- Jared Ayers
Crying and staring in public aren’t things that a typical educated person in the Northeast would ever be caught dead doing. But in the spring of 2010, both happened in abundance at an exhibit entitled “The Artist is Present,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Marina Abramovic, a Yugoslav-born performance artist, invited passers-by to become participants in her exhibit. The setup was simple, elemental: a table, with two chairs; Marina in one, in a long, sweeping white or red dress. And in the other, anyone who wanted to sit down. Anyone who wanted to could sit down across the table from Marina for as short or long as she or he liked. For two and a half months, for every hour the MoMA was open, Marina sat there.
Photographer Marco Anelli captured arresting pictures of every single person- more than 1500 of them- who sat across the table from Marina. The collection of human faces is striking: rapt joy... or tearful, poignant longing... or entranced attention...
What was it about sitting for a few silent, uninterrupted minutes across from a complete stranger that could evoke such emotion from so many? Here’s my guess: Presence.
What this one performance artist offered two months’ worth of paying customers on 53rd St. in Manhattan is a small window to what God offers the cosmos in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Three chapters into the drama of Scripture, we are running from God’s presence- and God is looking for us: “Where are you?” The whole sprawling story of God’s work in the world, climaxing in the living, dying, and rising of Christ, is in one way God being present to us, coming after us, even when we’re not present at all to him.
In the first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, we’re told that Jesus of Nazareth, a squealing infant born under suspicious circumstances to two poor Jewish teenagers in a cramped cave, is “God-with-us.” In Jesus Christ, God is once and for all present to us, now and forever.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th-century Christian mystic and leader, in a Christmas sermon, got it right when he told his congregation: “The Word (of God) is born a child: It is only right that we should be astounded.”
In the person of Jesus, God is, once and for all, fully and completely present to you: be astounded.