Imaginatio: The Purpose for Which

Adamah_edited-1_web

We are all captive. Every one of us.

Do we know it?

Actually, the evidence is plain…

 

As the rain and snow

come down from heaven,

and do not return to it

without watering the earth (adamah)

and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the

sower and bread for the

eater,

so is my word that goes out from

my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for

which I sent it. (1.)

 

We are captive to God’s purpose. Grounded in his purpose. From the beginning.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness…’ (2.)

 He is not alone in this act. Who is with him when he says, “Let us make man in our own image…?”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female   he created them. (3.)

 First, we are captive to God’s purpose, then we become captive to His own image.

 So what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so men are without excuse. (4.)

 Evidence of our captive image has been made plain.

And who is with God in this creative act? God’s son, before his betrayal, says to his father,

I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.  (5.)…and that you love them as much as you love me. (6.)

How can we resist that? We are created in God’s own image; planned together with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; given authority in and through all their creation; plainly set out for our understanding; clearly showing us the invisible qualities of God’s eternal power and divine nature; given over in God’s DNA, to us, from the beginning; and loves us as much as his only son!

Then, toward the end of the prayer…

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (7.)

Evidence of captive love.

Still, we all fall short of the reality. So, if we desire to overcome the short falls of our own nature, and reenter the given nature of our divine purpose, which we were born into, we must begin again, every day, as God provides the way, and humbly return to His call of love. Humble, literally means “on the ground” from humus “earth.”

Captive. Grounded. Then taken captive. Again and again. And do we know it?

Again, so many words serve as stumbling blocks to our understanding. Some are even toxic, like God, man (being gender specific), captive, purpose; because they lead into dialogs we’d rather not have. From our familiar lexicons we choose to bring meaning into our own spheres of influence, using words that would work in our favor. Words that influence. And listening to the words of others, however, we are careful to avoid contagious words that might carry a virus. Words of influenza. Or, we develop allergies to the words that represent attitudes and beliefs we don’t agree with. Often misunderstood words. Why? Because we don’t find the right words to engage our path of thinking. Not that we can’t, but we don’t; and instead, we settle for words that begin to default in meaning because of some agreements made with ourselves along the way. Agreements set upon through partial acceptance of other beliefs, and calling them our own.

Our thoughts emerge as images at first. Words follow. We attempt to express levels of perception with words, but we don’t often give it our best. Artists, for lack of a better term, are the purveyors of images. They dwell on those emergent thoughts that appear in our thinking. If you agree that the unseen nature of our thoughts is another realm, before it is spoken, imbued with sensibilities and attitudes, laced to our beliefs, then we should be able to express the images, first. Visually. Yet, as we all know, that is a complicated task. This is sometimes called “art.” How does one express an attitude or belief? In speaking, our opinions inadvertently express these. Sensibility to attitudes and beliefs has as much to do with to do with communicating that unseen realm as the words we use to describe the thoughts. In other words, we think in pictures and sense their meanings according to our respective experiences. These experiences are driven by memories, attached to emotions. They have colors and sounds and smells. We can taste and feel them on some level of experience. This is the language of art.

This inner reality is the heart of aesthetics, and with it comes a theology. Some would make it a theology of aesthetics. It reaches the heights and plumbs the depths of our nature. We inherited it. We are captive to what is divine in it. Transcending our exterior reality and transformed by our interior reality is what makes us a little lower than the angels. Our imagination is evidence of the image in which we are made. And, we are free to move our thoughts and dreams in ways that give us a taste of original creation. Original. Can only come from God. This deep place of love is where artists draw their strength, attend to their gift and share what they have learned. Although, it is not for their purpose, alone.

The role of the artist is to help expand these terms of interior and exterior reality and connect with others in ways that validates communication between people. Ideas and art objects are vehicles for this but so are acts of creativity. If we can get past the habits of understanding art on merely a cursive level and think beyond conventional portrayals of reality, we might grow to understand art in more expanded terms. Consider the words of contemporary artist, Piero Golia:

In the past, artists (expanded the terms of reality) by creating images, but more recently there’s been a shift beyond and outside the limitations of a picture narrative, a continuum that creates a story that fluidly shifts through time and space – a legend that in each retelling, adds increasing importance, often enlarging and changing in the process. These days, artists have expanded the possibilities of interacting with reality, not just as a one-to-one experience, like in the relationship between the art object and the solitary viewer, but acting directly on reality, interacting with the public as a community experience. This brings the interaction to a higher level, building a communal narrative. (8.)

