Monday, February 27, 2006

"Christ Before the High Priest," a 17th Century Dutch painting by Matthias Stom

The Milwaukee Art Museum sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, having graced the shoreline for over 100 years. Recently, it was crowned with an architectural marvel designed by Santiago Calatrava. His Burke Brise Soleil is a moveable wing-like sunscreen that rests on top of the museum's 90-foot ceiling reception hall. It looks like a giant white bird nesting on top of the roof.
The great bird's wings consist of 72 white steel fins, ranging in size from 26-105 feet, spreading to 217 feet at its widest point, wider than a Boeing 747 jet. The wings "flap" to close and open each day at noon. In a museum guidebook, these wings are described as "a visual symbol of transformation."

When my wife, Christine, and I visited the museum on Valentine's Day, we first saw the "flapping" wings and figured that would be the highlight of the day's visit. However, moving through the exhibitions of paintings and sculptures from Ancient Asian and African Art to Contemporary Art, walking on white marble floors quarried from Italy, and looking through corridors bound by curved windows overlooking the lake, we came across the true highlight of the day, the light illuminating the painting by the 17th Century Dutch painter, Matthias Stom (1600-1652) entitled, "Christ Before the High Priest."

This is the commentary on the painting from the guidebook:

This painting depicts the moment when the high priest Caiaphas accuses Christ of blasphemy because of his refusal to deny that he was the Son of God. Stom has captured beautifully the psychological drama of this decisive moment in Christ's Passion by contrasting an emphatic, gesticulating Caiaphas with a strangely serene and saddened Christ, whose countenance betrays his knowledge of future events. His quiet beauty contrasts with the gleeful snickers of the two false witnesses who lurk behind him. Intense candlelight casts an eerie, pale hue over the figures and further heightens the psychological tension of the confrontation. The three- quarter-length figures and their placement close to the picture plane transform the painting into a powerful and moving image that was meant to engage the viewer and inspire religious devotion.

Here is the passage from Matthew depicted in the painting:

And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou
nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?

But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said
unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether
thou be the Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said; nevertheless I say unto
you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand
of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken
blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye
have heard his blasphemy.
Matthew 26: 62-65

Because Jesus did not deny that he is the Son of God, the high priest considers that he committed blasphemy, "the act of insulting, or showing contempt, or lack of reverence for God." In the painting, the high priest is looking directly at Jesus; but he is unable to see the Christ. He is incapable of seeing the reality of the Son of God because he is seeing only his own reflection as a Son of man. Although the high priest's face is shown in light, he is not experiencing light because he is seeing only the darkness of his own projection. What you see outside is simply a reflection of what is seen inside, first. This brings us to Jesus' Course in Miracles, a modern-day masterpiece in which he teaches us to undo the projections of our minds so that we can learn to see with vision.

Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less. Therefore, to you it is important. It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. T-21.Intro.1:1-5

The real witnesses are not those mockingly, derisively, holding Jesus, the real witness is the projection of Jesus as a blasphemer. This image witnesses to the high priest's state of mind. He is thinking with a part of his mind that has no source in reality.

As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause. And that is why order of difficulty in miracles is meaningless. Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy. Nothing perceived without means anything. And where there is no meaning, there is chaos. T-21.Intro.1:6-12

Stom has captured beautifully the psychological drama of this decisive moment in Christ's Passion by contrasting an emphatic, gesticulating Caiaphas with a strangely serene and saddened Christ, whose countenance betrays his knowledge of future events. (Guidebook)

Caiaphas is gesticulating emphatically because he is damning himself first, and then quickly projecting it onto the world that seems to be outside.

Damnation is your judgment on yourself, and this you will project upon the world. See it as damned, and all you see is what you did to hurt the Son of God.

You, too, Caiaphas are the Holy Son of God.

If you behold disaster and catastrophe, you tried to crucify him. If you see holiness and hope, you joined the Will of God to set him free. There is no choice that lies between these two decisions. And you will see the witness to the choice you made, and learn from this to recognize which one you chose. The world you see but shows you how much joy you have allowed yourself to see in you, and to accept as yours. And, if this is its meaning, then the power to give it joy must lie within you. T-21.Intro.2:3-8

In the painting, Jesus is not looking a Caiaphas; he is gazing at the candle, completely at peace. He is in a state of mind of peace, the Christ mind, and what he sees in the world is the reflection of that state of mind. The light of the candle suffusing the painting is analogous to the light of the world.

