25 December 2012

Sartre, Of All People

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This amazed me: an extract from a letter sent home by Jean Paul Sartre from a POW camp at Christmas in 1940. 


But today is Christmas, you have the right to demand to see the crib. Here it is. Here is the Virgin and here is Joseph and here is the Christ Child. The artist has put all his love into this ensemble but you might find it a bit naive. See, the figures are dressed up but they are stiff: they look like puppets. They certainly were not like that. If you were like me whose eyes are closed ... But listen: you only have to close your eyes to hear me and I'll tell you how I see them within me. The Virgin is pale and she looks at the child. What should be painted on her face is an anxious wonder that has only appeared once on a human face. Because Christ is her child, flesh of her flesh and the fruit of her womb. She carried him for nine months and gave him her breast and her milk became the blood of God. And at times, the temptation is so strong that she forgets that he is God. She hugs him and says “my boy!”  But at other times she is still and she thinks God is here - and she feels a religious awe for this silent God, for this terrifying child. Because all mothers are from time to time brought short before this rebellious fragment of flesh which is their child and they feel exiled from, even though close to, this new life which has been made from their lives and are occupied by alien thoughts. But no child was ever so cruelly and quickly snatched from his mother, because he is God and he exceeds all that can be imagined. And it is a hard trial for a mother to be ashamed of herself and her humanity before her son. But I think there are also other fast and fleeting moments when she feels both that Christ is her son, and that her little son is God. She looks at him and thinks: "This God is my child. This divine flesh is my flesh. It is made of me, he has my eyes and the shape of his mouth is the shape of mine. He looks like me. He is God and he looks like me." And no other woman has had her God to herself. A little God she can hug and cover in kisses, a little warm God, all smiles and breaths, a God who lives and can be touched. And it is in these moments that I would paint Mary, if I was a painter, and I would try to capture the tender air of boldness and timidity with which she moves her finger to touch the sweet skin of this God child whose warm weight she feels on her knees and who smiles at her. That’s Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

And Joseph? I wouldn’t paint Joseph. I would just show a shadow at the bottom of the stable and two bright eyes. Because I do not know what to say about Joseph and Joseph does not know what to say about himself. He adores and is happy to adore, and feels a little like an exile. I think he suffers without admitting it. He suffers because he sees how the woman he loves looks like God, how much she is already at God’s side. Because God has burst like a bomb into the intimacy of this family. Joseph and Mary are separated forever by the exlosion of clarity. And Joseph’s life, I imagine, will be about learning to accept.

4 comments:

Marc said...

Many thanks for sharing this. Merry Christmas to you!

Dorothy B said...

Thank you, Ttony, for letting us read this beautiful reflection. Thanks too for your kind message on my blog. I hope you and your family have been enjoying a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

Mike Cliffson said...

So this is the Satre whom God wished Satre to be !
How seldom can we have any inkling of this , to know what God created in those we find easy to despise and hard to admire.
God be prised for the goodness of his creation !
and
O felix culpa!

James Hayes said...

This is quite wonderful. Thank you Ttony!