Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm afraid of Jesus.

In downtown Salt Lake City, in a beautiful old building, is the Hope Gallery. The owners specialize in the Scandinavian masters; they own and display many originals and sell beautiful reproductions. They also have the exclusive rights to sell prints of Danish artist Carl Bloch's moving paintings of the life of Christ, which are great favorites in the Mormon community. I love Bloch's paintings as much as the next Mormon.

Two Novembers ago the Hope Gallery had a sale on all their reproductions of Carl Bloch paintings. My mother requested a print of Gethsemane (Castle Version) for her birthday, and while I was in the gallery I was enticed to buy a canvas reproduction of my favorite Bloch: Casting Out Satan. It was expensive by my standards (over $200, even on sale), but I felt it was worth it. I love that painting. I love how Christ looks fragile and weary from his long fasting, his backlit robe revealing the shape of his slender arm, but his gesture of authority over Satan is confident, powerful. I love how he is removed from the busy context of crowds and synagogues and transported for a moment back to his primal confrontation with the enemy of our souls. I love the bare, rugged montaintop setting -- like my memory of the top of Mount Sinai. When I held my breath and wrote out the fat check I imagined my favorite Bloch painting hanging in a central place in my home for many years and even the cheapskate in me felt it was a good thing.

The particular size I wanted was not in stock, so they told me they'd call when it was ready to pick up. However, during the week or two that I waited for their call, I realized what I'd done -- I'd passed over the Woman at the Well, Christ and the Children, Healing at the Pool of Bethesda, The Doubting Thomas, and all the other warmer, more forgiving scenes. I'd chosen my favorite Bloch painting, but hadn't considered what it would be like to look at it, large, on my wall every day. To every day see a muscular Satan -- beautiful, like my favorite sins, swirling in a vibrant red robe. To feel that Christ's bold gesture of reproach was directed toward the dark corners of my life that I'm not ready to confront. To not be able to close the church magazine and make my favorite Bloch disappear when it became a too bright for comfort.

I still don't know what I'm going to do. The gallery has long since stopped calling to remind me to pick up my print. My only options are to go claim it or take store credit and use it to purchase some other print.

If someday you come to my apartment and see on my wall a fancy canvas print of The Daughter of Jairus or of little Danish girls picking wildflowers, I hope you won't judge me. It's crazy to be afraid of Jesus. NO ONE is afraid of Jesus. Except that I appear to be. I'm working on it.