In His Course in Miracles, Jesus teaches that you, too, Dear Reader, are the Christ. When you do the lessons and learn to forgive your projected thoughts, you can experience, My holiness envelops everything I see.

From my holiness does the perception of the real world come. Having forgiven, I no longer see myself as guilty. I can accept the innocence that is the truth about me. Seen through understanding eyes, the holiness of the world is all I see, for I can picture only the thoughts I hold about myself. W-p1.58.1

Caiaphas is also the Son of God, but he is limiting himself to be the Son of man, attacking the Son of God. Jesus, of course, sees with vision, and he is defenseless against the charges.

But Jesus held his peace.

His quiet beauty contrasts with the gleeful snickers of the two false witnesses who lurk behind him. Intense candlelight casts an eerie, pale hue over the figures and further heightens the psychological tension of the confrontation. (Guidebook)

And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing?

If Stom were to paint the next moment, he would have Jesus look up, make eye contact with the high priest and answer knowingly: Thou hast said.

He would be telling Caiaphas that what you see in me is a projection of an image that starts in your mind. That image will not change until your mind changes by asking for help to forgive thoughts that have no source in reality. It does not matter in your condition, now, what I say. You will hear what you want to hear. Therefore, the only answer could possibly be a reminder that you are projecting: Thou hast said.

Jesus demonstrates to Caiaphas that his defensive attack is preventing him from experiencing that there is a plan.

What could you not accept, if you but knew
that everything that happens, all events,
past, present and to come, are gently planned
by One Whose only purpose is your good?
Perhaps you have misunderstood His plan,
for He would never offer pain to you.
But your defenses did not let you see
His loving blessing shine in every step
you ever took. While you made plans for death,
He led you gently to eternal life.

Your present trust in Him is the defense
that promises a future undisturbed,
without a trace of sorrow, and with joy
that constantly increases, as this life
becomes a holy instant, set in time,
but heeding only immortality.
Let no defenses but your present trust
direct the future, and this life becomes
a meaningful encounter with the truth
that only your defenses would conceal.

Without defenses, you become a light

which Heaven gratefully acknowledges
to be its own. And it will lead you on
in ways appointed for your happiness
according to the ancient plan, begun
when time was born. Your followers will join
their light with yours, and it will be increased
until the world is lighted up with joy.
And gladly will our brothers lay aside
their cumbersome defenses, which availed
them nothing and could only terrify.

The three-quarter-length figures and their placement close to the picture plane transform the painting into a powerful and moving image that was meant to engage the viewer and inspire religious devotion. (Guidebook)

I am not convinced that Stom wanted to "inspire religious devotion." I think, rather, he wanted to inspire the recognition that we are, indeed, the Christ. After all, he did name his painting, "Christ Before the High Priest," not "Jesus before the High Priest."

To look at this drama in the context of Mel Gibson's movie, please read my article entitled, "It is Accomplished!" The Passion of the Christ. Click on the link below.

Friday, February 10, 2006

"Yes, Linn, you really are dreaming."

Philip Chard, a psychotherapist, author, and trainer, writes a regular column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, entitled Out of My Mind. In a recent column, "Row, row, row your imaginary boat. . ." he talks about working with a client who is asking if life is but a dream.

"Do you ever fell like life is a dream?" Linn asked.

"Sure, but why do you ask?" I replied.

"Sometimes I get a distinct sense that all this is just an illusion, that I'm just dreaming it," she explained.

Before taking a look at Chard's answer, I am going to step in and answer her question from my point of reference. Having awakened from the dream through the mind training of Jesus' Course in Miracles, I recognize the state of mind in which I am dreaming a false dream, and the state of mind that is real, where I experience, for a moment, the end of the illusion, and the peace of God.

I would say, Linn, trust your "distinct sense that all this is just an illusion." Just stop right now, be still an instant and trust. In your stopping you allow something else to enter in. In being still you can catch a glimpse of reality. In fact, your "distinct sense" is really a call, a memory of your real Home, a reminder that you are not what you dream you are.

It is necessary to establish that 1) this waking dream is unreal, and 2) reality is an experience that is available when you stop your dreaming projection for just a moment. The best way to clarify these ideas is to compare sleeping dreams and waking dreams. First, let's look at five characteristics of a sleeping dream.

1. You are the center of your dream. All the events going on around you are seen through your eyes. It is as if you were a movie projector.

