Photo credit HERE
BY JAKE DOCKTER
One Sunday during the mingling time before the service, something caught my eye on my way by the board near the kitchen. The bulletin was collaged with photographs from a recent church trip to Mexico and it was easy to pick out the faces of those from our church; the white faces among the brown and sun-touched skin of Mexico. I quickly scanned the photos, looking for a familiar face, until in the bottom corner, my eyes stopped on one photo. No smiling kids, no white and out of place Portlanders swinging hammers or sipping Mexican Coca-Colas from battered bottles. The photo was basically empty, just some dusty ground, a pile of tires and standing in the middle of the frame, a statue.
It took me a second to figure out what it was I was looking at, the photo slightly blurred. Upon realizing what it was I was deeply intrigued, caught in the mystery of it. The photo showed an empty lot on the side of a dusty road. Piles of tires filled the background and trash was strewn through the rod. A few shacks stood at the edges. No one stood in sight. The frame was mostly barren but in the center of the photo, the focal point, was a statue of the Virgin Mary. The same Mary seen in thousands of images from churches to candles. But this one was different, in this image there only stood the halo. There was no Virgin, only an empty aureola and above it a sacred heart. Mary was missing.
An aureola is a kind of halo. While a halo surrounds the head, an aureola surrounds the whole body, emanating from behind and around the figure. They can be seen in many sacred paintings of Byzantine and early medieval art portraying the divine figures.
That is the kind of Mary in the photo, or at least just her halo, because, as I said, Mary was missing. The glory of God still glowed from around the edges of where she once stood. Why was she not there?
Maybe the purpose of the whole thing is that we see the world through the gap. It all becomes divine as we stare through the aureola. If we stood in that field, directly in front of the sculpture and looked at the nearby shacks, they would take the place and physicality of Mary herself. These shacks would transform, becoming something much more than a hovel. Even when empty of any human, the scene shows us the divine breaking through into the every day.
But we could also see this through the idea of negative space. Negative space is the area that surrounds an image, or the area held in by an image, the dead space in between and around. The white of the page surrounding these words is a negative space. Negative space is a record of what was left behind, a vacuum of what once was. Mary is gone but still continuously acting; her absence makes us see her presence. We see her shadow, which shows us that nearby must be her body or at least her actions.
Christianity follows a man who once was, but is no longer among us. His physical body is distant. We live in the reality of His negative space. Those of us who seek to follow him are called to fill the void, becoming His body in the world. We are called to point out His shadow, the record of His presence. His absence does not mean His disassociation but shows that he is somewhere out there, active and working.
The empty cross shows us that He is no longer nailed there. The empty tomb shows he is no longer buried. We live in celebration of negative space and we are the fulfillment of it. Absence can be something mystical, powerful and divine. It can remind us of what was, it can motivate us to what can be, and it can force us to remember. Mary is not missing: you are only choosing to see her that way.