For this demon who harms men and corrupts them is particularly anxious that his servants not gaze up to heaven but instead that they be bent over to the earth and make bricks inside themselves from clay.
(Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses)
At the moment of exhaling, he sanctified
the clay he shaped by his outbreathing, yet
sacred clay was only ever for shaping, not
to be shaped by. Instead
my eyes are always turned groundward and I
play in the mud pies of my mind despite
the heavenly witness that clamours for me with its voiceless speech
and, for lack
of willing human witnesses, rocks
clear stony throats to shout.
This is what must first be given to the painting, a harmonious warmth, an abyss into which the eye sinks, a voiceless germination…
How often is he shown with those horns of light,
as though his head were itself full
of the brightest luminescence and
two cracks, two holes
had formed inside his skull to let
escape all that light, kept
invisibly, impossibly, inside.
Yet for Rembrandt see
how darkness grabs the eye much more
than all the plainness of that face,
how even those two tablets seem
as black as all the dark to which
we’re told that he drew near, while all
of Israel stood just far enough
away to not be safe.
And when El Greco takes
the striking forms of Sinai as
his text, the darkness is
in every shadow-line beneath
the redness of the clouds, around
those rocky pillars, rising from
the chalky, sketchy ground.
Not darkness, but light, shone forth
from those two tablets when
the light-horned Moses brought them down.
Yet light like that we must squint to see.
When fear declares that only man
is safe, that we can’t bear to hear
the voice that struck the tablets’ side:
O let us step, like Moses, to
that darkness without human horns
where only in that absence
of human sight can all Your light
be ever fully seen.
(Detail from "Moses" by Rembrandt van Rijn)
What is the law of God stated in the Ten
You shall have no other gods before me. You
shall not make for yourself an idol in the form
of anything in heaven above or on the earth
beneath or in the waters below – you shall not
bow down to them or worship them. You shall not
misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember
the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your
father and your mother. You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery. You shall not
steal. You shall not give false testimony.
You shall not covet.
(New City Catechism)
So we begin
what clutching hands at apple trees do not know:
accepting that there is Someone
much higher than the heights of all
our striving and our pride.
Bow down before
no other god:
not what your hands have wrought or what you
not that which eyes find pleasing nor
what beauty holds out towards you
or serves your present aims.
The depths are yours
to plumb, to swim,
yet all within is His. The water’s mirror
shines back to you your face; do not
mistake creature for Creator
or love sea more than Son.
Heart humble and
contrite, know the
joy of boundaries set out by love. The waters
stay where He commands; so we too
can rest within parameters
carved deep with mercy’s law.