Staying Awake in the Garden

I came across this image in Biola University’s Lent Project. It is by the Austrian children’s book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger. Among several awards she had won, Zwerger received the acclaimed Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration—the highest international award given for “lasting contributions to children’s literature”.

Staying Awake in GG

Its title is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, from her book Stories From the Bible. Without condescension, Zwerger’s image speaks with clarity such that a child can easily grasp its essence. Three people dozing off, each against a tree. From a distance, under a massive dark cloud, a tiny, lone figure walking towards the ominous void. The illustration is perhaps one of the rarer perspectives that accompanies this narrative:

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”    – Matthew 26: 36 – 46

What struck me is how modern the feel; these three guys could be anyone. And they are so casual too, like, barefoot in the park. Considering the horrific mission their Master is facing, their body language speaks avoidance, indifference, and, even betrayal. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – blame it on the good supper – they’re totally oblivious while their Master in a distance, alone, is fighting the most anguished battle of his life.

Are these guys named Peter, James and John? Why, they could be you and me.


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

7 thoughts on “Staying Awake in the Garden”

  1. This may be the most poignant illustration of the time in the Garden that I’ve seen. It’s very ordinariness gives it power. I think their body language speaks to something else, too: the kind of exhaustion that comes from trying to understand events that are both routine and mysterious.

    The best analogy I can think of is what it’s like to drive and work right now, trying to adjust to new glasses while I wait for my eye surgery. I used to be able to drive easily, thoughtlessly. Now, while I can read street signs, wend my way through traffic and stop when I’m supposed to, it takes every bit of attention and energy I have. Paying attention is hard. No wonder they fell asleep.


    1. Linda,

      I’ve just discovered Lisbeth Zwerger recently. Her works are inspiring. And yes, you’re right in suggesting the disciples might well have been exhausted, following their master here and there, seeing all sorts of things way beyond their comprehension, or beliefs. Anyway, I think Zwerger has given much depth in her children’s book illustration. I’d like to explore more of her works.


  2. This is wonderful, just a magnificent visual interpretation — so simple, so eloquent. There is such a sense of loneliness here — the loneliness of Jesus, the separateness of the apostles. And your honest assessment — we don’t know their names but they could be you or me.

    A wonderful find. I don’t know this illustrator but I will certainly remember her.


    1. Jeanie,

      You’re right about the separation of the disciples too. Each to his own tree. Totally alienated from each other. And, yes, we do know their names, Peter, James and John, but there can be blanks for us to substitute our names in there. I too have discovered this acclaimed illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger just recently. Do check out her works here. I don’t think she has a website of her own. But if you do find one, please let me know.


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