Admittedly, this is a fairly surreal painting to accompany the Baptist’s words in the Gospel of John: “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” I found myself thinking about ritual, and how beautiful it is, and yet how it isn’t a stand-in for the coming of the Holy Spirit, that mysterious moment when the world is in harmony and made new. Ritual helps us prepare for this moment, but we can’t mistake it for the moment. The people in the water are immersed in ritual, and there is beauty there, yet there’s also a before-ness, a waiting, an anticipation of something that is so beautiful it could never be captured by an image.
As I look at the painting now, I notice that all four of the people in the water have differently shaped eyes. The famous icon of Christ Pantocrator from St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai also has differently shaped eyes. So maybe the spirit was moving me to paint these people as Christ, or prepared for Christ to dwell within them. Or maybe I’m just not that great of a painter. At any rate, with their unmatching eyes, they’re in good company.