering? His resurrected body was physical, real, you could touch it. He could eat. But it was something more. Something heavenly. A foretaste of the New Heaven and New Earth that he promised to us. Something from Heaven in the here and now.
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And I keep seeing that body, in that shroud, in that tomb.
I find myself a small girl sitting in that tomb.
It’s not a dank, damp, smelly tomb. It’s dry and warm, sandy, rather like a hobbit hole. A pleasant place to be. Out of the cold. Smelling of earth, a little dry dust. A little like the smell of a church.
I sit on the stone. It would make sense to be scared, but I’m not. I feel safe. Protected.
I’m wrapped in the shroud like a child wrapped in a best beloved blanket, Sophie with her Flower Blanket worn to rags, Ben with his White Blanket draped over him during Mass, carefully arranged on his pillow at night so he can press his face against it.
The shroud smells like perfumed oil, the smell rubs off on my skin. There is blood on it. It’s not scary, smelly, or sticky. It’s sweet like wine. The very best wine.
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The oils dripping down over your head.
Oozing into your wounds.
His blood on your skin. In your wounds. His oil on your skin. In your wounds.
The shroud is warm. not just the warmth of a light wrap on a chill evening. No, more like the heated blankets they bring you in the hospital when you are recovering from surgery, cold and shaky and the nurse tucks them gently around you. Full of the warmth of Jesus’ body?
That warm glow of a million suns.
The linen is soft, so soft, and smells like the outdoors as well as like the oils. The rich scent of the oils of anointing. And with a faint smell of… someone. A human scent. A little like sweat, like a body that has been in the sun, walking. Not unpleasant. But also a little like the smell of your baby’s head when you press your nose against his scalp and breathe deep that smell which you can’t place except it’s his and yours and it just smells… Right.
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And there I sit, wrapped in a burial cloth. Not waiting. Just being.
Nor am I alone. Nor is it dark. There is one who sits beside me. He holds my being in his Being. He is the light.
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What does dying mean? Non-existence? Non being. Extinction. Emptiness. Nothing.
But. . . There is no such thing as non-existence. There is the tomb, there is death, then there is new life. The tomb is scary. But Jesus went into the tomb so that we don’t have to be alone in there.
Jesus is Being and will not let you fall into unBeing.
You cannot be Xed.
You are forever.
You are not Nothing. You are Beloved.
The song that is you cannot be unsung.
But you don’t believe that. So you sit in the tomb. Waiting. Wrapped in the Shroud.
What are you waiting for? You do not know.
Do you believe in it? I don’t think you do. Not really. So there you are in the tomb. But you are not alone.
You are not alone. And there is singing
Outside the soldiers are sleeping.
But Jesus hasn’t left yet because he doesn’t want you to be alone.
The night is deep, the stars are singing to him.
The earth is singing to him.
The angels are singing to him.
The souls newly freed from the grave are singing with them.
All the patriarchs and prophets are singing to him. And the souls of all the little boy babies that Herod killed. All singing.
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Outside the tomb it is night, easing to dawn. The soldiers are sleeping. The stone has not yet been rolled away. The garden is quiet. Only a bird is making a little noise, the very first of the dawn chorus, awake a little early. Dawn’s light is not here yet.
But inside the tomb… you can hear the music.
Jesus has a deep voice and he is singing softly to you. He sings the psalms slowly. And the cradle songs that Mary once sang to him. He had a big chest, solid, well-muscled.
He’s holding little bloody you against his chest and he is singing to you.
You curl against him and listen to his breathing, feel the vibration of his voice. Hear the heart beating in his chest. You curl up like a nursing baby in its mother’s arms.
And you reach up and gently probe a finger into his wounds. Not doubting, like Thomas, not verifying. No, more like a child plays with his mother’s necklace, pulls on her sleeve, pokes his flingers into her mouth. Exploring the world of Mother with roving fingers while he drinks deeply of her comfort. That is you with Jesus, gently poking into all the wounds, touching his beard.
And he is singing you the song of you, telling you your story. He will never tell you any story but your own. And he’s telling you his story, the greatest love story ever told. And it is really the same story. If you listen carefully, you’ll see that is true.
I think maybe you know how this one should end.
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And then suddenly two little girls are there in the tomb with Jesus, giggling like they’re playing hide and seek. Like it’s the greatest joke ever. “I’m in the tomb with Jesus! I’m in the tomb with Jesus!”