We live in a world that values productivity, results, and the bottom line. It’s the water we swim in. We dart about in search of plankton (or financial security or recognition or safety) to sustain us, while simultaneously evading danger lurking in the darkness. We’re busy. We’re focused. We don’t even know that we’re wet.
But what if we could step out of the cultural water onto the dry land of Truth?
Would we be surprised by the change in environment? Perhaps see the world more clearly?
How would we love, live, work, parent, create, and rest differently as a result?
Join us as we read and discuss the following essay by artist Makoto Fujimura. If you missed last week’s introduction, you can read it here. Consider this a four week virtual book club – only you don’t have to buy a book and you bring your own coffee. You may want to print off the essay in order to hi-light and make notes. Thanks for journeying with us – we’re glad that you’re here.
“In John 11, Jesus weeps. His tears, shed in response to Lazarus’ death and Mary and Martha’s grief, are full of embodied truth, beauty, and goodness. Why did Jesus weep? He delayed coming to Bethany “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4), and, when He arrived, informed Martha that He is “the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). If He came to Bethany to show His power, the fact that He is indeed the Messiah with the power to resurrect the dead, why did He not simply wave His “magic wand” to “solve the problem” of the death and illness of Lazarus? There would have been an immediate celebration, and all the tears would have been unnecessary. Tears are useless, even wasteful, if you possess the power to cause miracles. Instead, He made Himself vulnerable, stopped to feel the sting of death, to identify with frail humanity, who struggled to know hope.” (Read the full essay here.)
- What ideas from the article resonate with you?
“Her nard spread and its aroma filled the room. It was an ephemeral act, one that she did not think of as ‘art’.”
- How could Mary’s extravagant (wasteful) act be considered art?
- Given the culture in which we live, what are the implications for you (and for me)?
“What we deemed as a waste, Jesus called the most necessary. Jesus wept.”
- What do you make of that? How is it hopeful?
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Join us next Wednesday as we read and discuss Fra Angelico and the Five Hundred Year Question.
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S.D. Smith says
This was wonderful. Thanks Mako and Julie.
I think this is hardest for me when things are tight, when money, energy, health, those things that feel urgent and essential, are not in a good place. Then extravagance of any kind feels like a creeping enemy. It’s easy to revert to utilitarianism –to just putting our heads down and going with what is functional. I think of CSL’s Learning in Wartime, of how important stories and art are even in very hard, practical times.
I have written here at SW about being “Outside of the Refrigerator People,” as well as inside –meaning that the art from kids on the outside is important, just as nourishment from food. That God didn’t make us as mere physical survivors, but as works of art intended to flourish. http://www.storywarren.com/inside-and-out-our-refrigerators-and-kingdom-anticipation/ But it’s tough to live it out when things are hard.
I love how Mako accounted for pain and hardship in this telling, but ,even there, Jesus is showing us something, even in the lack of health, something to contrast against his Resurrection and Life. I need to remember that while in pain and while suffering over the pain of others.
Sorry, a little roundabout, Julie, but I tried to answer a few of your questions. Thanks again!
Julie Silander says
Sam – Thanks for the link to your Story Warren post. Somehow I’d missed that one – what a fitting piece.
I think the CSL connection is spot-on. Whether at war or not, we all feel live in a state of tension between the life’s demands and life’s greater longings (for which we were ultimately created).
“The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun.” CSL
Next week’s essay will take closer look at that same issue.
James Witmer says
I don’t know for sure that Mary’s action should be considered art. But it models the spirit behind great art – an extravagant, giving response to the goodness and beauty of Jesus. (Whether the artist recognizes the Source of said beauty or not.)
Mako brilliantly shows how Mary frees us from the tyranny of practicality. But I think she also frees us from the need to be “artistic” and hip. I can’t help feeling this is a beautiful illustration of our discussion on Michael Card’s book: http://www.storywarren.com/christ-and-creativity/
Julie Silander says
James – Yes, I think Michael Card’s book is of the same heartbeat. I feel a theme developing… 🙂
Julie Silander says
Ok, James. I’ve been chewing on your comment for a few days. I’m not sure that there’s a “right” answer, but I’d be curious to hear how you’d define “art” (or why Mary’s action would not be considered art). My thinking has shifted as a result of reading Mako and Dorothy Sayers, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
James Witmer says
I’m uncertain. But here is why I would be concerned. I do think we need a broader understanding of what it means to be an artist, more in line with Noah Webster’s 1828 definition:
And yet, this definition would not include Mary’s ministry to Jesus. I might argue that her action was as spiritually significant as any painting, building, etc. And that artists should aspire to create from the same love that moved her.
But should we call any act of love “art”? The idea appeals to me in some ways. But then I think of this:
Julie Silander says
Well, I think I see where you’re coming from and would agree with much of it. I worked for years at the
art of dance. I can affirm that simply putting on a tutu and twirling about the stage wouldn’t (in my opinion) be considered art. We certainly don’t want to cheapen the word by misusing it. The Lewis quote is a great example of how that can happen.
