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Art and the Church -> Materials for Use in Churches

John, the Gospel of - Solomon Raj

Solomon Raj’s Gallery of Hieratic Art in St. John’s Gospel: A Thematic Appreciation

by B. S. Moses Kumar, Ph.D.

Introduction                             

Liberation in Luke’s Gospel’ was a series of Solomon Raj’s globally reputed woodcut color prints, with matching meditations for each of the twelve works. This work was originally done at Selly Oak Colleges in the U.K. in 1971. Since then the paintbrush of Solomon Raj has mounted many pinnacles in producing other series at different times on different themes as listed by himself:[1]

1. Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ – 12 Woodcut pictures in color

2.   2. Caring for God’s Creation - 12 Woodcut pictures in color

3.   3. Jesus’ Encounter With Women – 12 B/W Woodcuts with Text by a Jesuit Provincial in Munchen   

4.   4.  Biblia Pauperum: The Poor Man’s Bible – 10 B/W Triptychs

Whether in color or black and white, these are all works on different Biblical themes from different texts and contexts. A genuine sequel to ‘Liberation in Luke’s Gospel’ didn’t make its appearance until after four decades. At last, a much appreciated work with the title, ‘St. John’s Gospel: A Gallery of Hieratic Art’ was published in 2010, as a fitting sequel. While the Liberation series consists of 12 different accounts on the single theme of liberation, all from Luke’s Gospel, the present series consists of 13 images on different themes - all from John’s Gospel.

John’s Gospel – A Unique Gospel

John’s Gospel is styled a ‘unique Gospel’. Unlike the other three Gospels, which are called the ‘Synoptic Gospels’, John’s Gospel is rather concerned more with the profound message of Jesus, than a narrative account of his life story. The purpose of his Gospel was categorically stated by John himself at the end of the Gospel: “that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and believing you may have life in His name”.[2] John wanted his Gospel to be a powerful presentation of the deity of Jesus Christ. The three ‘series of sevens’ we find in the Gospel, which add to the uniqueness of the Gospel, are: 1) the 7 ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus; 2) the 7 miracles of Jesus Christ, which John calls ‘signs’ – as they all are like signposts, intended to point to the deity of Jesus Christ; and, 3) finally the 7 ‘discourses’ of Jesus Christ. The eagle symbol represents John because of his lofty and "soaring" gospel: “it is much more theological in nature than the other three”.[3] This Gospel is rich with imagery and symbols, and Solomon Raj fondly calls it ‘the Gospel with images and symbols’.[4] Whereas the other evangelists used parables, John used more symbols. This must have inspired Solomon to come up with his creative and colorful icons in John’s Gospel. And as Prof. David Zersen rightly remarked, Solomon “takes us beyond the verbal imagery to see what eyes of faith can see through his art”.[5]

Johannine Images

Solomon has done these woodcuts in color in 2009, which are now published as a book. Five of the 7 ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus are used in these woodcuts. The remaining eight are the symbols and scenes from John’s Gospel related to Jesus, and His words and works. The originals as well as copies of all these Johannine series are on permanent display at the Donald Ashram in the premises of Hyderabad Bible CollegeHyderabadIndia

The titles of these different works are listed below:

1.     The Door

2.     The Bread from Heaven

3.     The Vine and the Branches

4.     The Shepherd

5.     The Blowing Wind and Sprouting Seed

6.     The Word

7.     Water of Life

8.     The King

9.     The Seeker and Savior

10.  The Sacrament

11.  The Healing Pond

12.  Trinity

13.  Resurrection and Life

An analytical review of each of these works is in order at this juncture. Copies of these woodcuts are supplied in the text of this essay, in order to facilitate a ready view and appreciation by readers, who are new to these works, or who do not have a ready access to them at the moment.

A Thematic Appreciation

1) The Door

The first image is The Door. As soon as Solomon did this first color woodprint, he writes his instant reflection, as usual, as a matching meditation.  It is not a philosophical jargon but an intimate and a personal application, with a realization of the purpose of a door:

        The door is open for me

        to go in and hide

        my head from danger.

