Through a Glass Darkly

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Colossians 1:15

Art is the scripture made physical.

The word become some kind of flesh.

Parables in paint and movement, words and sculpture.

Ideas made tangible.

The prophets of old stood and screamed on street corners, exhorting and calling down fire. Prophets led their people out of oppression and they broke down idols. Isaiah railed against the political powers of corruption. Prophets exhort and lead and guide, shepherding the flock to a promised land.

Art can be these very same ravings, shouts, and speeches from soap-boxes.

Art is the quiet whispers of love, which just as often, guide men to loud and wild deeds.

Art is the caress of hands to flesh and pen to paper.

Art is the voice raised in song, in scream, in recitation and in melodic prayers or worship.

Art is action and exhortation.

The prophet and artist are interpreters who provide a lens for us to see through. Eye doctor’s flipping down hundred of lenses and asking, “and now what do you see?” The book of Corinthians speaks of our lives in this same way. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

We see poorly through smudged glass, like a dark and out of focus photograph, under exposed. Faint images barely recognizable through dust. Remember the nerdy kid in high school who had thick glasses with thumbprints and grease all over them? That’s us, semi-blind and stumbling. Thank God for artists and prophets, poets and painters, dancers, activists, writers, singers, and bass players. They are the ones who attempt to clean that lens and wipe away the murky obscurity. They make  tiny holes in the fences that let us see what is happening. It is art and faith that help us to see cleanly and un-obscured, even for a little while. See them as the janitor with the Windex or the maid tidying up our messy world-views.  This is their job and their calling.  Many critics incorrectly claim that modernism, especially shown through modern art, is the cause of this whole mess. They try to say that cubism, impressionism, surrealism, all the modern schools of art are the smudges and the darkness itself, symptoms of chaos and sin. They are wholly wrong and we will explore more of how and why.

Images are powerful and creativity is a force and art is spiritual. Art and church go hand in hand. The hush of the gallery, the whispers in the museum and the quiet patience of standing in front of paintings and sculptures, slowly moving and absorbing is the the same as the hush of the sanctuary, the temple, the whispers and slight sounds of breathing, the whisk of fabric as people stand and sit and stand and sit, the patience of listening and worshipping.

I have had the flood of noisy and wonderful rock and roll hit my ears in concert halls in the same way that the sounds of worship have flooded over me. A scream, a distorted guitar and a prayer are all a supplication. Is this idolatry or can God be found in this, is He already here?

How many disciples screamed and cried for the Beatles? How many fans wept and wailed for Jesus? I am not comparing them in power, or influence. John Lennon said enough, but I am speaking of the followers and the zealots.

Have you ever been in the middle of a crowd at a concert, the sound waves hitting you just as much as the mosh pit?  It always reminds me of those fanatical religious crowds usually seen in photographs. Easy to be swept up in the mood and the music, brought to tears by hooks and melodies or preaching.

Waiting for the The New Kids, Britney, or Justin Timberlake. Waiting for the Pope.

In the scriptures of almost every religion the divine sends down a lightning bolt or a message and interrupts the lives and dreams of humans. It is some divine revelation and intervention. Most of the major world religions started when someone had their eyes opened. God wiped the lens clean for a second and a prophet saw into the reality of what could be. Like a paintings that stops you in your tracks. Like a poem that seems to have been written for one specific moment, as if the author was watching you. Like a movie that rips you to shreds in its tragedy or that make you laugh so hard you ache.

That is the connection, the physical reaction to objects and songs and beauty.That is religion, the moment of focus.

When you have to hear a song. You have to sit and let it wash over you because this is where you need to be. You have to study a painting, staring into it as long as you need to, with the rest of the world spinning and passing.

This is religion, this place of Truth.

This is the mountaintop, the burning bush.  Christians have had amazing God-touching, mountain-top, affirming moments for generations. Buddhists reach Zen.  We all want to find our purpose and feel right, just right.

