Monday, 28 February 2011

The Artists Calling

There is a separation between the spiritual and the material within western culture that has also dominated our evangelical expression of church. Too often we have embraced a dualistic theology that divides mind from body and humanity from the divine, and in so doing have separated the arts from faith and belief in favor of utilizing the ‘word’ as the primary means of engaging with our creator. And yet the bible speaks of God choosing to locate himself at the heart His creation, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us”. John 1:14. The beauty of this love-story reveals God’s desire to be intimately present and known with us not just in the human form of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, but present within us now as our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Gal 4:6. All creation is graced with the mystery of this eternal presence, a mystery that we celebrate through the sacraments that bare traces and echoes of the body and blood of Christ.

The artist’s calling is to reveal God’s presence in this world. Be they poet, painter, writer, sculptor, musician or performer they tend to see beyond the surface of things; to observe colour, texture, shape and form, to be alert to sound, smell, emotion and movement, to observe the passing moment and then to contain what they see through image, word, object or performance. Perhaps we need to rediscover our sense of wonder at the mystery of the indwelling of God in His creation, to draw attention to the minutiae of daily living, to things often unseen or passed by, and in this way seek to expose the human condition, to reveal both its beauty and its vulnerability; to try and hold in perfect tension the reality of the present moment, with all its pain and suffering, alongside the certain hope of the glory that is to come.
The poet sees with the eyes of possibility, he sees in the ordinary the hope of the hand of God continuing His work of creation, bringing all things together in Him. The imagination of the artist sees the world as it will be, through the seed of hope and truth present within the ordinariness of the present moment, be that the reflection of God in a beautiful landscape, or in the loving eyes of a friend during times of sorrow and loss. Through their chosen medium they can draw our attention to humanities journey from the pain of Good Friday to the hope and beauty of Easter Sunday. As Christian artists we need to shy away from sentimental interpretations of the gospel that are so often the accepted norm in today’s contemporary churches, where art is reduced to little more than religious propaganda and embrace honesty in our portrayal of the wounding and the crosses that we bear as well as the light and hope of the resurrection. Art invites mystery and possibility; it awakens the inner spaces of spirit and soul where our belief and faith emerge.
As Christians we need to encourage our creative’s to challenge the atheistic aesthetic that dominates our galleries and our TV screens with their violent and ugly expressions of the meaninglessness and pointlessness of life. To encourage them to dream; to be the finger that points to the moon, instead of fearing that they are creating images of idolatry, for only the fool looks at the finger. It is the moon we seek to expose; the encounter with our savior within the darkness. In the words of NT Wright, “The vocation of the artist is to speak of the present as beautiful in itself but as pointing beyond itself, to enable us to see both the glory that already fills the earth and the glory that shall flood it to overflowing…….The artist is thus to be like the Israelite spies in the desert, bringing back fruit from the promised land to be tasted in advance………to tell the story of the new world so that people can taste it, and want it, even while acknowledging the reality of the desert in which we presently live.”

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