This image by Solomon was not a closed door, but an open door – with new avenues and treasures opened up for all those who enter in. There is also the picture of a shepherd at the entrance of the door, signifying the great Good Shepherd, Who feeds and guards. There is a fountain springing from the threshold of the door, signifying the ‘still waters’ where the Shepherd leads the sheep. Solomon mentions in his Introduction to the book, the deep symbolic meaning of bread, water, light, et cetera. “Water”, he says, “is a very old and widespread symbol, a symbol for cleansing, cooling, and quenching the thirst”.[6]

The symbolic use of ‘water’ is found not only in Solomon’s art but also in his verse and lyrics. Dr. Sumita Roy, in her Foreword to Solomon’s ‘Geetha Malika’, rightly remarks:

“’Water’ is used as a recurrent symbol. In a poem reminiscent of the dohas of Kabir, Dr. Raj writes:

        Can we keep any water                                                                                  

        In broken cisterns, my soul?                                                                           

        Consider it right to seek the feel of the Lord                                                               

        And get the fullest joy.” [7]

The artist identifies himself with a ‘wandering wayfarer’ – who finds the ‘door’ ‘after a long journey’. And what a safety and what a solace he finds as the door is sighted:

        My limbs are tired and sore

        I come through the open door 

        There is no fear to me any more.

Though the door is there all the time, it is the moment when it is found by the ones who desperately need it, that brings in the break-through of joy in their journey! It is a personally fulfilling search, which ushers in the realization: “My Lord, You are the door”! Yes, He is in deed ‘the door of the sheep’, and the most assuring fact, according to what the Lord said, is – “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture”.[8] A door is always believed to be opening up opportunities, and Jesus, as the door, ensures opportunity, even a second chance for one and all – including the most frustrated soul. We see a staff also on the Shepherd’s shoulder – the rod and the staff of the Shepherd, they sure do comfort the ‘wandering wayfarer’!

2) The Bread from Heaven

Solomon conveys a three-fold message through the second image, The Bread from Heaven. In this woodcut, the bread and the cup are pictured, but more significantly portrayed is the ‘Giver’ of the Bread. It should be rightly so – for He “gives food to all flesh”.[9] In the lower part of the picture, the hungry folks flock to the Giver for bread – for their sustenance. They seem to rejoice as they receive from His bounty. The kind of food the peoples eat may differ – “rice, gruel, or bamboo roots” – but the Source remains the same. The clouds at the top are symbolic of the source of the bread pointing to the heavens; for, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father …”.[10]

 

Secondly, Solomon interprets the Sacrament by means of this image.  In addition to physical sustenance, the artist takes us beyond and talks about restoring of souls through the sacrament and the meal:

           

           Lord You are the bread of life         

           We partake in your broken body

           The life-giving bread

           In the sacramental meal

          To get our souls restored.

 

The meal that heals and restores is aptly portrayed. Finally, we see the message that “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”, which Jesus reiterated from The Law when tempted by the Devil.[11] Solomon points out that this life-giving word, the ‘rhema’ from the mouth of the Lord, is the guide and the standard for our lives ‘as we sojourn on this planet’.

 

3) The Vine and the Branches

In one of His ‘I AM’ sayings, Jesus said, “I am the true vine”[12] and He hastens to tell about the vineyard keeper, who is none other than His Father. He doesn’t stop there, but proceeds to talk about His disciples in the following verses: “I am the vine; you are the branches”.[13] Jesus not only relates the Father to Himself and to the vine, enunciating the Father’s role as the ‘vineyard keeper’. He relates Himself to the disciples as they are connected to Him as the ‘branches’. Solomon beautifully portrays this word-picture in this third wood-block image, The Vine and the Branches.

The accompanying reflection of the artist for this woodcut is seen in the following verse:

            The vine and its branches

            Together and not apart from each other

            Lord You are the vine

            And we are the branches

            Unless we abide in you, we cannot bear fruit

            Let us abide in You and bear fruit in plenty

            And live abundantly for eternity.

