It's all in the eyes. My eyes, and those gazing down from the image of Christ painted here, on this ceiling, nearly a millennium ago. No, that's not quite right. It's really what's happening between our eyes, and beyond.
Imagine a crypt beneath a cathedral, a space first created in 1053. Not a dusty, dreary sort of place that houses bones and wreckage, but a magnificently vaulted space gleaming in white limestone. The floor has two fall-lines but the ceiling is flat, providing a geometrically perfect foundation for the great spaces above. This crypt is of light, its spaces serene. It is a place for reflection and contemplation. There, in the apse, above the altar, is Christ.
Now mind you, I'm not Christian by birth or practice. Inevitably, as a child of the West, I did learn the basic iconography and teachings. So, of course, I recognized this particular image as Christ. And, yes, I know that his gaze is said to encompass the suffering of the world. I knew that others believe this is so, but didn't see how, until I met his eyes -- those great brown-black orbs above me.
In that moment, it seemed to me that His gaze transcends time and the long-dead artist's reach encompasses the present. He is immortal, eternal. Never-ending, divine for so long as living beings recognize the expression in those eyes. Holding a book in his lap whose covers depict the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, this Christ holds us all against his bosom. He stares, forever outward and within; and then he transforms.
One minute, he is the living Christ. The next, those compassionate orbs convey knowledge of death and the hereafter, peering through a face suddenly gone gaunt. White skin shimmers into bone-dry skull. It's a trick of perspective, and color, this teaching on life and impermanence. It's a trick of the mind, to see life become death and then return, alive.
I saw that outer shift, with my eyes glued to His. Then, through his eyes, came the blessing. I saw the inner movement as I gained a glimpse of the teachings. Whatever lives today, will pass. Whatever passes, will return. Changed and unchanged, across the ages and beyond all time -- in the light of those great eyes.
Those eyes are prisms that transform and through which all can be seen. From the depths of a crypt, bright white in windowless space, we too can look outward and within. Our eyes can see, if we but look. His eyes show us how.