Piero’s painting hangs in the National Gallery in London:
There is a beauty to the stillness of the figures, to the depth of this vision of heaven-on-earth, to the beautiful colours (look at the rainbow effect of the angel’s wing on the left-hand side, for example).
It is the moment when Jesus hears the words “You are my beloved”. John the Baptist hardly seems to dare to touch Jesus’ body, his approach is so reverent. The dove of the Spirit hovers as if it were a cloud and completely naturally part of the scene.
In the background someone else is getting ready to be baptised. It is the everyday action of getting undressed. Is this humanity in general? (we cannot see the face of an individual as it is hidden by his clothes).
Also in the background are the religious authorities of the day, in their fine robes (compare with Jesus’ near-naked body) and tall hats. They are dressed with the robes of status. But Jesus identifies with our basic humanity – “a poor, bare, forked animal” as Shakespeare describes us in King Lear.
The following sequence was inspired by this painting:
The Baptism of Christ (I)
Winged from beyond our world
what do they perceive
that we cannot see?
And how may we become like them
in our worship?
absorbed in adoration
in the deep contemplation of God
He hears the words of affirmation
what all believers may know
That change the ground of our being
root us like the tree of life
to our source in God.
John the Baptist
To reach out
Offer a vocation
For this moment
Aware that it may cost you
The Holy Spirit
May the dove descend on each of us
spread wings within
Unfurl in a flight of grace
to transport us beyond this place.
There will always be
Those who judge
And do not understand
Of the spiritual life.
May we like him
cast off the clothes of our culture
And in nakedness
plunge into the baptism
And of soul.