There is a proclamation and a prayer in this verse: proclamation of the togetherness of the vine and its branches, of our identity as connected to the vine, and of our fruit-bearing status as and only as we abide in Him; and, prayer seeking His enabling help to abide in Him, and thus to ‘bear fruit in plenty’ and to ‘live abundantly for eternity’.

As I see this image, another wood-block print by Solomon Raj comes to my mind. It is on the ‘Jesse’s Rod’ where the image of infant Jesus is seen as part of the tree at the top of the stump – Jesus Christ as the Son of David, Jesse’s Rod. Often we hear about many word-pictures such as these from the Bible, but very rarely we come across picturization of such word-pictures before our eyes, which helps our deeper understanding. It is here that we see the creative genius of Solomon. It is uniquely employed to present the message graphically and visually before the viewers. Though Solomon published his version of the Biblia Pauperum in wood-block prints, with ten triptychs, in 2008, the whole collection of his works of art – whether wood-block prints or batiks, icons or etchings – comprise his comprehensive ‘Biblia Pauperum’, I feel, with Biblical message amply portrayed and abundantly communicated through visual arts.

4) The Shepherd

This image by Solomon, The Shepherd, portrays at the very outset an incessant search of the Lukan shepherd for the lost sheep. We see in this picture the caring shepherd reaching down to the lost sheep. This portrait of the shepherd takes us to another ‘I AM’ saying of Jesus in the Johannine Gospel: “I am the good shepherd”.[14] The artist’s reflection on this woodcut is well expressed in the accompanying verse:

            The Shepherd who keeps me

            Shall never fall asleep -

            Still waters, green pastures,

            Oil for my wounded and bleeding head

            A rod and a staff to protect me –

            His call I have heard

            My good shepherd, I belong to his herd.

 

This reflection embeds couple of Psalms from the Psalter in describing the care of the shepherd.  As the shepherd, He keeps us, and as such shall never fall asleep; and this role He fulfills vigilantly and watchfully: 

           

            your Protector will not slumber.

            Indeed, the Protector of Israel

            Does not slumber or sleep.[15]

 

Again Psalm 23, which is the great ‘Shepherd Psalm’, describes the manner the Shepherd leads, and this too is expressed in Solomon’s reflection: ‘Still waters, green pastures’ and, ‘A rod and a staff to protect me’.  While we see in the Shepherd Psalm ‘You anoint my head with oil’, Solomon probably alludes to wars and bloodshed in the reign of King David as well. Thus oil symbolizes not only the joys of coronation, but also the consolation from a soothing balm. This Shepherd Psalm is already one of the Psalms with most personal application with an intimate ‘I-Thou’ relationship. As such this description adds depth to one’s personal experience as the Shepherd administers ‘Oil for my wounded and bleeding head’ – in addition to the still waters, green pastures and a rod of protection.

 

Finally, Solomon makes a personal confession on his relationship with the Shepherd:

           

            His call I have heard

            My good shepherd, I belong to His herd.

 

That the Shepherd calls and that Solomon has heard His Call is declared in the first line above. His proven goodness, and Solomon’s assured commitment are indicated in the last line. “Let me learn to walk before I run and let me sit with you and learn before I talk about you with others”. Solomon’s Batik ‘He Said ‘Go’ which presents His Call, is one of his globally known masterpieces of art. This has been one of the favorite themes with Solomon Raj not only in his art but also in his personal life for sure. 

 

5) The Blowing Wind and Sprouting Seed

This woodcut by Solomon presents the twin images of The Blowing Wind and Sprouting Seed.  There is rich symbolism in this piece of art.  We see the three-fold image of wind, egg and the seed – symbolizing life, growth and progress.  The wind, by its primary nature, blows – sometimes gently and other times wildly.  When it is gentle it brings delight; when it is wild it brings dread. Solomon picturizes another dimension of wind’s function, which makes it an agent of progress:

            The wind blows and 

             fills the boat sails

            The boats go forward

            I hear its roaring sound

 

As the blowing wind fills the sails, the boat goes forward; how hard the progress when the wind is static and unfavorable!

