I’ve loved Odilon Redon for a while… but at a distance. I know very little about him, and know only a little bit of his work. So I’ve very little to say about it, other than to mention my almost visceral attraction to they way he can convey the inner workings of his mind. So I was browsing through an online gallery, and came across a short sequence of paintings of a woman’s face asleep, or at least at rest because her eyes are closed. Perhaps it is contemplation or even that contemporary fad, mindfulness.

The painting is as stunning as the subject is beautiful. They invite the viewer to imagine her imaginings or dreamings. For someone who at times has contended with bouts of insomnia, the pose is enviable. But so is the peacefulness. What has brought it about? How did she get to that point?

Redon leaves it all concealed. But I’m intrigued. And not a little envious, if I’m honest.

A few weeks ago, my parents were staying. I can’t remember how it came up, but we started talking about the medieval Sufi poet, Hafiz. So mum wrote out this poem (“This is the kind of friend) and left it on my desk. I’ve looked at it most days since – and it has since become embedded in my thoughts.

This is the nature of true friendship – so beautifully yet sparingly expressed. Grace. Forgiveness. Healing. At night; in silence; while asleep.

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It is about accepting a person for who they are and not what they’ve done. It is about helping and caring, real but not rejecting. Tim Keller puts it brilliantly in his The Meaning of Marriage.

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

But isn’t that a pipe dream; an impossible ideal? Well, if a medieval Muslim can evoke it, evidently not. But while the ideal can stand, how many really experience it consistently and unwaveringly? That’s why Keller must bring God into the picture. And why I think there is ultimately ONLY one who does this for us. For anyone. It is a mystery. But only he can bring that peace that the world cannot understand, let alone give. To my mind, in the end, that is the real secret to the Redon’s sleeping beauty.

To be known AND to be loved.

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