Today, in our postmodern era, we are more given to ask how a narrative affects community, and then how it affects an individual. Asking questions about how we see ourselves will always expand our understanding of reality and our self-image, but recognizing and acknowledging our divine inheritance, evidenced by the image in which we are created, greatly expands the terms of that understanding; even while we are considering the validity of the terms we use. Seeking truth in that endeavor is still relevant in our world today, but the terms of agreement have become displaced in the process. We are facing a generation of seekers who operate in a cloud of unknowing, and yet, for all the divisive language surrounding dialog and discourse in our world, the search for truth has not disappeared. Yet, it has been diminished. We’ve lost the center that holds that truth together. The role of the artist, invested in faith and living out God’s promises, needs to expand the terms of what has always been God’s reality for us. Within God’s one reality, creation is fluid, alive and shifts at its core with the living God, in his continuum of time and space, interacting with his creative narrative. And, in each retelling, this adds increasing importance, enlarging and changing in the process, because creativity, God’s creativity, comes from truly creative and loving action. The source never changes and anything truly creative points to that evidence, even if we don’t recognize it, or even if we appropriate it for ourselves.

There is a kind of lucid ceremony surrounding creativity, imbued with action that becomes ritualistic in its nature. Something new is happening when that occurs. It contains within it a spark of the divine. Our intended purpose is stirring. Within our spirit, and the Spirit that dwells in us, comes this evidence, reminding us who we are, to whom we belong, to whose image we carry, to the love that abides in us and the desire to share it. It’s the heart of our purpose, the heart of our image, the heart of our evidence, the heart of our love.

 

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (8)

 

And he, Christ, the image of the invisible God, is also our image. He’s captured our image in his own. In our created image he came into the midst of all creation. He testified to the truth and made it plain. As predicted by Isaiah and confirmed by Paul. Imagination (imaginatio), creativity and the purpose for which we are intended, like the rain and the snow that comes down from heaven, will accomplish what God desires and achieve the purpose for which he sent it. Watering the ground (adamah), making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, is an act that becomes a foretaste of the feast to come. When we believe God’s word, that goes out from his mouth, and does not return empty, but achieves the purpose for which he sent it, we will see his promise fulfilled and share in creating, together with God, in an everlasting creative reunion. If it were not so, he would have told us. He has no other plan.

 

 

Footnotes:

1.) Isaiah 55:10-11 (NIV) emphasis mine; 2.) Genesis 1: 26a (ibid); 3.) Genesis 1: 27 (ibid); 4.)Romans 1:19-20 (ibid); 5.) John 17:20, 21 (NLT); 6.) John 17: 23b (ibid); 7.) John 17:24 (ibid); 8.) Piero Golia, Akademie X: Lessons in Art + Life, page 119, London, Phaidon Press Limited 2015; 9.) Colossians 1: 16, 17 (NIV)

 

Further readings at www.stevenesheim.com: Click on Blog for www.writeofpassageblog.com. to read The Veil is Removed, in two parts, revealing the background for the assemblage featured in “Adamah” showing February 5-29 at Gallery EDIT in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

 

The Veil is Removed: Part 2

 

The Veil is Removed
The Veil is Removed

How can a veil cover, yet reveal?

And so, with our eyes fixed on the image of a veil, the veil as a tent and the tent back to a veil, coalescing layers of symbols and bringing together a host of transcendent messages (as revealed in Part 1), we begin.

