I visited the National Portrait Gallery recently in Washington, DC. In its elegant hallways, a wide range of well-lit paintings are displayed side by side: politicians, war heroes, athletes, musicians, presidents. It is a library of human faces—a silent, visual documentary of who we are. Artists and subjects sharing one human story, marked by the fingerprints of God.
In particular, I was moved by Robert McCurdy’s portrait of the late author Toni Morrison. The oil-on-canvas looks like a photograph. Morrison’s hands are swallowed in the side pockets of an oversized sweater. She reveals no discernible expression but radiates light from within. There is integrity, sorrow, and tenacity in her face.
When he paints, McCurdy meets with a subject and makes hundreds of photographic portraits, then chooses one image to paint from that to him seems to exist in the “eternal present.” McCurdy aims for the viewer to be able to have their own personal encounter with the subject. It is a powerful experience to be face to face with someone you’ve never met in a piece like this one.
God has designed us for face-to-face encounters. Victor Hugo hints at the deeper reality in Les Misérables when he writes, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Which is perhaps why God orchestrated the ultimate face-to-face experience in the Incarnation. God himself took on flesh, born as a baby that we would see the face of God in Jesus Christ. He encountered us in the eternal present. He memorized what we look like that we might know that we belong to him and that he belongs to us.
We reenact this divine encounter every day in hospital maternity wards around the world. When my son, Sam, was born ...1
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