I have a large print of this work of art on my wall. It’s large, very large, a metre across. I think some of my visitors find it a bit intimidating, but for me it is confronting in a way that I find helpful, inspiring even.
The work is Eugene Burnand‘s 1898 depiction of (and this is the title given by the artist – perhaps the longest ever title for a painting): Peter and John Running to the Tomb on the Morning of the Resurrection.
The scriptural description of these running disciples is the gospel passage for today’s feast of John the Apostle and Evangelist.
We know what they find when they get to the tomb: a tidy (burial cloths rolled and folded) and empty tomb.
John entered the tomb. He saw. He believed.
Sixty years later, soon before his death at the end of the first Christian century, the 90+ year-old John writes his first letter, a letter focussing on the centrality of Christ bringing God’s love and unity.
Today’s first reading is the opening verses of this letter.
Here’s the entire reading – take note of how often the bodily senses are mentioned.
Something which has existed since the beginning,
that we have heard,
and we have seen with our own eyes;
that we have watched
and touched with our hands:
the Word, who is life –
this is our subject.
That life was made visible:
we saw it and we are giving our testimony,
telling you of the eternal life
which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.
What we have seen and heard
we are telling you
so that you too may be in union with us,
as we are in union
with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.
Too often we who long to live in relationship with Jesus make the mistake of thinking that our bodies are a problem, an obstacle to this relationship.
The idea that the spirit is good and the body is bad (or problematic) is a prevailing heresy. In fact we are only able to experience Christ in and through our bodies and our bodily senses. You might like to put this to the test today.
Take a moment now to be aware of each of your bodily senses: your sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell.
The Spanish word “sentir” used by Ignatius when he speaks of the “application of the senses” in prayer has the same ambiguity as in English: we can hear or see or taste something with the senses of the body, but then even more profoundly we can have a heart-felt sense of someone or something.
The physical senses of the body are the gateway to the deeper senses of the soul.
Now intentionally engage each sense, turning on the ignition for each of your physical senses, and keep them running through the day.
As you remember to do this throughout the day you will become more intimately aware of Jesus with you, through what we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: