This is not a review or retrospective of the album released in 1969 by the band of the same name led by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. I found the hand drawn representation of the original controversial album cover by happenstance while doing a Google search of blind faith. The website is interesting and included a link to share, so please visit. I think the sketch dovetails nicely with the drawing featured with my poem.
I was born into the Catholic church, was baptized, received my first holy communion, and later the sacrament of confirmation. Like many children who attend public school, once a week I was excused early to attend religious instruction. There I committed to memory the tenets of the church along with the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and the Apostle’s Creed. The language is elevated and beautiful, designed to make us feel safe and loved, and to remind us that we are all sinners.
Shortly after confirmation, I came to realize that the choice to continue my religious education and to attend church was my own. I soon decided that whiffle ball and street football were more interesting pursuits than studying scripture. However, a question raised by a young layperson teacher, who was studying to enter the priesthood, has stuck with me.
“Why did Christ sacrifice himself on the cross for mankind?”
This one was easy, and several kids answered at once, “To open the gates of heaven.”
He smiled, then asked, “What does that mean? Did Jesus come with a key and actually unlock and swing open some huge gate in the clouds?”
What was this? Were we actually allowed to ask questions about our faith and all of the pat phrases repeated to us over and over? At the same time, it was a challenge to look beyond the words to understand the meaning. This was going to be complicated. It is so much simpler to get on your knees, fold your hands and recite what you’ve been taught, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
Like any other artistic trait, some people draw better than others. For most of us, our drawing skills haven’t progressed beyond what we learned in grade school. Ask the average adult to sketch a landscape and the result would be hard to distinguish from the efforts of a third-grader. However, the novice can improve their drawing skills, if not intrinsic artistic ability, through instruction and practice. The same is true of one’s understanding of religion and scriptures through guidance and study.
This similarity is the focus of my subject in Stick Figure Jesus. The young woman becomes five-years-old at her desk while exercising her underdeveloped artistic skills to draw a simple representation of Jesus on the cross, or when she kneels to recite the prayers from her childhood. For the innocent five year old girl, the young woman, and her own children, perhaps this is enough. The speaker in the poem is demanding more.
Art is large, the techniques of drawing are small. Spirituality is large, religion is small. My intention is not to measure the relative spiritual benefits of confession and penance, fasting and dietary restrictions, zazen, or even sun worship as a path to enlightenment, but to show through the image of the child turned woman how little her relationship to God has evolved.