2. You are the narrator of your dream, describing events as they unfold.

3. What you see in your dream are images as if projected on a screen.

4. You are entirely responsible for your dream. Everything you see is coming from your mind, based on your past experiences.

5. When you awaken from your dream, the images disappear.

When you are dreaming, you cannot know you are dreaming because you have no point of reference outside of your dream. That is why I appreciate my wife, Christine, for being a point of reference outside of my dream. When I am having a nightmare, she gently nudges me, saying softly, "Wake up, you are dreaming."

Right now, Linn, I am your point of reference outside of your waking dream, nudging you softly, saying, "Wake up, you are dreaming."

Here's the nudge. I invite you to sit quietly and slowly look around you. Every once in a while, look again at the characteristics, above, of the sleeping dream, one at a time, and apply them to your waking dream.

Thank you.

You can see now that sleeping dreams and wking drams have precisely the same structure. You see that you are the center of your waking dream. You are narrating it. You see only images. These images are simply thoughts you have made. You are entirely responsible for what you are making up. Someone else sitting next to you would be having a different dream. The moment you wake up, all this will disappear.

Just sit there for a moment and entertain the idea that you are dreaming, and be still so that something else can enter in. You just need practice training your mind to see in a new way. That is why Jesus nudges you gently in His lessons, one for each day of the year. Just look at the titles of His first ten lessons:

1. Nothing I see means anything.
2. I have given everything I see all the meaning that it has for me.
3. I do not understand anything I see.
4. These thoughts do not mean anything.
5. I am never upset for the reason I think.
6. I am upset because I see something that is not there.
7. I see only the past.
8. My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.
9. I see nothing as it is now.
10. My thoughts do not mean anything.

Each lesson is a gentle reminder that your waking dream is what you make it, and it is not so.
You are not at home here in your dream, and your real Home awaits you as you begin to recognize that you are dreaming. You already have a "distinct sense" that this is so, or you would not have asked the question. A memory of where you truly belong is in your mind, and it is beginning to haunt you. Listen to Jesus tell you this in the first paragraph of Lesson 182, I will be still an instant and go home.

This world you seem to live in is not home
to you. And somewhere in your mind you know
that this is true. A memory of home
keeps haunting you, as if there were a place
that called you to return, although you do
not recognize the voice, nor what it is
the voice reminds you of. Yet still you feel
an alien here, from somewhere all unknown.
Nothing so definite that you could say
with certainty you are an exile here.
Just a persistent feeling, sometimes not
more than a tiny throb, at other times
hardly remembered, actively dismissed,
but surely to return to mind again.

Chard ends his column with this quotation from Einstein: "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." I would say, "Unreality is merely an illusion. . ."

Chard recognizes that we are looking through "lenses that distort and obscure."

What few realize is that we perceive the world by using cognitive representations created by our brains, like looking through lenses that distort and obscure., and not in a direct and factually accurate manner. So when we experience life as a dream, we may be removing these lenses and glimpsing the enigma that constitutues existence.

I would say that the waking dream is seeing through lenses of false eyes, and by removing these lenses through mind training, we learn to see with vision, no longer distorting what is real.

"You don't think I'm losing it, do you?" Linn asked, concerned.

I would say, yes, you are losing it, and that's good, because what you are losing is your firm grip on the dream, you are loosing the world as you know it, allowing for the experience of your Home.

We speak today for everyone who walks
this world, for he is not at home. He goes
uncertainly about in endless search,
seeking in darkness what he cannot find;
not recognizing what it is he seeks.
A thousand homes he makes, yet none contents
his restless mind. He does not understand
he builds in vain. The home he seeks can not
be made by him. There is no substitute
for Heaven. All he ever made was hell.

Linn, the Christ Child is being born in you now.

When you are still an instant, when the world
recedes from you, when valueless ideas
cease to have value in your restless mind,
then will you hear His Voice. So poignantly
He calls to you that you will not resist
Him longer. In that instant He will take
you to His home, and you will stay with Him
in perfect stillness, silent and at peace,
beyond all words, untouched by fear and doubt,
sublimely certain that you are at home.

Jesus is saying, "Wake up, you are dreaming. I am your reference point outside of the dream."

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

I invite you to read Jesus' Lesson 182, I will be still an instant and go home, in its entirety by clicking on the link below.

Please click on the link below to read Philip Chard's column in its entirety.