Magdalen, Charleston, The world within

The World within Charleston Magdalene

“How hard it is sometimes to live in two worlds, the one we inhabit with the people around us, and the one that we live in alone. None may know the pain we hide, the deep wells of worry into which look, the memories that enfold our lives like a forest. But the Spirit knows and cares and understands, ever beside us to offer comfort and counsel. The Spirit is not the public face of God, but more often the personal presence which makes such a difference. We all need a private space for mind and heart to heal, just as we need a Spirit who welcomes us, when we turn to the world within.” Bishop Steven Charleston Daily Facebook page

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The Repentant Magdalen

Last week I spent time with a 387-year-old friend that I have known for her last twenty-five years. We first met when she was one of three Georges de La Tour’s Magdalen paintings at a special exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. She was the only one in their permanent collection. I visited her that morning before an important meeting in Washington, and she quieted my soul.  I instantly fell in love with her. She spoke to me as no other painting has before or since. This Magdalen sits with her left hand on a skull. She does not look at the skull directly but sees the skull’s image in a mirror in front of her. The chiaroscuro scene is dark and only illumined by a partially hidden candle beside the skill.  I talk to Magdalen and thank her for her insights.

 For me, the skull represents our insides, what our skin covers up, the Christ within as well as the negative parts of our unconscious. Over the years this Magdalen has taught me that we most often see inside ourselves by looking into a reflection, a mirror. It is too painful and too overwhelming to see what we are beneath our surface. We cannot look there directly. It is like looking at the sun. The mirror represents the reflection we see of ourselves in others. We come to know and understand the true parts of ourselves by seeing ourselves in our neighbors.

 One of the reasons God calls us to community is to learn from others who we really are. I best see my own soul, the Christ within me as well as my many unconscious character defects by first seeing them in others. Caring for our life means learning about our unconscious character defects by first becoming aware and then seeing them for who they are in others. Caring for our soul is finding the Christ within ourselves by first seeing that holy in another and then realizing the miracle that it is also within us.