used to attend a figure drawing class. It began at 08.45 every Wednesday morning.

 

The model would stand in the middle of the room, on a pedestal, with a robe over his or her body. The curtains would be drawn at just the right width to allow a rich shaft of sunlight to beam down at an angle across the figure. And when the moment was right, the model would release the robe.

 

I can remember any drawing session like it was yesterday.

 

Dust motes danced in the sunlight as it skimmed over the lazy folds of the cloth. The robe flowed down serenely like a prayer over Shiloh to the model’s feet. Sunlight settled on naked flesh, embracing its hollows and its curves. It bore witness to – nay, it bared – the places where the hushed silences were not enough. They could never be enough.

Reverence filled the place. It was instantly consecrated. The body in our midst would be a temple within a temple.

Whether that model was black or white, male or female, ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’, I always found the same thing to be true.

By daring to unveil, the model had at once defeated and surrendered to me. I could no longer criticize or judge him. By exposing everything – body hairs standing on end, pubic hair growth patterns, genitalia, bone structure, skin tone and consistency, wrinkles, freckles – the model had utterly transcended any belief I may have had that he was judging me. He could never judge me if he met me on the street.

He had erased the possibility of this happening. He had done this by first exposing himself to the possibility of my criticism. By making himself vulnerable to my condemnation. Which is a powerful way of stopping it before it even begins. It’s a form of protest, of prayer, and of oppression. It is a merciless, cruel innocence.   

 

And it must be innocent. If he knows of the omnipotence his vulnerability contains, then it is an adulterated power. It is tainted. The only way he can remain strong is if he doesn’t know his strength; the only way he can remain beyond judgment is if he doesn’t know that he is beyond judgment. For ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.’

 

If he knows the innocent power his nakedness has, he loses his power.

 

‘At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.’

 

O be careful little eyes what you see. There’s a Father up above. And He’s looking down in love. So, be careful little eyes what you see.

 

My opinion on this model, who imperfectly represented, for a moment, the image of humanity and divinity at once? In the absence of judgment, I could only think one thing:

Holy. Holy. Holy.

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

 

So he stands, the model, anxious about what fiery fires and brimstones we’re slinging at him in our heads, even as we render our judgments in graphite, on paper, in our hearts.

He wonders anxiously what we think of his very self, laid bare. Are we rejecting him? Accepting him? Worse still: are we so apathetic about his presence in the middle of the room, just barely tolerating it so as to get through the course, that we hardly care to consider him?

He stands, anxious, not realizing that by giving himself to me in this way the model has actually taken possession of me. He tries to breathe without moving his body. He almost falls from giddiness.

There is now no condemnation.

How can there be? How can I condemn what is mine, and what owns me? He wouldn’t judge me if he met me on the street. Why should I judge him?

 

The naked Christ is God saying, ‘I am not judging you. But I have left myself vulnerable to your judgment.

I am not condemning you. But I have left myself open to your condemnation.

I am not punishing you. But I am here for you to crucify me.

I am not rejecting you. But I am terrified that you may reject me.’

‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 

St. Ephrem wrote that -

'The Lord entered her [Mary] and became a servant;

The Word entered her, and became silent within her;

Thunder entered her and his voice was still;

The Shepherd of all entered her; he became a Lamb in her,

And came forth bleating.

 

'The belly of your Mother changed the order of things,

O you who order all! Rich he went in, he came out poor:

The High One went into her [Mary], he came out lowly.

Brightness went into her and clothed himself,

And came forth a despised form....

 

'He that gives food to all went in, and knew hunger.

He who gives drink to all went in, and knew thirst.

Naked and bare came forth from her the Clother of all things in beauty.'

   

Holy. Holy. Holy.

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

Perfect. Perfect. Perfect