 The meaning to this question will emerge in passages from 2 Corinthians and the subsequent description of the assemblage called “The Veil is Removed”, reserved for the last half of this essay. For now, however, please keep this in mind as a prelude to the essence of the piece, remembering that strong symbols can serve opposing purposes. An umbrella protects from the rain, but also protects from the sun. Protection is the abiding characteristic. If we look for truth in a message, carried by a symbol, we need to allow ourselves an insight into that imaginative environment, then accept what has been provided. Accept the elements of the symbolic meaning and accept the source, as well. As artists, we like to think of ourselves as truly creative and associated with creative thinking. A certain expectation follows this as being unique and visionary to human endeavors. When I was in art school one of my instructors had a storefront for his studio. He created a neon sign and placed it in the window. It was composed of words spiraling out from the center, saying “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystical truths.” (Bruce Nauman). The statement was thought provoking both in its wisdom and its satire. Imposing our own meanings for symbols in order to satisfy a scheme of ideas can provide a certain range of acceptance, but it can also lead to what becomes a beautiful lie.

The paradox for an artist is to promote one’s self and then, in turn, embrace humility. To really humble one’s self is to surrender to the true Creator. That means surrendering my will. I must then agree to receive what has been provided for me. Agree, then accept. This is often the forgotten step to real change. Receiving implies an agreement has been made. It does not mean just taking. If I humble myself enough to receive what has been revealed to me and accept the creative gift, I should be thankful to be selected. But, as we know, human nature will move us to capitulate about that exchange, introduce the notion that our abilities alone have coaxed some creative manifestation into being, and tell us we are, indeed, the brilliant force behind our work! To finesse the gift of creativity is not the same as receiving the gift of creativity, and we are tempted to assert an entitlement to it. Recognizing the power of creativity is recognizing that, “Imagination is evidence of the divine”, as William Blake so aptly put it. Humbling myself to that notion then, leaves no room for harbored resentment toward the source of my imagination. But, I readily go back on my agreements, and in not really surrendering my will, I might acquiesce to some notion that all ideas are not mine, yet still feel justified in accepting any praise for my work. In the process I quickly agree to finally being recognized for my talent, while ignoring the source and expressing gratitude for the gift. You see the dilemma.

Symbols have universal meanings, as Carl Jung has testified. Symbols that have been received and accepted across cultures and across time become archetypal. If they are to coalesce in their presentation and provide deeper meaning, they need to maintain their intended purposes, within expanded use. Imposing my will on a universal symbol will not change how it’s received. Viewers, too, might allow to set agreements aside for the sake of artistic freedom, but revising symbols usually carries a weak response because on some level it’s been compromised. So, if I, in my creative process, were to rearrange the materials I had on hand (drawings, photos and prints), and attend to their symbolic qualities and their aesthetic design, would I also be rearranging their meanings?

And, what is the one message I hoped to convey in the artwork that was incubating throughout the contents of my portfolios? I was poised for a commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The subject was too important. Too intense. Too intimidating. Sitting in my appointed hours with apparently disparate works of art, I sifted through their intended meanings. Would individual meanings combine with others and still serve to impact the larger good? You might decide.

The Veil That Covers

“We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.”

Such are the words in 2 Corinthians 3:13, referring to Moses’ appearance after returning from Mt. Sinai, where he encountered God and received the Ten Commandments. Our imagination is illuminated just by the one simple sentence. The event itself was staggering, to the point that every line in the passages in Exodus or 2 Corinthians is beyond our scope. And, further references to a veil in Paul’s letter lead to a deeper understanding of what seems like a veiled meaning itself. However, my focus on the veil is only a piece of the story that I hoped would provide a sensory connection with the touch of fabric on skin and radiating light. The meaning is deep. Deep as the heart of our own existence and the depth of our understanding. I could only begin to fathom the magnitude of the event through the one element that came between Moses and those who saw him. The veil was alive with light. All other references could take on transcendent meaning if I could focus on that one symbol. And still, the leitmotif of a veil crisscrossed my thinking until ideas began to form about how to approach a work of art. Using the elements in front of me (printed fabric, x-rayed torso, drawing of leg bones, hands and a pencil), I began to engage the concepts of transparency, translucence, and transcendence. And myself…transpiring.

The Text of My Heart

As I began to read from Corinthians, starting with chapter 3, my interpretation of the words reflected a personal interest. The script was speaking to me on a different level.

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?”

 I was working with global missions in the Lutheran Church at the time and sensitive to how I was perceived in the Chinese culture of Hong Kong.

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.”

