Tag Archives: salvation

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Lamb of God


In the previous post we have looked at the sacrifice as “object in the middle”. For this, you and I have looked at the movie “Offret” – or “The Sacrifice” by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1986. At the end of the film we have seen how the father has sacrificed everything he owns and binds him in this life, to God. He has made this sacrifice to save the world, in order that everything remains as it was before the threat of war and to be freed from that deadly, unbearable, animal fear. This sacrifice of the father is as well an unintentional sacrifice of his family and his relatives.

The son brings three sacrifices. He loses his father because his father sticks to his word and to God’s word. He is constantly giving water to the dead tree and therefore he brings the tree – the tree of life – back to life. By the third sacrifice he remains silent throughout the film.

The son asks to his father – and to God – why his father should keep his word. The son does not need any words for his sacrifice; his life, his actions and his knowledge precedes words.

Rightly the son asks at the end of the film: “In the beginning was the word. Why Father? ”

This question brings us to the first sentence in John’s Gospel in the New Testament [1]. Later in our Odyssey, we will try to give answers to this unavoidable question of the son.

In this post we will look further at the sacrifice as “object in the middle”. We look at the painting of the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck in Ghent. This painting depicts Jesus in the form of the Lamb of God. The Lamb of God is described in the first chapter of John’s Gospel in the New Testament: “The next day St. John sees Jesus approaching. St. John says: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[2]

[3]

In me I hear the Agnus Dei from Mass in B – minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere Nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere Nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona Nobis Pacem. [4]

“It seems that the last weeks of our Odyssey we are travelling according parts of the liturgy of Holy Mass from the Catholic Church. A few weeks ago we started with the Kyrie: the word “church” probably originates from Kyrie[5]. Inside the churches, we continued with the Credo in the form of light and hope. The reflection and the sermon followed within two meditation rooms. And now we arrive at the sacrifice by watching the movie “Offret” and at the Agnus Dei [6] as the Lamb of God, “I say.

[7]

“I could never say the Credo – or I believe – with conviction. It is not possible for me to believe in the Christian theology”, you say.

“You’re not alone and I feel this doubt with you. Also Thomas one of the disciples of Jesus, cannot believe in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and the resurrection of Jesus as salvation and resurrection of all people or believers. Caravaggio’s painting shows that. This doubt of Thomas is not taken away by feeling the wound. Probably, faith and doubt go hand in hand for many Christians”, I say.

[8]

“I believe that every day the sun rises as resurrection and I believe in my next breath. But I cannot believe in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God as salvation of the universe”, you say.

“People have also questioned the next rising of the sun and the next breath. Hereof many rituals are known for establishing and perpetuating this confidence. People know a lot of uncertainties about the past, the present and the future. Christian theology tries to overcome these uncertainties (“in doubt” or “doubt” in Latin) by faith, rituals – including offerings – and hope. A deeply religious Christian once said: “The last thing I want to lose is my faith.” For me, this sentence includes even a trace of doubt. A rock-solid belief never fades. By rituals people try to establish and maintain trust and hope. The Christian faith says: “And they that know your name, will put their trust in you.” [9]  The painting of the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck nicely show this: the Father, the Son as the Lamb of God and the Holy Spirit as trinity”, I say.

“The Bible includes the Book of Job that is about a rock-solid faith [10]. I also think of the Japanese poet Rӯokan. Once at night everything was stolen from his simple hut:

“The thief leaves behind,

the ever changeful Moon

at the firmament.” [11]

The moon [12] points to the firm belief of Rӯokan”, you say.

“The faith of people in the past often seems more certain, because we see their past as well established. But maybe their rock-solid faith does also know uncertainties in their lives. If we look with their eyes, do we see a different world, other uncertainties, different expectations, a different religion? I do not know”, I say.

“Me neither. Shall we continue with the Dove as the Holy Spirit in the next post?”, you say.


[1] St. John 1:1 from the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

[2] St. John 1:29 and 1:36 from the New Testament.

