In Angry Jesus’ Off-Center Gaze

One religious icon displays itself prominently in my cozily-sized bedroom. I call it a lowercase him, and I introduce him to friends as Angry Jesus.

Strictly speaking, Angry Jesus isn’t angry. In fact, he’s probably about as far as angry as a lithograph print of an Eastern Orthodox portrait of the Sacred Heart can be. Yet “Angry Jesus” he’ll stay.

Framed within alternating deep hues of red and ochre, Angry Jesus the Icon shouldn’t, by all rights, seem so imposing on my mostly bare walls. He stands, shoulders square with the frame, holding a scroll in one hand, his other hand bent such that ring and pinky fingers touch his thumb.

The whole of the portrait — including his halo, his long, flowing brunette locks and the ever-requisite beard — seems browned and dull, as if viewed through layers of beeswax. In the middle, set off from his colored but drab robes, there’s a shape of a teardrop. In it, shining, polished and slightly curved steel appears to pierce his heart-shaped heart. The rest of the teardrop is filled by appropriately tricolor fire.

Angry Jesus never looks at the eye-level viewer, but instead slightly above and more slightly to the right. I don’t know why, and he offers no ready clues.

He doesn’t appear to smile, laugh, cry, blush, or retort sarcastically to the Pharisees — his mouth is a thin, inexpressive line. His face betrays neither pain nor contemplation.

It’s this face that earns Angry Jesus his epithet. He isn’t angry, by any stretch of either my imagination or what little theology I’ve absorbed, and I call him angry for my tacit fear of the alternative.

For what else explains his expressionless-ness, but sober judgment? What could I have done that has earned me his judgment? — and then a deluge of my deepest memories reminds me.

I don’t think I’ll change his name, anytime soon. Soberly Judgemental Jesus would be a whole lot harder to live with than a mere Angry Jesus.

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