That being said, here’s my problem with Webster’s definition: it seems to draw a line in the sand of
proficiency that one must cross before his work is considered art. Like obtaining a degree. Or a perfecting a skill. The law rather than the spirit. I may land at a different place.
I’ll start off by admitting that I’m not armed with the academic background on the subject to support any particular position, yet I do believe I’ve seen/experienced true art that doesn’t fit a particular definition or category. But it moved me. It stirred me. It created a space that caused me to question or think or feel something new (or ancient).
When I mentioned Dorothy Sayers, I was thinking of The Mind of the Maker. She broadened my thinking about creativity – and as a result, about art in general.
Here are a few examples of what could potentially be considered legitimate (although not highbrow) art: The living out of marriage, the expressive dance of a joyful child, the creation of a particular home (or work) atmosphere. Each can reflect the creativity of the Creator, and each can stir/evoke emotion (or thought) and point to the undefinable (yet true) mysteries in the universe. None of the examples are the result of perfected craft, yet they can still touch the soul. For me, Mary’s response would fit in this category.
But as I said earlier, this is merely my opinion, which is always shifting! 🙂
One of the things I’m learning as I get older is that God is far more extravagant and abundant than we are comfortable with. Our tendency is to think of terms of “you get what you give,” and “you have to earn everything you have,” and I think that permeates our churches and Christian thinking as well. But those values of hard work and responsibility are but a small part of what it means to be a Christian – I think following Jesus is far more about sharing in the extravagance, the waste of loving people as thoroughly as He did, of giving as freely as He did, of understanding the depths of God’s love and the scandal of loving the enemy. I deeply identified with the last statement, that what we tend to think of as wasteful Jesus called the most necessary. Our humanity is deeply connected to our creativity, because we are co-creators with God – we are created in His image, creators ourselves. I also liked how the essay contrasted legalism and beauty. I completely agree that beauty and creativity cannot flourish when there is an insistence on rules and expectations.
Julie Silander says
Thank you, Lori. Good words.
Tom Murphy says
“Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.”
Because of our own extravagance, we tend to miss out on the extravagance of Jesus. It was an extravagance of a homeless man, headed to an excruciating death that chose to enter into our sadness when He didn’t have to – to redeem it and make it new. We now call that His passion.
It seems to me that those who suffer deeply in this world have a wider view of the extravagance which Jesus offers to us and asks us to share with others. It doesn’t come apart from our suffering, but with it.
That is probably the one thing I want to bottle up and give to the children I shepherd. But apart from this revelation from God, it all sounds like a lot of jibberish into the ears of those who have yet to suffer. Seems like our job is to keep telling the Old, Old Story in as many fresh ways as we can, using our stories to point to the Big Story – until we all have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Julie Silander says
Tom- I agree that suffering brings with it a greater capacity to know the extravagance of Jesus. It’s a strange thing – I don’t want my children to suffer, yet it is in those hard places that they learn to need and to know their Father. When they see that same pattern repeated – through the old, old story – they learn to live in expectation. And I do too.
BONNIE BUCKINGHAM says
These lines: Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life.
Legalism takes away life by forbidding the nard to be spilled onto our feet.
I pursue grace by the very act of painting.
In one act, she broke open the mystery of the moment. Her nard spread and its aroma filled that room. It was an ephemeral act, one that she did not think of as “art.” I am sure she herself was surprised by Jesus’ words that her act would be remembered, that she would leave a lasting legacy.
I think about your question, Julie, at the top: How could we rest ( in particular) differently from reading Mako’s words which are based on the Mary’s nard and Jesus’ tears. Rest is a time of pondering and listening and thinking . It is so needed to hear. It is so needed to observe and thus to see and to create. . So we can see this : “Art, like Jesus’ tears and Mary’s nard, spreads in our lives, providing useless beauty for those willing to ponder. ” I love that Mako says Useless. I even thought he used the wrong word. . Beauty melts the hardness of this world. When we do ponder, it becomes this: “That evening at Bethany, in that aroma that Mary spilled, there were Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas floating in the air as well.”
Makes me think of Babette’s Feast and The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon.
Julie Silander says
“Beauty melts the hardness of this world.”
Yes, and there’s a great irony about that statement. I wonder how different the problems of the world might be if we learned to rest, take in beauty, and hear the voice of the Creator. We live in such a scurry and don’t make time for the “useless”, but can you imagine what would happen if we did? Perhaps that’s why art, story, and music are such vehicles of healing and hope.
Sofia Rector says
What a great article & comments! Two things, in particular, resonated with me. One was what S.D. Smith pointed out–the need to remember the necessity of art and beauty, which can at times seem “useless.” The other was the starting point for art. Jesus wept because He loved. Mary poured out the nard because she loved in response to His love. I’ve grown up in a cultural which communicates that artistry/creative endeavors are forms of self-expression, or ways to advance people’s recognition of the artist’s particular talent/agenda. However, Mary’s act was not about herself at all–her act was a response to Jesus’ love. That’s where the beauty came from. As Fujimura states, “Every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us.” For me, knowing this motivation provides freedom to seek beauty more actively since it’s not just a personal thing, but it’s an essential part of loving God & those He’s put in my life (if that makes sense).