Image And Eucharist
Published: July 2, 2009
Henri Cartier-Bresson was a famous photographer. He died in 2004, leaving behind thousands of images that he took in places all over the world. Some are portraits of famous people. But the heart of his work involved taking pictures of ordinary scenes, scenes we see every day—city streets, people walking, talking, eating, playing, dancing, mourning, rejoicing. He had a way of seeing things and capturing them on film in a way that raised the ordinary to the sublime.
I was watching a documentary about him and there is a scene in which he is holding up one of his black and white photographs and it seems to suddenly occur to him that he, too, is in the picture and so he slowly lowers his head and raises the picture higher before the camera. It is a revealing moment in the film, and the commentator makes no mention of it.
I later read that Cartier-Bresson was a shy man. He said that the only time he could remember talking about the more hidden side of his life was with a cab driver as they rode together on a Paris street. He apparently found a secure comfort in anonymity.
What is the Eucharist? It is, I suppose, many things. It can be shared, consumed, displayed, worshipped, talked about, carried about, celebrated, remembered, hoped for. It can be confined in a tabernacle of precious metal or broken and given away. It is life, at once knowing a certain place and yet at the same time being everywhere. Scholars tell us that the Eucharistic account in John’s Gospel is to be found not in an upper room but rather on a hillside, with thousands of hungry people who are fed.
In our age of refined documentation, how might one make a documentary of the Eucharist? Would it entail the taping of a Mass, or a meal, or the feeding of people on a hillside? Or could it be all these things? Of course the one thing absent would be the figure of Jesus—the Jesus who reveals himself as eternal life and who does so on a road, in a room, in a garden, eating, allowing himself to be touched, telling those who believe that he is present where two or three are gathered. In short, there are many places, many scenes where he is present. St. Athanasius wrote that God is everywhere and in everyone and everything. Yet he is hard to see in and of himself. Like Cartier-Bresson, he holds up image after living image of life, but when he notices us looking too hard to find him, he raises the image higher, and hides his face behind its sublimity, as if to suggest that he is best found in what he has created.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at www.abbeystore.com.