Tuesday, February 22, 2011
METANOIA AND CANA SYMBOLISM
The Wedding Feast at Cana, Paris, France
The accompanying image is from a photograph I took while roaming around the rooms of the Louvre Museum. We actually had to wait in line to enter a room containing the Mona Lisa which was behind bullet proof glass and was much smaller than I ever imagined. The guards were constantly admonishing all the varied tourists in every Tower of Babel language known to man that no photographs were allowed of this priceless painting. So we moved on rather quickly away from this cultural frenzy. But as we were leaving the room, I noticed a very large painting on the opposite wall facing the Mona Lisa. Closer inspection revealed it to be The Wedding Feast at Cana by the Italian artist Veronese. This story of Jesus’ first of seven miracles had always intrigued me, so I briefly stopped to view the vast wedding scene of 130 figures including Jesus and Mary.
Most museums now allow photographs of their collections, provided your flash is turned off. I think this actually helps to promote the priceless works of art and nothing can replace the original anyway. So, I’ve made it a challenge to only focus on one part of a piece and photograph that aspect. It really makes my images as unique as the originals, at least as a photograph. I focused on Jesus and Mary seated at the center of the table and didn’t even get the wedding party in the image. They occupy the position of honor which is on the right side of the table when seated. This first century custom also calls into question the seating assignments in Michelangelo’s famous painting of the last supper—and it appears folks actually rested on their elbow and reclined at a lower table to dine.
Coptic tradition records that Mary was a sister of the bridegroom’s mother. Hospitality was the order of the day and the wedding celebration lasted for a period of seven days in that region and time. The wedding family was relatively poor unlike the transposed 16th century Venice participants that Veronese painted centuries later. But the scene is rich in symbolism such as the invisible wine glass Mary holds to show that there is no more wine left, the butcher preparing a lamb above Jesus and the hour glass on the musicians' table signifying it was time for Jesus to reveal His divine nature. And as recorded in the second chapter of John, He takes His ministry to a new level by turning water from six stone jars used for religious purification rituals into the best wine ever tasted by the chief waiter at the feast.
There is also much symbolism and another level of meaning in John’s account of this story. Thomas Moore writes that “The wedding party represents the current human condition: our wine—our vitality, complexity, and spirit—are running out. The change of water to wine signifies a much deeper kind of change in the human spirit—from plain unconsciousness to an intoxicating vision…The miracle signifies metanoia, a profound change of heart and mind--a fundamental transformation of your vision of the world and yourself, and a new way of loving others and loving God…A newly wedded couple has integrated the water of self into an intoxicating merged life with all its abundance and intensity. This transformation to a way of life shaped by a shared love of one another also signifies metanoia. Their lives will now ferment into a more complex and rich state of marriage and will only get better with age… This is Cana symbolism: Over time those raw and untested lives take on new complexity and richness, due to the sharing and the struggle. Like grape juice turning into wine, the lives ferment in an alchemy that transmutes the two from people trying to get along individually to a couple discovering the deep mystery of a shared life.”
I find it fascinating to consider that Jesus’ ministry began with His miracle of turning water into an intoxicating perfect wine to celebrate a new shared life. Then He essentially concluded His ministry before his crucifixion at the last supper by instructing His disciples to ritually turn wine into His blood--His Blood that was to be shed for our sins so that we would have life eternal. We in turn give the “gift of life”, our blood, for the pleasure of giving and as a response to God’s love, to save the lives of others less fortunate—completing the circle of love that exists all around us--and experiencing the metanoia of transformation from this earthly life to the kingdom within.