 

The Poetic Muse of Solomon, with all certainty, hears its roaring sound – though its origin and destination are never seen. Solomon beautifully communicates this propelling role of the wind in the upper part of the portrait. He then talks about the seed, which is pictured in the lower part of the portrait, and portrayed in a couplet:

 

            The seed sprouts gently, breaking the earth

            And it grows to become a tree some day.

 

What a life-giving potential is embedded in a tiny seed and what a potential for growth! And these two images are sandwiched by the image of an egg: ‘The egg hatches and a living chic emerge’. Solomon’s imaginational faculties soar, as he amplifies the teaching of Jesus Christ on New Birth. There is the simple proclamation about the course of wind that none can tell for sure, or can predict its origin or terminal. And finally there is the ultimate proclamation that a ‘new life’ is nothing else but ‘the gift of the Great One alone’. The egg, the seed and the foetus, seen in the lower part of the woodcut, are rich with symbolism. As the egg heralds a new birth, as the seed sprouts bringing in new life into existence and as the foetus hails new offspring, so the wind – symbolic of the great ‘Ruach’ of God - generates ‘new life’.

 

6) The Word

In this image named The Word, Solomon portrays the nature and purpose of the Incarnation. As ‘the Word primordial’, the Word was co-eternal with God the Father, and was equally active in the act of creation. The word Primordial comes from two Latin wordsprimus, meaning "first" and ordiri, "to begin." So this adjective means "first of all, original. When something is primordial, it has existed since the earliest time …”.[16] Therefore, the Word who was with God was rightly called ‘Co-creator with God’.

 

            Vachah, the Word primordial

            That Word who was with God and

            Co-creator with God

            He who once became incarnate

            So we may live in fellowship with Him

            He who died once and rose again

            He lives from eternity to eternity

            The Alfa and the Omega

 

The Word ‘once became incarnate’, and the purpose of this incarnation is well expressed thus: ‘So we may live in fellowship with Him’. The estranged relationships, as sin marred them, are resolved and restored.  And it was all made possible because the Incarnate Word ‘died once and rose again’. The Scroll in blue rolling down from above is symbolic of The Word Who took the flesh and dwelt among us. The crown of thorns on the head symbolically indicates the suffering and death the Incarnate Word had to undergo in order to accomplish ‘fellowship with Him’ for the fallen humans. The cross was not an after thought, but part of God’s eternal plan: ‘The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’[17]  But crucifixion is followed by resurrection; He rose again and lives forever. As ‘He lives from eternity to eternity’, He is ‘the Alfa and the Omega’.

 

God and the Comforter God – the other two persons of the Godhead. The dove therein is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, who was eternally present with the Father, and equally active with the Word in creation. The dove pictured close to the ear indicates the Holy Spirit speaking into the ears to the Son of Man. The last couplet in the accompanying verse refers to the Triune God, and adores Him in worship:

 

       I worship thee

       O, God the One in Three.

 

7) Water of Life 

This image by Solomon on Water of Life touches base with the universal predicament of thirst, in the very first lines of the verse:

Thirst unquenched

 

Dryness and draught

 

People die of incessant thirst.

 

In the midst of dryness and draught, when thirst is not quenched, ‘People die of incessant thirst’. ‘Safe Drinking Water for All’ is a universal concern of all times in ecological studies. People of all faiths do all they can to quench people’s thirst, especially in summer and other seasons of draught. We see Jesus, the Son of Man, at the well as he felt thirsty. Jesus uttered on the cross, ‘I thirst’! His thirst is physical as well as spiritual, in both the instances.

