A 2017 tribute to John McCain in art: Christ, Our Mother heals the faithful Centurion’s pais

Christ, Our Mother heals the faithful Centurion’s pais. ©2017 Alfred Eaker.

A tribute I paid to Sen. John McCain about a year ago, casting him as the Centurion in “the Gospel of Christ, Our Mother “ ( a series which cast Christ in the symbol of Julian of Norwich’s Christ, Our Mother ) although I didn’t always agree with him politically, McCain was the last of the Rockefeller Republicans – a moderate- who believed in reaching out and working with those of different ideologies and who refused to mantle a fundamentalist attitude of towing the party dogmatic line.

In the narrative, a Roman centurion goes to Christ and asks Christ to heal an ill servant. Christ agrees and gets up to leave. The centurion stops Christ and says, “ No, you do not have to leave. Just say the word and my servant will be healed.” Christ marvels at this and says, “ I have never seen this kind of faith in all of Israel. Your servant is healed.” And he was. This is the moment the centurion thanks Christ. Christ as mother is a metaphor, which comes from the 14th century mystic , Julian of Norwich who essentially said Christ was as maternal in his empathy and love as he was paternal . So, in this contemporary setting , I cast Christ as mother, McCain as the centurion. It’s kind of a reflection of McCain’s bipartisanship, sticking to his guns of being a maverick, and his faith in country.2017 Alfred Eaker

Christ, Our Mother: The Good Shepherd

Christ, Our Mother: The Good Shepherd ©2017 Alfred Eaker

The Sowing of Meanings (Thomas Merton)

See the high birds! Is their’s the song
That dies among the wood-light
Wounding the listener with such bright arrows?
Or do they play in wheeling silences
Defining in the perfect sky
The bounds of (here below) our solitude,

Where spring has generated lights of green
To glow in clouds upon the sombre branches?
Ponds full of sky and stillnesses
What heavy summer songs still sleep
Under the tawny rushes at your brim

More than a season will be born here, nature,
In your world of gravid mirrors!
The quiet air awaits one note,
One light, one ray and it will be the angels’ spring:
One flash, one glance upon the shiny pond, and then
Asperges me! sweet wilderness, and lo! we are redeemed!

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power —
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

Until, in the amazing light of April,
Surcharging the religious silence of the spring,
Creation finds the pressure of His everlasting secret
Too terrible to bear.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light,
While the wild countryside, unknown, unvisited of men,
Bears sheaves of clean, transforming fire.

And then, oh then the written image, schooled in sacrifice,
The deep united threeness printed in our being,
Shot by the brilliant syllable of such an intuition, turns within,
And plants that light far down into the heart of darkness and oblivion,
Dives after, and discovers flame.

DAD, AUNT GRETA, SACRED HEART, and OUR LADY: A Tribute

(painting: Extra, Extra, Extra Pickles. Christmas Sliders At Anita’s. A Portrait Of Alfred Eaker Sr By his Son, Alfred Eaker, Jr. © Alfred Eaker 2017)

Almost two years ago, I lost my father. Although he was practically illiterate and deeply flawed, he had old-world values, a giving heart, and late-in-life sense of humor that made his eyes literally twinkle at times and I wish he were here for me to talk to now. His final illness was fairly quick, but not quick enough and he suffered so and I wished, as I was there with him for a few days before his end, that I could have waved a magic hand and taken away his considerable pain.

Still, when I reflect on him, I focus on that twinkle and his naive, but giving spirit.

I grew up in a charismatic evangelical, iconoclastic church environment and it was in opposition to what I held dear, even at that age. In his limited understanding, Dad knew this. So, when my aunt Greta came to visit Indy (from Arizona), Dad okayed my spending the day with her while he and my brother went hunting and mother was away at a lady’s retreat.

Aunt Greta and I were going to visit the grave of a loved one and although we had only met once before that, she felt enough kinship with me to want to spend time together while she was here.

On the way to the grave sight, Greta and I stopped at Sacred Heart parish to light candles for our departed relative. I’d never been in a Catholic parish at all, let alone a pre-Vatican II one and the art there literally took my breath away.

