They got an eyeful the other day, my grandsons did…when they came across Donald Judd’s “Untitled” in Gallery 253 of the St. Louis Art Museum.
Seen from “adult eye-level,” the sculpture tends to do little more than tickle the fancy: a four-pack of large aluminum cubes, set in a row – each revealing just a hint of whimsy and indigo in its hollowed-out interior.
But this floor-mounted sculpture provides an entirely different encounter from a “kid’s-eye view.” Get down low, and its (rather boring) aluminum exterior nearly disappears. You discover instead a shimmering tunnel of reflected light.
The effect is stunning – enough to stop even the most energetic little boys in their tracks. The rest of the world may look very much the same as before, but right here – in this space – it’s as if you’ve entered another dimension. A portal has opened, to reveal almost inexplicable beauty.
The artist provides no title for the sculpture, so who knows what muse was stirring in him at the time he created the piece. But “Untitled” became for me an invitation to embrace a moment of Advent spirituality.
It occurred to me, for example, that we’ve heard Isaiah’s prophetic words so many times before, it’s easy to rush right past them:
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
I doubt that “rushing right past” is what Isaiah had in mind, or the evangelist Luke – when he quotes the prophet in the gospel passage we hear on the Second Sunday of Advent. I don’t think they’d approve of us getting bored with this vision – any more than Donald Judd would appreciate me brushing off “Untitled” without giving its mysterious and inviting beauty a second look.
And that’s part of the invitation every Advent season, isn’t it? It’s part of the blessing we are offered: to slow down and take a peek into things we ought to find utterly mysterious – such as “the word of God” coming to a strange man like John the Baptist “in the desert.”
Why him? Why there?
Clearly, God’s ways are not our ways. And we would be wise to take a moment…to try and sharpen our gaze.
Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.