Passed over

Cy Twombly, Fifty Days at Iliam: The Fire that Consumes All before It, 1978   

Cy Twombly, Fifty Days at Iliam: The Fire that Consumes All before It, 1978 Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA.

I’m exploring spiritual paintings and my mind turns to this week’s Passover celebration. But more on that later.

The Tantric painting of last post reminded me of this one by Cy Twombly. Shares many similarities, but oh so different. This canvas is one in a series that recounts the Battle of Troy as told in Homer’s Iliad. Twombly painted ten canvases chronicling the story and this one illustrates the part when the Greeks torch Troy.

I’m amazed at how this work with such great restraint, breathes such utter devastation. At first the beauty of its crimson streak  draws you in and then you read the words and realize with dismay that it’s actually a burning.  A gasping heat.

And blood.  A double entendre of fire and smeared blood. Smeared across and off the canvas, as if there is more to come. And I recall Passover -the night before Moses leads the Jews out of slavery, the culmination of ten ravaging plagues that pried open the Exodus door. To escape the angel of death, a Jewish father slaughtered a perfect lamb and painted its blood on the front door. When the angel passed above the home and saw the sacrifice, the first-born child was spared death. The night Death “passed over.” In this painting I see  mythic devastation, powerfully moving. And I feel the urge to step back and get out of its way.

And I think of what it means to be “passed over.”  As in, I got “passed over” for the job. Or “I’m sorry but we are going to pass on this one.”  The fire of shame that ignites, the bitter-red taste of failure.  Thoughts of a very black nature consume us. The hatred of the gatekeeper; our own incompetence. But being “passed over” could signal a new chance at life, a reconsidering.  Redeploy your resources perhaps, or build a Trojan horse,  or make your escape and Exodus-out to some promised land of your own choosing. To drink. To toast with my faux Jewish mother-in-law, “Le Chaim!”



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