For a moment, I was distracted because I saw a cowboy praying the rosary at the altar. Apart from him (and us) the church was almost vacant. On the previous night, having seen a Johnny Mack Brown western with Dad, I first thought this was that B movie actor at Sacred Heart (I was eight). Of course it wasn’t, but my attention quickly shifted to a sculpture of Our Lady. She even reminded me a bit of Johnny’s leading lady; Beth Marion. Immediately, I was attracted to the Mary image and she was quite the opposite of how I viewed the scary, unloving God of wrath and vengeance that I knew from mother’s church.

Seeing that I was stirred at Sacred Heart, whenever she came to town, Greta snuck me into that parish. It became a pilgrimage every few years. Dad didn’t understand his sister’s devotion and was so naive that he even asked Greta once: “What’s a mass?” What he did understand was that Greta offered something to me that neither he, nor mother could give. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he knew that I was uncomfortable in mother’s Pentecostal religion, had a contentious relationship with her, was inherently artistic, and hyper-sensative. He couldn’t relate, but he knew I needed to be with aunt Greta. So, Dad being Dad; he came up with a lie of an excuse every few years to give mother in order to permit my Sacred Heart pilgrimages with Aunt Greta (mother would never have allowed my stepping foot in a Catholic parish filled with art). I’ve always been grateful to Dad for that because although we never spent much time together and didn’t relate well to one another, he put my needs above his understanding and that’s so authentically spiritual because I don’t know that he ever really believed per se. Of course, his belief or lack thereof doesn’t matter to me one bit.

When I got my first real job, pumping gas at a Philips 66 in Franklin, Dad would bring me White Castles with extra, extra pickles on Christmas Eve, which was his idiosyncratic tradition and he used to joke: “Aunt Greta wouldn’t do that, cuz she ain’t got the taste for ’em-living all the way out in Arizona.” It was a cute competitiveness that was entirely Dad.

Years later, after becoming immersed in Thomas Merton, Flannery O’ Connor, and meeting Fr. Justin, I converted to Catholicism. Dad still didn’t understand why I would want to, but he gleamed when saying: “When your mother’s outta the house, I’m gonna call your Aunt Greta and tell her.” I asked why he had to be so clandestine because I had told mother myself. He answered: “Cuz, I don’t want her to know that I covered for you and Greta back in the day.” After all these years, he still didn’t want mother to know that he had lied for me. When he called Greta, her response was: “I knew your son was going to become Catholic.” “How’d you know?” “Because he said he was going to.” “When?” “On that first day I took him to Sacred Heart when he was eight-years-old. He said that when he grew up, he was going to become a Catholic.” Dad shared that Greta conversation with me a short while later, after mother was safely out of the house. He got a kick out of the idea that he had, in a way, been instrumental in my covert conversion.

The next conversation he had regarding Greta was an ultimately sadder occasion, but a revealing one as well. While Greta had been in the hospital, her husband; Bill had died at home. When she found out, she told Dad on the phone; “I’m going to die too, now.” Dad protested with passion because he loved Greta dearly, but she told him: “Don’t put your fear of death on me, Alfred. I was married to Bill for 50 years and I don’t want to be here without him. I’ll meet him on the other side.” Two days later, she flew off this mortal coil.

When I was doing my Masters degree in theology, I helped care for Dad for about two years when he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimers. One of the cutest things about him during that period was a love for Spiderman, which was odd as Dad was always a Western kind of guy (Paladin being his all-time favorite). He would watch the Spiderman movies repeatedly with his dog Pixie on lap and would ask me to sit down and watch them with him. Once, when I was not in the mood to do so, I whined in order to try and get out of it: “I like Superman better,” to which he responded, “Superman’s old and Spiderman’s more realistic. Sit down, cuz your mother won’t watch it with me.” Once, when he cut his finger, he had to have a Spiderman band-aid, which took trips to half a dozen stores before we found one.

About two years after Greta’s passing, Dad was dying. I flew into Indy to be with him and one of the the first things he said when he saw me was: “Let’s order some White Castles with extra, extra pickles.” Despite the fact that he was eaten up with cancer, he wanted to have that last ritual with me and although it’s doubtful that he would have understood my saying so, that was profoundly Catholic of him.

Goodbye Brave, Sweet Man ( A Tribute To Alfred Eaker, Sr By His Son, Alfred Eaker, Jr) © 2017 Alfred Eake

SEA OF ROSARIES: Annunciation

Annunciation (oil on canvas) © 2011 Alfred Eaker

Annunciation (Thomas Merton)

Ashes of paper, ashes of a world
Wandering, when fire is done:
We argue with the drops of rain!

