Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lunch with St. Francis

St. Francis, Trinity Church, Boston
conté pencil
1 March 2013
I had thirty minutes or so to wait for a train yesterday, so I wandered around Copley Square in Boston looking for something to draw. I hadn't been there in a long time and the city seemed new despite the old snow and grime of March. I circled the sturdy brown confection known as Trinity Church and admired the slate roofs and carvings of Biblical personalities and Phillips Brooks above the entrances and windows.

In the back of the building complex, I saw people hurrying inside for a lunch-time organ concert and I was tempted to attend and take a later train home. But this had been an impromptu journey in the first place and illustration jobs were calling me to the studio.

Near the back entrance there was a small courtyard. Informal cobblestone paths encircled its four sides and a fountain lay covered but I could almost hear the splashing water and feel the warm rays of the Spring sunshine to come. In the center of this postage-stamp garden was a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi. It's nothing fancy —compared to the heroic bronze of Phillips Brooks giving a benediction backstopped by Jesus Christ by Saint Gaudens around the corner. No, St. Francis is even a bit mossy and a cement sparrow perches in one hand. Such is the state of things. It all looks so expected: two visions of redemptive power and authority existing under the same roof around the corner from each other. Like the two-faced Greek god. Yin and Yang. Jekyll and Hyde. Glory and humility; something for everyone. We truly are people for all seasons and inside we are, for better or worse, a union of contradictions.

I've been wondering about St. Francis lately and feel I must read a good "Life of…" He lived in a very different time. A very dangerous time I suppose and I wonder about the example we assign to Francis now: meek, loving, humble, a friend to animals. But what was the reality of challenging the powers of Rome (presumably some Romans had a problem with vows of poverty) and also founding a functioning Franciscan Order with any corporation's needs and machinations? Was Francis a bureaucrat or a Christ-like saint wafting through the middle ages like a gentle Spring wind?

Oh, religion is such a weird and sticky thing! It's the artist in me that wants to see the Spirit behind all things and it's the artist who is perpetually seeking glory in the most mundane and forgettable effects and coincidences of the things that cross my trajectory through my existence. Maybe St. Francis would have some thoughts on the matter…?

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