Rembrandt, Self-portrait, 1660
Rembrandt painted self-portraits his whole life. His "Self-portrait as a Young Man" from 1628 in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, is one example of his youthful verve and overconfidence; later his works, such as the one from 1660, showed a weathered life of two marriages, bankruptcy, court charges, among other things. This particular painting from the Met Museum is one of roughly forty reflections he created throughout his career. At the time, he was fifty-four, just a few years younger than I am now and a few years before his second wife dies. The gravitas for an artist to step into a self-analysis of this kind is weighty at best. Navel-gazing, my father called it, but as I see it, self-portraiture is an important part of the artist training I told my dad. My father's concern was that too much analysis, too much self-reflection would keep my eyes off of Jesus.
The antidote to too much self, at least for me, is to look to God’s creative work, which is rooted in his trinitarian being. Rowen Williams teases out this kind of thinking for me in his essay, Creation, Creativity, and Creatureliness, (2015). Seeing God, he states, is to understand how creativity works; it is bound to love, it is in his words, "to be for the other." But seeing the other can be a real problem. One reason why we can't see God is that our vision of our individual self gets in the way, or another way of putting it, we can’t see the creation because we ourselves are in the way. Williams asks us to see creation through a lens of discipleship. I've never thought of the term used this way but I kind of like it. “Discipleship in the body of Christ is in one sense simply a matter of constantly battling to be a creature,” Williams states, “battling against all those instincts in us that make us want to be God or make us want to be what we think God is.” Discipleship then challenges the unrealities that distort humanity, that distort creatureliness. Rather than just seeing ourself, or our own version of God, can we see that there is something transformative when we find God’s beauty even in a world brokenness? Here we acknowledge our limits; here we step into our finitude.
Even so, I still find this problematic. I still don’t know what to make of the creator himself becoming a creature; I still don’t know what to make of the risen Lord with marks and wounds in his side, his head, his hands and feet.