 I felt led into the next three chapters with this;

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Suddenly, the encouragement to manifest the Spirit came through in the words,

“You show…”

Following that,

“Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

From thereon in, these words jumped out at me: engraved, letters, stone, face, glory, fading. Then all the rest of what I needed came with these passages;

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away…for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day…a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away…And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness…”

By the end of that chapter, which had given me the introduction to the Spirit inherent in Paul’s writing, I was prepared to invest my thinking in a response to Tiananmen Square. Thinking with the heart. Thinking about the transient nature of humankind. The vulnerability of life. The next biblical section of the chapter began with the title, “Treasures in Jars of Clay.”

I was reminded that we are only here a short time. That the supremacy of Christ came through a death, his death, and without it the Spirit would not come. And, to rise again, as Christ is our witness, our earthly tent becomes our heavenly home when we embrace faith in this promise. The epic nature of the events at Tiananmen, in all their graphic horror, remain pale to the supremacy of a veil that is removed. Because when it is removed we see,

“He is the image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Assemblage

An assemblage is a composite work of art using a combination of materials, like a collage, often on a larger scale and may involve installation within a room. “The Veil is Removed”, my centerpiece for this essay, was constructed to the scale of a door and created for the “Doors Exhibit” commemorating the Beijing student massacre in 1989. The piece was installed in the Hong Kong Art Centre and accompanied a visiting exhibit from the Asian Art Center of New York’s Chinatown, originally hosted as an open art show. The title of the exhibit was based on the irony of the name Tiananmen Square – translated from Chinese as “Door of Heavenly Peace.”

The overall scale of this piece suggests a narrow door that widens at the top. This accentuates the lifting movement of ascending bird images whose wings span the width of the form, printed on muslin fabric. One continuous piece of fabric with the printed bird, repeated and mounted to a wooden base, forms the backdrop for the rest of the imagery. The same birds are printed on organdy fabric and are wrapped over the front of the “door.” A play on words, using organdy, as a veil we see through, is linked to a chest x-ray fastened at chest level, revealing organs and bones.  The x-ray is my own, and behind it is a life-sized photo of my arms and hands, suggesting a view of the inside and outside of a person at the same time. The photo portrays the act of sharpening a pencil and relates to a drawing partially obscured by the x-ray. Under the x-ray is a drawing of a pelvic bone and upper legs of a skeleton.

Veil detail

Beyond the x-ray are the legs and feet of the skeleton with one foot not completely drawn. Together, these elements suggest an interrupted process, interior and exterior space, a creative intention, revealed meaning. Then, from the pencil sharpener, as though it is emerging while the handle is turned, comes text, printed on clear acetate and scrolling out from the surface of the photo, curling down in front of the x-ray. The words are chapters 3, 4 and 5 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, which include the words “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts…”

The human scale of chest, arms and hands is intended to draw the viewer into the intimate level of meaning in the words, exposed by the clear text, peeled back like the x-ray and drawing of skeletal bones. The bones of the text are laid bare, then cut off like the unfinished drawing of a foot, like a footnote. The outstretched wing feathers of the birds are aligned with the ribs of the chest, and seen together with the pelvis and legs, the design becomes a cruciform. The pencil, like a spear in the side. Ascending birds transcend the vertical from behind and also in front of the “door.”

The doorway, doubling as a cruciform, has above it a photograph of a fish under an umbrella. The paradox is that an umbrella is designed to repel water, but a fish lives in water. Certain death comes to the fish out of water and under an umbrella. The historical Christian symbol of a fish is evident, and the form of the umbrella has characteristics of an inverted crown, alluding to the title “King of the Jews.”

In these symbolic associations we see transformation, transcendence, and ascendance in the translation of image to text and text to image. Revelation is found in the transparent and translucent rendering of material, metaphysically and poetically portrayed. The entire work carries with it the overarching likeness to Jesus Christ, echoed in his words, “I am the door.”

What Does This Mean?

For the Chinese student, trapped inside a tent in 1989, on Tiananmen Square, the meaning of life is bound to one short breath. We don’t know what was in the heart of that one soul, what agreements were made that led to the rise in spirit and the decision to act; but everything suggests the longing to free that one heart, alongside those who died. The immanence of God in his creation is what lives on. And the world, as we know it? It’s only the voice of the invisible; yet we take it to mean what we call “real.” God, within his own creation, is inseparable from it. We think we separate ourselves from the phenomena around us and give credence to that by our pronouncements about the reality of our experiences. Outside of that, we are suspect of what lies beyond. Can there be an Absolute Truth? Were our hearts not burning at some point, to find out? And, are we not captured in the tent of an earthly body, longing for a heavenly home?

