Numinosity: Darkness And Light
Sometimes images betray unintended information about the human psyche. Benvenuto Cellini had his reasons for creating this image of Jesus Christ crucified almost five hundred years ago. He wasn’t the first of the last to show Christ nude. What is vital today, is that this image has so much to tell us about our human psyche and condition today. That is the power of what I can only say is a numinous image.
A numinous image is one that is more than a recording of a visual fact. If the image takes us deep within ourselves, or out beyond the realm of ordinary life where we can almost touch whatever it is that we call heaven or nirvana, then the image is numinous. Evoking a sense of mystery, holiness, awe, and even the presence of whatever it is that we struggle to name as the creative force of the universe, such images take us out of ourselves and into ourselves. And where it takes us, isn’t always about light. As often as an image takes us to the awe of creation and heaven, an image also makes evident the face of darkness, of fear, of anger, of hell. This image of Christ is not one that would be called acceptable for modern society.
An acceptable version of the crucifixion has Jesus wearing a covering such as in this second image. We don’t want our God to be anything like us. God the Father or God the Son, it doesn’t matter. Heaven forbid that there would be any association with out God and human sexuality. Historical accuracy is sacrificed so that we don’t have to face both dark and light faces of what see as love, salvation and the heavenly kingdom which awaits all who earn their right to enter that heavenly kingdom.
The last thing modern people want is for an image of their god to point back at them, to highlight all the darkness and light within them. Rather, this god must save them from their inner darkness, their fear, their dread of the evil they know lurks within them. People unconsciously want a god to save them, and a devil to blame. But, there is more to it than this. The image of a nude Jesus challenges us to shift our notions of purity, of holiness, of what is right and wrong.
Thus, we become wary of numinous images. We become selective, choosing those scenes which evoke a sense of awe such as beautiful sunsets, scenes of gentle and adoring love, scenes of innocence. We reject those images that cause us unease, stripping them of their power in any way we can.