This is prophecy. The voice speaks to you and gives your life purpose. The clouds part and beams of light blind you and you are changed. Critiqued and challenged, I have been rebuked by a song so many times. In high school I loved a band called DOGWOOD.  For some reason their punk rock spoke to me. If I was home alone I would crank the stereo to eleven and slamdance, playing air guitar and singing along at the top of my lungs to their music. I dropped to my knees and worshipped. Weird? Yes. Real? Yes.  The music moved me deeply. When Jimmy Eat World release their incredible album,  CLARITY, I laid in my room with the lights off and the speakers close to my ears taking it all in. I revelled in every note and every lyric. So many songs and records have changed me, have moved me, from Dogwood to Bob Dylan. The sardonic songs of David Bazan, more commonly known as PEDRO THE LION have kicked my ass and brought me to tears more than any other. His pure real honesty has spoken to me. The times of doubt and hardship and reality that most won’t admit to, are right there. I know I am not the only one to have this connection with music. I am sure you have cried to a heart breaking or beautiful song, maybe “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones?  My dad was changed by music as a teenager and now his identity is wrapped up in it. It is not only music.  I know people who make films because of one movie  they saw years before and they knew instantly their destiny. Friends of mine who paint, or are photographers, can remember that moment, that instant when a photo or a painting caught their eye and seared into their brain.

We all have these moments where art of some kind cut through the noise and forced us to stop in our tracks. Think about it now. What are some of those moments? If you don’t have any you are not letting them happen. The music surrounds you, the beauty engulfs you and the presence hypnotizes you and you can do nothing. Have you been hiking or backpacking, or even just pulled over at a highway turn out, to discover a sight that just  takes your breath away? In these moments it is hard to do anything but stare. My friend Zeke and I spent summers working at a camp in Santa Cruz, California. We spent many of our days off in a state park called ANO NUEVO. With a huge elephant seal population on the beaches we waited for the rangers to leave and we left the marked trail to run around with huge, wild, and mean elephant seals. Many, many times I had to stop and just take it all in; the sea, the sand dunes, the close off-shore island and the sunset, and Zeke screaming and running through it all.

I also have the luck to have been born in one of the most beautiful places on earth. High in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Eastern California is a small town called June Lake and every time I go, I am humbled by the beaut. All around are high peaks, alpine lakes, volcanoes, ghost towns and high desert. It is a varied and wild place.  A few years ago, one of my best friends Jared and I spent a few days there. Jared, my cousin and I drove way out into the scrub brush of the high desert outside town and did nothing but look up. There were no streetlights, only a distant and tiny town. The stars came out like never before. Normal night skies have thousands, but on this night we saw billions! The milky-way, asteroids, comets and satellites filled the sky and I have never seen a sky like that before or since. I laid on the hood of our car and drank it all in, along with a few beers.

It may seem I am being overly romantic or sensational but if you have experienced moments like this you will know I am not. Just stand there and close your eyes to the beauty. Not because you can’t handle it or to refuse it but just to be in awe of it. Blind yourself to any other stimulus. Just let it take over. Don’t fight it.

 

So let the girl sing.

Let the painting hang on the wall and be.

Let the dancer move.

Let the poet write, and the page speak.

Let the movie play.

Let God speak.

Let yourself be in the presence of it.

 

Art is the same as prophecy one way or another. It may seem like the ravings of a madman, the horrible journals found in the floorboards or knapsacks of the insane, scribbled in a made up language. Many do define abstract art as a product of a madman, modern and conceptual art often toes this line, even purposely drawing the connection. Critics have often derided innovators. Author, poet, artist and critic John Ruskin famously compared one of James Whistler‘s paintings, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, to “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”. Some artists have done just that. Joseph Beuys carried a dead rabbit through a gallery. Andy Warhol urinated on metal plates, I met an artist who smeared her lipstick covered lips over canvas creating an intricate pattern of rouge. But fathers of the Christian faith ate locust, wandered deserts and wore sack cloth, so they are all in good company.

 

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