Until one comes Who walks unseen
Even in elements we have destroyed.
Deeper than any nerve
He enters flesh and bone.
Planting His truth, He puts our substance on.
Air, earth, and rain
Rework the frame that fire has ruined.
What was dead is waiting for His Flame.
Sparks of His Spirit spend their seeds, and hide
To grow like irises, born before summertime.
These blue thinas bud in Israel.

The girl prays by the bare wall
Between the lamp and the chair.
(Framed with an angel in our galleries
She has a richer painted room, sometimes a crown.
Yet seven pillars of obscurity
Build her to Wisdom’s house, and Ark, and Tower.
She is the Secret of another Testament
She owns their manna in her jar.)

Fifteen years old –
The flowers printed on her dress
Cease moving in the middle of her prayer
When God, Who sends the messenger,
Meets His messenger in her Heart.
Her answer, between breath and breath,
Wrings from her innocence our Sacrament!
In her white body God becomes our Bread.

It is her tenderness
Heats the dead world like David on his bed.
Times that were too soon criminal
And never wanted to be normal
Evade the beast that has pursued
You, me and Adam out of Eden’s wood.
Suddenly we find ourselves assembled
Cured and recollected under several green trees.

Her prudence wrestled with the Dove
To hide us in His cloud of steel and silver:
These are the mysteries of her Son.
And here my heart, a purchased outlaw,
Prays in her possession
Until her Jesus makes my heart
Smile like a flower in her blameless hand.

SEA OF ROSARIES: OUR LADY OF THE WOODS

OUR LADY OF THE WOODS ©1994 ALFRED EAKER

Winter’s Night (Thomas Merton)

When, in the dark, the frost cracks on the window
The children awaken, and whisper.
One says the moonlight grated like a skate
Across the freezing river.
Another hears the starlight breaking like a knifeblade
Upon the silent, steelbright pond.
They say the trees are stiller than the frozen water
From waiting for a shouting light, a heavenly message.

Yet it is far from Christmas, when a star
Sang in the pane, as brittle as their innocence!
For now the light of early Lent
Glitters upon the icy step –
“We have wept letters to our patron saints,
(The children say) yet slept before they ended.”

Oh, is there in this night no sound of strings, of singers!
None coming from the wedding, no, nor
Bridegroom’s messenger?
(The sleepy virgins stir, and trim their lamps.)

The moonlight rings upon the ice as sudden as a
footstep;
Starlight clinks upon the dooryard stone, too like a
latch,
And the children are again, awake,
And all call out in whispers to their guardian angels.

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady of Sorrows

“Our Lady Of Sorrows,” ©2009 Alfred Eaker (Franciscan Hermitage, Indianapolis)

The Evening of the Visitation (Thomas Merton)

Go, roads, to the four quarters of our quiet distance,
While you, full moon, wise queen,
Begin your evening journey to the hills of heaven,
And travel no less stately in the summer sky
Than Mary, going to the house of Zachary.

The woods are silent with the sleep of doves,
The valleys with the sleep of streams,
And all our barns are happy with peace of cattle gone to rest.
Still wakeful, in the fields, the shocks of wheat
Preach and say prayers:
You sheaves, make all your evensongs as sweet as ours,
Whose summer world, all ready for the granary and barn,
Seems to have seen, this day,
Into the secret of the Lord’s Nativity.

Now at the fall of night, you shocks,
Still bend your heads like kind and humble kings
The way you did this golden morning when you saw God’s
Mother passing,
While all our windows fill and sweeten
With the mild vespers of the hay and barley.

You moon and rising stars, pour on our barns and houses
Your gentle benedictions.
Remind us how our Mother, with far subtler and more holy
influence,
Blesses our rooves and eaves,
Our shutters, lattices and sills,
Our doors, and floors, and stairs, and rooms, and bedrooms,
Smiling by night upon her sleeping children:
O gentle Mary! Our lovely Mother in heaven!

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady of Cobre and the dance of the scared feminine

Our Lady Of Cobre and the dance of the sacred feminine ©2018 Alfred Eaker 

Song for Our Lady of Cobre (Thomas Merton)

The white girls lift their heads like trees,
The black girls go
Reflected like flamingoes in the street.

