Art, the Sacred and Endurance…

Blessed - Chantal Bethel

Blessed – Chantal Bethel

At last month’s World Day of Prayer celebrations in Kapunda, South Australia, renowned author Rosanne Hawke gave the following address. We thought it so thoughtful and inspiring we’d share it here at the Author.docx blog. Thanks for sharing, Rosanne! Art, the Sacred and Endurance In John 13 we read of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet – Jesus washed his disciples’ feet not only because no one else had, but to show an example; to show that he is a servant king: [Jesus] said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Could we wash the feet of our friends? Perhaps. Could we wash the feet of someone we think is evil or hateful? That would be much harder, but that is what Christ calls us to do, not by our own initiative or strength, but by his command and with his help. We need to ask God to help us give equal value to every person – friends and neighbours, our fellow citizens and those from a different culture than ours, asylum seekers, those on death row, or those who mistakenly think they can bring world peace through violence. Jesus’ life and death was one of love and service to others. Our challenge today is to serve and love one another in our immediate context, and then we can cast our sights further. I’m very taken by the painting on the World Day of Prayer booklet: Blessed, by Chantal Bethel. The artist tells us she painted this to ‘celebrate our blessings as we share love with the world across the ocean. The flamingos (the national bird of the Bahamas) bow at the feet of Christ for there is forgiveness, peace and humility in this act of reverence.’ Like many nations (our own included), the Bahamas struggle for a more just equality among many in their society, especially women downtrodden by domestic violence. But the people of the Bahamas are a resilient and creative people who celebrate life in their art, craft, music, dance, theatre and story. Chantal Bethel believes art is powerful for healing and learning, and a powerful force in culture and history and, may I add, in our faith. I believe art, whether it be visual, literature, dance, craft, cooking, drama or music, is used by God to draw people to himself and to prompt prayer just as this image does. Art can bring unity in a society – the unity we need in Christ to pray together for others, as we are doing today.   What God Thinks of Art Did you know that we are all creative? Whenever I tell my students this at the beginning of a semester of creative writing, they stare at me in amazement, a few with a scoff, some with hope. Whether we believe it or not, we are children of a creator God and we are made in his image. To say we are not creative is to reject his craftsmanship. Creativity is a basic aspect of the image of God, the divine image reflected in all people (P. Ryken 2006, p. 24). God created in Genesis, like an artist, looking upon his handiwork and declaring it to be good. And when he made the first man and the first woman, we are told he made them in his own likeness, his own image (Genesis 1:27). Since God is first and foremost the Creator of all things, it follows that the people he made in his image will also be creative. Having been made male and female, we are of course procreative – a profound miracle indeed. But also in our ability to think, to speak, to wonder, to imagine, to design, make, and unmake, we bear God’s creative stamp. It also follows that we live in the midst of an artwork, this world and universe is God’s ongoing work of art, and we are blessed with privilege of working with him as co-creators. We just need to find our creativity; so many of us bury it under our busy lives or reject it because it doesn’t produce what some other artists seem able to produce. But we all have that creative spark, even though we may not all be called to be artists. There are many references to art and artists in the Bible. God cares about beauty and truth. Christians are sometimes frightened of the Imagination but it is used as a vehicle for truth in the Bible (L. Ryken, 1989, p. 42). Jesus and other writers of the Bible trusted literary forms to express truth. They were not afraid of metaphor and symbol. Much the Bible (some say 90%) appeals to the imagination. Art is the work of the imagination, seeing and responding to God’s creation – and in the act of creating imaginative works we reflect the mind of God. Like God, we have the capacity both to create something beautiful, and also to delight in it (Kuyper in P. Ryken 2006, p. 24). I find often when I’m writing that it feels like praying – or like a kind of worship.   The Effects of Art The power of the arts to move both heart and mind is unquestionable. Theologian and artist, Colin Harbinson (2010) believes God is opening the doors of the nations through the arts and imagination, especially those ‘closed’ nations where preaching the Word of God is not accepted. He’s taken three hundred Christian artists into countries like China and Russia to run arts festivals. The artists, whether dancers, musicians, writers or actors, come from different cultures and do not preach the Word but give glory to God through their art. Harbinson has found that people often ask what makes the artists different, and in this way discussion of Christianity has been opened. Readers can become closer to God by reading books that may not even have Christian content, but which still offer a true portrayal of life and the themes of love and redemption, which begin to settle in their hearts. Author Madeleine L’Engle (1980) wrote that we draw people to Christ by showing them a light that is so lovely they want with all their hearts to know the source of it (p.122).   Nurturing Artists I believe we need to encourage artists in our churches to further develop their art as a spiritual discipline that brings the artist, and the audience, closer to God (Luz, p. 142): …the church can be a place where artists are encouraged, nurtured, discipled, respected (Ephesians 2: 19-22). Thus, the calling of the church as it relates to art is to be: a venue for the art (a place, a way, a time); a biblical community with the artist (offering friendship, encouragement, training, and discipleship); and an audience for the artist (Luz, pp. 117-118). The writer William Faulkner once said the work of the artist is to lift up people’s hearts and help them endure (Luz p.147). As Christians we maintain that we would not even exist, let alone endure, without God’s sustaining love and mercy. To endure, we must draw near to God, but art can certainly help us do this. Artistic directors in churches can encourage the arts to help all the parishioners to grow closer to God. I see this happening even here in Kapunda with the Soul Space workshops at Christchurch.   