[3] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamb_of_God

[4] Translation: Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

[5] The source of the word “Church” probably is Greek: “Kūrios” meaning “Lord, Master”. Source: Ayto, John, Word Origins, the hidden History of English Words from A to Z. London: A &C Black, 2008. Maybe the word Church originates via the German word “Kirche” from the compound of Indo-European words “kr” (karoti, kurute) meaning “make, do, perform”, and “ish” depending on the “sh” sound either “sacrifice” or “ruler”, or “ich – I ” in Sanskrit.

[6] “The Agnus Dei is part of the Mass in the Catholic church and seems to be introduced for the first time during a Mass by Pope Sergius I (687-701 AD).  Agnus Dei means Lamb of God and literally refers to Christ in his role as the perfect sacrifice that reconciles the sins of mankind in the Christian theology. The prayer dates from the time of the ancient Jewish sacramental sacrifices. The Agnus Dei is sung during Mass when the priest breaks the Holy Bread and unification takes place, the priest drops a piece of the wafer in the chalice – filled with wine and water as blood of Christ.
The sacrifice of a lamb and the blood of the lamb are often used metaphors in the religions of the Middle East. It refers to the ancient Jewish custom to liberate people from their sins by a sacrifice. In the Protestant churches in the Revelation the phrase “washed in the blood of the lamb” is used to designate the deliverance of the original sin supposed by the churches. On our Odyssey, we already have encountered the cattle-sacrifice in the myth and Trito cattle cycle.
In art, Agnus Dei, the figure of a lamb bearing a cross, symbolizing Jesus as the Lamb of God. This metaphor is often used in Christian art, where the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck in Ghent is famous.
Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnus_Dei

[7] Source image: http://www.bertsgeschiedenissite.nl/middeleeuwen/eeuw15/jan_van_eyck.htm

[8] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio.jpg

[9] Source: Psalm 9:10: “God, the protector of the believers”.

[10] Also Job despairs when he and his wife feel the big setbacks directly in their bodies. Job asks God why he deserves these setbacks, his faith is unconditional. In a storm God replies: “Where were you when I separated the sky and the earth and created the universe!”. Hereafter Job recognizes his ignorance, he calls for teaching and confesses that he has directly God in his omnipotence. Job does penance in dust and ashes. After a cattle sacrifice, God’s wrath disappears and prosperity returns for Job.

When Job would have recognized all setbacks as part of himself, may Job have answered God that he is present in the separation of air and earth? May he have the courage to say that his appearance in the separation of air and earth is adapted to the circumstances?  That he always remains one during and after the separation of air and earth and during and after all the crackle that follows?

[11] Source: Stevens, John, Three Zen Masters, Ikkyū, Hakuin, Rӯokan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993. Page 131.

[12] Rӯokan is a Japanese Zen Buddhist. Zen Buddhism starts in China by a merger of Taoism and Buddhism. Taoism knows Tao as a keyword meaning “road or course of life”, but this word is probably derived from the ancient Chinese word for “Moon”. Source: Porter, Bill, Road to Heaven – Encounters with Chinese Hermits. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1993 Page: 35.

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Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Sacrifice


In the previous post, we have entered two meditation rooms. The first room is the Mark Rothko Chapel in Houston. The other meditation room is everywhere and always present.

Now you and I consider the sacrifice as “object in the middle”. For this we look at the last part of the movie “Offret” or “The Sacrifice” by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1986.

[1]

Before we start watching this part of the movie, we read first several introductions and reflections on this film. We start with “The sealed time” [2]: reflections on the cinema by Andrei Tarkovsky.

“The sealed time” is also a good name for the interior of the Mark Rothko Chapel”, you say.

In these reflections Andrei Tarkovsky writes: “The protagonist of the film” Offret ” is meant as a weak personality. No hero, but a thinker and an honest person who is able to sacrifice for a higher ideal. If the situation requires, he does not back and tries to leave the act of sacrifice to someone else. He faces not being understood by others and to be seen as destructive and desperate. He exceeds the permissible limit of normal behavior by which he is seen as insane, because he feels bound to the fate of all mankind. He only responds to the call of his heart. He is not master of fate, but only servant. His efforts remain unnoticed and misunderstood, but do contribute to the harmony of the world.[3]

“Do you recognize yourself in this description?” I ask.

