Peace, Pursuit, and Andrea del Sarto

I just re-read the last several posts to review where we’ve been going on JNC. I enjoyed the descriptive posts more than the informational post, largely because the descriptions engender peaceful feelings. I need peace. No pursuits. I must be quiet. Right now, physically, I feel awful: my fibromyalgia. I feel like I’m being crushed from the inside out. I had to leave church this morning, unable to stay for the worship service or the Thanksgiving, fellowship dinner following the service.

I do not use JNC as a platform to detail my personal issues; this is not a place for writer’s therapy.  I try to stay focused on themes that nourish growth in Christ and well-rounded maturity — for all of us! Is not JNC’s motto “Walking with Christ and becoming more like Him”?  It’s an embarrassingly lofty goal, but biblically sound (after all, we, as pedestrian theologians, have the Holy Spirit). The motto reminds me of Robert Browning’s poem, “Andrea del Sarto”. Here are two, often quoted lines from this long work:

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for?”

You may have seen this quotation many times. Browning’s poem, “Andrea del Sarto”, provides a picture into the life of Andrea d’Angelo di Francesca, called “del Sarto”, a Florentine painter, a contemporary of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Andrea died rather young (around 43) of the plague, but was well known in his time, and while now overshadowed by these other greats, he is still well known and his works are wonderful to view. Famous for the perfection of his work, he was called “the faultless painter”. One of his students who became his biographer saw him as exacting and great but without the passion and drive that these other masters had.

“Madonna of the Harpies” by Andrea del Sarto, completed, interestingly, in 1517, the year Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses.

I remember reading this poem by Browning in college in a Victorian Literature class. I found the long, poetic, character portrait to be tedious, but I thought these two lines redeemed the 265 other lines. This afternoon, I re-read the poem and discovered it to be much more interesting. Age and experience have their benefits.  (But I do think it would do the poem a great service to break it into verses. Space provides the reader with breathing room for mental digestion.)

Much could be said (and praise God, won’t be said here) about this Italian painter, Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) and his poetic interpreter, Robert Browning (1812-1889).  Browning takes the voice of Sarto and writes a first person monologue of Andrea’s talking to his wife, Lucrezia. At the point at which Sarto says “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”  he is cavalierly critiquing someone else’s painting and then his own work.

These two, famous lines describe the limitations of human endeavor, while encouraging the pursuit. Sarto may have been a perfectionist who was never satisfied with his own work (this is conjecture). And/or Sarto (as Browning characterizes him) may be expressing his timidity or lack of ambition. No matter, the quotation is understandable. Whatever the strength of our motivation, we can accept the comfort and encouragement offered by the lines — as we accommodate them to our biblical worldview.

As a Christ-follower who wants to follow but often dawdles and doubts, who wants to be Christ-like, who wants to grow in grace and knowledge — I find it comforting to be reminded “that’s what heaven’s for”. Being “in Christ” we pursue sanctification. Then, we will achieve it — glorification.

I do not know if Andrea del Sarto, in all of his life’s many pursuits, ever found peace of soul. He was a contemporary of Martin Luther’s but from a different European country. It is doubtful he ever heard Luther’s teaching.  In the last post, we considered a bit of Martin Luther’s life. He struggled. He was tormented. Then he found peace with God when the Spirit of God enlightened him while studying the book of Romans.

I am tired. Weary. My body is not at peace. National and world news stress and weary you and me. Each of us is needy. But, I find comfort in a simple reading and re-reading of the following chapter in Romans. God gives a peace not available from this world. For our closing, I encourage you to meditate on these ten verses.

Romans 5: 1-10   Peace with God Through Faith

 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  (ESV)

“Ah, Christ’s reach has grasped me. For now and forever.”


Categories: Being Like Jesus, Christian Reader, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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