Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

I got captivated by this post over on Counterlight's blog this evening, on Byzantine art and its influence in early Christian art.

When you take me to a "big" museum, whether it is an art museum, a history museum, or a museum of antiquities, I get sort of stuck over in the Byzantine displays. It's the eyes, and the hands.

Now, for me, "hands" are a given. I have been told by many people, and freely admit myself of having a "hand fetish." To me, the hands are the real windows of the soul. I see so much in every pair of hands I encounter. I see their "real selves," apart from their external trappings. I think about an old friend of mine whom I've known for about 35 years. He externally was always a very "stiff" individual. But his hands gave him away--small, delicate, and expressive like little birds. They carried all the expression that the rest of his outward appearance did not, and I learned to grow to like this person tremendously because I read his hands, not his face--and grow to love him for who he is, watching them age and change...but not really change...wrinkles and spots, yes, but what they speak, no...over the years. It is what has held our friendship fast for going on the high side of four decades.

In that sense, I notice the hands in Byzantine sculptures. The problem is, if you look, relatively few seem to even have hands. They are busts with the arms cut off, or their hands are shrouded behind robes. When the hands are shown, they almost always are expressive or show a tension that is the theme of the piece of artwork.

But I do not usually notice eyes. All those soppy love songs about eyes, all that "love at first sight" stuff about eyes, well...frankly, it's lost on me. Faces are external.

If I were to tell you anything I see in eyes, I would say I see what is "behind" them. But not their eyes myself. Eyes are just a conduit to what is behind them, in the inner workings of their brain.

That is what captivates me about the eyes in Byzantine art. This is hard to describe, but their wideness and shininess and vulnerability take me straight inside to their souls, unlike most renditions of eyes, and most real human eyes, which seem more like a barrier to their souls to me.

Many Byzantine paintings also have a gold background, give the face and eyes a sensation of "floating", as if you can see the parts of them connected to all things Godly.

When you look at those Byzantine eyes, there is a transparency to the person. The light of life shines within them in a way no other period of painters could reproduce.

In short, it is the way I want to see God. Transparently, with no secrets hidden--with an innocence and earnestness I cannot seem to even come closing to reproducing in real life. Oh, God knows I try. But my own detritus often gets in the way. In this world, nothing is "pure." Even what we try to be our purest thoughts--something sneaks in. Something worldly and human. Can't be helped--we ARE human, after all--but there is always an impurity or two, a dropped or missed stitch, a wrong color thread woven into the purest tapestry of our heart.

But when I gaze back at those Byzantine eyes, I feel the light of my own soul emerge. The purest part of "me." The fact that "me" doesn't really belong to me. That purest, most godly part of me is my own sense that I have no ownership of anything in my purest self--it all belongs to God. No secrets. No control. No agendas. No ownership. Just my innocent, wide-eyed soul.

"Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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