Denis Desert reflects on a painting by Marc Chagall


It so happened that many years ago as I finished my parish visiting for the day, suitably dressed in a cassock, I went over to view my allotment to check how things were doing. I made my way along the narrow path and came upon a man with his back to me. As I came alongside he swung his hand full of onion seed right under my nose and said in a hushed voice, ‘It’s a marvel, it’s a blooming marvel – you puts these little fellas in and ups they comes – it’s a marvel!’ And so saying he went on sowing the seed. That event and the man’s words have never left me.

So what is the significance of that event and how does it fit in with our priestly ministry?  I consider it to be noteworthy as it points to the fact that we human beings have the capacity to wonder. This capacity lifts us up beyond the mundane into appreciating the extraordinary phenomenon of life itself. But this ability, up to a point, needs to be stimulated and cultivated. The problem in today’s world, I would suggest, is that our inward sight has become dimmed by our preoccupation with the everyday factors of our existence. Again, I would suggest, that it might well be that part of our priestly ministry is to reveal the wonder of life as reflected through the incarnate person of our Blessed Lord.

Turn to this painting by the Russian Jew Marc Chagall at the top of this article. A number of his paintings feature the Crucifixion of Christ. He wrote, ‘These paintings, in my thoughts, represent not the dreams of one people, but of all humanity.’ His painting Paris en Fete It is vibrant with the wonder of life and expresses far more than the written word. The work not only reflects Paris but everywhere. You wander through a local market with all the bustle and cries of the street traders. That is a source of wonder. But we have to open our eyes to see it. We go out into our garden and take in the wonder of our trees, shrubs and flowers. A blackbird sings its heart out in one of the trees while a robin flies down into the lawn. The sun shines down to illuminate a spider’s web and we stop and marvel at its construction. There is no end of it, wherever we look, providing we have the eyes to see there is wonder.

And what of the offering of the mass? The very act of worship should embrace the numinous the supreme experience of wonder where priest and people are brought together into the very source of wonder, God himself. At the risk of stating the obvious our preparation for mass and the way we conduct it, be it a high mass or a plain celebration, it is the vehicle of wonder by which we are sent out to carry the presence of our Blessed Lord with us into our lives. Yes, life is a marvel a wonder. 


For an image of the painting described please see: