Thursday, January 18, 2018

Unsung Hero of Durer's "Praying Hands"

On my wall hangs a carved wooden plaque of Durer's famed "Praying Hands." The ink and pencil sketch on which it is modeled was originally drawn by Albrecht Durer, the greatest German artist of his day. During his life, from 1471 to 1528, he brought a new realism to painting and engraving.

Durer's self-portrait and his "Praying Hands"
A little known story (whether fable or true is debated) behind Durer's "Praying Hands" tells of the sacrifice of another young man. About 1490, Durer was a struggling painter, working hard to attend classes, but his artistic progress was impeded by having to earn a living for himself.

The other man, an aspiring engraver, came up with a plan. They would toss a coin. The loser would go to work to support both of them so the other could concentrate on his studies. When the winner became successful, he would support the other in his artistic studies. Albrecht won the coin toss.

Albrecht Durer studied under the major artists in the great cities of Europe. His talent soon became apparent in his depictions of the religious scenes he painted. Soon his work was in great demand by churches and monarchs across Europe.

When after four years Albrecht returned to Germany to afford the other man the same opportunity, he discovered that his benefactor had paid dearly for his support. Having worked at hard labor in the mines, his hands were no longer able to hold the delicate instruments for engraving and woodcuts.

Later, while working on the figure of a disciple in prayer for a larger project, Durer used the other man's hands as his model. Of the hundreds of Durer's beautiful masterpieces, this simple image of praying hands is the best known.

Without the love, labor, and sacrifice of the other young man, Durer could not have succeeded.

Likewise, it takes all of us doing our part in the Kingdom of God for God's work to succeed. Some of us are called to do the creative parts; others are called to labor to be able to give to support it. Some preach the gospel. Others work to support their efforts financially and prayerfully. Both are essential. Together, we can do more for Christ than any of us can do alone.

"The Songs of the Reaper," words and lyrics by William A. Spencer (1886), a hymn I learned years ago, depicts Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9:

The seeds I have scattered in springtime with weeping,
And watered with tears and with dews from on high;
Another may shout when the harvester's reaping
Shall gathered my grain in the "sweet by  and by."

Over and over, yes, deeper and deeper
My heart is pierced through with life's sorrowing cry,
But the tears of the sower and songs of the reaper 
Shall mingle together in joy by and by.

Another may reap what in springtime I've planted,
Another rejoice in the fruit of my pain,
Not knowing my tears when in summer I fainted
While toiling sad-hearted in the sunshine and rain.

The thorns will have choked and the summers' suns blasted
The most of the seed which in springtime I've sown;
But the Lord who has watched while my weary toil lasted
Will give me a harvest for what I have done.

Many a pastor and missionary could sing this song. I could not write books were it not for the support and sacrifice of my husband.

Who has worked or sacrificed so you could succeed? What can you do to enable another to succeed?

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