Thursday, April 13, 2017

The burden of humanness (Denise Levertov)

   Maybe He looked indeed 
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him 
in those small heads that seem in fact 
portraits of more than a model. 
A dark, still young, very intelligent face, 
A soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging. 
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth 
In a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions. 
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him 
That He taste also the humiliation of dread, 
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go, 
like any mortal hero out of his depth, 
like anyone who has taken herself back. 
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how, 
in the midnight Garden, 
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross, 
He went through with even the human longing 
to simply cease, to not be. 
Not torture of body, 
not the hideous betrayals humans commit 
nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely 
not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony’s grip) 
was Incarnation’s heaviest weight, 
but this sickened desire to renege, 
to step back from what He, Who was God, 
had promised Himself, and had entered 
time and flesh to enact. 
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, 
had to have welled 
up from those depths 
where purpose 
drifted for mortal moments. 

--Denise Levertov, 
Salvator Mundi Via Crucis, 
A Poem for Good Friday

Image source:  Rembrandt, Head of Christ (1648)

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