 

Solomon hastens to talk about the ‘Water of Life’ in the succeeding lines:

 

            Lord Jesus, you once got thirsty too

            For a cup of water

            But you indeed are the deep fountain

            Of Living Water

            Ever springing, ever flowing

 

‘Jesus and the woman at the well’ is a frequent theme with Solomon Raj in his Gallery of Art, because Solomon’s main concern in poetry or pictures is to portray the purpose of the incarnation, and Jesus’ concern for the fallen and the downtrodden is well depicted. The ‘Nazareth Manifesto of Jesus Christ’, which is the preamble of the Constitution of the Kingdom, portrays this social concern. This, as well as most of Solomon’s works, is outstanding testimonials of Contextualization where the Samaritan woman is pictured as an Indian woman. And there are innumerable pieces of his art on this theme – as a batik, or a woodcut, or even as an etching or anicon.  Jesus introduced Himself to the Samaritan woman at the well as the giver of living water, and revealed that the water He gives will become ‘a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life’.[18] Solomon alludes to this and extols Jesus as ‘the deep fountain of living water ever springing, ever flowing’.  The waters above in the portrait are symbolic of the living water Jesus gives. It is this eternal source that makes this water satiable. In the last couplet, as the Samaritan woman implored, Solomon makes his plea to the ‘fountain of Living Water’:

 

Lord, give me that water

 

So that I never thirst again.

 

8) The King

This image by Solomon, The King, portrays the jubilant scene of the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. The King however appears ‘meek and lowly’, riding on an ass. The image of a crown of thorns, looming in the background, foreshadows the impending suffering that the King is to go through shortly. The symbols in John’s Gospel are “not used narratively but symbolically”. We do not see the crowd here but just a single individual – probably to indicate how the crowd would desert this King in less than a week. The artist purposely opts here for a symbolic presentation, rather than literal or historical interpretation. Solomon, in his Introduction to this book, elucidates his artistic exercise:

“I tried to express this symbolic aspect of the image in pictures like ‘The Coming King’ where the crown of thorns is not a historic part of the ‘Triumphant entry into Jerusalem’ story. But I added the crown of thorns also as a symbol in the background in the sky. Those who know the story see the crown of thorns in this context as a symbol and not what is happening here”.[19]

The annals of human history is marked by rise and fall of kings and kingdoms. Solomon ruminates this in the couplet at the very beginning.  While “Kings have come and kings have gone [and] Kingdoms have risen and set”, Solomon looks to the King of kings and extols that His kingdom never ends. “It’s a kingdom everlasting” he continues, and “truly ever-flourishing”. Yet, it’s revealing and remarkable that this King never called Himself a king. This King is, however, characterized by His victory in the spiritual realm: “You who conquered Sin, Death and the Word”. Such a King has a claim on our souls and our all. Solomon rightly acknowledges Him as the ‘King of kings, and invites Him to be forever enthroned in his heart:  

 

            Come, O king of kings

            Make your throne in my heart

            And never from there depart.

 

9) The Seeker and Savior

This image by Solomon, The Seeker and Savior, portrays the woman caught in sin being brought to the presence of Jesus, the Savior. Three men are seen standing tall in finding fault, all of them pointing their fingers. These three men obviously symbolize the three classes of critics of the day, namely, Pharisees, Sadducees and the Scribes. They are pictured with phylacteries on their foreheads. The phylacteries were cube shaped small leather cases wherein were the Scriptures from Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21.[20] Solomon graphically narrated the situation in the accompanying verse:

 

            A woman was caught in sin

            And the men who considered themselves righteous

            were outraged.

            Punishment – To be stoned to death.

            They brought her to Jesus

            They quoted the law books.

 

The men, though equally culprits in the act of adultery, try to put it all on women, as in this case – amounting to gender injustice. The way of the world is well expressed in the last two lines above: “They brought her to Jesus – They quoted the law books”.  At this juncture, the urge for justice and justification surges forth through the pen of Solomon: “Who is he who never sinned?” And further, the cry for a better solution whereby a ‘cure’ is sought after: 

        Is there no solution?

        Is there no cure

        For sin other than, damnation? 

