A place at the table

The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Loup (6 June 2020)

Loup is no wolf. He’s just a bird dressed in a wolf pelt. Where did he get this pelt, and why does he choose to wear it? This thing is clearly not comfortable. The heat alone must be awful. Why else would he have stripped all the way down to his boxers? After that, there is the weight of it: his head bows under the strain, his chin scrunches into his chest, his wings hang low at his sides. As for aesthetics, this is no custom-made designer pelt. It doesn’t even fit right, for starters. See how the ears sit too far back on his head? What’s more, the cut is not uniform. It bulges in the back, and one of the sleeves has a divot cut out of it.  

Though Loup is a painting, not a dream, we can still apply to it the same queries your shaman posed when you asked him to help you understand the meaning of your dream about the red backpack: “If you are every person in the dream? If you are also the clothes?”1

Here, let’s try it. If you are the bird, you are being crushed under the weight of the cumbersome, ill-fitting wolf pelt. If you are also the cumbersome, ill-fitting wolf pelt, then you are crushing yourself. You are your own adversary, your own foe, your own enemy.

Understanding this truth is one thing; knowing what to do with it is entirely another. Clearly the bird needs love and care and attention. But how are you supposed to deliver these things to her, inaccessible as she has made herself under the barrier of the wolf pelt which she insists on wearing, which she believes in fact to be an integral part of who she is? Do you know what will happen if you try now to peel this thing off her? If you try to take it away? She will hiss and spit at you; she will peck and claw at your hands; she will beat her broken wings right in your face; she will tell you to go fuck yourself. She didn’t ask for your help; she doesn’t need help. Not yours. Not anyone’s. She and her wolf pelt are fine just as they are.

Here is how God works: he knows our questions well before we ask them, and he provides us with the answers if we are brave enough to hear them.

Water splatter for Loup (Washington Park Street, Brooklyn)

You painted Loup on 6 June 2020, but the answers to the questions it poses came months before. In March. On a Sunday afternoon, to be precise. The last normal Sunday afternoon before Governor Cuomo issued the executive lock-down order for all of New York City.

You are walking up Union Street, in Brooklyn. At the corner of 5th, right in the middle of the sidewalk, is a big cardboard box. Inside, a dozen or so books. It had rained a little earlier that day, so the box is a bit soggy. The books are, too. Except for one. A little blue Nuevo testamento. Clean and brand new. Left there for you, it seems. So you pick it up. You open it haphazardly to read a random passage, the way you always do when you pick up a new book. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk at 5th and Union, from Luke 5:27-32, you read the following passage:

«Después de estas cosas salió, y vió a un publicano llamado Leví, sentado al banco de los tributos públicos y le dijo: Sígueme. Y dejandolo todo, se levantó y le siguió. Y Leví le hizo gran banquete en su casa; y había mucha compañia de publicanos y de otros que estaban a la mesa con ellos. Y los escribas y los fariseos murmuraban contra los discípulos, diciendo: ¿Por qué coméis y bebéis con publicanos y pecadores? Respondiendo Jesús, les dijo: Los que están sanos no tienen necesidad de médico, sino los enfermos. No he venido a llamar a justos, sino a pecadores al arrepentimiento.»

The bird is not well; the bird needs medicine. Only you can deliver it to her, which means you must make a place for her at your table. You must talk to her; you must get to know her. To know her will be to love her. To love her, to understand her. To understand her, to disarm her. To disarm her, to free her of the wolf pelt that will suffocate her and kill her if you don’t.

This work won’t always be pleasant. It most certainly will not be easy. This bird in her wolf pelt can be real bitch sometimes, after all. But take heart; you don’t have to do this work alone. Set a chair out for Jesus, too. That guy specializes in diagnosing and healing even the unhealthiest of the unhealthy birds. Even you.

  1. See Real work. ↩︎

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