Sunday, 20 April 2014

What you look like from the back

Matthew 28:1-10 

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’ Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.
  And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

A bit of an indulgence... Now and again a friend of mine, during a conversation will make the challenge, 'Make that into a blog post!'. So here we are.

We are both avid people watchers and often fight for the seat with the most panoramic view in cafes and restaurants. Generally this phrase is delivered (by said friend) as ' Do you think they know what they look like from the back?' and is aimed at people believing that they are dressed in the height of fashion. And they may well be. But from the back, wthout the benefit of a good long look in the mirror - things seem too tight, too short, too baggy, too wrong. 

Of course, it is all a matter of opinion - but people watchers are very good at having an opinion.

I developed a fondness for people watching in art school. One of my modules was Reportage - on-the-spot drawing. This meant wandering around the city- centre, shops, parks, museums and so on -  and drawing people. Then finding a quiet space or a talent for seeming to look one way whilst looking another, with a covert sketchbook and materials. Although, before now, serviettes, menus and flyers have served. 

As I reflect, I can see that I had a tendency for drawing people from the back. Queuing,with frustration or boredom, at the cash machine.  Weariness or enthusiasm for shopping or perusing windows or marveling at exhibits. Leaning over the side of the ferry, pensive or sickly? Mums in many moods pushing prams and dragging toddlers. The stance of a squash player as they deliver a mean backhand. And I love that moment at a party when a favourite song comes on and the women sashay through the tables calling to their friends to join in. Little children doing that do-see-doh with their hands behind their backs as they ask for just one more...

I realise that there's actually a lot (more than fashion sense) that you can learn 'from the back'. Whilst the face and the voice can pretend the body is less able. Body language makes up between 55% and 92% of communication and can be much more authentic. After all - who cares what you look like from the back?

What you look like from the back speak volumes. When you know the person, that intimately, there is no need to see their faces.

I imagine Jesus watching from the long shadows under a weeping olive tree as the women approach the tomb. Seeing the weariness in their steps, the way they lean on each other for support, holding each other back from their fears.

I imagine the women seeing the soliders lying in the dust. Hands over their heads and eyes tightly closed in terror, knees curled under them like infants. No sign of the mocking swagger now, no military bearing to challenge the angel of the Lord. 

As the angel turns away their fear, the women straighten, return to the dignity Jesus had given them with his acceptance and inclusion. Questioning gestures turn to embraces and thanksgiving raising of arms. 

It is too much. Can he really leave them with only the angel's reassurance?

What the women look like from the back draws Jesus close. He could leave them with a word and a prayer. But his pride in their faith brings him back into their arms. 

After the unbelievable and intimate joy of this meeting, the women race off head veils and shawls flying. 

What would they have looked like from the back?


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