Ordinary Time: Proper 22

L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas — oil on canvas, 36.2 x 26.8 inches, 1875-76.

October 2, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year C

Lamentations 1:1-6 and Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 • Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-9 • 2 Timothy 1:1-14 • Luke 17:5-10
View Lectionary

Image description: A woman and man sit side-by-side at a café table on a cushioned bench against a mirrored wall. Two drinks sit on the table — a full glass of absinthe in front of the woman and a dark drink in a taller glass near the man’s elbow. The man, resting his crossed arms on the table and looking away from the woman seated beside him, wears a hat and smokes a pipe. The woman, dressed fashionably including a stylish hat, appears catatonic as she sits staring at the floor with arms hanging limply beside her slumped body . On the table beside the couple is a drink carafe on a tray. Other café tables occupy the foreground of the artwork.

Aaghh! Lonely is this city that once bustled with life; cheer is empty; like a widow, she is abandoned and oh, so lonely. She who was a princess, great among the nations, has lost everything and been forced to serve as a slave. Bawling, she weeps without constraint every night, cries herself to sleep, bitter tears streaming down her cheeks. Her former friends ignore her; there is no one there to share her sorrow; companions contend and have betrayed her; friends have been unfaithful and turned against her as enemies. — Lamentations 1:1-2

Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need. My soul boasts, “Hope in God; just wait.” It is good. The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him, to those who seek Him wholeheartedly. It is good to wait quietly for the Eternal to make things right again. — Lamentations 3:24-26

Even as this painting by Degas portrays the emotions of despair and despondency quite well, it was a real shocker to viewers at the time. The image was found to be quite offensive in the public’s eye. Critics called it demoralizing, ugly and disgusting — the portrait of a whore. Others saw it as a warning against drinking, revelry, etc.

I sought this art piece out as a visual to contemplate with the personification of both Judah and Jerusalem as a woman in Scriptures such as the passage from Lamentations. I was drawn to the instruction to “wait quietly for the Eternal to make things right again” also from Lamentations. What does waiting quietly look like? My own experience is that waiting can at times be hopeful and positive and at other times it is a distressing or discouraging place. Degas’ painting has captured a very real moment — one we may wish to resist, but nonetheless one we have all felt.

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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