“With shame. I often follow my own way and I have neglected other people unnecessarily”, you say.

“Who does not?” I say.

“Saints?”, you say

“We both aren’t,” I say.

In the afterword to these considerations Andrei Tarkovsky writes: “Throughout history ideologues and politicians have shown people “the only right way” that can save the world. To partake in this salvation the individual should – according to ideologues, politicians and/or society – give up all own ideas in order to channel all energy to the proposed rescue. For this progress, that has to safeguard the future of humanity, the individual sacrifices his inner life. His personality is lost in following this ideal. Because mankind thinks of the interests of all, it forgets its own personal interest as Christ preaches: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This means: “Love yourself so much that you respect the divine principle in yourself, the suprapersonal that prohibits selfishness and obliges you to give yourself to others unconditionally, loyalty to yourself from the I as a personal centre of life.” [4] [5]

“This requires a major balancing act between self-interest – in which the world is reflected – and sacrifices for others – whereby each sacrifice for another is a sacrifice to yourself”, you say.

“Somewhere I read that a beggar and a benefactor show compassion for each other by an offering. The beggar gives the benefactor the opportunity to demonstrate compassion and the benefactor shows compassion with another expression of his own life”, I say.

“To give offerings in an unconditional manner, we still have a long way to go. Andrei Tarkovsky describes a first step towards a Buddhist bodhisattva [6]. The ideal of salvation and the unconditional offerings to others is present. Only the efforts and the ways to achieve one’s own perfection before the bodhisattva encourages others to prepare for enlightenment, lacks”, you say.

“Within mahâyâna [7] Buddhism enlightenment is only possible for everyone at the same time. The metaphor of Indra’s Net shows this. First one’s own glass bead has to be prepares for enlightenment. Thereafter, all other glass beads have to be able to enter enlightenment. If one glass bead is illuminated, all other pearls are also lit: no jewel within Indra’s Net is left behind, because otherwise the dust on one non-enlightened jewel reflects on all”, I say.

“Absolutely. Because the protagonist is not clear in his mind, he cannot save the world. If he does so, he remains behind with his faults and is at least one small part of the world that is not saved. Hereby the protagonist is not a bodhisattva, but a tragic hero”, you say.

“He cannot be a classic tragic hero, because he believes in a God who may grant him salvation,” I say.

“Later on our Odyssey, we will encounter enlightenment again. You and I share the same shortcomings as the protagonist in the film. I hope we are able to see a glimpse of the enlightenment. Odysseus has been tied to the mast of his ship in the vicinity of the Sirens. The ears of his crew were filled with wax to prevent noticing the seductive sounds. This reasoning is not sound, anyway”, you say.

“Let us watch the movie”, I say.

The last film of Andrei Tarkovsky – finished shortly before his death – begins with the monologue by the father – Alexander – to his son who will not speak during the entire movie due to a throat disease: “A long ago, an old monk named Pamve was in an Orthodox monastery. He has planted a dead tree. His pupil – named Ivan Kolvo – may give water to the tree every day. Every morning he climbs with a full bucket of water uphill and gives water to the dead trunk. On one day after three years, the tree blooms with full blossom [8]. Every action has its consequence. If you perform undisturbed at the same time every day the same ritual, the world will change irrevocably. [9]

“My mother once put a dead stick on the ground outside to the wall. After several months, the stick has rooted”, you say.

[10]

During the film a threat of a war develops that will destroy everything and everyone. Under this pressure, the main character – Alexander – goes to his study. He kneels on the ground and does something he never has done before. He prays: “Lord, save us in this fearful hour. Do not let my children and friends die, my wife, everyone who loves and believes in you. And those who do not believe in you because they are blind and have not given thoughts to you because they have not really been unhappy. Anyone who will lose his hopes now, his future his life and the opportunity to be guided by your word. Those who are filled with fear and feel the end is nearing. Who do not fear for themselves but for their neighbours. For those who nobody else can save but you. Because this war is the last, a terrible war. After this there will be no victors and vanquished any more. No towns and villages, trees and grass. No water in the springs or birds in the sky. I give you everything I own. I leave my family that I love. I destroy my house and take away my son. I will remain silent and talk to nobody. I renounce all that binds me to this life. If you only ensure that everything is as it was. And I am freed from that deadly, unbearable, animal fear. Lord, help me. I will do what I promised.”

