A new play is opening on Broadway called Shadowlands. The play is based on the life of C.S. Lewis. Lewis was known as a great writer of science fiction [and fantasy], but he also wrote about God and heaven and suffering as the price of admission to that next world. His ideas about suffering are connected, for me, to the life and work of Michelangelo. Michelangelo is remembered best for his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, but the chapel was a commission forced on him by Pope Julius II. Michelangelo felt that work on the chapel only kept him from his real work. Michelangelo, first, was a sculptor.
The way Michelangelo approached his work with stone tells the difference between artist and craftsman. The sculpture of Michelangelo came to life in his head long before it was chiseled in stone. He would imagine a figure and then began the search for that one piece of marble that contained it. Sculpting then became a process of chiseling away the stone that hid the figure waiting inside. This brings me back to Lewis. For him, human suffering is the hammer and chisel that sculpts us into the perfect figure we are created to be.
Lewis was a Christian, and he named Christ as the author of that perfect figure. That is a leap I don’t choose to take, but the idea of suffering as a road to perfection helps me somehow. It gives a new insight into the image of Christ on the cross. It shows Christ’s suffering as that journey to perfection, but on second look it shows too that the journey is not exclusive to a god. The real truth of the image is the fact that binds us all together in our humanity. Whether it’s a journey to perfection, or an abyss, only time will tell. The terrible truth that the human mind and heart have rebelled against always is uncompromising and bone crushing.
Life crucifies us all. Through all human history we have grappled with the fact. All philosophy and religion struggle with the truth that none of us, no matter how great, can get out of this world alive. I think that is why the life and death of Christ has such resonance for us in the western world. The story of Christ has percolated through the centuries, but the story of Christ is only one of the many stories about gods and their doings and undoings in the world of men.
Christ is the western world’s interpretation of the meaning of life. The man who said it all in one sentence for me was Joseph Campbell, the famous chronicler of the world’s mythologies. His description of life was simple and profound when he said, “It’s a wonderful, wonderful opera, except it hurts.”
Gerard Maglio made his living as a writer-performer in the popular comedy troupe Animal Crackers. The group performed in nightclubs in Manhattan and other cities up and down the east coast, and also completed two USO world tours. Jerry’s comic persona could be hard-edged on stage. Offstage he could make you laugh too, but he was also a keen observer of the world and a thoughtful friend. I was lucky to know both sides, for he was my sister's romantic and professional partner in those early years. Given that his trade was comedy, the title of his piece, “The Nature of Suffering,” might seem odd; but Jerry was no stranger to tragedy. A victim of multiple sclerosis, Jerry spent the last years of his life confined to a bed. During a hospital visit, one of his friends, Michael Krebs, gave my sister Jerry’s essay. He had written it after his father passed. By this point, Jerry had already suffered the death of his brother and would later see his mother die from the same disease that crippled him. To see him suffer in this way (and to see my sister suffer for him) was not erased by what he wrote, but it does help, for his short piece suggests that suffering is a way to perfection. This is not my belief, that we must suffer to know God, and perhaps not even Jerry’s; and yet knowing that someone who has suffered so much could read transformation where I see only pain somehow makes me feel larger inside. Gerard Maglio passed on July 21, 2015. When I sent this introduction to my sister, she asked that this be added: “We cannot presume to know the mind of God, but there is peace in acceptance of His will. Perhaps it is better to never know how fine heaven is until we get there.” –Marina Favila
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