Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Art as Evangelism
For the non-believer, perhaps focusing on this “poetical teaching” can offer a way of engaging with religious art in a manner beyond merely cultural or aesthetic appreciation; one which begins to dance, albeit gingerly, along the perimeters of the theological. What we experience in religious art, ultimately, doesn’t have to lead us into heaven. In Botticini’s “Assumption”, the disciples gather around Mary’s tomb, only to discover an assortment of lilies has taken the place where her body should rest. Uncomprehending, they look around in bewilderment. If looking at religious art can leave us similarly stunned, perhaps for some that’s more than miracle enough.Sometimes we get in our own way by over-thinking stuff way, way too much. I think everyone agrees that God is revealed in His creation, and in creating ourselves, we reveal some of God in us - and thus God speaks to those that see the creation. Whether it is art, or a machine, when we make something that has never been made before, God is revealed - to believer and unbeliever alike. That is even true, though to a lesser extent, in the "intended to offend man and God" trash that passes for art in some circles today. The revulsion that we feel towards such things reveals the bit of God's image that remains alive in us.
What;s more, these paragraphs seem to resume that we can only encounter God on a cognitive level. Frankly, if that is what we believe then we have already lost the big battle. God is supernatural and therefore on some levels beyond cognition. When we reduce existence to merely cognitive, we have bought into the modernist, if not post-modernist, view.
Art, if we allow it, bursts through our cognition and touches us on deeper levels. Levels that are often frankly, beyond our control. And that in the end is, I think the point.
The trite but truthful phrase "let go and let God" is about more than events. It's about thinking. Sometimes we have to quit thinking about God and just experience Him. Sometimes art can help us do that, and if it can help us, it can do the same for the non-believer becasue it is not about thought, its about experience.
Is this mystical - you bet. I am no Theresa of Avila though. Mysticism must be balanced with thought, but so must thought be balanced with mysticism. Mysticism is, by the way, different than emotion. That, frankly is where I worry about modern worship music - it's emotional but not evocative on deeper levels.
We are afraid of being evoked on those deeper levels - we can't control them. But God can, does, and it is good.