I am again reminded, there is one who came to testify to the truth, and bind up the broken hearted. What would I have to give up to receive that?

As I came to the close of these thoughts, I picked up the Book of Common Prayer today, and in keeping with the daily lectionary, I read the following:

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has appointed me

to preach good news to the

poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom

for the prisoners

and the recovery of sight for the

blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

 Today

The veil prevails today…in its numinous meanings. Will we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear? So many of our questions result in more questions. The beginning of these two postings made reference to the veil as a covering, but as we can see, the true meaning lies beyond the veil. Art will portray the veil as an object that points to something else. Or, perhaps, remain staid to the notion that there is nothing else beyond what we alone can see. What we decide, in the place where decisions are made and in the deepest part of ourselves, can make all the difference in the world: whether we live for this world or become the presence of another.

The Veil is Removed: Part 1

Veil detail

“And we, who with unveiled faces…”

(A reflection on 2 Corinthians, chapters 3-5, NIV)

Today, the image of a veiled face is present in all the media. Yet, it’s nothing new.

In some societies it’s legal to wear a veil, and illegal to not wear a veil. In others, it poses a threat to society if you wear a veil, making it illegal if you do, legal if you don’t.

Our association about the veil, of course, is with Islamic tradition. Radical Islamists appear not with a veil, however, but a mask. This is not about that. Nor is it about the history of the veil; although we could mine a rich vein of meaning there. No. It goes deeper. And the radical departure begins with an appearance to Moses.

 Veil as a Tent

The veil is a powerful symbol. The word alone carries power in our language code and the associations we place on it. Put in a fertile context, words move us from the immediate world around us to the immanent layers of the unseen world, inherent in our inner being. And, as with any symbol, there lies a paradox. The veil, typically regarded as a delicate fabric, can separate the force of human identity behind it.

This essay is about making one’s self known, and keeping one from being known.

It began in Hong Kong. June 4, 1990. The first commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Bejing, China. I found myself faced with a work of art for the Hong Kong Art Centre, ready to install, and no idea of how I assembled the pieces. This was to be my contribution to an organizational exhibit that I helped to create. It became, for me, what can only be described as a divine appointment.

Already I hear some say, “Here we go.” If reference to the immanent world view made earlier jarred some people’s sensibilities, the expression “divine appointment” will carry skepticism even further. However, if I may include a clause to my remaining thoughts, and frame them with what I recognize in this quote by David Powers in his book, Unsearchable Riches:

“The differentiation of consciousness typical of the contemporary era has uprooted persons and civilizations from psychic roots and has made them suspicious of transcendental significations which appear to be explained by projection of the unconscious.”

 You could call the phrase “divine appointment” a projection of the unconscious, signifying a transcendental experience. Being uprooted from my understanding of consciousness in the ordinary realm wasn’t what I was seeking when creating artwork for the exhibit. I was more concerned about presenting images and references not found in Chinese culture. Framing ideas within the context of my faith and recognizing that that itself is a culture brings me to the remainder of Powers’ thought:

Cultural differences show up markedly in symbols of the holy, as do clashes within cultures and in cultural approaches to Christianity.

 Symbols of the holy, I discovered, were waiting in my portfolios and poised for another encounter. More “differentiation of consciousness”; the culture of art. I felt confronted with an overwhelming sense of challenge, coupled by the realization that I might be out of my league. All the other artists seemed so accomplished. They hadn’t seen any of my work, yet they trusted my judgment about presenting together with them. We were all Christian, but we needed to be invested in the integrity of our calling as artists. This would be the first exhibit of Christian artists in the Hong Kong Art Centre. A lot was riding on how we represented ourselves.

