Monday, 19 April 2010

The Borderline

"love dares you to care for
the people on the edge of the night".
From the song, Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen.

Strange times.
I heard today how an anti-theist is challenging religious folk to show a particular kind of 'evidence' to thereby validate the premise that God could exist. It brought to mind a statement by C S Lewis - "God is the only witness who has to remain silent until proven guilty".

The uncomfortable truth, of course, is that He does not remain silent.

Walking home from work today, some favorite tunes playing on my CD as I imbibed the splendor of a spring afternoon, the world bursting into life in gorgeous displays of colour and fragrance - it made me realize just how squashed human existence has become, when apparently people are fortunate to be happy for a maximum of eight seconds a day!

We're a broken people, but there's still a world, however hard we've scratched to de-face it, which shouts at us regarding the glory of our maker - that's why the bark of the materialist has no bite - it denies the entire purpose of the glory which surrounds and penetrates our deepest reflections when we allow it do so. They speak of a Creator's power and marvelous provision, and a longing, a yearning, for a brighter day...

The darkness and the pain are terribly real, but the light is radiating on the horizon,
from just across the border.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Seeing Faith

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, made it clear that they were looking for a better homeland".
Hebrews 11:13 & 14.

"If only in this life we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied
but in fact Christ has been raised from death, the first fruits of those who have died".
1 Corinthians 15: 19 & 20.

In the early 1500's, at a monastery hospital in Isenheim which cared for the incurable, Mattias Grunewald created two altarpiece images for the aid of the dying, one of the crucifixion, showing Christ as the bearer of our diseases, and one of the resurrection, conveying that something wonderful was beyond this present suffering:

It poignantly speaks to the question which would dominate that era - "how can I be saved?", one that often seems strange to many of the popular trends and views of our age, but as we look at these images and consider our own mortality, we can begin to see afresh that the faith which inspires such passionate art and deep considerations is not that foreign or alien at all - it is as necessary as our next breath, and something which actually causes us to become troubled, to question, when we become too at ease with our place in the world.

The 16th century would become a harbinger for both the necessity and the vitality of such issues, especially in the work of Martin Luther.
Luther, as one scholar notes, became an 'ardent proponent of the sacred, spiritual nature of the material', not just because Creation was the good handiwork of God, but because it was the 'Unique means of God's intimate presence in the world - the means of God's redemptive and justifying activity" (Hendel - Luther's radical Incarnational perspective). Whilst this allowed Luther to renew an Apostolic approach to ministry (in use of both the Word and the Sacraments), it also informed a fresh approach towards faith and art.

The first common German Bible, translated by Luther, included numerous woodcuts by Lucas Cranach (the Elder), but as the genuine tangibility of faith was no longer defined merely by 'religious' practices, so all of life itself became the purview of artists who drew from faith in the redemptive work of God amidst creation, and thereby gave birth to a new realism in many schools and movements which arose across Europe.

By truly looking at the beauty of the created order, artists were seeking to make statements about the true 'weight' of these things, by seeing them inherently as good, in spite of the ruin of the fall, for just as they had been made good by God, they were equally redeemed by Christ, and therefore, the richness of common life becomes a foretaste of the splendour of resurrection life.

In his masterful depiction of God's creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, Michelangelo challenges us with revelation of God's character, not remote from us, but right here - the true source of all life and living, of all care and renewal, of all beauty, in it's deepest expression.

On a day when, by such faith, we can look to a crucial reality of our history - that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb - that can indeed be the well-spring that heals us in life, death, and the new day which is fast approaching.

(Images: Luther preaches Christ by Cranach, The Resurrected Christ by
Grunewald, Venus by Cranach).

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Seeing Straight

We're dreamers in castles made of sand,
The road to Eden's overgrown,
Don't you sometimes wish your heart was made of stone.

Cher - Heart of Stone

I seem to be only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself by every now and then only finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay still undiscovered before me”.

Issac Newton.

It's often spoken of as a wonderful thing, which has often struck me as odd.
In most cases, to 'edit' another famous phrase, another statement would seem to apply -
"If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that we learn nothing to change history".

And why should it not be so?
Gaia enthusiast James Lovelock spoke candidly on British radio this week regarding the issue of global warming, noting that just as, of necessity, we 'pulled the hammer' (caused what is currently deemed climate change by our actions), so we will have to live with whatever comes next, and to seek to propound the notion that we can just resource our way out of such a crisis, somehow turn back the clock, is plain nonsense.

The thing is broken, and no amount of hindsight or even sober thinking is going to change things - we all eat due to sweat and toil, bruised by the thorns of briers of this life, until death claims us,
so why not just forget the past, live for the moment, and 'burn out rather than fade away'?

As an artist, I know well how the desire to somehow draw alongside the deep, profound undercurrent of reality resonates. Like Newton on his beach, holding the few things gathered in a lifetime, I can look with wonder at the future, because there are 'pointers' in what's discovered about who and what we are, and these truly make a person both tremble and laugh at their very core.

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus used a very simple, common moment in a meal to announce the astonishing event that was about to happen. Through what He was about to do and undergo for us, what seemed totally beyond repair was about to be eternally fixed - God would once again 'tabernacle' with humanity, not just on brief moments, or tents, or via other means of mediation, but by living with us in our decimated world, redeeming our very death-struck lives and making us ready for the great age that is closing - a world made anew by Christ.

Hindsight, then, is good, at least in one context - when it placards how we were created, how we fell from there, and how we were rescued from that plight.

Like some of the disciples, no doubt, who dined with Jesus that very night, I often don't understand the mechanics of how the cycle can be broken amidst all the overgrowth, the dreamers in castles, the sheer callousness we can convey,
but Easter Sunday is close by, and after the desolation of the garden, of Good Friday,
it tells me that I can look beyond the here and now,
and to do so isn't pie in the sky.