I took a birthday "retreat," last weekend, and I have a lot of rambling thoughts coming out of that. To read "Part 1" you can click here. I had a lot of expectations for my weekend: rest, silence, refreshment, enjoying nature, reading. But being ministered to and taken aback by the art was not among them. I think it’s hard wired into us as humans to pursue and appreciate beauty, and to create it. I think that’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God. And I’ll confess that I LOVE getting lost in created art, just as much as I enjoy getting lost in the beauty of nature.
The retreat center and monastery were both littered with art of all mediums, from all around the world. The Benedictine monks have several established missionary works in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and they display beautiful works from artists in all of their many locations. The global scope was my favorite aspect, because we so often are stuck in a very Western view of Jesus, our salvation story, and Christianity itself. It was a refreshment to my soul to see all this through eyes different than my own, being applied to lives that look vastly different from mine. It was an enlightening thing to see “The Last Supper” portrayed by a Peruvian, Abraham’s journey through the eyes of a Tanzanian, The Madonna displayed how a Kenyan would portray it. I don’t have time to make a comment on all the pieces that moved me, but I’ve chosen a few to give you a glimpse into this aspect of my retreat.
"The Tree of Life"
A commentary from the St. Benedict Center: “This statue is carved from ebony by an artist of the Wamakonde Tribe of East Africa, where Benedictine missionaries serve in Tanzania. The statue emphasizes the importance of family: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and all those of kinship. "For we are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28) For the Wamakonde, these relationships foster and sustain life, becoming a veritable Tree of Life.”
One of the monks explained to me that in the Wamakonde Tribe, the building of one generation on another is an important theme. Our stories are connected, and our life does not happen in a vacuum. Those that have come before us pave the way for the life we have, and our stories build upon others, so it’s important to know where you are in the story and what has transpired before.
This concept should be very important to us as Christians: scripturally, we know that we are part of God’s Big Story, and our little story is connected to those of Moses, Ruth, Deborah, Abraham, and David. It’s important to know our place in the history of God’s creation, redemption, and rescue of the world, so we can live accordingly. Studying this piece gave me the opportunity to reflect on this in a way I hadn’t before, and for that I’m grateful.
"The Last Supper"
Commentary from the St. Benedict Center: “The Last Supper as seen through the eyes of a Peruvian artist. The expressions on their faces reveal the constant struggle for existence in a poverty-stricken landscape. The large hands and feet remind us of the only capital they have – their own hands and feet. Notice the food, their clothing, and the disciple whose hand rests on his chin, contemplating what Christ has just given them.”
I loved seeing the disciples dressed in Peruvian clothes and eating on the ground, traditional Peruvian food. It was a reminder to me of the sacredness in all cultures of sharing a meal together. It was a reminder that my savior came to identify with the struggle of all humanity, everywhere. It was a reminder of the fierceness of the betrayal Jesus experienced, after washing his friends’ feet, sharing dinner with them, the intimacy that comes from sitting around a table, or on the ground around food. And then being betrayed and denied and abandoned by these same close friends who had shared all this, who shared life for 3 years together. I can’t begin to fathom the depth of that heartbreak. It was vastly important that I take a moment to contemplate that. My “light and momentary” struggles pale in comparison, and when I do feel misunderstood or even betrayed, God identifies with me precisely where I am. He enters into my struggle. Not only that, but he invites me to consider and enter into the struggle of others. He invites me to acknowledge my connection to my brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering, and tread on that privileged, holy ground where I carry it with them, in my prayers, in my heart, and in the way I live in light of their lives.
“Abraham’s Call & Migration”
Sr. Karin Kraus, Tanzania
As a side note, this was not a particularly prominent or proudly featured piece, but simply one of the many paintings that lined the walls of this hallway:
For some reason, however, I was struck by it. I see in him all the uncertainty of his situation. What a universally human feeling it is to be in his shoes—to feel so vulnerable. It was not a simple thing for Abram to pack up and leave. Packing up for him meant not only leaving family, it meant taking livestock and servants, and being on the go was not easy for a man with so many counting on him. God knows all the complications of our lives, and takes it into account. He doesn’t exempt us from struggle but he certainly appreciates it. He understands. He became human. Our complexity is not lost on him.
I can easily identify with Abram here…so very sober, holding lots of other living things for which he is responsible, and feeling the weight and uncertainty of it all. That’s where I’ve been the past 3 years of wandering. Uncertain, precariously caring for the little lambs in my charge, and putting all the effort in my being into trusting God and what he’s doing. It’s not an easy place, but it’s precisely that place that leads to the blessing. That’s why we must persist in trust. We must believe, and believe enough to move our feet. That’s faith. And like Abraham, it will counted to us as righteousness.
There so many other pieces that stole my attention and I could write for days about them, probably. But I’ll spare you.
Ok, just one more. This one happened to be in my little bedroom...
Ok, I’ll be honest. I’m not quite spiritual, intellectual, or enlightened enough to “GET” this one. I basically see Jesus giving some homie the side-eye, like, “back up, bruh.” So I clearly have a long way to go still. Maybe I need to schedule another retreat so I can get to the bottom of it, ahem. If you’re an expert in icons, please divulge your knowledge in the comments. I’m sure we’d all benefit.