The white girls sing as shrill as water,
The black girls talk as quiet as clay.
The white girls open their arms like clouds,
The black girls close their eyes like wings:
Angels bow down like bells,
Angels look up like toys,

Because the heavenly stars
Stand in a ring:
And all the pieces of the mosaic, earth,
Get up and fly away like birds.

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady of The Mermaids

Our Lady Of The Mermaids (oil on canvas) © 2011 Alfred Eaker (Franciscan Hermitage, Indianapolis)

Cana (Thomas Merton)

Once when our eyes were clean as noon, our rooms
Filled with the joys of Cana’s feast:
For Jesus came, and His disciples, and His Mother,
And after them the singers
And some men with violins.

Once when our minds were Galilees,
And clean as skies our faces,
Our simple rooms were charmed with sun.

Our thoughts went in and out in whiter coats than
God’s disciples’,
In Cana’s crowded rooms, at Cana’s tables.

Nor did we seem to fear the wine would fail:
For ready, in a row, to fill with water and a miracle,
We saw our earthen vessels, waiting empty.
What wine those humble waterjars foretell!

Wine for the ones who, bended to the dirty earth,
Have feared, since lovely Eden, the sun’s fire,
Yet hardly mumble, in their dusty mouths, one prayer.

Wine for old Adam, digging in the briars!

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady Of Guadalupe: A Woman Clothed In The Sun (and the Dragon of Chaos)

Our Lady of Guadalupe: A Woman Clothed In The Sun (and The Dragon of Chaos) © 2018 Alfred Eaker

Duns Scotus (Thomas Merton)

Striking like lightning to the quick of the real world
Scotus has mined all ranges to their deepest veins:
But where, oh, on what blazing mountain of theology
And in what Sinai’s furnace
Did God refine the gold?

Who ruled those arguments in their triumphant order
And armed them with their strict celestial light?
See the lance-lightning, blade-gliter, banner-progress
As love advances, company by company
In sunlit teams his clean embattled reasons,

Until the firmament, with high heavenly marvel
Views in our crystal souls her blue embodiment,
Unfurls a thousand flags above our heads –
It is the music of Our Lady’s army!

For Scotus is her theologian,
Nor has there ever been a braver chivalry than his
precision.
His thoughts are skies of cloudless peace
Bright as the vesture of her grand aurora
Filled with the rising Christ.

But we, a weak, suspicious generation,
Loving emotion, hating prayer,
We are not worthy of his wisdom.
Creeping like beasts between the mountain’s feet
We look for laws in the Arabian dust.
We have no notion of his freedom

Whose acts despise the chains of choice and passion.
We have no love for his beautitude
Whose act renounces motion:
Whose love flies home forever
As silver as felicity,
Working and quiet in the dancelight of an everlasting
arrow.

Lady, the image of whose heaven
Sings in the might of Scotus’ reasoning:
There is no line of his that has not blazed your glory
in the schools,
Though in dark words, without romance,
Calling us to swear you our liege.

Language was far too puny for his great theology:
But, oh! His thought strode through those words
Bright as the conquering Christ
Between the clouds His enemies:
And in the clearing storm and Sinai’s dying thunder
Scotus comes out, and shakes his golden locks
And sings like the African sun.

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady, Star of the Sea

Our Lady: Star of the Sea © 2018 Alfred Eaker

The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window (Thomas Merton)

Because my will is simple as a window
And knows no pride of original birth,
It is my life to die, like glass, by light:
Slain in the strong rays of the bridegroom sun.

Because my love is simple as a window
And knows no shame of original dust,
I longed all night, (when I was visible) for dawn my death:
When I would marry day, my Holy Spirit:
And die by transsubstantiation into light.

For light, my lover, steals my life in secret.
I vanish into day, and leave no shadow
But the geometry of my cross,
Whose frame and structure are the strength
By which I die, but only to the earth,
And am uplifted to the sky my life.

When I became the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover’s life,t

Look with no fear:
For the torn storm lets in, at the world’s rim,
Three streaming rays as straight as Jacob’s ladder:

And you shall see the sun, my Son, my Substance,
Come to convince the world of the day’s end, and of the night,
Smile to the lovers of the day in smiles of blood;
For though my love, He’ll be their Brother,
My light – the Lamb of their Apocalypse.