Saturday, November 27, 2010

Songs of Peace

The liturgical season of Advent us again upon us. It is a time of waiting and anticipation for Christmas. During this time, we remember the promises of old and stories about our Messiah, and in so doing, we wait for Christ’s return. Our pastor has a tradition of focusing all of the weeks of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany into a certain theme. For the past four years, I have had the honor of designing art for each theme. This year’s theme is “Songs of Peace.” As our congregation journeys through Advent this year, we will be also be celebrating with psalms. It will be interesting to combine the traditional songs of this season with the ancient cries of hope and longing from the psalms.

This year’s art brings the wonder of Advent in communion with the wisdom of the psalms in the image of a shepherd. The pastoral scene is of a young shepherd with his or her flock. The shepherd sings songs of God and dances to the dawn of a new day. It is a scene full of HOPE, JOY, PEACE and LOVE. The spring colors of this painting contrast what we are used to seeing this time of year. They reflect the contrast of the Advent season. Although our days darken towards winter, the Church grows brighter towards the Advent of the Light of the World. In this painting, you may see mountains echoing joyous strains of “Gloria.” You may see green pastures to restore the soul. The Songs of Peace span the testaments of scripture. They have been sung centuries. They remind us that our hope in God’s promise should not lose its resolve.

This Advent season, may you sing the ancient Songs of Peace, and dance in the dawn of Emmanuel.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Prodigal Grace

And now we come to the climax of Jesus’ parabolic trilogy on grace. After the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, Jesus tells us the parable of a Prodigal Son who runs off and squanders his early inheritance on his own pleasures only to come back home begging for food and shelter. Rather than being angry with the son, the father runs out to meet him and welcomes him home with a great feast. The gem in the story is more about the father than the son. He is just as wasteful, or “prodigal,” with his grace and love as the son is with money. How much more has our Heavenly Father continued to pour grace upon our lives, time and time again?

This painting depicts the father rushing to embrace his returning son. It shows a clash of two realities. The left side of the painting, the side of the son, is dusty and dead. The right side, from where the father comes, is full of light and life. The father’s love overwhelms the brokenness of the son. The pitiful, weeping, son collapses into the embrace of his father who is wrapping him up to protect, comfort, and sustain. The sweeping robe does more than illustrate movement. They are also abstract symbols of fire and water. For it is in the baptism of water and spirit that we know we belong to God. We are loved, forgiven and renewed by God’s Grace. This painting especially depicts the emotions of the father. He is painted older, to accentuate wisdom. While his left hand sweeps strongly, his right hand gently comforts. In his face, you can see the parental mix of emotions. A smile of happiness tempered with a bitter-sweet empathy for what his child has been though.

May this painting serve as a reminder to us all that we belong to a prodigally loving God who continues to allow us to make our own decisions, painfully knows how we squander our blessings, and patiently waits, looking for our return. And when we DO return, our God comes running to us full of joy and forgiveness to overwhelm our broken lives and restore us with a smothering embrace of love and grace.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Seeker

What on earth is this person doing? What is she looking for? Why is she searching?

These are the questions I hope you will wonder when you first engage this painting. And when you discover the answer, I hope you wonder even more.

After stunning his critics with the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus hits them again with a sequel, “The Search for the Lost Coin”. This second parable tells the story of a woman who stays up all night searching for a single lost coin. When she finds the coin, she invites all of her friends and neighbors to come and celebrate with a big party. Only a compulsive disorder would drive a person stay up all night searching for the coin. And only a foolish person would waste the money to burn a lantern all night and throw a huge party worth many times more than the value of the coin. But it is with this kind of seemingly foolish grace that our God seeks after us.

Unlike the painting of the shepherd, who had found his sheep, I wanted to explore in this painting, the concept of searching. The woman in this piece is turning her home upside down in search of the lost treasure (a coin, a ring, a remote control... it doesn’t matter). The coin is never revealed in order to engage you and get you to wonder what might be worth ransacking a home in the middle of the night. Borrowing from chiaroscuro masters like Rembrant and Caravaggio, the subject is brought to light out of night’s darkness. You can faintly see the overturned chair and basket in the background. The woman’s hair is unkept. You can see that this is a long and ongoing search, and it is consuming all of the her time and energy. Is she looking under a bed, or under something strewn on the floor? Is she looking under there for the first time? Or second? Or Third? The whole point to this mystery is to meditate on the seeker and wonder about that which is lost.

Each and every one of us is God’s most treasured possession. That includes you, me, and the countless invisible, untouchable and unlovable people out there in the world. And when even one of us is lost, God will stop at nothing to get us back. There is no limit to how long God will try. There is no resource God will not employ. Eternally seeking. Even in the darkest places, in the dead of night, God still seeks to find us. We might think its crazy that God would care so much for so many and go through so much fuss over even the worst of us. But to God, we are all worth it.