 

These lines bring to mind “Rock of Ages” the famous hymn by Augustus Toplady, a follower of John Wesley. This hymn speaks of a “double cure,” saving us for our two-fold problem with God – sin’s guilt and sin’s power: 

            Be of sin the double cure

            Save from wrath and make me pure.

Beyond Luther’s Justification by Faith, we come to Wesley’s Sanctification by Faith in one’s spiritual journey. When all is said and done, the sinner becomes the seeker in the forgiving and enlightening presence of the Savior. And, yes, there is a solution and there is a cure other than damnation, through forgiveness of sins wrought by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is the response, I as a reviewer would give, but this is how the viewers may respond to the pictorial presentation, when they view Solomon’s art. As an artist his intention always seems to invoke and invite response from the viewers. Each viewer responds differently, yet, none is wrong or better. 

10) The Sacrament

This image on The Sacrament, depicts Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist seen in the Synoptic Gospels. However, Solomon includes it in these works in order to present the significance of this sacrament. This made its place into Johnnine woodcuts because of Jesus’ reference to being born of water in His discourse with Nicodemus. In addition to Jesus and John the Baptist in the waters, we see the symbol of dove signifying the descending of the Holy Spirit. There is another symbol in the background, the symbol of the sun probably indicating the time of the day when Jesus was baptized, and also the dawn of a new day when Jesus would enter public ministry while on earth. It may further symbolize the sun of righteousness, as personified in Jesus. Anyway, Solomon nails it down categorically: 

            Baptism is a sacrament,

            An outward sign for an inward faith

 

In the following many lines of the accompanying reflection, Solomon touches base with the many issues that often divide people driving them to diverse denominations with different distinctives: 

            Water, still water, flowing water –

            Full immersion, symbolic immersion –

            Child baptism, adult baptism –

            A new birth through baptism –

            What was John the Baptist’s baptism?

            Believers’ baptism, how much belief

            Is adequate?

            How much water is sufficient?

 

Sounds funny, but what a wide arena in the realm of interpretation, bringing the body of believers to such crossroads? Sifting the non-essentials and clinging on to the essentials, of course, is the barometer of spirituality. An ecumenical orientation, however, fosters unity in the midst of diversity! Solomon wisely remarks that we have never clearly seen what is right among all the questions that have been asked. The final essence, on the whole, is divine-human combine: “that man submits and God accepts”.

 

11) The Healing Pond

This image by Solomon, The Healing Pond, is related to the story of the man with an infirmity for thirty-eight years. We see the pool and the sick people lying down on the bank. We also see an angel in the waters as depicted in the narrative. But we do not see the paralytic man. The viewer has to assume he was there too along with sick by the pool. He pool was known as “a pond which gave people healing”. But it is to be noted that it’s all conditional – “if some one steps in at the right time”! ‘Right time’ – is the key! 

The artist reflects about the man who remained there most of the time: “Was it paralysis? Or was he getting used to the luxury of the bed?” Dr. P. Victor Premasagar, in his lectures on the Old Testament, used to talk about slavish mentality. Though the people of Israel were out of Egypt, it was pointed out, it took forty years for Egypt to come out of them. Complacency is sharply pointed out here by Solomon as a sin, and there is a personal prayer for healing from this sin:

            Lord heal me from the sin

            Of complacence

            A nagging hopelessness

            An acceptance of ‘fate’ as they call it.

 

There is a sound reason for making such a prayer:

 

            I ask because with you

            There is a promise and assurance

            Of a wholeness and new life in abundance.

