Photo credit here.
BY JAKE DOCKTER
“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 echoes these very same ravings from soap-boxes.
But art is also 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.
Prophets and artists are interpreters, providing lenses to see through. They are eye doctors flipping down hundreds 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 dark and out of focus photographs, under exposed. Faint images barely recognizable through dust.
Remember the nerdy kid in high school with thick glasses and greasy thumbprints 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. This is their job and their calling.
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 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.
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. Most major world religions started with someone's eyes opening. God wiped the lens clean for a second and the prophet saw into the reality of what could be.
Like paintings that stop 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 hear a song. Let it wash over you because this is where you need to be. Study a painting, stare into it as long as you need to, with the rest of the world passing.
This is religion, this place of Truth.
This is the mountaintop, the burning bush.
This is prophecy. The clouds part and beams of light blind you and you are changed, critiqued and challenged.
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 excrement. Many do define abstract art as a product of madmen, modern and conceptual art often toes this line, even purposefully 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 locusts, wandered deserts, and wore sack cloth, so they are all in good company.
We all have moments where art of some kind cuts through the noise and forces 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. Have you been hiking or backpacking, or even just pulled over at a highway turn out, to discover a sight that takes your breath away? In these moments it is hard to do anything but stare. 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 stimuli. 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.