Friday, August 18, 2006

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done...

This is an essay I wrote about a charcoal drawing I did for my church during the lenton season. There were 8 pieces put up in the sanctuary during lent. I have been part of other art projects for my church and they always come at a very profound time where God speaks to me through the creation of the art, I think perhaps more than those who might see it.

Lent is a time of reflection, evaluating, and contemplating what Jesus has done for me and what I can do for him. Also, the theme “Thy Kingdom Come,” to me, is a cry of all Christians for God to have mercy on this world. It is a call “to action” in a way. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is asking for something better than we have in this imperfect world. I looked up the word “Lent” to see what train of thought that would bring. I was surprised at how many service-oriented words it brought me to, and at how the word mercy kept being brought forward. What mercy does God daily bring us, and how should I practice mercy in my life? What does all this mean?

When Abbie and I began talking about the Lenten project this year, she mentioned that she saw a vision of hard-hitting art pieces that made people think: about people with AIDS (not just in Africa, but all around us); about the high instance of divorce and the havoc it produces in the lives of so many families; about how Christians need to reach out with the love of Jesus to the homosexual community; about how the body of Christ needs to love all people as part of the kingdom. My thoughts turned to local landmarks—something I could use to bring home the idea that God’s kingdom, the place where we need so desperately to serve, is all around us, on earth as it is in heaven. What landmark says Seattle? The Space Needle seemed terribly cliché; Pike Place Market seemed too overdone; and the front of the Lusty Lady downtown would be too distracting in the sanctuary.

I thought about the first sermon in Dan’s series on the hands of God—about how Jesus reached out to the woman caught in adultery. I thought about portraying a modern Jesus in a biker jacket with his back to the viewer, but facing the adulterous woman. She would be like anyone we see every day on the streets of Seattle, and she would be on the ground looking up at him, about to take his hand and get up. I thought she would be outside of an easily recognizable Seattle location. At her feet would be the abandoned weapons of her accusers, and those would range from a gun to a Bible. There would be people watching from the sidelines, talking to each other, and just one other person turned toward Jesus. I was very excited about this idea, and Martin, my husband, suggested a local landmark: one of the dance-step patterns from the sidewalk along Broadway on Capitol Hill. That would convey more than just a location, and really add some punch to what I was trying to depict. We went up to Capitol Hill one night, taking black-and-white photos of street life and all the different dance patterns we could find.

I pinned all the photos on my living room wall, ready to start work. I did some sketches, but nothing was working out. It wasn’t right and I didn’t have the skill to draw what I wanted to portray. So I prayed a lot, staring at my blank piece of paper and playing music that always inspires me. I went back to square one, looking up scripture about mercy, kingdom, and hands. I searched the Internet for pictures matching those keywords. I also looked up the opposites to those themes—dark and painful images —wondering how to bridge the gap. Swords and ripping started appearing to me in forms of the cross along with the dance steps, but it still didn’t seem quite right.

During this time, I also received news that my older brother had been diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. Unless God’s mercy intervenes soon, he has a limited time to live. It was if a bomb was blowing away my safe environment. As I was looking at all of this, Picasso’s Guernica kept appearing in my mind. Here is a brief history of that famous painting:

On April 27, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. Chosen for bombing practice by Hitler's burgeoning war machine, the hamlet is pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours. Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.

By May 1, news of the massacre at Guernica reaches Paris, where more than a million protesters flood the streets to voice their outrage in the largest May Day demonstration the city has ever seen. Eyewitness reports fill the front pages of Paris papers. Picasso is stunned by the stark black-and-white photographs. Appalled and enraged, Picasso rushes through the crowded streets to his studio, where he quickly sketches the first images for the mural he will call Guernica. His search for inspiration is over.

After appearing in a Paris fair, Guernica tours Europe and Northern America to raise consciousness about the threat of fascism. Speculations as to the exact meaning of the jumble of tortured images are as numerous and varied as the people who have viewed the painting. There is no doubt that Guernica challenges our notions of warfare as heroic and exposes it as a brutal act of self-destruction. But it is a hallmark of Picasso's art that any symbol can hold many, often contradictory meanings, and the precise significance of the imagery in Guernica remains ambiguous. When asked to explain his symbolism, Picasso remarked, "It isn't up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them."

With pictures of Guernica and the dance patterns of Capitol Hill now tacked to my wall, and a heart longing for God’s kingdom to come sooner than later, I began to draw. Picasso’s painting has always made me weep, and those things I chose to mimic from it make me weep today for justice and for God’s mercy to rain down. The dance of life goes on, with all kinds of atrocities happening daily. We do learn to “mambo” around some of the worst things happening. However, the hands at the top belong to Jesus, whose shed blood rips through our lives with a blinding, healing light. Eternal life sheds a different light on how we spend our lives. One day Jesus will rip down the final curtain between this life and His kingdom. God takes what seems black and white and paints it with his color. His bleeding hands, and the blood he shed for us, heal us no matter what bomb rips through our lives.

Papa Father,

We ask for your mercy to pour down on our lives. Heal us, we pray. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.