A lesson in love – from José Sabogal and Marilynne Robinson #presence/absence

I spent a couple of hours at the Musée des Beaux-Arts today, taking in the exhibit: Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon. The exhibit traces a vast history of art and culture within Peru, with many astonishing and beautiful pieces. One that struck me was from the indigenismo movement – a painting entitled The Recruit, by José Sabogal (1926). The man is anonymous, but is a representative (for Sabogal) of the strength and independence of the indigenous people of Peru. While it seems that Sabogal was more interested in aesthetics than in portraying the difficult circumstances of indigenous peoples, his work nevertheless seems to show tremendous respect for them – and his work has been a historic factor in the inclusion of indigenous peoples within identity of Peru as a nation.


This ‘recruit’ is anonymous to me. I know little or nothing of his life or person or family or work or suffering or brokenness. And yet perhaps openness toward him is not precluded by this anonymity – love is not precluded by his distance from me.

Today I was also reading in Marilynne Robinson’s book When I was a Child I Read Books. In her essay on imagination and community she writes these words (which were brought to my mind as I looked at The Recruit):

“Presence is a great mystery, and presence in absence, which Jesus promised and has epitomized, is, at a human scale, a great reality for all of us in the course of ordinary life. I am persuaded  for the moment that this is in fact the basis of community. I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly… I believe think fiction [portraiture?] may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification.”

Those in the pew (or on the chair) beside me are in many ways distant from me and unknown to me (absent in their presence), yet life in the Body of Christ means seeing him or her as beloved of God, and means an imaginative and gracious reaching out to them, whoever they are. Today, a lesson in love.