Norman Thomas di Giovanni

Paradise, XXXI: 108

Diodorus Siculus relates the story of a god who is torn to pieces and scattered abroad. Which of us, out for an evening stroll and trying to recall an event from our past, has not at times felt the loss of something infinite?

Mankind has lost a face, an irrecoverable face, and everyone would like to be that pilgrim - dreamed in the highest heaven, secretly - who in Rome looks on Veronica's handkerchief and murmurs, believing, 'Christ Jesus, my lord, very God, was this then your likeness?'

Along a road in Jaén is a stone face bearing an inscription that reads, 'The True Portrait of the Holy Face of God'. If we really knew what that face was like we would have a key to the parables and would know whether the carpenter's son was also the Son of God.

Paul saw the face as a light that struck him down; John, as the sun in all its splendour; Theresa of the Child Jesus, often saw it bathed in a soft glow, and she could never tell for sure the colour of the eyes.

We have lost those features, just as a magic number made up of ordinary figures can be lost; just as an image in a kaleidoscope is lost for ever. We may come across the features and not know them. The profile of a Jew on an underground train may be that of Christ; the hands that give us our change over a counter may echo those that some soldiers once nailed to the cross.

Perhaps some feature of the crucified face lurks in every mirror; perhaps the face died and was erased so that God could be everyone. Perhaps tonight we shall see it in the labyrinths of sleep and tomorrow not recognize it.


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