Did I know I had symbols of the holy, in hand, while assembling my artwork? Not exactly. There were, however, portions of work that I had collected as evidence of sparks that illuminated further work. I kept these to remind me of their legacy. Drawings, studies, photographs, prints. I pulled them all out, laid them down in various arrangements, then I sat with them, in my appointed hours. We all showed up. Then waited. My thoughts at the time steeped with images of Tiananmen Square. That’s when the layers began their immanent shifting.

Do we know when God shows up? Is it when we sense we aren’t alone, and afterwards become aware of having been in a transient state? My thoughts at the time carried me back to the early morning hours, a year before, inside a tent on Tiananmen Square. Suddenly the sound of tanks crushing other tents. And screaming. Darkness. Silence.

Words flooded an inner light. I was reading:

“Now…we know…if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God,… an eternal house… in heaven,…not built by human hands… we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling,… when we are clothed we will not be found naked.”

 I had placed myself inside a tent, to imagine what was happening to those who realized they’d been trapped. Emotion overtook me. I was caught in a sea of helplessness. The instantaneous finality of that moment transported me beyond any sense of place on earth. It happened in an instant, like that final moment inside a tent.

There must be more. What else does it say?

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wished to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

 “So what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” That was too vivid. The tent was a mere symbol of the life within. Many of the tents on the square were red. Swallowed up by life, with life inside. Families left on the outside. Nothing more could be done.

Then the questions. Then the tears. Then the sorrow. Lingering sorrow. The world watched. There must be more:

“Now it is God who has made us for this purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.”

 Being in the tent, they didn’t seeing it coming. We will never see it coming. And the passage ends with this:

“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

 We become the phenomenon of life. Life is revealed in us.

And Christ? The Word made flesh? Spoken? Died? Risen. Dwelling in us now. Word and Word. The same. Nothing more could be done.

 Tent as a Veil

I later purchased a red tent, like those used on the square, and placed it in the exhibit with that whole passage printed in Chinese, against a gold square painted outside the tent door. Four white flowers laid next to it. It was the custom. In Chinese, the word “four” rhymes with the word “to die.” I didn’t know I was going to make that piece. It just happened. A contemporary dance troupe improvised around it at the opening.

The veil…the tent…our heavenly dwelling? Dwelling among us… words… the Word? I hadn’t really started to gather all the resources I wanted before images and words began to build. The symbols were powerful and seemed to increase exponentially. It caused me to cycle back to the essence of symbols and integrate my sensibilities about words and images, how to express them in a Chinese culture. There were layers, in communion with each other, calling on presentational symbols to occur simultaneously, as an integrated expression,

“…the purpose of which is to allow thoughts and things to interpenetrate, come together so that the whole is perceived as one, and to express…the kind of understanding associated with feelings and values.” (Susanne Langer, Language and Symbol)

Symbol, by definition, in the Greek origin, sum-ballien, means “to throw together.” In the material I had collected for my artwork, now extending into layers of symbolic images, it felt like I had just thrown these things together. Yet, there remained a presence about each that I wasn’t able to cast off. I kept coming back to the starting place for each piece, thinking that a value inhabited its meaning. Again, Susanne Langer:

“The distinction (with presentational symbols) is true to the fundamental polysemy of every image, word, thing or action, to the nature of knowledge as originally symbolic, to the structure of being that is revealed in the capacity for multiple significance and for a multiple relation to reality that is practical, theoretical, and reverential.”

 That’s where this is going, I thought. Symbolic language is reverential. It embraces feelings and values and insight into meaning. Communion and communication of an interpersonal nature was my intention.

“Things of nature and human artifacts are not simply being put to a purpose, but their very nature is being revealed within and through the language of art. Reality is not expressed in a single image but in what can be called an image-schema, or symbol system, where various images and symbols coalesce.”

 I knew, also, that within the Chinese culture, as with any culture, the values represented in the symbols I was presenting were shared values, with reverential meanings. Accepted agreements as to the power and presence of symbols are rooted in the desire for communion with the awesome and transcendental. Carl Jung will say that symbols, as points of intentional contact, exist in stored images held in memory of an archetypal design. The Christian culture and the Chinese culture share in the psychic rootedness of the transcendental and certain symbols will signify a depth of meaning, particularly when multiple symbols are seen together.

