Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), ‘Have Pity!’, 1919; private collection.
Ernst Barlach’s small wood-carving struck me deeply when I first saw a photo-print of the statue in Gombrich’s ‘The Story of Art’. The old, bony hands of this woman extended beneath a seemingly coarse and debasing covering intensely expresses the suffering and pain of the lives of too many people on this earth. This sculpture simply reminds me of King Benjamin’s address. For, in the first place, there is a stark realisation that we should ‘not suffer that the beggar putteth up [their] petition to [us] in vain’.
Yet, as King Benjamin also reminds us, ‘are we not all beggars’ before God? With this view in mind, I am struck by this solitary approach toward the Divine. Perhaps this image suggest to us the blind, self-inflicted, contrition of a sinner waiting to be touched by God rather than reaching out to Him. Perhaps there is something of Peter in this form of penitence, who asked the lord to depart from him because of his sins. Perhaps, like Moses, in coming to God, this repentant-soul has veiled their face in order to hide their luminosity from us.
Whatever our sense, I am deeply moved by this anonymous act of contrition; for in making visible their strained arms beneath that veil we inevitably focus upon those cupped hands, and witness a moment of grace. A moment where someone enacts their divine need while simultaneously demonstrating their willingness to receive anything the Lord has to offer.