 

12) Trinity

This image by Solomon on ’Trinity’ is a unique attempt to portray in a woodcut the three persons of the Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see only the form of the Son because of His incarnation – as He “became flesh and dwelt among us”. In this woodcut, we see only the person of the Son, as specifically portrayed by a crown of thorns. But the rest we find are symbols such as hand, fish and dove. The Dove of course represents the Holy Spirit. The Father is represented by the symbol of hand, which is symbolic of His omnipotence. There is a sign on the palm of the hand, which looks like an eye – the all-seeing eye. Because of this, He is called El-Roi - The God Who Sees. The sign on the palm also looks like a wound – the nail-pierced mark of the wound. If so it must be symbolizing the crucified Son of God. I personally feel that it must be an eye rather than the wound, because eye is the only image in this woodcut on Trinity that represents the Father God. We also have another symbol in this woodcut, which is a fish with five Greek letters, which together are pronounced as ichthus. The five letters in this word, ΙΧΘΥΣ stand for five words, Ίησοῦς ΧριστÏŒς, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ - meaning Jesus Christ Son of God Savior. Ichthus in Greek means fish, and hfish had become a symbol of faith of the Early Church believers.

The mystery of the Trinity, or Tri-Unity is beautifully expressed in a couplet at the beginning of Solomon’s reflective verse on this woodcut:

            Three in one and one in three

            This is heavenly arithmetic.

 

Solomon further tries to express the Trinity in the succeeding lines:

 

            One God and three persons

            A symbol of perpetual unity

            A language of images

            A mystery but not myth.

 

Though the Trinitarian formula is a mystery, it is never a myth.  The dynamics of knowing, believing, understanding and experiencing this mystery saves it from becoming a myth:

            We know only because we believe

            We understand because we experience.

 

13) Resurrection and Life

The last work in this series, Resurrection and Life, is the fitting finale of Christian faith and existence. We see the tomb and the stone that covers it, and also the lifeless body in it. There are also the images of a hand and a lotus flower. The hand is symbolic of the mighty hand of God. Lotus is symbolic of life. It has been a powerful image and a spiritual symbol in many cultures though the ages. It is also considered a sacred flower in Hinduism, Buddhism and Egyptian religions. “Among its many meanings and significance, the lotus is a symbol of "spontaneous" generation, and so it also represents divine birth, spiritual development and creation itself”.[21] In one of Solomon’s well known woodcuts do we see the tall lotus flower as the sure symbol of resurrection.

There is a long discourse in Solomon’s reflection for this woodcut. There are three sections in this reflection:

1) Philosophical questions about death and after;

2) Biblical accounts of those raised from the dead; and,

3) Christ’s Resurrection and His abiding presence. 

 

In the first section, attempt has been made to explore what happens after death, by means of many questions:

            Does the ‘soul’ leave the body at the time one dies?

            Like one leaves the garment once in a while?

            And does the soul join the body again

            after floating around for a long time?

            Or does it come back from the pitruloka

            the land of the fathers

            through the cloud and the rain and seed of soil

            Or stay away in the Devaloka, the land of gods?

            Or does it take a new body of glory

            And lives for ever?

 

None of these questions has a solid answer, as there are many postulations based on diverse points of opinion - leading to unending speculations. In his earlier series on ‘Liberation in Luke’s Gospel’ also, Solomon deals with the subject of death in the last work,Gentle Brother Death, and probes into similar questions:

 

            At the time of death

            where does the soul

            make its journey?

            to the land of the fathers,

            or the land of Gods?

            Into the night or into the day?

            Into the cloud or into the lightning?

            Into the full moon or the new moon?

            Into the dark fortnight

            of [sic] the bright fortnight? [22]

 

In the second section, Biblical accounts of those raised from the dead are given to explore possible answers, if any, from this particular group:

            There are three persons in the Bible

            Who died and were raised again

            Lazarus of Nazareth, the widow’s son

            And the daughter of Jairus

 

But “None of them has told us what it was like / after death and what they saw / in the ‘other world”.

 

In the third section, Solomon reflects about Christ’s Resurrection and His abiding presence, and envisages an assuring answer:

 

            But Christ rose from the dead

            He appeared to his disciples

            Showed his new body

            And told them

            Behold I shall be with you

            for ever and where I am

            there you shall also be.