My divine appointment hasn’t actually been realized on all levels. It never will in my lifetime. In this writing, even as I chase after the coalescence of symbols, the events surrounding the creation of the assemblage and the ensuing purpose of events surrounding my continual fascination with developments, I see evidence manifesting in circumstances that have become symbolic for me. The significance of my own veil of understanding has been revealed to me multiple times. The work of art that symbolizes this engagement is has called me out, once again, at this particular time, to receive another layer of immanence. In a following account, as the second part to this essay, I will unfold the details of an assemblage called, “The Veil is Removed.”

“Ephphatha!”

He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (1)

You won’t find the meaning of that word in the usual lexicons. At least not the deeper meaning.

However, the source of it’s translation is supplied for us immediately following the exclamation. It means…”Be open!”

This quote is from Jesus of Nazareth. The story is dramatic and deserves telling, not only for the scriptural context but it serves as an illustration to the opening of this first entry to the new Write of Passage. And it does so on many levels.

Personally, after moving to Maryland, a form of depression was plaguing me as I encountered the word “ephphtha” in that passage above, from the book of Mark. Lately I’ve been revisited by a similar feeling. I wrote about that initial time in one of my journals two years ago and I believe God was revealing something to me as I was writing. Each stroke of my pen became more important. What came next was something I’d seen a few days earlier, and it hit me. A drawing, a word and writing came together in the Chinese character for the feeling of being depressed. It is a combination of “door and heart”. But the heart is lodged in between the split sides of a double door, where the strokes for “door” appear facing each other. Immediately it came to me. I saw the link between the effect of depression and the affect it has on one’s being. The double “f” s look like the character for door, and the similar sound of the two words is like the double sides of a split door. Then I knew, my heart was caught in the doorway.

The character for heart is simple, three dots spread out and a graceful wave of a line moving through them. My heart was stifled, confined in the doorway, moving from within, but not moving out. It was stuck on the threshold. I couldn’t  manage the passageway.  My only recourse was to lean not on my own understanding, but on my faith. As soon as I turned to God, he broke the hold on my heart. One word from Mark’s gospel and my world turned around. That’s how God loves to make his presence known. Simple. Direct. Compelling.

Two days ago I opened that journal to the exact page.

Now from Mark’s gospel:

 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the sea of Galilee and into the region of Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to put his hand on the man.

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!” ). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. (2)

Well, I too keep talking about it. Even as I was writing this it occurred to me that Jesus’ fingers, on either side of the man’s head were like the two sides of the double door. In an instant the man’s ears were opened when Jesus removed his fingers. The words “listen to your heart” are an invitation to enter into the holiness of its being. When your heart is closed off and you can’t hear, nor can you speak about the silence where your heart is lodged, when the effect takes on an affect, and you are in the still, small, place,… listen. From within the silence your heart is still moving. It is your gift. Given to you by the one who cares deeply about you. He will move his heart together with yours, if you say, “Ephphtha!” Then, you can meet him in the opened doorway to your heart. Trust and walk through. It can be another rite of passage in your life.

Right of Passage

Today I opened another door. I return here to writing  after a brief interim, with a new focus that I hope will allow me to answer what is in my heart as well as those things that weigh on my heart. At times they are one and the same. I learned, from another Chinese character, that my heart, together with my head, forms the meaning “to think”, and lately I have been consumed by the presence of their internal dialog as I try to navigate through recent days.

Following my last and final posting on Facebook, at least in the social realm, comes this venue, to which I will continually post links. I know, it’s like a contradiction in terms to leave social media…for social reasons. Yet, there exists among us, myself included, an erosion of the Spirit, where I believe our words have become weapons and social media has now become a battlefield. The battles are, like always, battles for the heart. Postings and comments have, in the increasing days, since recent Supreme Court rulings, brought fresh divisions within the fabric of friends and families. If I thought the one question to keep asking people, as they express their opinions, which always seems to be the case, was “why?”; I would now add, since “why” only engenders more opinions, the question “where?”. Where seeks to discover where someone learned the basis of those opinions. Here we run into the troubling issue of truth. Today, there is among most people, if you ask, the idea that truth is relative. You have your truth, I have mine, for various and relative reasons. If you don’t impinge on my truth,… I may not impinge on yours. We should just coexist.

