17 November 2006

Meditation on Christ through Art

For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.
- Isaiah 54:7-8,10
I've just come back from visiting to new "Beholding Salvation" exhibit at the MoA. It was such an amazing exhibit: my words are certainly inadequate to describe it, but I can't resist the attempt.

The experience was breathtaking. I have a certain fascination with Christian art. Something about the iconography of it all is so very attractive. I get chills just hearing the names of the typical scenes: the annunciation, the nativity, the adoration, the last supper, the stations of the cross, the passion, the pieta. Knowing the little details about the traditional symbols--enclosed gardens for Mary, keys for Peter, an eagle for John, nails for Thomas--makes them that more meaningful. The power of symbols, and art in general, cannot be overestimated. And seeing all these different ways of looking at the Savior is amazing.

I particularly liked the tomb and resurrection rooms at the end of the exhibit. The life-size dead Christ is harrowing. And I know I'll spend many hours the next few semesters contemplating "Jesus and Mary, After." Very haunting and powerful. And "Christ at the Pool of Bethesda" . . . something just clicks inside me when I see it. I also really like the two more abstract paintings--the one with the red and white cloth and three bowls and the one with two chairs--full of all sorts of meanings.

In the passion room, one of the little plaques defined the word "passion" as meaning to suffer or to submit, very interesting to consider in the context of our modern use of the word passion. When we have a passion for something, we suffer not only when it is gone, but also while we are with it. Love, as some have pointed out to me, is not something that's very pleasant to have. People in love are often miserable, especially when they are separated from their beloved. Love involves connecting your happiness to something outside and beyond your control. To love as Christ loves is to willingly submit to that pain and then rise triumphant again.

And you can feel that intense love in this exhibit. The second I walked in, I had a feeling of complete comfort and safety. It was as though even taking the time to be in a place where I could contemplate the Savior had afforded me the comfort and protection He promises us. In those paintings and sculptures, I truly felt enfolded in the arms of my Savior--safe from loneliness and fear. I longed to simply sit there for hours, feeling that warmth and contemplating the atonement in my life.

This exhibit caused me to remember something about the atonement that I tend to forget. The atonement is not only for our past: it is for now. It is not only for our sins, but also for our triumphs; not only for our sorrows, but also for our joys. Christ reaches out to us in so many ways to enfold our minds and our hearts, to lift us up not only out of sin but onto higher and better things. I feel His influence in my life in everything I do from the worshipful to the mundane, and because of it, everything I do expands out to become more than I intended, more than I could do on my own.

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