Let’s Think About Endurance In Colossians 1 Paul asked God to fill the Colossian believers with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (Col 1:9). The reason for this request is in verses 10 -11: …that they may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that they may have great endurance and patience. Pleasing God would result in us having great endurance and patience. These are also qualities that artists need in order to carry on with their craft, often in a culture that doesn’t value art as much as it needs to. Endurance and patience are close in meaning. Taken together they convey the idea of an ongoing perseverance in a quiet, gentle spirit. The patient endurance of believers and artists will enable them to stand firm in the face of opposition. We can pray Colossians 1: 3-14 for persecuted Christians too. May the Lord give us and also those who are persecuted, strength and courage to endure. Pray their faith won’t fail but that their suffering will draw them closer to him and increase their faith. Patience is usually accompanied by two other themes in the Bible – the theme of suffering and the theme of love. Love is patient (I Cor 13:4) but we are to be patient in affliction too (Romans 12:12). Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:12 to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Our hope is in God, even though we will have difficulties; knowing he is in control enables us to rejoice. Our hope and our patient endurance, or our steadfastness, must be bathed in prayer, faithful prayer. We need to persevere in prayer. How often do we secretly believe that perhaps it doesn’t work? Once I was very ill in Pakistan and during that time was plagued by thoughts I didn’t want in my mind. I cried out to the Lord in my head, please help, I can’t shrug this off. And I saw in my head, just as if it was a neon placard across the wall, the words of 1 Peter 5:7 – resist the devil and he will flee. I prayed in Jesus’ name that the thoughts would go, and they did. Also my health began to recover. A letter came a week later from a friend in Australia. She wrote, Are you okay? I was woken in the middle of the night and felt the Lord telling me to pray for you. It had been the same night. Remember the 80s when Christians everywhere were praying collectively for the Berlin Wall to come down, for China to open its doors, for Russia to relinquish its power over all the states under its control? That all happened. How comforting and what a privilege to be able to hand everything over to the Lord in prayer as part of our relationship with him. We don’t pray to change God’s mind; prayer changes us. Even when prayers don’t seem to be answered, or not in the way we wish, we can remain trusting, knowing God cares, he hears, and he responds. As we look at what is happening today on the news – wars, conflicts, abductions, persecution, corruption etc – some wonder where God is and if he cares. See what Peter says about this (2 Peter 3:9): The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. I know the most hardened Islamic State soldier is not beyond God’s loving influence. We can ask our Lord Jesus to appear to them in dreams as is happening now in countries closed to the gospel, like Saudi Arabia; we can ask him to appear to members and leaders of extremists groups like Boko Hama to release those 200 Nigerian girls. When creative people see the news they think of ways to portray what they’ve seen, often so that we can better understand what it all means. Some of my books, like Marrying Ameera and Mountain Wolf, may be honest in the brutal realities and the sin of our world depicted, but also show redemption, something that we hope all Christian art will do. A Year 10 girl wrote that Soraya the Storyteller changed her point of view of ‘boat people’. My new release, The Truth about Peacock Blue, is about a Christian girl in Pakistan who is accused of blasphemy. She is on death row. I hope this type of book can inform, help readers to empathise, and inspire them to pray. Maybe the story will help someone endure.   Art is Love Without Borders Artists are often counter-cultural (like Jesus was and is). People who use their creativity – artists, writers, musicians – usually take an active role in expressing art with excellence and help shape the culture around them. We can be salt and light in a society that thinks God is dead. We can call on others to change their outlook and thought patterns by the way we live and speak and relate kindly to others. We can immerse ourselves in the Word of God, get to know him better, so we’ll better know his will and purposes. Knowing that God will act according to his Word enables us to wait patiently and expectantly. And have endurance. Let’s discover our own creativity again, to see the world in a new light. Let’s be shaken from our comfort zone, yet be patient and endure hardship as we grow closer to God and each other in unity, and pray in perseverance for others. Let’s humbly serve others. If we truly know and appreciate what Jesus has done for us, we will follow in his footsteps. To finish, I’d like to share a verse from Zephaniah 3:17… The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.     References Bahamas WDP Committee, (2015). World Day of Prayer: The Bahamas. Bethel, C. Harbinson, C. 2010, Theology and the arts, lecture at Tabor Adelaide, SA. L’Engle, M. 1980, Walking on water, Harold Shaw, Wheaton, Illinois. Luz, M. 2009, Imagine that: discovering your unique role as a Christian artist, Moody, Chicago, Illinois. Ryken, L. 1989, The liberated imagination: Thinking Christianly about the arts, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon. Ryken, P.G. 2006, Art for God’s sake, P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

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