I’ve been producing art since early childhood. I’ve been producing art as an adult child, professionally, as an iconographer for several decades now. Now, I have taken to writing down some thoughts.
While nakedness and being clothed are interesting as spiritual topics on which to meditate, my grandson clearly has his own opinion. He loves nakedness, namely his own!
Grandson Max is, in general, a very happy baby. However, he launches into a whole other level of happiness when it is bath time and his clothes and diaper come off. Is this happiness a glimpse into Eden? Adam and Eve had no cares and were naked. Just like Little Max at bath time?
As a human and as an iconographer, I ponder these things. Nudity, after all, exists in Orthodox Christian icons.
Sure, nakedness and being clothed are gargantuan, complex, theological, psychological, and spiritual topics. They are tackled by art, literature, science, and more. Can this gargantuan topic possibly be cut into intellectually palatable pieces by considering Max’s joy? Maybe, especially if combined with a particular Saint’s story and icon, that Saint being Mary of Egypt.
With Max’s naked joy, there do not appear to be any caveats, complexities or prurient dimensions. With us, yes. Something happens along the way between infancy and adulthood to make this so.
Somewhere along the way, we need and want to be clothed.
The Book of Genesis and icons of the same deal with this. But a Paul Harvey “Rest of the Story” perspective can be found with the icon and story of Saint Mary of Egypt. In the story of her icon and life, we find a woman who excelled at fleshly sinning but who also abandoned her former life and entered the desert. In her desert crucible of change, she struggled with her fallen nature for decades. She came through the refining fire of exposure to God’s loving, merciful forgiveness. The result? She became a new or, more accurately, a renewed creature. She became a creature of Paradise.
Contrasting Mary’s story with Adam and Eve’s Genesis story may continue to cut through the complexities of nakedness and clothing. They can be seen as a beginning and a fulfillment of the same story with the “middle” being the coming of Jesus Christ in the Flesh. It is the beginning of the story (Genesis) and the fulfilling ending (the life of Saints like Mary) that opens our eyes. But it is the middle, the Incarnation, which reconciles the two.
Adam and Eve WERE naked and were compelled to put on clothes. Mary was clothed and through love of Jesus became liberated from her past. Her story and, by way of hope, our story ends with “nakedness”. Mary entered BACK into Paradise! Here! On earth! She accomplished this through the only means possible, a relationship with Christ!
Isn’t Mary of Egypt’s life a trumpet call to action, a treasure map to Paradise and lifeline of pure hope? This is a cause for celebration! Now, here, on this side of the grave, God can liberate us from our cumbersome, psychological and spiritual diapers, AKA our sins, and allow us to have deep and real joy.
It is a message for all of us. Such a feat, a return to Paradise, here on earth, is only possible with that “middle,” gap-bridging “story,” the Gospel of Jesus. How blessed we are to live now, on this side of the Incarnation, and to have this potential for liberation. In finding symphony with God’s love for her, Mary’s loss of actual clothes is a symbol of the loss of her cumbersome spiritual “clothes.” Her joy, one can imagine and be sure, even surpassed Max’s bath-time joy. Max’s joy is temporary and natural. Saint Mary’s joy is eternal and supernatural. God willing, we will be able to use Saint Mary of Egypt’s treasure map to Paradise in some small way. By doing this, we will reclaim our own paradisiacal joy.
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