 

In this last section, Solomon establishes some eternal truths concerning life after death: that there will be a new body; and, that there will be an eternal destination in His abiding presence. In the concluding lines of the last work, Gentle Brother Death in Liberation in Luke’s Gospel, Solomon in response to the pervading questions gives an assuring answer:

 

            We do not know all the answers

            But we surely believe

            That death is the doorway

            To a new life

            More glorious and more wonderful.[23]

 

Conclusion

This journey through the thirteen images from St. John’s Gospel has come to a happy ending, as they are beautifully presented in Solomon’s Gallery of Hieratic Art. Hieratic means “extremely formal or stylized, as in a work of art”.[24] Solomon elucidates why he called these images hieratic:

First of all, these are very special word pictures not quickly to be interpreted like parables for example … These images may be called cryptic and highly stylized. I also tried to put these word images of St. John in somewhat stylized woodcut images, not narrative but symbolic.[25]

The color and the content, often mingled with rich symbolism, takes the viewers, as pointed out earlier by David Zersen, beyond “the verbal imagery to see what eyes of faith can see through his art”.[26] Here in Solomon’s ‘Gallery of Hieratic Art’ are found some of the rare picturizations of the Biblical themes and symbols. As Megumi Yoshida judiciously remarked,

Solomon Raj has been seeking to do theology in his Indian pluralistic contexts standing up for the weaker in society with his deep Christian faith in God. … Therefore, Dr. Solomon’s art works have a very warm atmosphere, comforting people, especially those who are struggling and suffering.[27]

A new hermeneutic of the Johannine message? The reader or the viewer has to see and respond! The Word become flesh still incarnates through diverse media in the midst of different cultures and creeds! 

*******

End Notes:


[1] Solomon Raj, P.: St. John’s Gospel: A Gallery of Hieratic Art (Vijayawada: St. Luke’s Lalit Kala Ashram), 2010, p. 56.

[2] John 20:31, Holman Christian Standard Bible(Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers), 2003, p. 757.

[3] www.religionfacts.com/christianity/symbols/eagle.htm 

[4] Solomon Raj, P., op. cit., p.7.

[5] David Zersen: “Solomon Raj and his Johannine Icons”, pub. In St. John’s Gospel: A Gallery of Hieratic Art, op. cit., p. 15.

[6] Solomon Raj, P., op. cit., p. 8.

[7] Sumita Roy, Foreword to Geetha Malika by P. Solomon Raj (Delhi: ISPCK), 2010, p. xiv.

[8] John 10:9 (NKJV). (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 1997, p. 1782.

[9] Psalm 136:25 (NKJV), op. cit., p. 1018.

[10] James 1:17 (NKJV), op. cit., p. 2105.

[11] Matthew 4:4, Holman Christian Standard Bible, op. cit., p. 672.

[12] John 15:1, op. cit., p. 752.

[13] John 15:5, loc. cit.

[14] John 10:11, op. cit., p. 748.

[15] Psalm 121:3-4, op. cit., p.428

[16] www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/primordial

[17] Revelation 13:8 (NKJV), op. cit., p. 2185.

[18] John 4:14 (NKJV), op.cit., p. 1766.

[19] Solomon Raj, P., loc. cit.

[20] See more at: www.scripturessay.com/what-were-the-phylacteries-that-the-pharisees- wore/#sthash.6DochUQS.dpuf

[21] http://www.harekrsna.de/Lotus-FLower.htm 

[22] Solomon Raj, P. : Liberation in Luke’s Gospel, (Vijayawada: St. Luke’s Dalitkala [sic] Ashram), n.d. p. 33

[23] Ibid.

[24] www.thefreedictionary.com/hieratic

[25] Solomon Raj, P. : St. John’s Gospel: A Gallery of Hieratic Art, op. cit., p. 9

[26] David Zersen: “Solomon Raj and his Johannine Icons”, loc. cit.

[27] Joshida, Megumi, Abundant Grace of God in Dr. P. Solomon Raj’s Art Images, in Solomon Raj, P. : “St. John’s Gospel: A Gallery of Hieratic Art” (Vijayawada: St. Luke’s Lalit Kala Ashram), 2010, p. 56.