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Create - September 12, 2021

by Rev. Joan Kessler

Genesis 1:26-28 Psalm 139:13-18

Yesterday, we saw the return of Art Walk to our community and for me, it was my first experience of this event. Artisans gathered in outdoor venues to share with us a Plein air experience, creating pieces onsite in the open air and using their natural surroundings as subject matters. To witness creative endeavors unfold is nothing short of a God moment. It is a moment of connection between the artist and the viewer as they convey their innermost thoughts and feelings on a particular subject matter to the world.

I do not consider myself to be an artist…I enjoy dabbling in artistic mediums and I consider visiting galleries a highlight of my free, unstructured time. Art is something we pursue…we create, we capture moments, we display special pieces on our walls, our shelves, our bodies, to remind us of something, unique to each one of us. Whether you are the artist or the purveyor, there is a relationship to what is created. And it does not only apply to visual arts…sculpture, writing, dance and interpretive movement, all awaken a sense of our humanity and this connection to something beyond ourselves, given through the gifts and processes of another.

Artists and those who study art would do a much better interpretation of the role art in advancing our understanding of who we are and how we understand and experience the Holy. But I found myself asking this week why is it important for us as spiritual beings to engage with the arts? Japanese painter Makoto Fujimura says, “The arts are a cup that will carry water of life to the thirsty.” Theologian and pianist Jeremy Begbie says, “Art can show us the possibility of transformation through the interplay of tradition and innovation and of order and disorder.”

Over recent weeks, you may have become familiar with Imagine Van Gogh, a digitally curated exhibition touring parts of Canada this summer. Visitors wander amongst giant projections of the artist’s most well-known and beloved masterpieces like Sunflowers and Starry Night. The looping of images accompanied by orchestral music creates a immersive experience where all senses are fully awakened. I shared a God moment earlier this summer after receiving a video from my daughters who visited the exhibition in Edmonton, and I have heard from some of you here in the congregation about your impressions of this master. I heard described a very moving, even spiritual experience to be in the presence of the vivid color and brushstrokes of 200 digital representations one of the world’s greatest artists. It brought the work of Van Gogh into our conscious, perhaps taking one outside of one’s own experience to connect with that of this artist, his dreams, his passions, his commentary on religion and social order in his day.

Following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, Van Gogh pursued ministry, serving as a Presbyterian missionary and itinerant preacher to mining communities in southern Belgium. He was a deeply spiritual person who adopted a life of poverty and asceticism, wanting to be “a friend to the poor like Jesus was”. However, because of many personal challenges, Van Gogh abandoned his vocation to pursue painting, suffering much rejection by the church and his family. He abandoned the institutional church but his passion for the gospel and his love of God was undeterred. He became increasingly preoccupied with creating a new form of religious art, one that could potentially transform and revolutionize an increasingly secular society. Van Gogh is said to have possessed an insatiable curiosity of God; he saw and painted the Divine in nature, the sun, the heavens, waving fields of grain, plowmen, potato diggers, along with infants and children. I want to share with you a quote from Van Gogh that articulates his theology of art. He once said,

One cannot do better than hold onto the thought of God through everything, under all circumstances, at all places, at all times, and try to acquire more knowledge about (the Divine), which one can do from the Bible as well as from all other things. It is good to continue believing that everything is more miraculous than one can comprehend, for this is truth; it is good to remain sensitive and humble and tender of heart . . . . For what can one learn that is better than what God has given by nature to every human soul—which is living and loving, hoping, and believing, in the depth of every soul..

That statement, believing that everything is more miraculous than one can comprehend….was revealed in all his art. Every landscape, every object, every person he painted represented a unique miracle, an intriguing mystery, a revelation of God.

Today we commemorate Humanity Sunday as part of our Season of Creation. The readings from Genesis 1 shared this morning are held by the Judeo-Christian tradition to be the word of God and a poetic, human response comes like a reply in return from Psalm 139. We are reminded this morning of humanity’s calling…that we are made in the image of the divine, we are the Imago Dei. The Genesis 1 story of creation is heard as Spirit speaking… humans made in our likeness… I am struck by the use of the collective belonging…”our likeness”…not “my likeness”…we are this humanity together…. We are given dominion over the birds, the animals, fish of the sea…but we struggle today when we hear this because of the exploitation of natural resources humans have been part of…the anthropocentrism of scripture that makes humanity all powerful and somehow gives us permission to take for our own wants and profit-driven purposes. Human beings do indeed have a special role but it is not one of dominance but rather as stewards or as one Cherokee commentator describes, as that of creation-keepers….the Creator is saying get to know the animals, the plants, lean from them and allow them to teach you their ways, make covenants with them and take care of them.

My reflection today comes from my deep affinity to artistic pursuits…largely to those of artists whom I know and admire and those whom I will never meet…but there is a connection made, a window to the Divine when I admire a piece of work of one’s hands one’s mind, one’s heart…it brings my humanity, my spiritual being home to me…and sometimes I get out my paints and paper and I create. I am aware of the wonder of myself as part of God’s creation that I have this momentary experience. I learn about different cultural and spiritual perspectives. I remember the role I play in creating and the relationships that are impacted as I travel through this life. Be creative, friends. Get out your paints, a pen and paper, lift your voices in song, show your likeness to the Divine that knitted together you together and delights in your life. May it be so. Amen.

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