The next morning, the threat is disappeared. Alexander sticks to his word and lures all the residents to the seaside before putting the house on fire. All his possessions are on fire. He sacrifices his soul for his neighbours and the world. He is retrieved by an ambulance for admission to a mental institution.

[11]

“This sacrifice is not only a sacrifice of the protagonist. It is also a sacrifice made by his family and friends. Without any direct say, they lose Alexander, their house and possessions. Can a sacrifice be a real sacrifice when innocent people involved “[12], you ask.

While the ambulance passes, the son is ready to water the dead tree with full buckets of water. The Aria “Erbarme dich“ from St. Matthew Passion begins.

“Erbarme dich,
Mein Gott,
Um meiner want Zahren
Schaue here
Herz und Auge weint vor dir
Bitterlich.”
[13]

The son looks at the crown of the tree and says his only words during the film: “In the beginning is the word [14]. Why Father? “.

At the appearance of the text mentioning that the film is dedicated to the son of Andrei Tarkovsky – with hope and consolation, the crown of the tree seems to bloom.

“The son makes three sacrifices. He loses his father because his father sticks to his word and to God’s word. He makes his second sacrifice by continuously giving water to the tree and bringing this tree back to life. By the third sacrifice he remain silent throughout the film. Fully justified the son asks his father – and God – why his father must keep his word”, you say.

“For me this is a film of hope, because the last film by Andrei Tarkovsky is dedicated to his son with hope and consolation. At the end of this film, the light gives bloom to the tree of life. The life of his father – now a dry tree, because he has stopped acting – becomes a tree of life for the son by means of water. The son does not need any words for his sacrifices; his life, his actions and his knowledge precedes all words”, I say.

“A great enhancement of my impressions. Tarkovsky transcends “the sealed time” with this end of his last film”, you say.

[15]

The next post is about the Lamb of God as sacrifice.


[1] Source image: front of DVD-cover of the Swedish version of the film “Offret”.

[2] Tarkovski, Andrei, Sculpting in Time – Reflections on the Cinema. 1989

[3] Tarkovski, Andrei, De verzegelde tijd – Beschouwingen over de filmkunst. Pagina 203.

[4] Tarkovski, Andrei, De verzegelde tijd – Beschouwingen over de filmkunst. Pagina 207 – 208.

[5] For consideration: Indra’s Net as metaphor; see also: “Indra’s net” in post “Introduction: One – Pantheism – Indra’s net” of 8th April 2011

[6] The word bodhisattva consists of two words “bodhi” and “sattva” meaning “perfect knowledge, wisdom” and “being, conscience, living being” in Sanskrit. The school of mahâyâna buddhism knows the bodhisattva ideal. According to this ideal a human who is on the verge of enlightenment – named bodhisattva, will refrain of entering until the complete universe and every particle is capable to enter enlightment. In the meantime a bodhisattva will prepare everyone and everything for enlightenment.

[7] Mahâyâna means “large vehicle”. All and everyone is enclosed in this large vehicle, no particle is excluded.

[8] See also the post of 2nd of April 2011 “Introduction One – Blossom.”

[9] See also the posts of 24th en 27th March 2011 on rituels.

[10] Source image: http://www.jaapnoordzij.nl/credo/2010/09/offret-het-offer.html

[11] Source image: http://www.discordance.fr/top-5-les-meilleurs-epilogues-du-cinema-27740/1_offret

[12] Source: Fanu, Mark Le, The Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. London: BFI Publishing, 1987, page 125

[13] Aria from the St. Matthew Passion by the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Translation: “Have mercy, my God, regarding my tears, look at me, heart and eyes weep for you bitterly.”

[14] See also: Opening of the Gospel of St. John from the New Testament.

[15] Source image: http://www.elitisti.net/artikkeli/2005/02/004308/offret_1986_uhri.html