Living on the altar of sacrifice

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664)

During my most recent Sacrament of Reconciliation (which is often integrated with spiritual direction when I’m with this particular priest), my confessor suddenly turned his computer monitor around and showed me his wallpaper. It is the painting I have featured in this post.

He waits for me to take a good look at the painting, then he asks me, “What will it take for you to be able to live – *he points at the painting* – there?”

I gaze at the painting, trying to absorb the significance of the question that has just been posed to me. My confessor proceeds to describe and explain the painting to me. He points out that the lamb is surrounded by darkness. Its hoofs are trussed up – it is immobile. It is lying precariously on a ledge. And as miserable as its present predicament seems, what lies ahead is even more ominous – for it will be sacrificed.

Francisco de Zurbarán was a master in the use of chiaroscuro in his paintings – a compositional technique that uses the contrast of light and darkness. And in this painting, the lamb – the only object in the foreground which is lit – just by its very presence, gives structure to and holds up the darkness that surrounds it.

Having explained all this, my confessor repeats his question to me, “So. What will it take for you to be able to live like that? To live not from your abilities and talents, not by trying to control your life or to change the world – but with your metaphorical hoofs tied up – and to be at peace with that?”

What a powerful painting. What a powerful explanation. And what a powerful challenge. A few months ago such a question would have distressed me greatly, for I have been conditioned to exert control, to attempt to order chaos, and to value what my abilities can achieve for me. But God has been teaching me something different in the past few months – He has been leading me on a journey of downward mobility. And I’ve been discovering that by far the greatest wisdom is in learning to accept that wherever I am in the present moment, I am loved by God, and that His will is being fulfilled in my life. It is this very surrender that will enable me to hold up the darkness in my life.

This is not an easy lesson, but it is a very simple one. And my master and teacher is none other than the Lamb of God himself who accepted everything, even death on the cross – for me.

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