The image that I have always associated with St. Paul’s Conversion is Caravaggio’s “The Conversion of St. Paul,” painted around 1600. (See here for the image. In the way Caravaggio has depicted the moment, Saint Paul has just fallen to the ground and lies there on his back, arms stretched upwards. In her new book, Facing the Apostle: Paul’s Image in Art, Sr. Armanda Santos, fsp, describes it this way: “Saul’s arms form a half-circle as they strain upward to grasp, to welcome, and to embrace Someone invisible to us but very present to him” (p. 10). When I was a child, I always wanted to see Who St. Paul saw.
This desire to “see” Jesus’ face has continued to be a theme throughout my spiritual journey, although as time goes on, it’s less about what Jesus physically looks like and more about knowing him always more, falling in love with him always more completely, and following him more closely. Those outstretched, urgently-reaching arms of Paul in Caravaggio’s painting are a wonderful visual image of many moments of my journey.
What visual image could represent your spiritual journey?
If you enjoy the interplay between visual masterpieces and the spiritual life, or you have appreciated Sr. Wendy’s “takes” on the arts, you’ll really enjoy this lovely new book that we’ve published midway through the year of St. Paul. Sister Armanda eloquently unpacks 13 masterpieces that take us through the life and spiritual “stops” of St. Paul. And she does it in such a way that not just the artwork, but the artist’s insights, and the event or spiritual peak of Paul’s journey become easily accessible. The first chapter I quoted above is a great read to celebrate tomorrow’s feast day, and the entire book is a very original and inspiring way to celebrate the Year of St. Paul.