So, who testifies to the truth? A witness? A cloud of witnesses? I’m afraid it’s more like a crowd of witnesses, each with a different take.

Pool of Bethesda

For some of my readers, I’m now about to be…scorned, is a good word. So far I’m only slightly impinging on someone’s truth. But, if I may, from John’s gospel:

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, ” I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, ” Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ” It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, ” The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ “

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick up your mat and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him.”See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. (3)

Too often people go to Facebook like it’s a healing pool. They’re looking for reassurance, relief, rejuvenation, retribution, revenge, revelation, rewards, recriminations, reunions…redemption. More often, however, I believe they look for reflection. Sometimes reflection of themselves, hoping they will fare better than what they see in others. Here they can establish where their significance lies by wielding their influence, joining someone else’s, or entertaining their perceived insignificance. I know, I’ve been there. We agree with a comment, join the comments, create a comment, then return to see if someone agreed with our comment.

Right now I know how you feel. I’ve felt the same way. What I’ve found is this; I’ve found myself drowning in that pool. The shoreline becomes soft, boggy, then I find myself sinking into quicksand, so I scramble to recover; but inadvertently I push myself farther into the pool.  There are many people hanging around the edges in what seems like innocent participation, but often becomes something more like voyeurism. Watching to see what others are doing about the world we live in. Forgive me if that sounds a bit harsh. Please remember that this is where so many people share their information. We inadvertently drift into agreements that are partially true, adamantly disagree with some, and are disgusted by others. Many people don’t risk a comment, thinking that someone they know might scroll through and discover something they didn’t really want to divulge for fear of having to defend themselves later on. You see the quagmire.

Before you finish listing the many good things that have transpired through social media, and there are many, I hold these pictures up to you because I care about your heart. We share what we’ve learned with those we care about and want them to be a part of our life. I get that. There is a wide circle of people who love and care about me in the same way I love and care about them. I also know people who are lost and out of touch because there’s an erosion in their spirit. Social media, although conveniently portraying closer contact with others, still doesn’t connect the contact with real life. It’s become a paradox. The French phenomenologist, Michel Henry, in his book Words of Christ:

Paradoxes, like many challenges to good sense, are arranged side by side in such a way that, if not one of them agree with our thought, a mysterious affinity nevertheless seems to unite them. (4)

We become united with agreements that compromise our spirit. We know some aspect of an agreement is wrong, but we’ve entered the story already and need to find out what happens in the end. There’s really no harm in it. Right?

Again I ask, “Where did you learn that?”

Every Tree in the Garden

Today we live with cognitive dissonance on so many levels. Our digital dialogs and face time, without real faces, mark well worn, yet invisible footpaths. Can we see an electronic signal when we cross paths with it in our dialogs? Does it matter, as long as we make the connection? Can we see our spirit cross paths with the Holy Spirit? The power in that connection will matter. My last post to Facebook included Jill Carattini’s article, God of Possibility, where she quotes a well-circulated essay by Nicholas Carr: 

Over the past few years I’ve had the uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell  – but it’s changing. (5)

He questions the shifting of his own thought patterns because, as a writer, using the internet so much has diminished his capacity to engage certain ways of thinking. I suspect his heart is caught in the middle of it all.

We don’t acknowledge the large double doors that have amassed people’s hearts, keeping them caught in the pool tide. Most everyone thinks of the heart as the seat of our emotions. It is not. Decisions are made in our hearts and our emotions are only the voice of the heart. Yet we will risk exposing our hearts to things on the internet, read privately, that we would never stop to read in a tabloid at the checkout line. We calculate the recovery time from reading various postings on Facebook, thinking our ethics have been immunized and our relative truths will keep us safe. The power of suggestion, however, was in the first lie ever told. The question was about authority, and the enemy of our heart claimed to be a witness. Remember the question?

Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” (6)

(My next posting will continue with matters of the heart, guardian spirits and resentments from sheep.)

1.) Mark 7:34, New International Version; 2.) Ibid 7:31-37;  3.) John 5:1-15 NIV;        4.) Jill Carattini, Slice of Infinity: God of Possibility, June 29, 2015;  5.) Michel Henry, Words of Christ, p.24, (Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2012.) 6.) Genesis 3:1, NIV.