I love the unique power of art to communicate, and was reminded of this love yesterday when I saw an image, a lithograph called “Easter” by Canadian artist Roy Henry Vickers. This image was presented to the Regent community in chapel yesterday by Cheryl Bear. When she attended Regent in the 90s, she was the only Aboriginal person in the community (from my work within the Aboriginal community, I know that it is a remarkable accomplishment for a person of Aboriginal descent to complete high school, much less attend a graduate school). One day, feeling extremely discouraged in her studies, she went to the Registrar’s Office to seek help when she caught sight of this image on the wall. Immediately, she felt welcomed and as if she belonged. Using artistic colours, symbols and methods to capture Jesus offers profound ways to consider our remarkable, and living, God who walked with us in history and is with us today. I love this.
More thoughts are swirling through this head of mine as I finalize thoughts on what the idea of a “Christian Imagination” has been to me this semester.
From a reading from a Regent course I took last semester, by my man Nicholas Wolterstorff in Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (1984):
“To the question, ‘What is God’s goal for human existence, to which human beings are called to contribute?’ many of our brothers and sisters in the Third world, and in the oppressed components of the First and Second worlds, would today say ‘liberation.’ Liberation is what God’s cause in the world is all about, and which you and I should then commit ourselves to. I can well appreciation why they speak thus. And yet I must say that this does not seem to me an adequate answer. For it leaves unanswered the question, ‘After liberation, then what?’
I suggest that immediately at hand in the Christian Scriptures is a better concept for describing God’s goal for human existence. Admittedly it is a concept which has enjoyed only marginal attention in the Christian tradition. But it seems to me a concept well worth taking note of. The concept I have in mind is the concept of peace – in Hebrew, shalom, in Greek, eirene.
The goal of human existence is that man should dwell at peace in all his relationships: with God, with himself, with his fellows, with nature, a peace which is not merely the absence of hostility, though certainly it is that, but a peace which at its highest is enjoyment. To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in nature, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself. A condition of shalom is justice, and a component in justice is liberation from oppression. Never can there be shalom without justice. Yet shalom is more than justice. Justice can be grim. In shalom there is delight.“
AHHH. This idea is gobsmacking me.
In shalom there is delight.
As I worked on my final arts project for this class (I’m anxious to show you, and pictures will come soon, I just have to wait until it’s actually presented for the first time this weekend while my class is away at Galiano Island (I know, #reasonswhymyschoolisbetterthanyours)), I got lost in it! I was enjoying myself as I added layer upon layer of ornate borders and dots and patterns to a work which celebrated the idea of “play.”
I deliberately chose fraktur (see previous post) because as I read more about the symbols used in typical Mennonite works – tulips, hearts, leaves – I learned that though many have tried to attribute meaning to the images used by fraktur artists, a lot of the time, it is just playful and fun. I usually hate art because I feel like it has to have a direct meaning. If I want to say anything, I usually write about it, to avoid worrying about extra ornamentation meaning anything I might not want it to mean. But this project became sheer enjoyment to me.
I love seeing people who simply enjoy the work they create – I see this in the youth I’ve been working with, and also in the play of littler children. I think of the delightful play of my cousin Micah (whose epic video I just posted on Facebook). A little while ago, he took to constructing buildings out of cardboard boxes. He begs his parents to bring home any boxes they find and then sets to using construction paper, scissors and glue to make hotels and gas stations and houses… His work does not have any direct meaning, but it is a joy to see him at work, just creating. He is passionate about it! I love seeing the freedom of those who can pour themselves into the little details of creating something, picking the colours they like and choosing a medium they like. It’s just fun. I love it!
As I entered this course, I hesitated with the idea of play because of the heavy weight of an urgent need to address the cause of the needy. And so I am relieved by Wolterstorff’s remarks. If our aim is only to liberate, what becomes of those who are liberated? Can we not imagine and allow for the fact that they might, once liberated, desire to play and delight and enjoy? And further, what if my play and delight and enjoyment does not actually demonstrate a lack of concern for them?
I always imagine the hungry stomachs and thirsty mouths of the oppressed looking at me as I do anything other than do justice. But what if the needy are kinder than that? I went to an art show just last month with a new friend I’ve been doing lots of thinking on arts and justice with. She hosted an art show in her home in the Downtown Eastside and there were a couple of less advantaged folk in there, examining the artwork. And they were enjoying it! How have I brought myself to believe that someone who is less socio-economically advantaged than I would hate me for making something? Honestly, they’d probably enjoy my work too! Gah!
In shalom there is delight. Amen!
Have you ever been in a situation where because of anger, depression, preoccupation, or exhaustion you could not sing? And then you could? Change resulted from being addressed, called by a name, cared for, recognized, and assured. The prophet makes it possible to sing and the empire knows that people who can boldly sing, have not accepted the royal definition of reality. If the lack of singing is an index of exile, then we are in it, for we are a people who can scarcely sing. The prophet makes the hopefulness of singing happen again. […]
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good tidings…
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ (Isa 52:7)
– Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination