While I have a fairly substantial background in music, my experience with and knowledge of the visual arts is far less substantial, though not altogether void. Though I certainly knew of Caravaggio before and had seen images of some of his works, I confess I had not seen or heard of The Calling of St. Matthew before it came up, of all places, in theology class this last fall. It has stuck in my head since then, and maybe even told me a little about myself.
The painting is one of those in which Caravaggio plays light and darkness against one another to great effect (chiaroscuro, to use the fancy art word). Again, I'm no expert, but that appeals to me as one who finds much revelation in great contrasts in almost any art form; this is probably why one of my favorite moments in all of music is that moment when the third movement of Saint-Saens's "Organ" Symphony fades to almost-nothingness before the organ crashes in to inaugurate the finale. Here, the light streaming from the window, from behind the figure of Christ in the painting, seems to divide the scene in two, catching the figure often presumed to be Matthew flush in the face as he sits at the counting table. Other figures surround the table, not acknowledging the light or the figure of Christ as this one figure seems to do.
It is an interesting way to think about this business of "calling." I confess I don't really like that word, mostly because it is too often and too casually paired with the word "higher" in regard to the vocation I am now pursuing. As bizarre and maybe even heretical as it may sound to some readers (of the two or three out there), I did not leave academic musicology to pursue a "higher calling"; I left academic musicology to pursue the vocation of ordained pastoral ministry. I guess I follow John Calvin in insisting that the latter is not necessarily elevated over the former. Calling, yes; "higher calling" no.
What has most played on my mind, though, is the light/dark dichotomy. Though the shaft of light cuts through the room, the rest of the room is not opaque to the eye; we can see all sorts of figures in the room. Actually, the most obscured figure is Christ, quite hidden in shadow just below the light shaft. But it strikes me that Matthew, as seen in the painting, was not sitting glumly at his table bemoaning the darkness before that light shaft broke through. Most likely he was simply counting the money, as his job required. Only after that light broke in, probably causing him to squint and cover his eyes at first, did Matthew have any inkling of how dark the room was. Yeah, Matthew, I hear you; that light makes everything look so different. You never get to see things the same way anymore, and you don't get to go back anymore. It is life-changing light, with Christ beckoning there from the shadows.
That shaft of light brought something entirely different into his sight. The surprise is evident in his face; and oh, that hand...is he pointing at himself -- "who, me?" -- or maybe pointing at the fellow next to him -- "surely you'd rather have him, right?" Either way, I can relate.
There are many people to whom I could point who are far more attractive, far more outgoing, far more generally appealing than I. I can write, but there are far better writers than I; I can speak, but there are far better speakers than I. I don't make friends easily, I don't thrive in large crowds (except as a wallflower, watching what happens), I'd just as soon not be the center of attention, and I don't much care for being the "boss." Surely You mean to call that handsome fellow, that warmly welcoming young woman, that dynamic speaker, profound writer, natural leader, any of them before me? Who, me? Why me?
And yet here I am. Staring at a rather daunting gauntlet of Theology/New Testament/History of Christianity again, with Spiritual Formation thrown in; starting to get a little numb from drilling for the Bible Content exam this Friday; desperately seeking some supplemental financial aid sources for seminary for next year; lots of stuff piling in, as is the case for pretty much any seminarian, but not what I was prepared or preparing for not so long ago at this time. My student skills are definitely rusty, though they are slowly "loosening up," I guess. Yeah, I can do it, but clearly there are so many people who could do it better.
But here I am. That shaft of light caught me, and I can no longer see things the way I saw them before; the light has changed forever, and I guess my eyes have too.