Art and LiteratureCulture

To Be Fully Known

Omaha, Nebraska. That paragon of culture is precisely where I spent a long weekend with friends. Now, I know that many of you will think of steak, cornfields, and farmers when you hear the word Nebraska, but there is quite a lot to that Plains State aside from plains. The highlights of my weekend were all cultural experiences: from the Joslyn Art Museum, a symphony, and a gourmet dinner, to a tea emporium, exploring the grounds of a mansion, and spending time in prayer at a beautiful Catholic edifice.

Though we spent less than an hour at the Joslyn Art Museum, it was meditative time well invested. Upon exiting the European art section, there was a small room containing a Monet painting and a small bronze statue of Auguste Rodin’s Eve. Unlike many portrayals I have seen of Lady Eve, this one was not sensual nor was it sanitised. There she was, naked, with no hand covering her sexuality, no long hair hanging down to hide her womanhood; she hid only her face. Though she was bronze she was not brazen—contorted in remorse and agony for the curse she had unleashed on mankind. When I gazed upon this mortified Eve, I saw fear and sorrow. I saw vulnerability. I saw humanity in the wake of the Fall. I saw the hope of repentance. I saw myself.

How can human hands take cold metal, making it live in ripples, effulgence, and emotion? How could the artist cast one woman who would resonate with so many of the women who gaze upon her abject form? Yet somehow, in broad strokes, Rodin made just such a woman. Eve in all her remorse and repentance was a woman—she was human. From this bitter moment of knowing sin, a veil was placed between God and man.

From this time forth, humans began to hide—and we choose to hide behind much more than fig leaves and excuses. We hide behind our accomplishments or our identity, behind our careers, cars, or kids. We hide behind walls that we have built, brick by brick, barb by barb. We hide behind our intellect and our to-do lists, behind styles and having it all together, behind addictions and amusements—we hide because we are afraid. We are afraid that we aren’t smart enough, handsome enough, or successful enough. We are afraid to let anyone see our mess, our turmoil, our uncertainties, our weaknesses and inabilities. And when our first emotion isn’t fear, it is fear hidden under the guise of pride. We pride ourselves on our achievements or our brutal honesty or some other thing, in order to prove that we are enough, we are strong, we are worthy of love and acceptance, or at least of respect and awe.

What if we were like Eve, not hiding our humanity—for it is our glory, our being what we were made to be. What if we did not try even to turn our eyes away from our Maker in agony and ignominy? What if we recalled Isaiah’s words, that our Maker is our Husband and that the Holy One is also our Redeemer (Isaiah 54:3)? What if he turned our faces toward himself, sought our eyes with his, and called us his belovéd? There is no “what if?” about that—he does exactly that. From the very first he has pursued us.

Beginning with Adam and Eve, in the cool of the evening the Lord sought them, he called out to them “where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Adam answers the way I so often do, “…I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10) “…I was afraid, because I was naked…” I was afraid to come to you, Lord, because you would see through my accolades, accomplishments, and intellect. I felt vulnerable and raw, so I didn’t want to come before you. I have sinned and I couldn’t wash it off. I want to fix myself before I come to you. Slowly, slowly I am learning that this is when he cups his hand under my chin and searches out my eyes. The searing Love in his own eyes burns away my impurities, illumines my darkness, heals my brokenness, makes me worthy. It isn’t that there is no consequence for sin, there is. Yet it remains that the payment was made by the injured party. The One who covenanted with us is the One who paid the redemption price when we broke the covenant. The Holy One is our Redeemer.

Like Eve, I forget the kindness of God that leads to repentance and I can think only of his Holiness. I forget that his wrath is directed toward my sin, not my self, so I hide. I try to be fit enough, smart enough, encouraging enough, anything-else-enough-to-atone-for-myself—except being vulnerable enough, honest enough, and humble enough to come before him.

The irony in all my fears, in all my brokenness, is that I deeply want to be known—to have someone know me as I am and not walk away. Those great philosophers of our day, the Goo Goo Dolls, put it this way: And I don’t want the world to see me/’Cause I don’t think that they’d understand/When everything’s made to be broken/I just want you to know who I am1. They understand the ache of every human being, the desire to be known—but also the fear of being known. We don’t want the whole world to see us as we are, just the one person who will know us for ourselves and not run away. It is a scary thing to be vulnerable with another person. What if they betray you? What if they reject you? What if they take what they know about you and use it against you? That is the risk of love. A risk we fear and long to take, all rolled together.

Love is the risk God chose to take on mankind. He chose to create Adam and Eve, though he knew the Fall would happen. He chose to love them, even though he knew they would choose not to trust him and would break the world he entrusted to them. He chooses to love us, even though we put up walls or try to win approval rather than receiving his gifts of love, reconciliation, and redemption. He chooses to love us, even though we often snatch gifts from his hand, yet run away from him when we don’t get our way. And even when we nail him to a cross with our manifold sins, piercing him to his very heart, he still loves us.

Perhaps I see less of myself in Eve after all—at least she stood before her maker in all her nakedness and sorrow. I run from my Maker in those moments, or try to cover myself with the flimsy fig leaves of my accomplishments and intellect. I ache to be known, yet I fear it. I want to be naked and unashamed before my Maker rather than clothing myself in my own attempts at being “enough”.

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.2

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Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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